Carolyn Bridgforth holds the soft, fragile letter her husband wrote to her 71 years ago with a fountain pen from war-torn Europe to honor their anniversary.
Her heart still skips, she said, as she read aloud his closing words, a statement of a young soldier’s love. She paused over his final words to her with a faint angelic smile, “And by God’s kind hand, you’re my wife. Bebe.”
Stewart Bridgforth, then 21 and whom people called Bebe, married Carolyn Watkins, who was 19, in August 1942. Bebe then joined the European Theater of Operations as an infantry platoon leader. A year later, their first child was born, Stewart Bridgforth Jr.
“The war just rushed everything up. You didn’t know what your future was going to be, you didn’t know where your boyfriend, lover or fiancé was going to be, or how long you were going to have,” Carolyn Bridgforth said. “It speeded up everything.”
He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive battle in the densely forested regions of Belgium and in France of 1944. Throughout his time as a soldier, Bebe and Carolyn wrote to each other, to not only pass the time, but also to make sure both were safe. He once told Carolyn when soldiers wrote and received letters from their loved ones it made them feel closer.
“It’s what keeps soldiers going when they’re away, Carolyn said. “Letters, they’re extremely important.”
She used every letter she received as a tracking device for Bebe, and sometimes even though she would be holding a letter written just days earlier, should wonder if he were still alive. Carolyn would look at the date of the letters and information on the envelope in order to track where his division was fighting.
“I did not picture him not living,” she said. Carolyn revisits the letters from time to time, from her home in Pickens, MS. “You had nothing but the moment, your future was uncertain, his future was uncertain. At that age, you hardly thought about any more than the moment.”
Stewart survived the war and came back to continuing growing his family with Carolyn. They ended up having four children and stayed living in Pickens. Stewart passed away 20 years ago at the age of 74 from dementia. Carolyn still today looks back the letters and remembers why she fell in love with him.
“A lot of men can’t even say I love you, they just don’t know how to,” Carolyn said. “But not him, wherever we were, if we were in church he was holding my hand. That’s how affectionate he was.”
In a digital world, Carolyn understands the importance of holding onto ink on paper. “If you love someone, why throw away a sweet letter,” she said.
Stewart Bridgforth Jr. is the oldest of Carolyn and Bebe’s children. The 72-year-old was born when his father went to war. Keeping the letters and recording his mother’s voice is significant to him.
“It’s the only tangible thing we can show our grandchildren, nieces and nephews about what their grandparents were like,” he said.
The letters have helped shape his family’s personality, values and shared culture.
“It’s the only thing that’s written, that you could show and give somebody a sense of where they came from,” he said.
Her son is grateful for the letters because the stories and memories have helped shape him into the man he strived to be like — his father.
“In a lot of ways he was my role model. Of course I miss him, we all do.”
Giana Leone is a Meek School of Journalism and New Media alum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.