Not about dyeing. A little about dying. Mostly about thanks.

Twin brothers Howard (left) and Harvey (right)

It’s Veterans Day, a day to say “Thank You”. Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your willingness to put yourself in harms way to protect the freedoms we now enjoy and to help bring those freedoms to others.  Thank you for serving while the political machine treats you like pawns in a very dirty dangerous game. Thank you to my LBGT  friends who did so while hiding and denying an integral part of their lives. This is a very special Veterans day for you.  Thank you to the families who sat by the phone night after night waiting for contact, for the moms & dads and wives & husbands waiting up at 3 a.m.  for their loved one to get their turn to skype or video chat from their sandy hell hole. Thank you to the chaplains in uniform, who comforted the injured, and wept with the grieving. Thank you to the kids who see the empty chair at the dining room table every night, who have one less person patting them on the back when they hit their first home run, or sing in their first concert. Thank you to the wives and husbands who write letters every day, or cry angry tears every night.

Thank you also, to the men who went to war less willingly.  Who were told “you must leave your family, your business, your home and go do this for your country.”  Thank you for going to places you’d never heard of, during a time when news was hard to come by, and news from family was slow.  Thank you for serving when all you had from your loved ones was a letter from 6 months before, wrinkled, smudged and tattered, but lovingly carried in a pocket like a promise.   Thank you to the loved ones at home who wrote that letter and waited patiently for yours to come back.

Copied at the bottom of this post, is one of those letters that came home.  It was a letter, sent by my Grandpa Harvey to his mom, the day after his twin brother Howard was killed in combat. They served in WWII together, back before the Army came to it’s senses and figured out that siblings shouldn’t be in the same foxhole together. My father has been taking these letters written on crumbling paper and transcribing them to word documents to at least preserve their contents.

When my son (who is named for my Grandpa and my husband’s) asked 2 nights ago if anyone in our family had any stories about WWII, because they are studying it in history, I said “Oh boy do we ever”, and gave him the Cliff notes version of several stories from both Grandpa Harvey and my Grandpop (my mom’s dad).  Neither one were much for regaling us with tales of their service.  Both probably had suffered from what I’m sure would now be called PTSD, due to what had gone on while they were in the European theater.  Both had been very involved in the liberation of concentration camps.  Grandpop lost both his father and baby son at home, while he was away at war. Grandpa Harvey, lost his twin brother right there with him in combat. But they did have a few stories, usually the funny ones, that provided glimpses into what they were like as young men.

Grandpa Harvey never talked about his brother. I knew he had a twin, I knew he was killed in combat, and that was about it. Later after Grandpa died, I knew they served together.  And when my grandmother died 11 years ago, my uncles and dad found the collection of letters she kept that he and his brother had sent home to her and their mother. (included in those were the old USO “letters on a record” that the troops could record and send to family.  Nothing more poignant and tear jerking than hearing a scratchy recording of a young man tell his mom “not to worry, I’ll be fine” when you know that within the year, all would not be fine.  And there is nothing sweeter than knowing that due to the hard work of my husband and his friend- a sound engineer- we have digitally preserved those words, and the sweet sweet sounds of my grandpa, great uncle and their army buddy singing “When you wore a tulip, and I wore a big red rose” to their pretty girls back home. )

Back to the letter…. after I gave my son the quick and dirty timeline of his great grandparents stories during WWII, I told him to give his Grampy a call, because he’d know the details better than I. My dad told him the details, gave him some websites where he could see maps and so forth.  After he hung up, Dad called me back and told me about the letters he’d been transcribing.  He asked if he should send one to my son.  I told him that would be great, T would love it.  I had no idea that this letter is the one he would choose to send.  I think it perfectly illustrates, in very simple words,  the sacrifice that veterans, of any war, in any country, have made.  My 11/11/11 wish at 11:11 today  is that no brother, son, friend needs to ever send one of these letters again, and no mother ever needs to know my great grandmother’s pain she must have felt when reading it.  Yes, it’s unrealistic, but a wish is a wish.

This letter was published in the local paper at the time of Howard’s death.

From the Times Gazette.
Staff Sergeant Harvey Whitmore’s Letter to his mother Mrs. Grace Whitmore 246 East Ninth Street is being published because many have asked if the twins were together at the time of Howard’ death. This is Harvey’s letter written on April 15, 1945 the day after Howard as killed.

Dear Mom

I know by the time you get this you will have received the telegram about Howard. It all happened so quickly that I just can’t realize that it’s true. I want you to know mom I got to him as soon as I could which was about a half hour after it happened. The Medics had already done what they could for him but I guess it was of no use.

I don’t know whether he told you we were in combat or not. At least he didn’t want to for fear you’d worry about us. When the truth is known things hadn’t been to rough up ‘till a few days ago and since then it’s been just a little unpleasant. Yesterday afternoon we were tied down by a lot of artillery fire and there wasn’t a lot we could do about it. Howard had moved on ahead and was setting up his guns when a shell hit above them and got him and wounding four of his men. I still don’t know why they went ahead unless it’s because they were the only ones with guts enough to move. Anyway Mom that’s how it happened and I’m glad I was near him at the time. I know that’s the way he would want it.

I didn’t feel too well last night or today. I think I’ll get to go back a couple of days for a little rest and I’m going to try to find out about sending him home. From what I can find out it may be quite a while before I can do that but I’ll get it done anyway.

I know how you must feel Mom because I feel pretty bad about it to. Somehow I feel he’s right here with me and that’s the way I’ll always feel too. I Have no doubt that we’ll meet again sometime face to face and stay together always.

Now Mom please don’t worry and I’ll do my best to find out what I can. Don’t feel to bad because I’m sure he’ll be well taken care of. I’ll write again real soon Mom. Be Good And God Bless You

Your loving Son, Harvey.

My great uncle, SSGT Howard Whitmore is buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery, in Margraten, Netherlands. His body lies in rest among the thousands of other soldiers that never came home. His brother, my grandfather, Harvey Whitmore died in 1985.  I miss him very much and wish my son could have met him.  They have the same eyes, and the same sense of goofy humor.


13 thoughts on “Not about dyeing. A little about dying. Mostly about thanks.

  1. So moving, and what a great tribute to your family and their sacrifice. Thank you for sharing.

  2. That was beautiful, Beth. Thank you and all of our active military and veterans.

  3. What an amazing story of two brothers. They were obviously meant to be together. Thanks for sharing Beth.

  4. Wow, Beth. What an amazing part of your history. I’m so glad that T could see it.

  5. I am James Whitmore’s granddaughter, brother of Howard, Harvey, John, Helen and Florence Whitmore. Thank you for sharing this letter. My grandfather has never talked much about his brother. I visit Howard’s gravestone when I walk through the Ashland cemetery.

    Thank you for sharing this important part of my family history as well :)

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