Hope for Next Year: New Year’s Letters From World War II

Many American servicemen and women expressed hopes for the next year in wartime New Year’s mail.

Wartime holidays were particularly difficult for those separated from their loved ones. For many of those in service, isolation and uncertainty were compounded by great physical danger. New Year’s Day and the turning of the calendar page, while not always cause for celebration, was a moment for reflection and dreams.

A new year provided hope. A new year meant the possible end to the war and a chance for a new beginning. The coming year represented the prospect of  building a peaceful life.Looking back at hopeful letters—from January 1942, 1943, and even 1944—can be a sobering experience knowing the long wait that many still had before their happy ending could begin. For some, the hopes and dreams for a peaceful postwar life never materialized.

Some couples expressed the sentiment that time stood still while they were separated, that the wartime violence that they witnessed and may have taken part in was outside of real life. Perhaps as a way of distancing themselves and their loved ones from the horrors of war, true life was thought of as a life at home, on pause for the duration. Life wasn’t only on hold for those in service, many loved ones on the Home Front felt that there would be much lost time to make up for.

Just after midnight, on the morning of January 1, 1945, “Sunday Nite [sic] and Monday Morning,” Dee Ehlers wrote to her husband Lt. Harry Ehlers, who was serving in the Pacific with the 126th Infantry Regiment, a unit that was just seeing the tail end of action in the Battle of Leyte. Dee wrote from their home in Alabama,

“I sat up tonight just to wish you a happy New Year and to pray that it has in store for you everything good and fine and an early return home. I wish it for everyone, but for you above all. Not only do I wish it for you this year but every year hereafter. Right at this minute it is customary for everyone to kiss and drink a toast–I’ll save mine for next year and we’ll do it double–We’ll have to do it triple to make up for lost time.”

WWII Letter

January 1, 1945 letter from Dee Ehlers to her husband. Gift in Memory of Harry C. Ehlers, 2014.311.293.


Kim Guise

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.

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