World War II: Letters from a Lineman
Historical Information & Other Projects

My Grandpa, Jerome Davis Van Brakle enlisted in the army during World War II. Though he was never meant to be sent overseas due to poor vision in one eye, his ailment was quickly forgotten and he was sent to India to serve as a lineman along the Ledo Road. Before he left, however, he did what many soldiers did before leaving - he married. Her father was very much opposed to the marriage, as expressed by this letter to his daughter. There was a possibility that Jerome would not return from his overseas duty; that his wife would be left a widow, uncared for and unprovided for. Despite her father's concerns, they were married and Jerome's love for his wife, Ruth Elizabeth Smith, inspired him to write letter after letter for everyday he was in the army. These letters do more than express his love for his wife, though that is always a prevailing theme. They provide a brief glimpse into the past; what is was like for one person, in one part of the world. Some letters contain drawings and, others, a description of his surroundings. He used every inch of paper to write and, at one point, he was ordered to stop numbering his pages in unique ways, for fear it was a secret code, as evidenced by his writings and letters which had been modified before being sent home. Though few of these letters remain after more than 50 years, presented here are the ones which still exist, arranged in chronological order from when his service first began to the final days before returning home.

It was a beautiful day
1943, October 31, Sunday
Good afternoon! It was a beautiful day, so I went to church this morning instead of waiting until this evening... (Continue Reading)

I wrote 1944 for the first time this year
1944, January 6, Thursday
We won't see each other this evening - we won't even be able to talk with each other - so instead of seeing you or talking with you, I'll have your picture in front of me while I'm writing to you... (Continue Reading)

The most wonderful, the most beautiful girl in the world
1944, January 25, Tuesday
I've just completed the third phone call to the most wonderful, the most beautiful girl in the world. I've promised her that that phone call would be the last for this evening and also that I "would not tarry" on the way to bed - but I can't let the day go by without trying to thank her for the highlight of today - something that makes me look forward, impatiently, not only to the week-end but to every day until the week-end... (Continue Reading)

Do not open before Tuesday evening, March 14, 1944 (Please!)
1944, March 10, Friday
This is one way to make certain you receive a letter both Monday and Tuesday (or reasonably certain, anyway!) 'Cause I'm terribly sorry you didn't receive one last week - and now I'm sure you'll have these at least by Tuesday... (Continue Reading)

Another Saturday inspection all finished
1944, July 8, Saturday
Another Saturday inspection all finished - and again luck was with me! But I should call it three inspections - and all within an hour. The first one took place outside the barracks and we "stood it" with our carbines. The second one took place inside the barracks while we stood beside our bunks. The third was held at the Motor Pool with us standing beside our vehicles... (Continue Reading)

Uncle Sam has set a new record
1944, August 19, Saturday
Uncle Sam has set a new record - and he made me feel so good. Today your Tuesday and Wednesday letters were delivered to me - both in the morning mail! That's speed! Your Wednesday letter was post-marked 10:30 A.M. Thursday, and since it was delivered in this morning's mail, that means two days between 285 West Cottage Place and Camp Murphy!... (Continue Reading)

Today it's really rough
1945, April 9, Monday
Today it's really rough. Sitting at the dinner table, I watched my silverware slide over to the next fellow's place - and then back again - and I had to corral my beef before I could eat it! Darling, I've run the sea - enough for both of us - so we'll do our travelling over water far above it - by air. I thought I had my sea legs - but I'm still a landlubber at heart - 'cause my sea legs will always be wobbly. Can you notice any difference in my writing? Now, writing is like horseback riding - you must "stay with it" - when it rolls, you must roll. And when you watch a star or a cloud directly above the ship it "outlines a tear drop." It starts at a point, dips down, arches around and comes back to its original spot like this: it starts here then down and around following the arrows. I wish I were back in York, with you, where the stars "stand still...."(Continue Reading)

This evening, I'm full
1945, April 10, Tuesday
This evening I'm full - Just a little while ago we had supper and I really had an appetite - not that it was an 'exceptional' meal - but I was hungry. Yesterday, with my wobbly sea-legs, I skipped supper - (didn't want to take chances on losing it) so I had to make up for it today. This morning we had scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes - but I was still a little wobbly, so I settled for an apple. At dinner I started - We had veal chops, asparagus, cake (good bakers on board) - so I filled up there. Tonight we only had hot dogs - but they're "filling." With them we had a dish I must tell you about. I like string beans, but the way we had them today is tops. Did you ever make string beans with tomatoes? It looked as though the canned beans were just mixed with canned tomatoes - 'bout half as many tomatoes as beans - it really tasted good. We'll try them out - all right?... (Continue Reading)

