This is the final part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
I came across the World War II letters of Irvin R. Schwartz entirely by accident. On a late night in May 2020, I perused 1944 editions of the West Schuylkill-Press Herald in search of material for a possible blog post about Schuylkill County soldiers in the D-Day invasion. As I read through May and June 1944 editions of the Press-Herald, I realized that the war-time editor of the newspaper based in Tremont and Pine Grove included letters from men and women in the service in every edition of the paper.
Mae Bashore’s Press-Herald, I came to find out, is a treasure trove of first-hand information about servicemembers from western Schuylkill County in the Second World War. And through these collections of letters, I stumbled upon a true gem – a letter written by a young soldier on Memorial Day 1944 as he prepared himself for the invasion of Europe just a week away.
This letter, penned on May 30, 1944, was my introduction to Irvin Schwartz. This particular letter jumped off the page at me. In it, he mused on the meaning of Memorial Day (Decoration Day) as he and his comrades prepared for the largest military operation in American history. Schwartz looked backward in history to place his own experience into context, musing on the efforts of the generation that fought the First World War decades earlier. This young soldier from Pine Grove was a fantastic writer, giving his readers in the Press-Herald insights into the thoughts of the soldiers and sailors who were about to launch upon “The Great Crusade” against Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
“Who is Irvin Schwartz?” I thought at the time, just after reading the May 1944 letter. “Did he write anything else to his hometown newspaper?” And so I threw his name into the search bar and scoured the transcribed pages of the Press-Herald during the era of the Second World War. I was astounded at what I found. Though only a teenager when he joined the service and landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, Irvin Schwartz had written dozens of detailed letters to readers on the Pennsylvania home front. He was western Schuylkill County’s war correspondent on the Western Front. Schwartz left behind a remarkable record of his service from his joining the service in May 1943 until he was mustered out of the service in October 1945 as a veritable war hero, earned tenth months earlier during the Battle of the Bulge.
That late night newspaper binge and my own discovery of Irvin Schwartz was the genesis of this project – the “Letters from War” series – that brought Irvin Schwartz’s letters off the micro-filmed pages of the Press-Herald to online audiences more than 75 years after he landed on Normandy.
Through the project, I’ve had the opportunity to converse via phone and email with Irvin Schwartz’s children, hearing their stories of a beloved father who largely kept his war-time experiences to himself and to his small coterie of war buddies he stayed in touch with in the decades following the war. They knew of their father’s service, the Distinguished Service Cross he earned, and that these letters from war were written. They shared documents and photographs from their family’s cherished archive. But like so many of the World War II generation, the emotions, the horrors, the loss, the grief, and all the other hellish details of combat in that most epic of human conflicts were little spoken of until decades later, if at all.
But we have these letters – a contemporaneous documentation of Schwartz’s war-time service. Though it is scant on the emotion, and due to war-time censorship, many important details, we can fill in the blanks and find incredible insight into the experience of fighting and living through the deadliest conflict in human history.
In reading these letters, researching his stories, and speaking with his children, I have come to deeply admire this man I can never have the opportunity to meet – Irvin Schwartz passed away a few months before I was born. Through his war-time writings, I have come to realize that we shared many interests – a love of sports, a passion for writing and journalism, a deeply ingrained sense of the importance of history, and a shared geography of home – the western boundary of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields.
As I write this in November 2021, tears stain my face as I look back over these letters and take in the entirety of what Irvin Schwartz left us from the horrendous war that shaped his life and that of his entire generation.
I can only say thank you to Mr. Schwartz for his service, for his courage, and for his foresight in writing these remarkable letters. And I also extend my heartfelt appreciation to his children for sharing their memories, stories, photographs, and mementoes of their father. Their enthusiasm for this project and in sharing their father’s letters kept me going on a project that has now extended more than 18 months.
I hope that sharing these letters will keep the memory of Irvin Schwartz and his comrades alive for future generations, foster an interest in the lives and experiences American servicemembers, and inform us all of the realities and consequences of the Second World War upon those who fought and won it at tremendous cost and sacrifice.
Featured Image: Irvin Schwartz in his military uniforms (Schwartz Family)