Last Letters Home: Revolutionary War
Oliver Reed’s military career began in 1775 when he served for 12 days at Lexington before the formation of Gen. Israel Putnam’s Third Regiment in May 1775. By 1776, the regiment was reorganized as the 20th Continental under Col. Benedict Arnold and eventually Col. John Durkee, under which Oliver became a Sergeant. He saw action in the northern theater of the war, including the Battle of Long Island. Tragically, three of his four children died while he was away at war. His wife Betty felt compelled to move in with Oliver’s parents. He wrote home in January 1778:

I Desier to Return you my Herty thanks For your Ciness to my wife & son in takeing them hom With you this winter I hope that I shall be a bel to pay all [cut off] trobel you are at & am willing to Do it if I Live to Return as it hath Plesed the Almity God in the womb of his Devine Provadense to take From us our Children Let us not murmer nor Complayn.
Unsure whether he would see his parents and family, he wrote:
God grant that we may Live to mett again in this World: if not tis my Desier and Prayers to God that we may met in the Heavenly World whare thare is no more Deth: neither sound of the woryer nor garments Rold in Blood.

It was his last letter home. He had endured battle and the privation and starvation at Valley Forge, but became ill, was hospitalized for four months, and eventually died on October 21, 1778.[1]
 Last Letters Home: Civil War
John Ross Wallar volunteered to serve as a drummer boy in the Civil War when he was only 15 years old. He was shot in the leg and languished in a military hospital for days. From his bed, he dictated a short letter to his family before he died:

Dear Sister father Mother and friends, I recievd your letter But I don’t think I Ever shall see another that you write this is Friday night But I don’t think I will Live to See Morning But My Kind friends I am a Soldier of Christ I will Meet you all in Heven My Leg Has Bin taking of above My nee I am Dying at this time so don’t Morn after Me fore I Have Bleed and died fore My Country May God Help you all to pray fore Me I want you all to Meet Me in Heven above…fore I wont Live till Morning so good By My friends May God be with you all good by God Bless My poor Soul.
 Last Letters Home: Civil War

 From a field at Camp Clark outside Washington in July 1861, a Union Officer in the Civil War named Major Sullivan Ballou wrote to his loving wife a week before his death. An excerpt reads:

 I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.
 I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles has often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.
 Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
 The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.
 I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.[2]

Last Letters Home: World War I
On Sept. 11, 1918, Sgt. David Ker, a Columbia University student who had dropped out of college to fight in World War I, sent a letter to his mother the day before the attack on Saint-Mihiel in France. While some troops consider it bad luck to write an “in case I die ...” letter, Ker wanted his mother, his sister (Elizabeth), and his fiancée (Mary) to keep their spirits up, no matter the outcome.
Tomorrow the first totally American drive commences, and it gives me inexpressible joy and pride to know that I shall be present to do my share. Should I go under, therefore, I want you to know that I went without any terror of death, and that my chief worry is the grief my death will bring to those so dear to me. Since having found myself and Mary, there has been much to make life sweet and glorious, but death, while distasteful, is in no way terrible. I feel wonderfully strong to do my share well, and, for my sake, you must try to drown your sorrow in the pride and satisfaction, the knowledge that I died well in so clean a cause, as is ours, should bring you. Remember how proud I have always been of your superb pluck, keep Elizabeth’s future in mind, and don’t permit my death to bow your head.
My personal belongings will all be sent to you. Your good taste will tell you which to send to Mary. May God bless and keep you, dear heart, and be kind to little Elizabeth, and those others I love so well.
David. The end.
The Americans broke through the German lines but suffered 7,000 casualties in the three-day offensive. Twenty-year-old David Ker was among the dead.[3]
Last Letters Home: World War II
Only hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese struck U.S. forces stationed in the Philippines commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Few soldiers would find themselves in a more brutal nightmare than the 80,000 mostly American and Filipino troops cornered on the Bataan Peninsula. Fighting continued until the Americans and Filipinos were forced to surrender on April 9. By this time the men were so famished, dehydrated, and ill, they were scarcely alive. The worst, however, was yet to come. Despite having access to trucks and transport vehicles, the Japanese ordered the emaciated prisoners to walk 65 miles to a railway junction without food, water, or medicine. Many collapsed along the side of the road and were left to die. Japanese soldiers arbitrarily whipped, beheaded, bayoneted, and tortured men as they marched. An estimated 10,000 men, including British and Australian soldiers, perished along the way, and those who survived spent the next three years as prisoners of war.

