Since the time of the Revolution, Americans have penned war-related letters that express every conceivable human emotion, sentiment, and experience. And the motivations behind writing this correspondence are as diverse as the letter writers themselves. Many simply want to convey their sense of love and affection for the recipient. Others want to tell an extraordinary story that might otherwise be lost or forgotten. And some hope to impart words of advice from which younger family members and generations can learn. It is rare, however, for a single missive to do all of these things at once in a truly memorable way.
The following letter was written by 80-year-old Dell Myrick on October 5, 2006, to her husband on their wedding anniversary. Her words are a powerful reminder of the importance of faith, hope, and love — particularly during those times when all three are tested.
From the introduction to Grace Under Fire, edited by Andrew Carroll
My Dear Herman,
As our 11th anniversary approaches, I realize how blessed we have been all these years to be together. And I also realize how much we have missed all those years before.
I remember when I was just 15 years old and approaching my 16th birthday, I was standing in the hallway of our school when I heard someone say, “I wonder who the new boy is.” I looked up to see you there on the stairway — a brown-haired, trim, blue-eyed, jean-clad boy. Then the strangest thing happened. It was almost as if something went “zing” and an electrical shock had hit me.
To cover up my feelings I replied, “I don’t know, but he certainly needs a haircut.” That was not true, for your hair was not really that long. But a sense of wonderment had come over me, and I did not understand it. I know now that God was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what.
As it turned out, you were in my brother’s class and your sister Sue was in mine. So it was inevitable that we should meet. I found out that you and your family had just moved to Alabama from Los Angeles. Since we were in the middle of the Great Depression, things were so uncertain in those days. Money was practically nonexistent and only those who lived on farms, as you and I did, could be sure of plenty to eat. So you and your family were living on your grandfather’s farm and you both worked on it and went to school, even though you were only 17 years old the following spring.
I remember an old wooden box telephone hanging on our wall, but it was not usable because the telephone company had gone bankrupt. Dad said people in the area had cut parts of the line to use for clothesline. And since we had no car there was little communication with the outside world, except for a battery radio, which we used sparingly to make the battery last longer.
Then came December 7, 1941, when we listened in shock on this same radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day, our teacher herded us all into the auditorium, where we heard that the United States had declared war on Japan. I remember thinking that you, and my brothers, would have to go to war and might be killed.
Up until this time I had been so happy on school days and on weekends when you would walk the 6 or 7 miles to my home to see me. Although you had a Model-A Ford, you seldom used it. Ten cents for a gallon of gasoline was too much to spend. Anyway, we were all used to walking the dusty country roads wherever we went. My heart always leapt with joy when I would see you. Most of our dates were at home. Sometimes we would meet at church revivals or church singings, but we never discussed marriage. Times were too uncertain, after the war began, to plan ahead. But it seemed that there was never any doubt in our minds and hearts that we belonged together.
Boys became a scarce commodity in high school because they went off to war as soon as they graduated. I remember that day in 1943 when two cousins of mine came to visit us and persuaded me to ride back on the bus to Birmingham to visit them for a week. This was an unusual chance for me, so I went. When I came home, I learned that you had already gone into the Navy. You had come to see me but I was not there. Since we had no telephone, there was no way to call me, and I had thought you were not leaving until the next week.
I remember how I walked out of the house, ran to the end of our garden, and collapsed in tears. I sobbed so loudly that I was afraid our neighbors on the connecting farm would hear me. But I didn’t care! You had left and there was no way I could make connection with you. All my crying couldn’t bring you back long enough for me to say goodbye.
Then the waiting began. I prayed for a letter from you each day. Th e year after you graduated I was still in high school and another classmate, Al, began coming around to see me. Once he asked me to go out with his family in a boat that he and his brothers had built, then for a picnic on the lake. So I went, for life was so dull and empty at that stage. I was greatly surprised when, although I had only been seeing him for a month, he asked me to marry him. I remember laughing and telling him that I wasn’t fool enough to believe he meant it after only a month. But he kept coming around. Then he asked me if I’d just wear his class ring. So I wrote to you and asked you if you minded if I wore Al’s class ring.
How could I have known that your chief petty officer was telling the men that some of you would get a “Dear John” letter, and that you might as well expect it, for it was going to happen. And just at the time that I was stupid enough to ask you the question about the class ring of Al’s! He had been deferred for farming at his parent’s request. But one day he volunteered for the Navy and left also.
I never got the letter you wrote in reply to my letter. There was just silence! Day after day I heard nothing. Weeks came and went and still nothing. It wasn’t until I spoke with a neighbor friend that I learned, at last, why I had not heard from you for so long: One of my sisters had gotten my letter, read it, then destroyed it, and never told me!
Sue was away in college, so I wrote her and asked for your new address. Th is time I was watching when her reply came. I saw my sister go to the mailbox and hide the letter under her arm. I grabbed it from her and demanded to know why she was taking my mail and why she had destroyed my letter from you.
She replied that she had not gotten to marry the man she loved and did not think that the rest of the children should either. Dad had told her firmly that she would be sorry if she married the guy she was dating, that he drank and that he didn’t think he was suitable for her. So in her bitterness, she decided that none of the rest of us should be happy!
Now I had your address, and I could write to you. But it had been so long since I had heard from you that I decided you must not care about me anymore.
Fifty years went by, and I was living by myself in Alabama when, miraculously, I heard that you had moved to a nearby community. I couldn’t believe it!
I joined a senior exercise class where you were also going. I’ll admit that I had heard that you were also there. So one day I quietly entered the class and saw a slim, trim, older version of my high-school sweetheart. Your hair was no longer brown, but white. In fact, there was little left of it. There were lines in your face, as there were in mine. But the same happy twinkle was in your blue eyes when you looked at me. Although we had changed in looks, the same feelings were reflected in our faces.
We began going for a cup of coffee together, then to lunch. Then to a movie. Then just to sit and talk and become reacquainted. I explained to you what had happened to your letter, and you told me about your chief petty officer preparing all of you for a “Dear John” letter. And when my letter came, you thought that was your “Dear John” letter!
After we spent a year dating, we were married. I had wanted our wedding there with my Sunday School class present, and with other members of our church, family, and friends all gathered together, we said our wedding vows 53 years after we first met! At that moment, I knew for certain that this was what God had intended for us.
These past 11 years have been the happiest years of my life. Although I look back with regret on all the time we could have been together, I realize that God’s timing is not our timing. Maybe He was saving the best for last, and if we had gone through the struggle of raising a family and the stresses of life during a period of hard times, it might have put too great a strain on our marriage.
As it is, we have been able to be together, just the two of us, and to enjoy that time alone. We have traveled to many places: Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean islands, across the United States, and many other places. We can realize now, as we have so often said, that God had wonderful plans for us all along and guided our every step back to each other. Isn’t God wonderful?
Most of all, these years together have given us an appreciation of each other, and what love is all about. It is about caring for each other, greeting each day with joy because we have each other, thanking God that we have another day together, and knowing that God planned it this way.
I have just had my 80th birthday but I still feel as if I am “sweet 16,” and all because you love and treasure me. I love you.
Your loving wife,
Copyright © 2007 by Andrew Carroll From the book Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War, edited by Andrew Carroll, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
Help keep your family’s history alive
Launched in 1998, the Legacy Project is a national, all-volunteer initiative that encourages Americans to remember our nation’s service members and veterans by preserving their wartime letters and e-mails. If you would like to submit a war letter (or letters) to the Legacy Project, send a legible photocopy or typed transcript of the material to Legacy Project, P.O. Box 53250, Washington, DC 20009, or go online to graceunderfire.us for information.