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       No Forgotten Fronts

From Classrooms to Combat


Lisa K. Shapiro


Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018

Hardcover. x+380 p. ISBN 978-1682472729. $29.95


Reviewed by Gina G. Palmer

U.S. Naval War College, Newport (Rhode Island)





Lauren C. Post—a charismatic professor interested in diaspora and culture—was teaching history at San Diego State College (now California’s San Diego State University) when the Second World War began. Many of his students were drafted into or volunteered for military service: he requested his students write letters to him. He did not anticipate that his simple request to keep in touch would grow into a critical communications gathering and disbursement point. Distributing the correspondence in his privately-printed publication, The Aztec News Letter, Professor Post nearly single-handedly tied together a community of thousands of “Aztec” alumni soldiers, families, and friends—providing a social platform for connectedness, news, and storytelling far before the advent of Internet and social media companies such as Facebook and YouTube.

In her work No Forgotten Fronts : From Classroom to Combat, author Lisa Shapiro explores the war through the words of veterans, their families, and friends, with Professor Post’s newsletter as the publishing platform. The author bridges these first and second-hand accounts with passages that put the events of the war into general historical context. In so doing, she also provides a compelling glimpse of one aspect of life and communication on the American home front during the war years.

A San Diego resident and creative writing instructor, Shapiro keeps the historical material approachable for a general audience, noting that the letters tell a story of the war as one might share with a close circle of trusted friends. This inner circle keeps the tone collegial and genuine, with more emotion that one might use in a more formal context. Shapiro’s collected narrative spans from the first Aztec News Letter on May 6, 1942, to 1946 correspondence including letters from the World War II San Diego State College Servicemen’s Correspondence Collection.

Intentionally, or unintentionally, Shapiro seems to overlook or diminish the societal environment that tends to create “the other” in times of war and conflict: readers should be aware that racial slurs are a component of the book and comprise part of the material the author has chosen to include. This view of the enemy in times of conflict is one facet of the openness and honesty of the letters, which show not only the joys and fears of the community the letters created, but also the shortcomings, biases, and prejudices. This reminds us that every person is a product of their time and that the tragedies of war permeate every society and culture affected by that war.

Shapiro annotates the communications in 25 themed chapters. Some of these give the reader historical context, while others are themed according to specific types of participants or categories. The book is supplemented by 43 illustrations, including photographs of Post’s Aztec News Letter.  

Several chapters deserve particular attention. In Chapters 1 and 2, Shapiro frames the correspondence collection, telling the story of Professor Post, his students, and the first iterations of the News Letter. The author illuminates the importance of the News Letter as a communications station for transmitting and relaying information about servicemen missing or killed in action in Chapter 4, The Missing American Airmen, and Chapter 8, In Our Great Sorrow. The book also addresses aspects of military life during and after fighting, including post-traumatic stress disorder and battle fatigue. For example, in Chapter 13, Exhaustion, one reads the following example:

 September 22, 1944

 Dear Doc,

…I want to say that as far as the forgotten theater is concerned, we are experiencing the toughest fighting in Italy…we have experimented with new equipment, tried new ordnance and supplies in the battlefield…I only hope that after the war we will get the proper credit for what we have done…

Jim Hurley  

Headquarters Fifth Army. [197]


Professor Post’s touching response to Jim Hurley evokes the title of the book:            

Jim, there are no forgotten fronts—not as long as there are Aztecs on them, and we have them on all the fronts. [197]

In Chapter 10, Over and Out!, Shapiro addresses themes related to women and war:

War, with its insatiable need for supply lines to deliver machines, ordnance, fuels, and food to troops around the world, created a cyclone of industrial demand, and women were pulled into the workforce. They helped the war effort through their work in communications and military intelligence, mechanics, public relations, and war industries such as shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing. [128]

Women writing letters included not just family and friends, but those who enlisted in the service with the U.S. Naval Reserve as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the U.S. Army as WACs (Women’s Army Corps):

February 14, 1943

Dear Dr. Post,

I’m in the army now, a full fledged WAC…we are on the go every minute. But I love it…If the girls only realized how badly they are needed, I know that more would come. This is something more important than staying home and being comfortable and safe. It’s something bigger than individual, personal lives…

 An ex-geography student

 Aux. Barbara Woollet

 …Des Moines, Iowa. [129]

            These personal letters, the professor’s newsletters, and Shapiro’s book are vivid reminders of the importance of letter writing and the printed word for service members and their friends and families during the war. Such writing was an emotional and psychological lifeline stretching thousands of miles around the globe from the safety of the United States to the dangers of the battlefield. The book is emotionally captivating and intellectually enlightening and recommended for anyone wishing to understand these aspects of the experiences the Second World War from the first-hand perspective of U.S. military service members.


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