PLYMOUTH — A collection of more than 200 letters mailed by an Ossipee, N.H. sailor to his sister attending Plymouth Teachers College (PTC) during World War II has been donated to Plymouth State University.
The sailor, Edgar Eldredge, was stationed aboard the USS Rankin; he faithfully mailed letters detailing life in the Pacific Theatre to his sister Fran, an education major at Plymouth. The correspondence was donated to the University by Louis "Skip" Sander, Executive Director of the USS Rankin Association, an organization established to preserve the memory of the Rankin. The letters offer a fascinating glimpse of life aboard a ship during wartime, as well as a New Hampshire college town thousands of miles away.
"This collection is really a treasure, it is a snapshot of what they were doing, what was life was like on campus in the early 1940s," said Plymouth State archivist Alice Staples. "Then there's the larger picture, World War II, and what was going on; we don't often get to understand what life was like in history-making times like that."
Sander collects memorabilia about the Rankin and acquired the letters earlier this year through on online auction. When he started reading the letters, he was fascinated.
"It was like a book you couldn't put down...it's the diary of the life of a simple, country kid from New Hampshire; every two or three days this guy wrote a letter to his sister–that's familial devotion," Sander said. "There was lot in his correspondence about what was going on back home; he was interested in his grandfather's activities, like selling bait at Lake Winnipesaukee, or the arrival of a new puppy. But he was really devoted to his sister, a real tight-knit family communicating with each other."
After researching the names and addresses on the letters, Sander, a Pittsburgh resident, contacted Staples and offered the University the collection.
"All of these letters were addressed to Plymouth Teachers College," Sander noted. "Donating them just seemed like an obvious thing to do, so I contacted Alice Staples and she agreed."
The letters, written in longhand on US Navy stationery, cover the years 1944-46. Eldredge was a deck seaman aboard the Rankin. His letters detail his activities as the ship went through training in amphibious operations, passed through the Panama Canal, and moved to the Pacific Theatre. Ultimately, the Rankin participated in the latter stages of the Battle of Okinawa. Edgar was in the Pacific when the U.S. used the atom bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In writing home in August, 1945, he optimistically hoped for hostilities to cease.
Sander said Eldredge was discharged in mid-1946, and in his last letter he expressed hope that he would be home in time for his sister's graduation from PTC in May, 1946. Sander believes he made it in time.
"After he returned home, Eldredge went to trade school, learning about heating and plumbing systems, and he worked for a Moultonborough hardware store for many years," Sander said. "Edgar eventually married one of Fran's classmates, Norma Moulton, and their daughter, Susan, graduated from Plymouth State in 1974."
Both Eldredge and his sister Fran are deceased. Plymouth State University is transcribing the letters and will make them available to the public when that project is completed.