World War II letters spark fond memories of Guttenberg

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George Grant Thompson was sworn into service on Dec. 28, 1942, and went overseas in 1943, landing in England on June 1. He sent his first letter to The Press while stationed in Fort Belvoir, Va. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived. – George S. Patton

The uncertainty created in Europe by the First World War (1914-18) set the stage for World War II, which broke out two decades later. WWII involved virtually every part of the world from Sept. 1, 1939 - Sept. 2, 1945. The principal antagonists were the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan. The Allies were France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and to a lesser degree, China. The conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. An estimated 45-60 million people were killed. Among the casualties were six million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps as part of Hitler’s heinous “Final Solution,” now known as The Holocaust.

World War II correspondence

Charles Millham, owner, publisher, and editor of  The Guttenberg Press, corresponded with the young heroic soldiers from the area who  served their country during that time. 

Joyce Stavely of Irving, Texas, recently sent an envelope of letters that a family member had saved of her uncle's exchange of writing with Mr. Millham. Stavely wrote, "I was going through information I had collected on the Graybill family. In reviewing envelopes I discovered this book on my uncle, George Grant (Graybill) Thompson. I sat down and read through it and found it so interesting, not only on the columns he wrote to The Press, but the other boys in the area that were serving our country in the war. I was very impressed with the fact that the editor, Charles Millham, so graciously took the time to answer all the letters he received, and that the servicemen also received The Guttenberg Press."

She continued, "The present time in history is so discouraging with all the destruction. The efforts that our young men made to make a better world seem to have faded with time. I found reading this to be so uplifting and a bold reminder of what other countries suffered." 

George Grant (Graybill) Thompson

George Grant Thompson was born March 28, 1915, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. George Graybill. He was adopted by his aunt, Mrs. Bertha Thompson, when he was only a few days old and was reared by her. He was a graduate of the Guttenberg High School. He was enrolled in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp for 15 months, and later attended college at Iowa State in Ames for approximately three-and-a-half years. 

Thompson was sworn into service on Dec. 28, 1942, and went overseas in 1943, landing in England on June 1. He sent his first letter to The Press while stationed in Fort Belvoir, Va. His sentiments were lengthy and contained many details. The following excerpts apply specifically to Guttenberg and the surrounding area, his gratitude for community support, and the solider's desire to seek out companionship all across the globe with other enlistees from the area. His writings are a reminder for all of us, that wherever you may roam, there is no place like home. 

Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Dear Sir: I have received the Press the last two weeks. Many thanks as it certainly is appreciated. Makes you feel more at home when you are sitting on your bunk reading the home news.

There is a fellow from Colesburg in my Platoon; name is Elmer Bush. We got acquainted in a peculiar manner. The second night after arriving here, we were lying in bed talking about things back home. I made the statement about attending the dance in Guttenberg just before leaving. Bush pipes up and asked me where I lived, and I told him Millville. We didn't know each other back home. But we were both pretty darn tickled to know that we were both from the same part of the state and had a lot of friends in common. 

Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Dear Editor: Thanks again for the Press, it arrives every Monday morning down here. I hear there is a fellow from Guttenberg down here in the Field Artillery. If you have any way of getting his address, would appreciate getting it, so I can look him up. 

Dear George: We have the mail address of several fellows at Ft. Sill and if you name the one you want, we can provide that. However, you might find yourself in the same position as Jack Gull. Jack, who is "somewhere in North Africa," asked for the address of Leo Bischke, who is also "somewhere in North Africa," and apparently not far from where Jack is stationed. 

The address wouldn't mean a thing, though, unless Jack could write Leo a letter and make a date for Leo to meet him at the corner drug store – or whatever it is they use for a meeting place in North Africa.

Dear Editor: How is fishing along the Mississippi at present. I'd sure like to be there for a few days of the sport, but will have to wait a while. 

