Such began the wartime service and the first
of more than 1,600 letters a young soldier named Roman F.
Klick '55 penned over three years of service in the U.S. Army
during World War II. Klick wrote most of the letters to his
Aunt Clara, who raised him from the age of 6 months, when
his mother died.
A company clerk with a job in the personnel
office, Klick seldom found himself in danger, but he wrote
of the experiences --- both new and mundane --- that filled
his time away from home in Cicero, Ill., beginning at age
22. The young soldier wrote at least one letter each day and
sometimes as many as three between November 1942 and January
1946. Klick, now of Oak Brook, Ill., spent much of the war
stationed in Guadalcanal, the Philippines and Japan.
In his conversational style, Klick chronicles
the everyday details of his new life: a soldier's breakfast
(cornflakes, grapefruit, pancakes, coffee and pork chops),
the changing scenery he passes during his tour, and his efforts
to stick to a budget for commissary goods.
Preparing for a career as a history teacher
when he was drafted in 1942, Klick thought he would someday
draw on his letters to write a book and so decided to send
carbon copies of each to his aunt for safekeeping. But by
the time the conflict ended, he had attained the rank of personnel
sergeant major and decided on a business career.
In one of his last letters, he expresses his
desire to enroll at Northwestern University, where he began
his managerial studies the week after returning home in 1946.
While Klick worked variously as a controller
for an automotive rubber manufacturer, and in administrative
positions with a printing company and an architectural firm,
the letters home remained safe, first in his Aunt Clara's
possession, and then with another aunt after Clara Klick died.
When flooding destroyed Klick's own collection of the letters
he had received during his wartime service, he was relieved
that his aunt had demonstrated the foresight to store them
in the attic instead of the basement, where he had stored
In 2002 Klick finally heeded a call from his
youngest son to create computer files of the letters, most
written on Victory Mail --- full-size sheets of paper that
were first censored and then microfilmed before being shrunk
in size and shipped back to the States. When finished, Klick
will submit digital versions of his entire collection to the
Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, an effort to
preserve stories of ordinary people who fought the wars of
the 20th century. If all proceeds smoothly, he says he hopes
to complete the project early this year.
Confined by carpal tunnel syndrome to a hunt-and-peck
style of typing, Klick for months spent hours daily on the
painstaking transcription, using a magnifying glass to pinpoint
questionable words. Some 31 volunteers have aided him in the
effort, including four from the Kellogg Alumni Club of Chicago.
Lois Haubold EMP-47, who travels often for
work, transcribed letters on international flights and during
time normally reserved for leisure. It took her about 45 minutes
to an hour to type one letter.
"The whole art of letter writing is going
away with email and cell phones," says Haubold, who typed
some 50 letters while she simultaneously started a business,
completed consulting jobs and served on two boards. "It's
been interesting looking back at a moment in time when people
still communicated this way."
Haubold first viewed the effort as a way to
help a fellow alum and a novel way to participate in the Kellogg
Alumni Club of Chicago. The project soon took on a life of
its own, as Haubold eagerly waited for the next batch of letters
to reveal the latest chapter in Klick's wartime world.
Though the two have never met, Haubold says
the project has given her an intimate look at a chapter in
another person's life. Some of her favorite letters are whimsical:
Klick's references to a Northwestern football game or a chronicle
of his late-night audience of a Cubs World Series broadcast
(another era indeed). Others are more introspective. In one
dispatch Klick reflects on the war's end and saying goodbye
to his military buddies; in another he broods about Roosevelt's
death and the importance of elections.
Besides sharing what happened from one reveille
to the next, Klick's letters reveal a growing uncertainty
about the future.
In one passage he writes: "The more I hear
the fellows talking about their plans for living after the
war ends, the more I wonder what will be the best course for
me to follow. Will a year's college and the subsequent Bachelor
of Arts degree in mathematics provide a stronger security
against future unemployment or should I go back into Rathborne
[the firm Klick worked for before enlisting and returned to
after the war] and pick up the old threads where they last
Life has a way of working itself out. For
Klick the answer was a business degree and subsequent career
spent in managerial positions. In 1957 he married Lillian
Olenski and the couple together raised three sons.
Though accounts of brutal World War II combat
are plentiful, the ultimate appeal of Klick's letters may
lie in their day-to-day ordinariness. Klick says he hopes
his wartime log --- much of it already available on a Web
site his son maintains --- remains accessible long after he
is gone and proves helpful to historians trying to piece together
the service of WWII vets.
"My letters show people what happened to one
unit day after day," he says.