Note from Steve - I thought this was a neat story and worthy of posting on this blog.
From: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - Sunday October 21, 2012
By Tom Dillard
LITTLE ROCK — I just finished reading a wonderful collection of World War II letters. These letters only incidentally report on the brave battle against Hitler’s brutal legions. Rather, they tell of the growing love a young Pope County draftee had for the girl he left behind. Published by the University of Arkansas Press, Dearest Letty contains scores of remarkable letters from Private (later Sergeant) Leland Duvall of rural Moreland in Pope County to Letty Jones, a resident of nearby Crow Mountain.
Millions of love letters must have been exchanged during the four long years of World War II, but I doubt that any were more interestingly written than the Duvall letters.
One would never expect a young man like Leland Duvall to write such literate letters. He grew up in a struggling farm family that did not have the means to send young Leland to school beyond the eighth grade. He scratched out a living as a farm laborer and periodically taught in the rural schools. He was working as a farmhand on the Texas plains when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He returned home to await the draft.
Duvall and most of his childhood buddies were drafted in the spring of 1942, several of them being sent to Camp Cooke in California for initial training. While on the train headed to California, Duvall ran into Martin F. Drittler, a fellow from back home who was supposed to be engaged to Letty Jones—a young woman Duvall had admired from afar. He was pleased to learn that the engagement had ended, and he screwed up his courage and sent a postcard asking Letty if she would correspond with him. Delighted to receive a prompt letter in which Letty agreed to write—and she even included some light banter—Duvall penned an immediate reply in which he described the beauty of the California countryside in early summer.
Duvall’s closing paragraph hinted at the depth of his infatuation; and it also demonstrated his interesting, funny, and slightly manipulative writing style: “I am afraid if I let this run on you will become so bored and disgusted that you won’t write again. That would be one of the great tragedies of my young life. Youth is so emotionally unstable, you know, and things like that can undermine the morale of the Army.”
Within a few months, Duvall is signing his letters “Love, Leland.” His letters are laced with references to his reading at the military base. In one early letter he mentions reading T.S. Eliot “and some of the other Imagists and I am experimenting with impressions.” He asked Letty’s indulgence for his descriptive writing: “In the afternoon the sun comes through the fog and investigates the landscapes . . . Before sundown the fog thickens and the sun becomes a dim lamp set on the window ledge of the horizon.”
Duvall worked hard to write interesting letters, and each letter has a distinctively original introduction. “Hold your hat, folks,” Duvall wrote, “here we go again.” Mimicking a carnival barker, Duvall wrote: “Right this way, ladies and gentlemen, and see the greatest mystery man of all time. A dogface who finds time to write his girl every night. A man who combines the qualities of Romeo, Napoleon, Elmer and Joe.”
It is remarkable that Duvall could write weekly much less daily, but he usually managed to write at least a brief note to “Dearest Lenny.” He carried a bottle of Carter’s ink and a variety of pens and nibs, but he also hoarded pencils in case his ink bottle froze. And, as a member of the Fifth Armored Division, Duvall experienced plenty of cold as the unit pushed across France, Belgium, and Germany in the bitter winter of 1944-45.
Duvall’s unit worked as scouts, and they were sometimes behind German lines. Duvall usually only hinted at the danger he faced, and he made light of being hit by shrapnel on multiple occasions. A letter sent from Belgium tells of living in an abandoned farmhouse, though he did not mention being surrounded. “While we were lingering over our coffee and cigarettes, the Jerries opened up with their artillery. One shell landed on a side room . . . and blew the roof away. It knocked soot into all our coffee.”
Leland Duvall was mustered out of the Army in October of 1945, and he immediately boarded a train for Russellville. Awaiting him at the depot was Letty Jones. They kissed publicly, as Leland had earlier demanded. They were married two weeks later.
After a long and productive career in journalism, including many years as farm editor and editorial writer at the Arkansas Gazette, Duvall retired in 1990. The couple moved to a cottage on their beloved Crow Mountain in Pope County, where Leland died in 2006. Letty now lives in a Russellville retirement residence.
These letters, over 400 in number, barely escaped destruction when Letty sold the cottage. Fortunately, one of Letty’s new neighbors recognized their value, and ultimately, Ernie Dumas, a colleague of Duvall’s at the Gazette, edited the letters for publication. The letters have been donated to the UA Library in Fayetteville.
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial, Pages 80 on 10/21/2012
Print Headline: A man of letters