Fall 2001
Vol. 18 No. 3

Burst of Energy

Amazing Discovery

Heart for Teaching

Tool Shed Development

Evolution of a Seal

Samford Ranks Fifth

Class Notes


'I just know he's writing, Dear Fay'
Lad's Interest in War Letters Leads to Amazing Discovery

Newsman Tom Brokaw called the men and women who fought during World War II America's "greatest generation." Sixteen-year-old Brad Roller would agree. His late grandfather, Captain John B. Roller, Jr., was among them, and Brad has letters to prove it.

It was young Roller's interest in war letters that prompted him to pick up a copy of the book, War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, as the family headed for vacation in August. The cover of the book by Andrew Carroll features a lone unidentified soldier in the French countryside writing a letter.

Brad, Bob and Fay Roller made a remarkable discovery on the cover of War Letters.

Recently, Brad and his father, Bob Roller, director of Athletics at Samford, leafed through Captain Roller's scrapbook of pictures and stacks of war letters, carefully preserved through the years by his widow, Fay, who lives in Scottsboro near her daughter, Mary McKinnon.

"He wrote practically every day," said Brad's grandmother, explaining the significance of letters during wartime. "Those were rough, rough days then. There was no television, so we listened to the radio and read newspapers, but it was the letters that kept us going."

Usually, the letters would arrive in bundles, and a family often would go weeks without hearing from loved ones. On one occasion, Mrs. Roller received 45 letters in a bundle.

The Rollers married Christmas Day in 1941. He was graduated the following May from Virginia Tech, at which time he joined the 2nd Armored Division as a 2nd lieutenant. Following basic training, he was assigned to Co. "D", 2nd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment as a platoon leader. Six months later, he landed in North Africa, where he spent his first wedding anniversary under the command of General George S. Patton.

Roller's letters and pictures revealed the horrors of war, particularly during the Normandy invasion. In one letter, he reported that many of his closest buddies were killed the first day. In another, he told of holding blood plasma for a dying buddy. That memory stuck with him until his death.

"He gave blood often and plenty of it," said Mrs. Roller. In fact, he gave 19 gallons during his lifetime, she recalled.

The pictures captured equally stirring memories. One was of Roller and four of his buddies. He was the only one who made it home. Another pictured Roller and his tank parked in front of a Holocaust furnace at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

When Roller returned home in November 1945, he had been decorated with three Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts.

The Rollers settled in Pearisburg in the hills of southwestern Virginia. They established a successful floral business. John Roller died in 1995, a half century after the war ended.

Brad Roller knew about his grandfather's experiences in World War II. And a few days into their vacation, he made an interesting discovery on the cover of War Letters.


That unidentified soldier? It was his grandfather, Captain John Roller.

The Rollers contacted the book's author, who explained that he chose the photo from thousands belonging to Time company. He promised to get them a copy of the original.

What did Mrs. Roller think about the cover?

"I just know he's writing 'Dear Fay,'" she said.