This year marks the 69th anniversary of Richard and Nellie Paul Farr of Madison. It has also been 70 years since Richard returned home from WWII. The time that he served as a young man with the 99th Infantry Division of the United States Army is hard to forget, but years later he also recalls the love letters from a girl back home who gave him hope.
In 1944 Richard was drafted at the age of 18. He was living in Jackson, Mississippi at the time and spent his basic training at Camp Shelby and then Camp Wheeler in Georgia. After being moved to several states up north, he was eventually sent oversees.
In January of 1945 Richard sailed to Europe on a ship called the Aquitania. With 7,000 troops on board and limited space, men often had to sleep on the floor or stacked on top of each other in hammocks. Richard remembers his name being called over the loudspeaker, and he was requested to serve as a typist while on board the ship—a job which allowed him more perks during the journey.
They arrived in Scotland and began traversing around Europe. Sometimes their train would have to hide under a bridge for several days with the lights out so they wouldn’t be spotted. In France, Richard recalls the starving children who begged the soldiers for food. Before his men were sent to Belgium, their duffle bags were emptied and all they were allowed to carry was a few supplies and dry socks.
They were known as the “Battle Babies”—young men sent over as replacements toward the end of the war. They spent most of their time patrolling the Ardennes Forest. Richard remembers the frigid temperature and fear of frostbite. The barns that looked dry and cozy for sleeping were full of booby-traps, so they dug out foxholes in the icy ground and laid side-by-side for warmth. Richard still keeps in touch with his foxhole buddy Charlie.
Richard says they would see bomber plans flying overhead and then hear their return later in the night. They watched as German prisoners were escorted home from Russia on their last legs. Then there were the times when German tanks would roll right over their foxholes, the babies of the 99th division below their massive wheels. He also remembers the destruction—the European towns that had been reduced to rubble.
But when the mail would come, Richard was reminded of the Mississippi redhead who was waiting for his return. Every time he opened one of her letters, he found a ray of hope and a piece of home.
Richard and Nellie Paul met in high school. He was a couple years older and soon graduated, but before he was shipped out, Nellie Paul would visit Richard at basic training and mail him letters. When he was sent oversees, the letters continued. They came so frequently that he would often get a whole stack by the time the mail caught up with his troop.
“She was good about writing letters,” Richard says.
“And he was good about keeping them,” adds Nellie Paul.
He packed her letters in his duffle, carrying them all over Europe even though every ounce meant more weight he had to haul. The ones he couldn’t keep he buried in a barn, but the rest he brought back with him.
Nellie Paul recalls how the postman would smile when he brought her a letter from Richard, excited to see her receive word that her beau was doing well. But Richard couldn’t tell her everything about what was happening in Europe. Sometimes the paper would have holes cut out, signs that the mail had been censored for sensitive information.
He called her “flapper” or his redhead and would often joke about her needing to correct his grammar. “I’m sorry I can’t write a sweet letter like you can,” he had scrawled on a thin piece of V-mail.
But Nellie Paul didn’t seem to care. “You do some of the craziest things, darling,” she sent in one letter. “But I guess that’s one reason why I love you.”
Richard was near Munich when the war ended, but it took him over a year later until he was back home. Nellie Paul had just graduated from high school when Richard returned. He wrote to her: “This time last June, I just knew I would be home surely to see you graduate—but, no dice. I hope you had a picture made in your dress.”
They were married in October of 1947. Since Richard didn’t smoke, he had sold his government-issued cigarettes and saved enough money to buy Nellie Paul a ring.
The Farrs now have three children, four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren and are called “Papa” and “Honey” by their loved ones. This July Richard will be celebrating his 90th birthday. Even after all these years he’s still able to remember details about his WWII days when he was a young man in Europe. And Nellie Paul is quick to help him fill in some of the gaps.
They now have a whole box of letters from the both of them during those years when they were apart—reminders of the start to their relationship that has lasted for decades.
“I suppose you’re the ‘man in my life’ now,” Nellie Paul had written. “I think I’ll always feel this way and it’ll be not only for now, but ‘now and forever.’”
“I guess I meant it,” she adds years later with a smile.