Book Review: Letters from Bermuda: A unique read that serves as a World War II-era time capsule

By Susan Johnson

Copy Editor

Letters from Bermuda by James S. Phelps (Xlibris Corporation, 2009, ISBN Hardcover 978-1-4363-8599-2, Softcover 978-1-4363-8598-5) has a different format than most that you see, as it is a compilation of letters exchanged between the author’s parents, Joe Phelps and wife Marge, while Joe was in the Navy in World War II.

As James, the son, explains:
Among his many possessions there was a box of his letters from his World War II days while stationed in Bermuda. This also included my mother, Marge’s letters back to him.

The letters, with the exception of a few that were lost,
had been stored in various garages, attics, and basements since 1945.

Since the author’s parents lived in Rockford, the book has much local interest.

The author, James, explains:
In 2005 I was planning to retire after teaching elementary school,

and he and his wife were planning a trip to Bermuda. Preparing for the trip, he randomly selected a few of his dad’s letters so they could try to visit some of the places where his father had been stationed during his 15-month tour of duty. Letters to Bermuda also includes a number of photos taken by both Marge and Joe that accompanied some of the letters.

After visiting some of these locations, James Phelps decided to assemble all the letters in chronological order and eventually came up with the idea of publishing them in book form. It was soon evident to Phelps, in reading his parents’ letters,
how much they were in love and how bad their separation was because of how the war affected them. They had been married less than a year when Joe shipped out to Bermuda…

Phelps also noted
how much their Catholic faith sustained them during these trying times.

Not only is this unique book a very interesting read, it is also a time capsule that contains some mementoes of an era that is long gone but part of our history. Some readers may still have grandparents who recall having lived through this era; for them, it will be like a walk down memory lane. For others, who are too young to recall it personally, it is a glimpse into a time that is viewed through old photographs, seen in old newspapers—almost surreal but at once real and honest.

The people who lived in that era were much like us, with their hopes and dreams, their family bonds, problems and personal foibles. A couple of differences stand out, though. As mentioned earlier, religious faith was not a take-it-or-leave-it affair, as is often the custom today; rather, faith in God was the glue that held families together, that kept them going in an almost unbearable situation, that helped them deal with the uncertainties of life. Living in the now was important, but it wasn’t a mindless hedonism—it was savoring the moment because there might not be a tomorrow.

The other point that stands out was the innocence of the era that seems unbelievable nowadays—when people did things not unusual then that would be considered unthinkable today. For example, in one letter Marge tells how she and several of her female friends stayed late at a baby shower.
The time went by so quickly that before we realized, it was after 11:30 [p.m.], so we all missed our last bus home. So about six of us walked all the way from Albert Avenue to the Nelson Hotel for a cab. We could have caught a bus on West State and gone as far as town, but it was a gorgeous night out, so we decided to walk. The sky was full of stars…

Not a word about anyone being concerned about being mugged or robbed by purse snatchers or being attacked by violent criminals. And Joe, who always answered her letters, didn’t seem alarmed, either. It truly was a different time—in more ways than one.

Pick up this book for a fascinating journey back to the America of yesteryear, as seen through the eyes of real-life heroes who weren’t seeking special recognition. They just tried to do the best they could, meeting their responsibilities in everyday life, overseas or on the home front. By the time you finish the book, you’ll feel like they’re old friends.

The book is available through Xlibris Corporation, (888) 795-4274, or through your local bookstore.

From the September 30 – October 6, 2009 issue.

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