Teresa Irish turned her father’s emotional letters into a heartfelt journey for all ages.
Irish was the featured author for the One Book, One Community “Meet the Author,” event in the La-Z-Boy Center March 23, 2016.
Five-and-a-half years after finding her father’s World War II letters, Irish brought “A Thousand Letters Home,” to print.
As the book’s author, publisher, and distributor, it was truly a labor of love, she said.
“It was a new experience for me to publish a book, let alone write it,” Irish said.
“I wanted to share my father’s letters with others, so that they would see what went on firsthand, and maybe shed some light onto what other veterans went through and are still going through today. To turn emotion into action.”
About 100 Monroe County residents heard the story of Aarol W. “Bud” Irish and witnessed Irish’s beautiful story-telling.
Born in Saginaw, Irish is a 1984 graduate of Michigan State University. She has worked in higher education, the staffing industry, and most recently as a vice president for a national home healthcare and hospice company.
She retired in April 2012 to devote her time to sharing this moving and historic story and the accompanying message of citizenship in today’s world.
In 2006, Irish uncovered her father’s army trunk which contained a thousand letters he had written to his parents and fiance, Elaine Marie Corbat, during World War II.
The letters dated from November 1942 to December 1945, and they recorded the hopes and fears of her father during his service.
Irish told her audience her book could be summed up in the word “perspective.” When she began sharing her father’s letters with family and friends, they reminisced about their own veterans.
Irish was flooded with war stories. In that moment, Irish knew she had something special that must be shared.
“I became a woman on a mission after that,” Irish said. “We have people who come home today, and they still need us.”
The book of letters intertwines three themes: a first-hand account of war, a love story, and faith.
Irish knew her father was among the few World War II veterans who spoke about his service. He often recalled Christmas Eve in 1944 when he heard the Germans playing music in their camp across the field.
He also recounted his near death experience on April 9th, 1945. The 102nd infantry division were ambushed in a valley. He recalled feeling every bullet that entered his friend’s body who lay next to him.
In addition to the stories, there were 250 corresponding letters tucked away with the letters in Bud’s trunk which captured the horrific scenes in war. Irish wondered whether the graphic pictures had a place in her book.
On the back of one of the pictures, her dad wrote “Pictures don’t lie.” When she read it, Irish knew those pictures belonged in the book.
Irish’s book is not just a gruesome picture of World War II; it is a love story.
“Keep praying and always remember that I’ll be faithful forever and that I’ll be coming back to you when this war is over,” Bud wrote to Elaine in a letter dated September 23rd, 1943.
A Thousand Letters Home captures the love which many soldiers clung to in their loneliest and most dangerous hours.
Although the war killed many of his best friends, Bud never suffered from survivor’s guilt. His Christian faith filled his remaining days with meaning.
“My dad had survivor’s purpose,” Irish said.
Bud believed his life was spared, so he could continue to help people.
When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer years after the war, he talked with over 600 physicians reminding them to look at the life in front of them. He implored them not to perform radical surgeries which may shorten a person’s days.
Irish’s presentation of her father’s journey through the storytelling of the letters was breathtaking to witness.
“I was reading a letter dated July 17, 1944, the day after my mom’s 22nd birthday,” Irish said, referring to a period when Irish’s fiancé was able to visit his base.
“My dad writes to his Mom and Dad: ‘The last five days were the happiest of my life. Gosh, I was a soldier by day, and I danced and made records with my sweetheart by night.’”
Irish challenged the audience to model her father’s attitude and take the time to acknowledge and appreciate every life.
Irish closed by quoting the farewell her father repeated to family, friends, and strangers.
“May you have a good day, and a great life, and God Bless.”
Irish said her one regret was that she wasn’t more aware of asking questions of her father while he was still alive.
“There are so many stories that veterans are always thinking about. Sometimes, they don’t want to talk about it, but you need to acknowledge that they are thinking about it,” she said.
“I should have asked more questions about what went on and how he felt. I think I took that for granted.”
For more information about “A Thousand Letters Home,” visit www.AThousandLettersHome.com
(Leah Thomas also contributed to this story).