My Parents' WWII Correspondence

April 10, 2019

I have just completed reading my parents' World War II correspondence from 1943-1945 and thought it was time to share them through our Common Threads blog.  My parents, Etta and Charles Cohen, lived in Troy, New York.


I feel so lucky to have access to these letters and other carefully kept Stars & Stripes newspapers, programs from USO shows, opera, etc. informational army documents from Camp Crowder to what to expect when you return to civilian life, etc.


Here is some information about his time in France and a few of his thoughts from his letters.


From his Honorable Discharge:

  • Zeyda was in Company B of the # 3112 Signal Service Battalion.

  • His specialty was repeater man telephone # 187.

  • He qualified in marksmanship August 12, 1943 (at Camp Crowder) for Rifle M 1917 MKM 155. 

  • His decorations and citations:  American Service Medal, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal.


Total length of service:

  • Continental service (U.S.) 1 year 7 month 7 days

  • Foreign service 1 year 6 months 28 days

  • Service outside Continental U.S. and return

  • Departed U.S. for ETO May 3, 1944 Arrived May 14, 1944

  • Departed ETO November 23, 1945 Arrived November 30, 1945


There is a newspaper clipping from The Times Record in Troy from May 23, 1945: 

Cpl. CHARLES COHEN of 186-7th Avenue, a former Troy lawyer, recently received a commendation from his commanding officer for the outstanding manner in which he installed and maintained a teletype carrier system in a port installation in Germany. He worked all hours of the day and night on the job and by his ingenuity and improvisation solved problems caused by a lack of equipment, his commander said. He entered service in July, 1943, and has been overseas since May, 1944." In a June 14, 1945 letter he explains it was in Antwerp.


Zeyda did not write to Grandma about this. She heard about it from people who read it in the paper. A few weeks later, she is notified to listen to the radio at a specific time and date (June 18) for a program called War Heroes. She did listen and heard the commendation to Zeyda read for all to hear.


I have organized all of their letters, but several had parts that I thought worthwhile to share:


"When you received six letters in one day last month from me after a lapse of a week, you felt just as I do when the same thing happens to me. That’s why I write you every day, because I’m trying to do for you what I want you to do for me. Your letters and the pictures you send are my physical substitutes for the home I’m coming back to as soon as possible. I read your letters over and over again and often I stop to tell the boys the latest news on our child.”


He wrote a long letter on Thanksgiving, November 23, 1944. They were married on Thanksgiving seven years earlier. He is lonely, misses Grandma & little me and writes beautifully at length about what we mean to him. He goes on to say:  "Though this war was not of our choosing, still it is here and to do it by halves will only bring more of its kind to Debbie's generation. As much as I dislike self-admiration, I'm proud that I enlisted to do my part, even if the proximate cause of that act was the protraction of my activities as a civilian. I've never told you how near I was to volunteering at the time of Pearl Harbor, but the circumstances which you will remember were not appropriate for such action. My only hope is that the struggle will not drag on much longer. When complete victory is ours, then we will be together again. I look ahead to that day, buoyed up by recollections of our past and certain of our future together." 


December 12, 1944 - "I've read my mail three times so far and, having heard from you, have become more homesick than before. Still the ache must be endured until the war is over and Germany & Japan beaten soundly enough to ensure some period of peace. The news of our progress here and in the Pacific is encouraging although there are no indications of the much-hoped-for collapse in either country. Actually the Japs are doing too well in China proper for anyone to be complacent."


January 20, 1945 - “So far I believe I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of self-pity nor have I fallen into the trap of wishful thinking. The realities of the situation are too stern, however comfortable I may be physically, to allow me to forget that “this is war!” The necessity for my taking part in it is as well-known to you as to me and neither of us should waste any time seeking an easy “out” for me. With Sam still convalescent from his injuries and the news of grim fighting concealed under brave headlines, I cannot pull my door shut and close out the unpleasant things on the other side. I regret the time that we are apart, the necessity that separated us, the willing blindness of those who refused to see the impending holocaust and pray that, God willing, our children will never have to undergo the same. In short, I am as cheerful as I can ever be away from you and our child; my disposition is as even as my self-control allows.”


June 6, 1945 - "Today is just one year after our invasion of this continent and the European military war is over at a cost that the rows of white crosses tell. Just how today has been celebrated elsewhere, I don't know, but today (my day off) I'm up here on this hill overlooking Sulzthal, deeply grateful that it is over and I am alive and well. Let us pray that the end of the Japanese was will be soon for the sake of all of us."  (Sulzthal is in Bavaria not far from Munich.)


