To the Letter Episode 15: The End

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Well this is it! The big finale. After enlisting in 1941, Joe has made it all the way to 1946…and is still writing to Agnes. ❤

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland.

The final letter featured in Episode 15 is available below:

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We have really enjoyed getting to share Joe and Agnes’ story with you through this podcast. Are you interested in learning more about the Veteran’s History Project? Visit https://www.loc.gov/vets/. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode or the podcast in general? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Want to see the Olexa Letters in person? Visit GVSU Special Collections & University Archives at Seidman House, Allendale, MI.

Thank you so much for listening!

-Leigh & Jackie

To The Letter Episode 14: Concentration Camps

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Although Joe may not have been directly involved in the liberation of any concentration camps, he certainly knew what was going on and talked with survivors. This episode we’re talking about the Holocaust.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 14 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 4, 1945

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 31, 1945

There is a lot more to be said on this topic than we had time for – if you’re interested, we highly recommend checking out the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The BBC History article mentioned in the episode is also worth reading. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 13: Hurt Again at Hürtgen

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In this episode we investigate exactly what conflicts Joe’s been a part of and how he ended up wounded and in hospital once again.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 13 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 8, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 21, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 27, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Apr. 29, 1945

Joe’s been through quite a lot! Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 12: Wounded in Action

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Previously, Joe was wounded during the invasion of Normandy. Wounded again, we dive into what Joe’s medical experience might have been like.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 12 are available below:

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V-Mail from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Feb. 9, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Feb. 11, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Feb. 14, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Feb. 22, 1945

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, March 8, 1945

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 9, 1945

We learned so much researching for this episode! Tune in next time to learn more about what Joe’s been doing in the military. Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 11: Peace on Earth

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It may still be summertime around here, but in Episode 11 we are all about the holiday season!

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 11 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Dec. 16, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Dec. 28, 1944

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 18, 1945

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 24, 1945

 

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Jan. 30, 1945

What do you think of Christmas traditions from WWII? Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 10: Remembering the Bad Times

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Episode 10 dives into souvenir-taking and how soldiers wished to remember (or forget!)  the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 10 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 13, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 22, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Oct. 23, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, Oct. 24, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Oct. 28, 1944

Does your family have any souvenirs from wartime service? Have questions or comments about this week’s episode? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

 

To The Letter Episode 9: We Will Always Have Paris

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In Episode 9 we focus on what’s going on in Paris during the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was played by Tracy Cook.

Letters featured in Episode 9 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 31, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 11, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, August 20, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, August 27, 1944

To hear the clip of the Liberation and related speeches, check out https://www.history.com/speeches/liberation-of-paris. 

It was so interesting to learn more about Paris’ role in WWII (and had Leigh, at least, thinking of Casablanca…). Questions? Comments? Send them to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 8: Wounds Received in Action

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Joe and Agnes’ story continues in Episode 8, where we delve into injuries sustained  and awards given to soldiers during combat.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland and Agnes Van Der Weide was voiced by Tracy Cook. Special thanks to Matt Ruen, Scholarly Communications Outreach Coordinator at GVSU, for co-hosting with us!

Letters featured in this episode are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 12, 1944

This letter from Agnes features her trademark vibrant lipstick!

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, June 27, 1944

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Letter from Agnes Van Der Weide to Joe Olexa, July 4, 1944

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V-Mail from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 4, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 6, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, July 13, 1944

If you are a veteran or a veteran’s family member and are interested in learning more about replacing medals, awards, and decorations, check out this resource list courtesy of the National Archives.

Additional information on military resources can be found at: https://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/veterans-related.html Happy listening!

 

To The Letter Episode 7: Going to the Chapel (And They Are Gonna Get Married!)

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HE PROPOSED!

It isn’t the world’s most romantic proposal, perhaps, but Jackie and I are thrilled to pieces that Joe took the plunge! In Episode 7, we jump into what weddings and honeymoons were like during the war.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa was voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Please note: We did jump around a bit in the timeline between Episodes 6 & 7 for purposes of clarity in our research. We wanted to group letters having to do with the movies and the engagement separately. Apologies for any confusion.

Letters featured in Episode 7 are available below:

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 14, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 16, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, May 7, 1944

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, June 14, 1944

Are you as excited as we are that Joe’s proposed? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 6: Going to the Movies

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In Episode 6 we’re going to dive into one past time that’s been popular for years – going to the movies! Some truly notable films came out of this period, and many revolved around current events.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa is voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Letters featured in Episode 6 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 22, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 23, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 27, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 29, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, April 30, 1944

We were fascinated to learn more about how going to the movies worked during WWII and what films were on Joe’s radar overseas. What 1940s films are your favorites? Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

To The Letter Episode 5: Raising Morale

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After a long hiatus, we’re back! We appreciate everyone’s patience as we worked through some technical and staffing issues, but now we’re ready to get back to it! It’s been a while, so feel free to refresh your memory on Joe and Agnes’ story in Episodes 1-4.

