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Perspective: Don't Throw Away History

Susan Stephens

In 1989, James Jordan sent a letter to his cousin, Andrew Carroll. 


A fire had destroyed the Carroll home. No one was hurt, but the loss of family photos and mementos was painful. 


So Jordan sent him a piece of family history, a letter that blossomed into more than 150,000 letters.  


Jordan, a pilot in World War II, wrote home three weeks before the Nazi surrender and described the liberation of a concentration camp. He wrote: “I saw something today that made me realize why we’re over here fighting this war. … When we first walked in we saw all these creatures that were supposed to be men.” 


Andrew Carroll realized that letter allowed him to be a witness to history. And he wanted more. Collecting such letters became a “‘Legacy Project” that was promoted through Dear Abby in 1998. 


Letters poured in. By 2013 Carroll had about 100,000 letters in crates in his basement. His hobby became a job. Carroll now is director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California where letters are read and preserved … including one from a Red Cross lieutenant named Hemingway. 

Carroll’s biggest fear is that families are trashing these letters. His plea to you is do not throw away history. His current Million Letters Campaign is explained on the Chapman web site or just search “war letters” online. His story also is in the November issue of Smithsonian Magazine. 


Millions of letters still exist, says Carroll, and he wants them all.   


Because history is still out there … trying to be heard.  

I’m Lonny Cain … and that’s my Perspective. 


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