Special Collections and University Archives
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Wayne G. Sharpe Papers
Scope and contents of the collection
The papers of Wayne G. Sharpe include about one-hundred and sixty letters to his wife Ruth J. Sharpe (February 1943-August 1944), about thirty letters from Ruth (April 1943-August 1944), and a few from Ruth to her mother and to Wayne G. Sharpe, Jr., written while she visited Wayne at McChord Field in Tacoma, Washington (end of July until the middle of September 1943).
While the collection vividly describes enlisted life, it is more importantly a window into the wartime experiences and perspectives of married servicemen and their families, which differs from those of the "kids 18 and 19 yrs. old" that Wayne bumps into throughout his service. The hope of reunion, which Wayne calls the "day of days" is the largest theme of all, and even seems to border on the unpatriotic at times, as when Ruth and her father try to get Wayne out of service on account of his glasses. On another occasion, Ruth responds to Wayne's description of difficulties within the Battalion with relief, writing "I am glad the showing on the job is poor as they can't do much with a poor engineering outfit can they now?" Wayne and Ruth see the war as a bifurcation from the natural rhythms of family life, as when Wayne regrets that he will not be there to see his son's first tooth come through, or when Ruth laments of the incompleteness she feels both at home, when she misses her husband, or visiting him in Washington, when she misses her son. Nevertheless, Wayne maintains that the war is a just one and that he is in fact fighting to preserve his life and family on 45 Slade Street, Belmont, Massachusetts: "I hope and pray for the day when I am able to go back living the way we want to but then we can't let Hitler have his way cause we would have nothing if we did."
Even larger than the nuclear family, looms the wartime transformation in American society as a whole. While traveling by train to Washington from Boston and back again, Ruth's writes of trains that seem to be full of soldiers on furlough and wives following or visiting their husbands. Wayne writes to his wife about his sister, warning that "Muriel should not be going out with so many servicemen. I see and hear a lot of things I would not want my sister to be one of those girls," and "One of the biggest problems the Army has is to keeps the fellows from getting disease from women." The creation of training bases in the States changes the nearby cities and towns, such that Wayne complains "Tacoma is not so hot. If every other city is crowded with soldiers as that city is well it is awful," and when Wayne asks an officer for advice about Ruth moving out to live in Tacoma, he is warned that city rents have skyrocketed since the base opened.
Wayne's letters and V-mails during his deployment in New Guinea are perhaps the most interesting contributions to the collection, even though they reveal far less. Restricted partly by the small size of the V-mails and by the threat of censoring, he reports only on neutral topics, such as daily routines, diet, and life on the base of the 1874th Engineer Battalion. The collection does not document the first assignment of the 1874th, deployed to convert and expand the Japanese airdromes on the newly captured island of Noemfoor off New Guinea's Northwest coast in the summer of 1944, because Wayne was sent home before the mission.