By Ken Marsh

VETERANS DAY – Decades ago my grandmother, Doris Silvers Burnett, gave me the last letter she ever received from her brother, U.S. Army Pfc. Roland J. Silvers. Written July 10, 1942, in Ireland where he was stationed, to Doris and sister Verna (postmarked July 14) the letter captures 22-year-old Pfc. Silvers’ views of the time. Among other items, he shares his frustration with the drudgery and hard work of repetitive Army field training, thinly disguises some boasting as cynicism while describing “buxom dirty Irish gals” (“I’ve had lots of experience with them”), and mentions the all too familiar World War II soldiers’ experience of having your girl back home send word that she’s engaged to someone else.

Pfc. Silvers couldn’t know that five weeks after writing this letter, he would take part in the ill-fated allied attack on German-held Dieppe in northern France. There, on August 19, 1942, Silvers served as one of 50 commandos of the newly formed, first-ever U.S. Army Rangers. Dieppe was a catastrophic defeat for the British and Canadian forces who made up the bulk of the attack force. Hundreds were killed and taken prisoner. For his part, Silvers was wounded and whisked back to Scotland to recover.

The injuries Pfc. Silvers sustained were apparently minor as he was back on active duty in Scotland a month later. Sadly, on September 22, 1942, Pfc. Silvers was killed during live-fire training.

Today, as Veterans Day approaches 79 years later, we – his family – salute him. His letter speaks to an era when the United States and many other nations pitched in and worked together to make the world a better, freer place. Like so many others then, before, and since, he made the ultimate sacrifice. Like them, Pfc. Silvers is gone, but not forgotten.

His transcribed letter follows:


Dear Verna and Doris,

Gee Verna it was sure thoughtful of you to send that pk [package]. Very useful articles. Sure appreciated them thanks a lot & I mean it. I wrote mom and Doris yesterday but I can’t seem to write much anymore. Sure seems funny when I set down to write[.] I don’t know I guess everyone expects a long letter but I can’t write them. Of course things happen but you either can’t forget or anyhow it doesn’t get in. We’ve got the neighboring farmers working their hens overtime to furnish our hut with eggs for midnite lunches. It’s daylight until 1 o’clock now & gets daylight again about 4:30 or 5. On maneuvers we had breakfast at 2 A.M. had two sandwiches at noon & supper between 6 & 9 o’clock. A long day. Everything haywire on them nothing seemed to go good. Maybe someone got a kick out of it. I’m sure fed up with this same old training schedule. We’re being overtrained the same old stuff over & over its so boresome what I’d give to get into a different branch of the service one that’s exciting full of danger & thrills.

            A guy has too much time for mental activity around here.

            Doris how are you making it. How’s Alaska? Haven’t heard yet? I guess it’s a hell of a hole now. Know a technician who was there he gave me the lowdown. Not much to make a guy happy. These buxom dirty Irish gals you can have such jealous narrow-minded creatures. Two faced too. I’ve had lots of experience with them.

            When I get to the bottom of this page I’m going to call it quits. Think I’ll make it.

            My girl is engaged & going to be married soon she tells me. Sent me a portrait about the time she got engaged & just broke the news two weeks ago. I’d always taken it for granted that she’d be ready waiting for me when I got ready she always intimated she was in no hurry to marry. Want to see the a little life & do things. Sure wrote me a nice letter too to explain. Jesus such a swell gal. Lives in Ames has for last 5 years I guess I went to school with her. Well here’s the bottom of the page & that’s all there is no more don’t look for my letters just be glad when one arrives!

            Bye for a while your independent brother


To learn more about Pfc. Roland J. Silvers, visit


  1. For a few times I tried to write comment and deleted it. The story of your grandmother’s brother, his letter is very powerful and I had a difficult time to find the words to express how I felt. Thank you very much for sharing this story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kaya! I think Roland’s feelings were similar to those of many young servicemen of the day. Many were eager to serve, but also a little bored, a little lonely, maybe a bit homesick. His letter is nothing extraordinary, but does capture a moment in time shared by so many Americans of the era. It serves, too, as a faint link between me and a family member I never had the pleasure to meet. 😊


  2. So hard to define sacrifice. Body,soul, mind,heart. You have given good insight to one mans strife. So sad to remember so many lost lives! Even though we are not at war per se..we struggle to come to peace with our differences. Thanks for sharing . I am a friend of your Mother and she always shares how proud of you she is. You are blessed to have each other!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patricia. Pulling out the letter and rereading after many years was a little like having Roland return to life. At the same time it sort of took me back in time. It’s good to be reminded firsthand from family members who served of the sacrifices our veterans have made. Thanks again for your thoughts!


  3. What a gift to read this letter and story of your great- uncle, I believe? I am a friend of your mother, Sandy. Thank you for sharing this slice of history on Veterans Day. It depicts well both the frustration and loneliness of someone serving in the military. Also the sadness of losing a love who moved on while he was in the service. A common tale, it seems.
    I appreciated being able to get a glimpse of this young man’s life before it tragically ended. War is such a horrible thing and is no respecter of persons, is it! Thank you for honoring your relative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Brenda. One thing I didn’t mention is that Roland’s hometown newspaper in Webster City, Iowa, declared him the city’s first casualty of the war. Sadly, many other Webster City boys followed. War is tragic indeed.


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