Archive of 622 letters, over 2.700 manuscript pages, with enevelopes, includes a 40 page diary of Elinor E. Weber, plus 20 postcards, photographs, and other ephemeral material.
The correspondence begins on July 6, 1939 with Dana Edwards's first letter to his future wife Elinor. He is working a summer job and preparing to go to college in the fall. He works at the Summit Springs Hotel, in Portland, Maine, for five weeks before heading to Boston University to study music in the Education Department. He plays clarinet as well as saxophone.
During his freshman year at Boston University he studies music theory and harmony, and related courses. He is studying clarinet with Paul Mimart (1874-1950) a member of the Boston Symphony and one of the best clarinet players in New England. Mimart was a friend of Claude Debussy and had debuted his Rhapsody in B -flat and Petit Piece. Mimart begins teaching Edwards a new style of playing. Besides clarinet, Edwards also plays saxophone. Edwards is a member of the Boston University band and travels with them to play at football games. Dana's letters also describe other aspects of college life including the odd rituals that he and his fellow freshman are forced to participate in.
Edwards's letters in 1940 continue describing his studies and college life to Elinor. He also relates his love of everything "swing" particularly Harry James, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller (in that order). In May of 1940 the first reference to World War II is made by Edwards when he describes a broadcast he had heard to Elinor. After the end of the school year, they both get summer jobs and continue writing to each other. Edwards discovers he has competition for Elinor's affections in the form of a young man named Malcolm.
The letters are mainly addressed to Elinor in Boston where she was staying at the "P.A.L Dormitory" where she is attending a secretarial school. During 1941 Dana begins to express concern about being drafted. By April he is certain that he will be drafted soon and be going away. He learns from his brother's girlfriend who works at the "draft office," that his name is on the list. Dana stops attending school and begins to work at a paper mill in Livermore, Maine. He continues writing to Elinor and keeps her informed about his life and activities. By October his brother Richard is drafted and ships off to Camp Owens.
During 1942 Elinor was in Boston attending school and Dana was still working in Livermore, Maine. In a letter written in February, Dana writes of his feelings about Germany and Japan:
"Oh well, we can be glad that we live in America not in a National concentration camp such as Germany is. At least that's what it looks like to me. No freedom at all. Everything pledged to an erratic moron who evidently thinks he is or perhaps makes the people think he is some sort of a god. "What fools these Mortals be." It must be unbearable for educated people to pledge everything (even their souls to Hitler). I can't get over the way children are bred just like so many cattle. That to my mind is one of the worst parts of the whole (Lousy) system. I guess that is enough for you to get the general idea of my feelings. P.S. I think even less of those dirty, yellow, treacherous, little Japs. I think we can make them (Yellow squash)."
Beginning in March of 1942, the paper mill where Dana works starts doing "defense work". In late March, Dana comes to the realization that he will soon be shipping out to war:
"Each day the town becomes more and more deserted as one by one and in bunches the boys leave for parts unknown. Several of the boys who I know are in Cuba and from what I hear there isn't a more dismal place in this section of the globe."
Then a couple of days later he writes to Elinor:
"Next wk. we are losing more men. 7 are enlisting and we lost 4 this wk. I suppose that as soon as I find out that I'll have to go the best thing I can do is enlist and in that way have a slight chance of picking my branch of the service. I really haven't any idea how soon that will be. One of the fellows who work with me is married and was in class 4F (next to lowest class). Today he received his new classification. He is now 1A...."
In May of 1942, Dana tries to enlist in the armed forces, but fails the eye exam. He is now afraid that he will be drafted, pass the exams, and thus find himself in a less desirable position in the armed forces. There is a gap in the correspondence between June 24th and August 19th, 1942. When it is resumed, Dana is at boot camp, at Fort Deavans, Massachusetts. During WWII Fort Deavans acted as the Regional Readiness Command for all one-year draftees of New England. After boot camp he is transferred to Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, where he learns he is to be a musician, and is attached to the Anti Aircraft Artillery Training Center's (AAATC) military band. It is a unit composed mainly of professional musicians and Dana is able to avoid some of the regular military duties including the dreaded KP assignments. The correspondence throughout 1942 and 1943 contains considerable descriptive detail of Edwards' life in camp and particularly about the life of a military musician. Constant drilling, band practice and rehearsals, concerts performances at "USO Clubs" and "Officer's Dances," as well as military broadcasts.
