The War Letters collection in the Austin College Archives contains 42 letters – 41 from World War II, one from the Korean War – all given to the College by Rollin Rolfe, long-time faculty member and dean of students. Of the 41 World War II letters, all but two were written in 1945. Rolfe corresponded with students throughout the war, but apparently discarded hundreds of letter before realizing the historical value of these documents.
The letters were written from all parts of the world:
|South Pacific: 11||India: 2||France: 6|
|Japan: 2||United States: 10||Western Europe: 1|
|Far East: 2||Virgin Islands: 2||Germany: 1|
|Western Pacific: 1||England: 3|
What Rolfe wrote to soldiers is generally not known, but at times can be inferred from the soldiers’ responses. Many soldiers accepted Rolfe’s promise of a warm bath waiting for them at Luckett Hall after the war; others thanked Rolfe for sending the latest copy of the College Bulletin. A number of soldiers asked Rolfe for career advice, wondering if they should attend officer candidate school, pursue seminary after the war, or return to Austin College.
Rolfe offered to send textbooks to C.Y. Bartley ’38, who was with the 1st Marine Division in San Francisco, Calif., but Bartley wrote back, “We have very little time to read. Busy all day and it’s usually lights out as soon as the sun sets.” Bartley, like some of the other soldiers, expressed an interest in returning to campus on the G.I. Bill after the war, but wondered how they would fit in with the young student body.
Robert F. Nicholson (attended 1942-44) wrote from England to request a trigonometry book from Dean of Students James Moorman. He described the book, one Moorman had used in class, and then closed his letter: “England is just about as you described it to us one day in class. I’d say more, but we aren’t allowed to write anything uncomplimentary about the English.”
Rolfe wrote much about campus improvements. One soldier, whose signature was indecipherable, wrote from Holland and sent $25 to help with the completion of the administration building, which Rolfe had designed in the 1920s and the College began building but had yet to complete in 1945 due to a lack of funds, the Depression, and the war. “This is my 30th month,” the soldier wrote. “I’ve already been here so long that I’m now eligible, under the Dutch squatters rights law, for ten acres and a hog. I’ve always wanted a hog, but darned if they are going to shove ten acres of this damn country off on me.”
J.G. Jack W. Nelson ’43 wrote from PT boat duty in the Pacific about “man-trap” clams that weighed 300 pounds and could be used as bathtubs, “four feet in diameter and 11 inches deep.” He also fashioned a crank-top ice cream freezer from materials “procured” from the Japanese.
Maj. Marvin E. Lindemann (attended 1944) had commanded the 77th Flight Training Corps at Austin College in 1943 and 1944, and wrote Rolfe from somewhere in the Far East. “I’ll tell you one thing, if there’s a friend to me at your college it’s that man Moorman [James B. Moorman, dean of students] – when we got together it was stern intelligence plus brutal military force attacking problems and then, the solution of problems could be only sound and nothing more. Am still learning and working away as usual since my greatest obsession is the efficiency of my command.”
Many soldiers wrote about death. “It sure isn’t fun and you know we play for keeps in this game,” wrote T.J. Bailey ’48 from the South Pacific. Johnny G. Farmer ’46 wrote about his shock at hearing of the death of his friend and classmate George Firor. “The prices of war are high,” Farmer wrote.
Two months before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, John Farmer speculated about the impending invasion of Japan. “I am willing to miss the invasion of the [Japanese] homeland, for that operation will be quite nasty.” C.A. Winkle ’41 also would have participated in the invasion of Japan, “We had been preparing for something big when the glad tidings came,” but instead became the skipper of a post-war cargo ship in Japan.
Many letters dealt with post-war plans. As the war in Europe neared an end, Joe Brown ’38 wrote, “Listening to J. Straus’s ‘Wine, Women, and Song’ just to get in the right mood.”
Pfc. Oscar W. Mueller ’47 wrote from France. “When this mess ends, I’m going to make one stop to pick up my wife and then by the fastest means available I’m heading for old A.C. [Austin College]. The old school means more to me now than it ever did while I had the privilege of being a student there.” Two months later Mueller wrote again to Rolfe. “Yes, I can imagine that the gum-beating session we shall have when we do get together again will outshine any previous sessions held at A.C. [Austin College], both in length and intensity.”
One soldier named Shug (or Slug) wrote from “the wrong side of the Pacific” and included a portrait he had drawn of his fiancé. “I tell you, Mr. Rolfe, she is all any man could ask for and far more than I deserve.” Shug drew portraits for “the lads” who wanted to send them home [Have copies of two of these.] and closed his letter on this note: “The world may well be the devils own replica of hell, but you just can’t kill this thing we [illegible] have locked up in our hearts. We may not play as much, nor smile as often, nor even enjoy life as we could have if we did not know some of the things we know, but we’ll be back again. Keep things right for us Mr. Rolfe.”
Even close to home, some soldiers missed life on campus. Warren B. Hunter ’48 wrote from Oklahoma: “You do not realize how much you love the place until you are away for some time. It is the type of thing that grows on a man and never wears off.”
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