Dearest Charlyn:

I know a smile I love to see, a voice I love to hear. I know a hand I love to hold, a presence I love near. I know a heart a living heart that’s thoughtful, fine and true. I know them all, and love them all, for they belong to YOU.

— Jack Lauchland, June 20, 1944

The handwritten letters between a young married Lodi couple during World War II are both a historical documentation of the journey of a young U.S. military sergeant through Europe, and a deep love story.

Like thousands of other married couples separated by war and an ocean — and only a few years into their marriage, which would ultimately last 68 years — Jack and Charlyn Lauchland penned hundreds of letters to each other.

Both were far from home. Jack, a Lodi native, was stationed in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma before boarding a troop transport for England in 1944. He was part of the 195th Field Artillery that provided support for the D-Day landings in Normandy, before his unit joined the fight to drive the Nazis out of France. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Crossing of the Rhine.

After meeting a woman serving in the Coast Guard at a dinner party, Charlyn joined up herself. A Loomis girl who had grown up in Stockton, Charlyn soon found herself the bookkeeper for a huge Coast Guard commissary in Seattle.

Jack’s letters home proved the young man to be endlessly devoted to his wife, eloquent, and full of dry wit. He became upset when Charlyn, against his wishes, joined the SPARs — the Coast Guard’s women’s branch — after he shipped out for Europe. Later, though, he expressed pride in her decision to serve her country.

The pair wrote constantly, not just to each other but to Jack’s parents at home. (For Charlyn, orphaned at age 13, her in-laws became her new parents, and she addressed her letters to them as “Dear Mother and Dad.”)

They detailed moments both historical and mundane — an exchange of hand-drawn plans of their yet-to-be-built dream home in Lodi, occasionally jealous quarrels, but mostly the deep love and devotion they had for each other.

The letters between Jack and Charlyn are now treasured possessions of their daughter Penny Lauchland Beckman, who has transcribed them, along with correspondence between the couple and Jack’s parents, Winifred and James Archibald Lauchland.

Some letters from the battlefield in Europe arrived in America with censored parts cut out; others were sent as V-mail. Short for “Victory Mail,” V-mail letters were microfilmed, and the film was mailed rather than the letters to save cargo space. Copies were enlarged and printed when they arrived at their destination.

Most of Charlyn’s letters to Jack were lost, but their echo can be heard in many of his letters to her. Some of the letters written by her to her husband after the official end of the war survived, and detailed her dreams of their future life together.

Included in Jack’s letters were sometimes memorabilia captured during the war, including a German Nazi flag, a blue Nazi cross, and a medal given to German women who “bore an SS man’s child,” as Jack described it in the accompanying letter.

Jack arrived back in the United States in September 1945. Charlyn was still serving in the SPARs, so Jack traveled to be by her side in Seattle until she was discharged. Jack was honorably discharged on Nov. 22, 1945.

Once they had both been discharged from their duties, the couple settled in Lodi, where they built their dream house and raised five daughters.

Jack built their house, farmed his 40 acres until he was 82 and served as the Commander of the American Legion in Lodi in 1954. Charlyn raised their five daughters, and served as PTA president for Lafayette Grammar School three times.

Jack died at the age of 91 in 2009, with his wife by his side. Their last words to each other were, “I love you,” Penny said. Charlyn passed away on Oct. 17, 2010 at the age of 87.

Here is a sampling of some of the letters the couple exchanged during the war years. 

Safe arrival in England

Jack’s first letter home was undated, but was probably written on Feb. 24, 1944, according to Penny.

Dear Mother, Dad and Charlyn,

Well, we made it over here in fine shape; Wonderful country, and odd people. We are somewhere in England. I suppose Charlyn will be there in Lodi, by the time this letter arrives to you folks. Give her all my love and tell her I will write to her tomorrow.

I wondered if my pictures ever arrived that I had taken of myself. Don’t blame me if they aren’t any good for I wasn’t able to pick out the proofs.

