"Sailor's Mail" depicts World War II love story

Marsha Norris Knudsen of Columbia poses for a photo holding her recently published book, “Sailor’s Mail,” which tells the love story of her parents during World War II.

Marsha Norris Knudsen of Columbia poses for a photo holding her recently published book, “Sailor’s Mail,” which tells the love story of her parents during World War II. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

A large, black trunk tucked away in Marsha Norris Knudsen’s parent’s home held family treasures left undiscovered for years.

Following her mother’s death in 2008 — and with her father already passed — Knudsen opened the truck and out came artifacts telling the story of her parents’ life and love during World War II.

Inside the box was her father’s Navy uniform, scrapbooks, telegrams, maps, train tickets, newspaper pages, ration coupons and photo albums filled with boot camp pictures her father, Homer, mailed to her mother, Ruth.

But the piece that gave her the most insight to her parents were the 200 love letters between Homer and Ruth, who he called “A Lovely Sailor’s Wife” in one letter. They married in August 1941 — five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Homer Norris did not return home until the Allies defeated the Axis powers.

Knudsen read the love letters over the course of a few weeks and understood who her parents were before she was born.

“I got to meet my parents when they were in their 20s,” Knudsen of Columbia said.

She then shared the love letters with members of her memoir writers group. With each get together, they wanted to know what was next for Homer and Ruth — who were Auxvasse residents for 55 years.

“They would tell me, ‘Well, this just isn’t a war story, it’s a love story,’” Knudsen said.

The idea prompted her to compile her parents’ love letters into a book, which was recently published and is titled, “Sailor’s Mail.”

“Sometimes things happen when they’re supposed to happen,” Knudsen said. “I just didn’t knew what that was going to do for me.”

Knudsen worked on the book for five years. She said her husband jokes that’s how long the Allied powers took to defeat the Axis.

But for Knudsen, working on the book was a way to hold onto her parents.

“For a long time I wasn’t ready to be done,” Knudsen said.

She decided to finish the book about seven months ago, have it published and share it with the world.

Knudsen, who has declared herself a “keeper of memories,” wants to send a message to everybody she can about preserving their family histories, pointing to her slogan: “Preserve the past. Honor the present. Leave a legacy.”

She added that people need to take advantage of family members who’ve served wars while they are still alive to tell their tales. As far as keepsakes, she says this:

“Do anything, but don’t throw it away.”

Knudsen noted the love letters were very special to her mother, who kept each carefully folded and tucked into its original envelope.

“Those were her love letters,” she said. “She just treasured them.”

Through reading the letters, Knudsen felt again two strong attributes of father maintained throughout his lifetime.

“It was same work ethic and sense of humor my father had when he was 60, 70, 80 years old,” Knudsen said.

“Sailor’s Mail” is easy to relate to, Knudsen said, especially for those whose loved ones have served in the wars or military missions since World War II.

“When they’re serving in war, the emotions their family feels are the same as what my mother felt in World War II,” she said.

The book is available for purchase at sailorsmail.net.

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