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THE LAVIGNE LETTERS
About This Book:
This book has been a project that I have worked on, off and on, (mostly off), for a period of almost 15 years since my dad first sent the letters to me. The letters were all mixed up and in the wrong envelopes with the wrong dates and so before I could do anything with them, they had to be sorted year by year and month by month. Thankfully my dad dated most of his letters, however there were some that were undated and I had to figure out where those letters fit into the period of time they were written.
My dad was in the Army for almost 3 years, from 1943 to 1945, a relatively short time, but during that time his sister saved almost 200 of his letters which were found in her apartment after her death. Up until that time my dad would tell us an occasional "war" story, but I never knew there were letters that backed up his story and neither did he! For many years after my dad sent the letters to me, I pondered about writing a book about my dad's war time experience using his letters as a guide, I even talked my Dad into writing down a few of his war memories in a notebook, which he did for me.
I had no problem writing the introduction to this book and chapter one came rather easily, perhaps because it came from my own experiences. But when it came to actually trying to tell my dad's story, I kept getting writers block! I finally realized, in what some might call a "light bulb moment" that I was incapable of telling my father's story, instead, I decided that my father needed to tell his own story, in his own words, through his letters! Luckily, in these last few years, with the explosion of the internet, some historical information about the exploits of Battery D 197th AAA (anti aircraft artillery) during 1943 to 1945 can be found with the click of a mouse! One especially helpful source of information for me was an article I found online written by Lt. Col. C.T. McEniry, the commander of the 197th. Lt. Col. C.T. McEniry writes in great detail of the exploits of the 197th from the formation of the 197th AAA Battalion in December of 1942 to it's deactivation on April 12, 1946 at Camp Kilmer, N. J. It has been Lt. Col. C.T. McEniry's article that has made it much easier for me to add historical elements around my father's letters. I do not know how to get in touch with Mr. McEniry, I am not even sure if he is still living, but I am very grateful to him for the information he left us. A copy of his article about the 197th I included at the end of this book.
One of the struggles I had in writing this book was that some of my dad's letters seemed so ordinary and boring, while other letters were very interesting! Because there were so many letters, I decided not to included all of them and use the most interesting ones in this book. Some of my Dad's letters made me laugh, like when he wrote about the "old" China man he met on the train ....... "he must have been at least 35 years old" my dad wrote!! Some of my Dad's letters made me cry when I read how lonely he was and what he went through during the war. My dad was just a boy in 1943. As I was typing his letters in the order they were written and sent, something amazing happened, a story began to unfold all on it's own! A true story about a young man who was away from home for the first time in his life during the perilous years of WWII. A young man who wanted to make his family and country proud of him, a young man who was homesick and a little scared. A young man who came face to face in one of the most famous wartime battles in history, D-Day, and somehow, by the grace of God, managed to live through it. And this young man was my father!
My Aunt Claudia is the "heroine" of this story, there would be no story if she had not saved all my Dad's letters, what my dad went through during WWII, except for a few stories he told us while he was living, would have died with him. I truly believe Claudia helped by dad survive the war by writing letters, sending packages and letting my dad know that his family loved and cared about him and wanted him back home.
There is a certain "flavor" to my Dad's letters that is reminiscent to the 1940's. He used a lot of slang words like: "by golly", "gee", "swell", "darndest", etc. My dad had a sense of humor in his letters, even when the circumstances around him were difficult. In many of his letters he talked about the events going around him, he talked about food, rationing, movies, sports and the longing to see his love ones. However, there were a couple of letters that I almost "censored" because of what today are considered politically incorrect or racial slurs, thank God there were not many. I decided not to censor these letters because I wanted to keep his letters real and that was the way people said things back in those days. I apologize for anything that my dad may have said in his letters that may offend someone who is reading them.
I call this a "book" but honestly, I don't know if it will ever be a real book, maybe just a manuscript? I am not a writer and know nothing about publishing a book or if anyone would be interested in this story other than friends and family members. But I am putting this story out into the world for anyone to read because it is real, and true and I do not want it to be forgotten.
On October of 2006 I said my last good bye to my dad who lay dying in a hospital bed in Brunswick, Maine. I remember that day well, it was a Friday and it was raining. My daughter, Brandi, and my son in law, Chris, were at the hospital with me, they were there to say "good bye" and to drive me back home to Virginia. It rained all the way home and the traffic was so bad that the drive home took over 15 hours instead of the usual 11. The next morning I got a call from my brother, Mark, my dad had passed away. At the hospital when I kissed my dad good bye, he said something to me I couldn't understand because he was so weak he could barely speak. When he realized I could not understand what he was saying, he looked frustrated and nodded his head. I often wonder what he was trying to tell me, maybe he was telling me to "write that book". I will never know this side of eternity, but Daddy, this book is for you! You are my hero, Dad, and I love you.
Me and my Dad