By May of 1943 Elinor graduates from college and moves into her parents home in Farmington, Maine. The couple discusses their plans for marriage and eventually become engaged. The correspondence begins to pick up at this period with the number of letters written by both Dana and Elinor increasing dramtically.
In April 1944 he is transferred to "Battery B 427th A.A. Bn. Camp Pickett, VA," and in May he is again transferred to Co. C. 113th Infantry at Camp Pickett.
In June 1944 the couple are married. Elinor keeps a sexually explicit diary detailing their honeymoon, which she writes partially in stenographic notation.
In July Edwards is transferred again, this time to Co. A. 3rd Regiment, 12th Battalion, A. G. F. Repl. Depot, No. 1, at Fort George G. Meade, in Maryalnd. Here Edwards writes his last stateside letter to his wife before shipping overseas to the European theater. In August Elinor's letters begin to be addressed to Pfc. Dana W. Edwards of Co. C. 2nd Platoon, with a New York City APO box. Later in November, Edwards is transferred to Co. H, 10th Infantry.
Edwards was hipped overseas to fight in Europe at some point during this period. There are no additional letters from Edwards to his wife, however Elinor continues to write to him. All of her 33 letters from August - November 1944 were returned to her. They are stamped "missing," "Hospitalized," and "Return to Sender."
In some of these letters Elinor is quite candid in describing what she misses most about Edwards. Remembering their honeymoon she writes:
"It was a wonderful to be able to sleep so late, honey -- you'd wake me up about 7:30 -- at least Little Joe would! He kept poking me in the back!! Then I'd get you to go to sleep for a couple more hours! Boy, what a breakfast we did have....Those afternoon naps we took were swell too. Remember the day it was so terribly hot the sheets began perspiring! Ha.
That vision of you out in the boat standing up casting just keeps returning! Little Joe was having the most wonderful time looking around, dear! I'll bet he hated to be pinned up all day with no air or sunshine!!!"
A good number of Elinor's letters contain sexual innuendo like these written in September of 1944 after she hadn't seen her husband for a month:
"I love you, lover baby, and only wish I were cuddled up beside you now. I'd love to hear you say "Scuze me!" I'd also love to give Little Joe a pat!!!!"
"You should have had some of that talcum powder on the boat that we used at Camp! Little Joe loved it; and how sweetly he reacted to my caresses!!!!"
"Gee dear, it's cold her now. I wish we were in bed in our own little honeymoon haven and I could snuggle up against you tight! Little Joe is quite a nice heater, too! Although I've never had the privilege of sleeping with my husband in the winter time, I have an idea Little Joe would make a wonderful substitute for my traditional hot water bottle! Don't you think your wife is awful, honey!"
"I'm sitting here in the living room, honey. The couch beside me brings back so many memories both as Miss Weber and Mrs. Edwards. I'll never never forget how we ---- up a storm and got to laughing after we found how moist the linen was!!! I really didn't know how we'd solve that problem, but towels are wonderful things, aren't they honey!
The letters from Dana to which Elinor refers in her letters from this period do not appear to have survived. All of Elinor's letters of December 1944 (28 letters) are also marked "Return to Sender" by the government, with "Missing" stamped or written on them. Throughout the end of November and the beginning of December, Elinor receives delayed letters from Edwards, several weeks old. The letters contained news that he had camped in woods, in a basement, was getting shelled by the Germans' artillery, etc. She is deathly afraid for her husband, writing him constantly to be careful and not to take any unnecessary risks. However, none of these letters were ever received by him, they were all returned to Elinor by the military. (Edwards's letters to Elinor for this period are not in this collection). By December 10th, Elinor is responding to one of Edwards' letters of November 27th, where he had stated he was "somewhere in Belgium."