All of his mail had to be reviewed by a censor. There was to be no mention of where they were or what they were doing in any correspondence. In so many of Grandma's letters, she worries about him wondering where he is, how close he is to danger, whether he would get transferred to the infantry, whether he was close to where the Germans were bombing, etc. From Zeyda's list on the ADSEC document, he writes that he got to Utah Beach on July 22, 1944. He was in St. Mere Eglise, Carentan, St. Lo, Le Mans, Etampes, Etrechy, Paris, Rheims, Soisson and Spa before he went to Belgium on October 29. 


August 7, 1944 - "By now you must have guessed that I'm somewhere in France, safe and sound, sufficiently recovered from a severe siege of mal de mer (seasickness.)  For reasons you can understand, I haven't told you that I'm here although it is some time since we, as the history book puts it, set foot on French soil. Was I glad to set foot on soil instead of deck. As a sailor, I make a poor soldier."


August 10, 1944 - "The day, although arduous in a physical sense, was pleasant because the detail I working on took me through some cities in France that I hadn't seen. (Next part is censored.) Everywhere we went, and as accustomed as they have become to "les Americans,'" the French people always have time for a cheerful wave and smile as we go by them. This is true both in the cities, towns or country. Of course the children, even back in England, always liked to wave and say "Hello" to us. Every time the boys see a girl, too, they give either that Broadway long whistle or the universal wolves' howl. Invariably they get a pleasant smile for their trouble."


August 11, 1944 - "I've been out again to pick up rations so that I had another chance to see some more of this country. The countryside and the villages have a charm that is completely different from that of England. Although the fields are somewhat larger than those I saw in England, it doesn't approach the feeling of spaciousness of the farms about our home town. There is more of a chance to see the sky stretching out than in England so sometimes I wish I had my Graflex."


August 23, 1944 - "Sitting here with my back to the setting sun and facing a perfect half circle of a rainbow, I wish I had some color film to preserve for your benefit what I'm viewing in this old French town. The rainbow over the buildings in this once-contested town seems to be a symbol of the future.  I'm beginning to learn a little more each day about the French people themselves. The greetings of all of the people here seem very sincere but one incident puzzled me because of its implications as to their attitude toward the Americans. We talked with two brothers, both staying in a refugee camp since their house had either been blown to bits or had burned to the ground. There is a tendency among the French evidently to regard us in the light of a rich relative who is a soft touch.  The historical precedent of the last World War certainly confirms our habit of underwriting the world.  Of course, I do not overlook the fact that our Allies have been in the war longer than we and, while I was home with you, their people were dying or worse yet, living under German dominion. Our policy of fighting with dollars instead of doughboys as much as possible meets with the approval of all of us. Yet our losses so far have not been light, and, though somewhat late, we are now pressing forward in a proportion in excess to our relative strength."


September 3, 1944 - "We have had a few French visitors today. They are very friendly and make every effort to understand & help our French.  One of the men had been a prisoner of the Germans in this war, having been captured by them in the fall of Paris. I refrained from asking him how he had been freed."


September 4, 1944 - “There is no need for you to worry about me since I’m as safe as anyone in my position can be. There are many others who are in much more precarious situations than I. I realize that merely telling you not to worry is meager assurance of my safety but please accept that until you can hear it from me at home.”


September 24, 1944 - "I visited Paris today... I went to the house of M. Picard who had invited me to dinner. I had accepted their invitation reluctantly because I've learned what difficulties they have in procuring some foods. I had met them in a camera store where I was looking at a camera...  He offered to take some movies of me (8mm) if I bought a roll and, with you in mind, I accepted. Then he pressed his invitation to dinner until I accepted. We also went through an exchange of pictures of our children… They live in a charming apartment on the top floor in a location conveniently near to the center of the city. With them is an uncle who had just been released after six months in the German concentration camp at St. Denis in Paris. The meal was simple, but well-prepared. I enjoyed the home cooking. Afterward we went out for a walk. We first went to the Arc de Triomphe where he took some shots of it and of his uncle & myself. We made some headway down the Avenue de la Grande Armee toward the Bois Boulogue but intermittent showers force us back to the shelter of a sidewalk café on the Champs des Elysees where I treated them to cognac and while wine."


