Voices

Found in Collection*

 Letter from Charles to Garnetta Lewis, 1944, with stacks of letters

*Found in Collection is a term used to denote materials not originally part of a large donation or that are undocumented. I’ll be using it to talk about interesting stories not necessarily able to be on display in the NURFC galleries.

Charles and Garnetta Lewis, World War II

In honor of Valentine’s Day, which just passed, I’d like to tell you about some pieces on display and in the archives of the NURFC collection that represent an epic love story the years could easily have buried. NURFC was fortunate to receive a large donation from the Victoria Retirement Center in 2013, containing about 800 items belonging to Charles and Garnetta Lewis of Cincinnati. In inventorying and cataloging these items, we realized that the bulk of the materials were letters written almost daily between Charles, a member of the Army Air Force during World War II, and his wife, while Charles was serving in training in the United States and with the India-China Transport Wing of the AAF during the last year of the war.

The thing that thrills me most about this collection is its ordinariness. Charles Lewis is not a celebrated war hero or even a particular trailblazer. He’s a normal man in a happy marriage, separated from the one he loves. He battles that separation anxiety and loss the only way he knows, by writing to Garnetta –- prodigiously. For every letter in the display cases on the third floor, there are four more in our archives! These are primarily Charles’ letters to Garnetta, who kept each of the letters through the many years between the war and the donation to NURFC. Though some of the letters are Garnetta’s to Charles, I imagine it was much harder for him to keep the bulk of her letters through the many moves required of him during the war, rather than Garnetta not writing to Charles as often as he wrote her.

The lesson I take from Charles and Garnetta’s story is one of perseverance and steadfast love, through the many obstacles life throws at us. Charles served during Jim Crow, and trained in segregated Georgia and Mississippi; yet, his letters are upbeat and focused on his love for Garnetta and his day-to-day life as a soldier -– his despair and frustration are with delays in receiving her letters or with not receiving them! We can all learn a lesson here -- love each other, no matter the obstacles, being solid in that love despite the battering the world gives us.

Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice