The mostly handwritten letters, on tissue-thin paper, dated to World War II and were penned mostly by the members of a single family — the Eydes of Rockford, Ill. Three brothers were in the military: one in the Marine Corps, one in the Army and one in ...and more »
MESA, Ariz. — The storage unit’s corrugated metal door slid upward, revealing 100 square feet of mostly empty space. Not very promising, thought Joe Alosi, a businessman who bid on units, sight unseen, when tenants stopped paying the rent. Several plastic bins sat in the middle of the floor, and dust billowed as Alosi peeled off the first lid.
Inside, tightly packed, were rows of envelopes. Alosi opened one, and then another, and then another. The Marine Corps veteran felt a slight chill.
The mostly handwritten letters, on tissue-thin paper, dated to World War II and were penned mostly by the members of a single family — the Eydes of Rockford, Ill. Three brothers were in the military: one in the Marine Corps, one in the Army and one in the Army Air Forces.
There were hundreds of letters, stretching over four years of war and beyond. They captured the horrors of combat, offered warm reminiscences of childhood and exchanges about everything from the movie “Casablanca” to the brothers’ beloved Chicago Cubs. The brothers also used racist and pejorative language, including in their descriptions of Japanese and German forces.
Back at his kitchen table, Alosi, joined by his wife and children, continued to pore over the correspondence. They took turns reading the letters aloud.
Alosi wondered how such an intimate and gripping collection had ended up in a storage locker, whether any of the brothers had children, and if there was anyone left who would care to see them.
“I’ve seen multiple times the way people leave things, you know?” Alosi said. “And when they leave them in a certain way, it’s like they don’t plan on coming back.”
What remained was the story contained in the letters.
The war begins
Frank Eyde in a letter home Dec. 10, 1941
“We have been called out on air raid alarms the last few days, but you know as much about what was happening as I do, the radio is the only dope we get as well as you about them Japs and nasty Germans. Bastards are what they are, raiding without warnings, sneaking up at night and such wrong methods of a clean fight.”
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I received your charming letter John and Sanford of the 8th.I heard there will be no more air mail letters sent, I don’t know but I am sending this one airmail on 10th so you can tell when it comes to send only telegrams and 3¢ stamps on letters from now on. I am well pleased with your fine letters, too bad that Ralph’s leave from Camp Ord was cancelled as we will have our hands full now to protect America from invasion. We have been called out on air raid alarms the last few days, but you know as much about what was happening as I do, the radio is the only dope we get as well as you about them Japs and nasty Germans. Bastards are what they are, raiding without warnings, sneaking up at night and such wrong methods of a clean fight. They don’t know how to fight clean. John, you must have had a swell time in Chicago shopping as well as seeing the sights – over Yes, I will be able to handle myself against those forces which try to sneak upon us. Ralph has not been away from home so long and the Films of both of us taken in L.A. are something to keep. John there’s always a chance for you anyplace you want to go. You are a good mechanic and they always need good men for defense jobs. Well John my part so far has been coast defense as San Diego is always close for invasion and we are all armed at all times for action at any place any time. I am well and healthy and feel just fine, smiling and enjoying the rain we just have had. Camp is now a lake and water and mud don’t mix. Thanks for your swell thoughts and I know we will all stick together in this war to the end. If you don’t hear from me -- don’t you worry. We can’t tell you when we leave, so if no mail comes you will have known I have been sent someplace. You can write me and I will receive your mail though. Dear Musha: Glad to know you are all right and always thinking of me as I am of all of you. I sent Sigie 20.00 M.O. on loan and hope he gets it safe. I thank you for the two dollars and tell you I am getting enough money now so please use it for home repairs and the hot water in the house for my little Musha needs such. Love and Keep Smiling – Frank. Dear Dad: Ain’t it the truth we study the war news over the radio and there’s 100 nations in this war. I hope you will keep up your good work at the factory and see that Musha takes things easy. Dear Sanford: So you spent 20.00 shopping and had a good time buying yourself things you wanted. Yes I will follow Elect. and always thinking of you and our baseball days together. I will say Sigie: Your letters are so good I have to read them over and over and always enjoy them. So when I send one it is always short and cold but your English has been much better than mine. We are now in the Barricks at Camp and has fine sleeping Quarters. We have a lot of rushing lately never knowing when we will get the call to leave. I am at present getting ready for chow so I must close with Happy Thoughts of you and the gang. As ever, your Sank, The Salesman Frank.
“We have been called out on air raid alarms the last few days, but you know as much about what was happening as I do, the radio is the only dope we get as well as you about them Japs and Nasty Germans. Bastards are what they are, raiding without warnings, sneaking up at night and such wrong methods of a clean fight.” — Frank Eyde, in a letter home, Dec. 10, 1941.
Lorentz Eyde and Margaret Larsen separately came to the United States from Norway and married in Rockford in 1908. He was a cabinetmaker, she a homemaker, and they settled in a small three-bedroom home on tree-lined Fremont Street.
Frank, the eldest child, graduated from Rockford Central High School in 1933, the same year that Adolf Hitler became German chancellor. Frank had a wide smile and thick, dark hair, and worked as a traveling soap salesman for Procter & Gamble. His three younger brothers called him “The Salesman,” even though the career didn’t stick.
Frank enlisted as a Marine in October 1939 at age 26, shortly after Germany invaded Poland. Two years later, Frank’s younger brother, Ralph, quit his factory job at George D. Roper Corp. to enlist as an Army infantryman at age 23.
In a stroke of good luck, both brothers were stationed in California — Frank with the 2nd Marine Division’s 2nd Tank Battalion at San Diego’s Camp Elliott, and Ralph with the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, a sprawling installation near Monterey.
An undated photo of Frank, Sanford, Ralph and John Eyde in boyhood in Rockford, Ill. Their parents emigrated from Norway. (Courtesy of Joe Alosi) Sanford and Frank Eyde on graduation day, June 2, 1933. When the war began, Frank was already in the Marines and Sanford was working at the Woodward Governor factory. (Courtesy of Vicki Venhuizen)
Conflict in Europe and Asia seemed far away. “All this falseness of war, it’s hooey!” Frank wrote home in November 1941. He had just been to Los Angeles and spotted Hollywood stars Margaret Lindsay, Betty Grable and Claire Trevor. “Could have dated your choice if I had the dough, say me,” he boasted.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. U.S. troops up and down the California coastline began pulling patrols to watch for enemy bombers, as well as preparing to deploy to the Pacific. An attack on the mainland seemed entirely possible.
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“No telling when I’ll go home now,” Ralph wrote to his brother John, the youngest sibling, on Dec. 18. “Won’t even get Christmas off. Stood five and a half hours of straight guard last night. Shoot anyone suspicious lurking around in wee hours of morning.”
