It goes without saying, I suppose, that somewhere along the way when sorting through the belongings of an aging parent, somebody’s going to stumble onto it.
Tucked away in a closet, or stacked behind the dusty crates in the attic, or even mixed in with bottle caps in an old cigar box in the bottom drawer, there is hidden the prize that no one even knew their parents had.
A few years ago while rearranging some of Lane’s mom’s things, we tripped over the treasure that left us all sprawled out on the floor laughing and weeping and learning and knowing.
We found every letter that Adrian ever sent to Estrid, most of which were written between 1941 and 1946 while he served as an Army Staff Sergeant in World War II.
The letters began arriving in Estrid’s mailbox shortly after the two met at a Lutheran youth convention in 1940. They really didn’t live too far apart, just a little over a hundred miles by car from Strandburg to Claremont. But in the days before highways and when getting a new tire to replace that always flat one took months, they didn’t see one another often even while Adrian remained stateside.
Take away internet, texting, even private phone conversations, and that left two smitten youths to tuck their dreams, thoughts and hearts into envelopes and entrust them to the trains that carried mail to the countryside.
I spent the better part of a year after we found them blanketed in those thousand letters, learning a man I knew all too briefly. I compiled the pages into two volumes, often calling Lane to the computer as I typed through eyes misted blind to share another tattered leaf of this beating heart.
In his eighth-grade educated hand, he revealed himself in sometimes tender, sometimes bold, sometimes comic words to the woman who made him feel like the luckiest and most alive man living.
After Adrian shipped out, the letters continued seemingly without end, back and forth from tiny South Dakota towns where Estrid taught school to “somewhere in France.” The two turned to handing over their soul-words to V-mail and the Army censors.
Our community nears completion of a new memorial to honor our local veterans. But it seems the heroes don’t get much more local than a dad and granddad. I thought to honor his memory this Memorial Day with some of his own humble, faithful words.
On love, home and family:
“You ask what I would like for Christmas. I tell you a little box of cookies would be the real thing or some little thing to eat. This is my first Christmas away from home. It’s a lot different than the ones I’m used to.”
“Don’t get me wrong now that I’m homesick. So far I don’t know what that is. We would all like to be home but there is a job to do first.”
“I’m feeling o.k. I always mention this and I’ll always tell you the truth.”
“The night before I was to leave I found him crying alone, in secret. My Dad is a big strong man, ‘He’s my Daddy you know.'”
“I feel like I have a job to do here with the rest of the boys. And then again I’d like to go back home and see Dad and help keep the farm going, which I had a lot of hope in continuing after the war. I hope my prayer that I may see Dad again will be answered. If it is God’s will. Mom and Curt want me to come home. If the Germans would quit I’d surely try and see if I could do something about it.”
“The Telegram of my Dad’s death took 21 days to get to. I never wanted to be home so much in all my life as I do now.”
“I had a letter from Alice today and she had sent a clipping about some Estrid Franzen and a troop of girl scouts.”
“Now the war is over for sure this time they tell me. It’s a beautiful night out. I still wish I was somewhere else.”
“I could see home and we fought all the harder to end it sooner.”
“Sometimes I think I’d like to be a city dude for a while. Maybe after I get home I’ll decide farming is too much like work and start selling prunes and vinegar.”
“It seems so long since I heard from you. These cold blizzard days are so long without mail or anything. Boy how I need to hear from you again!”
“I told Mom about our engagement this morning and she said ‘Well.’ I could tell she was pleased.”
On the war:
“I am ready to go any time my Uncle Sammy calls.”
“The people of England really know what war is. The children 5 and 6 years old have not seen street lights yet.”
“I see some front line action once in a while. All I can say is that at times it is terrifying. I think I prayed almost all nite a while back, even in my sleep.”
“I wonder if Hitler rests well at night. . . . One of these days he may rest in pieces if he don’t hibernate some place where he won’t be found.”
“But the American soldier can really take it. Call it bravery or as we say ‘guts’ when a U.S. soldier was wounded or shot we never heard them cry or groan or yell for help.”
“While I was on my way westward ‘limping’ a French Crouix De Guerre with palm had arrived at home. I don’t see where I deserve it. I guess me and Patton had good press agents.”
“I’ve groaned within myself over one incident. . . . It’s a story I’ll tell every time anyone talks about war as being glorious and being a hero.”
On the Army:
“I made expert at the machine gun today in record fire. I can say I feel a little proud over this. Mostly to think that the folks will be pleased. I drove a tank for the first time yesterday. It sure is fun to sit at the controls of those big babies.”
“We sure are having a stepped up training so maybe we will go over the pond sometime this summer or next fall. We surely are not ready to go yet.”
“This land looks almost worthless to me. I suppose that’s why they have Army camps in places like these.”
“Tomorrow I’ll try to whistle or toot like a train. Then maybe I’ll get a medical discharge for being nuts.”
“Seven days to get the discharge papers ready. It sure did not take them that long to get in the Army. According to hospital records, I’m not here anymore. Where I went nobody knows.”
On his faith:
“They have nicknamed me ‘Reverend.'”
“Love someone even if you don’t like them. . . . They are all my friends. There are some fellows I don’t like. But they don’t know it.
There is a Pentecost . . . also a Seventh Day Adventist. They try to convert me. . . . Better come down here Estrid. It’s two to one and I’m outnumbered and need some help.”
“Rev. Vick was right when he said the greater the danger we are in the closer God is to us. Us boys up here know that very well.”
“The suggestion you made to pray together at nine o’clock every Eve. is a good idea. So at nine tonite we will meet together in prayer.”
“God has a reason for keeping me here. I know I’ve had the experience of a lot of things concerning sin, faith, hope, trust, and surrendering self. These past three years have been hard and I did not realize how much so until recently.”
Surely the handwriting was Adrian’s. But so often as I read I heard the voice of another red-headed tenor. Through corny jokes and deep-root faith and tender words flowing from a God-softened heart, I recognized the familiar language of his son, the one I hear echo in the walls of this home every day.
Adrian and his bride taught their men that language of faith and love.
Of the thousand and some letters Estrid carefully returned to their envelopes and secreted away, only one was penned in her elegant hand. While she clearly wrote as often as he, Adrian faced the limitations of austere Army life and could not carry with him what was not necessary for survival and battle.
But one letter he carried. And he came home from war with that one letter: tattered, wrinkled and sweat-smeared. The date was torn off in case he’d be captured. And in that letter he and Estrid shared the bedrock faith that carried them for a lifetime.
“Whatever comes, dear Adrian, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that you are not alone. God is right there with you every minute of the day and He’ll never let go . . .
Photos: Top: A thousand and some letters from war Middle right & left: Army microfiched and censored v-mail letters Middle right: A "battle weary" SSgt. Adrian Lindquist Bottom: The letter from Estrid that he carried into battle