Myra Strachner Gershkoff
Papers, 1941-1946

SC20575

Quantity: 12 boxes (4.0 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research. Box 7 is stored in the vault, which requires making special arrangements to view.
Acquisition: Gift of Myra Strachner Gershkoff, October 8, 1992; accretion donated by Gershkoff family, April 2007; accretion of documents and artifacts donated by William and Dorothy Stoddard on behalf of the Staller family, October 2016.
Processed By: Laura Cohen, Student Intern, State University of New York at Albany, January 1994, revised April 2007, and November 2016.

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Scope and Contents Note

Photo of Bernie Staller and artifacts from his military service, including a Purple Heart medal.
Items donated in 2016 included Bernie Staller's uniform cap, canteen and Purple Heart medal.

These papers consist chiefly of letters between Myra Strachner and Private First Class (PFC) Bernard (Bernie) Staller during World War II. The earliest letter, dated January 23, 1941, was written by Bernie when he and Myra were 15 years old. Though they both lived in the Bronx, they felt the need to communicate to each other in writing. These letters express their early attraction to each other. Bernie interrupted his studies at the City College of New York when he was inducted into the Army in February 1944, and was sent to Fort Dix. The correspondence becomes voluminous as the couple often wrote to each other daily, and sometimes more than once a day. Myra was living at home in the Bronx with her parents and sister while attending New York University. Her letters describe her life as a student, as well as her relationships with her family and friends. She freely and eloquently expresses her feelings, ideas and hopes. She comments on the news, and quotes from books and poetry. Of particular note are Myra's comments on the philosophy courses taught by Sidney Hook. She describes his teaching methods, opinions, and warm interest in her.

In March 1944, Bernie was transferred to Camp Wolters, Texas, for basic training. He was assigned to an anti-tank unit in the 53rd Infantry Battalion, 4th Platoon. His letters describe in detail his daily routine and training exercises, as well as his social life off base. Bernie's letters indicate that he adjusted well to army life, enjoying the routine and making friends. Bernie completed basic training in July 1944, and was sent to Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi. He requested placement in an anti-tank company, and was assigned to Company B of the 255th Regiment, 63rd Division of the 4th Army. The 63rd Division was known as the Blood and Fire division. Bernie's letters offer detailed descriptions of life in camp, the regulations, training exercises, work details, and social life. In November 1944, Bernie was promoted to Private First Class and deployed in France, where his division was attached to the 7th Army. His letters provide excellent descriptions of infantry life during the final months of the war. He tells of life in a foxhole, various billeting arrangements, army rations, and conditions in the local towns. Bernie describes his involvement in defensive actions and in patrols on the front lines.

Bernie's last letter is dated March 14, 1945. Three weeks later, he was reported missing in action. Over the following week, Myra continued to write to him, hopeful that he was safe. Her last letter is dated April 15, 1945. The following day, the Staller family was informed that Bernie had been killed on March 19 on the Siegfried Line in a German artillery barrage. Myra's letters to Bernie between February and April 1945 were returned to her unopened and marked "Deceased." Thereafter Myra received letters from Bernie's army friends, who tell of the circumstances of Bernie's death and express their sympathy.

These papers include typed transcripts of all the couple's letters from 1941 to 1945 prepared by Myra Strachner Gershkoff, as well as material from Myra's scrapbook and a recording of Bernie's voice. Also included are 67 photographs, most relating to Bernie's army career. A few of the original letters are missing. Myra's last letter to Bernie was published in the book, Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front, edited by Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), page 237.

These papers contain an exceptional series of letters. Myra and Bernie were natural writers, and their letters are articulate, humorous, and thoughtful. They explore their feelings toward each other, discuss their views on life, relive memories, and exchange dreams. Both Myra and Bernie are Jewish and, occasionally, they relate experiences and opinions that explore the meaning of their faith in their lives. The tone of the writing is far more mature than their years. The letters are rich in the details of both army life and the home front during World War II. They offer a poignant view of the human cost of war.

Accretions to the original group added letters and V-Mail between Bernie and his parents and siblings, including approximately 36 that were returned, marked "missing" or "deceased." The letters are similar in content to those he had sent to Myra. In return his family kept him informed of activities and events back home. In addition there are numerous letters of sympathy and condolences sent to the Staller family from relatives, friends, fellow soldiers, commanding officers, and public officials.

These papers also include official communications from the War Department concerning initial reports of Bernie being "Missing in Action" and later confirmation of his having been "Killed in Action."  Further communication from the government concerns the return of personal effects, collection of death benefits, and awarding of the Purple Heart.

Lastly, this collection includes a year book autograph book, photographs, and other memorabilia related Bernie's career as a student at James Monroe High School in Bronx, New York (Class of 1943); artifacts related to Bernie's military service, including a canteen, garrison caps, tobacco pouch, and Purple Heart that was awarded posthumously to the Staller family.

Related Collections

The holdings of this repository include about 40 additional collections of original manuscript letters written by soldiers who had served in the armed forces during the World War II.  Information about these collections can be found by searching the online catalog by entering search terms: "World War 1939-1945 Personal Narratives." 

