On Veterans Day 2001, as we noted in our Arts of War magazine column, PBS-TV’s “American Experience” series ran a 60-minute documentary called War Letters. The doc, which had no narrator, was a mixture of home movies and archival war footage, and featured a roster of top-level actors reading letters written by American fighting men and women and their loved ones at home. The letters covered three centuries of American conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War, including the Vietnam War.
That documentary was based on letters compiled by Andrew Carroll’s Legacy Project. Several hundred of those letters have been featured in three of Carroll’s books: War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars ; Behind the Lines: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters —and One Man’s Search to Find Them; and Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families .
Carroll culled the letters in the books from the tens of thousands letters he received after a Dear Abby column ran an item about his work on Veterans Day 1998. None of the letters had been published or otherwise publicized before.
Carroll recently took a another step to preserve the stories contained in that collection of letters—which has grown to some 90, 000 and includes those written from Iraq and Afghanistan. He announced in December that the entire collection—which Carroll has kept in storage in Washington, D.C.—will be donated to Chapman University in Orange County, California.
The letters will be going to Chapman in the spring. After they arrive, the plan is to name the collection the Center for American War Letters.
“It’s a way for us to build a memorial to people who have served this country, ” the university’s Chancellor Daniele Struppa told The Los Angeles Times. “It’s going to be a tremendous resource for students and faculty, ” Struppa said.
Carroll continues to collect letters, as well as emails and DVDs, through his website, http://www.hereiswhere.org/ If you decide to contribute to the collection through that site, please mention you read about it on the VVA Veteran’s Arts of War on the web site.