Always remember that no news from me is good news. “So Don’t Worry.”

I am seeing a lot of the world and having a lot of good experiences, which I will be able to tell you when I get home.

I am not putting my A.P.O. number on this letter for I don’t know it as yet, but if someone else (letter censor), that will be it.

Well, be good folks,

Jack

An anniversary apart

On their four-year anniversary, May 5, 1944, Jack wrote Charlyn from England. Charlyn was in Palm Beach, Fla.

Dearest Charlyn,

“Four Years.” My how time has flown for you and I. Seems like only yesterday that you and I were before the Preacher, getting married.

When I was standing there for and during the ceremony, I knew that I had the prettiest and nicest wife that a man could ever dream of having. I want you to know that I love you and will stick with you the rest of my life.

It is now 21:10 in England and would be about 1700 in Florida. You have just stood retreat, as I have for a good many years. “How do you like it?” “Not bad if you are a true American.” There is something about retreat that sends a thrill down one’s back, for there is nothing like the good old American Flag and for what it stands for. History will again repeat, for the Americans, as all good Americans, can’t help but win for God, Country, and Neighbors.

Charlyn, I want you to know that tonight I have been thinking of you nearly every minute and only wish you were here to help me enjoy it to the fullest extent. I have a good many pictures of pin-up girls hanging in my room but your picture stands out as my favorite amongst them all. I’d give all the money in the world and my life to have you here with me this evening.

Charlyn I wrote you a blue envelope letter last week and I’m asking you not to open it, but burn it for I don’t believe you will receive it before you receive this letter.

I saw in back of your name A.S., does than mean Air Student?

Please send me some candy, gum, and cigarettes.

I love you very Much,

Be good,

Jack

May 16, 1944

Dearest Charlyn,

I can’t help but love you for I received one airmail letter and a package of candy from you.

You are really a sweet little wife to go to all that trouble for a great, lanky, skinny person like myself. Now don’t think I’m too skinny for I weigh 195 lbs now. Must be the bitters I have been drinking “Tch, tch.”

In your letter you stated that you hadn’t received a letter from me for quite some time.

Well, now you know how I felt when I hadn’t heard from you for a month and a half. However, don’t worry for I’ve been writing 5 letters or more a week to you and that’s more than you did for a long time. I always feel down hearted when I don’t hear from you. So keep up the good work as you have been doing for me here of late.

When I get back to the States with you or I mean when I first get back, I’m not going to settle down for at least 2 or possibly 3 months, for you and I are going to see and do things. So, Honey, let’s save for that day or I mean months of celebration.

I have gathered up several different pieces of English money and am going to make you a necklace and possibly a bracelet.

The package I tried to send is still here and possibly I will send it out within the next month.

Woe is me, more grief and trouble for a little woman that I really love. Oh Well, I hope you are more like you were when I first married you. “Great Life,” “Yes it was.” They always told me that time will tell.

Please send me Candy, Gum, and Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

Well, be good,

I love you,

Jack

On June 20, 1944, Jack wrote from Brisset, France, to Charlyn in Palm Beach, yet again expressing his love:

Dearest Charlyn:

I know a smile I love to see, a voice I love to hear. I know a hand I love to hold, a presence I love near. I know a heart a living heart that’s thoughtful, fine and true. I know them all, and love them all, for they belong to YOU.

Received 3 letters from you one was dated the 6th of June and you seem to think that I would be in France. You were right for that’s where I am. Oh there are a good many things that I could tell you, but you should know by now that it would all be censored.

However, never, never forget for one minute that I love and trust you and will do as you say. “Be Careful.” Charlyn, please tell me, is there any chance of you being sent overseas? (The censors cut out, of you)

Have you ever received the package that I sent to you? France is a very beautiful country and is very hard to see because I practically live and sleep in foxholes.

That was a very nice picture of you in the Newspaper.