Frank described the changes in San Diego.
“All the shops are putting black paper on their windows and when the alarm goes, all lights will have to go out except those on the inside that can’t be seen from the street,” he wrote four days after the attack. “There is talk of 4,000 Japs organizing along the Mexican border and the paper says fishing boats bring some in dock to be searched.”
In Rockford, the other two brothers — Sanford, the second oldest, and John — considered what they might do in the military. Sanford, 26 when the war began, worked at the Woodward Governor factory as a carpenter, and received a deferment.
Ralph urged John, 21, who ran a lathe at Roper Corp., making aircraft parts for the military, to enlist but avoid a job in the combat arms.
“If you want my true thoughts on your best bet, it’s the aviation mechanical line on airplane motors. Best pay, course you study while you work + when you get out, you’ve a high paying trade,” Ralph wrote. “That’s my advice, John. Stay out of the infantry with your keen mechanical mind. No pay, too much danger, learn nothing valuable for civilian life.”
The Battle of Tulagi
Frank writes John Thurs. Aug. 20, 1942
“What I saw I will never forget. I was on a guncrew that shot down a Jap bomber coming right at us about 20 feet off the water and about 25 feet from our boat. In all, our ship shot down five bombers coming right close to the ship, trying to crash into it.”
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From Frank to family on Sept. 4, 1942, island on the Pacific
I thought I would write you a few lines and tell you some things which we are able too. There are quite a lot of things we cannot mention. I am doing fine and feel all right. We have guard tonight and have had quite a few hikes to keep in condition. I can’t say much about the Island outside of that it is not so bad and has plenty of advantages for our protection. I went to church here at camp and enjoyed the outdoor sermon. We train to keep in shape and when they need us to do a job we will be ready. It’s good training here as all our fighting will be done in the same kind of islands. I have been going to some school on some valuable subjects. It looks like we are in a good way toward victory after destroying most of the Jap Navy and planes. If everything goes ok we will get leave by Christmas maybe. Musha, I know you will take care of yourself and not worry over anything. I really enjoy the island and as we are kept busy all the time we have quite a few books and movies to keep us happy. The football and baseball games and swimming. Always thinking of you and the boys. I hear the news every evening over radio.
“What I saw I will never forget. I was on a guncrew that shot down a Jap bomber coming right at us about 20 feet off the water and about 25 feet from our boat. In all, our ship shot down five bombers coming right close to the ship, trying to crash into it. ” — Frank Eyde, in a letter home in summer 1942.
Frank became a section chief for an intelligence unit in 2nd Tank Battalion, overseeing 18 men. He told his father in a letter home in May 1942 that he had learned how to do everything from changing the treads on a tank to using a 37mm antitank gun that was pulled by a Jeep.
“Wherever I am, I know how to take care of myself and you know my speed, so watch them babies fall when I get that gun working, rolling at speeds over the sands,” Frank wrote.
He deployed to the Pacific by transport ship in June, not knowing his destination. Ralph informed their parents of Frank’s departure. “Don’t worry about him,” he wrote. “He knows all the tricks. I was hoping to see him, but that’ll have to wait for a while, I guess. It won’t last so long the way the U.S. fleet is beating the Japs in the Pacific.”
Frank’s unit sailed to the Solomon Islands. U.S. commanders launched a multipronged attack there on Aug. 7, 1942, placing Marines and sailors ashore under fire on the islands of Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo and Guadalcanal. Frank’s unit was deployed to Tulagi, where hundreds of Japanese soldiers fought to the death on a strip of land about three miles long and a half-mile wide.
Marines land at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands in August 1942. Japan had constructed a naval and seaplane base there that was taken as the Marines landed at the larger island of Guadalcanal. (U.S. Navy/Getty Images) Japanese aircraft come under fire during a torpedo attack on Navy vessels during the battle for Tulagi. Frank Eyde was on a gun crew that shot down a Japanese bomber at close range. (Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)
“High bombers overhead dropping eggs all around us,” Frank wrote home in the summer of 1942. “At night a real battle was on. I saw tracers blast from our ships . . . heavy fires all around. We can’t talk about the losses of the war, so I guess all I can say is we won the battle. It was sure a 4th of July and it happened eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
Frank’s unit withdrew from Tulagi relatively quickly, moving to the New Hebrides, a group of tropical islands off the east coast of Australia now known as Vanuatu.
“I am doing fine and feel all right,” Frank wrote to his mother that September. “We have a guard tonight and have had quite a few hikes to keep in condition. I can’t say much about the Island outside of that it is not so bad and has plenty of advantages for protection. I went to church here at camp, and enjoyed the outdoor sermon. We train to keep in shape and when they need us to do a job we will be ready. It’s good training here as all our fighting will be done in the same kind of islands.”
In February 1943 Frank contracted malaria and jaundice, and the Marines sent him home from the South Pacific.
Ralph is wounded
Ralph writes to family Sept. 28, 1943
“As long as you know now that it was only a slight head wound + nothing more it’s okay by me. It was plenty close but I was never out of the 18 straight days of action nor in any hospital or rest camp. Too many fellows worse off than myself at the time so I had it dressed the following day while eating my field ration (was hit the same day I landed — shell landing 15 feet away while pushing ahead). But all this a thousand times over never held up this outfit.”
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Dear Ma, Dad, + Sanny:
Here I am again with greetings + good wishes to you all. Sure appreciate all the swell letters from you + have been receiving them in good time. Sigie’s of Aug. 12th + 31st, Dad’s of Aug. 22nd, 27th, + Sept. 5th, Frank’s + Ma’s Aug. 29th + of Sept. 5th, 8th, 12th, + 16th all reaching me okay. It was really good to taste your delicious cookies, Ma, + you’re still the best cook as we all agree. The writing material + stamps were most welcome and many thanks for all the birthday greetings. My only regret is that I couldn’t have been home for the reunion + all the parties welcoming Frank back from the Solomons, but all my thoughts are with you all. Boy, I’m sure glad Frank was able to stay in Rockford so long and what swell times for everyone!! Imagine by this time he’s on his way back to his Marine Base at San Diego + am writing him there + thanking him for his peppy letters. If you’re still at home, Frank, then here’s my thanks to you for everything. Rec’d his clippings of his picture with Cliff Pedersen writeup of Rollie Larson (had to laugh at that writeup although it was no laughing matter. Maybe the Dooley name struck me as being funny), + baseball lineup (Industrial League). Do you ever see Mrs. Larson anymore, Musha? The picture was very good of Pete +Frank + am keeping it along with all the other snaps. Frank looks as young as ever + none the worse for his experiences + Pete a little chunckier but still the peanut butter kid, I’ll bet. Was a little surprised to read of his being married. Maybe cause I still think of him running around with Johnny. Everything is okay with me + happy to know that each + everyone of you is keeping the town on its feet. Am getting a good night’s sleep all the time + good chow. Save all the clippings + pictures of the battle of Attu that you run across + the writeups. In later years they’ll be interesting. The writeups of correspondent Keith Wheeler in the June issues of the Chicago Daily Times are as close to the true picture of events that took place on Attu as you’ll find anywhere. You’ve all read of the conflict, so I won’t dwell on it. But with the censorship easing up some now, I just thought I’d let you know a few things that might be interesting. The June 12th issue of Life Magazine has descriptive pictures of the action on these wastelands + imagine some of the other magazines have some other good shots. Have sent the Purple Heart home so be looking for it. Also a pamphlet on our July 4th ceremonies on Attu. Had letters from Johnny + he states that he’ll be graduating from his school at Air Base in November.