Dear George: Fishing, as usual, is good. The other day Lentz Tujetsch went out for a few hours and came back with a string of walleyes that would make your mouth water. Barney Minger has had so much luck that he is tired of fish. In fact, all of the old fishing standbys are getting all the fish they can use. 

So far, though, it's been a little slack on channel cat, but the boys aren't doing much complaining. They just get something else. That's the fishing picture to date. Hope I don't make your mouth water too much. 

Somewhere in England

Dear Editor: I certainly enjoyed a fine boat ride over here and, surprisingly enough, I didn't get seasick, but a lot of fellows did. This country certainly is pretty. We could learn a lot from the English about keeping our towns and countrysides looking nice. Everything is so orderly and neat. 

Just a line Editor, to readers of The Press: Give all you possibly can to the American Red Cross. They are treating us fellows fine.  

Dear Editor: I presume you folks are going through a spell of hot weather, boy I sure wish we had some of it over here. Imagine July and using five wool Army blankets a nite and still being cold. 

The British are swell people; do almost anything for you, and believe you me they have put up with a hell of a lot of heartache during the past three years. The folks back in the States are about the luckiest people I know of, and I don’t think the majority of them realize it. 

Picked up a swell buddy from Springfield, Ill. He attended Iowa University and as I had gone to Iowa State we have a few good bull sessions about which is the better school. However we have more Iowa State boys here than we do Iowa University. One thing that favors the University is that the C.O. is a graduate of that school. 

Well, Editor, I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and the little town of Guttenberg carrying on until we return. 

Dear George: There is no question about it; the folks over here – all of us – have little idea of what some of the hardships of war can be. 

* * *

Thompson wrote a lengthy Christmas letter to Millham on Dec. 25, 1943. He described a quiet Christmas Day in a little town in England, a budding romance and holiday dance with a local girl, being placed on alert, and adapting to ration allowance. Thompson took advantage of his location and toured the countryside visiting museums, art galleries, cathedrals  and other tourist attractions on his day off. He congratulated his fellow hometown soldiers for their courage, and was grateful for his community’s effort in supporting the Red Cross.

Dear Editor: I just received the Press for Oct. 21, Nov. 4, and Nov. 11. I see by The Press that several boys from the home vicinity have received the Purple Heart, my heartiest congratulations to them. Was also glad to learn that the home town had gone over the “Top” in the War Chest Drive. It is nice to know that you people are doing so much to help all along the line. Doing your Red Cross work etc. It certainly must keep you folks plenty busy doing all that you are. In fact I believe that congratulations are due you people in Guttenberg and the community around there, for the swell job you are doing. 

Last letter

George’s last correspondence with The Guttenberg Press was on Oct. 11, 1944. 

Dear Editor: I was rather delighted to see Mrs. Crofts’ letter in The Press. She told me that she sent you a letter, and of course, I was anxious to learn what she had written.

Mrs. Crofts is a very kind lady. She has treated all of our boys just wonderful. We are welcomed at her home anytime, and I tell you it really is a treat to be able to visit a home where you can go in and lounge about, just as if you were in your own living room. My favorite spot is a nice large easy chair beside the fireplace. Real cozy I tell you. Truthfully she is a foster mother to us fellows. She does our laundry, mending and presses out uniforms. We drop in every evening around ten o’clock for a cup of tea and a sandwich before going to our billet. 

Well, Editor, how is the squirrel shooting back there this fall? Have you been out yet? Presume you are getting ready to do a bit of duck hunting soon. Well good luck and bag a few for me. Suppose fall weather has set in back there. 

Well, Cheerio, all the  best. Just time to dash down to Mrs. Crofts for a cup of tea before retiring. 

* * *

George G. Thompson, son of Mrs. Bertha Thompson of Millville, died in England on Dec. 31, 1944, according to a telegram received by Mrs. Thompson from the War Department. 

Charles Millham continued to correspond with area soldiers until the war ended. A complete collection of these letters can be found at the Heritage House Museum in Guttenberg. 


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