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MS – 211: Earman Family Letters from WWII

(3 boxes, 1.5 cubic feet)

Inclusive Dates: 1942—1949

Bulk Dates: 1944—1946

Processed by Kayla Morrow, Barbara Holley Intern 20172018

July 2017

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF

Provenance

Donated by John Regentin, May 2017 (Accession #2017-0155)

Biographical Note

Randolph Nelson Earman (1910–1987) and Ernest Earman, Jr. (1921–2016) were born in Maryland to parents Mary May [Deck] Earman (1888–1977) and Ernest Earman, Sr. (1886–1965). They had two sisters, Mary Virginia Earman (1912–2000) and Maxine Deck Earman (1914–1992), both of whom resided at the long–time Earman family home in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. 

Prior to the war, Ernest was unemployed and living with his family. After he was drafted, he enlisted in the army at Clarksburg, WV on Dec. 2, 1943[1] and served in the 724th Railway Operating Battalion, Company “A.” He completed basic training in Texas at Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis before receiving technical training at Camp Shelby, where he worked on the Southern Railroad. In Aug. 1944, Ernest sailed from New York to France, where he assisted with train derailments, wrecks, and cleanups for over a year. He then served briefly in Augsburg before returning to Fort Meade for discharge in 1946. Throughout his service, Ernest rose in rank from Private, to Private First Class, to Corporal, to Sergeant. In Apr. 1951, he married Mary Elizabeth Burroughs (1923–2011) in Alexandria, VA, where he remained for the duration of his life. He passed away on Oct. 9, 2016 and is buried with Mary at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria.

Randolph Nelson Earman enlisted in the army at Fort Meade, MD on Mar. 6, 1944.[2] Before the war, he worked as a bank teller in Fairfax, VA, where he resided with his wife, Dorothy Aliene Conard, (1913–2011) and his sons, Donald and Randolph. He completed basic training in various Missouri camps and served as a Private First Class in the Company “B” 27th Signal Training Battalion, the 37th Signal Training Battalion, and the 529th Signal Operating Company. He was deployed to Okinawa and Korea, serving only a year overseas before returning home to Virginia. Randolph died at his home on Oct. 21, 1987 and is buried with his father, mother, and two sisters at Harper’s Cemetery.

Scope and Content Notes

The collection contains 389 letters, 15 V-mail[3], and 166 additional items[4] addressed to members of the Earman family home. The majority of the correspondence is sent from Ernest and Randolph to their mother, Mrs. Earman. Because the Earman brothers did not see much direct combat, the bulk of their letters are updates on health and daily activities, or candid observations on the war, the Army, the weather, and women. The rest of the collection includes letters addressed to the Earman family from distant or extended family, close friends, and Ernest’s foreign and domestic girlfriends.

Many of the letters are (legibly) handwritten, though some were typed. While the majority of the items are well–preserved inside their original envelopes, eleven letters are without envelopes and seven envelopes are without accompanying letters; these items are marked as “envelope only” or “letter only.” Many envelopes contain a variety of printed ephemera or artifacts like clippings, programs, advertisements, and photographs. There were 31 photographs/ephemera which were not enclosed in any specific letter or envelope; these loose items have been grouped together in Series VIII (see description).

There are brief gaps in correspondence which can be attributed to Army furloughs or overseas travel. Because some of the correspondence from Ernest, Randolph, and Granville (particularly the V–mail) was written under censorship, details about military location or movements have been omitted or physically removed from the letters. Historians researching WWII communication and censorship may be interested in the V-mail, telegrams, or letters from the soldiers immediately after they arrived overseas.

The collection’s female writers offer a helpful gendered perspective of the war, both on the home–front and abroad. Jo Bush’s letters detail the life and training of a Cadet Nurse. Mrs. (Dorothy) Randolph Earman’s letters express the concerns of a wife and mother trying to manage a household while worrying about the absence of her husband. The letters from Ernest’s foreign (often romantic) acquaintances reveal how French and German women saw America, Americans, and WWII.

