A Soldier’s Valentine: Bidding Farewell at Camp Kilmer, 1952

Bidding Farewell at Camp Kilmer, 1952
Bidding Farewell at Camp Kilmer, 1952

While Valentine’s Day seems to be just another opportunity for card companies to cash in on mass produced emotions, I was surprised to find out that the original St. Valetine (Valentinus) was persecuted and killed under the Roman Emperor Claudius II for the heinous crime of performing clandestine weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry. Claudius believed that married men did not make good soldiers. Valentinus, on the other hand, is said to have cut hearts out of parchment paper and given them to soldiers, thus beginning the tradition of paper hearts on Valentine’s Day.

So today I thought of this photograph, Bidding Farewell at Camp Kilmer, in honor of St. Valentine who was killed for consecrating the love bond soldier’s carry with them as they head off to war. Did he know perhaps that it is precisely that bond of connection — whether spouse, lover, parents, children, friends — that sustains a soldier’s heart and mind every waking minute as he or she faces the terrifying and brutal reality of war? What Claudius didn’t seem to understand is that it is precisely those bonds that support a soldier’s will to live and get home alive. Or, perhaps Claudius thought that the denial of that love would leave his soldiers with no thoughts of return and thus make them more ready to fight the long war. The photograph above was taken as I was departing Camp Kilmer for the Korean War front. It was a sad time. I had just recently married my childhood sweetheart. Departures on the way to war are unspeakably poignant. I am imagining this couple thinking “Will this be the last time, the last kiss?” And of course returns brings the opposite emotions of celebration and joy so well captured in Eisenstadt’s V-J Day in Times Square.

GI in Photo Booth, Camp Kilmer, 1952
GI in Photo Booth, Camp Kilmer, 1952
Last July, I posted a short blog about this photograph, Draftee in Photo Booth (1952). This guy was also getting ready to leave for the front. I’m guessing that he sent the photos to his sweetheart saying “I love you. Please remember me each day while I’m gone.”

Mail call, Korea, 1953
Mail call, Korea, 1953

Perhaps he is in this line waiting to hear back from his sweetheart. Receiving letters from home was the most important part of these GI’s day. Maybe he received words resembling these sent by Hannah Carpenter to her sweetheart serving in Afghanistan in 2009. I hope Hannah and her love are together on this Valentine’s Day.

I am with you
As I imagine what you are doing, I feel you by my side,
like the morning when you left me, I wish I’d never cried,
for your shoulders were heavy with guilt and lots of sadness too,
Last words echoed inside my head of “I’ll be coming home to you”.
And there your kiss left mine until some distant day,
to be your last (you promised) that you shall never go away.
So I sit here looking out, on to fields so green,
whilst you have only dessert and views you will have only seen.
But rest assured I am with you, deep inside your heart,
I would always be your strength and angel, you knew that from the start.
To guide you through your dark days and help you with your thoughts
and have the loving memories that never can be bought.
You are with me every second; I hope you feel that too,
because when I go to bed at night, all I feel is you.
Though I wake up in the morning and see the empty space,
A smile soon returns as a photo I have in place,
just upon your pillow and there I say “Hello”
for I know you’ll hear that coming and feel our loving grow.

Wishing you all warmth of heart on this Valentine’s Day, but especially those of you who are separated by war and yearning for the day when you will be home with the ones you love.

Finally, here’s me and mine!

Every day is Valentine's Day with the one you love
Every day is Valentine’s Day with the one you love