Three brothers—Sgt. J. M. Smith, Capt. Burney Smith, and Sgt. Clark Smith, as well as their brother-in-law Capt. James Sadler—fought at Bataan and were captured. Six weeks before the April 9 surrender, J. M., a father of two little girls (Patricia, who had been born while he was away, and Judy, who was not yet two), wrote to his wife Martha in Clovis, New Mexico, to downplay the severity of their situation and to assure her they would all return home.

Somewhere in Bataan Feb. 22, 1942
My Sweet, Well darling life has been good to us and God has surely been with us—in many ways and if we carry on as we have in the past. He will stay in our hearts and by our side as long as there is need of him—So I open my letter asking his blessings for you all—
I can’t exactly say it has been easy for us yet it hasn’t been too awful bad as yet—I can’t realize yet how people can be such fools to cause so much trouble and suffering and heart aches not only for the ones actively engaged, but, also to those left behind—
I know you have suffered and have grieved many times since I have left but chin up and look the world in the face for you have 2 of the sweetest things in the world to brighten your life—God bless them. I miss you all so much—but with God’s will I will return some day and that in its self is all we could ask of anyone—
The boys here are in high spirit, and there could never be any equal to these fellows, all of them, I mean soldiers here in Bataan—you would never know what it could be like unless you were here—
Jim [Martha’s brother] is my Btry Commander now so I see him every day. Clark is feeling very well, Burney is O.K.—but they said they would sure like to see the Squirts—
Did Judy have a big Xmas? I wanted to be there so much and I wanted her to have a big Xmas and if I ever get home I will sure throw a big party for you all—
Well my sweet you know I miss you very much and I would give anything under the sun to be with you, but, I am not so just have faith in me and in God and I will be home some day—I could write a lot of nonsense and a lot of foolishness but I know you will read between the lines and see more in spirit than in what I write—God Bless you all, and I pray that he keeps you well and happy—I love you all, JM

Martha Smith never heard from her husband or brother Jim again. Burney Smith was also killed. Only Clark Smith, who, with several thousand other men, had escaped to the island of Corregidor (just south of Bataan), survived the war.
Last Letters Home: Korean War
During the Korean War, Capt. Molton A. Shuler Jr. wrote a letter to his wife, Helen, back in Kingstree, South Carolina about a Makeshift Church he and his friends in the 45th Infantry Division created in the midst of the Battle of Chorwon, just north of the Thirty-eighth Parallel. Cpt. Shuler was 30 years old and the father of a four-year-old son and a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. He writes Helen:

Helen my Darling,
You are perfection—the paragon of womankind—and you’re my wife—and I adore you! And what’s more, you’re first 6 letters came today! With them came my very life—for my heart was slowly breaking for words of love and tenderness from you, my beloved wife. It’s impossible to describe what your letters meant to me. More than you can possibly imagine I appreciate your love. I know full well you love me—but I can’t see quite why. But I’m not going to quibble. I’m only going to love you more for loving me as you do. 
Then there is another reason for my good spirits tonite—as if your letters were not enough. I went to church tonite. Let me paint you a word picture of the “church”. Picture a grassy hillside surrounded by mountains. And a rugged looking—crew hair cut and all—chaplain dressed in fatigues standing by a Government Issue folding podium with a red velvet cover and brass candelabra minus candles, all placed on a couple of ammo boxes. 
Then just left of the “pulpit” as you face it you find a battered, 30-odd key, olive drab organ, a GI pianist seated on a 5 gallon gasoline can. And in the background you find blasted Chinese bunkers and old gun emplacements. Then if you look way to your left you’ll see a battery of 6 105 howitzers, their ugly muzzles pointed menacingly toward the North. To the right and on up the valley are bunkers of our company, a couple of tents from which winds a road (one way) behind our “church”. 
But what about pews and who occupys them? Well, they are roughly terraced rows with a handful of soldiers, mostly a little dirty and bedraggled, trying to keep from becoming more soiled by sitting on their helmets. You find a rifle loaded with a full clip, or a carbine with a jam-packed magazine beside each man. Over there is a blond and baby faced young man, and beside him is a tough looking hombre with a dark beard and dirty fingernails. And down in the front row are three Korean boys who just sang a couple of hymns in their native tongue, self-conscious to be sure, but, even so, attesting to God’s presence in the hearts of a people torn by war. 
And God is in this “chapel”—so near you can almost reach out and touch Him. And the chaplain says, “And men, in the days to come, you must remember the words of Christ when asked where He lived; ‘come and see’”. 
Only a couple of times in my life before this evening, have I felt God’s presence in such a way. Perhaps it was the place and the time—I don’t know. Be that as it may, I liked the way I felt. 
’Scuse me for trying to be literary. I didn’t mean to—as my efforts no doubt reveal. 
Goodnite, Dear, and love our children for me—and miss me, please. 
Your man always—

Over three weeks later, Mrs. Shuler received another letter about his injuries. What she didn’t know was that the UN soldiers at Chorwon found themselves overwhelmed three to one by the Chinese, and Captain Shuler was hit by shrapnel in the neck, the back, and on his right leg. Evacuated to a MASH unit, he was treated and then sent to a hospital in Tokyo where he died of hepatitis on August 24, 1952.
Last Letters Home: Vietnam War
Pfc. Timothy Robinson from Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota chronicled his combat experiences in Vietnam in March and April of 1968.

