Somewhere in the more than 7 million items which fill San Diego State University’s library, archivists recently re-discovered a remarkable collection of 70-year-old letters now emerging to reveal a rich, soul-bearing, deeply personal account of Aztec students who went to war.
The collection of letters began as an experiment in 1942 after the United States joined World War ll.
Millions of young people across California and America would join the fight.
A staggering two-thirds of the student body at SDSU would leave to enlist or work in war industries.
Beloved geography Professor Lauren Post, a veteran himself, wanted to find a way to keep students deployed all over the world connected.
So he asked them to mail in letters which would be transcribed creating a campus newsletter that was then mailed to students serving overseas.
Nobody anticipated what happened next:
First, the newsletter exploded in popularity and content.
In this time before emails, texting and cell phones, students began flooding Dr. Post with more than 5,000 letters in which they vividly described their experiences and feelings.
And in return, deployed students even in remote outposts, reached out to request the newsletter which they saw as their biggest connection to home.
“I couldn’t wait for that newsletter to come so that I could find out information about my classmates” veteran, San Diegan and 92-year-old Aztec alum Tony Ghio.
“It filled in a lot of lonesome moments being it was the first time I was away from my family,” Ghio said.
While the early letters reflect the optimism and gung-ho spirit of these fresh troops, the tone of the incoming mail began to change as troops experienced combat, loss, fear, triumph and extended deployment.
“Their lives were snatched from them, thoroughly transformed and scattered across the globe” says Rob Ray, head of special collections and archives at SDSU’s library. “The letters are how the war has changed them and how they responded to their time."
The collection gives modern readers something not easily seen in the standard accounts of World War ll: very intimate, vulnerable and courageous insights shared by the young men and women who served.
The last communications from the 140 students who died in combat, like pilot Birdette Binkley, are especially poignant.
SDSU’s library recently rediscovered this collection and began the large task of scanning and organizing that historical treasure they realized they had. It is already being poured over by historians, social scientists, students and war buffs.
The University is hoping to raise $10,000 in donations to finish the ambitious project and make the documents, newsletters and photos archive available online for the public to enjoy this piece of San Diego history.
But what curators would also love to accomplish: locating the survivors of these WWll student writers who don’t yet know of the letters existence.
Curators say that would be a way to honor the young heroes for their sacrifice, something Rob Ray sees as an act of love.
True Love is sacrificial and there is no greater love than risking your life and losing your life for your freedom, friends and family. We would like to say thank you to these descendants.
To donate to the WWll archiving effort, you can call (619) 594-4303 or go to the university's website.