letters home

Sometimes I am inexplicably drawn to things. That happened today when I bought a pack of letters a son wrote to his mother throughout World War II.

His name was William Rapp. The letters are from him to his mother. Her name was Florence Rapp and she lived in New Tripoli Lehigh County.

The letters start in November of 1942 when he is at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.

The first letter I read he is telling his mother about a Veronica Lake movie he saw called “I Married a Witch”. That made me smile because I remember watching it as a little girl on the black-and-white television in my parents’ breakfast room – I loved that movie!

I have not read all the letters yet, although I have sat here obsessively reading them since I got home a little while ago.

The letters progress from being hand written on stationary to War Department V-Mail Service letters.

The V-Mail letters are like photo copies of the original letters and shrunk and mailed in tiny envelopes.

From Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum:

V-Mail or Victory mail, was a valuable tool for the military during World War II. The process, which originated in England, was the microfilming of specially designed letter sheets. Instead of using valuable cargo space to ship whole letters overseas, microfilmed copies were sent in their stead and then “blown up” at an overseas destination before being delivered to military personnel

I never knew about this mail process until I bought these letters. It’s fascinating.

William, or Billy as he sometimes signs his letters, is a prolific writer. And the letters stretch well into 1945. They go from London to France to I’m not sure where – I will learn that as I finish reading the letters.

But in these letters the soldier writes home to his mom, we learn about life in wartime Europe although I daresay it seems he sanitized the conditions somewhat to spare her feelings and keep her from worrying.

He speaks about seeing a play in London with, and a vacation pass of sorts where he went on a trip to Scotland.

We have a glimpse into a soldier’s life in France during World War II when he speaks about learning to sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground covered with pine needles.

One letter that really got to me so far was writing to his mother after he learned his grandmother had died.

Another letter, I learned he had been at Muhlenberg before war broke out.

I found his obituary. He passed away in 2007:

The Morning Call: William R. Rapp Obituary

William R. Rapp, 85, of New Tripoli, passed away on Tuesday, September 11 in his home, where he enjoyed gardening and chess. Born in Allentown, he was a son of the late Louis and Florence M. (Kuntz) Rapp. He was a 1938 graduate of Slatington High School with honors, fourth in his class and a member of the National Honor Society. Graduating with senior honors from Muhlenberg College in 1942, he was admitted to the A.S.T.P. at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and subsequently attended the Georgia Institute of Technology for one year studying mathematics and engineering. Bill served active military duty overseas in both the European and Pacific theaters of War during World War II in the Army attaining the rank of T/4 with the 3186 Signal Service Battalion. He attained a military specialty in that capacity although he saw no combat in the Pacific because the war ended before he reached Manila, Philippines.

Once he returned to the Lehigh Valley, Bill was employed by PP&L for four years being given a special training program. He was a commercial representative in Lancaster County and wrote ad copy. He was employed by Bethlehem Steel Corp. for 26 years dividing his time between industrial engineering and computer science. He was a member of Chapter 77 of the Industrial Engineering Society while employed as an industrial engineer. In computer science, he wrote FORTRAN programs for mainframes, principally I.B.M. Bill also wrote several in-house papers for Bethlehem Steel for maintenance, and also for providing for the combination mill at Saucon Mills as well as multiple machine interference factors.

He owns a copyright in a development of Ellipse Odyssey written in basic language of an Apple Computer. He was a member of New Life Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Tripoli. Survivors: There are no immediate survivors.

Services: Graveside services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday, September 14, Ebenezer Cemetery, New Tripoli. No calling hours. Arrangements by Keller Funeral Homes, New Tripoli. Contributions: To be made to the church, c/o the funeral home, P.O. Box 75, New Tripoli, PA 18066.

Published in Morning Call on Sept. 12, 2007

And now I, a perfect stranger, have some of his letters home. I don’t know their journey on their way to reach me since the obituary states he died without survivors. I’m not sure that he ever married.

There are so few of the greatest generation left. And when we speak about honoring veterans, these are the small stories we should remember. The stories of good men who throughout our history, have fought for our freedoms.

Thanks for stopping by.

stealing from the dead

I caught this report from NBC10’s Rosemary Connors the other day: Someone Steals From Veterans’ Graves: Police seek the public’s help to locate missing bronze flag holders


….West Goshen Township Police want to know who stole dozens of bronze flag holders from about 60 graves at Saint Agnes Cemetery on Pottstown Pike.

The flag holders, which often mention the war that the veteran served in, were possibly stolen so that the bronze could be scrapped.

Authorities were first alerted to the thefts on Monday after  several military families noticed that the flag holders were missing and the flags were simply placed into the ground next to their loved one’s grave, police said Thursday.

Police tell NBC10’s Rosemary Connors that the markers are worth about $3,000.


Graveyards and these markers are all too common easy pickings for thieves looking to trade in scrap metal or even graveyard memorabilia for lack of a better term.

This happens all too often and it is not only a desecration of someone’s final resting place, I just find it despicable to steal from the dead, let alone those who served our country through various conflicts and wars.

I know people who volunteer their time to not only see that these graveyards all over are tidied up, but I know a couple of remarkable women who have even had lost graves marked and recognized.

Please note the photos accompanying this post are not from West Goshen.  They are from other at risk cemeteries in South Eastern PA.

It goes without saying that if you know who is pilfering from St. Agnes Cemetery on Pottstown Pike you should contact authorities, or encourage them to turn themselves in.   But the other reality is many of these markers are now gone, and if you can help the cemetery replace them, that would be really awesome.

Also note that all over Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties there are abandoned graveyards.  Churches closing, development, and life have caused this.  It behooves a community to save and preserve these final resting places.  People always portray churchyards and cemeteries as macabre places.  They are in fact, more often than not, places of great history and worthy of respect and care.

Here is the Daily Local on the thefts:

WEST GOSHEN — About 60 bronze memorial flag holders were stolen from grave sites at an area cemetery earlier this week, according to the West Goshen Police Department.
Police said the flag holders, typically placed at the graves of military veterans, were stolen from the St. Agnes Cemetery in the 1000 block of Pottstown Pike.

“This is very disturbing,” said Peter J. Buono, commander of the American Legion Post 134 in West Chester. “These people should pay. Every extent of the law should come down on them.”


Buono described the thefts as shameful, adding that the flag memorials at the grave sites of veterans are the last honor given to American service members and should be treated with respect….. Cemetery employees told police that family members began to report the missing items on June 25 when some noticed that the bronze holders were removed and the flags were placed in the ground……  Anyone with information regarding the theft is asked to call the West Goshen Police Department at 610-696-7400.