Lt. Joseph Weber wrote to his colleague Thomas A. Brady from Germany months before World War II would end.
“Dear T.A.B.,” Weber began his March 18, 1945, letter.
“Keep cool, take a brief shot of whiskey and draw long on your pipe. This is just a friendly letter, and I’m not asking for anything-yet.”
So began one of the letters in the World War II collection that was published online this month.
The selection on the State Historical Society of Missouri‘s website contains texts by over 3,000 men and women from every state in the country.
Staff and volunteers spent nearly four years scanning, transcribing and applying the metadata, said Beth Pike, senior strategic communications associate at the SHSMO.
“The process was just kind of slow and steady. It never became a burden,” said Heather Richmond, an archivist at SHSMO, who led the project. “The volunteers are what kept it going. We could not have done it without the volunteers.”
Richmond said everyone persevered through challenges including the August 2019 move to the new SHSMO headquarters and the shift to working remotely due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
In 1945, MU professor and history department chair W. Francis English donated the letters to the SHSMO after he was unable to complete a book he’d planned.
English had reached out earlier that year to Ted Malone, the “Between the Bookends” radio host from Kansas City, to solicit letters from service men and women. Malone asked his audience, and people from all 50 states sent letters.
Many were accompanied by cover letters with messages to Malone from friends and family members who forwarded the letters on a service member’s behalf.
“A lot of the times, the mother donated the letter, and her son was killed in action,” said volunteer Dave Connett “She thought of this as, you know, the letter being put in a book was a way that her son can be remembered. So that also gave me a nice feeling that I was helping to finally make public these letters.”
Connett said the project also is a way of fulfilling English’s effort to publish a book.
Recent MU graduate Kate Rollins was a student worker at SHSMO during her freshman and sophomore years and scanned much of the project. Rollins compares reading the letters to being on a roller coaster.
“Everyone’s war experience is different,” said Rollins.
“If you read them in sequence, you can read one letter, and it says, ‘I’m in south Pacific, drinking a martini,’ and the next one, it’s like, ‘I’m in Germany, and I had to take my boot out of a corpse.’”
Mike Smith, a nearly three-year volunteer, said he hasn’t found a more inspirational volunteer project than the World War II letters collection.
“I consider these men and women from World War II to be my heroes,” said Smith, an Air Force veteran.
“They were inspirations for me while I was in the military, and they still are because the sacrifices they made were incredible.”