Arguably the collection’s greatest strength is its view into the personal lives and relationships of U.S. soldiers while overseas. While he entertained multiple romantic interests during his time as a soldier, Ernest struck up a serious relationship in France with Catherine Seux, whom he hoped to marry one day after returning home. As time passed and marriage proved increasingly unlikely, Catherine’s progressively dejected letters—which end quite abruptly in Aug. 1946—give voice to foreign women who, charmed by American soldiers, hoped to marry and come to the United States but were met instead with cultural and economic setbacks.

Series Descriptions

The first six series correspond to a particular individual who wrote letters to members of the Earman family. If a series is entitled “Correspondence of,” (Series I or Series III) it includes both incoming and outgoing letters from the eponymous individual. If a series is entitled “Letters from,” (Series II, Series IV, Series V, or Series VI) it includes only outgoing letters to members of the Earman family.

The items in each series are arranged chronologically by year, month, and day. In the case of letters with no written date, the postmarked date was recorded. In the case of letters where the writer only noted a specific day of the week inside the letter—i.e. “Thursday morning”—the exact date was calculated by cross-referencing the letter’s postmarked date with Google Calendar; any such calculated date which does not explicitly appear inside of the letter has been recorded in brackets.

 I: Correspondence of Ernest Earman, Jr.

This series—which contains 250 letters, 6 V-mail, and 86 additional objects such as documents, cards, ephemera, or artifacts—consists of items sent by Ernest to his family members in WV, as well as items addressed to Ernest from the U.S. and abroad.

II: Letters from Randolph Earman, Jr.

This series—which contains 66 letters, 7 V-mail, and 15 other objects such as documents, cards, ephemera, and artifacts—consists of items sent by Randolph to his family members in WV.

 III: Correspondence of Mrs. (Dorothy) Randolph Earman, Jr.

This series—which contains 12 letters and 5 greeting cards —consists primarily of letters sent by Dorothy to Mrs. Earman, as well as one letter addressed to Dorothy.

IV: Letters from Corporal Granville B. Smith to the Earman Family

This series—which contains 14 letters, 2 V-mail, 1 V-mail template, 1 greeting card, 3 postcards, and 3 poems—consists of items sent by Granville to the Earman family.

V: Letters from Mademoiselle Catherine Seux to the Earman Family

This series—which contains 21 letters, 1 greeting card, and 1 postcard—consists of items written by Mlle. Catherine Seux to Ernest and to Mrs. Earman. 

VI: Letters from “Jo” Bush to the Earman Family

This series—which contains 14 letters, 2 greeting cards, 2 postcards, 1 announcement, and 4 photographs—consists of items sent by Josephine A. Bush[1] to the Earman family.

VII: Letters from Miscellaneous to the Earman Family

This series— which includes 12 letters, 3 V-mail, 8 greeting cards, 1 announcement, and 1 brochure—consists of items written by extended family, close friends, and acquaintances to various members of the Earman household.

VIII: Photographs and Ephemera

This series—which contains 21 photographs, 1 map, 1 business card, 2 military documents, 3 church bulletins, and 3 partial envelopes—consists of loose ephemera and artifacts which were sent to the Earman family but not contained inside of a specific letter or envelope.

[1] Josephine’s full name is never mentioned in the collection; it was identified using the WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, 1942-1948 (National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Cadet Nurse Corps Files, compiled 1943 - 1948, documenting the period 1942 - 1948; Box #: 010)

[1] National Archives and Records Administration. Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; ARC: 1263923. World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park. College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.

[2] The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Virginia, 10/16/1940 – 03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 221

[3] Victory mail, colloquially known as “V-mail,” was a form of communication used during WWII. It was introduced in 1942 as an efficient, safe way to mail letters to soldiers overseas. While the Post Office, War, and Navy Departments struggled to mail heavy letters, V-mail used microfilm processing to take photographs of letters and shrink them down to miniature size, thus producing less cargo. (Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Victory Mail Online Exhibit,” https://postalmuseum.si.edu/victorymail

[4] Additional items include greeting cards, postcards, photographs, documents, ephemera, and artifacts.

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF