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Guide to the W. Albert Rill Papers, 1944-1945

Collection number: MC 234

Size: 2 boxes (0.66 cu.ft.)

About W. Albert Rill

W. Albert Rill was born on August 17, 1910, in Syracuse, New York, to Lillian D. and Willard Atty Rill. He attended Syracuse Central High School for four years and then enrolled at Phillips Academy, Andover, from 1927-1929. In 1933, Rill graduated with honors from Yale University and entered Harvard Law School. Rill earned his L.L.B. from Harvard in 1936 and was admitted to the New York State Bar Association that same year. On June 26, 1937, the young lawyer married Elizabeth Bell of Concord, NH (b. December 14, 1914). The couple would have two children: a daughter, Margaret M., born April 27, 1941, and a son, Thomas, born January 6, 1945. In 1942, Rill was hired as the legal research clerk to the New York State Senate majority leader.

The Second World War interrupted Rill’s budding career and home life. In late 1944, the United States Navy called up Rill for duty on account of his lieutenancy in the United States Naval Reserve. He served as a communications officer aboard the U.S.S. New York at the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In recognition of his services, the War Department issued Rill the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, two battle stars (one for each of the engagements that he had participated in), and a Victory Medal.

Rill returned home to Syracuse on October 19, 1945. He soon resurrected an active professional and civic life, continuing his work as legal research clerk in the New York State Senate and becoming an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Syracuse and of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. Rill’s avid interest in politics continued as well, leading him to join the Republican County Committee of Onondaga County. In 1952, Rill chaired a New York State Committee for Young Men in Government and another committee for the 1956 re-election campaign of President Eisenhower. His engagement with labor and commercial issues, moreover, landed Rill a place in the Who’s Who in Labor for 1976.

The Rills retired to Naples, Florida, in the early 1980s. W. Albert died on December 24, 1996. Elizabeth passed away on February 20, 2008.

About the W. Albert Rill World War II papers

The W. Albert Rill World War II papers are divided into three series. Series I, “Correspondence,” comprises the bulk of the collection. Series II, “Envelopes,” contains empty envelopes, while the third series, “Miscellaneous,” houses items dedicated to Rill’s daughter Margaret (called “Peggy” by her father). These include hand-drawn pictures, a record from Christmas 1944, and two self-illustrated children’s books, “Billy the Bear Goes Fishing,” and “Billy the Bear and Stretch.” Series III also contains photographs and some biographical information concerning Rill.

Letters are mostly between Rill and his wife, with an occasional correspondence with Peggy. Since she was born several years before he left for service, Peggy was able to remember him while he was away and he would send her hand-drawn pictures, many of which are included in the collection, and even an occasional children’s book that he would handcraft for her. Peggy is also the subject of much conversation in the letters between Rill and his wife Elizabeth, whom Rill called “Libbie.” Libbie’s pregnancy, birth, and raising of their son Thomas are a subject of the letters as well.

Rill’s correspondence also contains snippets of information concerning daily life on the U.S.S. New York as well as naval affairs and campaigns. “The Jap Navy is still dangerous but it has been whittled down since Pearl Harbor,” Rill reported to his wife on April 8, 1945, “while we can evidently make the seas black with ships when we need to.” With the close of hostilities, the Navy permitted Rill to record and mail his experience at the battle of Okinawa. His account is included in folder 23. “The big guns seem to reach you around the chest and shake you soundly,” Rill recalled. Looking through his binoculars to the beach, “I could see through the glass hundreds of caves…some small,,,[sic] but with very large mouths. It was sometimes an errie feeling,’ he continued, “to look at them and wonder if there were Japs in there in the shadows leering back at me and it was also possible that they could ride out one of their larger guns and give us a little counter battery fire. This did happen on several occasion[s],” Rill admitted, “though it was our good fortune not to be hit.”

While the letters of the collection include some war information, they are more focused on domestic details. Above all, the letters describe the human interest and love story of a married couple. Much of the contents are about home life, the children, and how Rill and his wife miss and love each other. Rill gives the impression of a real family man in his letters, and the memory of his wife and children at home was the thing that kept him going while away. On April 8, 1945, Rill wrote home of the vastness of space and time that seemed to separate him from his loved ones: “It was 5 months ago yesterday I put you on the ferry at Norfolk and I guess I’ve traveled some 20,000 miles since then. It seems so long ago,” he recounted, “I watched the lights of the ferry grow dim in the night [and] thru the tears in my eyes.”

