WASHINGTON - From the Korean War soldier telling family he had been wounded to the Civil War missive letting a future wife know her letters were his only source of pleasure, the National Postal Museum opens an exhibit of war letters on Friday - Veterans Day.
"War Letters: Lost and Found," features letters to and from service members. The letters had been lost or abandoned and then rediscovered by strangers.
"People will enjoy the exhibition because these are great stories," said Andrew Carroll, who collected the material as part of The Legacy Project, which seeks to collect war letters and to encourage families to preserve these materials.
One letter, bought at a yard sale for less than $1, recounts the suicide attempt of Japanese leader Hideki Tojo, the prime minister, at the end of World War II.
"Dear Mom and Dad: I don't imagine you could ever guess where I am as I write this letter. At present, I'm sitting in a chair about 3 ft. from the bedside of the ex-Premier of Japan - Hideki Tojo. You know, it's funny to be taking care of someone & not knowing whether you want him to live or not," Marine Cpl. Robert Easterbrook, a medic, wrote.
"That reminded me of the American GIs guarding Saddam Hussein," Carroll said in a telephone interview.
"We want to remind people of what could be in their attics and basements," Carroll said. "It breaks my heart when I hear of families who have servicemen or women in Iraq who are deleting e-mails. Even if you don't think they are significant, save them, because you never know what you have."
Carroll seeks to preserve the legacy of war letters by collecting copies of them. But he said he also receives many originals from people who find them in houses they have bought and have no connection to the people involved.
Visitors to the museum will be offered a brochure with tips on how to preserve old letters.
The letters on display at the Postal Museum include one found in a trash can at a Chicago Bank. It's from Paul, a soldier in the Korean War.
"Just a line to let you know I have been wounded and am in the hospital in Japan. I was shot (by) a single bullet. I am thankful to be alive."
In 1966 a young girl in Seguin, Texas, wrote to her father in Vietnam, asking: "Can you hear all the shooting and bombing of the war? If you do, I bet you get scared."
And on Dec. 26, 1864 Confederate Lt. William Steele of the Virginia Artillery wrote his future bride, Annie McFarland, to say "the only pleasure I now see is perusing your very precious letters." His letter was later saved from the trash by a granddaughter.
The exhibit is to remain at the Smithsonian's Postal Museum for a year.
On the Net:
National Postal Museum: http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu
Legacy Project: http://www.warletters.com