An American Family In World War II: The Minker Family Letters
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This digital collection presents approximately 650 letters that members of the Minker family of Wilmington, Delaware, wrote between 1943 and 1945. Their lively and engaging correspondence documents the American experience in World War II both in the military and on the home front.
In February 1943 eighteen-year-old Ralph L. Minker, Jr., known to family and friends as “Lee,” left Dickinson College to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Thus began a correspondence that Lee, his parents, and his two younger sisters maintained until he returned from service in August 1945. Every member of the family wrote detailed letters that provide a full account of their activities and reveal their personalities. Lee’s letters home provide detailed accounts of his extensive training as a B-17 pilot and his experiences flying 37 bombing missions from Rattlesden AAF Base in Suffolk, England. Letters from home in Wilmington supported him in many ways, with local news, encouragement, and guidance from his parents and jokes and lighter news from his teenaged sisters. Taken together, the correspondence provides an unusually detailed picture of one family’s experience in World War II.
This digital collection includes all of the family letters and Lee Minker’s detailed scrapbook of his military experience, which the Minker family donated to the Delaware Historical Society in 1998. Digitization was made possible by the generous financial support of Sandra O’Connell Minker, wife of Lee Minker, and Sharron E. Juliano. Sandra O’Connell Minker also devoted many volunteer hours to preparing the materials for digitization. Patrick Kennaly, a student at Dickinson College, also assisted in preparing the project with support from The Ralph Minker Peace Fund for Student-Faculty Research at Dickinson College.
It will perhaps be a new year when this reaches you. May it be a year we shall always remember as the one when hostilities ceased and men worked as hard to make a lasting peace as they had to wage a terrible war!
Edna Minker wrote those words from her home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Christmas night 1944 as the Battle of the Bulge raged, knowing that her son, Lee (Ralph L. Minker Jr.), was most likely in the flak-darkened skies over Germany as pilot of a B-17. Fifty years later on Christmas night 1994, when Ralph and I first read his mother’s words aloud he was immediately transported back to those perilous days.
We eventually learned that the box of newly rediscovered letters (656 in all) written by the five members of the Minker family during the war were a rare piece of American history. Their daily conversations tell the story of grueling training in the Army Air Corps; the fearsome progress of the war; 37 combat missions over Germany; life on the home front with rationing, bond drives, air raid warnings, school graduations; and always, the Delaware boys leaving for military service. In 1998, the strong roots of his childhood home led us to donate the letters and World War II memorabilia to the Delaware Historical Society where they would be valued and preserved. Three fortunate circumstances are responsible for this unique collection: Ralph “Lee” Minker Jr. intentionally wrote his letters as a diary and asked the family to save them; remarkably, he shipped all of the letters he received from his parents and two teenage sisters back home; and his mother preserved all of the correspondence along with his scrapbook of hundreds of photos throughout the moves she and Ralph Minker, Sr., made during their active lives in Wilmington.
As a record of historical events, what do letters tell us that no other source can? Why make them publicly available in a digital collection? The letters are compelling, deeply personal, and full of details of how one family endured in a time that threatened our way of life. The Minkers shared the love, hopes, and fears of every family in wartime; letters connect us to history in a way that no textbook can. With the collection and the search tools available online, the story of one pilot and his family’s life in World War II will continue to come alive for future generations. Preserving the letters in digital format assures that researchers and readers from all over the world can uncover in these ordinary conversations not only the history of World War II but also the values of doing your duty, love of country and family, shared sacrifice, and working for the common good. This digital collection carries out a notable pledge Ralph made in 1991. In a eulogy for his comrades of the 447th Bomb Group, Ralph wrote:
We still have a solemn responsibility to give witness to who we are and have been, to say to each other and those who passed away: still standing for peace with justice, still faithful to a common cause.
Sandra O’Connell (Mrs. Ralph L. Minker) April 2016