The Monroe County Museum's World War II Letters Project was made in conjunction with the One Book, One Community of Monroe County. In February 2016, the Museum collected over 200 letters written by soldiers, medics, and civilians during World War II. These are some of their stories.
Created by Caitlyn Riehle, Curator of Collections at Monroe County Historical Museum. Voiceovers by Jordan Taylor and Joseph McCulloch. 2016
The novel chosen for this year’s One Book, One Community program is set in World War II, and it includes graphic descriptions of how the war affected two young people – a German boy and a French girl.
It’s one of those books you don’t want to put down. You’ve immersed yourself in the lives of young Marie-Laure, the blind girl who fled Paris with her father, and Werner, the nerdy German boy who was forced to fight for his country. Their stories are your story; you’re on the edge of your seat as their fates hang in the balance.
We can’t transport ourselves back to France in 1944. But through the novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” we can relive the alternating horror and tenderness that author Anthony Doerr weaves into his pages.
And perhaps there’s a way we can visit scenes from World War II, through the eyes of our parents and grandparents who fought on the plains and mountains of Europe and the islands and high seas of the Pacific.
Many Monroe County families have letters from World War II tucked away in boxes in the attic, pasted into albums and folded in bureau drawers.
Individually, they may seem ordinary or mundane to family members. But collectively, they could form a mosaic of memories that would make a significant addition to our perspectives on war in general and WWII in particular.
The Monroe County Museum, The Monroe News and Monroe County Community College are asking you to share your letters with the One Book program. We’re interested in any correspondence: letters, postcards and telegrams, for example.
We’d also love to see photos from the period, both of the soldiers and sailors who wrote the letters, and of the folks back home.
We promise we’ll take good care of them. If your family is willing to donate them to the museum, they will become part of the museum’s permanent collection, safeguarded for posterity. If you would rather keep the letters, we’ll scan them for use in the exhibit, and return them to you.
We’ll use the letters to create an exhibit at the museum, and we’ll share them with the community through the pages of the Monroe News (and its website), and at various One Book events.
The idea of asking for letters from World War II comes from a “companion read” that we’ve added to this year’s One Book program. In addition to Doerr’s book, we’re suggesting participants read, A Thousand Letters Home, by Teresa Irish, which is based on her father’s World War II letters.
Our goal will be to share a treasure trove of memories with Monroe County residents, both today as part of the One Book program, and forever as a museum exhibit.
We also hope to build a video record of the process. The Monroe Public Access Cable TV station, MPACT, wants to record video of people talking about their letters, or perhaps reading from the letters.
Courtesy of Dan Shaw, Journalism professor at Monroe County Community College and a member of the One Book, One Community of Monroe County Committee.
You can drop your letters off at the Monroe County Museum, 126 South Monroe Street, on Thursday afternoons through February.
If you want to donate your letters, the museum will preserve them as part of its permanent collection. If you would rather keep your letters, the museum will scan the letters and return them to you.
To make an appointment for another time, or to have someone from the museum pick them up at your house, call Caitlyn Riehle, Curator of Collections, at 734-240-7780.
We’d like to record on video people reading their WWII letters or talking about the experience. This will preserve for posterity a compelling video record.