When Frank J. Conwell was a child, wintry conditions meant frolicking outside in the snow. But in the frozen forests of the Ardennes, where much of the Battle of the Bulge occurred, the conditions meant something else altogether. Writing to his aunt and uncle shortly after the battle, Conwell, a 34-year-old warrant officer with the 1st Infantry Division’s 436th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, described those differences in whimsical and profoundly lyrical terms that masked his great sorrow over the buddies he had lost.
February 6th 1945
Hello John, Ann and all the Little Ones:
Greetings and salutations.
I received your most welcomed letter of Jan. 11th today and it was good hearing from you. When I read your letter I re-read it again and again for I really couldn’t believe so many changes have taken place since our last meeting. Just as you said John, it has been difficult for me to know where to start. So light up a Camel, be calm, cool and collected and I shall try to give you a bird’s eye view of what yours truly has been doing these past 34 months, which I have spent overseas. Hold your hat here we go.
This will be the third invasion to my credit. I went through the No. African, Sicilian, and present invasions and without a single scratch, what a lucky guy and I sincerely hope my luck holds out. During these campaigns I have been all over Ireland, England, Scotland, Algeria, Tunisia, French Morocco, Sicily, France, Belgium, and Germany. Sounds like a Cook’s travel tour—but definitely. I have seen plenty of the sights of the various countries and Paris is on the top of my list. I managed to spend a few days there and had the time of my life. I also visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame and paid my respects to where the boys of the last war used to hang out, need I say more—ahem. I also have seen plenty of action and have just about had my fill. It’s pretty tough stuff to take to see some of your buddies getting knocked off; especially the ones who sweated it out together away back in our training days, but as the french say “C’est la guerre.”
Thanks for wishing me the best for the New Year, I’ll need it. While we are on the subject I’ll give you a vague idea of the jolly New Year’s Eve we had. Wined and dined on the Siegfried Line. Visited the Club Cologne on the Beautiful Rhine. Big “88” (heavy mortar guns) piece band and that famous singer “Screaming Mimi” (shells). All came—the mortar the merrier.
Well what can I talk about now. As a last resort we can always talk about the weather. The weather has been very cold over here with plenty of snow, snow, and more snow. As I look at the kids sledding, throwing snow balls, etc., it brings back many memories of the good times I had when I was a kid. All us lads from the Northern states remember it well. As kids we loved it. Took out our Flexible Flyers and went belly whopping down the hills. Made snow men with it. Packed it into hard, round balls that caught other kids in the head and melted down the backs of their necks. When our hands got red and our feet got cold we would call it a day. We would go indoors to a hot fire and a good scolding for getting our feet wet. We would put on dry socks and shoes and eat hot chow to take off the chill. When we were kids snow sure was fun.
There’s a lot of snow on the Western Front these days and the country looks like a Christmas card. The trees are like old queens stooping from under the weight of their ermine robes. The wires loop from pole to pole like tinsel on a Christmas tree, except where the weight of the ice and snow has pulled them down and the signal repairmen are patching them. Snow lies smooth on the hill sides—it’s beautiful.
But the Flexible Flyers have turned into tanks. The snow men are Schutzstaffel. The snowballs are grenades. The wet stuff trickling down the back of necks is often blood. And when you’re wet and numb with cold there’s no place to go to. Nothing to look forward to. Nothing but snow, Cold, wet, beautiful snow.
The news certainly is good these days and I hope it continues. With so many Nazis dying for Der Fuehrer there is a possibility that Hades is beginning to look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. And with all the bombing and shelling of Germany today, Hitler has achieved what he always strived for A CRATER GERMANY.
Well folks this is all for now so I’ll say so-long for awhile. Hoping this letter finds you all in the best of health, I remain
After the war, Conwell returned home to a career in accounting; he died in 2006.
Andrew Carroll’s Legacy Project (online at warletters.com) is dedicated to preserving and collecting correspondence from all of America’s wars. If you have a World War II letter you would like to share, please send a copy (not originals) to the Legacy Project, PO Box 53250, Washington, DC 20009, or e-mail WarLettersUS@aol.com.
This War Letter originally appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of World War II magazine. To read more War Letters, click here.