Page II Wished I could be there when he gets his leave. He’s doing okay + you can depend that Johnny is going places when he leaves school. That must have been some crackup you + Frank had, eh, Sigie? Good thing it wasn’t serious. Those hikes were fun, I know, + when all 3 (all 5, I mean) of you were together on Aug. 1st through the 6th – what could have been better! Just like old times. Bob Braisted seems to be doing okay. Frank says Bill Hansen says hello. Seems like a name from way back cause it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Bill. Had a letter from Mrs. Clay + she says that you’re one in a million, Ma, and that goes double here. She was sure pleased to see Frank again + too bad Harry + his family wasn’t in town. She sure is a jolly person + full of life. Harry’s family is getting bigger + like Frank says, he’ll soon have a baseball team. Old Mrs. Orensteen in Loves Park must be pretty spry getting over to the North End again. A grand old lady she is. Having the Johnsons down from Stoughton was a pleasure for all and can still remember their place from years ago. So Eddie is working at Ropers! That’s a good thing for Aunt Lena + himself. Had letter from Aunt Lena + she was glad to hear from me again. Also have had many absorbing letters from Kenosha – all of which I’ll be answering at first opportune moment. Uncle Oscar wrote + said he celebrated my letter by knocking the almonds out of the orchards. If Frank can get in to see them before going on to San Diego, I know they’ll sure enjoy his visit. Wouldn’t mind getting into your homemade canning, Musha. Sure remember all that chili sauce you used to can. You state, Sigie, that the crab apples weren’t as numerous as years before. Guess the ‘ol tree is dying out. Was sure glad to hear of your classification + keep it up. Know reading is a great pastime afar being at Woodward’s all day and you + Dad are doing swell jobs being there all the time and I realize it’s a grind far different from peacetime operations. Musha should have some kind of an award for getting her “boarders” to work on time all the time. Yes, siree! Frank’s visiting Kenosha was a real thrill to all concerned and he timed it just right in order to meet Gordy just in from the West Coast. Hearing that Frank is the same Sank is music to my ears he’s having the time of his life being home again. The good ‘ol salesman. Flask!! Just rec’d one of the best pictures I’ve ever seen of Frank + Johnny and what a pip it is!!! Will keep it with me all the time wherever I may go. Hope you all took a big group picture, too. Also just rec’d a letter from Johnny dated Sept. 20th + he says everything is coming along in fine style with him + that Frank was leaving on Tuesday.
Page III Hard to see him go again, but ‘ol Sank can take care of himself and have no worries about him. Reading where my sleeping roll was rec’d + that everything is being taken care of is on the okay side of the ledger. Also pleased at your receiving all the war bonds + allotments okay and also the money order. Your idea of the safety box is a good idea, Dad, + here’s my approval. The account on 7th St. is getting easy on the eyes, eh, Borsk? You betcha. (Wed. Sept. 29th). Just continuing where I left off last night. Too bad about Mort’s mother. Give him my best wishes. Will be dropping him a line as soon as possible. So Uncle Sam has obtained the services of Paul, the fellow with the broomsweeping jig, and his friend, Howard Erickson. As they’re both married, it’s a blow to them both but this mess can’t last forever and we’ll all be home again as soon as it’s over. Johnny seems to be having some good times at his Air Base + leave it to him to get around. Sure interesting to know that he’s winning all those sprinting meets. He’s a top-notch racer, so running + racing must go hand in hand. His letters of razorblade + amusing antics are sure funny + get plenty of laughs from them as you all must too. In answer top your letter of Aug. 22nd, Dad, I’m sorry that I couldn’t write you all about things before you found out the truth from Morey’s folks. As long as you know now that it was only a slight head wound + nothing more it’s okay by me. It was plenty close but I was never out of the 18 straight days of action nor in any hospital or rest camp. Too many fellows worse off than myself at the time so I had it dressed the following day while eating my field ration (was hit the same day I landed – shell landing 15 feet away while pushing ahead). But all this a thousand times over never held up this outfit. Had plenty of calls as close + closer as the first day and I still maintain that the Good Lord was with us all on Attu last May. There were no atheists in that battle. Went to church services Sunday + the Chaplain stated that in action the truth of all men being basically religious became a known fact on Attu whether or not they knew the Bible inside out or didn’t know the Lord’s prayer. We all prayed in our own way everyday while pinned down by enemy fire, moving ahead, in foxholes, on patrols, etc. and my mind was back at 2310 plenty of times thinking of home. There’s so much going on that you forget to get scared. That was good of Morey to write his brother + tell him to tell you that I was okay. Plenty busy all the time + especially around that time. Enough for this – just thought I’d try to straighten out a few things. Guess Johnny’s friend, the Miller boy, is at the same camp that he was in last July and it’s quite sometime since I’ve heard from him.
Page IV Am writing him another letter soon. He should be due for a furlough after being in the service so long. Johnny’ll see him the way they move around and then I may run into him in this global war somewhere. Remember the camera I had for several years? Finally sold it as it wasn’t good anymore. Frank must have had plenty of fun seeing the old films on projector while home, and they’re priceless. Aunt Olive has plenty of stock on ranch – chickens, bantams, roosters, hens, ducks, etc., + I know our place is alive with the same. Quite a job taking care of all this + working too, eh, Sigie? The feed must be plenty high now as everything is these days. How about letting me know about the stock, where it’s going, etc. as you have these things at home + I have no way of knowing of them now unless you write me about them? How’re the tunes on the new piano? Bet Sigie is reeling them off + how he can play that thing. Was saving several good tunes while in the States, but threw them away as I figured you had them anyway. Remember how some of them go but have forgotten the others. Some were pretty good and then the others would never make the grade. Getting on to baseball, Sigie, I’m taking the cards in 4 out of 7 games against the Yanks in World Series. How about that? Maybe this makes sense. Hope so. Should be a good series.
