01 September 2012
By Peggy Aulisio
FAIRHAVEN — It was like something out of the PBS show "Antiques Roadshow" but in this case, the World War II letters discovered by Deb Charpentier, the Millicent Library archivist, don't have a high monetary worth. Their value is more historical.
The letters describe a wife's struggles with her husband's absence and her attempts to keep both their spirits up while obviously missing him. They provide a window into the homefront in Fairhaven during World War II.
Ms. Charpentier found the letters in a shoe box at a flea market by Seekonk Speedway. There are 115 of them. The man who sold the letters told her he bought them in Weston.
"He said he watched me walk over and put my hand in the box," Ms. Charpentier recalled. She said he told her that when he saw the look in her eyes, "The hair on the back of his head stood up."
Most of the letters are from Nancy Beard to her husband, Lt. Paul Beard, who was stationed in a U.S. Marine division in San Francisco during the war. Mrs. Beard wrote to her husband nearly every day during his absence in 1945 and 1946. The collection also includes letters to Lt. Beard from his mother.
During this time, he came home for a visit and their daughter, Vicki, was born.
Mrs. Beard tells her husband, "The personality kid is jumping ...right in front of me, which I know is a sign of needed attention, but the neglectful mother continues to write."
She adds, "She is readily becoming a real person now and amuses me no end. It is obvious that she will have a fine sense of humor and her disposition truly is something for the books. It just kills me because you can't realize what a really wonderful child you have."
In a letter, addressed, "Dear Bean Pole," she writes, "A wonderful day because I received letters from my skinny husband."
She encourages him to take an electronics course, saying "what a marvelous chance to learn something."
Mrs. Beard's writing style is vivid. Yet throughout the letters, there is a nagging fear that her husband won't be the same man when he returns home.
"There's always an undertone that she fears he's going to be different when he comes back," Ms. Charpentier said.
Ms. Charpentier, who dug up old news articles on the people Mrs. Beard mentions, said one of their friends who served in the war lost a hand. She said the friend's injury could have contributed to Mrs. Beard's worries.
Ms. Charpentier bought the letters for $30. Recalling her delight when she discovered them, she said, "I happened to walk to a table where I saw a shoe box. I stuck my hand in the box and I saw this address, 84 William St., Fairhaven, Mass."
The man who was selling them said the letters aren't valuable because they were written from a wife to her husband. Ms. Charpentier said he told her the stamped envelopes are more valuable than the letters.
To Ms. Charpentier, however, the letters are valuable. She said they shed light on what life was like at the home front during the war, particularly in Fairhaven.
And with members of the World War II generation passing away, the letters will have even more historical value in years to come, she said.
"In the course of this, she has a child — a little girl," Ms. Charpentier said. "He was not there for the birth of their child. She was actually a year old before he met her."
In some cases during the war, when men were stationed in the U.S., their wives moved closer to them. But in this case, Mrs. Beard became pregnant and had a child.
Ms. Charpentier said that like many married women with children during the war, Mrs. Beard lived with her parents.
"All the women she mentioned came home and lived with their parents," Ms. Charpentier said.
The difficulty of the separation is captured in a letter in which Mrs. Beard writes, "Darling, talking to you last night just made not being there worse than ever."
"She really missed him," Ms. Charpentier said.
In one letter, where Mrs. Beard talks about a possible reunion, she says, "Lately I find it extremely hard to get to sleep at night. The prospects of your getting home have me in a turmoil."
Mrs. Beard faced struggles like food shortages, although nowhere near the deprivations faced in war torn countries like England and France.
"She talks about rationing, the difficulty in buying different foods," Ms. Charpentier said.
Mrs. Beard's maiden name was Church. In her letters, many of the people she mentions are from well known Fairhaven families.
Ms. Charpentier has catalogued the letters by date in folding files. She found news clips about people mentioned in the letters, particularly servicemen.
Her research led her to an announcement in June 1944 after the Beards's wedding at the Unitarian Church in Fairhaven. The wedding announcement says 2nd Lt. Beard's parents were from Texas and Missouri and that he went to Harvard and M.I.T. and studied radar. He was a member of the graduating class of 1943 at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Mrs. Charpentier thinks his work in the Pacific, during some time on a Naval ship, involved some secrecy.
After Lt. Beard returned, the couple lived with Mrs. Beard's parents before moving to a place on Fort Street. Lt. Beard became a sale manager at Aerovox in New Bedford. They moved again when he became director of sales for a manufacturing company in Woodstock, N.Y.
Ms. Charpentier said there is no mention of Lt. Beard in the obituary for Nancy Beard, which makes her wonder if they stayed married. She has contacted some of their children who still live in the area but hasn't heard back from them.