University of Delaware
A selection of items from the Henry J. Southmayd Jr., World War II letters to the Southmayd family. Special Collections, University of Delaware Library.

Letters home

University Library receives gift of World War II manuscript collection


10:41 a.m., Dec. 9, 2013--The University of Delaware Library has received the gift of a manuscript collection of World War II letters from Mr. and Mrs. Alan W. Southmayd, of Newark, Del. The letters were written by Alan Southmayd’s older brother, the late Henry J. Southmayd Jr., between 1940 and 1945 when he served in the 65th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group of the 12th Army Air Force.

The 58 letters in the collection detail Henry Southmayd’s recruitment into the Army Air Corps and subsequent training, as well as the events and conditions experienced while participating in the North African and Italian campaigns of the European Theatre during World War II.

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This small collection presents undergraduates with an excellent opportunity to undertake research on the experience of persons in American military service and their families during the war, and Southmayd’s letters add to the greater variety of documentation important to scholars of the period, especially those interested in the history of the 57th Fighter group.

Henry J. Southmayd Jr. was born on March 8, 1915, in Springfield, Ohio. His mother died not long after his birth but, soon after, his father Henry J. Southmayd married Elizabeth (Bess) Weltner, and the family grew to include two younger siblings:  Dorothy Southmayd and Alan W. Southmayd. In the early 1920s the Southmayd family moved to White Plains, N.Y.

In October 1940, Henry Southmayd enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and underwent radio operator training. During World War II, he served at the rank of sergeant in the 65th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group of the 12th Army Air Force, which participated in the North African and Italian campaigns of the European Theatre.

After his World War II service, he re-enlisted, serving a total of 22 years and retiring from the military on May 31, 1963. He died on Jan. 26, 1967, at the age of 51.

In letters to his family at home in White Plains, Henry Southmayd described his army experiences serving in Palestine, Cyprus, Egypt, Libya, Malta, Sicily and Corsica.

He discussed mundane topics such as the weather, supply conditions, slow delivery of mail and radio programs available to the personnel. He also wrote about more eventful news such as seeing USO shows featuring entertainers such as Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Ella Logan, or his own hospitalization for a case of jaundice. 

Southmayd also wrote home about family news, movies viewed, books read and his need for camera equipment and film. He frequently asked about updates from his sister Dorothy who enlisted in the American Red Cross and, in 1944, was stationed at an Army Air Force hospital in England. 

The collection features examples of Victory Mail (V-mail) letters, which during World War II were photographed, transported as microfilm, and then re-printed onto paper for the recipient in order to expedite correspondence with soldiers stationed abroad.

The collection of Henry J. Southmayd Jr. World War II letters was processed by E. Evan Echols, senior assistant librarian in the Manuscripts and Archives Department. A finding aid to the collection is available online and the collection is available for research in Special Collections in the Morris Library of the University of Delaware Library.

The University of Delaware Library Special Collections web page, with clicks on “Contact” and “Ask Special Collections,” is available for reference assistance.

About Special Collections

Holdings of Special Collections of the University of Delaware Library include books, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, broadsides, periodicals, pamphlets, ephemera and realia from the 15th to the 21st century.

The collections complement the library's general collections with particular strengths in the subject areas of the arts; English, Irish and American literature; history and Delawareana; horticulture; and history of science and technology.

Special Collections is located on the second floor of the Morris Library. 

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