All the war news is looking better all the time + the Allies are on the move. It’s getting late so will close for this time, but will be writing another letter soon. Many thanks again for the swell cookies + writing material, Ma, and all the most welcome letters from you all. Say hello to the Hollisters, Morgans, Bredsteens, Grogans, Christiansens, Rev. Peterson of the Church, the Greenbergs, Risenbecks, Bresslers, Haeggquists, Franklins, the Sharps, Braisteds, Ted Miller, the Millers on 5th Ave., Cy Miller, Mr. Beck + his mother, Bud Risenbeck’s family, Mr. + Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Nelson, Andrew + Pietra, the Carlsons on Fremont St. Give my best wishes to Lyle + also the butter salesman. Don’t find them all on the time table + only get a chance to drop them a line now + then. Give my regards to Erick + Aslang. Am always thinking of you all + keep up the good work at home. Never worry about me + get plenty of sleep and a lot of that Midwestern fresh air. See you all again via letter + keep smiling. Best of things + lots of love to you all, Ralph P.S. -- Would sure like to get another box of those good cookies, Musha. The last ones went down plenty fast. Frank says you’re getting Christmas presents ready which is a good deal. Anything you send it okay by me. Homemade cookies, gum, candy, pictures. About the mail service – would rather have all airmail as it’s quicker than mail. Dad’s airmail letter of Sept. 5th beat Frank’s Vmail letter of Sept. 5th by a few days. Don’t be afraid to tell me any news as your incoming mail isn’t censored. It’s our mail that’s censored. How’s about getting the star for awhile? Would sure like it!! P.S. – Rec’d a letter from Aunt Sanna today the 29th dated Sept. 21st, which is fast service. She’s sure full of interesting reading + a good hand. NEW ADDRESS Tues. Sept 1943 Co. – M – 32nd Inf. U.S. Army – A.P.O #7 C/O Postmaster San Francisco, Calif. A.S.N. – 36024556
“As long as you know now that it was only a slight head wound + nothing more it’s okay by me. It was plenty close but I was never out of the 18 straight days of action nor in any hospital or rest camp. Too many fellows worse off than myself at the time so I had it dressed the following day while eating my field ration (was hit the same day I landed — shell landing 15 feet away while pushing ahead). But all this a thousand times over never held up this outfit.” — Ralph Eyde, in a letter written home Sept. 28, 1943.
Ralph wrote John in April 1943 that he was preparing to deploy, as part of “one of these outfits who make beach landings in the middle of the night on the roughest coastlines possible and seize airports, railroads, cities, and enemy coast defenses.”
It was possible, Ralph wrote, that the division would be sent to “Japan itself,” underlining the two words for emphasis.
“If I want to write some secret dope,” he wrote, “I have to do it now.” But he warned his brother John not to “tell anyone out of family what our outfit has been doing cause all this training could be worthless if a pack of subs got ahold of us and all were sent to the bottom in Mid-Ocean.”
Soldiers prepare to board landing craft for the attack on the Japanese-held Aleutian island of Kiska, the next U.S. target after Army units, including Ralph Eyde’s 7th Infantry Division, captured the island of Attu. (Associated Press)
In April 1943, Ralph left San Francisco on a transport ship, traveling under the Golden Gate Bridge, and then heading north to Alaska. Japanese soldiers had landed unopposed in the Aleutian Islands in June 1942, taking control of the islands of Kiska and Attu and raising fears that they could use them to launch attacks on the continental United States.
The Battle of Attu began May 11, 1943, with Ralph’s unit landing on muddy shores as part of Operation Landcrab. Over the next three weeks, in frosty, miserable conditions, 15,000 American and Canadian troops battled about 2,300 well-fortified Japanese soldiers. All but about 30 Japanese soldiers fought to the death.
Ralph suffered a head wound from a shell early in the battle but shrugged it off and stayed in the fight. Frostbite and other exposure injuries were common, and the battle did not conclude until the remaining Japanese fighters made a “banzai” charge through American lines that resulted in furious hand-to-hand combat.
Troops of the 7th Infantry Division approach a landing area code-named Beach Red in the western arm of Holtz Bay on Japanese-occupied Attu island. (Associated Press) Food, ammunition and other supplies for the U.S. and Canadian forces that captured the island of Kiska crowd a beach in the Aleutian Islands in September 1943. (Associated Press)
“If the people back home ever have any doubts about the fighting caliber of its soldiers, they want to see this outfit in action and I can assure you that all their doubts would be erased,” Ralph wrote in a letter home dated Aug. 5, 1943. “It was a rugged struggle and all the weather in the world couldn’t hold us back.”
He and four other soldiers from his company of a few hundred received a Purple Heart, which he sent home to Rockford and called a “real honey of a medal.”
U.S. accounts of the battle state that 549 Allied troops were killed, 1,148 more were wounded and, 1,814 suffered through cold-weather injuries and disease.
“It was plenty tough + rugged going with the weather against us + Jap snipers harassing us all the time,” Ralph wrote in another letter that August. “But we blew them from their foxholes + they all ended up 6 foot under. I think they’ll be good fertilizer — they’re sure not good for anything else.”
Frank struggles at home
Frank writes to his mother from a hospital July 11, 1943
“I am still here at the U.S. Naval Hospital being watched over by some experts in the art of bringing one back to normal.”
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I am still here at the U.S. Naval Hospital being watched over by some experts in the art of bringing one back to normal. I am feeling fine and dandy and wish I was with you and the boys being so close, but it won’t be long now, I hope. I needed a short rest for my nerves were kind of jittery. I have been looking to the bright side of life and everything is going to turn out all right. Where there is a will there is a way.
Is Dad still kicking those chubby legs around and smoking his five cent cigars? How is Sandford’s garden coming along I wish I could taste some of them victory garden vegetables of his. Let’s hear from you all.
Love – Frank.
“I am still here at the U.S. Naval Hospital being watched over by some experts in the art of bringing one back to normal.” — Frank Eyde, in a letter to his mother from a hospital, July 11, 1943.
While Ralph remained on Attu, Frank returned to San Diego. He initially appeared upbeat, writing his brother Sanford in June 1943 that he had just arrived “from the other side” and was looking forward to a 30-day furlough in Illinois.
“It takes a little time to get things straightened out but it won’t be long before I can see the Cubs get out of the cellar,” Frank wrote. “I am feeling fine and looking to the day I can see you all again.”
But Frank had begun a long downward spiral. Traveling back to Rockford, he experienced a paranoid episode on Chicago’s Navy Pier on July 7, 1943, believing people were watching him, according to military documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Authorities found him confused and restless, prompting the military to admit him to the Great Lakes military hospital north of the city for observation rather than allowing him to continue home.
