Christmas letter from Iwo Jima

Lieutenant Leonard Isacks died just two months after writing this letter home to his boys. On February 20th, 1945 he was killed when a Japanese mortar round hit his foxhole on Iwo Jima. He left behind his wife and three children.

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My dear little boys:

I am writing you today, just a week before Christmas eve, in the hope that you will get this little note at Christmas time. All of this coming week will be holidays, and I can just imagine the fun you will be having, especially when you know that it is just a few days before Santa Claus will be coming. If it were possible, I would like to come down the chimney myself and crawl right in to your stocking, wouldn’t that be a surprise! I would enjoy it even more than you, but since your Dad is far away and Santa Claus has the only reindeer’s that will fly through the air, I’m afraid we will have to let Santa Claus use them. After all he has so many places to go in such a short time.

I won’t be able to give you a Christmas present personally this year, but I do want you to know that I think of you all of the time and feel very proud of the way you have been helping your Mother while I was gone. I know that it is only natural for young, healthy and strong boys like you are to want to play and have fun all of the time: but I do want you to think about helping Mummie, because it is hard for her to do everything while I am gone. I know that you would like to give me a Xmas present too, so I will tell you what you can do, and this will be your Xmas present to me. Everyday ask Mummie if there are errands that you can go on for her, and when there are errands to run, say ‘Sure Mummie’ and give her a big smile: then during the day go up your room and look around, if there are toys scattered all around or you left some of your clothes on the floor, pick them up: also, when Mummie is busy trying to clean up the house, don’t leave her by herself, but ask Mummie if you can help take care of baby sister. If you will do those things for me, that will be the finest Xmas present that you could give me. Oh yes and CC, are you eating your meals like a real man now?

Well my boys, I guess you often wonder why people fight and have wars, and why lots of daddies have to be away at Xmas time fighting, when it would be so much nicer to be at home. That’s a hard question to answer. But, you see, some countries like Japan and Germany, have people living in them, just like some people you and I know. Those people want to tell everybody what they can do and what they can’t do. No one likes to be told how to live their life. I know that you certainly wouldn’t like it if one of the boys in the neighbourhood tired to tell you what church you should go to, what school you should go to and particularly if that boy would always be trying to ‘beat up’ some smaller, weaker boy. You wouldn’t like it, would you? And, unfortunately the only way to make a person like that stop those sorts of things or a country like Japan or Germany, is to fight them and beat them… and teach them that being a bully (because after all that’s what they are) is not the way to live and that we won’t put up with it. What does all of this mean to you? Just simply this, my boys, Dad, doesn’t want you to ever be a bully, I want you to always fight against anyone who trys to be one; I want you to always help the smaller fellow, or the little boy who may not be as strong as you: I want you to always share what you have with the other fellow and above all, my boys have courage, have courage to do the things that you think are right. To do those things, you need a strong body and a brave heart; never run away from someone you may be afraid of if you do, you will feel ashamed of yourself and before long you will find it so easy to run away from the things that you should stand up and fight against. If you and lots of other boys try to do the things that Dad has been talking about in this letter, it may be that people will not have to fight wars in the years to come and then all of the Daddies in this world will be home for Christmas and that is where they belong. Perhaps some of the things I have been talking about… you don’t quite understand, if you don’t, Mummie will explain them to you, as she knows….

A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year… God Bless you. Daddy

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[Jo] This letter had a profound impact on me. As someone who tries to follow the principles of stoicism I think its important to remember that the whole point of life is to die. (And preferably to die well)

I think about death a lot. I try make it part of my daily routine. When I leave in the morning to go to work I try and say goodbye to my wife, child and dogs as if its the last time I will see them. That doesn’t make it a soppy, gushy drawn out affair every morning, but it does make me cognizant to do it properly and not an event where I’m stumbling out of the house with a coffee in hand, bagel in mouth and mumbling ‘later’ down the passage.

It also underscores to me that I have a responsibility to these people that doesn’t necessarily end with my demise. While I don’t necessarily believe in Utilitarianism. I do believe creating life requires a level of commitment and culpability on the part of the creator to ensure that your creation has the best possible statistical chance of doing well (without messing them up). And while I understand that everyone has a different value system, ascribing different weights to the different things we can pass along to our progeny, ie financial assistance, stability, values, etc I tend to think of this more along the lines of risk diversification and so try add a little bit of everything of what I deem important.

In any event. It is also why I blog. I could get t-boned by a semi on my way home tonight. In a couple of months my two year old daughter won’t remember very much about me and in time, there will be only vague memories and notions. I’d still like to be there for her in some form or another. I’d like there to be some evidence that she was loved. This is what your dad was like. This is what he thought about. Hopefully she will think about it. Build on it. Modify it. Change it. And then pay it forward to the next generation.

Ad infinitum.

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