Grandson publishes book of past Federation president's WWII letters

By Sean Boyle

“Love and Kisses, Charlie: WWII Letters From a Jewish-American Serviceman” is a collection of Charles “Charlie” Fletcher’s letters to his parents and sister during his time in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Fletcher moved to Allentown after his military service and eventually served as president of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, Jewish Family Service, Temple Beth El, the Allentown Center City Association and the Allentown Parking Authority.

Starting with Fletcher’s first day processing into the military, his letters continue through all his training and his assignment to the 102nd Infantry Division. Fletcher wrote during the unit’s deployment to Europe and its several months of combat through the war’s end.

Then he wrote about the months of occupation and the impact of meeting Polish Holocaust survivors, and ended with his eventual return stateside and his honorable discharge from the army after almost three years of service.

The book has over 600 of Fletcher’s letters home, all compiled and edited by his grandson, Rabbi Joshua Gerstein, a chaplain in the Israel Defense Forces.

The letters are broken into 13 chapters, and Gerstein starts each with background on what is going on in Fletcher’s life at the time. He also provides information on the unit’s back history and fighting record, what it faces next and where, and more, all giving the reader context for Fletcher’s writing.

Although Fletcher was not directly involved in combat, he did serve overseas on the staff of the
artillery headquarters of the 102nd. The division was in combat from shortly after arrival in Europe until the end of the war. It suffered 4,922 battle casualties.

The book contains only the letters Fletcher sent home to his parents, eventually including his sister as a recipient after she moves back home while waiting for her husband to return from overseas duty. The reader is not provided with the letters written in response, nor the content
of the phone conversations referenced. But even though the conversation is one-
way, the reader gets deep insight into Fletcher’s life in the service, his love for his family and
his constant worrying about their well-being back at home (as they worry about his being in harm’s way).

Gerstein provides personal and family photos throughout the book, as well as maps and other illustrations. Footnotes give background information on obscure references in the letters, as well as Yiddish/Hebrew translations and clarification of military jargon Fletcher uses.

The book’s introduction covers the happenstance of Gerstein’s finding the letters and the
motivation to compile and arrange them into a book memorializing his grandfather and his service.

Recommended for ages 16-120, especially anyone interested in World War II or who knew Fletcher.

“Love and Kisses, Charlie: WWII Letters From A Jewish-American Serviceman,” by Charles L. Fletcher, edited by Joshua Gerstein, independently published, 2022, 634 pages.

Sean Boyle is Congregation Keneseth Israel’s librarian, and vice president and president-elect of the Association of Jewish Libraries.