Letters from the Greatest Generation

Letters from the Greatest Generation

Writing Home in WWII
Foreword by James H. Madison, edited by Howard H. Peckham and Shirley A. Snyder
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/03/2016
Format: Paperback 1 b&w illus
ISBN: 978-0-253-02448-0
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Victory and defeat, love and loss are the prevalent realities of Letters from the Greatest Generation, a remarkable and frank collection of World War II letters penned by American men and women serving overseas. Here, the hopes and dreams of the greatest generation fill each page, and their voices ring loud and clear. "It’s all part of the game but it’s bloody and rough," wrote one soldier to his wife. "Wearing two stripes now and as proud as an old cat with five kittens," marked another. Yet, as many countries rejoiced on V-E Day, soldiers were "too tired and sad to celebrate." While visiting a German concentration camp, one man wrote, "I don’t like Army life but I’m glad we are here to stop these atrocities." True to the everyday thoughts of these fighters, this collection of letters can be as amusing as it is worrying. As one soldier noted, "I know lice don’t crawl so I figured they were fleas." A fitting tribute to all veterans, this book is one every American should own and read.

Author Bio

Howard H. Peckham (1910–1995) was Professor of History and Director of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. From 1945 to 1953, Peckham was Director of the Indiana Historical Bureau and Secretary of the Indiana Historical Society.

Shirley A. Snyder (1924–1999) was an editor for the Indiana Historical Society. Previously, she edited for the Indiana Historical Bureau for thirty-one years.

James H. Madison is the Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor of History Emeritus, Indiana University Bloomington.


“A remarkable and frank collection of WWII letters penned by American men and women serving overseas. True to the everyday thoughts of these fighters, the letters can be as amusing as they are heartbreaking.”

“From the time the first Japanese bomb fell on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor to occupation duty in conquered Japan, Americans served in every theater around the world during World War II. These letters give voices to the men and women who served, letting them tell their own stories of loss, heartbreak, and hope. A fitting honor for all veterans.”
 — Ray Boomhower, author of John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog

“Over the last several decades there has been a tendency to simplify and romanticize the experiences of the men and women that fought World War II. These letters, written in the war moment itself, offer a poignant response. Page after page, often in lyrical prose, ordinary Americans tell of their lives at basic training, at bases and camps on the home front and overseas, and at the front lines in the Pacific, Atlantic, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. What emerges is an intimate portrait of the mundane and remarkable, of heroism and terror, of friendship and loss, of the complexities, contradictions, and, ultimately, the horror of war. Timely, compelling, and important reading.”
 — Matthew L. Basso, author of Men at Work: Rediscovering Depression-era Stories from the Federal Writers' Project

“Through eyes that remained essentially civilian, they present objective pictures of the good and bad in military life, of the battles and campaigns they helped to win, and of places they visited. Their reactions to contemporary events and problems, to discussions of postwar planning, for instance, are as interesting as they are varied.1949”
 — Maryland Historical Magazine

“These letters build up a picture of war, piece by piece, until the total effect is almost unbearable. . . Every American should read them at least once a year.December 4, 1949”
 — Indiana Magazine of History

“One cannot read these pages and miss the stark realities of war—how it 'looked and sounded, how it smelled and felt'—to these particular Americans.1950”
 — The Mississippi Valley Historical Review

“Nonetheless, they still provide the personal and emotional responses to the war often lost in standard historical accounts. The reality of war is here in the letters and the brief biographies of the writers also often make tragic reading as several of the authors did not survive the war.”
 — History: The Journal of the Historical Association

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Table of Contents

1. Pearl Harbor and Bataan
2. Training Camps
3. North Africa
4. Italy
5. England
6. France
7. Germany
8. V-E Day and After
9. Alaska and the Aleutians
10. Southwest Pacific
11. Central Pacific and the Philippines
12. China-Burma-India
13. The Ryukyu Islands and Japan
14. After V-J Day

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