Frank Eyde, in an updated photo. After returning from the Solomons, he suffered for years from mental health problems. (Photos courtesy of Vicki Zenhuizen) Frank Eyde is shown here in November 1939 during boot camp in San Diego. He is fourth from the right in the second row from the bottom. (Courtesy of Vicki Venhuizen)
Frank played down his problems. “I am feeling fine and dandy and wish I was with you and the boys. Being so close, but it won’t be long now, I hope,” he wrote to his mother four days later. “I needed a short rest, for my nerves were kind of jittery. I have been looking to the bright side of life and everything is going to turn out all right. Where there is a will there is a way.”
Frank was diagnosed with combat fatigue — often considered a precursor to the modern diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder — a few weeks later. By mid-August, doctors reported that he had improved and was no longer fearful or confused, and had a mood that is “one of quietness but not depression.”
“He wishes to return to duty, but does not believe that he is well enough for combat duty at this time,” a hospital report said.
Frank continued to struggle. He was transferred in September to a Navy base in Crane, Ind., where he could be closer to home, but was court-martialed in December 1943 after an unauthorized absence from the base. He was demoted from sergeant to corporal, with Marine officials pointedly noting that he had a drinking problem, according to military documents.
Ralph gets wounded again
Ralph Eyde, in a letter to Johnny Feb. 22, 1944
“When dawn broke and the sun was shining brightly, the dead Japs were piled in lines where our machine guns had been mowing ’em down all night.”
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Dear Johnny: Well, what do you say these cool winter days back there, Johnny? Been passing those 1/2" bolts around lately? Ha, ha. Rec’d you letters of Feb. 2nd, 11th, +16th in good shape and also the news articles and many thanks. Have quite a bit to tell you + I guess it doesn’t make much difference where I start. You already know we’ve been in action again + we really gave ‘em hell on Kwajalein island in the Marshalls + though it was taken in only a few days there were still plenty of those yellow b---- giving us a bad time even after all the bombarding our navy + air corps gave them. Things were going along in good shape in the early stages of the campaign and then we pushed the Japs in one corner of the island. This was the scene of close in fighting on the last night of hell. Believe me, it was a regular nightmare!! My job in this operation was a heavy machine gun squad leader, as it was on Attu. I was in a foxhole with a buddy + the machine gun was well concealed. Wham! Shell just missed us. Wham! Another right behind us. The machine gun lets go with a roar mowing down some Japs several yards away. My machine gun keeps mowing ‘em down all night. It’s getting near dawn now. We let go with hand grenades to wipe out a bunch of Japs in a trench just in front of us. What’s this? The Japs are throwing everything they’ve got at us and they’re on both sides of us and closing in! Shells landing all around my gun. Looks like they’ve found my position. Some of the fellows are getting their knives ready. The machine gun is still barking. Then wham!! A shell lands right in my foxhole, blowing us both up in the air. Don’t know how high I went and I guess it doesn’t make much difference as I got up and made my way to a nearby shellhole as best I could cussing. There a medic fixed the shrapnel wound in my left side as best he could. Just then the Japs were rushing screaming wildly and our gunners were just pouring it into them. I guess I’ll never know the many of those slant-eyed heathens my gun mowed down all that night.
Page II But when dawn came and the tropical sun was shining brightly, the Japs were piled in lines near our position and it would have taken an adding machine to total them up. My gunner was shaken up + lost one eye, but he’s in good shape now + in high spirits. I’m laid up in a hospital somewhere in the Hawaiian Islands now & getting along fine + eating the best of chow. So don’t worry about me Johnny, cause everything will be okay with me. Don’t know how long I’ll be here + the rest is a bit of okay. This is sure different than my foxhole with its rain + mud, lizards, land crabs, + insects, with no sleep + little food in 4 days. Glad it’s over + it’s a great bunch of fighters — these American lads and we bested the smart, tricky, + cunning Japs at his own game-night close in fighting.
Boy, it was a beautiful operation, Johnny, and we had the best support an outfit could get — the navy, air corps, + artillery. And believe me they did a great job of bombarding. As on Attu we lost some gallant young fellows whose heroic deeds against harassing snipers, pillboxes + blockhouses will never be forgotten. The Jap is a tough little fighter + no one in this outfit underestimates their fanatics fighting ability. Every man in my company is receiving a citation for breaking up the enemy’s last big counterattack on that last night which meant saving our already hard-earned gains.
The General was here yesterday + pinned an Oak Leaf Cluster on me which is an addition to my previously earned Purple Heart. But I’ll never forget that last night in the Marshalls. Those medics on the battlefield are a great bunch + deserve all the praise in the world. Scared? There’s too much going on to be scared. There were no atheists in the foxholes on Kwajalein + somehow a fellow can feel God is close in combat + in tight spots it’s good to know He’s there. One Jap yelled “Cease Firing” in good English. He popped up again + was about to yell something when a hail of lead brought him down. We kept firing. There are many things that happened + due to censorship, I’ll have to wait till we get together to tell you of them + by that time you’ll have plenty of good yarns yourself. The Allies are on the move + there’s nothing that’s going to stop us, eh, Sarge? I wrote home yesterday + told Mom, Dad, + Sanny about everything I’m writing you. When I arrived here I had your letters, letters from home + Frank, Ruth + Richard & Grogan, Los Altos, Greenbergs, + Kenosha staring me in the face + it was really a treat opening them all, especially yours, Johnny, and had plenty of belly laughs.
Page III I’m glad to know you’re doing okay in Utah + getting a 3-day pass now and then. Be good if you could get to Calif. + surprise the Los Altos folks. So Roy was home for a short leave + is a cameraman in a B-17! That’s all right and he really can get around. Wonder if he gets airsick on those rough days? Can just see him up there with a pipe looking over the situation. Was glad to know you rec’d the pictures of me okay. Was going to get more + better ones made but shoved off for combat before I had the chance. But first chance I get I’ll get some good ones made + will be sending them your way. I get paid in another week so I’ll have some cash for the day I leave the hospital. I had a couple of letters from Edythe + she’s working at the offices of an army post south of Frisco. Everything is fine at home + Sanny is still the hustling lad at the shop + Dad is kept busy reading all our mail + mom is still putting out those swell home-cooked meals. You’re right when you say we’ve got a lot to come back to + and it should be in too long a time. Keep your plans always in mind cause you’ve got what it takes to put it over, Johnny, and it stands to reason they’ll be just the thing when this is all over. So Morey was put in the guardhouse + and a court martial coming up! Poor Morey. Never pays to stay over even a few hours, eh, Johnny? Say, that Packard is making money just sitting still. That investment wasn’t bad after all. ‘Ol Whit should be having a fairly good time in England considering everything. Had a lot of issues of the Star when I reached here + am still reading them. Always look forward to your letters, Sarge, and you’re doing a good job learning all the mechanics of those planes. Know how it is to be far away from the town but it won’t be that way all the time, so keep plugging + I’ll be writing more often now as I have a chance to write letters while being laid up. Thanks again for all the swell letters (rec’d your Feb. 16th letter on Feb. 20th) and will keep you posted on everything. Writing Frank tomorrow + then Kenosha. Glad to know you’re keeping in shape + here’s wishing you the best in your work + take care of yourself. See you again via letter + in the meantime, how about a big smile? Adios.
