Pitching My Way Through World War II: Letters Home To North Dakota; co-written with G. L. Dybwad.
Private First Class Vernon E. Ellingson was just a Midwest boy who was drafted into WWII. Growing up in Grand Forks, ND his life was school, sports and girls. Once in the US Army, he had to grow up fast. Ellingson soon found comfort in his faith.
The book is based on 300+ letters Ellingson wrote home. Unfortunately, the content of letters was censored, so there little information about the war in them. Ellingson was a message clerk in the Battalion Headquarters Company of the 359th Regiment of the 90th Infantry; running back and forth on the front lines. But you might think he was still home doing basic training in Fort Snelling in Minneapolis; Camp Barkeley in Texas, Camp Polk in Louisiana, Camp Granite in California, and Fort Dix in NJ.
Ellingson was an older than normal draftee. He had bad teeth. It was painful to read as the Army decided to pull out most of his teeth. Vernon was okay with this. He wanted them to pull out the rest. He liked playing softball, and was a good pitcher. He liked to go bowling, and loved to read about and watch boxing matches. Once in Europe he had little time for sports. Ellingson’s letters deal with food, money (both asking for loans and sending money to his mother), cigars, cigarettes, and a lot of church services. The 90th Infantry Division fought in five campaigns across Europe and was training to fight Japan when the war ended. Already well steeped in religion before the Army, (Lutheran Brethren school) his faith got stronger and stronger the closer he got to the front. Something he noticed in his letters. Not only his own personal faith but those soldiers around him. We follow Ellingson to England, then to Normandy (June 8th), across France, the breakthrough into Germany and finally stopping in Czechoslovakia.
The book is assembled by his nieces: Joy Bliss and Rosanne Bliss. Both born while he was in the service. They did a good job of researching: finding photos, documents, and newspaper clippings that help illustrate the letters. They also pull quotes from “A History of the 90th Division” by 1st Lt. William P. Flynn, Jr., which helps fill in the gaping holes that the censored letters gloss over. It isn’t until the final letters that Ellingson shares some of his combat experiences. Even then he wants to spare his mother the worry and he arrives home shortly after and there is no mention of Ellingson’s combat experiences thereafter. There is a chapter on Ellingson’s life after WWII. It’s pretty low key. He had enough excitement for ten life-times. The foreword is by Lt. General Orwin C. Talbott who saved Ellingson’s life just after D-Day, and was his commander at the end of the war.