Letters from Arthur: Prologue

Letters from Arthur is a project by our very own Director of Social Media and Veterans Liaison, Jessica Clackum.

When she was a teenager, Jess found a box of old letters in her grandparents closet. They written by her grandfather's twin brother, Arthur, who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and each of the 43 communications had been carefully preserved.

Having a passion for history, every few years Jess would take the letters out and read them. They stoked her imagination of what life was like for Arthur and all the men and women who served during that time. 

In 2010, while working on her family history research, she decided to transcribe the letters and share with the world. A student of history and a veteran herself, she felt strongly that the stories of our WWII veterans are a crucial part of our history and heritage with many lessons to be learned. 

And so, FlyGirls is happy to present as a special segment each Sunday, the 44 surviving letters penned by Arthur A. Hersh, Private First Class, United States Army. Some letters will be just a few lines, others longer, but they are all significant for they give us yet another glimpse into the life of a combat soldier serving under the very worst of conditions, yearning to do his job to the best of his ability with one goal in mind….make it home alive
.

_____________________________________________________

Letters from Arthur

The only existing photo of ArthurHersh. Camp Upton, 1942

The only existing photo of ArthurHersh. Camp Upton, 1942

The surviving war letters of Arthur A. Hersh who served in the 77th Infantry Division, 305th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, A Company & HQ Company in the Pacific in World War II. He began his military service as a combat infantryman and eventually took over the communications at the front line.

 

 

Arthur Abraham Hersh was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on 26 Nov 1915 to Isaac and Yetta Unger Hershkowitz. Isaac and Yetta were orthodox Jews who had emigrated from Iasi, Romania to Brooklyn in 1902. Arthur had a twin brother William (my grandfather) and older siblings Ruth, David and Simon.  

Arthur, a kind and compassionate man, with creative and artistic talents, was inducted into the Army in March 1942 at the age of 26 and spent his military service with the "Fighting 77th" Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater.

The 77th consisted mostly of draftees from New York City, and trained at Camp Upton, NY. They were assembled in less than forty days and endured intensive training for a year before their deployment to the South Pacific. Known as the "oldest" infantry unit in the Army, it was activated for service in World War II on 25 Mar 1942 and sent overseas on 24 Mar 1944.

The troops were commanded by Major General Robert L. Eichelberger from March to June 1942, Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff from June 1942 to May 1943 and finally Major General Andrew Bruce from May 1943 and for the remainder of the war.   They were inactivated March 1946.

The 77th received 16 unit citations and fought in the Western Pacific (15 Jun 1944 - 2 Sep 1945), Leyte Gulf (17 Oct 1944 - 1 Jul 1945), Southern Philippines (27 Feb 1945 - 4 Jul 1945) and Ryukyus Islands (26 Mar 1945 - 2 Jul 1945).

Of the hundreds of letters Arthur wrote home, only forty-three survive, along with a few souvenirs he sent home from the war. My grandparents kept the letters in a box in a safe place since 1945. When I was younger I'd read the letters occasionally but as an adult, I read them more thoroughly and with my knowledge of history and some research, I was able to conclude where he was at the time he wrote the letters, when those types of details were censored from letters. 

Arthur was especially close to his twin brother Bill, who also served in the Army, as well as his sister-in-law, my grandmother May, who at the time I am writing this, is still alive and in her 90s, is very much an active participant in life. Arthur and May often corresponded throughout the time he was away and her letters were a great source of comfort to him. To him, May was more a sister than a sister-in-law.

Some letters are short, others a little longer. Sometimes Arthur had much to say, other times not. Soldiers were constantly on the move and took whatever opportunity they could to steal a few moments here and there to write, often times under the worst of conditions---conditions that most of us could never even imagine. 

Everything in the letters is verbatim, no words have been added or omitted. Prefacing each letter, I've added, in italics, a bit of historical account of what was going on in the Pacific during the time frame in his letters to help give reference. 

Transcribing and publishing these letters is about paying tribute not just to Arthur, but to all the men and women who served. Over 70 years later, we are still indebted to their sacrifices. May they never be forgotten.

Jess Clackum, September 2010