Gazette Article by Susan Crowe Whitcomb
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 2011
Letters to and from Americans serving in the military during World War II were as important to victory as ammunition and K-rations. The connection with loved ones was vital to morale overseas and commitment to the war effort at home.
The Historical Society recently received a large box of World War II correspondence containing more than 1,400 letters that passed between David and Louise Matchett from July 1942 to October 1944. The WHS received this donation from the Matchetts’ daughter, Mary Kingery, and her husband Daniel, both of whom grew up on the North Shore.
Both David and Louise Matchett were raised on Chicago’s South Side. David’s father was a Cook County Appellate Court judge and Louise’s was the principal of Fenger High School. At the time of their marriage in 1942, David was a practicing attorney and Louise was finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Chicago.
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Less than three weeks after their wedding day, David reported for duty at Fort Sheridan and for most of the war was attached to the Army Medical Corps, much of it in Papua, New Guinea. David did not see combat, but did see the ravages of battle as soldiers were brought into the hospital. David’s early letters often discuss the broad and noble aims of war: _I know it is trite to talk of the battle for justice and the four freedoms and yet it is true that we are battling for the right and although we are sure God will protect us, this war, with its trail of human misery has been brought upon us by international pirates of Tokyo, Berlin and Rome, but it will end with the annihilation of these wicked and black-hearted men who have defied God and our country._ (July 1942)
Soldiers were instructed to give no details in their letters home about their location or war experiences so if a letter fell into enemy hands, the enemy would not learn anything that helped them win the war. David took these rules seriously: _According to our manual, I cannot tell you where we are and although I am reasonably certain where we are going, I cannot tell you where that is._ (January 1944)
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During World War I, mail delivery was slow and letters were often lost. With this experience in mind, the US Post Office joined with the War and Navy
Departments in 1942 to provide “V-Mail” for overseas correspondence. Written on stationery provided by the Post Office, V-mail went to a processing center where it was opened, screened by a censor and then microfilmed. Sheets of~ ~microfilm were flown or shipped across the ocean and then the microfilm was printed and delivered. The advantages of V-mail were monumental: it saved~ ~98% on precious cargo space in ships and planes traveling overseas and~ ~offered speedy delivery compared to regular mail. From the US, V-mail could~ ~reach Australia in eight days, Britain in five — faster than air mail reaches those~ ~countries today. The Matchetts used V-mail frequently.~
The US government and the Red Cross urged stateside letter writers to offer positive sentiments about the war. Louise wrote long letters every day and filled them with hope for the future and pleasant reminders of home. However, news of friends’ misfortune in war did get passed along: Jeanie is sure that David was taken for some special reason since he was the only one of the crew killed, all the others being prisoners. He is in a better place now. (March 1944) My friend Natalie’s fiancée was shot down over enemy territory on his first mission. (April 1944)
More than any other topic, the Matchetts wrote about their love for each other. Louise referred to David as her “Prince” and he called Louise his “Snow White.”
Louise to David: Darling, I want you to remember that you are first in my heart and first in my life. You are the pivot on which my whole life turns. I pray ever for you, your health, your success and your early return. (March 1944)
David to Louise: I hope to meet you and see your smile as soon as I disembark in the United States when this is all over. I am already looking forward to it as being – next to our wedding – the most joyous occasion we have had in our lives. I love you with all my heart Snow White. Nothing can separate us. (March 1944)
David returned to the US toward the end of 1944 to attend the Judge Advocate General Officer Candidate School in Ann Arbor, MI. He served in the JAG Corps until 1946. David and Louise moved from Chicago to Northfield in the 1950s where they raised their daughter Mary. David passed away in 1974, and Louise passed away recently.