Arthur L. Ludwick Jr. and Peggy Ludwick ’70 Bacterio.
McFarland Books: 2022
Arthur L. Ludwick Jr. and Jean Hoyer are newlyweds, married just two months before he goes to war in December 1941, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Throughout the next two and a half years, the regimental combat surgeon affectionately known as “Lud” writes to his bride religiously, intimately detailing the places and people he encounters—along with feelings of longing and homesickness, and musings on how the couple’s life might be when they are at long last reunited.
After his death at 94 in 2008, his daughter painstakingly reads, organizes, and transcribes the letters he mails to her mother from battlefields around Europe and North Africa during World War II. It’s a labor of love decades in the making, based on a treasure trove of correspondence, photos, military documents, and more.
“I’ve come to believe that my father’s almost-daily letters from the front lines of World War II were each a tiny triumph, marking his days and getting him through the indescribable horrors of war. They became his focus, purpose, and ultimately his salvation—to survive another day, to send another letter and, perhaps, receive one as well,” Peggy Ludwick writes in the introduction to this compelling narrative.
Her father sees brutal campaigns—Kasserine, Fondouk, Hill 609, Monte Pantano, Cassino, Anzio—and earns a Purple Heart and Silver Star, “unusual combat commendations for an unarmed medical officer” who carries a typewriter with him to war, Peggy notes.
His voice comes through clear and strong, transporting contemporary readers to another place and time with great detail and humanity. Lud presents an intricate chronicle of war and a powerful example of the lost art of letter-writing. His thorough and thoughtful introspections and observations, supplemented with historical context from Peggy’s own research and excerpts from interviews she conducts with her father, will appeal to history buffs with an interest in World War II, loved ones of those who served in this and other conflicts and experienced the lasting effects of the toll of war, and those enamored with wartime romance.
Missing are Jean’s responses, although Lud alludes to them in subsequent letters, starting in spring 1941 from training at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, and ending with his last missive from overseas in spring 1944. In between, he’s deployed to Northern Ireland, Algeria, Tunisia, and Italy.
“Hold on, Kid, I’m coming. I live for you,” he writes to Jean on July 20, 1942. “I couldn’t go on without your letters…,” he notes on February 5, 1943.
Lud misses the comforts of home—fried chicken, in particular. He asks for razor blades, candy bars, and a small French-English dictionary. In return, he offers anecdotes about moments such as the time journalist Martha Gellhorn—a.k.a. “Mrs. Ernest Hemingway—visits his camp in Italy. He sits across the table from her at dinner, describing her looks, speech, and “very affected manner” in a letter dated February 22, 1944. “I couldn’t help but compare her with you, and Miss Gellhorn was choked with dust at the starting line.”
The following year, he and Jean settle in Wenatchee. They raise a family, and he practices medicine for just more than 50 years, retiring in his late 70s in the late 1980s. Jean dies in 2013 at 95. In this engrossing, firsthand account of war, Peggy preserves part of her father’s legacy.
Q&A with Peggy Ludwick, author of A Doctor’s War