Henry J. Southmayd, Jr., World War II letters to the Southmayd family

Biographical and Historical Notes

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 (b. 1918) and Alan W. Southmayd (b. 1930). In the early 1920s the Southmayd family moved to White Plains, New York.

In October 1940, Southmayd enlisted in the United States 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 Theater.

Southmayd re-enlisted, serving a total of 22 years and retiring from the military on May 31, 1963. He died on January 26, 1967, at the age of 51.


Biographical information derived from the donor.

"U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current." Ancestry.com Library Edition. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011. http://search.ancestrylibrary.com (accessed September 23, 2012).

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of 58 letters written by Henry J. Southmayd, Jr., to his family between 1940 and 1945 while serving in the 65th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter Group of the 12th Army Air Force. The letters detail his 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 Theater during World War II.

Southmayd's letters to his family began on October 29, 1940, and discussed his enlistment and training at Mitchell Field, Long Island, and assignment to the radio section of the Army Air Corps. The letters discussed several aspects of his duties at Mitchell Field including guard duty, living arrangements, and the lack of time off for the holidays. In May, 1941, he traveled to Scott Field near Belleville, Illinois, for a five and a half month course at "radio school." While at Scott Field, Southmayd frequently wrote about a lack of pay (for months at a time), disorganization of the military, and the need for money and supplies. He also mentioned his intention to visit family in Ohio, where the Southmayd family was from originally.

After graduating from radio school on October 24, 1941, Southmayd was assigned as a radio operator in the base radio station (First Air Force Net), at Winsor Forks Air Field in Hartford, Connecticut. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into World War II, he moved to Trumbull Airport in Groton, Connecticut. While at Trumbull, Southmayd was promoted to Corporal (January 1942) and Sergeant (March 1942). He achieved an A.M. (Air Mechanic) rating, second class in March and served as a teletype operator in May. In June, 1941, Southmayd wrote that he was "hand picked" to do a job and within a month he arrived in North Africa. Because of security precautions, he was unable to give his specific location, often writing the phrase "somewhere in..." and listing a country or general region. From his initial arrival in North Africa, he traveled to Palestine (July) and Egypt (August).

In his letters, Southmayd described life in the desert including the weather, supply conditions, the slow delivery of mail, radio programs available to the personnel, and Christmas celebrations in the encampment. Though he mentioned some locations that he had visited such as Palestine, Cyprus, and Alexandria, his conversation skirted around exactly where he was located. Southmayd encouraged his family to make educated guesses as to his current whereabouts using his descriptions of the native people, nearby geographic features, and publicly available information about troop movements in the newspapers.

In early to mid 1943, Southmayd wrote that he was constantly moving around in the Middle East and North Africa. By August he had arrived in Sicily, via Tripoli, Libya, and Malta as part of the Allied invasion of Italy. While in Sicily he wrote about seeing USO shows featuring several entertainers including Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Ella Logan. Much of Southmayd's correspondence with his family during this time regarded movies viewed, books read, and the need for camera equipment and film. In November 1943, he developed Yellow Jaundice and was hospitalized in North Africa. He was released from the hospital and returned to his unit in Sicily on December 24, in time for their Christmas celebration.

In addition to writing the family as a whole, Southmayd wrote letters to individual family members, including his mother, father, and sister Dorothy, or "Dot," who lived on her own. His letters to Dorothy discussed her various jobs, including her appointment as a nurses' aid in 1943, and her eventual enlistment in the American Red Cross. In 1944, she was stationed in England to assist with the war effort.

By April 23, 1944, Southmayd was assigned to Corsica, where he participated in the operation of Armed Forces Radio. During this time, he continued to discuss the need for a camera and film, his non-attendance of church despite daily prayers, a visit to Rome in November, and an ongoing desire to meet Dorothy while she was stationed with the American Red Cross in England. The collection contains three Christmas Cards sent by Southmayd in 1944 including one from the 57th Fighter Group addressed to his mother, and two from 65th Fighter Squadron, dubbed "The Fighting Cocks," addressed to his mother and brother Alan.

The collection also 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. There are two letters written by Henry on a V-mail form, to later be photographed (folder 6) as well as a re-printed V-mail letter received by the Southmayd family, dated February 21, 1944 (folder 5). Also featured is an inscribed picture of Henry in uniform (folder 3). The last letter from Southmayd to his family was a V-mail sent from Naples, Italy, on the day of his return from Europe (August 18, 1945). The final letter in the collection (and only letter not written by Henry) is from his parents, dated August 22, 1945, and was returned to the sender because by this time, Southmayd had departed for the United States.

The last two folders of the collection contain Henry J. Southmayd's service records from 1945-1967 and a yearbook from The Artillery Center, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, featuring the personnel of the 5th Field Artillery Group and 17th Field Artillery Battalion. Alan W. Southmayd served in the Headquarters of the 17th Field Artillery Battalion.