1945, May 28, Monday
Two days now, and I don't feel a bit different - no gout, no creaks or squeaks - maybe twenty-four isn't so bad as I 'sposed it would be! Twenty-four, you know - I have a feeling this is going to be the grandest year of my life. Look - Let's talk in "birthday years." Two years ago (birthday-ically) the most wonderful change came into my life - I met Miss Ruth Elizabeth Smith on a train one Saturday afternoon - and that year my most secret, most dreamed-of dream came true; we were engaged!... (Continue Reading)

I can hardly wait for that milkshake!
1945, June 25, Monday
Let's see; if the necks are small enough we might use them for candleholders, we might use them to hold candy sticks (wrapped in cellophane) to give to our younger visitors, we might devise some sort of game - such as tossing beans into them! I can always build corner shelves to display them, for some we may find stoppers and use them as perfume bottles - and remember years ago when automobiles sported vases in the back seat? (Uncle Carl's 'Moon' had them!)... (Continue Reading)

Today the road was washed out
1945, July 1, Sunday
Today the road was washed out - so we only started the trip - and had to turn around and come back. Now I probably won't go for another week or so - 'till everything's passable again. I'm glad we had to come back - 'cause when I got here this evening - it was here waiting for me... (Continue Reading)

The sky is black and I can hear the thunder
1945, July 2, Monday
The sun is shining outside, but it is that rich-looking sunshine that always signals the approach of a storm - and already, over in the west, the sky is black and I can hear the thunder. It's about 2:00 - just after dinner - and a shower will cool things off very nicely! And now I'm sure it's going to rain... (Continue Reading)

I had to stop at six cokes
1945, July 3, Tuesday
Last evening, I thought that today I would be writing by the side of the road and sleeping in the truck. I did start my trip - and today there was no turning back; but instead of being by the side of the road, my bunk is set up, complete with mosquito bar, in an electrically lighted Basha hut... (Continue Reading)

I wish this were Independence Day!
1945, July 4, Wednesday
Good morning, Sweet! It's about 8 o'clock - and I'm still in the camp where I spent the night - and I'm all packed ready to go on. They get up here about seven and go to breakfast - so I've just come back. Breakfast? - Pancakes, toast, bacon, prunes and coffee. I don't know what time we'll start - so until everything's ready, I'll spend this rainy Fourth of July chatting with you... (Continue Reading)

All music
1945, July 5, Thursday
This is just such a day that I've been waiting for to answer your grand 'Philly letter.' It's about 9:00 - a rainy morning - and I'm stretched out here on my bunk in Kegel's Basha hut - and all morning to chat with you. I'm the only one here - no work can be done 'till the crews come back - not for dinner, but this evening - so this is the grandest time for our chat. There's a radio on the table beside my bunk - and it's the grandest background. The program is altogether musical - one selection following the other, with no pause for station identification or commercials - all music - very nice... (Continue Reading)

A fellow just opened a can of sliced pineapple
1945, July 6, Friday
This evening I'm stretched out on my bunk - writing to my Sweetie - and sipping a V-8 cocktail. Have you ever tasted them? It's a mixture of vegetable juices - seasoned with salt and pepper - really delicious! I've just come back from the PX - my purchases - two Tootsie Rolls - two Butterfingers, a can of V-8 juice, and a can of grapefruit juice. So this evening we'll have a snack while we chat... (Continue Reading)

Back in Hellgate, Burma
1945, July 7, Saturday
I'm writing at a rather late hour this evening - but I'm back - the trip is completed. I left this morning - made only one stop (the "unrationed PX") and got back here this evening - dusty and travel worn - but now I'm all spruced up, writing to my Sweetie! As soon as I got back I took a bath (out of my helmet - took five helmets-fuls) shaved (another helmet-ful) - and now you could never guess my position... (Continue Reading)

Now my books are straight!
1945, July 10, Tuesday
Now my books are straight! The cardboard box that held your first package's contents is now my library - and there is lots of room for expansion! All of your letters that are here with me are inside - arranged by post-marks - and I can browse through them at every opportunity. We must be well on our way - or even past our 400th anniversary! How many were there when you last counted them?... (Continue Reading)

My first movie in about two months
1945, July 11, Wednesday
I've just seen my first movie in about two months - and the two of us saw it together - 'cause you were right there by my side... (Continue Reading)

Read some more and dreamed some more
1945, July 12, Thursday
Notice a change already? Ruth, my wonderful Darling, - oh, I'm so much in love with you - my wife - Right beside your picture - right by my side - are three wonderful love letters written by the one I love... (Continue Reading)

