Reaching out from the past

Anew display at the Main Library features WWII letters

Anew display at the Main Library features WWII letters

Sometimes objects are believed to resonate with the emotional record of the time that they were created. Actual letters can have a disturbing power to reach out from the past and move us. Art Johnson’s letter to his wife turned up at an estate sale, and our Local History Dept. solved the mystery of what ultimately happened… There is a display with Art’s letter at the Main Library, and some excerpts of it follow:

April 29, 1944

My one and only sweetheart,

Will write a few lines to let you know I am ok…

Yes, I am with a combat outfit and gitting my advanced training on the front lines, but there isn’t anything to worry about….


Now Darling I may not be able to write for a little while so don’t worry if you don’t git a letter for a week or so but I will write again as soon as I possibly can…
Well honey I must close now, & yes you asked how long I would be here. I don’t know a bit more about that than you…


The Jerry planes came over the other night and made a little error and bombed their own lines which I got a big kick out of, then the Germans threw up flairs to stop them and that gave our artilary a chance and they laid a big barrage in on them. The other night a German opened up on me with a burp gun and that got my temper up so I laid in on him with the machine gun and gave him a few bursts and I didn’t hear any more from him. I am close enough to them now that if I’m not careful they will be reading this over my shoulder.


I believe in you and always will no matter what happens. Well honey tell Butch to be a good boy and dady will be home someday to take care of him and you…

Your loveing husband and dady, Art

Art joined up in Sept. 1942, and 9 months later he was killed and buried in Italy. His 179th Infantry Regiment was part of the celebrated 45th Thunderbird Division, who fought in Italy, transferred to Southern France, and continued to fight through Germany, where it was one of the 1st units to liberate Dachau concentration camp.

He was one of the roughly 405,399 U.S. Military deaths of World War II.

Thank you Art…

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One Response to “Reaching out from the past”

  1. December 10, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    This is a very powerful display that really humanizes the very real sacrifices families make. It is also a wonderful example of how a mystery from the path can be solved with the help of our very own Grand Rapids History and Special Collections department.