NASHVILLE, Tenn. | In the summer of 1942, 2nd Lt. Roswell Weil was eager to serve his country, but he also wanted to spare his parents the pain of separation.
“I thought, ‘What can I do to ease their pain?’ ” the 93-year-old recalled, his voice breaking with emotion.
He made a decision and stuck with it almost perfectly: He would write home every day.
Rarely missing a single day in more than three years, the family’s only child sent home about a thousand letters.
Lt. Weil’s father saved every one, and Lt. Weil later stored them in a closet. He forgot about them until his son, Richard Weil of Nashville, found them about five years ago.
“It’s a funny thing,” the World War II veteran said in a telephone interview from his New Orleans home. “I cannot read them or talk much about them without getting emotional. Sixty years later, it still affects me.”
Asked what he would be doing to commemorate Veterans Day, the nonagenarian investment adviser said, “Going to the office.”
Constrained by wartime censorship, Lt. Weil could write little about his work or whereabouts.
“You can’t imagine what a peculiar feeling it is to be somewhere and not be able to tell you exactly what I am doing and when,” he wrote on Aug. 19, 1942, shortly after his arrival in England.
But as a determined correspondent, he managed to fill page after page with the small details of his life.
“My day starts about 6:30 for breakfast,” he wrote on Sept. 9, 1942, “I then go to work until about 5:30 unless there is special work to keep me going longer.”
Lt. Weil spent most of his service with the 68th Quartermaster Depot and although he never served on the front lines, during two years in England he faced rationing, blackouts and air raids.
The streets were so dark during blackouts, he wrote, that to avoid bumping into each other “groups walking down the street sing as they go - a thing quickly taken up by us. It is funny to hear unseen people singing up and down the main streets.”
He praised the friendliness of the English but wrote of their country on Sept. 2, 1942, “Generally, this is the worst dad gum climate I have ever seen.”
Lt. Weil almost didn’t go to war. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1937, he learned that anyone with a business degree and a year’s experience in business could take a test to become a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Reserve.
“I was so convinced in my own mind that there would be some war sometime that involved us,” he said. “And I didn’t want to go in as a private.”
He was commissioned in 1939 and called to active duty on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. After a big send-off, he went to Fort Lee, Va.
On June 27, 1942, he wrote to his parents from Fort Lee, Va., “At last I am in the Army and no one could be more happy.”
But a couple of days later, he was on his way back home after an Army doctor diagnosed him with high blood pressure.
Determined to serve, Lt. Weil traveled to several Army bases and finally to Washington where he sat in a general’s office all day, every day for a week until the officer agreed to see him.
“He said, ‘I don’t believe you. I spend every day listening to people who don’t want to be drafted and you do all this because you want to get in?’ ” Lt. Weil said. His orders were waiting for him when he got back to New Orleans.
In September 1944, his unit was sent to France, where he slept in a pup tent on Omaha Beach, ate out of his mess kit and bathed out of his helmet.
“I never, before tonight, thought I could get a thrill from a shower bath,” he wrote on Sept. 9, after a field shower was set up.
He also noticed the hardship faced by the French. “Going through some of the towns one can see the destruction brought on by war. Passing by quickly it is hard to realize that with each home went a heart ache, with each store the loss of perhaps years of savings.”