Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Tomorrow is Memorial Day and for many, it’s just a day off from work; a day observed on a Monday so that we can have a three-day weekend. But for millions of people, it’s a day that means so much more.
While the day was first unofficially observed following the Civil War, it took on a whole new meaning in the 20th century, after World War I, “the war to end all wars,” and World War II. However, as distance continues to grow between the present and the second world war, it seems that so too does the meaning of Memorial Day.
Millions of Americans were sent overseas to fight a terrible evil and rescue Europe from the clutches of Adolph Hitler. (And to prevent him from setting his sights on America.) Among those millions were two men related to my father, his uncle Charles Hopkins and his cousin Leslie Cooper, to whom Charles referred as “Junior.” Both hailed from Scranton, Pa.
I don’t know when or where he was shot down, but Leslie Cooper was part of a B-17 crew and was killed in action. My Aunt Bonnie — my dad’s aunt — spoke highly of Leslie, but to me as a child, he was just a picture on the wall. Charles Hopkins saw plenty of action on the ground and made it home, living in Scranton until 1986.
The following are some letters he sent via armed forces “V Mail” to my dad, “Billy,” my uncle Bobby and Charles’ brother, my grandfather. The letters are short and arrived on paper not much larger than a post card. They contain mostly responses to things mentioned in letters to him, but there are also some interesting observations.
June 16, 1944, Somewhere in Corsica:
“Dear Brother Bill,
“I sure was pleased to receive your swell letter of June first and hope this letter finds you, Lil, and the boys in the best of health. I am glad to hear you and the boys are pleased with your new home. I guess your yard must be pretty hard digging from what you say. There is some pretty hard ground over in these parts. If I ever see one of those paintings in my travels I will try and get one. If you had only mentioned it when I was in Sicily I think I could have got one dirt cheap. I am feeling the best and enjoyed my birthday. Hoping you also had a fine birthday. Give my love to mother and dad. Will write again soon so until then so long, good luck, health and plenty love to you, Lil and the boys.”
July 2, 1944, written on a post card depicting the Golfe de Porto:
How is everything going? I have not heard from you in quite a while, if you get time write me a letter. Give my regards to your Daddy, mother and Bobby.”
Sept. 1, 1944, Corsica:
“I sure was glad to receive your nice letter. I am feeling fine and hope this letter finds all at home the same. That sure must be a nice projector you have. How is Bobby’s turtle coming along? Do you drop in to see Grandma and Grandpa every once in a while? I bet you have plenty of airplanes made since I saw you last. I hope that V Day that the people are getting ready for comes soon. How is Junior making out and where is he at? I will try and collect a few souvenirs for you and Bobby to bring home. Well so long Billy, good luck and health to all.”
Nov. 18, 1944, Somewhere in France:
“Received both of your letters a few days ago and sure was glad to hear that you and your mother and daddy are well. I am now somewhere in France and from what I saw this country is pretty nice. (The next sentence was censored by an Army examiner) Billy, I have heard your school has a good team. Bobby, I hope you get a nice dog. Also, that club must be O.K. I am feeling fine and hope this letter finds you both, your mother and dad in the best of health. Later I will write to each of you boys so for now you both can read this.”
Dec. 13, 1944 Somewhere in France
This is an in interesting one. It has nothing but four scenes that appear to be hand-drawn. In the upper left, Africa 1942; upper right, Italy 1945; lower left, France 1944; lower right, “??? 1945.” That one shows what looks to be a scene of celebration in Times Square. Charles wrote above that, “Scranton I hope.”
Jan. 27, 1945, France:
“Dear Brother Bill,
“Received your letter of Jan. 13th today and sure was glad to hear form you and hope this letter finds you all well. The boys’ packages were swell. I got a kick out of the books as did several of the boys as they go for them cartoon books in a big way. This country is pretty fair but nothing like the States. As you say, there is plenty of mud around and it sticks like concrete. I sure was sorry to hear about Junior just when he was to start out in life. Maybe someday I will get a chance to even the score and I will. We are eating good and get our cigarette ration quite regular but some times run low. Give Lil and the boys my best wishes. So long best of luck to you.”
Apr. 3, 1945, France:
Received your letter also Billy’s and Bobby’s letters and was darn glad to hear from you. I am a little late in answering as I was busy at the time. Well I am feeling fine and hope this letter finds you Lil and the boys feeling the best. I am getting around quite a lot but would rather be in the States any day as there is no place like the good old U.S.A. Time sure is flying when a guy is kept busy but I guess it won’t always be like that because after all this dam thing will be over some day I think and hope. Best luck to all.”