Friday, April 10, 2020

Easter greetings during World War II

Johnnie and Lucile Marston
We are in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, something none of us ever expected to live through. Doctors, nurses, police, firemen, and even grocery store employees are working the frontlines, risking getting sick to take care of others and make sure people have food and other essentials. Most states are under a stay at home order and people can’t be with their loved ones. We’re told to practice social distancing if we do go out. Businesses are closed, leaving many people out of work. Grocery store shelves are bear due to panic buying. And worst of all, many people are dying. It’s a scary time for all of us.

Easter is this Sunday, a time of hope. Because most churches are closed, people are struggling with how to celebrate this most important Christian holiday. But it’s not the first-time people have been unable to celebrate Easter with their family. As I’ve done with several other holidays, I thought about my brother-in-law’s parents, Johnnie and Lucile Marston, and how they dealt with being apart at Easter during World War II. I’ve transcribed the over 300 letters Johnnie wrote to Lucile during that time so it was easy to search. The letters below are what I found.

Johnnie and Lucile were married in a simple ceremony in Jonesboro, Georgia on December 27, 1940. Six months later, he registered for the World War II draft, however it was almost two years before induction. Johnnie entered into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort McPherson in Atlanta on November 30, 1942. He entered into active service as a rifleman on December 7, 1942, assigned to Company L of the 334th Infantry Regiment, 84th Division. Johnnie was immediately sent to Camp Howze, Texas, “an infantry replacement training center located adjacent to the town of Gainesville in Cooke County, Texas” according to Wikipedia. He settled into life at Camp Howze, training for war.

By the time Easter came around, he was worried about his mother, dying from cancer back in Miami, Florida. All Johnnie wanted to do was to make her happy, and for Easter 1943, that was a photo of her son. He wrote Lucile about it on April 17, 1943:
My Dearest Darling, 
Well here is a lonely letter, from a lonely soldier. I hope this finds you well and not as lonely as I am. I have just come back from mail call and was really disappointed when I didn’t receive any letters from you. Maybe I will get one from you this evening. I hope so anyway. I received a letter from Louise yesterday. They are all getting along well, all except Mother, as you know about her anyway. Honey, Mother wants a picture of me and I thought I would send her a large one for Easter Sunday as a present. But as I am in debt with the Red Cross and owe some around here, I don’t know when I can send it to her for Easter Sunday or not. Being that I don’t want to borrow any more money around here in camp, but it looks like I am going to have to anyway because if it is in my power to get it, I am, as you know that anyway. I told you I was going to send you something on your birthday and I did, so I am going to have a picture made some way and send to Mother. I am going to try to do everything I can for her because the way things look, she won’t be here much longer. You don’t blame me do you? I try not to think about her going away, but it’s no use, it stays on my mind all the time. All you hear around camp now is that we are leaving. That is all they are talking about. Darn I wish they would quit talking about it, that’s another thing that’s getting me. Not that I am scared of going but I am afraid they might send me off without seeing you one more time. It if wasn’t for that, I am ready just any old time. I am not forgetting what them dam Japs have done to us. How is Earl and Geral’s farm coming along? Tell them to write me all about it. How is Robert and Nell? Your Mother? I will answer her letter as soon as I get some more time. 
So, lots lots Love, Johnnie

