Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"My Dear Little Boys..." A Christmas Letter

Marine 1st Lt. Leonard Isaacks was serving in the Pacific during World War II when he wrote this Christmas letter to his two young sons. He not only captures the spirit of the season, but beautifully communicates why he was fighting.


December 17th, 1944

My dear little boys:

I am writing to you today, just a week before Christmas eve, in the hope that you will get this little note at Christmas time. All of this coming week will be holidays, and I can just imagine the fun you will be having, especially when you know that it is just a few days before Santa Claus will be coming. If it were possible, I would like to come down the chimney myself and crawl right in to your stocking, wouldn't that be a surprise? I would enjoy it even more than you, but since your Dad is far away and Santa Claus has the only reindeers that will fly through the air, I'm afraid we will have to let Santa Claus use them. After all he has so many places to go in such a short time.

I won't be able to give you a Christmas present personally this year, but I do want you to know that I think of you all the time and feel very proud of the way you have been helping your Mother while I am gone. I know that it is only natural for young, healthy and strong boys like you are to want to play and have fun all of the time; but I do want you to think about helping Mummie, because it is hard for her to do everything while I am gone. I know that you would like to give me a Xmas present too, so I will tell you what you can do, and this will be your Xmas present to me. Everyday ask Mummie if there are any errands that you can do for her, and when there are errands to run, say, "sure Mummie" and give her a big smile; then during the day go up to your room and look around, if there are toys scattered all around, or you left some of your clothes on the floor, pick them up; also, when Mummie is busy trying to clean up the house, don't leave her by herself, but ask Mummie if you can help take care of baby sister. If you do those things for me, that will be the finest Xmas present that you could give me. Oh yes, and CC, are you eating your meals like a real man now?

Well my boys, I guess you often wonder why people fight and have wars, and why lots of daddies have to be away at Xmas time fighting, when it would be so much nicer to be at home. That's a hard question to answer. But, you see, some countries like Japan and Germany, have people living in them, just like some people you and I know. Those people want to tell everybody what they can do and what they can't do. No one likes to be told how to live their life. I know that you wouldn't like it if one of the boys in the neighborhood tried to tell you what church you should go to, what school you should go to and particularly if that boy would always be trying to "beat up" some smaller or weaker boy. You wouldn't like it, would you? And, unfortunately the only way to make a person like that stop these sort of things, or a country like Japan or Germany, is to fight them and beat them... and teach them that being a bully (because after all, that's what they are) is not the way to live and that we won't put up with it. What does all of this mean to you? Just simply this, my boys, Dad doesn't want you to ever be a bully, I want you to always fight against anyone who tries to be one; I want you to always help the smaller fellow, or the little boy who may not be as strong as you; I want you to always share what you have with the other fellow; and above all, my boys have courage, have courage to do the things that you think are right. Never be afraid to fight for what you think is right. To do those things, you need a strong body and a brave heart; never run away from someone you may be afraid of; if you do, you will always feel ashamed of yourself and before long you will find it so easy to run away from the things that you should stand up and fight against. If you and lots of other boys try to do the things that Dad has been talking about in this letter, it may be that people will not have to fight wars in the years to come and then all of the Daddies in this world will be home for Christmas and that is where they belong. Perhaps, some of the things that I have been talking about,... you don't quite understand, if you don't, Mummie will explain them to you, as she knows......

A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year... God Bless you,


Lt. Isaacks was killed two months later on Iwo Jima. But his spirit lives on.

Thanks to the National World War II Museum for posting this letter and accompanying picture.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

Sometimes, a book is so beautifully written that you love the writing just as much as you love the story. That was the case with Margaret Leroy's unforgettable novel, The Soldier's Wife.

Set in the small island of Guernsey just after the German occupation, this novel shares the journey of Vivienne de la Mare, mother of two girls, and wife to a husband fighting in the British army. Life changes for everyone on the island with the arrival of the Germans, but Vivienne has to put up with a group of German officers living right next door. It's not a situation she ever would have wanted, but it's made worse when she finds herself inexplicably attracted to one of the officers named Gunther.

In the midst of shortages and restrictions, Vivienne tries to keep her household going. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Blanche, is blossoming into a woman and her five-year-old daughter, Millie, is precocious and adventurous. Also in Vivienne's care is her mother-in-law who, unfortunately, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.

Against her better judgment, Vivenne starts an affair with Gunther. The two have their own island within the confines of Vivienne's bedroom. Here, the war does not touch them. This is their sanctuary. And finally, Vivienne finds the love she never had.

But Gunther is the enemy, and fraternizing with said enemy is not to be tolerated. Vivenne lives in fear that her secret will be unearthed, but it's made all the more so when she begins to clandestinely help one of the slave laborers on the island. His fate will be inextricably tied with the fate of Vivenne and Gunther's relationship.

Most intriguing about this novel is how we view our enemy. During World War II, propaganda made sure that our enemies were demonized, and made to look less than human. And in some cases, they were less than human - the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Japanese are testament to this. But there were good people on both sides trying their best to survive.

Is there ever a point when a relationship with the enemy is permissible? That is the question that The Soldier's Wife seeks to answer. 

Leroy's beautiful descriptions of Guernsey and her lilting, poetic language make this a pleasure to read. But it is Leroy's portrayal of the human struggle to shift and bend with the changing times of war that make it a must-read.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

To all the men who lost their lives that day...we remember you.