Monday, May 25, 2009

A story of a WWII pin-up

Today's New York Times has a touching front-page article about Donna Reed, best known as the actress who played Mary Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life and then the suburban mom in The Donna Reed Show.

Reed, who died in 1986, had squirreled away hundreds of pieces of wartime correspondence to GI's involved in World War II.  The letters were only recently found by Reed's children in the garage of her former home.

During World War II, the U.S. military encouraged the phenomenon of pin-ups as a way to maintain morale amongst the soldiers serving in the European and Pacific theaters of war.  Betty Grable was the best-known but others included Rita Hayworth and Hedy Lamarr.  Reed was a pin-up but not in the vein of those "sexier" actresses.  She had a wholesome, "girl next door" quality which appealed to many servicemen far away from home.  Only now do we know that she corresponded with hundreds of the military men she met through the U.S.O. and other wartime ventures.

On this Memorial Day, the letters are particularly poignant for the picture they paint of life in a simpler time, but also for the feelings portrayed by men who ached for a touch of home.

One example described in the Times was very, very touching.  Lt. Norman P. Klinker, writing from North Africa in 1973, penned the following to Reed.  "One thing I promise you--life on the battlefield is a wee bit different from the 'movie' version.  It is tough, bloody and dirty...quite an interesting and heartless life at one and the same time."  Klinker later served on an assault on Mount Porchia, between Naples and Rome--a task force "organized at the end of the year for the purpose of taking the 'suicidal' objective."  He was killed in action.

Interstingly, Reed became an anti-war activist later in life and was a member of the group called Another Member for Peace, which was active during the Vietnam War era.

The letters, 341 in all, are being made public by Reed's daughter.

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