PART ONE: A courtship begins between a bespectacled lieutenant and his girl back home
In all of his letters home to his wife, Faye, Lt. William Alvin Anderson tried to downplay the serious fighting he had found himself in as Allied forces pushed into Germany during the autumn of 1944.
But on this night of Feb. 5, 1945, as he continued to recuperate in Paris from a slight wound to his thigh and severe trench foot, Anderson left his guard down.
He recounted being trapped behind German lines.
“Darling,” he wrote, “I met face-to-face with two German soldiers at night. I had two sergeants with me. The Germans had a machine gun and rifle. All we had was hand grenades and trench knives.
“These Germans were not over 10 feet from me. But me and my sergeants got away without a scratch.
“There I faced death, and the odds were against me, but today I'm alive and in good health.”
For much of World War II, letters were all Alvin Anderson had to communicate with his beloved Faye. When they were apart, he wrote her almost daily, and she kept every letter, whether they came to her while she was working for the War Department in Washington, D.C., or when she was back in her hometown of Branford, Fla., and pregnant with their first child.
Alvin spoke of their songs on the radio, the movies he was able to see, the buddies he hung out with, the war bonds they should buy, the rationing of the day, dealing with frustrations of both the Army and mail delivery and dreaming of a life after chaos.
But above all, Anderson wrote about his love for Faye. He made it clear in every letter how much he longed to be with her and constantly reassured Faye that his extensive training would get him through any situation.
And he was proved to be right.
Faye received only nuggets of information in Alvin's letters about what he really had been through during his time on the front.
Anderson wrote from a Paris hospital on March 12, 1945, about new patients coming into the ward that day. One soldier had lost both of his feet. He saw other men with broken legs, arms and backs.
But Anderson said he would rather see them in the hospital “than like I have seen some of them at the front.”
“I don't think I told you this,” he wrote. “I was caught in a trap behind German lines with 118 men. There are 115 of them listed as missing in action. I was just lucky I guess.”
Branford and Live Oak are northern Florida towns about 25 miles apart.
Faye Walker, a dark-haired, olive-skinned beauty was the oldest of eight children and grew up on a Branford farm. Tobacco was one of her family's chief crops.
In her senior year at Lafayette High School in Mayo, Faye was elected the most beautiful girl in her class.
Alvin Anderson of Live Oak was older than Faye by six years and had only a sister, Evelyn, as a sibling.
He quit Suwannee High School, and the family story goes that a year later a teacher saw him working in a grocery store and asked why he had left school.
Anderson explained it was because he could no longer see the blackboards. The teacher bought him a pair of glasses, and he returned to school and earned his diploma in 1938.
Alvin's eyesight would be an issue throughout his Army career, especially in deciding his assignments during World War II.
Anderson went back to Starfood Grocery Co., working as a sales clerk, assisting the manager with the books and doing most of the store's buying.
He made $80 a month.
Anderson also had joined the Florida National Guard just after his 17th birthday in 1934 and became a sergeant over the next six years. By Nov. 25, 1940, he was put on active duty as the United States inched closer to entering the war.
Alvin met Faye through mutual acquaintances. His Army buddy Bernard was the boyfriend (and later husband) of Faye's best friend, Margaret.
Alvin wrote his first letter to Faye on Dec. 19, 1941, from Camp Blanding, Fla., where he was a sergeant in Co. E, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry, 31st Division.
He lied and said he wasn't much of a letter writer.
“Faye,” he said, “I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I enjoyed every minute I spent with you. I look forward to that time when I may spend a lot more time with you.”
Only one more letter would come from Camp Blanding. On Jan. 10, Alvin wrote he was going to listen to the Lewis-Bear fight that night, while he was in his tent and packing for Fort Benning, Ga.
When he could manage some leave days, Alvin traveled back to Florida to steal quick visits with his family and Faye.
And in his letters from Fort Benning, Alvin gave her rundowns of his days, what his plans for the future were and how increasingly she was on his mind.
Things were moving fast, especially from Anderson's point of view. He worried a tall, bespectacled redhead such as himself — a guy who looked much older than his 24 years — could not hang on to such a young, lovely girl.
Alvin thought he was homely and told Faye in a March 2 letter that when she received a new photograph of him, “You can put it in the garden and keep the rabbits out.”
In an earlier letter from Feb. 14, he asked whether Faye remembered the night he told her, “I love you” and she answered, “They all say that.”
But he was serious, he said, and he would never hand a person like her a line. In the same letter, he wanted to know whether there was someone else and, if so, to tell him now.