Well be Good Honey,

I love you

Jack

The following day he wrote her another long letter, describing life in the fox holes. This letter is very faded, written with a pencil:

Dearest Charlyn,

I am somewhere in France. We have been Marching over all kinds of terrain.

I lost my fountain pen when I was spreading my camouflage, I must have leaned against the net and the net probably caught the clip and pen an up and pulled it out of my pocket. I am still looking for it. Oh well, I can write with my pencil and get rid of my ink, which is, sometimes, in my way anyway. I hate losing it very much because you had given it to me and it was a sort of keepsake and remembrance of you.

About an hour ago I went into a ditch, heated my water and took a sponge bath. MY first bath in about 12 days. My clothes are filthy dirty and will probably be much dirtier before long.

I wish you were here to cook for me, for I am getting rather tired of warming up C and K rations. My mess cup is black from soot and my mess kit is clean, for I haven’t used it as yet.

I am writing this letter while lying in my foxhole. Most of the time my men and I are so fatigued that we can lie down on the ground or any place and fall asleep immediately.

My cigarette lighter went on the blink and so I finally found time to repair it the other day.

There is a steady booming and crackling of rifles around, but we are all used to it by now.

I have been thinking a lot about you and I would love to be able to be with you, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’

While in England, I received Mother’s package of candy and etc., but didn’t open it until today. My but it was good.

Please send me some Candy and anything good to eat.

Well, be good,

I love You

Sgt. John H. Lauchland

Settling into life in the service

On October 18, 1944, Charlyn had settled into her work in Seattle, and wrote to the Lauchlands in Lodi describing her life:

Dear Mother and Dad,

Well, I’m all situated and very satisfactory. My work is in the commissary department of the Captain of the Port or COTP as it is called in the Coast Guard. The COTP is in charge of Port Security, which involves fire control, inspection of all ships and their personnel that come into the harbor and the general safety of troop and supply shipment. The commissary work that I do involves ordering of supplies for our mess and the 13 ships under us. We have to keep track of every purchase, inventory of our supplies and so on. This involves a great deal of bookkeeping and figuring of ration values and prices.

Annabel is working with me and we have a little office all our own. As soon as we are broken in, the 2 men who we are relieving, will leave for sea and boy! They really want to go. Then I will be in complete charge. It is quite a responsibility, but I love it. This work is important and I feel that I am actually doing something to help the War. Our office is on a pier, right on the waterfront. From our window we can certainly see lots of activity and all of it is so interesting. Every morning we walk from our barracks, which are about 15 blocks away and all down hill. Of course, in the evening, the hike up is not so much fun but it is good for our figures There are only 13 girls down here and we are suppose to eat all our meals here with the boys but we manage to eat breakfast at our Assembly Hotel. However, the food is wonderful. This noon we had tenderloin steak that was so tender I could cut it with a fork. My hours are from 8-4:30 with Saturday night off. On Friday, we clean the office for Captain’s Inspection.

Now about where I live, it is in the Assembly Hotel. This one is real nice. Annabel and I room together all by ourselves. It has drapes, an easy chair, telephone, desk and 2 beds. Thank Gosh, no more double bunks. Although we live on the fourth deck and still have to climb stairs, you would be surprised how much easier it is when they have carpet on them. Our liberty hours are from midnight Friday through Sunday. Every 8th day is a duty day.

There is so much to do here. The girls at the COTP are organizing a bowling team. Also, there is horseback riding, shows, both stage and movies, dancing, Ice-hockey, and football games to attend.

Honest, I am so happy with the situation. It is just like being a civilian except that I have an important Job.

Love, Charlyn

Moments in history

June 16

Landed at Utah Beach

The single sentence in Jack Lauchland’s small journal marked the day he stepped foot on French soil, ten days after D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy. It would be nearly a year before censorship of mail from the soldiers overseas would be lifted, and he could share more of what he had seen with his young wife and his parents. In a letter dated May 23, 1945, which has been edited for length, he shared a long list of everywhere he’d been in Europe and what he’d seen there:

Dearest Darling Charlyn:

No mail today.

