'War Letters' Giveaway Highlights Legacy of Letters
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 25, 2002 Sometimes the dead still speak to us, and sometimes the Moms and Dads and Grandpas and Grandmas we know today take on the voices of young men and women.
This is the power of "War Letters," edited by Andrew Carroll.
The book, released last year, was a New York Times bestseller. It is a compendium of American war letters from the Civil War to today. The letters are immediate and give the flavor of life and death in the military or on the home front. The letters are by turns sad, funny or hopeful. They give voice to those killed in battle or remind us what our veterans sounded like when they were in their late teens and early 20s.
The book is now available to service members in another blast from the past an Armed Services Edition. Carroll is traveling the country giving away copies to service members free. He started at noon today in the Pentagon and will hit many major bases in weeks to come.
Armed Services Editions trace their lineage to World War II. Publishing houses created compact, condensed books that would fit in the cargo pockets of troops' fatigues. The U.S. government distributed more than 120 million of these books from 1943 to 1947. Titles ranged from westerns to philosophy.
The "War Letters" ASE is the first of its kind since 1947. Carroll got the idea when he first saw an original ASE in a used book store.
"I immediately was drawn to these," he said. "It just seemed, what a great thing to bring back!"
Well before Sept. 11, Carroll spoke with his publisher about re-releasing a "War Letters" ASE. His publisher researched it and, while not cheap, came up with 10,000 ASE copies that look exactly like the World War II versions.
Fast forward a few months. Carroll had been working with the Veterans of Foreign Wars on the Legacy Project, a national volunteer effort that asks Americans to save and preserve their war letters. All the proceeds from the retail "War Letters" book goes to veterans groups.
"The VFW asked if I was bringing back the ASEs," he said. "I said, 'Yeah,' and they said they wanted to underwrite some." The organization signed on to produce 2.5 million books.
"It's really great because it means we can do this launch in a huge way and really make a very powerful statement, especially to the publishing industry that this is something they might want to bring back," Carroll said.
"I sincerely hope that 'War Letters' is not the last of the new editions, that other publishers will say 'Let's do this too. Let's give books to the troops.'"
Carroll said such books as "Black Hawk Down," "D-Day," "We Were Soldiers Once And Young," and "Undaunted Courage" would be ASE naturals.
But the bottom line for Carroll is the Legacy Project. He said it will continue "as long as I'm alive."
Preserving war letters helps give people a better understanding of war, he said. He's asking today's service members to save theirs.
"I certainly have a preference for hand-written letters, because I've held in my hands original Civil War letters, Battle of the Bulge letters that are ripped, torn, stained with blood, they've got splotches of mud on them, and because of that you get a much greater sense of the circumstances (under which they were) written," he said. "The paper itself is historic. It gives you that sense of being there."
But for the families and loved ones of those in the service today, e-mail is fine. It's quick and lets families know their service members are all right, quickly. "But back here on the home front, save them," he said. "Print them out, put them aside. Don't think that you will do it later."
Carroll said he is looking for Sept. 11 e-mails. "We've got some really powerful ones that have come in," he said.
"What has always impressed me about the military is their humility," he said. "They are very modest about what they do. What I want to do is remind them that it is also historic. What they think is trivial or what they think no one else will care about has great historic value.
"Just as we look back on Pearl Harbor letters, future generations will look back on the post-9/11 letters or e- mails with just that same sense of perspective."
Carroll will launch the new book at the Library of Congress May 1. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, former Sen. Bob Dole, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, Rep. Charles Rangel, ABC reporter Sam Donaldson, Christopher Buckley and Vice Adm. Patricia Tracey will read from the Armed Services Edition of "War Letters."
Carroll will cross the country passing out copies of the book to service members. He will travel to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; Naval Station Norfolk, Va.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla.; Dallas-Fort Worth Air National Guard Base, Fort Hood, Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, all in Texas; Naval Station San Diego and Travis Air Force Base, both in California.
For more information on "War Letters" and the Legacy Project, point your browsers to www.warletters.com/project.