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Remembering our nation's veterans through their letters

A letter written by Stamer Chino at Fortress Monroe in Virginia on April 9, 1865
A letter written by Stamer Chino at Fortress Monroe in Virginia on April 9, 1865

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It's hard to understand what life on the battlefield is like if you've never been there. Or what being on the frontlines looks like from the vantage point of our service members, shuddering with each explosion and flinching at each flare.

But you CAN get a glimpse of that life through the letters written by those who have been to war. 

Thousands of personal letters are being collected starting today at Chapman University's new Center for American War Letters -- a center that could not have happened without Andrew Carroll.

For 15 years, Carroll has been collecting and curating these letters by service members and their families for The Legacy Project.

He's now giving that collection to the Center where it will be used to teach about wartime life. And this idea to gather these letters all started with a fire.

"Before Christmas of 1989, my house here in Washington DC burned down," says Carroll, burning up a wealth of family memorabilia.

A distant relative then decided to forward him a letter that he wrote during World War II when he was going through a former Nazi concentration camp.

"He said, 'Keep it. I was going to throw it out anyway.'"

That gesture made Carroll realize the wealth of other personalized letters that are out there -- some might that go misplaced or discarded.

"What I want these letters to do is give us a better sense of sacrifice by these men and women, and humanize them."

If you'd like to contribute to the collection, send your letters here:

The Center for American War Letters
c/o Char Williams - SMC
One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866