My Uncle Paul wrote on Dec. 3, 1944, “I’m afraid this will have to be just a note.” He was typing a letter to his sister Marjorie from an unidentified place in Germany during World War II. “Time just doesn’t permit me to write all I’d like to, and I do want to send you this while I’m back out of the war up front and can find a typewriter,” he said. It was a manual typewriter, of course.
His “note,” preserved on our family’s Facebook page, fills one sheet of typing paper and dribbles over to a second page. It is especially prized now 75 years after it was written, and especially this Memorial Day weekend.
“Last week, when I was huddled in an old torn-up cellar up front, hearing the shells splatter around outside every five or 10 minutes, one of my boys suddenly rushes in the door, having made the chase up the street between rounds, and tosses four letters and a package at me, saying, ‘Here you are, chief, I gotta get the hell outta here,’ and was gone. . . “
Paul looked at that wrapped Christmas package. “The package was in excellent shape, well-wrapped and marked ‘Do not open till Christmas.’ I looked at it, wondered who it was from, and looked at the faces of the men around me. They were worn out, tired, hungry, cold, mud-splattered from head to foot. I just looked at that sticker again, and another officer watched me,” he wrote.
“Another officer watched me and said, ‘Better open it now, Paul. It’s a long haul from here to Christmas.’”
“Nobody said anything else. I studied it for a moment, wished that weren’t necessary, and then started opening the package. About a dozen pair of eyes watched me,” he wrote.
Inside was a small card and a small red box of chocolates. Paul picked out a caramel and passed the box around.
“I wish you could have seen those faces,” he wrote. “The fellows wiped their muddy hands on their jackets, reached in, took pieces and passed the red box on to the next man. Each would take a piece, look at it a minute, then put it in his mouth. You could see him get the taste of chocolate. A couple of them muttered, ‘God, what good chocolate candy.’
“The red box came back. I took another piece. Handed the package on. It went around again,” he wrote.
“Christmas came to us that night, Sis. Every man who had some of that candy thought of home, of how he had eaten some candy like that three or four years ago. It kept going around until there were four or five pieces left in the last layer. Then everyone started saying, ‘No thanks.’ We solved the problem of what to do with these last few pieces when a captain came in who had been away from us for three days. He had a little of our Christmas then, too.”
Uncle Paul then wrote, “The candy was all gone, but we sat around for a few hours thinking of all that red box had brought back to us. Then the phone rang. The colonel got up from the corner, listened as someone back at regiment gave him orders and plans. He turned around. As one, we got up, gathered around the map. He started telling us the plans: ‘We attack at H-Hour,’ he said.”
Uncle Paul continued, “Christmas, the first hour of it on Nov. 30, had passed. I think you have the picture of what that package meant to us. ‘Do not open until Christmas,’ it said. I’m sorry that was wasted, Sis, but I think you’ll understand.
“Have a swell time this year at home, and think of us. Kiss everybody at home for me. I’ll be with you even though I’m a long way off physically. Very much love always.” He signed it with his pen: Paul.
Our family was fortunate. Uncle Paul came home from the war. So did Uncle Herschel, Uncle Freddie, Uncle Bob and Uncle Nick. They are gone now, but our memories of them, and gratitude for their service, will never fade.