Book Reviews -- A Better Legend: From the World War II Letters of Jack and Jane Poulton Edited by Jane Weaver Poulton

Article excerpt

A Better Legend: From the World War II Letters of Jack and Jane Poulton. Edited by JANE WEAVER POULTON. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993. xiii, 272 pp. $29.95.

THIS book is a compilation of letters between Jack and Jane Poulton during World War II. Jack Poulton served as an engineer in the navy's Construction Battalions ("Seabees") on various Pacific Islands, while Jane, his wife, worked part-time as a secretary in Richmond and earned credits toward her undergraduate degree. Their letters contain their impressions of the war and describe how the conflict changed their marriage and their lives. For instance, as Jane developed a sense of independence and a different level of social consciousness, Jack became more confident as a naval officer and an engineer. Despite long absences and incredible loneliness, they remained committed to their marriage and each other. Ironically, the very war that separated them brought them ever closer. These letters also illustrate the effect of mail on the morale of the men who fought the war and their friends and loved ones at home.

Jack and Jane Poulton's expressions of their anxieties, frustrations, and homesickness will move the reader to laughter or tears--sometimes on the same page. They updated each other on news about themselves, their families, and their friends, including births, marriages, and enlistments. Though thousands of miles apart, they sought each other's advice about making decisions and solving problems.

They wrote almost daily during the war, but inconsistencies in the military mail system and Jack's sudden moves contributed to delays in receiving letters. Few things encouraged Jack and Jane more than the unexpected delivery of a group of letters, especially after what Jack called a "drought" between news. Letters allowed them to be near while, physically, they were thousands of miles apart. Reading this book is like watching two movies about the war at the same time. Jack battles supply shortages and loneliness, Japanese air raids and sniper attacks, and the weather, the mosquitoes, and disease in the Pacific on one screen, while Jane balances school and a difficult boss, misses Jack, volunteers at coffeehouses, learns to maintain a home without Jack, and becomes a civil rights advocate in Virginia on the other. …