Letters from War

Marion L. Nutt

May 18, 1920 – April 28, 1943

I never knew my Uncle Marion, yet my throat tightens, and tears roll down my face whenever I look at pictures of him, read his letters from war, or place a flower on his grave.

Perhaps it is because he reminds me of my father. They shared such a resemblance. Or perhaps it is because sometimes I try to place myself in my Grandma’s shoes – having five sons in the war at the same time and dreading that unwanted telegram. But most definitely it is because of my love and appreciation of a man who gave his life for a country and the freedoms I enjoy every day – a man I’ve always known as my Uncle Marion.

In memory of my Uncle Marion, a true patriot, a recipient of the Purple Heart issued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and forever a loved member of my family,  I write these words.

Marion (left) and Wayne (right) July 1931

Marion grew up on a black dirt farm in Kinderhook, Michigan, the seventh of twelve children. The large family was poor but honorable, honest, respectable citizens of the community.  In the early 1940’s, Marion was the first of the “older” boys to enlist to serve his country in what became known as WWII. Soon thereafter, Paul, Clifford, Earl, and Wayne followed suit. During the war, the five sons served throughout the world, including the Pacific Arena, the European Theatre, and the North African Campaign.

Good times before the war.
Marion (in white shirt) and his sweetheart, Ethyl are standing near the middle. Margie and Wayne, my parents, are kneeling at front right.

One of my mother’s best friends was a vibrant, lovely woman named Ethyl. Years later, as I grew up, I simply knew Ethyl as my neighbor and friend.  She and her husband Frank had two daughters. I never realized until I read Uncle Marion’s letters from war that Ethyl had once had a very special place in Uncle Marion’s heart, and I have every reason to believe that he had a very special place in her heart, as well. I discovered this in one of the letters Uncle Marion had written to my mother.

(To my mother)

Ethyl, my Uncle Marion’s “one & only.”

Sept. 20/42

Ireland

Dear Margie,

Well Margie, today is a rainy Sunday as that is nothing unusual in Ireland. Say, Wayne’s letter came the same day as yours. He said to give you 7734 for not writing to me before. . . . What is this I hear about you & Wayne planning to marry? . . . Ethyl writes a lovely love letter. I think she is the one & only for me. We could be so happy together as I love her so much and miss her as we are made for each other.She most likely thinks I run around with other girls.If so she should be here and witness what I do. Then it would be different. . . . Talk Wayne out of joining the army. Please if you can. . . . Must close for now for time is short.

Marion and Ethyl On furlough before shipping off to the fighting.

As ever, my sister-in -law to be. Care if I stamp this with a kiss for you? S.W.A.K.

As ever, just a soldier,

Marion L. Nutt

The “soldier away from home”  was revealed in Marion’s letters to his brother Clifford who had not yet enlisted and was living with his wife Velma and two young children in Michigan. Knowing Velma would undoubtedly read the letter, Marion included a line to Velma, as well.

(To his brother, Clifford)

June 10, 1942

Dear Brother,

Received your letter today. Was sure glad to hear from you. Would have liked to see you with the mumps. Ha. Ha.

Went to the city for the weekend . . .  the air raids. It was worth the trip just for that. The trip was educational as well as fun. Wow, is whisky & drinks ever high. Bass, which here means beer,is twenty cents a bottle. Whisky $8.00 a quart. Women cheap, two shillings a frig or a pound for all night. That’s what the boys say. I don’t know myself.

P.S. Velma, don’t let this shock your modesty.

Sept. 13/42

Ireland

Dear Brother,

Hi Cliff. How are you and the family?I am fine as can be. Get a little lonesome sometimes, but try to make the best of it.

Received your ever so welcomed letter this week so will answer it with the best of my ability.

Most of the soldiers fish at night . . . I am going to Belfast next week to fish … and raise 7734.  These fish are so much different than ours at home . . . a few trout

A little army life would do Earl good, just like Paul.

Write soon.

Your brother,

Marion N.

Shortly after he wrote these letters, Marion was sent to the North African Campaign. The rainy, somewhat peaceful days in Ireland suddenly became cold, turbulent days at the front of  “Operation Torch,” at Algiers – then later at Tunisia. A fierce battle had been taking place for over two years. At stake was control of the Suez Canal and access to oil from the Middle East – vital to mechanizing the armies. Marion was one of 65,000 troops commanded by General Eisenhower. Just one of many men, but the one we loved.

(Letter to Clifford and family)

Algeria, N. Africa

Dec. 28/42

Dear Cliff & Family,

Hello kids. How is everyone around home? I am fine although have a slight cold. Shaved my head – then it turned off cool so of course it had me . . . The old mail is just catching up with us. This one I just received is dated Oct 5th, . . .

. . .  as far away as I am and can’t talk to anyone. Boy that is hell. Especially with these beautiful babes parading around like flies and can’t even as much as speak or talk to me.

Just one thing there is her is plenty of wine, about like you said they had in California when you were on the bum. It is cheap. 10 francs a bottle. That is about 1.34 a quart. Variety of each kind. Must be a hundred different brands. Banana wine is strong along with muscatel, grape, orange, even cactus. Whoa. Has that ever got a kick.

What is Olen’s address? . . . He is in the tank core, right? Boy that is hell on the front lines. . . . Where is Fay? . . . I often wonder if I might accidentally run into them. A fellow here met his brother just the same way. . . .

Good night all. As Ever,

Marion Nutt

His next letters  reveal the increasing peril he faces. They also reveal his desire to keep news of that danger from his dear Mother. His body is in Algeria, but his heart is at home.

Mar. 7, 43

Dear Kids,

Hello, how is the old place ticking? It has been 48 hours a day for me. At least that is the way I feel. But am still able to kick. Those Germans can’t get us. At times I wonder,at that. Sure came close this last time. Anyway, the days come & go just the same as ever even if it is hard to tell one from the other. Sure have been good for the past five weeks. No drinks or girls. Just soldier from day to day.

Have seen enemy tanks & heard those machine guns spray lead. . . .

How is Dad doing? Does he take it hard?

Write often.

As Ever. With love

Marion Nutt

(To Wayne, my father)

Mar. 20, 43

Marion with the locals.

Dear Wayne,

Just a few lines to say hello and let you know that I am still alive & in the best of health. Hope you are the same.

Although I haven’t written often, I still think of you just the same. It keeps me busy writing to Mom, Ethyl, and Clifford.

But of course I don’t write anything to them about my hardships, never would I do that, not even if I was dying. Cliff is the only one that knows the score about myself. He can keep it under his hat so that Mother will not worry too much about me.

What I write to you of my doings in N. Africa, please for Mother’s sake, don’t ever mention anything to Ethyl or even to Margie for it would leak out. Then Mother would age 20 years more. So on your word of honor, please do as I say. Please!

Oh, say, how is Margie? I know Ethyl’s morale gets pretty low at times. Her letters tell how she feels. Never sent her a Christmas gift but a money order of 20 bucks, which served the same purpose. There is not a damned thing overseas that we saw that is worth a hoop.

. . . Did you ever wake up in the morning, shivering, peek outside and see it snowing like the dickens? Have you ever slept in a cemetery where you can look into the graves & see skulls, bones, & ribs of Arabs? Then go to sleep & dream & hear them kicking underneath. It gives me the creeps.

Snakes, lizards, scorpions, & rats, all deadly poisonous, crawl about your head while sleeping. Sure is a morale builder, but nothing to worry about.

Visited the city of Algiers the hard way. Wow! What beautiful babes are there, along with some homes that would make California’s look like shacks.

Artillery goes over our heads, makes me jump, although it is friendly. It is very frightening at times. Those foe machine guns sure spray wicked lead. Saw a German destroyed tank. Didn’t even get a souvenir from the old thing.

. . . Well Wayne, my furlough days are over. Am only looking forward for that thing they call discharge.

Instead of me writing to Paul & Earl, just forward this letter on to them. Tell them to do the same. The last one will keep it. Don’t send it home. Remember, keep it under your hats & tell Paul & Earl to do the same. . .  That will save me time and per along with a backache in this cramped writing position that I am in.

Your Brother,

Marion Nutt

(Marion’s last letters – to Clifford & Family via “V-Mail”)

Apr. 6, 43

Just a few lines to say hello & let you that I am still able to fight. Wow! Have I ever had some hair breadth escapes. Can’t tell any, but you can imagine. Listen to the news & just picture me out here fighting for my life. I am not bragging for I am no hero or ever care to be, but anyway I have been the closest to the enemy lines in our company. . . .

Tell Velma her last letter gave me a date. It was about that dream about me & her, also Wayne. I was on a mission that night which was not the pleasantest thing in the world. Too many fireworks & walking. . .

Well Cliff, I have a worried mind so this is all I can think of.  . . . If I come through the next scrape, I will write again so until then, so long & the best of luck.

Apr. 12, 1943

Hello. . . I am still able to breathe & enjoy life and boy is it ever great after being in one of North Africa’s major battles. Will tell more later in my letters. Was nearly a prisoner of war. The old boy was saying & motioning, “Come. Come.” But I turned ass to lead & made my best track time for life.

Paul is lucky to be back home with no more worries of being in hell like I have. Fay is lucky to be able to get home occasionally. Maybe I will have time to write to the boys. It is good to get letters. . .

My space is getting small so will close. Hoping this finds the home from much quieter than this one has been, so keep them going. Seven to one. That is the way they fled from here. Write soon.

Your Brother

Marion Nutt

April 19, 43

Hello Cliff & Family,

Just a few lines to say howdy and let you know that I am fine & still able to write. Although several times I found myself pinching my body to make sure it was not only a dream. Anyway, our mission is now accomplished and trying to rest up a bit, even though there is not a minute of time left for idleness.

Our visiting time is limited although I do go to see  Van occasionally. He is just as swell as ever with blood curdling experiences of this last mission. Of course you wouldn’t care for any of that B.S.

Stokes brings me the Coldwater Daily Reporter, and I scan the headlines for news of the boys in the service. . . . Just hope Earl & Wayne don’t have to leave, because I’ve been through enough hell for them both.

