When I first set out to write Letters from Home, a novel inspired by my grandparents’ WWII courtship letters, I soon realized how much research would be involved. What I didn’t foresee was the immense admiration I’d gain for a group of women I’d somehow never learned of until then. The Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, has ultimately come to represent the skilled, courageous American gals of WWII who stepped up when their country needed them—yet at the time, far too many endured disparagement and ingratitude despite their service and sacrifices.
Originally formed as an auxiliary unit, the organization converted to the women’s branch of the US Army in 1943. As you can imagine, the range of early assignments was fairly limited, the three major specialties being switchboard operators, mechanics, and bakers. Naturally, an expansion to include such duties as postal and secretarial jobs wasn’t far behind, at which point some women were assigned as drivers and armorers and eventually even worked on the Manhattan Project.
Before long, overcoming a great deal of skepticism over female capabilities, let alone a societal aversion to women in uniform, WAC members were being deployed to such posts as Europe, North Africa, and New Guinea—which happens to be where one of my characters, Betty Cordell, serves as a WAC nurse. Of course, the stark reality of her post turns out to be a far cry from the island paradise she envisioned.
In tropical field hospitals, women like Betty cared for a constant stream of servicemen wounded in the Pacific. But the daily challenges didn’t end there; included among them were the intense humidity, poor living conditions, frequent supply shortages, and lack of appropriate attire (imagine wearing a wool uniform in horrendously sticky heat)—not to mention the many health risks.
Yet in the meanwhile, on the home front, a massive slander campaign was spreading. Ugly allegations were investigated and refuted, but sadly the claims persisted nonetheless.
After learning so much about the bravery and contributions of the WACs, I was especially stricken by a memoir by a WAC nurse. Once she returned to the States after the war, rather than being praised by bands and parades, she was told to put away her uniform, remove the WAC from her resume to prevent being passed over, and, by her own mother, to not so much as mention her wartime experiences while at home.
But then, stories like that are precisely why I have a passion for historical novels: because so often they shine a spotlight on lesser-known or unsung heroes who shouldn’t be forgotten.
About Letters from Home
Inspired by her grandparents’ WWII courtship letters, New York Times best-selling author Kristina McMorris delivers a moving tale of friendship, family, and the twists of fate that change us forever.
It’s 1944, and although foreign battles are escalating, the war seems distant in every way to sensible college student Liz Stephens. That is, until her chance encounter with charming infantryman Morgan McClain at a USO dance in Chicago. Their deep connection feels mutual to Liz, but to her dismay, her bombshell roommate, Betty, is the one who promises to write the deploying soldier.
Singer Betty Cordell delights in the prospect of a dashing serviceman filling her life with adventure, marital bliss, and societal circles outranking her modest roots. It only makes sense for her to beg Liz for help penning an eloquent letter to Morgan, now bound for a dangerous front. After all, she’s certain the beauty of Liz’s ghostwritten prose would ensure a courtship as enviable as their roommate Julia’s relationship with her beloved sailor—and Betty is right, though not how she foresees.
Likewise, Julia Renard’s betrothal is more complicated than it appears. When tempting opportunities arise, the future she always envisioned as a devoted wife and mother risks derailment. And yet, as the Allies edge toward victory, every person—through heart-wrenching choices and life-altering letters—will discover within themselves profound courage, bittersweet hope, and the true meaning of home.
“A gripping and memorable story, Letters from Home is a timeless lesson in love and loss and the moments that shape our lives.” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris
Kristina McMorris is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of historical fiction inspired by true accounts, including Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, The Pieces We Keep, The Edge of Lost, and Sold on a Monday. She’s the recipient of more than two dozen prestigious literary awards and nominations, including the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, RWA’s RITA Award, and a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. Prior to her literary career, Kristina was a television personality and actress who hosted an Emmy-award winning television show as a child, and most recently served as the host of the WB’s Weddings Portland Style. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two sons and can be found online at www.KristinaMcMorris.com.
For a discussion guide, videos, and to read excerpts from the real-life WWII courtship letters that inspired this novel, please visit kristinamcmorris.com/letters-from-home.