A World War II Love Story, Seen Through Letters
We Are Going to Be Lucky: A World War II Love Story in Letters Edited and annotated by Elizabeth L. Fox (Excelsior Editions, 472 pp. $29.95)
The time is ripe for this love story in letters, polished to a gloss by Elizabeth L. Fox, daughter of Leo (Lenny) and Diana Miller. The Millers were a newly married couple coping with the uncertainties of separation during wartime when these missives were penned. With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe looming in June, this collection of almost 2,500 pieces of correspondence is particularly touching, as the letters chronicle the thoughts, actions and reactions of a rookie soldier on his way to war and a loving wife dedicating herself to the war effort, to pregnancy and to raising her first child without a husband by her side.
The Millers, first-generation Jewish Americans living in Brooklyn, were married for only one year before the United States entered the war. Lenny was the first in his family to graduate from college, taking advantage of free tuition to study at the City College of New York. Diana, a graduate of Hunter College, earned a master’s degree as a dietitian from Columbia University. Both were deeply committed to racial and economic equality. Their son, Frederick Douglass, was named for the 19th-century slave who became a leading abolitionist; their daughter, Elizabeth, has served on the national board of Hadassah for more than two decades.
After Lenny enlisted in 1943, he and Diana pledged to write to each other every day. Their letters, in longhand, are deeply personal, of course, and give insight into their lives.
On May 19, 1943, when Lenny was on his way to basic training, Diana wrote the following:
While I was waiting for the thunder and lightning to end, I thought to myself—where is Lenny? Is he traveling to the beautiful sunshine of California or Florida, is he going to the desert of Arizona or New Mexico? Is he going to the high mountains or the lowland, or is he just going over to New Jersey or even back to Brooklyn?
On May 20, Lenny wrote from Fulton, Ky.:
We’re south of the Mason Dixon line now & still don’t know where to—but now it’s southward. Got my first sight of cotton bales—
Well, darling. I have now loved you in 10 states in 48 hours, and in some for the first time—
Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee & Mississippi.
Eventually, Lenny reached Europe and endured the hardships of military life. Despite being seriously wounded in combat in the aftermath of D-Day, Lenny managed to save every letter he received over three years, sending them home from the front lines for safekeeping. On his return, he amended them with additional details. After Lenny died in 1990 and Diana four years later, their daughter and her son, David, retrieved the letters, sorting them before other family members joined the project. It took three years to edit the letters and add contextual details.
Because so many of the letters are about routine comings and goings in the lives of the two separated lovebirds, it would be easy to dismiss the correspondence as mundane. But that would be wrong, since they allow us to understand why a spouse is eager to share every thought, every feeling and happenstance to bond with a partner.
Stewart Kampel is a frequent reviewer for Hadassah Magazine.