Editor’s Note: Sandboxx News presents a World War II series by Kaitlin Oster on the power of hope, letters, and love in seeing us through the terrors and agony of war. You can read the other installments here and listen to Kaitlin’s radio interview about the series here, or visit her website here.
Harold did not feel safe. Along with hundreds of other prisoners of war, he had been cramped and crowded into stinking cattle trains over the sound of barking dogs. He had been standing for hours and was being transported to an unknown destination. He figured he was heading for certain death.
The smell of cows was mixed with the stench of prisoners. They were all American, he knew that much. He assumed that a handful of them surely belonged to the Eighth Air Force. He searched for eyes to meet his own — someone he could start up a conversation with. All eyes were either turned up to God or down in defeat. Some of these men were already dead. He longed for that train to Mississippi and the kind porter who had helped make the ride go by faster.
Without a window to look out of, Harold turned his attention to counting heads. Since he was unable to turn around, he speculated that there were about a hundred men in the car. Ahead of him in a corner was a small space that all of the men fervently tried to avoid. There, a metal bucket full of excrement sloshed about.
The men stood in varying levels of slumping fatigue and tattered uniforms. Harold held his arms across the front of his chest, missing his bomber jacket. He looked down at the wound on his arm and bent forward a little to test how bad the injury to his back was. “Not bad enough,” he thought.
Letters going unread
Loretta received letter after letter returned to her. She didn’t care; she made it a point to write to Harold almost every day so he would have something nice to read and look forward to. She couldn’t bear the thought of not writing to him, and it helped her just to believe he was out there somewhere, thinking of her. She thought keeping him in the loop of even mundane activities would give a semblance of normalcy to the current awful times. If he was found she would just resend the letters again and everything would be alright. Would she ever hear from him again? Would she ever see her love?
It took five weeks before any news of Harold reached their home in Jamaica. She didn’t know how or when he was found, or the extent of his injuries. What she did know, though, was that Harold was alive. He was a prisoner, but he was breathing and he could still read her letters, and maybe he could write her one or two. Information was given to Loretta and Harold’s mother about where they could send parcels and she beamed at the sight of a usable address. Never in her life did Loretta think she’d be so pleased to learn that her husband was a prisoner. She collapsed into tears of joy knowing that — at the very least — her husband was alive. No one knew for how much longer the war would carry on, but at least he was safe.
September 27, 1943
I miss you lots doll, and still love you. I’m getting along fine. Regards to the family and our friends.
All my love,
T/SGT H.P. Schwerdt
Feature Image: German prisoners-of-war boarding a train in Boston. (U.S. National Archives)