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Love letters bring us a remarkable, up-close view of life during World War II

Nov 2, 2015

U.S. troops almost buried by parcels do their best to handle the holiday mail, ca. 1944
Credit Public Domain

If ever there was a case of love at first sight, it happened on January 17, 1942 at a dance in Asheville, North Carolina.

On that night, 21-year-old Billee Gray met 28-year-old Private Charles Kiley, and after just a couple of weekend dates, they knew they were meant to be together.

It wasn’t long before Charles was shipped off to fight in World War II, but the two stayed in touch and forged their love through hundreds of letters.

Charles and Billee’s daughter, son, and son-in-law have brought these letters together in a book: Writing the War: Chronicles of a World War Two Correspondent.

Their son David Kiley tells us he first found the letters in the 1990s, but only read through some of them from time to time.

It wasn’t until after his father passed away in 2001 that he and his sister really started to dig in and sort through all the letters.

“There’s over 800 letters. Many of them were handwritten. So we had to go through and because of age, you know, we had to copy all of them and scan all of them so that we could handle them,” Kiley says. “So it was quite a project.”

Kiley tells us that throughout the process of sorting through the letters and putting together this book, he learned a lot about his parents and saw a lot of himself in his father.

“It was an amazing window,” Kiley says. “I was able to discover where my dad came from emotionally, in his head, to understand him better.”

David Kiley will be at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on November 2 at 7 p.m. to talk about and sign the book.

Listen to our conversation above to hear Kiley talk more about his parents, about his experience reading the letters, and to hear some of those letters read by U of M students Meredith Starkman and Graham Techler.