Austria, May 30, 1945 … A Memorial Day letter

Not too long ago my cousin Eve found the letters written to our grandmother and grandfather by the four sons who were fighting in World War II for the United States. Eve’s parent was the only girl in the family and after she died these letters arrived. Eve sorted them and sent them on to the children of those who wrote. My father Russell Snider wrote often. As the war ended and he got prisoner of war camp duty, he began to feel deeply compassionate toward the Germans that he met.

In deciphering his handwriting on Memorial Day a kind of found-poem emerged. These are his words (the shape and the spelling are mine).

Dear Mother and Father,

I thought I would write you a letter to let you know
that everything is going fine.
I have been having a lot of rest and good food.
When we were making our drive across Germany
all we had to eat was dry rations.
In fact for six weeks I never had
a cup of hot coffee or a warm meal.

Our drive across Germany was rough and terrible
but it has finally come to an halt.
The boys stand around now
with bewildered looks on their faces
and can’t understand how it is possible.
Now that it is over, I look back and wonder
at all the things that happened.
There were times I would lie in the cold mud and cry
because everything was so horrible.
I could look right in the eyes of the Germans.

Everything would pass before my eyes —
I could remember saying good-bye to my wife,
and my promise that I would come back to her.
Then I would say a prayer, fix my bayonet and charge.
I wanted my folks to be proud of me
because I had the blue badge of a
combat infantryman pinned on my chest.

You see I just had to be a good soldier for my wife,
my mother and my father.
they have done so much for me
and I don’t want them to be ashamed of me.

We have an easy life now –
we go on patrol to pick up some Germans
but they put up very little resistance.
We lie in the sun and swim in the mountain lakes.
The Austrian Alps are so very beautiful,
it is a shame that war had to be fought here.
There are fast streams full of trout and bass
and we catch and fry them ourselves.

I would like to come home and see everyone.
Until that day comes
I shall be thinking of you each day
and saying a prayer for you each night.

Love from your son, Russell.

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