By Dallas Ann H. Erwood
Awhile back when I was still working, I was enjoying the Journal of Court Reporting one month, in particular the membership profile page, and I read an article about Aimee Suhie and her project of publishing her dad’s letters from WWII.
Well, in 2008, my brother told me that he ran across a letter our dad had written home to his parents during WWII wherein he talks about the nurse that I’m named after! We all knew the origin of my name. So he sent me a copy of that letter.
Those two events, almost a decade apart, are the seeds of thought implanted in my brain to bloom into the idea that I wanted to transcribe and publish my dad’s letters, too. Turns out there were 202 letters my dad wrote home over a two-and-one-half-year span of time in 1943, ’44, and ’45 while in the U.S. Army.
His rank was a Pfc. or private first class. He was classified as a cryptanalyst having something to do with words, messages, codes; it was all very cryptic! He was an English professor at San Diego State University, in California, for his career, so he knew and used his word skills to all our advantage.
My oldest brother “inherited” the Big Ben box that contained all the letters. Our dad asked his parents to save the letters he wrote home to them, and they did. All the letters are addressed “Dear Mother, Daddy & Hi,” Hi being his mother’s brother, his uncle Hiram. There were so many, it was a little overwhelming for one person, so my brother Lon and I teamed up for the job.
I planned to retire in 2017 so I would start the project then. I went out in June of 2017 after 37 years of reporting, and so I spent the summer planning a three-way retirement party for my husband, his best friend, and me that fall. It was a big party!
I had every intention to start the first of January, 2018, but half measures availed me nothing. I got about three letters done, and my husband and I started traveling that year: first to Hawaii, then Africa, then a week at the beach for 4th of July, then Seattle, Wash., in the fall.
So I reached out to Aimee Suhie and asked her about her success with publishing and her process. She told me it was a family project amongst her and her two sisters, one of whom was/is a court reporter! But it was her other sister, Michele, who was in the insurance industry, who typed up all their dad’s letters into a lovely book entitled “Letters from Dick.”
In the spring of 2018, my husband and I donated two weeks at our condo on the Island of Kona to a fundraiser, and the elderly couple who bid on it and won ended up not being able to go as the husband was on dialysis and kept deteriorating. We had planned for them to take the condo the last two weeks in February 2019. She reluctantly emailed me on Christmas Eve 2018 saying they could not make it and offered to pay any expense. I said there will be no expense, and I understand completely. We’ve become great friends with this couple as a result of generosity and geriatrics!
A week later, right before New Year’s, I declared that I was going to go to Hawaii alone and do nothing but write this book! At the time, I had all the letters from Feb. 12, 1945, the letter wherein “Dallas” the nurse is mentioned and through to the end of 1945 when he was discharged in December. I was determined to transcribe them all in that two-week period. I had visualized, paced out, and pictured a plan to do this. And it worked!
That was a great trip to Kona, and believe me when I tell you we’ve had a bunch of great times there. But to be there alone with such a labor of love to wake up to each day, I got into a routine and did about five or 15 letters a day, whatever; it all worked out.
I took my old 2003 HP laptop with my CAT software on it, and my MacBook Air, which had all the letters that my brother Lon from Montana had emailed to me. I took two fat binders of hard copies of the letters that his wife had made for all us kids. And I took my ruby red Elan Mira. I set them all up on the dining room table in the condo and burned some sage every morning, bought lots of noodles and pineapple and went to work. Every. Beautiful. Day.
It came out to a 326-page transcript. But that was only for 1945. Then my brother kept sending more and more emails until we got all 202 letters from August 1943, all of 1944, and the beginning of 1945.
I must tell you that there was an added extra bonus of a notebook written on the transport ship over to Africa into which my dad records his innermost thoughts about being shipped off to war, and it is a trip! I had so much fun discovering my dad as a young man before I came to be.
I worked diligently throughout the rest of 2019 to transcribe the 1943 notebook and letters and all the 1944 letters and the first month and a half from 1945. The completed project was a 744-page transcript.
A friend of mine referred me to a publishing place called Lulu and said they would build a book for me. I sent them my 744-page PDF, and they converted it to a Word document and put it into a book format which ended up being a 416-page beautiful book!
I wrote a foreword and an afterword explaining why I wanted to do this and a little more about my father. I published it in February of 2020 and then went into quarantine!
It’s fun selling the books to my friends. Of course everyone in my family got one or more for free. I could never have done this alone. I am grateful for all the help and assistance I received along the way.
I bought 100 copies at my author discount to be able to sign for friends. We planned a few book-signing parties for the first weekend of May but had to convert them into “virtual” parties, and I am almost sold out of my 100 already!
I thought of many different titles:
Dear Mother, Daddy and Hi 1945
I Believe (after a paper he and his dad were writing together on their beliefs)
Those choices were only based on the year 1945. Once I transcribed ’43 and ’44 and we were ready to publish, I wanted to title it Letters, Love Jim, kind of after Letters from Dick. Then I had this too-long subtitle about A Book of Epistles, etc., but my brother didn’t want the word love in the title, and my sister thought epistles was too religious.
Like I said, I needed help and guidance all along the way. My first version of the “About the Book” on the back was me rambling on and on, and my brother said, “I wouldn’t buy a book about that.” And so he and I went to work on the About the Book more based on his words and my writing, if that makes sense. It made a more perfect sense to me!
And we came up with a more practical title that tells it exactly like it is: WWII Notebook & Letters. And I’m so very happy with that.
So now that my book is published, I think it’s in the Library of Congress. But I still plan to submit it through NCRA to the LOC for the Veterans History Project.
The greatest benefit from doing this labor of love is that now I’ve just finished my father-in-law’s story, too! He was a sub vet in the Pacific theater, and my dad was in the European theater in WWII, so now I am a WWII buff!
Also, there’s the other benefit of getting a master class on how I was parented after reading and rereading words of the man who fathered me that he wrote as a boy transitioning into a young man so full of ideas and opinions and hope and love for his family!
And this is what I would say to others considering transcribing wartime stories of their own family members to encourage them to do it: So! Much! Fun!
Dallas Ann H. Erwood, RDR, CRR, is a retired official court reporter from Indian Wells, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about her book, WWII Notebook & Letters, can be found at dallasannherwood.com.