Friday, May 8, 2015

VE Day: In Letters

The first page of a handwritten letter."VE day was taken very calmly here. It was really very much of an anti-climax as we had been anticipating it for a number of days and had been seeing hundreds of German soldiers who had laid down their arms and were trying to reach our rear area. No one paid any attention to them. It really struck me as very satirical as the war was still going on at that time."

That was the view of Corporal Charles Roland in a May 10, 1945, letter to Henry Williams. Roland was in Germany at the time and he also notes that he felt that "as of VE day plus one I am in the best of shape and therefore feel that my chances of surviving this old war are pretty darn good." He goes on to caution Williams against "this Pacific business" since Williams was "a married man." Roland writes that "If I were you I would try to stay right where you are."

A page from a handwritten letter.A letter from George Lucas in Okinawa dated May 25, 1945, expresses the hope that since the "news from Europe is very good" he hopes that "the same kind of news comes from this way soon." Lucas also mentions his lack of sleep due to the fact that the Japanese "still insist on sending planes over every once in a while."

These and numerous other letters from friends of Williams document the experiences of many during World War II. They range in content from a brief postcard sent from Dijon - "The town is one of the best I have seen over here" to a much more candid letter.
I've seen some pretty horrible things over here, but let's not go into 'em right now - or anytime. I wish to forget as fast as is possible.
And later in the same letter:
If things continue I may make the "White Boat" and return to the States. I rather expect to, but don't like the method. I feel like I've done something over here to help out, but am scared to death of what I might do in my sleep. An I also don't see much sense in returning - if at all - a mental wreck. I'm wondering where I can find a psychiatrist to check me over.
A page from a handwritten letter.
In addition to being a Dartmouth faculty member, Williams served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers where he became an expert in camouflage design and attained the rank of Captain. After the war, he returned to Dartmouth and was appointed Director of the Experimental Theatre. Though his papers focus mainly on his work at Dartmouth and his interest in the theater, there are several boxes related to his work during World War II which include correspondence from friends serving in various areas, numerous training manuals and photographs.

Ask for ML-69. A guide to the collection is available. Most of the World War II material is contained in boxes 8-12.