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Harry B. Lilja Second World War correspondence

 Collection — Folder: 2019-008-s-r_Lilja, Harry
Identifier: 2019-008-s-r

Scope and Contents

This collection contains 656 correspondence: 8 post cards, 1 V-mail, and 647 letters. 509 correspondence were sent from Sgt. Harry B. Lilja, USMC of Saugerties, New York to his wife Margaret Lilja in Saugerties and New Rochelle, New York. The collection also contains 128 correspondence written by Margaret to Sgt. Lilja, as well as 19 correspondence from various authors to Sgt. Lilja.

Sgt. Lilja was an ordnance specialist at Camp Maui, Hawaii during his service until the end of the war. He received basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and ordnance training at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia where he posted grades near the top of his class.

Camp Maui was the rest camp for the 4th Marine Division and all the ordnance destined for the 4th Division would have been transported through there. Being a larger camp, Sgt. Lilja had the opportunity to attend USO shows and movies frequently. He wrote his wife to tell her about these events in a decent amount of detail. He described life on the island including the wildlife, swarms of mosquitos, and the local population. He described fashioning his own harpoons to go after sea turtles, fishing amongst the strange Hawaiian species, collecting driftwood to turn into lamps and trays, etc. Money was always tight between paydays, so he and another Marine bought an old Singer sewing machine hoping to make a little extra cash repairing the uniforms of their fellow soldiers.

In addition to his own experiences, Sgt. Lilja frequently wrote about the experiences of those he knew serving at home and abroad. He wrote the most about his brother Chester, who was a Marine fighting in the Pacific, and his family friend Charley, who was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in the European Theatre.

In March 1944 he wrote his wife telling her, "You wonder if I'll be stationed here for the duration, that is something no one knows, I only wish I could give you a definite answer. Remember where I told you I was going, well I am not there dearest, although I have been there. The distance is not too great from where I'm stationed - on the same island though." Occasionally, his communications are a little less veiled. The letter dated July 6th, 1944 mentions he has several friends participating in the assault on Saipan, and by July 19, that he had heard of Tojo's resignation as he wrote, "I do believe [Tojo's resignation] will hasten the end of this damn mess. Securing Saipan in 25 days should convince them [the Japanese] that there is no stopping the Yanks, particularly the marines." Later he writes, "Speaking of prisoners, I saw some early in the year, January I think, they were from Tarawa. They were all young and not the little Jap [sic] everyone believes." In September of 1945, once the censorship restrictions were removed, He explained his work in greater to detail to Margaret.

Margaret's letters are visibly harder to read than Harry's, but she reports on interesting home front news and news about the war. In the letter dated August 6-7, 1945 Margaret referenced the use of the atom bomb when she wrote, "My Dearest it cant [sic] last much longer after the atomic bomb. Heard today that Japan was protesting [and] accusing the allies of violating the International law - seems terrible that anything so powerful should be used for such purposes but they predict in time it will revolutionize civilization. I'm glad Russia isnt in on the secret - we first heard that the invention is held jointly by Canada, England, [and] U.S."

The remaining items in this collection are from various authors to Sgt. Lilja. Authors include, Sgt. Lilja's father and his family friend Charley, whom he refers to as "CB" frequently. His father sent him three photos but did not label them with names so it is uncertain who the females in the photo are, though they were probably his mother, aunt, and wife.


  • 1943 January 30 - 1945 November 08

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this material except where previously copyrighted material is concerned. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all permissions.

Biographical / Historical

Sergeant Harry Benkl Lilja, United States Marine Corps (07/25/1910 - 06/18/1978) was born to Johan Axel and Hulda C. Lilja who were immigrants. Sgt. Lilja had two brothers, Rolf M. Lilja and Chester Axel Lilja. Sgt. Lilja lived in Saugerties, New York before the war with his wife Margaret. Sgt. Lija and Margaret were married on October 29, 1937. Sgt. Lilja enlisted into the Marine Corps on December 4, 1942 and was released from service on the November 17, 1945.


2 Linear Feet (2 cartons)

Language of Materials



This collection contains correspondence sent from Sgt. Harry B. Lilja, USMC to his wife Margaret Lilja. The remainder of the collection contains correspondence from Margaret to Sgt. Lilja as well as correspondence between Sgt. Lilja and various authors.


This collection is arranged chronologically by author:

Series 1, Correspondence from Harry to Margaret

Series 2, Correspondence from Margaret to Harry

Series 3, Correspondence from various authors

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the estate of Norman Wilkinson. Collection was transferred from the Center for American War Letters Archives (CAWLA) to Special Collections & Archives in March 2019.


Original CAWLA accession identifier: 2019-008-w

Processing Information

Processed by Benjamin Stevens and Annie Tang in May 2019.

Finding aid for the Harry B. Lilja Second World War correspondence
Benjamin Stevens
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives, Leatherby Libraries Repository

Chapman University
One University Drive
Orange 92866 USA US