The foreign nature of writing the date for the first time in a new year is a universally identifiable sensation. Those in service were overly conscious of time passing, calendar pages turning, and life continuing on at home while they were away. Sergeant Wolfenbarger, who went by Wiley, reported on it in his New Year’s letter to his wife Ruby in 1945:
“It seems kind of strange to put that 1945 on the date line instead of the old 1944. It hardly seems possible that a new year has rolled around.”
Wiley was inducted relatively late, in May 1944, and by the end of the year he was with the 26th Infantry Division, 328th Infantry Regiment working their way into central Europe, deeper and deeper into Nazi-held territory. Wiley came to his unit as a replacement in November 1944, first with a headquarters company, then with a rifle platoon when we wrote his January 1st letter.
Christmas 1944 had come and gone. Wolfenbarger wrote, “Christmas or not. If you get a chance to get hold of some Hershey bars, or Powerhouse, or anything that will withstand the trip, send them too.” Back home in Neosho, Missouri Wolfenbarger had worked at the Post Office, so naturally a big topic of his correspondence was how fast the mail was written and received. With his insider’s eye, he focused heavily on the time in transit of a letter from the States. He was impressed that on January 1st, he received a letter from Ruby dated December 21st. Indeed, it was hard to believe that it took a letter only ten days to make its way from Neosho, Missouri and peaceful, American holiday life to a field in Luxembourg, during the holidays and in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge no less. The postscript of the letter reads, “ P.S. Just now told that we are allowed to say that we are Somewhere in Luxembourg.”
Sgt. Wolfenbarger’s style of writing to Ruby reveals a closeness and trust in their relationship. His letters read more like a conversation than a note. Among the many things Wiley and Ruby often discussed was their two small children. The separation from children was particularly hard on both those away in service and on the parent left behind. Although support for dependency deferments was widespread and induction was lowered to 18 to fill the need for men in uniform, all married men with children were not to be spared. In fact, by 1945, over one million fathers were inducted in the armed forces, nearly 1/10th of the entire draft population. Wendell wrote, “I nearly cried when you told me about Wylene waking up + crying for me, but it can’t be helped. Try to make her understand that it’ll be some time before I can be there.”
Kimberly Guise holds a BA in German and Judaic Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also studied at the Universität Freiburg in Germany and holds a masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Louisiana State University. Kim is fluent in German, reads Yiddish, and specializes in the American prisoner-of-war experience in World War II.