COLUMBIA, Mo. — Volunteers are carefully transcribing thousands of letters that World War II soldiers sent home for the State Historical Society of Missouri's digital collection.
The effort to compile the letters began in 1945 with W. Francis English, the then-head of the history department at the University of Missouri, the Columbia Missourian reported .
English envisioned a book about World War II entirely composed of letters from the soldiers who witnessed it firsthand. He reached out to radio host Ted Malone asking for help in collecting soldiers' letters written to family members and friends. Within weeks, more than 3,000 people sent submissions.
The letters currently fill nearly 3,500 folders in the society's space. Some of the letters were written in the early stages of the U.S. involvement in the war, but the majority was written toward the end, in 1944 or 1945.
The first letters were transcribed and digitized in August 2016 with the effort continuing since. The society has so far published nearly 900 folders online.
Transcribing so many letters can prove a challenge, said Heather Richmond, an archivist with the society.
"I would never have started doing this if I didn't know we had an amazing set of volunteers," she said. "They help us with all kinds of different things in the society."
The collection has significant educational value, said Mary Ellen Lohmann, spokeswoman for the society.
"I think from an education programming aspect, it helps add the human element to a war," she said. "History is thought of as wars and dates and time, but we forget about the individual soldiers in the trenches."