Arts & Culture
6:31 pm
Mon November 11, 2013

Church Newsletters Brought a Bit of Home to Milwaukee Soldiers in WWII

Milwaukee author Betty Mullins with copies of "The Apostle," a parish newsletter edited by her mother and other young women during WWII. It was sent to soldiers fighting abroad.
Credit Mitch Teich

Lake Effect's Stephanie Lecci interviews author Betty Mullins.

As Milwaukee soldiers fought on the front lines during World War II thousands of miles away, several young women from the city's south side worked to make the homefront seem a little closer.

It's a remarkable story that hasn't been widely told until now, thanks to a recent novel called Don't Let Down from Milwaukee author Betty Mullins.

From 1943 to 1946, Mullins' mother, Mary, and several other young ladies at St. Matthew's parish published a monthly church newsletter featuring both updates from the community and news about parish members serving in World War II.

"They were motivated by patriotism and love for the people from their parish that they knew," Mullins says. "They wanted to participate in the war effort. They wanted to give their people a connection to home."

Mullins says the newsletter was appropriately called "The Apostle" because the young women were "spreading the good news just like the apostles who wrote the Gospels."

"(The soldiers) appreciated it so much...and this one person wrote, 'The Apostle, like the Pacific Ocean, covers the miles between us and those we love,'" she says.

A typical newsletter might include a review of a play, notices about upcoming events like concerts and Boy Scout hikes, and other church news. It would also include a couple of lines about each of the 30 to 40 soldiers from the parish - where they were stationed, who had been wounded, and even complaints from the front lines about KP duty. Occasionally, an in-depth interview would run with a soldier who was home on leave or had come back from service.

Of course, the newsletters also included news of parish members who were killed in action, a difficult item for Mullins' mother and the other young women to write and share with their community. But it was work they knew was important and needed.

"(My mother) had every single issue and it made me realize she kept them because she was proud of them and she should have been," Mullins says. "That was a very meaningful time in her life."

Mullins culled the newsletters to create her novel, even using actual quotes from letters home printed in the papers to start her chapters. But she fictionalized the rest of the story because she says it was too daunting to try to track down the actual participants, and she wanted the freedom as a writer to mix and match these real stories into an interesting plot.

Nonetheless, Mullins says she hopes her book has given readers a glimpse into what life really was like in WWII-era Milwaukee.

"Stories like these dilute with each generation," she says. "They will never be forgotten as long as someone remembers, so this book was a way for me to pass on this information, these stories, to another generation and it's something that can be lasting. I mean, this book can last forever."