MS-094: Letters of John Duttera, World War II

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MS – 094: Letters of John Duttera, World War II

(4 boxes, .54 cubic feet)

Inclusive Dates: 1943-1945

Processed by: Kayla  Lenkner

April 2008

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF


Purchased from Charles Apfelbaum in 1996.


John Walter Duttera was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on March 11, 1912 to George H. and Laura E. Duttera. He graduated from Gettysburg High School in 1931 and later joined the army. 

Duttera served with the 93rd Air Service Squadron, eventually becoming a Staff Sergeant.  He moved frequently during his early army career and was stationed at Keesler Field, Mississippi, Lowry Field, Colorado, Duncan Field, Waco Field, and Dalhart, Texas, before being sent overseas to Australia in the summer of 1943.

Duttera spent the remainder of World War II in West Pacific, where he worked with aircraft engines, radio and sound systems.  He was briefly stationed in Japan during the fall of 1945. 

He was discharged in October, 1945 and returned to Pennsylvania, where he established Duttera Sound Service, a radio and electric shop.  In addition to running his own business, Duttera also worked as a rural mail carrier in the Gettysburg area. 

Throughout the war, Duttera kept correspondence with Ruth Feiser of New Oxford, Pennsylvania.  Feiser was born in New Oxford on March 17, 1916 to J. Frank and Florence R. Feiser.  In 1934 she graduated from New Oxford High School.  She later graduated from Thompson’s Business School in York, and was employed as a bookkeeper at the York Machinery and Supply Company.

Duttera and Feiser were married on October 19, 1946 at the First Lutheran church in New Oxford.  The couple lived in Gettysburg and had two children, a son, John W. Jr. and a daughter, Shirley.

John died on March 3, 1991 and Ruth died on September 22, 1995.

Series Description

This collection consists primarily of correspondence received by Ruth Feiser during World War II and is broken up into four series: Series I: John Duttera Correspondence, Series II: Joseph E. Atland Correspondence, Series III: Miscellaneous Correspondence, Clippings and Photographs, and Series IV: Collection Information. 

Scope and Content Notes

Series I. consists of 106 letters written by John Duttera to Ruth Feiser during his military service from 1942 until 1945.  These letters detail Duttera’s experiences at basic training and while stationed overseas as a staff sergeant in the army air force.  He worked on engines and radios, and saw very little actual combat.  Duttera moved frequently, and his letters document his travels.  The early letters describe the various cities in which he stayed and American landmarks he visited.  Eventually he is stationed in Australia, at which point his letters become much less descriptive because of the censor, though he does occasionally comment briefly on the native foods, wildlife, currency, and people and their customs (August 31, 1944; November 8, 1944; November 17, 1944; January 27, 1945; March 8, 1945; March 22, 1945; October 10, 1945).  He is stationed on several South Pacific islands, and the letter dated September6, 1945, written after the censor is lifted, describes his travels in detail (included as Addendum I).  The majority of Duttera’s correspondence is about daily life in the army, the food, the other men in his unit, the mail service and entertainment.  He was very fond of films and frequently writes about what he has seen, though he does not describe the films in any depth.  He does occasionally discuss the way the depiction of the war in films differs from his own experiences (March 1, 1944; June 23, 1944; August 10, 1944; September 13, 1945).  He writes about seeing visiting orchestras, stage shows, comedians and celebrities, about the Reader’s Digest and local papers, and about the Hit Parade on the radio.  He discusses his opinions about the Woman’s Army Corps (May 17, 1943; December 29, 1943; June 30, 1944; November 27, 1944; March 31, 1945; May 3, 1945) censorship, war marriages (January 22, 1944; March 10, 1944; June 30, 1944; March 8, 1945), Ruth’s employment and working women in general (December 4, 1943; December 16, 1943; February 17, 1944; April 25, 1944; December 23, 1944; March 8, 1945), politics (March 20, 1944; May 24, 1944; June 30, 1944), Victory Gardens (May 24, 1944; June 30, 1944; September 14, 1944), and rationing.  Duttera’s mother dies while he is stationed overseas, and several of his letters focus on her death as well as his concern for his sister, Mary (April 16, 1945; May 3, 1945). After the war, most of his letters are about the point system (discussed in the majority of the letters written May 12, 1945 through October 10, 1945).  In response to Ruth’s letters, Duttera often remarks about Ruth’s experiences in Pennsylvania, about her job, family, friends, car, classes, attempts to raise ducks and turkeys, the draft in the Gettysburg area (May 18, 1944), and an outbreak of infantile paralysis (polio) around New Oxford (September 14, 1944).  He frequently writes about sending and receiving photographs and gifts.  His letters often include newspaper clippings, cartoons, song lyrics and jokes.

Series II consists of nineteen letters written to Ruth by Joseph E. Atland. These letters written in 1942 and early 1943, are primarily about his experiences during basic training at Langley Field Virginia and his pre-flight school training at Maxwell Field, Alabama.  He frequently his fear of being “washed out” of flight school—which does eventually happen, due to his poor eyesight.  Atland describes his various living quarters and daily life in the army, as well as his impressions of Montgomery and his dislike of the South.  He frequently discusses gas rationing.  Atland often writes about sending and receiving pictures and gifts, and occasionally he requests that Ruth send him specific necessities, such as a suitcase.  

Series III consists of two additional letters received by Ruth, one from William J. Heller and another from Charles H. Blackburn, three drafts of letters she wrote, clippings and photographs, probably of John and Ruth.

Series IV consists of collection information, including the purchase record and container list. 

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF