War Letters From American History

ABC News' Martha Raddatz takes a look at some of the thousands of war letters collected by author Andrew Carroll.
3:58 | 05/24/15

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Transcript for War Letters From American History
to the emotional power of memorial day end weekend. The striking words in a soldi soldier's letter. ABC's Martha Raddatz with the remarkable messages they send home from the battlefield. This service member put this letter in his backpack and he was shot right through the bag, he survived, but the bullet hole right through the letter. Reporter: Piled high on this table, in this cramped D.C. Apartment, hundreds of these war letters, revealing the pain of war, the price of courage. Loving. Can you imagine getting this? Just a 20-something-year-old kid. It's the last thing he wrote. Reporter: Collecting these letters from the revolutionary war, through Iraq and Afghanistan, is historian and author Andrew Carroll's decades-long passion and commitment. It began with a phone call from a distant cousin. He was going through his world war ii memorabilia. He came across a letter that I wrote in April 1945. A young American soldier went to the camp. He's writing back to his wife about what he saw. He sent me the original letter. And I'll never forget holding it in my hands. I called him back, I'll return it to you. He said keep it. That was just so striking to me that he would even consider discarding something that was so historically significant. We prefer the originals. Reporter: Since that first letter, Carroll has collected over 100,000 more. Whether you're fighting in Lexington or Concord, or going door to door in Iraq, the intensity of going into combat is really universal. One of the great misconceptions about letter-writing today, is that the troops aren't creating these incredible correspondences. The way they did back in the civil war. It's not true. You have troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who have composed the most eloquent and poignant and powerful messages that I have ever read. So, you know, that's why we're encouraging families who have had troops serving in these other countries, save those e-mails. Reporter: Many of the most powerful letters are now on display at Washington's national cathedral. Alongside the work of a 93-year-old portrait artist. Who painted recovering world war ii veterans. You're in the Cleveland, Ohio, hospital, so, you got a little bit in the midwest. She's a brilliant artist, she went to these different military hospitals, interacted with the troops. There are so many people who are helping the war effort. And still do so in many different ways. Reporter: Messages, words, now with a voice, on stage in a play Carroll wrote, "If all the sky were paper." The pressure just builds up in me and I have to tell somebody. Reporter: Starring some of our country's most notable actors. I read these letters a thousand times. But when I hear a famous actor, like laura Dern or Annette Benning, bring them to life, it really resonates with aud yepts -- audiences. I have no question now. It's so meaningful afterwards to have veterans come up and say, for the first time, I really felt someone captured my experience. Reporter: He knows those powerful memories will live on. A permanent collection will soon be opened to the public at Chapman university in Orange, California, there time the wartime experiences we honor this memorial day, will be preserved forever. For "This week," Martha Raddatz, ABC news, Washington. Our thanks to Martha, that's all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World news tonight" and we leave you on this memorial day at Arlington national cemetery. Memorial day at Arlington

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