Other correspondence was more mundane. He spoke of listening to the radio program “This is War” every Saturday night.
“The situation is terrible, don't you think?” he said. “You just can't tell what might happen next.”
There were songs and movies to talk about. He had seen the films “How Green Was My Valley?” and “Forty Thousand Horsemen” and “Lady of the Year.”
He loved Bing Crosby's song “I Miss You” and spoke of others playing on the radio such as “This Is No Laughing Matter” and “Somebody's Taking My Place with You.”
Back in Branford, the 18-year-old Faye Walker was filling in at the high school and teaching American history. But she also had a line on a possible clerical job in Washington, where many other young women from across the country were headed.
Alvin kept going back and forth on whether he should try out for Officers Candidate School and said he wished everybody else felt the same way he did about war.
“It's serious business,” he said.
On Feb. 28, Anderson acknowledged he might have trouble getting into OCS. While he had excellent scores on everything else, “they say my eyes are too weak to qualify.”
Meanwhile, he was a weapons instructor, teaching 18 to 33 soldiers at a time.
Over the weeks and months, Faye learned Alvin went by several names, especially “Andy,” though fellows in his company also called him “Red” and Sarge.”
But he always signed his letters “Alvin.”
He told her about a new roommate of his, Corp. Leonard Wager, whose old girlfriend was marrying someone else.
“That is the way it goes,” Anderson said. “When a boy goes away, his best girl forgets him. There are exceptions.”
Alvin was hoping he was one of them.
On March 9, 1942, Alvin was just back from seeing Faye in Branford. “I got home at 4 o'clock Sunday morning, and Mother had the door locked,” he told her, and you could sense him smiling through the pages.
By March 16, Anderson confided to Faye, “You mean more to me than any person in existence.” By March 22, he had made the final decision to try for OCS.
The colonel who interviewed him said, “Anderson, the Army needs men like you. I have been watching you for some time, and I am damn well pleased to send you to school. I know you will make the best of it.”
Or at least that's how Alvin relayed to Faye what the colonel had said.
Anderson received word March 31 he had qualified for OCS, and three months of hard work and no breaks lay ahead of him once the school started.
Easter 1942 proved to be a turning point for the couple, even though it troubled Faye somewhat they had yet to spend time with each other during the daytime.
“Faye, darling, you don't know how happy it makes me when now I know that someday you and I will be as one,” Alvin said. “I will remember that Easter Day forever.”
For much of a rainy, muddy April at Fort Benning, Alvin waited for word as to when he would be reporting to Officers Candidate School.
Otherwise, he did a lot of instructing, reading, going to shows and letter-writing. Meanwhile, Faye took an exam, passed it and rode for the first time on a train to her new job in Washington, D.C.
“Darling, Washington is far away but only about five hours from Atlanta by plane,” Alvin wrote on April 25.
It turned out Anderson entered OCS April 30 — the same day Faye reported to the Pentagon for the first time.
Even longer periods of separation loomed before Alvin and Faye in 1942, but during the times they found themselves together, they would make things count.
Read part two.
Alvin Anderson spent much of the early part of 1942 at Fort Benning, Ga., where he was a platoon sergeant and weapons instructor.
Meanwhile, his sweetheart Faye Walker was back in Branford, Fla., filling in at the local high school as a teacher of American history.
Here are quotes lifted directly from Alvin's letters to Faye during that period:
Jan. 28, 1942 — “Time sure passes slow here.”
Feb. 14, 1942 — “The Valentine came today. Thanks. ... For some reason I can't get you off my mind, but I love it.”
Feb. 20, 1942 — on the confusion at Fort Benning — “No one knows exactly where they are going. ... It's going to take a lot for us to preserve the things we love.”
March 9, 1942 — “Everytime I saw you something made me want to see you again until now I really miss you. Honest. I wish I could be with you every day.”
March 10, 1942 — “Are your eyes brown or black? I hope you will forgive me for not knowing.”
March 16, 1942 — “You teach your students civilization, and I teach mine how to kill men and how to keep from being killed. Quite a difference, yes?”
March 21, 1942 — on his apprehension about applying for Officers Candidate School — “It is just about like being in a nice warm house and then walking into the middle of a storm. But it means a lot to me to become an officer in the U.S. Army. ... This is going to be a long, drawn-out war. So if I can go higher, why not?”
April 2, 1942 — “It seems that the more I see you, the more you mean to me.”
April 13, 1942 — “Service is the price you pay for the space you occupy on Earth. I think that covers everything, don't you?”
April 17, 1942 — after hearing the song “The Way You Look Tonight” — “I can't see how you look, but I can dream.”