BEHIND THE LINES (BTL) is a 30-minute monthly podcast that features readings (by famous actors and other prominent figures) of the greatest war letters ever written.
Correspondences from Kurt Vonnegut, George S. Patton (General Patton’s son) and Clara Barton.
Letters written by nurses, doctors and others during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.
Hosted by Barbara Harrison with co-host Andrew Carroll
Produced by Barbara Harrison, Celia Straus and Richard Craig
Directed by Richard Craig
The BTL podcast is hosted by Emmy-winning journalist Barbara Harrison who will journey through centuries of fascinating letters with New York Times bestselling author Andrew Carroll, who has made tracking down and tracing the history of our nation’s war letters his life’s work. Twenty years ago, Andrew Carroll launched a national, nonprofit initiative with a mission “to seek out and preserve America’s war letters.” Since that time, Americans have shared nearly 150,000 correspondences with Andy from every conflict in U.S. history, including handwritten missives penned during the Revolution up to emails from Iraq and Afghanistan. The project is ongoing, so new correspondences continue to come in.
Andy will share intriguing information about the letters featured in each podcast, putting them into context – e.g., which wars they’re from, who the letter writers are and what happened after the letters were posted. Thanks to the generosity of Simon & Schuster’s donation of 12 hours of audible recordings from two of Andy’s books, listeners will hear the letters (sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes truly hilarious) voiced by A-list actors and other famous individuals including Tom Brokaw, Rob Lowe, Joan Allen, Julianna Margulies, Oliver Platt, Martha Plimpton, Stanley Tucci, Hank Williams Jr., B.D. Wong, Noah Wyle, David Straitharn, Adam West, Rryan Cranston, Giovanni Ribisi and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Two episodes are produced each month. Learn about upcoming episodes below.
EPISODE 1: INAUGURAL PODCAST
This episode introduces the BEHIND THE LINES podcast and focuses on the historian Andrew Carroll’s overall mission to seek out and preserve America’s wars letters. This episode also covers a variety of themes and spotlights some of the best, never-before-published letters that Andrew has found, including one written (and read) by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
EPISODE 2: PANDEMIC
This episode features letters written during and about the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and 1919, especially as it affected World War I. (More American troops were killed in WWI by the disease than in combat.) The podcast ends with a powerful letter by a New York doctor from the current (2020) pandemic to show the parallels with the one that occurred a century ago.
EPISODE 3: LOVE
This episode highlights the greatest love letters written in times of war, from impassioned expressions of affection to “Dear John” (and even “Dear June”) letters that troops receive—male and female—from a sweetheart, spouse, or fiancé(e), informing the recipient that the relationship is over. Most of the letters in this podcast are upbeat, amusing, and detail incredible relationships that were formed entirely by mail.
EPISODE 4: THE HOME FRONT
Often overlooked in times of war are the loved ones of the troops who have been sent overseas. This episode features letters by these women and men on the home front (and now we’re seeing more husbands sending their wives off to serve, while the men are back in the States). It can be the loneliest and most stressful post in any war, as those left behind, including children, often spend every minute worrying if their loved ones will return alive and uninjured.
EPISODE 5: EYEWITNESSES TO HISTORY
Andrew has found numerous letters by those who were standing at the front row of history, seeing extraordinary events with their own eyes and then later writing about them. Andrew, for example, has several letters by sailors who were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, including one who was trapped in the forward engine room of a ship under fire (he fortunately survived). Andrew also has letters by people who were inside Ford’s theatre when President Lincoln was assassinated at the end of the Civil War, as well as individuals at Ground Zero who saw the World Trade Center towers fall on September 11, 2001 (some of whom were almost killed by the destruction).
EPISODE 6: CIVILIANS
In the past 200 years, more civilians have died in warfare than troops. This episode features letters dating back to the War of 1812, in which Washington, D.C. was burned to the ground by British troops (and citizens of the city described the invasion); Northerners and Southerners in the Civil War whose towns were attacked by enemy forces; innocent men, women, and children imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II; and other civilian survivors and victims of war.
EPISODE 7: COMBAT
When people think of “war letters,” combat-related correspondences are usually what first comes to the mind, and Andrew has tens of thousands of letters from every war in U.S. history that describe various battles, from the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775 up to the fighting at Tora Bora in Afghanistan and Fallujah in Iraq.
EPISODE 8: BATTLE BUDDIES
Combat forges strong bonds between troops, and the letters in this episode include letters between military personnel, expressing their pride and admiration for their comrades in arms, as well as troops writing about their fellow soldiers, Sailors, airmen, and Marines, to their loved ones. Some of these letters are inspiring accounts of courageous acts by those who survived, while others are wrenching descriptions of how a beloved servicemember died.
EPISODE 9: FORGOTTEN WARS
With the exception of the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, many conflicts in which the U.S. has participated could be called “forgotten.” (And studies show that people who say they know a lot about the aforementioned “famous” wars, really don’t know the details…) The most forgotten include: the War of 1812, which was an extremely important conflict in which the British almost re-captured America; the Mexican-American War, which resulted in the U.S. growing almost one-third in size; the Spanish-American War; World War I, which established the United States as a growing international power; and Korea. This episode aims to surprise people with incredible letters from these conflicts and explain why, in fact, they should be better known.
EPISODE 10: FORGOTTEN TROOPS
Just as the previous episode concerns forgotten wars, this episode focuses exclusively on service members who, although some have received somewhat more attention in recent years, are still barely mentioned, if at all, in the history books. These individuals include women who served in all U.S. conflicts, but especially those who dressed up as men and fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War; African-American troops in all of our nation’s wars; Native Americans, especially “code talkers” in WWI and WWII; the Japanese-American 141st Regimental Combat Team, who were the sons of Japanese-Americans unfairly imprisoned in internment camps and still fought bravely for the U.S.; and other marginalized individuals and communities that deserve greater recognition.
EPISODE 11: HUMOR
Although levity isn’t often associated with warfare, troops and their loved ones have actually written countless letters (and now emails) that are very funny and show the lighter side of their experiences, beginning with boot camp and basic training and up to their time “in-country.” While this episode does not in any way minimalize the dangers and hardships troops endure, it demonstrates their wit and sense of whimsy, their confidence to share self-deprecating moments, and their ability to craft amusing stories. These humorous correspondences enable the troops to cope with the stress of their deployment and also convey to their loved ones know that they are in good spirits.
EPISODE 12: LOST & FOUND
All of the letters featured in this episode are not only extremely well written, they have been salvaged by total strangers who didn’t know the letter writers but didn’t want to see their letters lost to history and gave them to Andrew. These include letters found in dumpsters, on construction sites (usually when a building was being torn down), in homes (during renovations, and the letters were found under floor beds or tucked in attic crevices).
BEHIND THE LINES (BTL) will be accessible on all the major podcast directories, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher. The podcast will also be accessible on the BTL website, which will also feature photos of the actual letters from the podcast, and a portal to collect and preserve additional war letters from the public. Most significantly, BTL will be broadcast on the American Forces Radio Network throughout the world.
BTL presents a rare opportunity to listen to a program that viscerally captures the hearts, minds and souls of our military service members and their loved ones from the Revolutionary War through today. And, with nearly 150,000 letters in our possession, we anticipate the program will run for years to come. Put simply, there’s never been anything like this and there never will be.