This past Tuesday's post discussed the latest book project my daughter Amanda and I are putting the finishing touches on. We indicated that we would begin to provide some "teasers" about the book if there seemed to be some interest. Well we have indeed received some interest for hard copies when they are available, so I thought I would dangle a few more "crumbs" to our audience.
What follows is the entire "Foreword" of the book written by Amanda and an abbreviated version of my "Introduction" to James Neville and Catherine: The War Years. Beginning next week we will begin posting excerpts of the first two or three chapters so that the readers can get an idea of the start of the adventure of our title characters.
[You can find Chapters One, Two, and Two-A here.]
[You can find Chapters One, Two, and Two-A here.]
Foreword, by Amanda LeDuke
This is not just a book of love letters, though every letter is full of love. It is a story of a private in the army who is proud to be serving, but unsure of what his true contribution is. It is a tale of his wife, left behind in small-town Tennessee, charged with raising their two children, taking over his job, dealing with sugar and butter rations, and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. It is one man’s account of the foibles of Army life and the insane bureaucracy he sees in its every existence. It is a testament to the importance of friends old and new, the family and support systems in their community, and the faith that strengthened both of them as they learned to live without one another for 26 long months. And yes, it is a chronicle of the great love of James Neville and Catherine, a love that is not the least bit dimmed eight years after their life together began.
It is almost impossible to tell just one of these stories, and equally hard to do justice to them all. They are all intertwined. James Neville’s battles with his feet after every 10 mile hike allow him to have something in common with Catherine’s constant wrangling with flat tires. The hours (and pages) spent wondering where James Neville would be shipped off to next is balanced with the constancy of Catherine writing a daily letter to her soldier as the sun sets on the front porch and her writing starts to slant as the light wanes. The “pop culture” of the day, the now-familiar movies, songs, books, and radio soap operas they discuss are juxtaposed with strange things like the inability to find a pen that works for longer than one letter, stamps that are only three cents, and lots of talk about “getting a line out” to make a telephone call. They are patriotic and proud. They are lonely and full of animus for the War. Through all of it they maintain an unbelievable relationship, built on communication and mutual respect, full of passion and love, sustained with their letters, which are sometimes stilted because of the delay in sending and receiving and sometimes read like they’re having a conversation in real time.
There may be thousands of stories like this one, for many men who enlisted in the service during those War years were married, and many of them had a deep love for their families. Some of them were probably ambivalent about their being in the Army and wanted nothing more than to come home to their wives. Many of those women took over their husbands jobs at home, began to wear pants, struggled with child care, and listened eagerly for news of peace on their radios. If that is the case, that this story is not unique, then perhaps it is just good luck that we have over a thousand letters from these two people, so well-written and preserved to tell the stories of many.
Introduction, by James N. LeDuke, Jr.
Deciphering the two distinct sets of handwriting was one of the first real challenges, but like learning a foreign language their writing styles soon began familiar. Making decisions about what information to pick from each letter was difficult at first but soon it became obvious that at least half of either writer’s letters would be made up of the same theme; repeated in an exciting variety of ways. “I love you, I love you, I love you” became a catch phrase for the authors of this book; so much so that to this day those words stream across the computer in Cumming, Georgia as the “screen saver” for the monitor.
James Neville gives us a running account of the activities of a new recruit in the World War II era Army. His trials and tribulations as a “Sad Sack” private are often funny, painful, frustrating, endearing, and always sad as he expresses his longing to be back home with his bride.
Catherine has taken over James Neville’s job as a Rural Mail Carrier for the Tiptonville Post Office working six days a week alongside the other rural mail carrier, her father-in-law, Ben Neville LeDuke. In 1944 mail carriers used their own cars to deliver mail, making out a bi-weekly expense voucher that was supposed to reimburse them for the gas they used and an assist for a portion of the wear and tear on their vehicle.
In addition to the mail route Catherine had the additional responsibility of raising their three year old daughter, Cathie and their one year old son Jimmy. Adding to the fun at 114 LeDuke Street was a dog, 3 hens with 15 baby chicks, and a vegetable garden known in those days as a “Victory Garden.” Catherine was lucky to have a large support family of several Aunts, Uncles, and In-laws that often came in handy. What Catherine did not have, she would soon learn, was a dependable automobile and a set of good tires.
Many of their letters have been included in this book; some are scanned exactly as they came out of the envelopes while others have been retyped to save the reader some “deciphering” time. The story told that connects the letters and moves our central characters along from “camp” to “camp” is as close to accurate as the authors could make it. Very little of their emotional journey is edited. James Neville’s occasional “cuss” words and Catherine’s beautiful, poetic writing style give the readers clues to the kind of warm, loving, caring parents, teachers, and friends they become to a whole town full of people.
If there is any regret in writing this book, it is the knowledge that Amanda LeDuke and James N. LeDuke, Jr. absorbed so much more from the actual reading of each individual letter than we were able to pass on. We hope that from our writing effort, you are able to glean a fraction of what we were able to learn about the very real James Neville and Catherine.
Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)