In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I would share some words my grandfather, Col. Earle B. Nichols, sent home at the close of the Second World War.
My Grandpa Earle, in whose honor I received my middle name, was a decorated Army colonel when he retired in 1963. According to the letter from then-Army Chief of Staff Earle G. Wheeler on the occasion of my grandfather's retirement, among Grandpa Earle's numerous posts were Chief of the Counter Intelligence section of the G-2 Section in Headquarters Allied Forces, Director of the Intelligence Division at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va., and Commander of the XXI U.S. Army Corps of the Delaware-East Pennsylvania Sector Command in Wilmington, Del.
Recently, my mom finished putting together a scrapbook of photos, newspaper clippings and other mementos from his life. Among the items that did not make it in were a stack of letters he wrote from Caserta, Italy, between late February and May of 1946 and 11 Western Union telegrams he sent from Italy to his family on South Oglesby in Chicago between Dec. 24, 1945 and May 16, 1946. They paint a picture of a man frustrated by military bureaucracy, by the distance from his family and by the inadequacy of the spotty phone communication of the day to bring him closer to them.
Telegram, Christmas Eve, 1945:
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU (my grandmother Pauline) AND BARBARA (my mom) AND ROBERT (my uncle) I PRAY IT WILL BE THE LAST ONE WE SPEND AWAY FROM EACH OTHER LOVE= BUD. (what everyone called him).
Letter, Feb. 28, 1946:
Dearest: I was so disappointed not to be able to talk to you Tuesday night or Wednesday morning but the static was so bad there were no calls made that night. I sat in Rome late Tuesday afternoon and after getting settled and eating dinner went to the telephone office about 10:00 PM where I waited until 12:00. You see, there was always the possibility that the air would clear any minute. At midnight I went over to the cable office and sent you the cable because I did want you to know I was all right and I wanted to know how you were as you were quite ill on Sunday. After the cable went off (at a cost of $10), I went back to the telephone office and waited 'till 4:00 AM yesterday morning. But there was no luck at all so I had to postpone the effort and to get some sleep (not having been in a bed since Saturday night).
Letter, March 13, 1946:
I have the call booked and everything and now I have to cancel it. You see some very important people are coming here on the 16th for three days and Gen. Lee has directed that I remain here on the campus in case I'm needed. They are General [Thomas T.] Handy who is Eisenhower's deputy, Gen. [Hoyt] Vandenburgh, G-2 War Department, Gen. [George C.] McDonald, A-2 Army Air Forces and four or five other miscellaneous characters. So I must be prepared to give them the situation from a G-2 standpoint.
And my favorite letter, from May 16, 1946. He spends the first two paragraphs of a two-and-a-half page letter fretting that he's not getting any mail from my grandmother that week and worrying whether my uncle will be healthier once they are all together again. And then this:
This morning I was reading over the General Orders when I ran across this: "Award of the Bronze Star Medal – Earle B. Nichols, Colonel, General Staff Corps, G-2 Section Allied Force Headquarters, for meritorious achievement in connection with military operations in Italy from 3 May 1945 to 12 January 1946. Entered service from Chicago, Illinois. That was honestly the first I had heard of it. It is rather a nice decoration – ranks just below the Silver Star which is awarded for gallantry in action. Now I have twelve decorations – quite some fruit salad, isn't it?
And that is the only mention of the Bronze Star in that letter, or any others. The letter closes:
I do wish I could be with you right now – I get such a longing to be able to say hello to you – to be able to kiss you – to be able to reach out and take your hand. I do love you so much. This lonesomeness is so terrible – sometimes I think I'll go ranting mad if I can't see you in the next sixty seconds. The only answer is to get a grip on myself and not go to pieces during the next eight weeks. Then everything will be all right because I'll be with you then forever and ever. Give Barbara and Robert each a hug and kiss for me and tell them both to be good children. I love you now and forever, Bud.
"Forever and ever," as it turned out, was only another 20 years – almost to the day. He died from a brain tumor on May 24, 1966, at the age of 58, four and a half years before I was born. He is buried in Section 35 at Arlington National Cemetery.