On March 28, 1968 he wrote:

The good Lord was with me coming down the hill because I wasn’t hit but some of the men in front of me and along side of me were hit. Death is sad over here to these young men. To see them rolled up in a poncho. I had to go out and get one guy that had got hit and then got on fire, he was still burning when we got to him. It was a sad mess. I’ve never been so scared in my life as I was that day and I’ve been praying ever since that day.”

On April 14 Robinson wrote:

Right now Im sitting in front of my bunker pulling guard and it’s 2: 00 in the morning which would make it 12: 00 afternoon April 13 at home. It is light out tonight so that I can see to write.
I hope the Ester Bunny doesn’t for get me this year because the last 21 years it been real good to me and will always be so dear to my heart, “Right Mom” 
Remember when we were kids on Ester The grils would be all dress up in new hats, pretty dresses and new gloves and us boys with new shoes and shirts and off to church we would go and after come home to look for our Ester baskets. What good times. I hope God will bring me back home so that I may marry the girl I love, “Wich will be in March if things go OK.” Then I can watch my kids all dress up and head for church and live them days over again. 
Today we went out on patrole today and it wasn’t to good for a Ester Sunday. One man triped off a boo bee traped 105 Round and killed himself and wonded one other. Holidays are know different then any other day. Every day is Monday in Viet Nam. Just about ever day we walk between 3 to 12 miles through rice paddy up to our knees in mud. Up and down hills. Through jungles What a drag. 
Must go now, “God Be With You All” 
Your fighting son & Brother Tim 

The special care packages the family had put together for Robinson were returned several weeks later. On April 19, 1968, Robinson caught his foot on the trip wire to a booby-trapped mine and, quite literally, was blown to pieces. He was one of 58,000 who died in the Vietnam War.
Last Letters Home: Iraq War
During the Second Gulf War, Army Private First Class Jessie Givens from Colorado wrote to his wife Melissa, who was expecting their second child, with a sense of foreboding, sure he would never see her or his son Dakota or the child on the way that he affectionately called “Bean.” He instructed his wife not to open the letter unless he died.
April 22, 2003. My family:
I never thought that I would be writing a letter like this. I really don't know where to start. I've been getting bad feelings, though and, well, if you are reading this ....
I am forever in debt to you, Dakota, and the Bean. I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. I would like to think that I made a positive difference in your lives. I will never be able to make up for the bad. I am so sorry. The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so serious and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy's laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. Each one of you…
Dakota, you are more son than I could ever ask for. I can only hope I was half the dad….You taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn't so serious and sometimes you have to play…I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play. I hope someday you will have a son like mine. Make them smile and shine just like you. I love you Toad. I hope someday you will understand why I didn't come home. Please be proud of me. Please don't stop loving life. Take in ever breath like it's your first. I love you Toad. I will always be there with you. I'll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life.
Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you will be strong and big-hearted like your mom and brother. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your mom's belly, and the joy I felt when I found out you were on your way. I dream of you every night, I will always. Don't ever think that since I wasn't around that I didn't love you. You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love. I love you as I do your mom and brother with all my heart and soul. Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family. I love you Bean. 
I have never been so blessed as the day I met Melissa Dawn Benfield. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover and best friend. I am so sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime's worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That's how long I will be with you. Please keep my babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. Take care of yourself, believe in yourself, you are a strong, big hearted woman. Teach our babies to live life to the fullest, tell yourself to do the same.
I will always be there with you, Melissa. I will always want you, need you and love you in my heart, mind and soul. Do me a favor, after you tuck Toad and Bean in, give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile.
Love always, 
Your husband
On May 1, 2003, Private Givens was driving an Abrams M1A2 tank in Baghdad and tried to cross the Euphrates River toward fires set by the Iraqis. When the heat became too much, Givens steered the 70 ton tank toward higher ground, but a beam collapsed under its weight, and they plunged into the Euphrates River where Private Givens drowned. His three man crew escaped. His letter was stained by the muddy river where he died, smearing his handwriting, ripping apart his last words. Givens was 34 years old. About the time the letter arrived, Melissa gave birth to “Bean”—their second son, Carson.
   [4] Last Letters Home, 69-70.