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Letters and Legacy

A chance to preserve correspondence

John Carroll has authored several best-sellers on the war letters subject. Photo credit:

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A letter written in 1945 led Andrew Carroll to begin the Center for American War Letters.

Written by a distant cousin, the recollection described his walk through the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald the day after its liberation.

"It was one of the most powerful things I had ever read in my life," Carroll wrote in an email.

He kept the letter, and then began the Legacy Project - an initiative to encourage veterans and their families to save their war letters and, if they chose, to send their letter(s) or photocopies to the project for posterity.

An award-winning writer and editor of several best-selling books, Carroll's latest work is Operation Homecoming, an anthology composed by American military members who wrote about what they experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

In November 1998, Dear Abby, a nationally syndicated advice columnist, wrote about the initiative.  

"I was deluged with war letters, and this was just the beginning ... up to 100,000 letters and emails came in over the years," Carroll related.

From handwritten notes penned during the American Revolution to emails sent from Iraq and Afghanistan, the missives provide an inner and personal look at those who have served in America's wars.

Carroll noted that the correspondence is not just about combat.

"These letters are real works of literature and transcend any one subject matter; they're not just about war but about human nature itself."

The initiative caught the attention of academia.

A faculty member at Chapman University, a private, nonprofit university located in Orange, California, reached out and contacted Carroll about his work.

"I fell in love with the Chapman community; the students were very respectful of the letters and, most important, the people who wrote them," continued Carroll.

"The administration said that if I gave Chapman my entire collection of 100,000 letters (which I did for free), they would promise to preserve it in perpetuity and grow it."

Along with this gift came a group of librarians, archivists and curators to oversee and preserve the collection.

With this surety came a change and a challenge.

The change came when the Legacy Project was renamed the Center for American War Letters.

The challenge came when Carroll decided to begin the "Million Letters Campaign" to encourage people across the country to go through their attics, basements and closets to see if they had any war-related correspondence and then send it to the Center.

"What makes our collection unique is that we seek out and have found letters from all American conflicts," continued Carroll.

The Center welcomes all forms of correspondence from veterans and their family and friends.

"We hope these letters will be used in books, films, plays and other media," said Carroll.  

"They personalize the wartime experience and make it real."

If interested in contributing to the Center for American War Letters, visit

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