Our mail is not being censored anymore so now I won’t have to be so careful about what I write about.

I presume that you would like to know where I have been, well here is the history. I will write and tell you the dates and wherefores of my experiences.

...

JUNE 16, 1944

Landed on Utah Beach (Normandy France) under heavy fire. First heavy field artillery to land in France.

JUNE 17, 1944

Age Sille, France. First gun position where wire station got hit by P8 shell about 100 yards from me. Several men were sent to the hospital. German dead with head and shoulder blown off. Bloated bodies.

JUNE 22, 1944

Second section had a muzzle burst and several more men killed and sent to hospital.

JULY 6, 1944

Fired on Vologne, Cherbourg, France, from Les Sablons near St. George, and also Residue caught up with us.

JULY 13, 1944

Broke from Sergeant to 7th grade private. Or rather I turned in my stripes, for the Executive Officer was always drunk and also went into a French Home and fired his 45 automatic into the ceiling and walls. I just wasn’t raised that way and I didn’t think much of the American Officers. In this position one of the fellows in my section told me there was a foot in a shoe and so naturally I said, “So what, where in the hell do you expect a foot to be?” He then said, “But there is no body attached to the foot.” There were also 15 dead Germans lying in one large pile all puffed and oozing with maggots.

SEPTEMBER 20, 1944

Vanwigen, Germany, where we fired on Aachen and Stoleburgh. Shells landed continually around us and a bomb hit 50 yards from me.

...

Well Honey, that is my adventures up until now, except I have left out a lot more of the horrors of War that I have seen.

I heard Kay Kiezer playin on the radio this morning. Guess what that reminds me of?

Honey, I love you so much and it would break my heart if I should come home and hear any bad stories about you. I know you have been good, for that is the reason that I have never fooled around with any women since I left you in the States. I haven’t gone to a show for nearly 2 or 3 months. I am saving all my good times for the time I can be with you. No love, nothing until I get home with my sweet, little wife.

I love you so much,

Be Good

Jack

A few months later, Jack was in Regne, Belgium, on January 20, 1945, when he wrote to Charlyn in Seattle, imagining their life after the war:

Dearest Darling Charlyn:

I was just sitting here thinking about how nice our home will be with all the modern conveniences that there are to go with it, in comparison to the kind of a life that I have been living ever since I made the landing on Utah Beach on the Cherbough Peninsula.

I have lived in foxholes, cellars, rooms, dug outs, on top of the ground, in blizzards, sunshine, rainstorms, snowstorms, and under the stars, with the moon casting odd shadows here and there.

Do you suppose that when I arrive home that I shall have a good deep foxhole in our backyard or will I be able to enter a home and live a normal life as I used to live? No, I suppose that I would throw good furniture out the window and chop it up for stove wood, as we have done over here.

Well, I put a can in the corner and try to spit my chewing tobacco into it. “Yes dear,” I am a changed man and when I get home you will have to change my methods of living considerably.

I have lived in rooms in different homes that a shell has torn apart. We would place boards here and there and use glass out of picture frames to fill the holes in windows where glass used to be. Then after doing all that, we would move out, after only living in the bombed out homes for 2 to 7 days. “Great Life’

I have so much to look forward to and to come back to America for.

The main and most important is you and to have a nice home and then we shall have some children.

“Just think,” Me coming home to a beautiful wife, with pretty blue eyes, coal dark hair, and a nice little wife who does not smoke or drink. “What else could a man want in life?”

On February 4, 1945, Jack wrote to Charlyn from Heistern, Germany:

I am glad that you still have your wedding dress, for I would like to see you in it when I first see you. It brings back pleasant memories. I guess that the little brown beads that were on it are gone by now.

Some censors say that I can write what army I am in but our censors won’t allow it.

I remember giving my watch to Mother to keep for me, after you reminded me.

Honey, I love you and I always will.

Be Good,

I love you,

Jack

During his time in Germany, Jack had a chance encounter with a friend from Lodi. He described the encounter to his parents in a letter, writing from Gummersbach, Germany:

April 18, 1945

Dear Mother and Dad:

I am still somewhere in Germany and getting along just as fine as can be expected.

I haven’t had a slice of white bread for more than 2 weeks. I would sure love to have a loaf of freshly baked, “Dandy Bread.”

I never realized that the Human race could be so dirty and filthy when jammed in one area. They smell worse than a bunch of pigs in a pig pen. I am on guard all the time now and last night, while I was walking guard, I met Don Tonnie. He is the son of the Tonnie that runs the barbershop on Sacramento St. in Lodi. We were sure glad to see each other. Just happened to practically bump into each other. Tell Dad to tell his old man that I saw him and he was the picture of health, but rather homesick.

Nearly over

With only a few weeks left until Jack would return to the U.S., Charlyn sent this letter to Heidersback, Germany, where Jack was stationed, on Aug. 7, 1945:

Dearest Jack,

You made me so happy tonight, ‘cause I got 3 letters from you and last night I got a letter and the map with the apron and Stars and Stripes.

Honey, I liked the way you put our life as a game and I don’t think it is at all silly. In my last letter I was writing about cutting corners, too. Let me see, what do we want out of our life. First, our forty acres must be paid for and then eventually it would be nice to get 80 more so that we can have 120 acres of the very best grape land. Second, we must have machinery to work the land. Third, you and I want a nice home. Notice, I put it third — but I am afraid that it is first in my thoughts. Why, I have even started a scrapbook full of ideas of homes. Fourth, I am afraid that our beloved, “Stude” (Studebaker car) won’t last so many years longer so we will need a car. However, my goal is for us to have a nice comfortable life so that we can clothe our children and ourselves nicely, eat well, take a few trips, ‘cause there are lots of places we will want to see, even though home looks pretty wonderful now. Jack, I think you and I want the same things out of our life together and I realize it will take the both of us to get those things. Darlin’, I have growned up and I am ready now to do more than my part to help us to hit that target right on the bull’s eye.

Yes, when you come home, I can ride anywhere with you. We do get our fare to home but we don’t go by troop train, but as a civilian. After all, I will be the only one getting a discharge — not in a group, like you. No, Honey, I can’t have my picture taken in the white suit for you, ‘cause, first, I have no film, and second, we aren’t suppose to wear civilian clothes for any other reason, except sports — and that is hardly sporty. Anyhow, I want to surprise you. You will know me. Don’t get your hopes too high ‘cause my hair is only to my shoulders now. Jack, I agree with you about permanents. It would be much longer, but my ends were split from my last permanent and I had to get them cut off so it would look pretty for you. When we get back to a normal life, I can let it grow until it touches my stubby little toes.

Instead of spending my paycheck on a formal, I would rather spend it on pretty housedresses, that is what you will see me in the most.

What do you think of this new bomb that smashes atoms? It sorta scares me. Of course, if they put it to good use, it can do much to help the world in medicine and so many things — but I don’t like the destruction it can cause. It would be nice though, if it can help the war end sooner.

So you didn’t like the dance. Maybe, I am selfish, but I feel just as wonderful about it as I did that time you took that girl to her high school dance in Sacramento, and had a bad time. Guess, it must be because I love you and I don’t want anyone else to love you but me.

Ah those HAPPY, HAPPY DAYS WHEN WE WILL BE TOGETHER AGAIN !!!

I love You

Charlyn

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXX

And just a couple weeks later, on Aug. 24, 1945, Charlyn wrote from Seattle to her parents-in-law, describing the scene in Seattle on V-J Day:

Dear Mother and Dad,

Thanks for sending me my check. Gosh but there has been so much doing around here and Annabel has gone home on leave so I have all the work to do now.

