"Read 'em and weep." That phrase usually means you just won a hand of poker. In this case it describes what might happen to you when you read the letters of a young World War II soldier serving in the Pacific to a girl back home in Des Plaines.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Des Plaines History Center and Des Plaines Memory are presenting compelling stories of the people of Des Plaines who made selfless contributions to the war effort by serving abroad and on the homefront.
Two of those people were Douglas Wildfang of Oak Park, Illinois and Gloria Mau of Des Plaines. Doug and Gloria wrote to each other faithfully while he fought in the Pacific theater. But Douglas and Gloria were strangers to each other. Gloria was a dedicated volunteer for the war effort. She was a pen pal to other soldiers, and Doug was essentially assigned to her. Gloria saved all his letters, and we have a selection of them available on Des Plaines Memory.
So, here's the "read 'em and weep" part: After a short getting-to-know-you period, Doug falls in love with Gloria over the course of their correspondance. His letters are full of daydreams about going home and taking Gloria out on a date; and within the context of these fantasy dates we can see him trying to work out how he will live out his life and who he'll be after the war. However he'll cope, he clearly has faith that he is certain that Gloria will be in his life.
We don't have Gloria's letters to Doug, so we don't know her side of the story, but ultimately his love went unrequited. What we do know is that (spoiler alert) he made it home and they met at least twice and we also know that Gloria was never married. But a love for the ages was not to be - at least, not with Gloria.
No less moving than Doug's unrealized love are the glimpses of the life of a soldier under combat conditions. Remarkably, if you were to match the dates of Doug's letters to a timeline of World War II, you would find he was at nearly every major event in the Pacific theater: the Philippines, Marshall Islands, and finally Okinawa, Japan. He was in Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he remained in Japan during the course of their surrender to the Allied forces.
Upcoming events at the Des Plaines History Center will also concentrate on the experiences of Des Plaines residents during the war. Don't miss the opening of the exhibit “World War II: Des Plaines and the War against Fascism” on Thursday, February 12 at 6 p.m. History Center curator Philip Mohr will present “World War II and Des Plaines on the Home Front” immediately following the exhibit opening from 7-8 p.m. Yours truly will be on hand to talk in detail about Doug's letters to Gloria.
For more information about Des Plaines and World War II:
- Check the History Center programs flyer for several other World War II related events scheduled throughout the year.
- The History Center blog has a fascinating article about German immigrants in Des Plaines and their reactions to the Nazi party leading up to the war.
- The Des Plaines Memory History collection has even more materials related to Des Plaines veterans in our Life During Wartime collection, an eclectic mix of materials dating from the American Civil War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in our newest collection, Dear Gloria, featuring photos and documents saved by Gloria Mau.