This week we’re picking up with the topic of raising morale. USO shows were just one way troops sought entertainment and escape from the war.  Celebrities such as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, The Andrews Sisters, Abbot and Costello, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Mickey Rooney, Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Laurel and Hardy, Cab Calloway, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Donna Reed, Errol Flynn, Debbie Reynolds, and John Wayne.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Florence was voiced by Cara Cadena, Ollie Olexa by Noah Campbell, and Joe Olexa by Kevin McCasland. The audio clip of “You’ll Never Know” performed by Vera Lynn, music by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Mack Gordon.

Letters featured in Episode 5 are available below:

 

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Letter from Ollie Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent Oct. 10, 1944

 

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Letter from Florence Fournier to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent Feb. 15, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 6, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 9, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, sent April 11, 1944

Questions about the USO? Have any favorite USO entertainers? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu. Happy listening!

Michigan Picture Postcards

Postcard. Why Don't You Come to Holland, circa 1910
Holland, Michigan. Why don’t you come to Holland, Mich. and runabout the town with me, circa 1910

Among the many instruments that people have devised to communicate with one another, the postcard fills many roles. If you need a simple way to send a quick note, to let someone know you’re thinking of them, to save or send a souvenir of your travels, or merely to document your own surroundings – postcards can meet all of these needs and more.

The American postcard was first developed in the 1870s, and the first souvenir postcard in the 1890s. They quickly became immensely popular, with their “Golden Era” spanning from around 1907 to 1915.

During that period, the U.S. Postal Service introduced the “divided back” postcard, which included a line on the blank side to separate the address area from the message area. Also during this period, Kodak produced a specialized “postcard camera” which enabled the quick production of “real photo” postcards.

The postcards highlighted in this exhibit come from our American Picture Postcard Collection (RHC-103).  Their photographs and illustrations depict the locales and sights of Michigan, and show us how things used to be.

Love Letters

For Valentine’s Day this year, we’re taking a peek into some of the most romantic correspondence collections in Special Collections and University Archives. We managed to whittle the choices down to two correspondence collections that really exude love. We hope you enjoy these snippets as much as we do!

First is the Edward Manley and Jean Worthington Letters, which includes a total of 60 letters written by Jean “Jeannie” Worthington and 159 written by Edward “Ned” Manley. The letters were sent between February 15, 1945-June 27, 1946 while Ned was serving in the U.S. Army. Jeannie, however, was a teenager, still in school in Cleveland, Ohio, trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life. A U.S. Army Private, Ned was assigned to an anti-tank company in the 27th Infantry Regiment in Japan.

The love between these two is heartwarming. Though it’s harder to imagine in today’s world of instant connections, letters were one of the only ways separated couples could communicate during the war. The only way to actually “see” your significant other was via photograph or in your dreams. Ned’s and Jeannie’s letters try to show the other person how much they cared through added emphases, terms of endearment, and the occasional inside joke.  They both mention how they will be together “always”, sometimes underlining the world, call each other “sweetheart”, and frequently mention 28–the number of children they joke they will have once they are married.  They both mention seeing each other in “Dreamland” at the end of some of their letters, alluding to the place they can at least pretend they are with each other. One example is the end of a letter Ned wrote to Jeannie on February 23rd, 1945:

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Letter from Ned to Jeannie from February 23, 1945

The love these two share is evident, whether they’re talking about their daily routines or how much they miss each other. Many of these letters mention “Someday”, typically in quotation marks, likely referring to their hopes of being reunited after the war. Jeannie mentions “Someday” twice in the conclusion of a letter she sent to Ned on March 2nd, 1945:

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Jeannie’s letter from March 2, 1945

The second collection we chose to highlight is the Doris Keirn and Burley Yehnert Letters, containing a total of 34 letters, 21 from Doris (nicknamed “Dorrie”) between November 13th, 1944 – February 4th, 1946 and 13 by Burley “Burl” between December 13th, 1946 and July 29th, 1947. Dorrie’s letters typically discuss school events, since she was attending the Altoona School of Commerce in Pennsylvania, early musical talent, and her heartache over her separation from her fiancée, Burl. During this time, Burl was a Private at various Army Air Force postings before receiving a promotion to Sergeant, stationed in Tampa, Florida in late 1945. While his letters were written after he was discharged from the Army, he struggled to find postwar work, preventing him from moving to Phoenix, Arizona to be with Dorrie.