Love + best wishes, Pitchy
NEW ADDRESS TGH APO 958 DET. OF PATIENTS SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.
“When dawn broke and the sun was shining brightly, the dead Japs were piled in lines where our machine guns had been mowing ’em down all night.” — Ralph Eyde, in a spring 1944 letter to Frank.
By January 1944, following jungle-warfare training in Hawaii, Ralph was back on the high seas. U.S. commanders sent his division to assault the Marshall Islands, on which the Japanese had several airfields.
Allied forces launched Operation Flintlock on Jan. 31, 1944, with soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division coming ashore on Kwajalein Atoll.
The Army caught the Japanese underprepared, but they still fought fiercely. On Feb. 4, Ralph and his comrades found themselves facing Japanese soldiers who screamed wildly as they made a final, furious charge under cover of darkness.
A landing craft packed with Marines approaches an island in the Kwajalein Atoll during the U.S. invasion of the Marshall Islands on March 2, 1944. Ralph Eyde and the 7th Infantry Division also took part in the difficult fighting. (U.S. Coast Guard/Associated Press)
“Wham! Shell just misses us. Wham! Another right behind us,” Ralph recalled later in a letter to John. “The machine gun let go with a roar, mowing down some Japs several yards away. My machine gun keeps mowing them down all night.”
The battle continued until after dawn, when Ralph was hit by a Japanese shell and blown 20 feet out of his foxhole, with shrapnel wounds to the lung. Ralph was dizzy from his concussion and wounds, he wrote, but continued to throw hand grenades.
Ralph’s machine-gunner lost an eye, but both men survived. Ralph later boasted to Frank that American soldiers would beat “the tricky and cunning Jap” anytime.
“He’s a tough little fanatic and no one in this outfit underestimated his fighting ability,” Ralph wrote. “Lost some of my buddies in this campaign and their heroic deeds against harassing snipers, pillboxes, and block houses will never be forgotten.”
The Battle of Kwajalein ended with 142 American troops killed, two missing and another 845 wounded. The Japanese lost more than 4,300 men.
U.S. troops land from a pontoon bridge serving as a pier during the U.S. invasion of the Marshall Islands in 1944. (U.S. Coast Guard/Associated Press) 7th Infantry Division soldiers use flamethrowers to drive Japanese soldiers from a blockhouse on Kwajalein atoll. Ralph Eyde survived a nighttime banzai charge but was wounded by a shell blast. (Associated Press)
“Golly, you sure get your share of battle, don’t you?” John wrote Feb. 11, not knowing that Ralph was wounded and being shipped to Hawaii for treatment.
By then, John was a member of the Army Air Forces, and training for a deployment to the Pacific with the 505th Bombardment Group at Wendover Airfield in Utah.
“Be a soldier like you use to pitch Ralph, and you’ll be O.K. — and you know I’m always on your side, howling it up for you and thinking about you all the time — so give them Japs hell,” John wrote.
The Eydes learned that Ralph had been “seriously wounded” on Kwajalein in a telegram on Feb. 16, and received a letter from a general confirming the news the following day. Sanford wrote his younger brother immediately.
“It could have been worse, and it was with that thought in mind that I told Musha and Borsk not to worry,” Sanford wrote, using nicknames the brothers had for their parents. “I said that any guy who can pick other guys off second base like you did one after another was plenty quick moving. Your ability in sports has been to your advantage in your most recent encounter.”
A few days later, when he heard Ralph had been wounded, John wrote that he had “bawled like a baby! — and right in front of everybody!”
Frank is discharged; John deploys
John writes Ralph from Tinian July 7, 1945
“Japan hasn’t seen 1/100 of blastings as she’s going to in the near future.”
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Received your letters of the 11th, 11th and 11th ok and Dad’s the 11th, and Frank’s on the 18th also ok and in good shape – Thanks mucho and I do believe it’s about time I take a little time for writing, eh? Ya!
First of all, about the situation in general out here. Things are the same here on Tinian and I am kept as busy as ever with my electrical work, and I assume you there has been a lot of repairing to do! I would like to go into detail about some happenings and such, but you know it would be cut out anyway, so no use writing of them. How is your job coming along Pulpan? Still cutting the burrs off the shells? Heh, pretty soon we’ll be cutting the shell off of Burr Bros – heh, heh. The Conklin lad, Harold, paid me a visit a couple of days ago, and we had another chat about dis and dat and tells me he’s going home the first of July sometime and said he would call on the folks at 2310 and tell them a little more about the terrain around here and such. So be sure to save a Coke or a glass of buttermilk in the Frigidaire for him.
He’s a good Joe and looks a lot like PSC, heh, heh. Remember that signature? Ho, ho, we should, we needed it about 3 times a week to get into class. Them were the days, eh Pulpan? This Conklin boy is a motorcycle enthusiast and I let him take some of my books and magazines concerning same and will get them back when I pay him a visit one of these days. It so happens that he has a book entitled “How to start a sporting goods store,” and he says he’ll get it for me, so maybe it should be interesting reading, eh? We’ll start in our simple line and grow and grow and grow – and ooze the small fortified dealers out of business – ya man! Hey, that ya man stuff, sounds like Frank! Frank Fisher just came back from a mission and said he has knocked out a lighthouse off the coast of Japan – guess this is the first action he’s seen. He’s a gunner on a Navy plane. I took some more Kodachrome pictures and soon as they come back, I’ll send dem to ya, also took some more black and white pictures and I got a few pictures of Hap Arnold when he paid us a visit. Take heed to what he says, cause he’s on the ball. Japan hasn’t seen 1/100 of blastings as she’s going to in the near future. The British Lancaster and Lincolns will soon be over and with their 11 ton bombs they should be able to push disaster on any underground factories that may be in Japan.
