Dr. Carter's Letters

No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love

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The following excerpts from Dr. Norval Carter's wartime letters suggest the range of his topics and flavor of his expression.

December 1, 1942


…I feel content & at peace with myself & with God. It seems to me that we are doing what is right; that we are sincerely fighting for something worth while--the right for individual peace & happiness. I’ll be back to see you & the boys someday and we can all be happy again. Then we can do the things we dream about today. And I can whisper into your ear. The boys are growing very fast & I miss seeing them do it, but their being with you can only make them fine young men, which will be a delight to both of us later on. …

December 16, 1942

Dear Fernie:

…We are comfortably situated, thanks to the British, & everyone is quite friendly ... This coming Friday we go to a reception given by the Lord Mayor of this City. I don’t know which he would rather me to do, kneel, or present him with one of my few chocolate bars. As we traveled across the Isles the people waved and cheered at our train. Their attitude was quite pitiful & it put lumps in our throats. I saw many children & I got to give one girl a chocolate bar & one boy 5 cents. These kids have it very tough but seem to be quite happy. …

February 26, 1943


…I have been feeling very homesick for several days. The depression was profound & bordered on the pathological. Many times I have wanted to write--but just couldn’t do it. Too much idleness. The pictures came, & seeing those kids around the tree just about did me in. I would give anything to see you all & tell you how much I love you. At times we get quite irritable & “jumpy” over here because of loneliness. …

…This is a country of broken hearts. Honestly, I could never realize how much of a Hell war can be. It is very cruel. This war has destroyed much more than property and human lives. It is depressing & degrading; it has destroyed ideas & ideals; it has changed spirits & wounded souls. I wonder when the world will recover from it.

March 13, 1943


…I received several letters of yours and was delighted to see them and hear about Tom & Ford. It’s nice to know that I may have some remote influence on the little apes through the mail. It would be great to sit down this evening and talk with them and watch their eager faces! And then to see them off to bed and then sneak by every now & then & watch them “reading in bed.” Then return downstairs, or into the den, & have a scotch & soda with you. Just one evening to tell you how much you mean to me & how I love you above everything else. Fernie, it must be very lonesome for you to sit by yourself before going to bed. It makes me ache to think of it. ...

March 22, 1943

Dear Fernie:

…How are the boys? Tell them that I am trying to be a good soldier & hope how soon it will be when I can get back and see them and their mother. Sweetheart, take care of yourself & remember constantly that I love you more than anything in the world. I want to sit and talk and read with you. I want to hold you in my arms and love you. I want to listen to records with you. I want to chase you about the house & toss cold water on you. I want to drive you about with the top down and make you fuss. I want to mumble in your ear. I want to see you dear and forget about air raids and rations and living in quarters and dammit! I want to come home...

April 5, 1943

Dear Tom & Walter Ford:

…I am now treating men whose mind has been damaged by this war. It is another bad thing that war does. You know that some soldiers get killed in battle and some get crippled by bullets, but there are also a great number whose minds become deranged by the frightfulness of combat. They see so many unpleasant sights and experience so much danger to themselves that they are unable to use their minds as you and I do. Some of them are pretty sad and depressed and nothing is bright and cheerful for them. They are unable to look at the pretty flowers and enjoy them like you do. I remember how you boys used to run about the flowers and squat and look at them and then bend over and stick your nose in them. It’s very nice to be able to do that, and I hope you always will be able to do it. …

May 26, 1943


…Here I am in a new outfit for temporary duty ... This is a large fighting Division I am with, containing many thousand men. They are fine looking fellows, lean, hard, alert & quick in movement and very, very serious. There are occasional pranks & jokes in the Army but I often think how serious everyone seems to be -- all military. But then one can’t expect men to remain fun-seeking & light-hearted and still be able to coldly shoot and knife other men to death. Some of these young officers have wicked-looking knives which they fondle a lot and practice throwing into dummies. They are surprisingly accurate with knives and when one of them hits, it has a lot of shock and stopping power...

June 18, 1943


…Tom & W.F. won’t forget me I feel sure--’cause I think of them all the time. I hear their little feet on the floors and their shouts and cries and well, we will see each other again. It will be so. Their patter will become more sturdy then and I will have missed some of their babyhood, but they are still my sons & there is still a lot of time ahead. …

June 19, 1943


…You wondered why neuro-psychiatric teams would be needed up front. It is the most advantageous place for them. Acute psycho-neuroses (70%-80%) can be cured within 48 hours at the front. But if they are allowed to get back to the rear echelons most don’t recover for months and sometimes retain their troubles for keeps. Yes, it has been found a very profitable way to conserve and re-habilitate manpower. However, I don’t know whether I’ll be so assigned or not. One never knows what will happen. I can’t kick and I will do my best wherever I go. And the future doesn’t worry me at all. I know everything will be all right. I have never lost my self-confidence either in regards to the present situation or to the post-war period. You & I will enjoy life again, in a more livable world, & Tom & Walter Ford will have many advantages, & we shall be proud of them. …

August 14, 1943


…You know, Fernie, in the past, I always felt that someday you and I would visit England, but I don’t feel that way any more. It’s pretty & interesting, I suppose, but I’ll never want to set foot here again. All that I want to do is never let you out of my sight again and stay home. Goddam, but home means a lot to me now. It means you, the boys, carpets, curtains, chairs, electric lamps, and peace of mind. I want to listen to our records & radio, drink my whiskey, smoke my pipe, read my books, and love my wife. Yes, home means a lot of things to me now. It is a composite of ourselves, Sugar, & I never want it disturbed again...

November11, 1943


…This is a fascinating place. I was sent there to study the emotional stresses of beach assaults. It’s a thrilling thing to come in on an assault craft, beach, and pour out in a hurry. The water is cold as hell but it is invigorating. When I finished up over there I could taste powder, smoke, & grit sand in my teeth. I still have the latter in my clothes pockets. ...

February 28, 1944


…I just got back to my unit and I want to get this out to you for your birthday. It’s too bad we can’t be together then. My present would be to tell you how sweet you are, how lovable and how precious you are. I would like to look into your brown eyes and then kiss you. I want to smell your hair and hold you tightly. I want to whisper into your ear and tell you that your birthday was a gift to me and our sons. You mean more to us three males than anything in the world, Fernie. I am so proud of you and happy that you are like you are. The boys will always be proud of such a wonderful mother and they will never cease to love and respect you.

You are more than a mother and a wife. You are a good companion; a lot of fun; a spiritual satisfaction; a joy and a sedative; an intellectual stimulus. My gift to you is to tell you that you are needed and appreciated by us more than anything or anybody in the world. If you experience a bit of satisfaction from this knowledge that I try to put on paper, then I shall be happy. Because there is no gift in the world that means as much as how I feel about you, Fernie. My love for you is the most I have to contribute. …

The third gift is to tell you “I love you, I love you, I love you.” I can close my eyes and visualize telling you. I would press your full, firm cheeks between my hands and kiss your yielding lips. I would then bury my face into your hair and feel the pressure of your shoulder upon my chin. I would hold you tight.

Tell the boys how much I love their mother and themselves.

April 2, 1944

Dear Fernie:

…Censorship is much more strict here & I can’t say much. I went to the outfit I told you about. Remember the number? The 115th Regiment is part of it. I have a temporary position as a Battalion Surgeon with one other M.C. under me and with a detachment of aid men and stretcher-bearers numbering about 40 men. They are well trained and disciplined. We have been on several “problems” and have lived a rough existence on the moors and on the water. This division is one of the best trained & most capable in the Army and I am proud to be with it. I certainly am much happier here than in the Station Hospital and there is more “medicine” & psychiatry to do here. One feels very close to these men and I want to do my best for them. They are worthy of the best that anyone can give them. They are respectful, disciplined, trained, “on the ball,” and their morale is high. Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Omar Bradley have visited us and have been more than gratified. Their praise for this Infantry Division has been high.

My Battalion is posted on an estate & all of us (staff officers) live in the manor house. The junior officers & men live in Nissen huts. But much of the time we are on the moors, making river crossings, or doing amphibious work. It is a rugged life & everyone is in excellent physical shape. My health is good too & yet I must be toughened more than I am. We all carry heavy packs and sleep on the ground. Some of the problems have been without bed clothing--just fall to the ground & sleep. That was done for a week on one maneuver--no toilet articles and the ground always wet & partly frozen. I have a wool-lined combat suit that is a big help but it is impossible to keep warm at night. No fires or lights allowed. No blankets. Just get under a bush, if there is one, & there usually isn’t, and sleep fully clothed. I can’t give you the location of the camp, but we are near the god-awful moors. Peat bogs are located on the top, sides, and bottom of the mountains. Wild ponies run at the sight of a man. Back in camp is heaven. Here we get fried eggs for breakfast! We eat like horses.

The C.O. of my Bn is a young Lt. Col. of infantry, about 36 years of age, a graduate of West Point. He is good to me, helps me out, or seeks my advice. I am more or less my own boss & have run the med. detachment. I have given lectures on hygiene and this week must visit the other Battalions of the Regiment, & Regimental HQ & give lectures on combat fatigue (neuroses) to the officers, med. officers, and non-coms. I have had to learn to shoot a rifle (choice of Garrand or Carbine) and I qualified as expert the first time. However, I won’t have to shoot it again as M.D.s don’t carry arms.

