Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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History in the details Letters home from veteran alum shed light on WWII era


By Kari Richardson

Nov. 14, 1942

Dear Aunty Clara,

Things have a way of working out the way we want them to, especially when a person doesn't care whether they do or not.

At 7:45 I was two blocks away from the [draft] Board Office so I took it easy. Just as I came up to the place, I saw our soldier boys marching off to the 'L' [Chicago's elevated train]. I nonchalantly inquired [of] one of the tear-stained bystanders if they were the 8:00 bunch. 'Yes,' he tells me. So I strode boldly forward towards the 50th Ave. 'L' making it just as the last stragglers were entering the ticket office...

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.

Roman F. Klick, circa 1942  
Roman F. Klick, circa 1942  

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 his.

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 broke off?"

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.

Read many of Roman Klick's letters from World War II online at

Learn more about the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project at

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University