Through these letters, it is easy to feel the deep love these two had for each other, which make their separation all the most heart-wrenching. For example, on November 25, 1944, Dorrie is listening to a song from one of her records and has to write out all of the lyrics to Burl because she thought it “suits us perfect”. The song is titled ‘Just Plain Lonesome’ by Burke-Van Heusen for the 1942 Kyser film “My Favorite Spy”. To write out every lyric shows just how much she was relating to this song, missing her fiancée and the moments they shared together. Listening to the music while you read the lyrics she wrote out evokes the loneliness she felt and her yearning to be with Burl.

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Song lyrics in letter from Dorrie on November 25, 1944

The letters Dorrie sends to Burl are filled with romantic reminders. Some of the envelopes from Dorrie include special notes written on the flap, such as this example from January 21st, 1945 that reads “Close to you I will always stay/Close to you though you’re far away”:

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Envelope flap from Dorrie’s January 21, 1945 letter

Two letters even contain lipstick kisses:

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Five lipstick kisses sent to Burl
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Stack of lipstick kisses Dorrie sent to Burl

A few of her letters include her picture glued on, creating a more personal stationery (and one that Burl would enjoy):

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Letter from Dorrie on March 18, 1945 including her picture glued to the stationery

These letters are full of references to her love for Burl. She refers to him as her ‘husband’ even though they had not wed yet, and writes continually about how much she misses him and cannot wait until their time together truly begins.

Burl’s letters are also full of his love for Dorrie. Where Dorrie calls him ‘husband’ he refers to her as ‘wife’ – and even points out how often people believe they are already married! He also is sure to tell her how lucky he is to have a person like her love him in return.

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Closing of a letter from Burl

One letter even contains an “I Love You My Darling Dorrie” doodle:

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“I love you my Darling Dorrie” doodle from Burl

Both Dorrie and Burl begin and end each letter by explaining how much they love the other person. These two truly fit the definition of true love.

We hope you enjoyed this peak into these two love related correspondence collections in our Special Collections. If you’d like to see more romantic letters in our Special Collections, be sure to check out the Olexa letters. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

To The Letter Episode 4: An Interlude with Alice

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Episode 4 is here! In this episode, we take a step away from Joe and Agnes’ story to meet one of Agnes’ friends, Alice Gelisle. This is the only letter we have from Alice, but we felt it was so packed with good information we didn’t want to miss it! In her letter, Alice discusses all the facets of her life–working in a factory, playing basketball, rationing, fashion, and going to dances. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Alice Gelisle was voiced by student Katie Newville. Special thanks to Marcia Lee for joining us!

Alice’s letter is available below:

 

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Letter to Agnes Van Der Weide from Alice Gelisle, sent Jan. 22, 1944

Did you enjoy hearing Alice’s perspective? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave us a review on iTunes! We can’t wait to hear from you!

To the Letter Episode 3: Reading Other People’s Mail

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Episode 3 is all about reading other people’s mail. Many thanks to Lynn Heidelbaugh, a curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, for speaking to us about the logistics of the postal system in WWII. Lynn is incredibly knowledgeable about all the complexities of how mail and packages traveled overseas, how censorship worked, and the development of Victory mail, or “V-mail”.

If you’re interested in learning more about war and the mail, we highly recommend checking out the National Postal Museum’s latest exhibit-that Lynn worked on!- My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I.

To the Letter is a podcast brought to you in collaboration with University Libraries and the eLearning and Emerging Technologies Digital Studio. Joe Olexa is voiced by Kevin McCasland.

Letters featured in Episode 3 are available below:

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, Jan. 24, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 4, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 7, 1944

 

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Letter from Joe Olexa to Agnes Van Der Weide, March 15, 1944

And as promised, here’s an example of both the full V-Mail sheet and the shrunk down version that would have been what Agnes actually received.

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Letter to Agnes, sent Sept. 14, 1943
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V-Mail Instructions and envelope on reverse of letter
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V-Mail sent to Agnes, Sept. 15, 1943 via V-Mail

The final V-Mail is in black and white and is only a fraction of the size of the original.

Questions about the mail? V-mail? Military dentists? Have thoughts about the broken engagement? Let us know! Send questions and comments to rupinskl@gvsu.edu or leave us a review on iTunes! We can’t wait to hear from you!