So Whit has been paying you all visits, eh? He’s sure the cheerful one and brightens up any dark spot. I wonder if he’ll ever be able to get himself a Model A? Poor Frank, had to run around with him and I know how fast Whit can walk -- ho. How is your mighty life coming Pulpan? Are you still taking the A Train to danceland? You should be a flashy stepper by now and soon you’ll be able to accomplish that well-known feat – “The Lindy Loop” – ho, ho. Let me in on a few of your activities so I can see what I may be missin’ back in the States. Don’t forget the pebble situation, heh, heh. I wonder if Musha knows what I mean, ho, ho. Did you ever go on the tandem again? Where to and how were the commands here and there on the vehicle? Be sure to let me know of any interesting situations. Boy, your weather is sure breezy, but you should be getting better weather shortly and then for your outside activities. Give Mort my regards and tell him to be sure to have plenty of milk for me when I get back.
Well, Okinawa has been taken the hard-fighting Army and Marines – namely the 7th Division – yes indeed. I bet they’re the first on Japan proper! Give my regards to all the boys at Ropers. Yes, I know Bert Sandeen – he’s a good old Joe – and when you see him again, say howdy from me. As all the rest of the gang and tell Mr. Fisher I’ll be paying a visit to his son on the other end of the island one of these days. I know Blackhawk isn’t the cleanest to work Pulpan, but that dough will come in mighty handy. Hey Frank, why don’t you get on the ball? Get a hold of yourself, you’re just wasting good valuable time! Nobody is going to give you anything! Ya gotta sweat for it, as of days of yore! Why don’t you get off of that dream cloud of yours and get down to earth? Now you’re talking! I know one thing, if I needed help in my business, I wouldn’t hire a dreamer, no siree. Dreaming is something you should do when you’re asleep, not when awake! When I think of all the dreaming you do at the expense of your own welfare and being – well, it doesn’t do much for my morale out here! So keed, do like you use to, and show us you haven’t lost your ageless spirit – how about that Frank? Thataboy! Haven’t heard from Whit yet, guess he’s a pretty busy man. I’ll have to write Mrs. Risenbeck and thank her for the sardines when they come with the sweaters and such. Have been meaning to write a bunch of letters but, I don’t ever seem to have the time, but one of these days I’ll get caught up!
That fire in Elmer’s place must have been some excitement - ho, poor Elmer was probably riding the buses at the time or collecting some overdue bill. Mrs. Schoomaker sent met a letter a few days ago and I shall endeavor to answer it soon. Haven’t received the candy yet, but when I do, drop her a big line about a page, heh, heh.
That softball workout at Ropers – should keep you in good shape. Well, Pulpan -- it won’t be too long before your arm will be in super shape and you’ll be here pitching again for Continental League. Yes, sir! We’ll see you a little later Pulpan, and in the meantime take it easy, keep up the good work, and don’t forget our future plans but keep them to youself and that goes for all! See you later!
Hello Musha, how is the hard-working little lady today? That’s it, get that cup of coffee on to warm up on a cold day, but by now, the weather should be nice and warm. Keep up the good work Musha and take things easy and relaxed! It pays!
Howdy Dad! Thanks for your letter of the 11th - glad to hear things are going ok at Onli-Way and at 2310. Keep up the good work and soon we’ll be in the midst of good times - yes indeed - with nothing to worry about. Take it easy Borsk and take in some of the good shows with little Musha - for relaxation.
Thanks for your letter of the 16th Frank. How is the meat shortage affecting you? Enjoyed reading of Whit’s visit - he’s quite the man. Now, let’s see you be quite the man - you can do it - so let’s go!
Howdo Sambo, from what they tell me your flowers grow so tall, you have to cut them down from the leave troughs - ho, ho. You are a learned lad and all you know should come in handy someday. You’re on the ball, Sanny, and keep up the good work. Haven’t heard anything more on the [indecipherable] yet - keep waiting - and so at this time - this is the Tinian lad saying so long to all the fine folks and lads at home.
Lots of love to all, John
“Japan hasn’t seen 1/100 of blastings she’s going to in the near future.” — John Eyde in a letter home , July 1945.
Frank’s situation continued to worsen. He was ordered from his base in Indiana to the naval hospital in Charleston, S.C. where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.
“It is the opinion of this board that this patient is unfit for service; that his condition did not exist prior to enlistment and that he will be a menace to himself and the public safety; and that further hospitalization is indicated,” said one hospital document dated March 31, 1944. “It is recommended that he be transferred to the National Naval Medical Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland for further observation, treatment and disposition.”
Another document dated the same day said that he often secluded himself and was prone to “bizarre behavior.” He believed others could potentially control his thoughts, and recalled seeing a large figure in the sky a few months prior “that could have been God.”
Doctors in Charleston also reported that Frank told them he had several sexual encounters with men while drunk and regretted it afterward.
As his mental condition worsened, his letters got shorter and shorter, usually touching only on the weather and baseball. Frank was transferred in April to Bethesda. Doctors there found him “dreamy and preoccupied but in good conduct,” but also said that he “smiles fatuously and inappropriately.” Institutional care, they determined, was still necessary. Frank was transferred to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Southeast Washington.
A ward for enlisted men at the then-new National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in 1942. It was one stop of many for Frank Eyde, who suffered from what was then known as combat fatigue and now as post-traumatic stress disorder. (Associated Press)
Sanford, meanwhile, was rejected by the military in 1944: Doctors declared him “4F,” meaning he was not suited for the service.
Sanford traveled to Washington in June to visit Frank, reporting back to the family in a letter that his brother had gained weight and looked “like his good old self at 190 pounds.” By the end of July, Frank was discharged from military service.
John deployed late in the year to an airfield on Tinian, which Allied forces had seized that summer in a week-long battle. The island, part of the Mariana Islands, was viewed by the United States as a key base from which B-29 Superfortress bombers in John’s unit could wage an aerial assault against Japan.
“I can’t tell you where I am at present due to censorship,” John said in his first letter home. “The plane ride was smooth and quite swift and I enjoyed the trip immensely. The vegetation on this place is good and most anything will grow, including bananas.”
He urged his brothers to savor their status as civilians.
“Maybe by the time you get this, you’ll have yourself a good job, how about that?” John wrote. “Also you Frank — should get yourself a good position. I know it’s hard to get adjusted to your new civilian life, but you’ll soon get used to it! And Sanny, you’re quite adjusted already, heh, heh.”
John stayed abroad for another eight months, working on the electrical components of airplanes.
“The British Lancasters and Lincolns will soon be over and with their 11 ton bombs they should be able to push disaster on any underground factories that may be in Japan,” he wrote in July 1945. The following month, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Within days, the war was over.
John had already been thinking about life after the war. He suggested to Ralph that they open a sporting goods store.
Ralph Eyde in a letter to Sanford and John June, 8 1959 — 6:30 a.m.
“Thanks for keeping my whereabouts a secret and that is a good way to describe my movements — “in and out” all the time. Ha, ha.”
