duke-150During World War II Beth Lynn’s Oldest son, Robert, joined the navy.  Even before the outbreak of the war the boy had dreamed of being a sailor.  He was a very dutiful son, and he wrote his mother regularly, at least once a week, sometimes more often.

After his ship went into combat in the war in the Pacific, Robert still wrote regularly. Sometimes he had to be very careful about what he said so as not to betray any military secrets that might then fall into the hands of the enemy. Letters often arrived with lines cut out of them by navy censors. These letters could be delayed for days, even weeks, owing to the uncertainties of mail delivery from a combat zone. But eventually they would show up in a bunch, much to the relief of Mrs. Lynn.

So she was not too concerned when a couple of weeks went by without receiving the customary letters from her son. But when the weeks stretched into months, Mrs. Lynn became deeply concerned.

Finally she contacted the Department of the Navy. After a long runaround and a great deal of red tape, Mrs. Lynn learned that her son’s ship had been sunk off one of the Pacific islands — which one she couldn’t be told “for security reasons.” The navy was not sure whether her son had been killed or had been captured by the Japanese. It was known that many Japanese ships had been in the vicinity when the ship went down, and it was assumed that at least some of the crewmen had been captured.

Mrs. Lynn was devastated. But she took some small comfort in the possibility that Robert had not been killed but had been captured and taken to Japan and would be returned after the war.

She clung to this fragile hope for many months. And then one day her prayers seem to have been answered. She received a telephone call from the navy. A letter from Robert had arrived from Japan. Naturally the government had intercepted all correspondence from the enemy and read it before passing it on. But this letter was perfectly harmless and would doubtless relieve her mind greatly. They would send it on to her.

Mrs. Lynn waited anxiously for the letter to arrive from Washington. It came three days later. It was written on a thin, light blue paper. The letter didn’t contain much hard information. Robert merely reported that his ship had been sunk and he had been captured and taken to Japan. He was now in a Japanese prison camp. He said that though he missed his family greatly and wanted more than anything else to be home, his captors were treating him quite well.

Mrs. Lynn was almost hysterical with relief. She read the letter over and over again. then she looked at the envelope. It had a Japanese stamp. A Japanese wartime stamp would be quite rare in the United States, she reasoned. And her nephew collected stamps. He would be thrilled to add this to his collection.

So Mrs. Lynn steamed the stamp off the envelope. And there, in tiny printing where the stamp had been, was this message: They’ve cut off my tongue.


[Cohen, 1993]

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