Familiar Faces, Familiar Spaces: Composing Home for World War II Soldiers

Windsor News Letter, November, 1943. WHS collections 1999.59.1.

On August 8, 1943, while the cover page of The Hartford Courant was crowded with stories of military maneuvers, diplomatic endeavors, and calls for action, a narrow column in the paper’s interior reported “Editor Seeks Correct Addresses of Men and Women in Armed Forces for Mailing Use.” The editor was J. Jeremiah Hallas, a Windsor resident, newsman, and publisher of Windsor’s The News-Weekly. He was also a member of the Exchange Club, the sponsoring organization for the Windsor News Letter for Men and Women in the Service, the publication for which he was seeking addresses in order to disseminate them to as many Windsor servicemen and women as possible. According to the Courant, the first edition consisted of “six mimeographed pages of local news highlights and news of more than 80 men and women serving Uncle Sam.” Jerry, as Hallas urged his readers to call him, would ultimately publish 25 issues of the News Letter.

J. Jeremiah “Jerry” Hallas, Rhode Island State College 1935 Yearbook. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

Every issue began with a short greeting from Jerry. He used this space to offer gratitude to the “fellas” and make frequent requests for audience participation. In almost every issue, he implored readers to “drop us a letter, a note, a line or what have you” and reminded the service members that the News Letter could serve as a communication hub by publishing news and addresses, and even arranging meet-ups in far flung places. Jerry also encouraged civilians who subscribed to the publication to send their own letters to the Windsor boys and girls. Private Paul Kurlick wrote Jerry a letter telling him “he would rather get mail than eat.” After Jerry printed his letter, Pvt. Kurlick wrote that he was getting “more mail than ever before.”

Jerry then provided readers with a “Walk Down Main Street,” where he reported the town’s small and large happenings. Considering he was a seasoned reporter with a strong journalistic pedigree, Jerry’s tone in this section was odd. He would move seemingly haphazardly from topic to topic with no apparent transitions between them. In one sentence, he would report someone’s untimely death and in the next he would joke about Carl Nelson’s tomatoes (an ongoing gag) being fed “vitamin pills and benzadrin.” Luckily, Jerry’s readers were savvy and did the work of making sense of the seemingly nonsensical arrangement of information. Sergeant J.H. Shillinger Jr.—who Jerry would eventually have to write was reported missing and then presumed dead—had a letter appear in the News Letter’s third edition. He wrote:

Your letter gives us just the sort of news we like to read. It’s condensed, tells us of fellows who we’ve lost touch, and, with a folksy touch which reminds us of that particular spot in God’s country to which I’m sure we want to return as soon as possible.

Sgt. Shillinger cracked Jerry’s code. Jerry was using words to create a sense of place, a sense of home, for the men and women scattered across the world. His newsletter was the gossipy relative, friend, or acquaintance who didn’t stop for breath between telling you about standings in the Junior Softball League and a doctor, who you’d never
met, dying while on vacation in New Hampshire.

Page from Windsor News Letter No. 7, February, 1944.

In January of 1943, Jerry began publishing accounts of places where soldiers were stationed. These accounts, which often came from places like India and China, as opposed to the front lines, described the exotic people and places soldiers encountered. Describing the women in India, Private Frank P. Brown wrote, “It’s hard to see what they look like because if they see you first they will run.” Jerry published Corporal Michael Bolasevich’s poem, “A DAY IN INDIA” in its entirety. Rather than describing the local scenery, people, or customs, as Brown did,
Bolasevich’s poem focused on the constant longing for home that his fellow soldiers felt. Verses like “At the end of day when work is done,/And all of the boys gather as one./They all sit around with their minds astray,/Thinking of home so many miles away” imagined battalions full of soldiers and sailors toiling and fighting the days away while longing for home at night. And the home, Windsor, Jerry imagined for his readers was even more idyllic than the one they’d left behind. In March of 1944, he ruminated:

Yes, sir, in many ways this war is making profound changes on this town—changes that are deep and don't show on the surface readily. It's taken a war to show that the old town has a heart. The artificial shell of coldness which coated our life and attitude during peacetime has disappeared. People are friendly. They talk and work together…Fellers it's going to be a better and friendlier Windsor that you will come home to.

In 1940, the town had a population of 10,068 people. Between 600 and 700 men and women served in the armed
forces, and their homecoming, or lack thereof, had the potential to change the tone and tenor of the town Jerry
loved. In April of 1944, Jerry wrote about how, presumably on account of the newsletter, Corporals Frank
Parker and Mike Bolasevich—the poet discussed above—met up in India and transplanted “a bit of Windsor for a
few hours to a spot halfway across the world.” At moments like this, “when two friends…met in strange parts of
the world,” Jerry’s newsletter was doing its job.

The optimism that Jerry held about the war’s positive effects on Windsor in March of 1944 soon faded. Beginning in April of that year, he began publishing The News Letter as a special supplement to The News Weekly. Though most of the features stayed the same, replacing the crooked typewritten mimeographed pages with regimented blocks of print contradicted the folksy touch that had accompanied Jerry on his “walks down Main Street.” In August of that year when he wrote in Life Magazine, “Connecticut today is drifting back to the same attitudes it held before D-Day, i.e., the war is just about over and let’s look out for our own skins,” Jerry was already nostalgic for the version of Windsor he was composing in his News Letter.

Publications like the News Letter were sent to the 16 million members of America’s armed forces by religious and secular groups all over the United States. Several publications were even based in Windsor. However, there is something about Jerry’s personal touch, his constant call for correspondence, and the printing of his personal address at the end of every issue that made The Windsor News Letter special. If folks like Private Kurlik preferred mail to food, then the warmth and personality of Jerry’s newsletter was a gourmet meal.

 

By Anne C. Wheeler, PhD, 2017

Anne C. Wheeler is an assistant professor of composition/rhetoric and writing program director at Springfield College. Her research is on how public memory is composed, especially using art and photography.

2018-04-17T14:19:51+00:00