Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1920, Earl E. Leas grew into an introspective young man with a keen sense of humor and a fondness for world travel. He joined the army in 1943 then underwent military training in Columbus, Ohio before he was transferred to Fort Dix in New Jersey for departure abroad. Leas served more than two years between 1943 and 1945 abroad in French colonial North Africa (Algeria) and Marina Di Pisa, Italy. There is no indication that he participated in combat; however, he was employed in several positions including company clerk personnel classification specialist, worked in the PX, and completed duties on charge of quarter. Once he had been stationed abroad, he was promoted from corporal to sergeant and given a twenty-percent raise.
Before and after his years in the army, Earl Leas followed the career path of his father, Floyd Solomon Leas (1892-1988), and worked as an accountant. His father had no formal education or training; Earl, on the other hand, after graduating from Reading High School in 1937, attended and graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked for thirty years at Armour and Company in Reading. This was followed by work at the Reading Brewing Company and the City of Reading in similar capacities. He retired in 1985.
His time abroad gave him a rather shocking awareness of life outside of small-town Reading, Pennsylvania. While abroad he traveled to or through a number of places including Rome, various provinces in Switzerland, and Naples. Leas’s descriptions of the places he visited during his two years abroad probably ignited an interest for further travels and investigations much later in life. It is noted in his sister’s (Arlene) obituary that he was her travel partner on many cruises and trips abroad (Reading Eagle, 2011). This comfort with travel and learning about other cultures was, no doubt, made easier after his first deployment in North Africa which required a brief process of acclimation and acculturation to a foreign country. In North Africa he complained, “This is a strange place here. . . . Practically all the people here speak in French, so it is hard, if not impossible to understand them” (Letter: February 24, 1943). And, further, there was the Mediterranean climate which offered the greatest shock and, perhaps, discomforts: “The weather here is strange. In the day time it is warm, and the night it is very cold. When it rains, the ground gets muddy, and when it doesn’t rain, the ground is dry and dusty.” He describe how the weather affected him when he worked, “It gets hot as the devil here during the day and by evening, I don’t have much energy to do anything” (Letter: July 18, 1944). And, finally, another culture shock – of which he joked occasionally and sometimes offensively – described in his letters was the dress and mannerisms of the “natives.”
Near the conclusion of his service abroad, Leas and fellow soldiers celebrated with weekly parties and constant leisure. In this “social” life Lease revealed that he possessed many talents including playing the piano (he even played in a military orchestra while in Oran, Algeria), dancing, swimming, baseball, volleyball, and tennis. Because he was one of the last military personnel in to be transferred back to the United States, he didn’t leave Italy until November 19, 1945. After his return to Reading, Pennsylvania, Leas worked in his chosen profession until retirement at the age of 65. He died there July 22, 2005.
This collection results from Earl Leas’s service in the United States Army during the Second World War. This compilation of 473 letters was written to his family: Muzz (mother), father Floyd, and sister Arlene. Other items found among the letters were church and dinner service programs, foreign currency, post cards, and receipts from the Billy’s Butter Bretzels (also Billy’s Bretzel Bakery) in Reading, Pennsylvania.
In the army, a high degree of security was enacted to prevent the leaking of classified information. Many of the letters the soldiers sent home were evaluated, or censored, to prevent or impede a breach in their security measures. Knowing this, many of the soldiers wrote letters which did not provide more than discussions of weather and other mundane observations. Much of this can be read in Leas’s frustrated attempts to write within the boundaries of proper military secrecy and conduct. The majority of the letters seems to be saturate with repetitive information and observations.
The first few letters in the collection are without numbers and only demarcated with the date. Leas started numbering his letters on March 25, 1943 (Box 1, Folder 1) noting “Well here is No. 1 letter. There are a lot of letters before this one, but I will start with this one as No. 1.” He gives no reason as to why he decided to do this. In this same letter he also noted the inauguration of the V-mail system. “Starting April 15 th they are going to start the real V-mail system that is photographing the letters. They say this way we should get them much quicker. I will use V-mail then also, but you see we don’t have so many V-mail forms here. I will use regular air-mail until the regular V-mail goes in effect.” While the V-mail system made it possible to send and receive the letters quicker, it also allowed the military to censor the letters more efficiently.
Acknowledging the time he spent abroad, Leas in August 1944, “A year and a half ago today we left the states, boy, that seems an awful long time to be out of the good old U.S. and away from home.” As his deployment abroad extended, perhaps much longer than ever imagined, his foundness for communication from family and friends back home grew, so much so that he started his letters with the expression “Boy, I sure did hit the jackpot with the mail today . . ..” Although he continued to write about the same things as in previous letters, following those written August 1944 took on a more gleeful tone.
In January 1945 he was transferred from North Africa to Italy. He wrote, “I guess you think it’s a long time since I wrote the last letter, but as you can see by my new address that we took a little boat ride. . . . I knew we were going to move some time ago, but I couldn’t let you know in any way. We had quite a rough trip the first few days when we ran into a pretty bad storm, but the rest of the time it was very smooth.” In May of this year the censorship was relaxed but Leas’s letters continued in a similar fashion and writing style. Writing on May 12th, “Since we can write practically what we please, I am going to write more air/mail letters. It seems strange to talk to you without having to worry about giving some military [information] away.” As his letters continued, he grew more and more frustrated with being away from home, constantly making note of his longings to be near family, friends, and home. Although they learned that the war was over in August of 1945, he and other soldiers remained in Italy until November, much to his dismay and bewilderment. Then, when orders came for his return, he left Pisa for Naples, where he wrote his final letter informing his family of new devel0pments. He concluded, “Well I guess that’s all for now, I’ll let you know as soon as I can when I hit the good old U.S.A.”
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Weckea Dejura Lilly
- Finding Aid Date
- May 2012
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.