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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: War Letters

Airs Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: U.S. artilleryman sits on the ground writing, World War I; March 7, 1918

In every American war from the Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf War, American military men and women have captured the horror, pathos and intensity of warfare by writing letters home. Tens of thousands of these letters have been handed down from generation to generation.

Our History Of War

Explore a timeline of U.S. military actions and wars, 1775 - 1994.

Featured Letters

Some excerpts from the letters in Andy Carroll's book, "War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars," are dramatized in the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE film. Read each excerpt to find out more about the letter writer, and what happened to him or her at the end of the war.

Resources In Your State

Chances are you and your family have old war letters or other family artifacts. These things are not only of personal value, but may be of historic significance to your community as well. Want to find out more? Across the nation, military history museums, historical societies and other organizations are dedicated to collecting, displaying, and preserving the past. Learn about resources near you.

Myron Fox Interview: Censorship

Myron Fox is a past vice president of the Military Postal History Society, a group that studies the mail that is sent to and from soldiers. He is an expert on United States military and civilian censorship in World War I and World War II. In this interview, conducted in 2000, he describes how wartime letters were censored.

In an effort to preserve this correspondence, writer Andrew Carroll set up the Legacy Project and has collected thousands of war letters. Using the most compelling and enlightening of these missives, "War Letters" tells the story of American wars from the viewpoint of the men and women in the front lines.

The film features breathtaking eyewitness accounts of famous battles, intimate declarations of love, poignant last letters written only days before soldiers were killed, humorous anecdotes, gripes about insufferable conditions and many profound and memorable expressions of exhilaration, fear, whimsy, exasperation, anger, and patriotism.

To highlight the universal experience of war -- the horror and loneliness, the senseless killing and terrible destruction -- "War Letters" intercuts letters written 200 years ago with those written in the last few decades. It weaves evocative recreations of Civil War battles with moving footage of World War II amphibious assaults.

The words of the letters in "War Letters" are full of poetry, compassion, humor, determination, and raw emotion. Ultimately, they transcend the subject of war and concern some of the most powerful contradictions of the human condition.

Past episodes of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE are available for online viewing. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter.

Video

Preview: American Experience: War Letters

Above: This collection of personal correspondence brings to life the deepest, most human side of war, from the American Revolution to the Gulf War. Based on Andrew Carroll’s bestseller, "War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence From American Wars," this film transcends the subject of war by exploring the love, passion, pain, horror and hope of the men and women who fought and those who waited at home.

Video

War Letters: Interview with Andy Carroll

Above: Andy Carroll is the founder and director of the Legacy Project, a national, all-volunteer organization that works to honor and remember those who have served this nation in wartime by seeking out and preserving their letters. He is also the author of "War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from America's Wars," the compilation of letters that inspired the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary. Find out more about Andy's interest in preserving letters and hear some of the behind-the-scenes stories of the Legacy Project, in a video interview.

Video

War Letters: Interview with Linda Edquist

Above: In her work as a conservation specialist at the National Postal Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Linda Edquist has worked to preserve countless letters and other objects in the museum's enormous collection. How can you use some conservation techniques on your letters at home? Watch Linda demonstrate, in this video interview.