By Martha Densmore
In June 2012, my mom sold her house. She asked if I wanted anything. We were standing at the foot of her bed. The cedar hope chest was open.
“I’d like the letters.”
Over three hundred letters written from my father to my mother, dated from April 9, 1942 to May 12, 1946, were bundled and tied with thin satin ribbon. My mom’s private personal treasure had been sequestered in the chest for more than 60 years.
I took them home from L.A. to Denver in a hatbox.
Several weeks passed before I felt ready to read one. I picked it at random. First words shot me back in time. The scene came to life. Dad was on his ship in the SW Pacific. “These are my three requests about the ring,” he wrote. What the hell? The ring? No way! He’s talking about “the ring” in a letter? I felt like a ghost meeting my father as a young man for the first time.
My parents, Morris Densmore and Arline Thurlow, were all-American high school sweethearts living in Portland, Maine during the Second World War. Both were overcoming turbulent childhoods in the Great Depression and refashioning their lives. Both were ambitious and determined to succeed.
The first letter is a postcard from a weekend jaunt “Mose” took with guy friends to visit college: “We had swell luck on the way up. I guess we thumbed about a dozen cars.” This begins an exhaustive history spanning his first year at Bowdoin College, the take-over of the college by the military, fraternity life, enlistment in the Navy, Midshipman’s School at Bates, Naval Academy at Annapolis, deployment to the SW Pacific and homecoming. Morris married Arline shortly after he returned home from the war in 1946.
Writing in great detail–Dad was a habitual list-maker—his letters disclose college and naval classes, his future plans, jobs, duties, entertainment, basically a universe of experience. During deployment in the Pacific he relates his hopes, longings and even despair.
In a letter to Arline dated Nov 19, 1944, Dad pretty well sums up the mood of every soldier writing home to his true love as he departs for battle:
Tonight I feel like writing you and perhaps, you might say, opening my heart to you. Tomorrow I am being detached from the Twelfth Naval District, which means (I am to) pack for embarkation. Sometimes, darling, I may tend to be dramatic or melodramatic; perhaps it is just a weak or sentimental mood; but I am sure all men feel somewhat as I do tonight.
… As fate would have it we were together in reality but nine months. Since that time we have been apart. We have been apart darling in time and space but as these two elements have increased I know my thoughts of and for you have also increased to the point where I have but one great immediate goal in life and you know what that is Arline. In a way darling I am not too sorry that I’m going over now because the sooner I go over the sooner I will be back.
… By the time you get this letter I will probably be on my way so this is probably my best chance to give you some information which you have asked about in your letters. I am going to the Dutch New Guinea area. I might possibly end up in the Admiralty islands but this also is in that general area. … Here I will be joining some flotilla of the 7th Amphibian Forces.
… As I understand it, there is a definite training routine before every operation which means darling that I won’t be dodging bullets all of the time. I have been issued a lot of tropical clothes and equipment. Remember Arline that you are always to use the same address unless I tell you specifically otherwise and never let anybody, either in your letters to me or in any other way, have any indication that you know where I am.
–Reprinted by permission of Martha Densmore; not for republication
Dad passed away in 1999. Our father-daughter relationship was for decades, arms-length, cerebral, emotionally vacuous. Don’t get me wrong. Morris was loving, even-tempered and honorable. It’s just that he demonstrated his love by deeds. “I love you” is something he never spoke or wrote to me. The closest, from his deathbed, was a nod, a vague answer about love. Both mom and dad were the “silent generation”: They rarely shared about the war. They had sacrificed all.
All that’s in the letters lives on. They are of soul and heart. Letters such as these are a lifeline of love, able to cross land and sea, years—even hearts.
I am watching the movies mentioned in the letters. I turn on Turner Classic Movies and watch them as if I were sitting next to my father.
His “I Love you Darling” in hundreds of letters is a palpable connection. I feel closer to Morris than ever. This may seem odd, but they are written to me.
Letters that are my favorite and key historical documents will be the foundation of a book I plan to publish in Winter 2014. This wonderful romance is my personal story of healing through reconstructing the lives of my parents. I hope this American story will be an inspiration to others.
Guest blogger Martha Densmore lives in Santa Barbara, California, and is an acupuncturist, nurse and writer. Her Love Letters of WWII Facebook page is loaded with all sorts of images from the age. Be sure to check it out.