Friday, June 12, 2015

Band of Brothers: The Correspondence of Charles and Douglas Snell

Envelope of a letter from Charles Snell to his parents.
The envelopes in this collection have a variety of different stamps. 
The 71st anniversary of D-Day was on Saturday, June 6th 2015. Although I’m a little late writing this blog post I would like to highlight a part of our collection that commemorates World War II, the Charles and Douglas Snell Collection. This collection comprises letters that were written by Charles and Douglas to family and friends during the last two years of World War II.

Diagram of Charles' living quarters in the South Pacific which he calls his "home".

Charles and Douglas Snell were the sons of William A. and Kathryn Snell of 418 Plymouth Avenue, Schenectady, NY.  Both Charles and Douglas enlisted in the Army in 1943, but they were sent to different theaters. Charles was sent to California and fought in the South Pacific while Douglas was sent to England. While the bulk of this collection is correspondence, there are also a few political cartoons, newspaper articles, postcards, and pictures.
The letters are usually short on specific combat information as they were heavily censored by the government. Some of the letters have pieces cut out of them due to this censorship or words redacted. The brothers often “self-censor” their letters and an example of this can be seen in Charles’ correspondence. In the heading of his letters he will describe his location as “Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean Area.” Both brothers were vague in saying exactly where they were located as this information would definitely be censored. There is some general information about what the brothers are working on, they mention classes or lectures that they go to and in the letter displayed below Charles states that he “heard his first radar today.”

Letter from Charles Snell to his parents.
The letters also contain a lot of information about military life. They talk about training routines, food, entertainment, inspections, life on the home front and items they might need from their family. Charles goes into great detail about his time spent in the California before he was deployed. He gives descriptions of national parks, talks about his love of gardening and classical music and his work with the Chaplain. Douglas describes his time in England and discusses the people, places and things he encountered there. Douglas’ sense of humor is also on display in the correspondence. Accompanying the newspaper clipping below was a note from Douglas stating that he “wasn’t as bald as the picture made him out to be.” He also calls notice to a particularly painful pun that he uses in one of his letters by saying he was “short on shorts (ouch).”

Clipping from the Schenectady Union-Star showing Douglas Snell in the jeep
 that he drove for the chaplains in his unit.
There is also some discussion about political views and the 1944 presidential election between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey. Charles, a Roosevelt supporter writes to his parent that “I suppose you heard about the election by now Ha! The Dewey men on ship made a lot of noise but won’t bet a cent on the election.” Douglas also mentions that he supports Roosevelt and was happy when he was elected.

Many of the letters in this collection were written using “V-Mail”. These letters were written on small sheets of paper and after going through the mail censors they would be photographed onto microfilm and transported. When the microfilm arrived, the letters would be blown up and printed.
Example of a V-Mail letter sent by Douglas.
These letters give us a very personal connection to the authors as the brothers write about their family and friends in Schenectady. After returning from his tour in the Pacific, Charles married Julie Kamerer and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. Douglas enrolled in Union College and eventually moved to Norristown, Pennsylvania. Both brothers died in 1997 and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A finding aid for the Charles and Douglas Snell Collection can be found here.

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