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Dear Sanny + John: Rec’d your fast letter of June 1st last night + thought it a good time to answer it right after a good breakfast. Thanks a million for the $45 in cash + I have enclosed my gov’t check endorsed. Put it in all-weather cause it’s part of the payment for my Gulf Bill which you so kindly took care of. Glad to hear that your door + window sales are going good, Sarge, and keep up the good work. You fellows sure sounded good on the phone last week + the next time I call will be from L.A. in about 5 months.
The time is going by very good and everything is fine with me. Thanks for keeping my whereabouts a secret and that is a good way to describe my movements - “in and out” all the time. Ha, ha. I hope that you + Phil Samuelson had a lot of luck on the auction. Whatever you realize from it – put it in All-Weather + keep hustling. Thanks for thinking of me but you can use that penga better than I. Keep losing weight + you will be down to that 175 lbs. Watch your diet. I sure wished I could see your wonderful yard, Sanny. You have done marvels with those flowers + everyone sure admires them.
I see where both Detroit + the Yankees are only 3 ½ games out of first place – with the White Sox holding a 1 ½ game edge over Cleveland. What a race!! That was the standings after yesterday’s Sunday games (Saturdays games in the States). Quite a few double headers today in the States. It was a little hot yesterday but the breezes have returned again + that makes for pleasant weather. Hope all is well with Frank and that he is getting a good hold on himself with an aim in life. The quicker he quits drifting + dreaming + buckles down to brass tacks – then the happier he will be. He needs something to do. And he should quit all the bull-sh--!
That has always been his downfall. The summer months should pep him up. Yes, sir, I’ll be back in the States about Nov. 1st and that will be a great feeling. We can figure out something. It would be a good idea to paint the house this summer. It can sure use it . I am going to make this a quick letter – but I want to say many thanks again for your promptness on the $45 in cash + also for sending out the enclosed check. I’ll write again soon. Say hello to Frank + stay in there pitching, fellows. I have everything I need – thanks anyway. Hope your June days are fine + not too rainy. Adios + lots of luck. Love to you all, Ralph
“Thanks for keeping my whereabouts a secret and that is a good way to describe my movements — “in and out” all the time. Ha, ha.” — Ralph Eyde in a June 1959 letter to Sanford and John.
Frank continued to struggle for many years after the war, unable to hold a steady job. In March 1954, John wrote to Ralph that “Frankie boy” was recently freed after serving 20 days in jail.
“We don’t worry about him here at all and he doesn’t come around here at all — he’s over 40 and can live his own life as he sees fit,” John wrote. “I’ve never heard him say he was wrong or apologize to anyone. He’s just not all there or extremely a self-worshiper and a stubborn, selfish, liar and bullslinger.”
But he outlived John and Sanford and died in 1996, aged 83.
John, who opened a window installation business out of his childhood home after the war, fell ill in 1962, dying from a brain tumor at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Madison, Wis. Sanford, who continued to work at Woodward Governor, died in 1971 at age 56.
Ralph Eyde in uniform. (Courtesy of Vicki Venhuizen)
Ralph’s life took more unusual turns. He briefly stayed home in Rockford, but then took a job with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, witnessing the testing of nuclear bombs in South Pacific in the 1950s.
He continued to work for the government for decades, in a somewhat clandestine fashion, writing his family from everywhere from Africa to Asia, with many years in Europe during the Cold War. He thanked his brothers repeatedly for not revealing where he was to others, saying in a May 1959 letter that keeping quiet would prevent him from having to “answer a lot of dumb questions.”
Ralph was assigned to perform work on a Navy construction contract in Saigon in 1967, according to a copy of his travel orders obtained by The Washington Post. He wrote letters through at least 1970, as the Vietnam War raged around him. But he did not describe his work. Ralph’s family suspected that he was in the CIA. When he died in 2003, aged 85, his obituary said he had served in the agency.
The CIA, asked whether Ralph served either as an officer or as a contractor, declined to comment.
A mystery solved
For eight years, Alosi sat on the letters he had found in a storage unit, unable to find relatives, before contacting The Washington Post, which located distant relatives. The closest surviving family member is Vicki Venhuizen, a second cousin of the Eyde brothers who said she remembers them as young men. None of the brothers married or had children, she said, and many of the other cousins who were close to Ralph have died.
Venhuizen, of Mesa, Ariz., said that in Ralph’s later years, he settled in Rockford and collected the family correspondence, which he stored in plastic bins, along with a collection of vinyl records.
A now-deceased cousin of Venhuizen’s, Darwin Backer, grew close to Ralph and listened to many of his stories, she said. Backer took care of Ralph’s affairs when he died, including his obituary. He turned over the letters to Vicki’s half sister, Judith Jones Ellis, who served as an unofficial family historian.
“I was with her when she picked them up,” Venhuizen said. “They were in Darwin’s basement, and he felt like they had no use for them.”
Ellis took the letters back with her to Arizona, where she also lived, Venhuizen said. Ellis died a few years later, and it’s likely that family members in Arizona did not realize the significance of the letters or what they detailed, she said. Somehow, they ended up in the storage unit.
Venhuizen expressed gratitude to Alosi for not throwing them away. She considers the Eyde brothers her heroes, but believes the letters are Alosi’s now.
“I would like to read them,” she said. “It would be wonderful if they ended up in a World War II museum somewhere, if Joe donated them. That would be a great last stop.”
Alosi said he’s still uncertain what to do with the letters.
“I’ll talk to her and we’ll figure it out,” he said. “I’m just really excited that people will get to hear about these guys.”
Julie Vitkovskaya, Carol Alderman and Bridget Reed Morawski contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Japanese invasion of Attu was the first on U.S. territory since the War of 1812. That is not the case, and the story has been corrected.
Letters from War: The voices
Hundreds of letters, written between brothers fighting in the Pacific during World War II. Almost one a day, for every day of the war. In this podcast, you’ll hear the story of these brothers — the Eyde brothers — and of World War II, as told through their letters, in their own words. Bringing the letters to life are modern U.S. military veterans. At key moments in the story, we’ll talk to them about how these letters compare to their own experiences — what’s universal about war and what’s changed. And why everyone who picks up these letters feels like the Eyde brothers become a part of their family.
Jeffrey Chiang, 44
Voicing Johnny Eyde
Brendan Wentz, 35
Voicing Sanford Eyde
Pursuing a Master's degree in global security studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Zachary Burgart, 31
Voicing Frank Eyde
Active duty Force Reconnaissance Marine, awaiting a medical retirement. Attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018.
Michael Ball, 46
Voicing Ralph Eyde
Marine Corps, Air Force
Director of Serving Together, a nonprofit working to improve veterans’ access to services in the National Capitol Region.
Podcast: Letters from War
An audio documentary bringing to life a trove of letters written between a family of brothers fighting in WWII.
Read more: Washington Post - Brothers in arms
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