… So Mother & Dad sold their home! I am glad they did but I shall miss it. It seems that most of my boyhood was spent there. It was a base from which to maneuver & make flank attacks on a bastion some 30 yards away, which was inhabited by a green-eyed, freckled-nose girl. Yes, it has meant a lot to me and to my parents also. Where will they go to? It was too big for them, but Dad will miss the porch and yard. It was a relaxation for him when he came home from work. I hope too many things aren’t changed when I get home. One cherishes a mental picture that resists change. A person hates to have his memories violated, because memories are one of our most prized possessions. …

April 3, 1944

Dear Mom & Dad:

… Fernie tells me you sold the home. I am glad in many respects, but I’ll miss it. I always loved the place. It seems like my whole boyhood centers there. Moving there, I met the most wonderful girl in the world--just across the street. It was always a haven to come to when school was over. There Chuck & I had many good times together. There I had & lost my first dog. It was the first place I brought my bride to. Everything centers there. Yes, I miss it all. The flowers, fruit, workshop, mint juleps, wine, sunbaths, learning photography, conversations, sickness, sunlight coming through the vines, the sweet nocturnal odor of petunias, all create in me a nostalgia that is overpowering. I could cry over it all. But that is life. Things must change. Must close & hit the sack.

May 4, 1944

Dear Tom & W.F.:

It has been a long time since we have written to one another but your mother has told me some mighty nice things about you both. It seems that you are doing all those things that boys do: grow, lose teeth, get sick, go to school, learn new tricks, and pay homage to some girl. My, but it would be fun to be home and watch you do these things! I would like to joke with you & talk things over, sort of man to man, you know. Fernie seems to be very proud of you both, and it is no wonder that she is. You must send me the pictures that are being taken so I can sort of imagine myself talking with you now & then.

In several more months perhaps, this war will be over and then we can really enjoy doing things together. Then we can go for hikes, or go on the river and really have some fine talks. Sitting and talking is the best pastime there is …

I want you always to be happy. Always try to do things the good way & it will give you peace of mind & happiness. You won’t always be able to do things the “good way”. You will do things wrong at times, all persons do. But if you are sorry for doing things wrong, the chances are you will do much better on future occasions. When you make a mistake (and you will make plenty of them!) don’t become too tearful or blue. Learn to correct your errors. Nearly all learning is based on the mistakes of people. Take your mistakes and the things you wish you hadn’t done seriously. And yet, be able to keep your sense of humor about you. Thus you will avoid some grief. Always be able to laugh at yourselves and with other people.

Take good care of your mother and also take good care of the advice & help she has to offer you. … Tom, I was giving a lecture to a group of officers and non-coms night before last, on the treatment of mental & emotional troubles due to an upheaval of the spirit. One usually thinks this kind of treatment is carried out mostly by medical specialists (called psychiatrists). But such is not the case. I pointed out to them that the giving of sympathetic advice & help is a treatment that is dispensed more by mothers than by any other group. So remember in the future that your mother can help you with a lot of troubles. You are fortunate also in having a mother who is very wise, very sweet, and who will lean over backwards to help you out. …

May 15, 1944

Dear John:

…I have been transferred to a battalion which is part of a Combat Team and I am its surgeon. It is interesting work but rough as hell and I’ll admit I fear for the future. However, I am happier here than anywhere else in the Army. A swell bunch of officers & men who are exceptionally well trained. I don’t suppose I have ever had a chance to be brave before in life & to act with courage but it looks as though the opportunity will present itself. I don’t fear death per se, but it really depresses me to think I may never see Fernie, Tom, & W.F. again.

…You know what a battalion surgeon is in a regiment that is designed as a Combat Team. I’ll never tell Fernie, but I requested the transfer. It is impossible to say why, my feelings & emotions are all mixed up about it, but I was unhappy in the Station Hospital & I am happy here--or as much so as one could be away from home. Wish to hell you could get up here so we could talk, John. It would be a tonic for us both, don’t you think? ...

May 16, 1944

Dear Fernie:

This will probably be the last letter for several days. This, & my past letters, will probably be held up for a time so you won’t hear from me for a long time.

Remember Fernie that I love you and Tom and Walter Ford more than anything in the world. I always have & always shall be true to you all, and I hope to be able to conduct myself like a gentleman should during the next few weeks or months.

You are in my thoughts constantly and no longer does it make me homesick. Now those thoughts give me comfort and make me feel equal to any task that may present itself.

Tell the boys that I want them to continue being well behaved and when I get back we shall have a lot of good times together.

Good luck & God bless you all.

May 22, 1944

Dear Fernie & Apes:

…It was fun to remember … you in the front porch swing many years ago. Remember the vines, the shade, the scent, and the squeak of the chain as it moved? You would never let me swing as vigorously as I liked. I also recall the two depressions on your front lawn that were caused by the removal of the “Elephant Ears” plants--the pits remained a long time and it was difficult to cut the grass there.

