'Mail For Morale:' Letter-Writing Project Commemorates WWII Aleutian Campaign Veterans
The mailboxes of a group of World War II veterans have recently been flooded with a number of postcards and letters.
The veterans all served in the Aleutian Campaign, which is often referred to as the "Forgotten War," and began in 1942 when the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and occupied the western Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. And the cards are part of a letter-writing campaign aimed at commemorating the World War II vets who served in the area.
The "Mail for Morale" project began last month and started as an effort to get Valentine's Day cards out to a group of about nine Aleutian Campaign vets. Organizers shared a call for postcards and letters, along with the vets' information and where to send the cards, over social media and through word-of-mouth. And so far, according to Joshua Bell, one of the project creators, the campaign has seen a pretty impressive response from letter writers.
"We have letters from Alaska to Vermont — and Florida too — winging their way across the country to these guys," Bell said.
The cards are an attempt to recognize these vets for their service during the war, not just on Valentine's Day, but hopefully as an ongoing effort, according to Bell. And because the COVID-19 pandemic has left many of the veterans isolated, it's also a way to help them feel more connected.
Bell is a former park ranger for the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area. While the project is really "the brainchild" of his friend Allison Everett, he said, he's also been invested in Aleutian World War II history for a long time, as his grandfather served in the Aleutian Campaign.
"The way that my family knows what it knows about my grandfather's service from the Aleutian Islands, is because he wrote letters home, and people kept them," Bell said. "And he kept a handful that were sent to him as well. And that's the only way we know about anything that happened during his time in the service. And it was that connection that got a lot of these guys through the war."
While working for the Aleutian World War II National Historic Area, Bell said he's also documented veterans' stories and participated in commemoration ceremonies, such as the 75th anniversary gathering that took place in Dutch Harbor in 2017.
At 105 years old, Allan Seroll — who served in the U.S. Army — is the oldest of the veterans that are receiving letters through the program. While Bell said that Seroll never actually received any postcards while he was stationed in the Aleutians, Seroll — who was trained in Morse code and set up communication posts across Alaska — did do a lot of work helping others send messages.
And now, Seroll said he's received about 20 letters at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, which have given him a way to explore and discuss his memories of the war.
"I went out to inspect one of the areas where we had trouble with some of the radio and electrical wires," Seroll said, reflecting on his time stationed in the Aleutians. "They lost connection with the communication and wanted me to travel with them — believe it or not — with dog sleds and dog teams that came up from the Fairbanks area. And we went out to the area where they lost contact with the wiring and located it and did some repairs."
As Seroll recounted memories, he described the letters and other correspondence he'd received, and said he hadn't decided if he would respond just yet. But he said he plans to keep them, along with the rest of his collection of old newspaper clippings of headlines and photos about the military's campaign in the Aleutians.
To find out more about the ongoing letter-writing campaign visit the Aleutian World War II History Facebook page.