By Sammy Cook
The month of February has come to represent love, inspiring us to share a story of love, life, and war from the archival collection of Victor and Eva Friedrichs Papers (Collection Number AR.A.023) at the Austin History Center. Major Victor Friedrich served during both World War I and World War II. Throughout his service Victor wrote home to Eva, correspondence that is today part of this collection. The first letter Victor wrote to his then girlfriend Eva after joining the Armed Forces can be found here. In it Victor writes that he hopes Eva does not mind his “presumptuousness” in writing her. Obviously, Eva did not mind because Victor began writing her every chance he got.
In Victor’s letters to Eva during World War I you see a change in how he addresses her. First starting with “Dear Eva,” and ending with “Dearest of Girls.” While the pair were not married you could see the love between them. You also see a change in Victor’s locations: starting with Leon Springs Officer’s Training Camp to Fort Leavenworth Kansas, a short stay in San Antonio, Ohio, and finally France and Germany. Once he gets overseas Victor always indicates where he is in order to let Eva keep track of him, always writing “Well from the above you can see just where I am at.” You can see this represented in a January 11th, 1918 letter to Eva when Victor was in Beilstein, Germany.
Victor’s letters always show that he was worrying about Eva during World War I, but Victor also wrote her about every detail he could of his daily life. In one letter on May 21st, 1916, Victor wrote, “This morning we surely did get it good and strong. We went on a two hours hike from 10 to 12 right in the heat of the day with our guns.” In a letter on June 15th, 1917 Victor writes to Eva about a man he is worried she may like, but in her reply she must have consoled him because he is back to his happy self. After Victor returned home from the war he and Eva immediately married. In a letter he wrote when donating the collection to the Austin History Center, he wrote, “..and then back home to the USA and marriage to my correspondent, and beloved wife, Eva Leonora Ballard.” Below you see what remains of an envelope to Eva from Victor.
The correspondence between the two in the collection stops then, picking back up in 1943 when Victor enlisted again. These letters are very different from the first group of letters. First, they are now addressed to both his wife and his daughter, Bettie Jo. He often addressed his letters “Dearest Wife and Daughter.” Beyond whom the letters were addressed to, Victors tone is extremely different. He was no longer the happy soldier, but instead a bitter man who did not want to be a part of the war. In his donation letter he wrote, “In looking back on these two national tragedies, to me the first was a wonderful and broadening experience; whereas the second was a tragic encounter with the most concentrated group of disappointing experience that I had ever experienced. I hope I will never go thru an ordeal like this again.”
Although, even though the tone changed in Victor’s letters the love he shared with his wife and daughters was always evident. In one letter on July 30th, 1943 he wrote, “I will now close, with all my love to just the two of you. Your loving husband and Dad.” Or the change from “My Dearest Eva” to “My Dearest Wife.”
Also in the collection are a few of Eva’s responses to Victor. Eva addresses Victor in her letters as “My dearest one.” Her letters are used as a chance to catch Victor up on the day to day of her life and job.
These letters truly tell the story of a couple who fought life, love, and war to be together through all odds. They tell the story of Victor during his time as a soldier and how different an experience it was from the first and second World Wars. They tell the story of love and family between two and three people and how that can overcome any distance and war. These letters represent life, love, and everything in-between as war divided them.