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From war front to homefront

Theater group honors veterans by reading letters from World War II soldiers to friends and family back home.

Theater group honors veterans by reading letters from World War II soldiers to friends and family back home.

November 06, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - John W. Fague's letters home to his father at the end of World War II read partly like a log - chronologically detailing his travels - and partly like a diary, with confessions of fear and facing death for the first time.

Passages from letters written by Fague and other U.S. military personnel will be dramatically read aloud in "Letters from the Front" at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, in Wilson College's Warfield Hall. The Conococheague Players pay tribute in their Veterans Day presentation to Franklin County's World War II veterans and commemorate the 60th year since the end of the war.

During his three years in the war, Fague received letters from his mother, aunt and girlfriend.

"They meant a lot," Fague says. "But I don't remember as much about that as I should. The war was too important. (I was) so involved in the war."

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Fague entered the war at age 18, entered combat at age 19 and turned 20 before the war came to an end and he was able to write to his father about what he'd been doing.

Due to censorship by the U.S. government, military personnel in the war couldn't write home about their missions or where they'd been, says Fague, 80, of Shippensburg, Pa.

"You can say 'I love you' and this and that and 'I miss you,' but that's all you can say when the war is on," he says.

When the war ended, Fague's captain let him go on leave to the Mediterranean, where he stayed in a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and wrote home on American Red Cross stationery.

In one of Fague's first letters home after the war, he wrote of leaving New York Harbor on the USS Hermitage, a converted Italian luxury liner; and of being eager to see the human remains from a German fighter plane that crashed in Belgium and then wishing he hadn't.

A day later, on Dec. 29, 1945, he was preparing for an offensive.

Recalling that day, Fague wrote:

"Before dawn we were briefed on our mission. The words frightened me. They said "keep moving forward when under artillery fire. The German always increase their range."

"As might be expected with a green outfit, the attack got off to a miserable start. The 22nd tank battalion to which our co. was attached went by our bivouac area before we were ready.

"My platoon piled our equipment on the vehicles and took off down the road. Already we had lost contact and when Lt. Stringfellow inquired of the Bat. C.O. (if) he (had) directed us down the wrong road.

"We found ourselves in the midst of a German barrage and no tanks or friendly troops in front of us. The air was (eerie) and still except for the crash of exploding shells around us. We stopped on the road and waited. The Lt. didn't have a map of our route and he could not contact the captain by radio.

"My feeling was sickening; my teeth were chattering; I was scared. I kept my head down in the half track as did the other boys in my squad.

"Just like a movie thriller, to be continued with the next issue. Does the BATMAN get out alive?!! You will see.

"With my love,

"John"

Fague's halftrack in B Company was nicknamed "The Bat," so he and his colleagues called themselves "The Batmen."

A farewell to his wife


When Greencastle, Pa., resident Glen Cump was preparing to go overseas with the U.S. Navy on March 10, 1944, he didn't know he'd never see any fighting action in the war.

His wife, Margaret, and he traveled to Solomons Island, Md., where he was to board a ship. Upon arriving at the port, he picked his almost 1-year-old son out of his car seat and handed him to his mother, then slipped a letter onto the car seat.

"Dear Wife:

"Perhaps it will be much easier to say farewell by this means. Always, you have been extremely brave in our parting moments. I would like to picture you as I seen you last, bearing a smile.

"This parting is to be our last for a long time perhaps, although we all hope to be home soon. You have never complained in any respect and I always will be proud of you for that. I will do my (utmost) to reward you for your attitude."

He continues, ending with the possibility he might not return.

Cump says he and his wife wrote to one another every day he was gone. They wrote of things they would have discussed if he'd been home to sit and chat: How the washing machine ringer broke the week after he left and she had to ring out the clothes by hand, about church activities and her weekly trips to Hag-erstown to go bowling.

Knowing he couldn't write to her about where he was, the couple figured out a system beforehand so she could figure out where he was, says Cump, 91, who now lives in Menno Haven in Chambersburg, Pa.

They each had a map of the South Pacific with the islands numbered. In his letters he would refer to the corresponding number in a way that wouldn't be obvious to the censors. For example, he'd mention his sister-in-law's 18th birthday, except she wasn't that age, said Cump, whose military travels included Okinawa.

Margaret Cump died on Oct. 18, 2001, one day shy of their 66th wedding anniversary.

Doing his part


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