‘I can’t tell you everything.’ — Letters from the Front

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Carlton and Mary Nabb pose with a copy of their book in front of a display of George Nabb Jr.’s medals in the foyer of the family farmhouse. George wrote to his wife Georgia nearly every day during WWII, and the letters are reproduced in the book, “I can’t tell you everything…”

CAMBRIDGE — George Nabb and Georgia Fleming were married in 1938, and had a son, George Jr., in 1940. By 1941 World War II was heating up, and George was called to active duty. He was serving training in the States for 18 months, and George and Georgia got to see each other occasionally when George was on leave, but on October ’42 he shipped out to England and their separation began.
George did what a lot of soldiers do; he wrote letters home to Georgia, practically every day. George was on the beach in Normandy, and in the assault on St. Lo, and still the letters kept coming. All of the outgoing mail was censored, of course — they didn’t want any sensitive information getting into the hands of the enemy — but at the same time George was sensitive to his wife’s feelings and didn’t want her to worry, and instead of telling war stories he asked about her and little Georgie, about the neighbors and the farm, about friends and relatives.
George had much more to tell, but that would have to wait. He was wounded twice, and saw a lot of action, but he didn’t mention that much. In time the war was over and he came back to the States. Georgia had kept his letters, every one of them; stacked in a drawer in an old secretary. And that’s where they stayed.
Returning soldiers just don’t talk much about their wars, especially if they’ve seen a lot of action. There was a farm to run, a family to build, plenty of work to do. The letters stayed in the secretary, the memorabilia was carefully packed in an old trunk and put away, and life went on.
George Nabb Jr. passed away in 1989, and was followed by his wife in 2005. At that point George’s second son, Carlton, and his wife Mary, took over the family farm and moved into the house. One of the things they inherited was the old secretary, and at that point we’ll let Mary take over the story.
“All these letters were in a drawer in the secretary. I was very close with his (Carlton’s) mom for many, many years. She never mentioned them. I had heard him say she had letters, but I had never seen them. It kind of bothered me after we got up here and I saw them, that oh, gee, they shouldn’t be sitting in this drawer.”
But still, there they stayed. “Other things came up,” as Mary said, and fiddling with a bunch of old letters was low on the priority compared to the day to day work necessary on the farm. Then Carlton had a bout of heart trouble — that, on top of a few short battles with cancer, got them to thinking.
“I needed to do something before something happened to him,” Mary says. “I wanted Carlton to see them all.
“At first, Carlton didn’t want to bother with them, but then finally I got them out. After reading some and seeing what they were, I was like, ‘Carlton, we can’t leave these in here. I’m afraid something will happen to them.’ I went over and met Ray Thompson at the Nabb Research Center in Salisbury.”
The Nabb Center (named for Carlton’s uncle, an early benefactor of the Center) showed Mary how to take the letters out and save them in archival page protectors, and in the process someone put the Nabbs in touch with the staff at Saltwater Media in Berlin. Saltwater told the Nabbs about the Expresso Book Machine and its publish on demand (POD) system, and it sounded like the perfect solution to the problem. POD book printing is not an inexpensive option for buying a book, but it can make book subjects with a smaller audience appeal easily available to people who don’t mind paying a few dollars more for something special. And there was no doubt the Nabb book was going to be special.
Mary then took all the letters out, and one by one typed them into the computer. She added photos from her father-in-law’s limited collection, along with other bits of artwork. At one point, she had researched and found newspaper stories about George Nabb’s unit (115th Infantry, 29th Division) and wanted to include them in the book, but the Baltimore Sun wanted payment for each article scan they used, a minimum of $90 each, and possibly more if they printed more books. It was a deal breaker; the 17 articles she had found in the Sun would have to remain out of the book.
It was a tremendous amount of work, but finally the Nabbs wound up with a real, bound book of George Nabb’s war letters to Georgia, calling it “I can’t tell you everything…” Writing Home From the War Front, 1942-1945, taken from a line in one of the letters. The process began as just a way to collect the letters for the family but the Nabbs decided to make the book available to anyone else who might be interested. And it is interesting.

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“I don’t have a history background. I never liked history growing up. I just didn’t,” Mary says. “I didn’t know very much about the war in detail. I certainly did not know his father’s part in the war until I got into doing (the book), and reading it I would come up with all these little things and I’d sit there and I’d laugh. He’d say, “What are you laughing at?” I’d read him something dad wrote.
“While I was working on that, I think I’d gotten five different books (on WWII). I’ve read four of them, about their part in World War II. Then it kind of all went together of what was going on around him. I’ve read one in particular that was the history of his infantry day by day, and I’d read through that and then go to the letters day by day, and it was amazing at points–and I’m like, “How can he sit down and write a letter like this at night with all this going on around him?” George was always cheering her up. Telling her not to worry, and everything’s going to be all right and that kind of stuff.”
The books Mary read to compare their local history to were Omaha Beach by Joe Balkoski, and The Clay Pigeons of St. Lo by Glover S. Johns Jr. Clay Pigeons especially, as it is a history of the 115th Infantry, 29th Division.
“Our book doesn’t really have any details of fighting or anything,” Carlton says, “it’s just the personal family type of situation that was involved during the wartime and how families made out. One thing that really struck me when reading the book more than anything else was, of course, everybody was poor. Dad’s father lost the farm and they kept the farm by his aunt being able to keep it together. Dad was always talking to mom, ‘Well, how much did you spend for this?’ ‘How much did you spend for that?’
“One place they got to talking about, ‘Well, we’ve saved up $7,000,’ because that’s what they wanted to start back with the farm. When you get to thinking about $7,000 back then, it was a lot of money. Seven thousand dollars to me is a lot of money now, but it was really a lot of money back then. It was just every day-to-day happenings, and it’s a lot of people in Cambridge that he talks about, asks about, different things like that.
“You wouldn’t think that it would be interesting and all without shoot ‘em up, bang, bang, Patton’s army rushing, but if you take your time and read through it, and you are familiar with some of the area, it is interesting. It’s just interesting to find out how a wife with a little kid handled themselves without a husband and father.”
The Nabb Center is scanning all of the original letters and will keep the scans for anyone interested in doing research on the subject, but Carlton and Mary decided to make the book, “I can’t tell you everything…” available to anyone who wants it. “We have three outlets in Cambridge,” says Carlton. “People can get the book in Craig’s Drugstore, the Bay Country Shop and at the Dorchester County Historical Society bookstore.” It will also be available at any store that has an Expresso Book Machine, where the system will instantly print and bind a copy after an order is placed.
The book is also available directly from the Nabbs. “We had no intention of that when we started this,” Mary told us. “We didn’t know how big it was going to be when we were done with it.” World War II historians are bound to find “I can’t tell you everything…” interesting, and there’s no doubt that it is an engaging read. But will it be more popular than that? Only time will tell.
“If they want to put this one up for a Pulitzer prize, I’ll be happy with that,” Carlton says, “but this is the one that means something to the family.”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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