‘A Thousand Letters Home’
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TEMPERANCE — Teresa Irish thought she knew her father pretty well when he was alive, but it was after his death, in 2006, that she gained vast, new insight into the man who had been such an important part of her life.
That’s when she found a trove of almost 1,000 letters Aarol “Bud” Irish had written home during World War II as a stateside GI and then as an infantryman fighting his way across Germany. The letters gripped her, especially those written to his sweetheart, Elaine, who would become his wife in 1946 and the mother of Ms. Irish and her nine siblings.
At a Nov. 14 appearance at the Bedford Branch Library, starting at 7 p.m., Ms. Irish will talk about how she spent 13 months reading the fragile, yellowed letters that only her father had looked at in the previous 60 years, and how this experience and publishing 320 of the letters in a book called A Thousand Letters Home: One WW II Soldier’s Story of War, Love and Life transformed her life.
“We didn’t even know the letters existed,” Ms. Irish explained from her home in Northville, Mich. “My Dad did talk about the war, but the letters are so deep and insightful and reflective.”
This excerpt is from a letter to his parents in Hemlock, Mich., on Dec. 27, 1944: “Christmas Eve and Day were spent in a foxhole on the banks of the Roer River ... off in the distance the Germans had a loud speaker playing Christmas carols and putting out propaganda. . . . Here we are, Germans and Americans, facing each other across a little river thinking of ‘peace on earth,’ and just watching in tense silence for an enemy to move so we could riddle him with bullets ... ”
Bud Irish grew up on a dairy farm near Saginaw, Mich. He survived the war in one piece, but saw a lot of his Army friends killed, including some who died at his side in combat. He described these harrowing experiences in his letters and the devastation of Germany he observed close up. He returned stateside in January, 1946, was discharged a short time later, and married Elaine 20 days after returning home. An inveterate photographer, he carried a camera in combat and took hundreds of photos — 140 of them in the book with corresponding letters.
The book has transformed Ms. Irish’s life. She has been on the speaking circuit — 60 events last year and 80 by the end of 2013. Her appearances have been as far afield as Montana and Oregon and attracted audiences numbering in the hundreds.
She also credits her Dad’s letters with making her a first-time bride at age 49. In June, 2009, she was waiting to board a flight at Detroit Metro Airport and observed 12 soldiers dressed in Army combat uniforms. She asked one if he was “headed home or headed out,” and was told he was returning to the Middle East. They stayed in touch, and in 2011 she and the Army lieutenant colonel were married.
“Dad left me his legacy and gave me my future,” she said.