“It has been a long time since any of us boys have seen a woman, so we are writing to you in hopes that you’ll help us out of our situation,” Cpl. Frank J. Gizych lamented in a letter posted from the fog-shrouded Aleutian Islands. “Since we know that it’s impossible to see a woman in the flesh, we would appreciate it very much if you could send us a photo of yourself.”
It was July 1944, and America was at war. From bases and battlefields in Europe and on Pacific islands, soldiers, sailors and airmen were sending streams of letters to their favorite actresses in Hollywood, asking for pinup photos and commenting on life on the front lines.
Almost all of that mail, which studios usually answered with a glossy shot showing the star in a saucy pose, has been lost. But the actress Donna Reed, later famous for her roles as Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the middle-class housewife Donna Stone on “The Donna Reed Show” and who won an Oscar for “From Here to Eternity,” saved some of the correspondence. After nearly 65 years in a shoebox inside an old trunk long stored in the garage of her home in Beverly Hills, Calif., the letters have at last been read and made public by the actress’s children. Ms. Reed died in 1986 at age 64.
“Mom never mentioned them,” said Mary Owen, 52, the youngest of the four. She added, “I had no idea she was such an important symbol to these guys.”