Like people today, Johnnie was worried about not seeing Lucile. Four days later, while he and his company were camping under the stars during training exercises on April 21, 1943, Johnnie was able to steal a little time to write Lucile. In his letter, he told her about an Easter card he received from her mother and asked Lucile to thank her for sending it.
Camp out 25 miles from camp. I would give a dollar for a pack of cigarettes if I had the dollars 
My Dearest Wife, 
I received your letter today and was glad to hear from you after not hearing from you in a week. We are camping out this week and will be out till Friday nite. How far we are from camp, tell you above. You are lucky to get an answer from me way out here and I was lucky enough to get some paper to write you. I am sorry you are not getting any more letters, but that is something I am not getting much time to do and that is writing. The only time I have time for writing letters is on Sunday. Please tell your Mother thanks a lot for the Easter Card and that it was really nice. Tell Grandma I can’t write her till this weekend and that I would write her as soon as I get back to camp. Tell little Bob Stack’s the same. Honey, I owe all of my money out this month and I could really use some if you can do me any good send it air mail. Tell Doc Hello.  
Love Lots Love, Johnnie
Johnnie was able to get a pass in March long enough to travel to Miami to see his mother one last time. On his train ride back to Camp Howze, he was befriended by a mother and daughter who shared their food with him and then sent him an Easter card after they all made it back home. He wrote Lucile on April 30, 1943 and shared the story with her.
My Dearest Wife, 
I received a letter from you yesterday and I couldn’t get the register you sent me with the money in it till today. We have been out on the field all week and that is the reason I didn’t get it till today. Thanks a lot for the money you sent me. But it was just a little late for I received some cigarettes from some friends I met on the train, coming back from Miami. The people I am talking about that sent me the cigarettes is a young girl and her Mother. This girl is about eighteen years old and not bad to look at either, Ha Ha. The way I met them was they had a lunch box full of cakes, sandwiches, apples, and a lot of other good things to eat. I was sitting across from them on the train and this girl’s Mother came over and invited me to eat with them. Being that I just had sixty cents, of course I went over and eat with them. Do you blame me? They asked me where I live and was I married. I told them yes, to the most wonderful girl in the world and I am not just talking either. As you know you are the only one for me. They asked me would I write them if they give me their address and I told them I would and of course they asked me my Army address. And I give it to them. They sent me an Easter card and the cigarettes at the same time. I think they are pretty nice people, don’t you? They live in Illinois. Honey, I wish you would have come on up because from what I gather, we are leaving sometime this month or the part of next month. Gosh, I wish I knew just when we were leaving. We are wearing our summer uniform now and mine doesn’t look bad at all. You shall see, Ha Ha. O’ yeah my hair is getting to look like something new, Ha Ha. Well Babe, since this is all the news for this time, I will close. Tell all hello for me, and to be good. 
Lots Lots Lots Love, Johnnie
Johnnie spent Easter 1944 in Italy where he received multiple Easter cards from Lucile’s family. He told her about them in a V-mail letter he wrote to her on March 18, 1944.
My Dearest Darling, 
Just a few lines to let you know I am thinking of you and hope this finds you well. Darling, please, if you have those pains every month like you say, go see a doctor. It really makes me feel bad to hear that you are sick like that. Honey, I received all the Easter greeting cards that your family sent. They were all very nice. Will close for this time.  
May God Bless you and Lots Lots Love, Johnnie

Bad things were happening in Italy and Johnnie was apparently in the thick of it. But thankfully he was still able to receive mail and enjoyed the Easter card Lucile sent him. He thanked her for the card in a March 28, 1944 V-mail.
My Dear Darling, 
Well, I finally got around to being able to write you a few lines once more. There isn’t anything wrong with me. I am as well as can be expected. But as you know I have told you in my other letters that there would be times when you won’t hear from me so regular and I know you understand that part. I hope this finds you in the best of health and I am also glad to hear that Mom Stacks is lots better. Give her my regards. I received the Easter card from you today. Also, three letters. The card was very nice. I know what you mean when you said you were looking over those letters I wrote you before we were married. I didn’t keep my promise to any of them, did I? I will do my best to make up a lot of things when we are back together again. I owe a lot to you. Will close. I miss you a lot and I Love you a Million. 
He mentioned the Easter cards Lucile’s family sent again in his April 6, 1944 letter. I’m sure it meant a lot to him that they took the time to send the cards.
My Dearest Darling 
Well here it is April the first and I hope this finds you in the best of health and also hope that you had a wonderful day being that you have had a birthday. I just hope and pray that I am with you on your next one, and the way things are going now, I will be. I haven’t heard from you in a good while now. I guess it is because I have moved on over here in Italy and my mail hasn’t caught up with me yet. How is the little old house, have you made much changes since I was there last time? I guess you have. Honey, I received a V-mail letter from Louise today. She seems to be getting along OK. Say Darling, have you heard from sister Kate lately? I haven’t heard from her since I’ve been overseas. It seems she would drop me a line by now. How is Doc and Ma getting along? Well, I hope. Darling I wish you would thank all of your family for me and let them know I received all the Easter cards they sent. Well Darling, I will have to close for this time. So, write me all you can and I will do the same. I Love you a Million.  
Always, Johnnie

