In 2006 Lewis author Susan Carpenter Noble and her sister, Peggy, were surprised when they learned their elderly father had been throwing out letters he had written to his mother in Pennsylvania while serving in World War II.
“When she died, he had found them in a box in her apartment. He never showed them to us or told us about them,” Noble said. “It was an amazing find for the family.”
The siblings saved the letters, more than 200 of them, which turned out to tell a remarkable story of their father, Grant H. Carpenter, during his service as an engineer in the U.S. Army from 1941-1945.
The collection of war letters were arranged in a popular family notebook, then gained new legs.
Noble reviewed the letters, arranged them chronologically and paired them with relevant newspaper clippings of the war.
She interviewed her dad about his war experience and the letters, then wrote the 2021 book “Dear Toots, Half a War-torn World Apart,” published by Square Peg Book Services.
The book shares the experiences of Carpenter through the personal letters he wrote to his mother, Margaret L. Carpenter, while serving in the 38th Corps of Engineers for the U.S. Army.
Carpenter, or “Carp” was an only son and had a close relationship with his mother, who was nicknamed “Toots” by her friends, Noble said.
Her son’s letters tell the tales of being on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, serving in Africa, England and France, and in other countries he stopped at along the way.
On British-controlled Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, Carpenter was assigned along with 1,700 men to build a top-secret refueling base and runway for U.S. war planes.
“It was very hush-hush. They built it in three months and it was later recognized as a remarkable feat,” Noble said.
The isolated island in the middle of the ocean was not easy to find for pilots flying planes without the modern navigation gear of today.
“If I miss Ascension, my wife gets a pension,” was the dark humor of the pilots, Noble said.
Carpenter’s letters relate to the war effort in Africa and helping England prepare for the German invasion.
While stationed in France, Carpenter’s fellow soldier discovered a limestone cave the Germans had used to store stolen French goods including art, wine and food.
Carpenter and others arranged a convoy to deliver the food to the French people, and he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, Noble said.
In another letter, Carpenter told how he used his engineering skills to build ice cream machines out of 55-gallon drums in Africa.
“He distributed and shared the machine among the different groups and made ice cream for the guys. He was very popular for that,” Noble says.
The letters to Mom and family in “Dear Toots” open up a different angle on the war.
“It shows the war’s impact on families, a personal point of view of being separated like that,” Noble said. “It was really fun to see the funny, witty relationship they had.”
Like her grandmother, Noble also saved letters written by her son when he served in Iraq.
“That kid wrote some funny letters. He was trying to ease his parents’ minds,” Noble writes of her son in the book forward. “I see that in Carp’s letter’s too, the humor aimed at taking the edge off a mother’s fears.”
“Dear Toots Half a War-torn World Apart” is available on Amazon, and at the Used Book Store and The Haven Mercantile in Cortez.