That object on the bunk is me
1945, July 13, Friday
Maybe - after a great deal of study - you could guess what my drawing is! It's a very rough idea of my position this evening. There's my bunk (with blankets folded one end - the box-like affair over the bunk is my mosquito bar... (Continue Reading)

I like rainy nights
1945, July 15, Sunday
This is a rainy Sunday afternoon - everything quiet except the pattering of the rain. Somehow, I always did like the rain - it seems to be cleansing and is accompanied by a fresh, clean smell - everything perks up. I like thunder and lightning - hearing the rumble, seeing the flashes in the sky - and watching the rain as it forms puddles, and little trickles of water that grow larger as the rain continues. ... (Continue Reading)

To everybody else, it's July 16th, but today, it's my birthday
1945, July 16, Monday
This evening - oh, what an evening - to everybody else it's Blue Monday - July 16th - but it's really May - 'cause my birthday package - from you my beautiful, wonderful wife - was delivered today - and, Pudgie, your hope was fulfilled - 'cause sitting on top of the package were four - oh, the most wonderful letters. Darling, this evening needs you here by my side to make it perfect... (Continue Reading)

Today was moving day
1945, July 18, Wednesday
The tent looks almost empty! Before there were six fellows in here - but yesterday another tent was put up (complete with electricity, floor and all) and today was moving day. Two fellows moved out of my tent - so now the four of us each have a "quarter of a tent" to live in - more space than I know what to do with!... (Continue Reading)

This morning was the nicest morning I've ever seen
1945, July 19, Thursday
This morning was the nicest morning I've ever seen since I've been over here. When I awoke, the sun was shining on my pillow - there was a tang in the air - reminding me of those first cool mornings when summer vacation is over and school begins - everything seemed fresh and crisp... (Continue Reading)

Our Fifth Month Anniversary
1945, July 20, Friday
Our Fifth Month Anniversary - we've been Mr. and Mrs. Van Brakle for five months - and, Darling, they've been the grandest months of my life - our life - Pudgie - to be married to you - to be your husband - it's the most wonderful thing - and, oh, just gives me the grandest feeling in the world. Even though we're half a world apart, these have been wonderful months - because we were always together in our hearts, and our dreams, and thoughts, and we always will be - now, and after Our Day comes. Darling, I'm so much in love with you... (Continue Reading)

You brought me there to you
1945, July 21, Saturday
This is such a grand day; four long days without any letters - but today - two of my Lizzie's letters were delivered - oh, it makes me feel so much better - they were such grand letters - I'm so much in love with you. They told me all about your weekend in the country. Darling, you wrote while you were there - sitting on the little bridge... (Continue Reading)

One reel was enough
1945, July 23, Monday
This evening I went to the movies - excuse me - cinema - stayed for one reel - and came back. One thing I don't enjoy is a horse-race picture. I don't like horse-racing, but I do like horses; to ride and -oh, just to look at - and the picture was all about horse-racing - both honestly and dishonestly. It was "Salty O'Rourke" - Allan Ladd, Bruce Cabot - dealing with gambling and horse-racing. One reel was enough... (Continue Reading)

The moon is full this evening
1945, July 24, Tuesday
The moon is full this evening - it's, oh - so very pretty - and every time I glance up at it I get lost in the grandest dreams - of you. I can see it from here - it just came up over the jungle-covered mountain and I can see the man, and the lady in the moon, so clearly... (Continue Reading)

It may be July 25th, but for me, it is Christmas
1945, July 25, Wednesday
It may be July 25th to everybody else - but for me it is Christmas - my desk's just loaded with presents! Let's start at the left and work around clockwise - First, there's a neatly folded pile of funny papers (from the Philadelphia Inquirer) and on top is the colored weekly with Eisenhower's picture on the cover - and inside - the grandest picture of ivy-covered College Hall of the University of Pennsylvania!... (Continue Reading)

Rehabilitation of soldiers
1945, July 27, Friday
Remember that article I sent you about the "rehabilitation of soldiers'? That same newspaper wrote an article about mail - its arrival here. Before, mail was sent to this theatre from the States from both Florida and New York. That took some mail longer to get here than others - depending upon the post from which it was mailed - and since sometimes it went to New York - and at others to Florida, it came in all out of order. Now they've eliminated the Florida post - all of it will go to New York - so it should all come in order!... (Continue Reading)

I wish I could number
1945, July 28, Saturday
I had a few spare envelopes that I wanted to use - so I saved this paper till the other envelopes were all gone. Darling, I remember when you mailed the package this stationary came in - you told me in your letter that the ones with the flaps inside held two sheets - and the ones with the flaps outside held three sheets of stationary - but now all of them are sealed (the climate) so each evening I'll open one of each, so I'll have at least five sheets to start with!... (Continue Reading)

I like your salutations so very much
1945, July 29, Sunday
I like your salutations so very much - especially 'Dearest Hubby' - but when I want to use that salutation to you - oh - it just doesn't sound like I want it to sound. I like hubby - short for husband - but wifey - just doesn't sound right!... (Continue Reading)

Always wear a raincoat!
1945, July 30, Monday
Today I learned a lesson: always wear a raincoat when traveling in a jeep when it's raining! This morning when I started out, the day was bright and clear - and looked as though it would stay that way - But this is India - and during the monsoon season, so - well - you'll hear! I visited Ledo - finished my work and went to the PX. Bought a box of candy and went to the Red Cross Canteen for coffee (I'll never learn to like it) and doughnuts. Then the sun had gone behind the clouds and it was getting cooler - so when I picked up my cup of what I thought was coffee, it was ice cold... (Continue Reading)

First thing after breakfast, I packed
1945, August 14, Tuesday
This morning, first thing after breakfast, I packed - put my things in the truck, and moved. It took me only about half an hour to pack - 'cause most of my clothes were packed - and all I had to do was fold up my cot, pack my bedding and put all odds and ends in my desk. The trip was made very slowly - averaging about 8 miles per hour - so it took me about 2 hours to get here... (Continue Reading)

V-J Day
1945, August 16, Thursday
To celebrate V-J Day, today was a holiday. So, this morning I started my day - writing letters and reading. I read one issue of the Omnibook from cover to cover - The Vigil of a Nation, Young Bess, Lower Than Angels and Looking For A Bluebird, plus the back cover which gives facts about the authors, etc. I liked "The Vigil Of A Nation" - the inside picture of China - presented by one of its countrymen. It gives another - unknown - side of the country - and was good reading... (Continue Reading)

I see only jungle and sky
1945, August 18, Saturday
Saturday evening - Pudgie, I've been dreaming - When I came up to my Basha after supper, it started to rain - so now I've taken off my clothes - stretched out on my bed and dreamed. My Basha's higher on the hill than any of the others - looking down I can see our camp spread out below me - and when I lay in bed, the camp disappears - I see only jungle and sky - so sign of the Army... (Continue Reading)

Our walks
1945, August 19, Sunday
I remember so clearly our Sunday evenings in Philly. Worshipping together at the Arch St. Church, listening to Dr. Nichols' sermon - and after the services, our walks - chatting together; I enjoyed our Sunday evenings so very much. Our Sunday mornings in York - hearing Rev. Riffert - and Rev. Neeley... (Continue Reading)

On the 12:04 train, six months ago, today
1945, August 20, Monday
It was my first thought this morning when I awoke - just six months ago today - Darling, we've been man and wife for six months - we're married! Little did we know, as we got on the train that Sunday evening, that in just an hour or two our plans would be made - and in only a little more than forty-eight hours we would be Mr. and Mrs. Van Brakle! Ruth, that is our life - it does those things for us. Just as we didn't know on that Sunday evening what the next hour would bring - neither did we know, until the very moment it happened, what was going to occur that Saturday afternoon on the 12:04 train... (Continue Reading)

Keeping me right up to date on the funnies!
1945, August 22, Wednesday
If you could see my desk this evening you'd know why I'm so happy! Right at the top of the desk are three letters - one beside the other - and each one says Dearest Hubby! Oh, Pudgie, I love you - and beside your letters is another package that came today - the Inquirer - keeping me right up to date on the funnies! And you send all the parts I like best - the colored section and the comics - You're the most wonderful wife; miles mean nothing to you - you take perfect care of me over here just as though I were at home... (Continue Reading)

It has been a long time
1945, September 28, Friday
It has been a long time since I started my letter - but this is as far as I have gone. Pudgie, I started to write, and right in the middle of the first few words I began dreaming of Our Day - and then more dreams came thick and fast; and my dreams were so real. Last evening I had an idea - and I wish I could have it approved by the War Department... (Continue Reading)

Sometimes I wish there would never be such things as rumors
1945, October 12, Friday
Sometimes I wish there would never be such things as rumors. Just as there are good rumors - so there are bad ones - and the current one is bad - and doubly so because it follows the routine that everything has been taking over here. The men in the 31st Signal Battalion were told that their outfit was going home; the outfit went home - but all the men with low point scores were transferred out of it into our outfit... (Continue Reading)

I am CQ
1945, October 19, Friday
Yesterday I used a typewriter even though I wasn't CQ - just sitting down in the supply clerk's room - but this evening instead of being in the supply room - I am CQ. They told us yesterday that they were going to give back to us the notes some of us had taken on the trip over here - so this afternoon I reclaimed mine. About all it tells is the names of the various cities we passed through and when we passed through them, and some dates things happened on the ocean part of the trip. So - we'11 begin the story back at Camp Barton in New Jersey. The whole thing started at 5:45 Saturday morning, March 10th. I'll never forget it... (Continue Reading)

The Christmas season is here
1945, December 14, Friday
The Christmas season is here, and Christians all over the world are reading again the Christmas story - of Mary and the manger - the three Wise Men - the birth of our Lord. At home there are Christmas decorations - signs of Christmas on every hand - but over here, too, where there are no decorations, you will find the Christmas spirit - it is in every man's heart... (Continue Reading)

From Ruth
1946, January 4, Friday
I'm sitting here looking at my red ribbon with a lover's knot in it... (Continue Reading)

Excited - Good News!
1946, January 13, Sunday
Two letters from you, and we heard something definite. Ruth, I couldn't wait to tell you about them so I put them first and I'll elucidate further as we chat on! The mail room was open today - first time it has been open on Sunday since I've been here... (Continue Reading)

Still Good!
1946, January 14, Monday
There's a question that all of the 45-9 point men are asking - but nobody knows the answer: when do we leave Ledo? We know it will be somewhere between the 21st - next Monday, and February 7th. The consensus of opinion seems to indicate January 23rd or 4th - but the reason for that is that when the 50 point men were eligible last month on the 26th they moved out on the 29th - three days later - so most of us figure we will leave in about that same interval of time... (Continue Reading)

Four More Days!
1946, January 20, Sunday
We've had ten anniversaries - but, Darling, our eleventh is the grandest of all - there's a good feeling inside of me that wasn't there before, because now - not only is the war over, but we know that Our Day will soon be here - and in just a little while I'll be started on the trip that will bring me home to you... (Continue Reading)

Again - Four Days More!
1946, January 21, Monday
Five letters came today; there was additional news on our coming home; Sidney's home - oh, Darling, it's been a wonderful day and it passed quickly - we're another day closer to Our Day. The letters - Cotton, Uncle Sam is giving us his best of service these days - your letters were written from the seventh to the eleventh, inclusive - that last one was written just ten days ago!... (Continue Reading)

Three More Days!
1946, January 22, Tuesday
Elmer arrived today - and I was so glad to see "him"! Remember Elmer in Daisy's family in "Blondie"? Here all of your letters were arriving all in order, but just as Elmer wanders away from his brothers and sisters, your letter that you wrote on the fourth wandered away and just arrived today... (Continue Reading)

Two More Days!
1946, January 23, Wednesday
Although we don't leave for Calcutta till Saturday, most of my things are packed already. The only things that I want to do now are things that will be [illegible] toward coming home to you - and packing is one of those things. I like to pack slowly - and since the words rush and hurry are no longer in my vocabulary - I just forgot all about time and spent the whole morning packing, taking my time - and now the job is well under way ... (Continue Reading)

One More Day!
1946, January 24, Thursday
Today there were more preparations for our trip to Caleulta - that first step on my trip which will bring me home to you. At one o'clock this afternoon we had our final physical examination, and after our examination we signed our papers - one like that one I sent home to you listing the clothing that we must have, and another paper stating that we have no live ammunition on our person or concealed in our equipment. You know - a lot of paper work is required to send a man home; paper work is the army's specialty, and on this trip each man carries his own papers! That's the main reason for this inspection tomorrow: it's not to inspect us, but to inspect our records - to see that all the required entries have been made and that they are complete before we return... (Continue Reading)

Plane ride!
1946, January 27, Sunday
This evening we're having our chat in the Red Cross Club in Kanchrapara - just outside of Calcutta, India, and we will probably have all the rest of our chats, till I get on the boat, right here 'cause our tents here are just that - tents - and, over here is a lot nicer place for our chat 'cause although we aren't alone we can just shut out everything else and be alone here in our chat... (Continue Reading)

All the love of 32 years, 4 months, and almost 1 day
1977, June 21, Tuesday
Although it's hard to be apart - it's much better writing from here than from India, knowing that within 2 hours we can be together - and even with the fastest jets that would have been impossible from the Ledo Road (think how long it actually took!)... (Continue Reading)