It was a crisp October day. War had come to upstate New York.

We soon discovered the fleet sailing toward us, from the direction of Braddock’s Bay but not anticipating any danger, we remained on the spot until it approached quite near us. We were shortly saluted with a 24 pounder, which whistled through the bushes near where we stood and entered the bank of the lake in our rear. This shot was in rather too close proximity to us to be agreeable.

On another October day 132 years later, another Rochesterian is face to face with war, this time on a muddy field in France.

We have been shot at with a wide variety of items (too wide a variety) but I think the worst part of war is the dreary separation from loved ones, complete lack of creature comforts, fatigue, wet, cold and dirt! Pick out the dirtiest job you know and do it for a month without bathing, going two and three days at a time without washing even your face and hands and you have a good idea of how war feels.

Rochesterians have witnessed war from 1812 to Desert Storm. From military life to the hopes and fears of those left back at home, Rochesterians have chronicled their times in letters. At times touching, tragic, filled with horror, even humorous, those letters are an important legacy that until recently has been all but ignored.

War Letters: Rochester Writes Home is an local documentary that builds on the work begun by The Legacy Project, “a national, non profit initiative that works to honor and remember those who have served this nation in wartime by seeking out and preserving their letters.” It is also a companion to the American Experience program, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars.

War Letters: Rochester Writes Home is a story without a narrator, told entirely through the letters of those who went to war and those who waited, sometimes in vain, for their return. Using archival photographs and film, War Letters gives full meaning to life in a foxhole, to the realities of rationing, to the loss of good friends, and to the joy in greeting a new day. War Letters has the voices of Rochester’s heroes from Patrick O’Rorke, who died helping to save the Union’s left flank at Gettysburg, to General Elwell Otis in the Spanish American War. It also has the voices of the many unknown soldiers and sailors, their wives, parents, friends and relatives. The stories are drawn from over one thousand letters sent in by Rochester area residents and available from the Rochester Public Library, the Rochester Historical Society, the Rochester City Historian, the Rare Books collection at the University of Rochester.

War Letters: Rochester Writes Home made its local premiere December 7, 2001, the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The letters are read by an eclectic group of area on-air personalities and civic leaders as well as relatives of the letter writers and the authors themselves. The program was inspired by the American Experience: War Letters cataloguing letters at the national level and the Legacy Project, a project to promote preservation. The local documentary stems from the Sunday, November 11, 2001, airing of PBS’ national broadcast of War Letters, a collection of newly discovered personal correspondence that brings to life the deepest, most human side of war, from the American Revolution to the Gulf War. Based on Andrew Carroll’s recent New York Times bestseller, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, the film transcends the subject of war by exploring the love, passion, pain, horror and hope of the men and women who fought and those who waited at home.