It appears that Lucile had written Johnnie and told him about their Easter celebration back home. He mentioned it in his April 12, 1944 V-mail from Italy.
My Dear Darling, 
I received two letters from you today and I hope by the time you get this, that your measles have left you, because I know that kind of sickness isn’t fun, right? As for myself, I am as well as can be expected. Yes Honey, I am hoping to be with you on your next birthday, or sooner. Anyway, that will be one great day for me, and I know for millions of other guys. I am glad to hear that the kids had a good Easter and that Mom Stacks was able to be up and enjoyed it with them. Yes, I bet Melvin does look good in his new suit. Well Darling, I will close for now. I miss you a lot and I Love you a Million. 
Always, Johnnie
It wasn’t just Lucile’s family that sent Easter cards to Johnnie. He mentioned one he received from his father in his April 19, 1944 V-mail to Lucile.
My Dearest Wife, 
Just a few lines to let you know I am well and hope that this finds you the same. I received an Easter card from Dad the other day. I am going to try and drop him a line as soon as I finish this to you. How is all the family? Well, I hope. I guess Doc has already started going to the ball games, hasn’t he? Have you heard from Nell lately? How are Robert and her getting along? I wrote Hoppy the other day. Carl also. I am expecting a letter from Louise any day now. I wonder how Evelyn and Roy ever came out. Has she ever written you anything about it? Will close. Answer soon. I miss you Darling. I Love you a Million. 
Always, Johnnie
Johnnie took advantage of the Army’s Easter template in his March 19, 1945 V-mail to Lucile. Who doesn’t love jeeps and bunnies?

 Easter Greetings from 85th Division
“To My Dear Darling Wife”
I Miss You a lot. I Love You a Million.

The final Easter mention in Johnnie’s letters was a special one. Not only was it Easter, it was Lucile’s birthday too! Johnnie remembered both in his April 3, 1945 letter to Lucile written from Italy.
My Dear Darling, 
Just a few lines to let you know I am well, and hope with all my heart that this finds you in the best of health and everything is OK back there at home. Your birthday just past and on that day was also Easter Sunday. I hope on that day you enjoyed yourself as I know it wasn’t so good being that the way things are. But just remember I was thinking of you as I am always doing as you shall know you are my favorite dream. Honey I am glad to hear that Mom Stack’s is able to get up for a little while. Give her my regards. Also, glad to hear that the rest of the family are well and alright. I am sorry to hear the way Charles Stacks and the rest of your kinfolks are going about over the lumber company. I didn’t think they would be that way. But usually when you think some people are your friends you find out about how they are when things like that come up. I hope Mom makes up with them. You are more than right; they should be ashamed. Tell Nell, I can hardly wait to see the pictures of the baby. Thanks a lot. Well Darling, I will have to close for now. I miss you a lot. And I love you a Million.  
Always, Johnnie
Times were scary for Johnnie and Lucile too. But if you read all of his letters, you’ll see that they had hope that the war would end and Johnnie would come home to his darling Lucile, which he did. So, hang in there, we’ll get through this as well. Peace be with you.

Johnnie and Lucile Marston

You can read more about Johnnie and Lucile at the following links:
Sending love via a Valentine V-mail 
What was Johnnie doing on D-Day, June 6, 1944? 
Keeping up a tradition via V-mail during World War II 
Christmas in Italy, 1944 


  1. Those are wonderful letters to have. Very interesting to see their concerns at that time.

  2. I agree Virginia. Thank you for reading.