“I sometimes wonder if the American people as a whole will ever awaken to the desperate seriousness of the task we are just beginning. Everywhere I go I am impressed by the remoteness with which people view the war. I think it will take a direct attack on our shores to rouse us out of our lethargy. The fact that newspapers are playing up the words “we can lose this war” should help a lot. We must face the facts.” – Private George Seeley, February 22, 1942
In connection with Miami University’s Summer Reading Program and its selection of Jess Goodell’s war memoir Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq, I’ve been asked to curate a small exhibit on the theme of “War and Remembrance” using selections from our collections. In her memoir, published in 2011 after her return from service in the Mortuary Affairs unit of the Marine Corps in Iraq, Goodell writes of her experiences recovering and processing the remains of fallen soldiers. I thought it would be interesting to contrast her experiences with American soldiers fighting in earlier conflicts. Reading through our various printed and manuscript accounts of American soldiers at war, I was particularly drawn to the story of World War II soldier George Seeley. Many passages from his letters home and his diary resonated with me, especially as I could imagine American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq today would have similar reactions to their experiences and talk about them in similar ways.
In February 1941, George Allen Seeley left Miami University, where he was finishing his senior year. After being drafted for service in the United States Army in April 1941, he spent time at various training bases across the US and was then sent to Australia, where he was an Assistant Detachment Commander and Training Officer with the 105th General Hospital of the Army. He stayed in Australia for two and a half years, then ended his assignment at Biak, a Dutch Indonesian island north of New Guinea. Seeley was at Biak during the return of American troops to the Philippines, caring for those troops who were liberated from the Bilibid prison.
During his time in the service, George writes to his parents and to his future wife Peg Fisher and, like in the letter quoted above, shares his thoughts on the state of the war, his responsibilities on the base, and the morale of the troops. All of George’s letters, as well as his diary and other records of his war service, can be found in the George Seeley Collection in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections.
Information on Miami’s Summer Reading Program can be found here. A small exhibit with selections from the Seeley Collection will be on display in a special case outside the front doors of the Special Collections department from July 27th through the end of August.
Special Collections Librarian