A sentimental journey through some love letters from World War II

Credit: Chris West

Credit: Chris West

Tracey Fredrick, a reader in Vandalia, sent me a copy of a book she and her brother Scott Campbell assembled. The book, “From the South Pacific to the New River: a West Virginia Love Story,” consists of letters their father wrote to their mother during the final months of World War II.

Now that the generation that served in that conflict has nearly faded away into the amber twilight, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at this deeply personal example of love and war. Their dad, John Emerson Campbell, was a native of West Virginia. In December of 1943 he was serving in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific.

His brother Herb was also in the Navy and on an aircraft carrier near Hawaii when he died in an accident. His official death certificate states the cause: “Injuries, Multiple, Extreme-Struck by Airplane propeller.” Back home a 15 year-old girl named Delphia Mae Wininger got the bad news. To use the parlance of that era, the late Herb had been sweet on Delphia.

In March, 1944 John wrote to Delphia stating his sorrow over the loss of his brother and expressing his condolences to her. Their correspondence lasted until the war ended.

Expressions of sorrow slowly changed into something more, a growing affection between Delphia, and this man who was 10 years her senior. This written courtship was preserved because Delphia saved his letters. Her letters to him didn’t make it back from the war.

In that first letter we don’t sense where this correspondence could eventually lead. He was a gentleman who soothingly wrote to her: “you will meet someone you love someday no doubt.” She wrote back. They kept writing. He came back on leave and spent time with her.

By March of the following year he’s feeling some insecurities about his chances with her. He wrote: “You are the one girl that I want to come home to. The one I would like to try to make happy and I may as well tell you I am afraid I will fail. You can have your pick of many. Some younger then {sic} I and fellows who haven’t become hardened in the service.”

Emotions got raw, by June,1945 he’s melting down when he wrote “I don’t want a girl who thinks about my ideas are all wet. She will have to see my side of living and you said no to that.” One can only imagine what the teenaged Delphia had written to him that got him upset but by the next letter he had calmed down.

He apologized: “I am thinking I have been quite a heel for writing the last letter. At the time I was a little peeved and in a terrible mood.” They were in love. After the war they got married and had a family. He obtained a job at a foundry in Lima. This collection of John’s wartime letters to Delphia transports us back to more innocent times.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

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