Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
William Manchester Papers
Scope and Contents of the Collection
The collection consists primarily of letters from William Manchester to his mother written during his service with the 29th Marines in World War II. The bulk of the letters cover the time period from July 1943 to July 1945, and document his training and subsequent service in the South Pacific. Manchester's correspondence with his mother is both detailed and frequent. His letters include descriptions of his daily activities and schedule; his health; the rigorous training he endures; his friends, comrades, and superiors; the stringent rules and protocol of the Marine Corps; and perhaps most importantly his impressions of the war and his role in fighting it.
The letters are of particular significance, however, because they record Manchester's activities and views during the hours and days he experienced them; as such they offer an interesting point of contrast to the memoir he wrote many years after the war that recounts the same period. In his book, Goodbye, Darkness, Manchester describes his war-time experiences as he recalls them forty years later, once he has had time to reflect on their meaning and importance both personally and historically. The letters, then, offer a rare opportunity to compare one soldier's story told as it is unfolding (in his more or less private writings) with the same story re-told after years of reflection in a polished (and published, so intentionally public) narrative.
There are inevitable differences in the two accounts. An example of one such discrepancy occurs in Manchester's account of his final week of OCS training. In a letter home, Manchester tells his mother that he has been warned he will not receive his commission because his physical stature does not reflect the ideal physique of a typical Marine. He is given the same explanation--this time officially--in the commands office on the very day he is to receive his commission. Instead of receiving his bars, he is told he will be sent to the camp at New River. Clearly distraught in his letter, Manchester reassures his mother that he will recover from the disappointment.
The account published in Goodbye, Darkness is rather different. This version of Manchester's last week focuses on a rifle inspection called without notice on a day when a weekend pass was to be awarded. While Manchester's weapon passes muster with the inspecting Lieutenant, some of his comrades' weapons do not. As a result, they are all confined to barracks for the weekend and ordered to spend the time cleaning their rifles. Manchester balks at the order and refuses to comply. The corporal who issued it is incensed by Manchester's insubordination and brings him before a court martial tribunal. Manchester makes a request to join his father's old unit, the 5th Marines, but is refused and sent to camp at New River as a corporal. While this re-telling does not dramatically alter the narrative, it does cast a new light on the events of Manchester's last week of training, and more significantly on the way he choose to describe those events years later.
The collection also contains printed materials such as an issue of The Leatherneck and issues of the Massachusetts State College Quarterly, newspaper clippings, Manchester's copies of restricted training manuals issued to soldiers and officers during World War II, a menu for the Victory Dinner on March 31, 1945, and photocopies of annotated typescripts of American Caesar: The Life of Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964 and Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War.