By Diane Short TWS Chief Admin
During World War II there were millions of letters that traveled to and from the battle fronts in both the Pacific and Europe. Most have been lost to time.
In early February I was on the Help Desk when a woman came on and said she had bought a house and found this box full of letters written from SSgt James P. Halliday to a Miss Shirley A. Talbot of Teaneck, NJ. She had no idea what to do with them and wondered if I would be interested in them. I of course said yes and asked her to send them to me and told her we would try to find their proper home.
When the letters arrived in March, I was absolutely amazed. There were over 100 letters, all grouped in neat packages, tied in red bows. They all appeared to be numbered and in the order they were received. Along with the letters were a couple notebooks that appeared to have homework assignments in them. I quickly put that aside to start reading the letters.
The first letter from then Sgt. Halliday was to a Miss Helen Wenk. He had evidently known her before the war because he talked about several friends they had in common. He also said that he would love to hear from “that beautiful niece of yours.”
The second letter is his response to Shirley. It appears she was a thoroughly modern girl who didn’t wait for him to write first. When her aunt told her about this soldier she knew who was serving far from home in Europe, she knew she had to write him.
As I read the letters, I felt I got to know him. He was kind, always cheerful and always careful of how much of the war he brought into his letters. He was 21 years old, serving in the 440th Engineer Depot Company currently somewhere in France. He was a native of Niagara Falls, New York. Loved baseball, music and movies.
Shirley Alice Talbot was 16 at the time and still attending Teaneck High School. As I read his letters, I wanted to know more about her. I remembered I had her homework so I picked up the notebooks. What I found amazed me. In the time before computers, spell check or even typewriters in the home, she had drafted each of her letters to him. In her own hand were her carefully worded replies to him. Notes made in the margins, sections scratched out, spelling corrected. She wanted to be sure that each of her letters were just perfect.
Reading her letters to him, I found that she was a shy young lady who loved school, music and adored going to the movies. She had this wonderful wry sense of humor. She talked of happenings in New York, plans after school and looked forward to finally meeting him when the war ended.
His last letter reads as follows:
April 13, 1945
Well beautiful, here is your Jimmie once again from somewhere in Europe and writing to a very charming young lady somewhere in New Jersey.
Today My Sweet, we heard the news of President Roosevelt’s death and it was indeed a shock to all of us. I imagine it had the same effect on you people at home. It is indeed a great loss to our country, especially at this time.
It has always been said that he did his job and his name will probably be equal to Lincoln’s as a great leader and statesman. Yes, he was a great man. It is too bad it had to happen, but that is life. You never know when your day is.
The news of his death spread like wildfire and within an hour, I believe everyone knew and Gen Ike set a 30 day mourning period in his honor.
Well honey, how are you these days? You know I’m always interested in learning that and in five long days now I haven’t had a letter from “My Shirl” to inform me of such. What a life. I must say Miss Talbot that these days seem like weeks and I certainly hope that this streak will come to a close tomorrow.
Today has been my day off Honey and I’ll give you a brief account of how it’s been spent. This morning I was woken by Sgt. Fadel (and on purpose). So while I was up, I decided I might as well go eat breakfast. And what do you think we had? “Fresh Eggs”! And your Jimmie finished off seven of them. After breakfast I returned to our quarters and went back to bed. I didn’t get up again Honey until 11 o’clock! When I did I showered and read the “Stars & Stripes” until dinner time (1150). After dinner I started a little house cleaning project which took me to 2 o’clock. I finished at that time and Sgt. Rashke and myself went down and took a shower, drew our weekly rations and that my sweet brings us to the present. It is now 4 o’clock.
Shirl Dear, within the next five days I will have 3 snapshots for you and I will send them immediately to you. I am anxiously awaiting yours. How I admire your latest one Shirl. It is grand Beautiful and I do mean beautiful.
Last night Honey, Sgt. La Combe and I went to see a movie nearby and I thought it was a very poor picture. The name of it was “Kansas City Kitty” starring Joan Davis. She is simply crazy in my estimation. Have you ever seen that picture Shirl? If so, what was your opinion of it? I didn’t like it one bit.
Shirl, it doesn’t look like this war with Germany is going to last much longer for the ninth Army is only 67 miles from Berlin and Gen Patton is about the same distance and still going full speed. In today’s “Stars & Stripes” it had an article showing the progress of the Ninth Army and the spectacular dash which covered 225 miles since it jumped the Rhine on Mar 24th. That My Sweet, is traveling and if they keep it up, it should be just a matter of weeks or so. Once they link with the Russians it should be all over but the shouting. Then our hopes of going home will be in sight and it’s something we can look forward to. I hope.
I haven’t heard word from my brother yet and I will admit that I am a bit worried over him. I have lost track of the pervert. It must be a good two months since I last heard from him. My mother hadn’t heard from him when she wrote her last letter. Just have to wait and hope I guess.
Well Shirl Dear, I haven’t much more to say. It’s hard to write an interesting letter my sweet when the mail has been so held up like it is. Here’s hoping tomorrow will be a brighter day.
In closing my sweet, I sincerely hope that this letter finds you and your parents in the best of health and happiness.
Good day beautiful and take good care of yourself. I remain with love.
The letter arrived April 20th. On May 2, 1945 SSgt James P. Halliday died in the Ardennes in Belgium. He is buried in the American Cemetery there.
The words of his last letter must have haunted her. “You never know when your day is.”
Shirley never quite got over losing her Jimmie. She married late in life and never had any children. She moved to Scarsdale, lived a happy life by all accounts. She lived as a widow for several years before passing herself in 2002.
The house where these letters were found was hers. She kept them close to her and to her heart, all of her life.