On my Birthday (Aug. 2), the girls gave me a party and I had a wonderful time. The chief gave me a box of candy in a nice vanity box, the cooks gave me some beautiful gladiolas, Evelyn and Annabel bought me a nice purse to go with my white suit that I fixed over, and another girlfriend gave me a slip and a necklace. All in all I was a pretty lucky girl.

Your Santa Cruz home sounds so nice. Santa Cruz is wonderful. Gee, you can go swimming, fishing, dancing and so many things there. It is grand to have some cool place to go and get out of the Lodi heat, once in awhile. In fact, when I read your letter, I was just drooling.

Now I will tell you what I did on V-J Day. We had the radio in the office and so heard the President, plus the whistles of the city. At first, I just sat and couldn’t believe that it was really true. Then we all went outside and watched the paper being thrown from the windows, whistles on the horns of the automobiles were making a horrible racket. But I felt as if I had to do something too, so I came in a broke a dish and a cup. Then I realized that I had to clean up the mess and that didn’t make me feel very good. However, the boys were getting a kick out of me, so they said that they would clean up the broken pieces and kept on handing me dishes to break. What destruction, but it did make me fell good. I met my girlfriend and we walked home just smiling and feeling so very happy. Evelyn is Catholic, so I went with her to church and we said some prayers, the rosary, and lit some candles. Afterwards, we went to town for some dinner. All the time, I kept thinking that, at last, the killing would be stopped and everyone could come home and that I hoped we would never have another War for a long, long time. None of my cousins nor Bert, Paul, Marsh had been injured and I felt so happy. Of course, the fact that Jack was safe and sound was the thing that I was most thankful for. Up town, the crowd was wild. All the soldiers, marines, and sailors kept trying to kiss us. Finally we got to a restaurant and had our dinner. Ethel had duty, so we were going to bring back something to eat. Since we felt so happy, we bought Ethel a real nice lunch, chicken sandwiches, fruit and stuff amounting to a dollar. Then we decided to go to a show. Well the one we were going to was only four blocks away, but it took us 45 minutes to get there. Gee, I never did such fighting and kicking in my life. Everyone wanted to kiss us. Evelyn had a number of fellows come after her and in the struggle fainted. Meanwhile, I was having my troubles too, only I was lucky enough to run into one of the fellows from the base and he rescued me. But our $1 lunch was lost and I didn’t know what had become of Evelyn. A policeman told me that they had taken her into a restaurant and when I got there she was a little white but all right. Jerry, the kid that I work with got us to the show all safe and sound, but we couldn’t enjoy it. We kept thinking of how we were going to get home. After we saw the picture, we decided to go down to where I work, since it was closer than out Barracks and have the cooks fix another lunch for Ethel and I knew that the boys would see that we got home all right. Evelyn and I took off our hats and just ran those 14 blocks, as fast as we could, down dark side streets. If you haven’t guessed already, I was plenty scared. However, once we got to the galley my worries were over. Four of the men escorted us home to the barracks and then off we went to our rooms.

Although it is strictly against rules and one could get into a lot of trouble, one of the girls had brought in a lot of Whiskey, by that I mean a large bottle -- but just one. It had to be gotten rid of or we could all have been put in the brig. Neither Evelyn nor I like the taste, so we fixed quite a concoction out of the fruit that I had in my room. Peaches, bananas, orange and lemon juice and of course -- the Whiskey. That is how I celebrated V-J day.

Our base is being turned into a discharge center. So I guess, until Jack gets home, I will be kept in the SPARs, ‘cause people always have to eat.

As I said before, Annabel is home on a 23 day leave, so I am all by myself. Also, I have been doing lots of sewing and getting clothes, so that when Jack comes home I will look nice and also we can spend our pennies on our home and the farm.

Well I had better get back to work.

Just think, it won’t be long before Jack and I will be together again and you will have your sons, grandson, daughter-in-laws and new twins all home again as one happy family.

Love

Charlyn

PS Don’t worry about the Whiskey on V-J Day. It is the first time that I have ever done that and I just don’t care for the stuff.

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