Must give the Jerries credit. They sure know their onions about warfare & such. Boobie trap professionals, along with mines & bouncing babies. But when the drop is on them, they run like mad.

Received a letter from Aunt Mossie saying that everything is going swell & that she received a letter from Mom stating that she would like to go up to their place again. Think I’ll go along the next time. Would have before, but I didn’t know then what I do now.

Our Lieutenant called some of the boys together & said, “I want to congratulate you on your promotions to corporals.” But now I am in doubt until the reports come back on the wounded NCO’s. I wrote Corporal on a letter that I wrote Ethyl before I knew the truth. Now I don’t know. Will say in my next letter to you so until then, just . . .

Pvt. Nutt

Of all the letters, the one that I love (or hate) most is one sent in April of 1943 from my father, Wayne, to his brother, Marion. It was also written on V-Mail stationery – from one brother who has finished training and is heading to Europe –  to another who is in the midst of hellish warfare. .

Dear Marion: Will write to tell you everything is fine. Everyone is well. I hear from Mom quite often. Paul is home as you may know. Less worry for Mom

I have one stripe now. So feel good about that! Ha! I’m still in Kansas. Quite hot here. But I like it. Earl is still in Oregon. . . . Ethyl, the darling, is very happy. I’m glad for her and for you, too.

The headlines in papers seem very good. I know you boys are really giving those Germans hell. Keep it up! Write to Mom when you can.

I hope you & Earl Stokes are still together. I bet you two can really pour it on. Will close for now. Good luck.

Love, Wayne

The letter isn’t disturbing – it’s the envelope: “Killed in action”

Signed by a Captain.

Returned to the sender – my father.

How many envelopes were pounded with that red stamp?

“RETURN TO SENDER. THIS ITEM COULD NOT BE DELIVERED AS ADDRESSEE HAS BEEN REPORTED KILLED IN ACTION.”

Seventy four years pass. The year is 2017. Ethyl grew old and has passed away. Her daughter brings me a gift. She found it in her mother’s belongings where it had been tucked away for more than 70 years. It is a brown Bible – a New Testament – given to Servicemen during WWII. An inscription is found inside the back cover: 

Being a believer in Jesus Christ, I had always wanted to trust that Uncle Marion, too, was a believer. I thought of my Grandma, his mother, whom I knew was a Christian. I pictured her praying for her sons at war and praying for her children to also know Jesus Christ. I found comfort and consolation in this little New Testament. It fell open to a spot where all those years before, Uncle Marion had placed a four-leaf clover. As a Christian, I know I don’t need to hope or trust in the luck a four-leaf clover brings, but I also know we have a Heavenly Father who understands our whims and knew that someday Uncle Marion’s placement of that clover would lead me to the Word of God – the true hope of our redemption in Jesus Christ. The pages were slightly stained by the clover, which for 77 years lay upon blessed words of our Lord. I read, “And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ But the father said . . . ‘my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”

I thought of my Grandma and her answered prayer for her son, Marion – that he was a son who had died but was alive again!  My heart began to be merry. And I thanked God for His Word and for the little country church that gave that Word to my Uncle Marion.

The final “letter” is actually a lengthy, detailed report titled “Phase IV History of 135th Infantry Regiment.” It describes the final battle for Hill 609 in Tunisia, which began the 27th of March, 1943. It is a disheartening account of Uncle Marion’s last days – those very days of his last letters – the letters that had shown me his true heart. Now I knew a bit more of those many days leading to taking Hill 609.

The report is bitter reading:

“Most of the infantry attacks were not coordinated.”

“Communications at best were poor . . . slow and uncertain”

“The artillery was not used to its fullest extent.. . . Many times the artillery barrage would come down on our own troops, insuring a lot of them and it took a lot of the aggressive spirit from the men.”

“Hill 609: It is interesting to note the difference in terrain . . . this terrain was to be the stage and the scenery for one of the most important battles of the campaign to drive the Germans from Africa; the battle which rates as one of the outstanding combat feats of the Regiment – The Battle of Hill 609.”

“A large percentage of officers and men were  ill for reasons not definitely known. . Although  physical exhaustion was probably partly responsible, it is believed Atabrine tablets were largely the cause.”

“On the 2nd of May, 1943, the battalion occupied the entire north slope of Hill 609 in addition to the ground already held.”

The battle was over. The mission was successful. The Hill was conquered. But it was four days too late for our family:

Uncle Marion was killed in action, in the battle for Hill 609, on April 28, 1943. The Hill was successfully taken on May 2. Officially, the North African campaign ended May 13, 1943.

The list is lengthy at the end of the 47-page report: Wounded in Action; Killed in Action.

In the report, he is simply number 36160539. But in reality, he is our son, our brother, our uncle. He is one in a  huge family of patriots – of citizens who love this country, the United States of America – of people who stand in respect for the flag, the pledge, and the National Anthem – one of dozens in this family who served and continue to serve in the armed forces and within their communities. He is an example of honor.

Now, as pride swells my throat and wet drops of love roll down my face, I know why. It is because I am an American and a piece of a great family that had an Uncle Marion.