September 30, 1944 - "Let me tell you something about last Friday night when Jensen & I had a grand time and meal at a Jewish home in Montparnasse, a section of Paris. We had met Michel Laborde while trying to get some parts to make a radio; when he and I learned each other's religion, of, of course, we immediately gave up our stumbling attempts to converse in English or French and started in Yiddish. The upshot was the invitation for Friday night at his brother-in-law's house, where we met their family.  The family is of Polish origin except for the brother-in-law who is a Persian Jew. So around the table the conversation went from English to French to Yiddish and to Polish... I had the best time since I came overseas. Our friend's sister had a laugh & manner like my Aunt Gert, so much so that I felt at home at once. They fed us in her grand style, too, and, dear, it was great to eat a home-cooked Jewish meal.... We tried to give them some cigarettes we had with us but they refused to take them, so as I left, I put the pack on the table. They accepted with thanks, however, some gum & a package of butterscotch candy for their 7-year old girl, Margaret. If we go again, I'll bring some chocolate for her. Jensen and I are puzzled what to bring the adults.  All in all, even getting back very late, I had a wonderful time, the best since we've left the States. The atmosphere was homey and sincerity of their welcome was evident. May I be as hospitable when I have endured their deprivations, wanderings & suffering."


January 9, 1945 "Somewhere in Belgium" - “I ran into two Jewish families although at the beginning, I didn't think I was right since there were crucifixes hung on the walls. It seems that most of the people there knew they were Jewish but never told the Germans about them. Jews put up the crosses to fool the Nazis.  I am sending up some of the stuff to them that you sent me.They want to come to America as soon as they can although they say that life in either Belgium or Holland was very good for the Jews in peace time with no persecution at all. Still they each have children and it is for their sakes that they want to go to America. Your father would be interested that their second choice is Palestine." 


January 13, 1945 - “I met my two Jewish friends and the daughter of one of them. She is named “Nina.” She is 14 and is going to high school or college preparatory to becoming a child doctor. The atmosphere was sufficiently homey & friendly so that I could kid her about her dropping all medical ideas when she meets her true love. Evidently they all kid her the same way.” (March 14 “Did I tell you that I heard from the sister of the two Jewish families I met in Belgium? She was profuse in her thanks for my news of her folks & I’ve gotten word to them that I heard. I will send her letter to them.”)


February 19, 1945 - “I have been brought back to battalion to go on furlough to the United Kingdom so that I can see Sam. I will have seven days’ time in England, travel time not being considered part of furlough time. The decency of my outfit’s giving me a chance to see Sam is typical of it, but I hadn’t been sure whether I could be spared. It seems that I have been given the second furlough in our outfit.” (Uncle Sam was in the infantry in Europe and was sent to a hospital in England after he contracted trench foot.)


February 22, 1945 - “We started out in the truck while a light mist still hung in the air. I spent the entire day traveling in a two-and-a half ton truck. For ten and half hours I sat at the very end of the truck by the tail-gate, so that the distance from the front gave added impetus to the springs of the truck. In the morning the wet roads flung up small particles of mud. In the afternoon, the dry roads proved that the dust of Belgium is just as poor tasting as that of France. I was sure for a while that when I reached Sam, my only act would be to crawl into the bed next to him while lying on my stomach, before sinking into the merciful oblivion of sleep. What a rough ride it was!!!”


February 27, 1945 - “Well I finally made it and have seen Sam. Sam is all right now; looks older and there’s grey in his hair that was never there before. As I understand it, he has made out pretty well as far as his feet are concerned. If he goes back to duty, it will be limited service, non-combatant only. He is popular & well-liked. We spent most of tonight in his showing me the camp and in telling me his experiences. Honey, just be glad I volunteered and got into the Signal Corps! Believe me, seeing him gave me the biggest kick I’ve gotten out of anything since I last saw the U.S.”


March 1, 1945 - “I saw your Aunt Sarah. She, Manny & Lily are all O.K. and getting along well. Manny is with some Army band or orchestra and Lily is working.  Sam came into town tonight. We had a kosher meal and saw “Meet Me in St. Louis.”


March 3, 1945 - “Sam & I had a swell time yesterday. He got the works from a barber in the Red Cross Club. Then we took the taxi tour of London that the Red Cross provides. It was the best way of seeing the town quickly & comprehensively. The running commentary of the driver was interesting and informative. After we had a kosher supper, we went to Strauss’ “Night in Venice.”


March 4, 1945 - “I had a good meal at Aunt Sarah’s. They trotted out the old family album and told me some tales about you. After comparing your earliest pictures with those I have of Debbie, I have come to the considered opinion that she looks just as you did.”


March 4, 1945 from Sam - “This certainly has been an exciting and enjoyable week for me. Charlie’s unexpected arrival here in England for seven days certainly fulfilled a prayer of mine. We had a swell time together. I don’t think there was one minute silence between us.”


March 4, 1945 from Gra