Monday, December 23, 2013

Last Letters From Stalingrad

It's that time of the year again for me...time to reflect on Last Letters From Stalingrad.

Many years ago (1988), I recorded a piece of what had become a Madison radio tradition. I posted the recording as a YouTube video which has over 4,000 views now, nearly all from people searching for it.  The voices are those of Erwin Knoll and George Vukelich.

I originally split the half hour recording into three ten minute parts to conform to YouTube's then 10 minute limit.  Here I have linked the three together:

I also blogged the text of most of the 39 letters in the book. I recently looked back at each of the letters and tried picking a few words to characterize each one. The gamut of human emotion comes out in these letters:

#1: helplessness and insignificance
#2: love and loneliness
#3: resignation and loss
#4: remorse
#5: defiance
#6: entrapment
#7: absolution
#8: obliviousness
#9: doubt and faith
#10: cynicism
#11: fatigue
#12: false pride
#13: homesickness
#14: optimism
#15: disbelief (George reads this one in Part 2)
#16: faith and perseverance (George reads this one in Part 3)
#17: nihilism
#18: friendship
#19: jocularity
#20: love and sacrifice
#21: stoicism
#22: selflessness
#23: cynicism
#24: divorce and betrayal
#25: parental love; fatherhood
#26: obliviousness and denial
#27: false pride
#28: to be done
#29: to be done
#30: rebellion
#31: regret and futility
#32: to be done
#33: to be done
#34: to be done
#35: guilt, murder, and remorse.
#36: to be done
#37: to be done
#38: This one is my favorite, because I too love words and sounds. George reads this one in Part 2.
#39: This was George Vukelich's favorite. The young man writing to his father had what the Germans call Pflicht which means obligation and duty. George reads it in Part 3 of the linked video.

Others have considered whether the letters are forgeries but I think each person is entitled to form his or her own opinion.


AllenS said...

Second Corp, Viet Nam, Dec. 1967

I'm not sure of the exact date. I was never sure what the date was. None of us had calendars. We had been "in the bush" since October. After a series of small running gun battles, we were resupplied. One of the few letters that I received that day was from Judy, a girl from South St Paul, MN. A girl that I had met in 1965 and had an on again/off again relationship. She wanted to know what life was like for me. What I did every day, and get this: if I had been home since she last saw me. I couldn't think of what to say. I carried her letter with me for about 2-3 weeks more, and then lost that letter and others after I was wounded and medivaced out. I never wrote her back. I simply couldn't think of anything to say.

After I returned home, I called her home and her mother told me she had just gotten married. I've often wondered what would have happened to us if I had tried to keep in contact.

Life goes on. I plan on reading the rest of the letters. I'm on #7.

AllenS said...

Part Two, Dec 24 1967

We are back at Fire Support Base Clara, NE of Tuy Hoa. There is supposed to be some kind of Christmas cease fire. Nevertheless, tonight myself and about 10 others go out on ambush. Nothing happens. In the morning we walk back to Clara.

The FSB is going to be abandoned. The field artillery which was here months ago, is gone, and we will be moving to support a Green Beret camp that has been under fire lately.

A hot meal is flown out to us on Christmas. On the 26th our platoon walks down a long steep hill to a small stream. Half of us take up positions on both sides of the stream and the other half strips and baths. When done we stand around naked smoking cigarettes and burning leeches off of each other. Then the other half bathes. We put back on our filthy, stinky, torn clothes.

Morning, Dec 27, D company helicopters out, then B company, then we receive the news that Delta is under heavy fire. We will try to assist.

An alternative landing zone is selected to help D company. First platoon from my company (A), lands and comes under fire. Then the 3rd platoon lands to help them. Myself and the 2nd platoon are the last to reach the landing zone. We are notified that the landing zone is hot. The closer we get, I notice bullets hitting my chopper. Soon it is smoking and out of control. Within a few feet off the ground we jump.

I'll skip the action here, but just say that I was wounded and spent the next 3 months in a military hospital in Japan.

Sometime around the end of March or first part of April, I return to my unit in VN.

Unlike the Germans, I write to no one. Which freaked out my mother who contacted a Senator who contacted the Red Cross who finally found me in Bong Song VN. My CO was pissed, and watched me as I wrote a letter to my mother. It was my last letter. I simply had nothing to say.

chickelit said...

Thank for that, Allen. Over the months here and over the years elsewhere, you have been a valued voice. Please continue.

edutcher said...

Yeah, no break in a combat zone.

Even in the Indian wars, they patrolled.

One cavalry troop fought an engagement with the Kiowas and ended up with an old lance handed down from the Conquistadores as a souvenir.

edutcher said...

On Christmas Day.

rcocean said...

Well done and very touching.

rcocean said...

Great comment Allen. Thanks.

AllenS said...

Ugh! Make that NW of Tuy Hoa. NE would put you in the ocean.

bagoh20 said...

Thanks for your service AllenS, and we're lucky you now write a little more often. I hope the shooting is less frequent, or at least less accurate where you are now.