Army Private Paul Curtis received a letter from his younger brother inquiring what war was like. The Oak Ridge, Tennessee native was fighting in Anzio, Italy when he penned back the following letter telling his brother about war.
May 28, 1944
I just finished writing you a V-Mail, but it seems I had something else to say, so I attempt this air mail. I haven’t had a chance to write you for the past four or five days.
As I told you in the V-Mail, I have seen some action – a few hard, hard, days in which I saw more than I imagined I ever would. I don’t think any man can exactly explain combat. It’s beyond words. Take a combination of fear, anger, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, disgust, loneliness, homesickness, and wrap that all up in one reaction and you might approach the feelings a fellow has. It makes you feel mighty small, helpless and alone. It’s a comfort to know there’s one who is present at all times and anywhere ready to help you through. My faith in God has been steadily growing stronger all along. Without faith, I don’t see how anyone could stand this. It all seems so useless, but I realize Germany must be stopped; but they will rise again for peace will be settled by men who have never known combat and naturally they will hold no bitterness nor dread of another war, for they don’t know. This war could have been avoided.
I thought I had been tired before in my life, but nothing like this; but still you can and do go on. Every time you stop you dig a hole which has saved many lives. The ground is so hard and dry that digging is very hard. You don’t get so very hungry, but thirst drives you crazy. I have drunk water with everything in it and liked it. You have no energy but still you go on.
The battle seems like something in a faraway land, and everything seems sad, lonely, and dark. The roar is even as bad as the movies have it. The cries of the wounded are pitiful. They seem so helpless. The dead seem forsaken, but they are out of it all as in the Masonic textbook – “The gentle breeze fans their verdant covering, they heed it not, sunshine and storm pass over them, they are neither delighted nor disturbed” – so it is in this battle, the things rage on all around them, but they are still and quiet.
You wanted to know how I felt after I saw action and I have told you all I can that will pass the censors; I imagine all new men feel about the same and I know old men feel differently and so will I, but that’s for now.
This was the last letter Curtis mailed home. Three days later he was killed as Allied forces approached Rome.
Andrew Carroll, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondences from American Wars, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008, 232-233.