Rill’s dedication to wife and family are evident not only in the sentiments and length of his letters, but in the drawings and story-books that Rill produced for his family’s pleasure. What is most striking about the collection is the creativity and innocence that Rill managed to cultivate while overseas. On his trip home after the surrender of Japan, for example, Rill continued to fashion art and artifacts for his loved ones. “I have also made another shell animal for Peggy whom I have named ‘little Iwo!’” he wrote home on September 24, observing that “my industry has also resulted in a nice shiny finish on a 50 caliber shell from Okinawa and…a hanging brass flower pot from the fuze protector of a 5”51 shell.” In the end, perhaps it is the flower pot—shaped from an instrument of war—that most typifies the Rill papers.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the University of New Hampshire.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], W. Albert Rill World War II papers, 1944-1945, MC 234, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Donated: Margaret Reeves, Lee NH, Dec. 23, 2010 (Accession number: 2010.15)

Collection Contents

Series I: Correspondence

Box 1
Box 1, Folder 1 Correspondence; a few pictures related to correspondence, Jan–Sept, 1944
Box 1, Folder 2 Correspondence, Nov 9-20, 1944
Box 1, Folder 3 Correspondence; newspaper Radio Press News, Nov 21-28, 1944
Box 1, Folder 4 Correspondence, Dec 1-14, 1944
Box 1, Folder 5 Correspondence; newspaper Knickerbocker News, Dec 15-24, 1944
Box 1, Folder 6 Correspondence, Dec 26, 1944
Box 1, Folder 7 Correspondence, Dec 28-29, 1944
Box 1, Folder 8 Correspondence; Valentine letter from Rill to daughter “Peggy”, additional drawing by Rill for Peggy, Jan 1945
Box 1, Folder 9 Correspondence; Syracuse radio excerpt including discussion of Rill family; letter from Rill to Peggy, Feb 1945
Box 1, Folder 10 Correspondence; pictures of Elizabeth’s brother Dudley (referred to in some letters) and of Elizabeth with both children, March 13-18, 1945
Box 1, Folder 11 Correspondence, March 20-26, 1945
Box 1, Folder 12 Correspondence; lock of Peggy’s hair, April 2-5, 1945
Box 1, Folder 13 Correspondence, April 6-11, 1945
Box 1, Folder 14 Correspondence; drawings by Peggy, April 14-18, 1945
Box 1, Folder 15 Correspondence, April 20-23, 1945
Box 1, Folder 16 Correspondence; letter to “Wells and Coverly Inc.” requesting service ribbon, April 25-30, 1945
Box 1, Folder 17 Correspondence, May 2-8, 1945
Box 1, Folder 18 Correspondence, May 11-15, 1945
Box 1, Folder 19 Correspondence, May 16-26, 1945
Box 1, Folder 20 Correspondence, May 27-31, 1945
Box 1, Folder 21 Correspondence; letter from Rill to his mother, two letters from Rill to Peggy; drawings by Rill; scribbled letter from Peggy to Rill, June-Aug 1945
Box 1, Folder 22 Correspondence, Sept 1945
Box 1, Folder 23 Correspondence; letter to Peggy from Rill, drawings by Rill of “Stretch” the giraffe and “Billy the Bear,” V-Mail to Peggy of a coming-home drawing, personal recount of Okinawa Campaign, Oct-end of 1945

Series II: Envelopes

Box 2
Box 2, Folder 1 Envelopes, Jan 1944-Nov 1944
Box 2, Folder 2 Envelopes, Dec 1944
Box 2, Folder 3 Envelopes, Jan-March 1945
Box 2, Folder 4 Envelopes, April 1945
Box 2, Folder 5 Envelopes, May 1945
Box 2, Folder 6 Envelopes, June-Oct 1945

Series III: Miscellaneous

Box 2, Folder 7 Photographs, 1940s
Box 2, Folder 8 Rill illustrations, 1944-1945
Box 2, Folder 9 Children’s book, “Billy the Bear Goes Fishing,” 1944-1945
Box 2, Folder 10 Children’s book, “Billy the Bear and Stretch,” 1944-1945
Box 2, Folder 11 Christmas Record (Albert Rill’s Christmas message to his daughter, 1944), 1944 (See this item)
Box 2, Folder 12 Miscellaneous biographical information, undated

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