Then a whole chain of mental pictures appear. The dark red wool dress you wore one winter with some kind of a pin at the neck. “When Day is Done” & many others. One Sunday winter afternoon when we had the house to ourselves--your mother & Bess were away, & we played the piano & clarinet, then the phonograph, & kissing each other every few minutes. My, how I loved you! You were on my mind all the time then & I was so impatient for the day to arrive when we could marry. You were something to have. Now I think of you, loving you, and long for the day when we can be together again. That day, we can spend by playing over those old records, Fernie, & telling to Tom & W.F. how much they mean to us. …

June 2, 1944

…Last nite I added some Juniper oil and glycerin to alcohol + H2O and made a quart of fair(?) gin. This was mixed with “lemon” crystals + sugar + H2O and the officers on board had a fair Tom Collins each. They all agreed it was nice to have an MD about. Each of us had only a short drink. We all wanted to feel tops for D Day. …

…I had a lot of fun with the officers at mess tonite, especially our S-3 who is in charge of procuring food while on this “trip.” I told them that instead of the K and C rations that we’re eating we should be having a lot of steak, canned ham and chicken, and other delicacies. I really laid it on. All the other craft had those things, I lied, and they all swallowed the bait and fell to vigorous discussion. … Well it was fun anyway. I didn’t think they would bite, because I fooled them twice before. A few days ago I made them believe that we were going to be fed water-melon on our last day in marshaling area and that we wouldn’t leave until then. Of course Fernie, this fruit is non-existent in England. But some of them were surprised when we left without it.

June 4, 1944

We shall hit our objective in the morning. Today is Sunday and we are practicing loading our rubber life craft. Letters from various generals have been read to us showing their faith in us and telling us our mission is to go in very fast and hold what we get at all costs. Religious services were held for the last time today. There was probably 100% attendance. Most of us have a strong spiritual feeling about this affair. We realize we are up against a well trained, well equipped and a well disciplined enemy who will resist and counter-attack with great zeal. But we realize we are fighting for a way of living that is fundamentally right in the eyes of God and man, and the ideals of the enemy are wrong. Therefore we are not fighting for our own hides but for you folks back home and for people everywhere. I look about the deck at the men. It is a terrible thing to know that in 24 hours some are not going to even be able to enjoy what we intend to win. All of us think of home, our wives, children, and parents, and hope that we can see them again but it is a finality that we shall not. Let us hope that those who are killed have not died in vain. That when this conflict is over men and women will insist on a fair distribution of sociological rights to every country, enemy, ally, and neutral.

Fernie, my sweetheart, I feel that I shall see you again. You and the boys. But if I don’t, I want you all to remember that my love for you cannot be said or put on paper. It can only be felt. You have meant everything to me that is good and happy. Since tomorrow is D Day (and we weigh anchor tonite), I won’t be able to write for a few days. May God help us in our mission. I hope to return to you all. God bless you Fernie, you Tom, and you Walter Ford.

June 13, 1944

Dear Fernie:

This is the first day we have been permitted to write and it certainly is a privilege. It lessens the lonesomeness to be able to tell you I miss you and I love you. I have been in France since June 6 and have been in some tough actions. I ache for home and you and the boys -- the present circumstances make the ache even more acute. Life is very precious and dear and home is what life means to me.

The morale of the men in my battalion is high even though the losses of officers & men have been heavy. We are very tired physically and mentally. Sleep is a rare elixir. Hot meals are non-existent. A bed is a memory. I haven’t had my shoes off my feet but once in 10 days. We have been under heavy fire but are giving more than we receive -- in other words we are winning. … My health is good (except my nerves) except for a mild conjunctivitis. A gnat got in my eye! Imagine! …

Tell Tom & W.F. I still think of them. Also tell them they are very fortunate to be living in America. … The people of France have welcomed in a way that is heart-breaking -- the Germans in a way that is heart-stopping. … Some of my best friends are no more. …

June 16, 1944

Dear Mom & Dad:

This is the second letter I have been able to write since being on the continent (France) & it is a pleasure to be able to write.

We have had a few terrible experiences in this battalion and quite a few of us are shaken up. I have never been so nervous and frightened in my life, yet we are able to push on. … Some of my aid men have been killed or wounded & my section sergeant & I were blown off a road by a near-hit from a mortar. Since then I have had bullets all around me but my luck is good. …

June 16, 1944


…Excuse this writing ‘cause I am in a foxhole with the letter on a water-can. [The Germans] are really well-equipped. Their dead outnumber ours. But it is a very sad and distressing thing to see (& smell) so many mangled men. It seems to be so useless for nations to do such things to each other.