Elinor is desperate to know exactly where her husband is and on December 10th, decides to ask him to write her in code:
"If you're with Patton's army dear, write me and ask me to find a "dress pattern for Gloria." If you're with Hodges', ask me if I ever hear from Jean Hodges any more! I'm dying to know which one you're with and I feel positive it is with one or the other."
A letter of Elinor's of December 12th, lets us know she hasn't forgot about "Little Joe":
"In your folks letter, you said you just couldn't get all the dirt off in one soaking [He had a shower for the first time in weeks]. Gosh, honey it must be very hard on your moral! Is Little Joe managing to keep clean, or is he suffering too?!! Why did we nick name him Little, honey? I think he's quite good sized, especially in the mornings!!
Elinor wrote a letter dated December 16th in which she replied to one of Dana's dated December 3rd. She began one the next day and carried it over to the 18th, which is very poignant because she was unaware that Edwards had already been killed.
"Well, Sweet, it's now Dec 18 -- and its quarter of one in the afternoon. The news still sounds pretty bad for the 1st Army -- you don't know how many prayers I said for you today, Darling! Daddy says tell you he certainly hopes you are safe and well and can soon stop this awful counter attack and drive them all to the bottom of the Rhine river!"
And in a second letter she wrote on December 18th she describes her worrying:
"Gee, Darlin, I didn't get much work done today. I though about you the whole time, and just prayed that you could keep out of danger. Did we think you'd ever be going through this!"
Unbeknownst to Elinor Edwards was in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge the last great German counter-offensive of the war. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and was killed while in their custody. A letter written to Elinor September 29, 1945 by an eye witness, Mil Borgstrom, describes her husband's last moments:
"Dear Mrs. Edwards:
I received your letter this morning. It had to be forwarded to me from Detroit. "Big Ed" (that's what we called your husband) joined us in September. He was in 4th Sq. and I was in the 3rd....We were on Purple Heart hill when he came to us, just inside Germany. Then we moved to Belgium. From there to the Hurtgen Forest, and then to Luxemburg. We were in Luxemburg three weeks. On the 16th of December, we were in a small town called Furin right on the line. It's about two miles Dickierk. On the morning of the 16th, the Germans started the big push. we got cut off from everyone, and had a tough fight. About 4:00 P.M. on the 17th, we ran out of everything, and didn't have a chance. So what was left of us got captured. Big Ed was still O.K. The Germans lined us up in a column of 3's.There were about 40 of us. They took us out of town and gave us the once over, taking everything of any value. Then, they marched us back through town. A German tank then opened up on us. One of the shells hit right in the center of us, and that's what got Big Ed (Edwards). He didn't suffer any. He had some pictures you had sent him, but the Germans wouldn't let us take them. There wasn't a thing we could do for him. He never knew what hit him. Some guys think the Germans knew what they were doing. I don't know if they did it on purpose or not. Three or four other fellows got killed at the same time, and about eight or ten were wounded.
I've told you what happened. It's hard for me to do it. I feel as if I know you 'cause Ed would talk of you all the time. You got married when he was at Camp Pickett. I got married when I was there, too, in August, 1943. I was going to write you before, but I had to wait till I got notice from the W.D." (War Department)
If there is anything else you want to know, or anything I can do, be sure and let me know. To you and Ed's mother and father, I'm sorry. Be brave, 'cause that's the way Ed would want you to be. My wife got her notice from the W.D. January 8th, 1945, missing in action. Then she didn't hear anything until April 14, 1945. She got a card that I wrote from a P. of W. Camp in Germany. I was liberated 13th of April, and lost 50 pounds in the four months. Lots of boys died over there in the Camps too. Mil Borgstrom "A complete inventory of the collection can be sent on request.