Box and Folder List


Box Folder Item Contents
      Letters, 1941-1945
1 1   1941-1943
1 2   February 1944
1 3   February 1944
1 4   March 1944
1 5   March 1944
2 1   April 1944
2 2   April 1944
2 3   May 1944
2 4   May 1944
2 5   June 1944
3 1   June 1944
3 2   July 1944
3 3   August 1944
3 4   August 1944
3 5   September 1944
4 1   September 1944
4 2   October 1944
4 3   October 1944
4 4   November 1944
4 5   December 1944
4 6   January 1945
5 1   February 1945
5 2   March 1945
5 3   February-April 1945. From Myra, returned unopened and marked "Deceased"
5 4   May-June 1945.  From Bernie's army friends
5 5   Transcripts of letters, February-May 1944
5 6   Transcripts of letters, May-October, 1944
5 7   Transcripts of letters, October 1944-April 1945
      Photographs
6 1  1 Myra Strachner, late 1944 or early 1945
6 1  2 Bernie Staller, USA - late 1944
6 1  3 U.S. Military Cemetery, St. Avold, France
6 1  4 1939 Public School Graduation
6 1  5 Bernie - far right, 5/12/40
6 1  6 Bernie and his parents, 1941
6 1  7 Bernie, 1941
6 1  8 September 1942, Bernie and Myra, corner of Unionport Rd
6 1  9 6/43 H.S. Grad., James Monroe H.S.
6 1 10 Bernie Staller
6 1 11 James Monroe H.S. Track Team?
6 2 12 Bernie Staller, 6/43
6 2 13 Staten Island, Spring 1943
6 2 14 Staten Island. When was it?
6 2 15 Staten Island, May 1943
6 2 16 Staten Island, Spring 1943
6 2 17 Staten Island, May 1943
6 2 18 Staten Island
6 3 19 Day before Bernie was inducted into the Army, February 1944
6 3 20 Parkchester, The Bronx
6 3 21 Parkchester, The Bronx, 1944
6 3 22 Feb. 1944 - taken by Bernie
6 3 23 2/44, Myra and Bernie
6 3 24 Myra and Bernie
6 4 25 First time home from the army
6 4 26 Bernie Staller
6 4 27 Weekend pass from Ft. Dix, March 1944
6 4 28 Bernie Staller, gas mask
6 4 29 Camp Wolters, Texas, 4/44
6 4 30 Gun, layout, helmet, Camp Wolters, Texas
6 4 31 Camp Wolters, 4/44
6 4 32 Camp Wolters, 4/44
6 4 33 Camp Wolters
6 4 34 Camp Wolters
6 4 35 Sad Sack
6 4 36 4/44, Bernie Staller
6 4 37 K.P. Again!
6 5 38 Bernie Staller, color
6 5 39 Orchard Beach - This is everything I want, Furlough, 1944
6 5 40 Orchard Beach, Curly locks!
6 5 41 1945 - Atlantic City, April, 1945, Before the telegram
6 5 42 Baton Rouge, LA. Left - Howie Sarner, Center - Bernie Staller, Right-Zinker
6 5 43 Baton Rouge, LA, Bernie Staller?
6 5 44 Doesn't he look like a soldier?
6 5 45 Riding horseback
6 5 46 You figure it out!
6 5 47 Grace & Beauty
6 6 48 See no Evil
6 6 49 After this picture was snapped
6 6 50 Ten Minute Break!
6 6 51 Natchez, Miss. Bernie Staller, Irene Wooten
6 6 52 Natchez, Miss. Left - Christine, Center - Bernie Staller, Right - Irene Wooten
6 6 53 Natchez, Miss. Bernie Staller
6 6 54 Bernie Staller and friend (reclining)
6 6 55 Bernie Staller and friend (standing)
6 6 56 Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, 1944. Last pictures of Bernie
6 6 57 Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, 1944. Last pictures of Bernie
6 6 58 Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, 1944. Last pictures of Bernie
6 6 59 Myra, Nov. 1944
6 7 60 Photograph enclosed with letter from Myra Strachner, 7/31/44
6 7 61 Photograph enclosed with letter from Myra Strachner, April 6, 1945, Catch me!
6 7 62 I look skinny, huh?
6 7 63 I look fat in this one
6 7 64 I almost took this outside the men's room
6 7 65 I'm really much prettier than this
6 7 66 Like the hairdo?
6 7 67 Honest, it's all me!
6 8   Ephemera, from Myra Strachner's scrapbook
6 9   Envelopes with no enclosed letter
      Audio tapes and sound recordings (Box 7: Stored in the vault)
7   1 1 sound disc: analog, 78 rpm, mono. Bernie Staller, 1944
7   2 1 sound cassette: 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 in., 1/4 in. tape. Copy of disc. – Missing 7/00
7   3 1 sound tape reel: 7 in., 1/2 in. tape. Copy of disc. – Missing 7/00
      Accretion donated by Gershkoff family, April 2007
8 1   Diploma of Bernard Staller from James Monroe High School, Bronx, N.Y., June 1943
8 2   Newsletter of a local Jewish youth club with tributes to Bernard Staller, April 1946
8 3   The Crestonian, P.S. 79  The Bronx, June 1946 (includes a tribute to Bernard Staller, pp.4-5)
8 4   Life insurance policy papers, 1944-1945
8 5   Papers from the United States War Department regarding the burial site of Bernard Staller and awarding of the Purple Heart, 1945
EL 1   Certificate from the President of the United States in memory of Bernard Staller's service of his country, March 1945
EL 2   Certificate of Purple Heart Award, June 7, 1945
      Accretion donated by William and Dorothy Stoddard on behalf of the family of Bernard Staller, October 2016
8 6   Monrovian, June 1943; Year book for Class of 1943, James Monroe High School, Bronx, N.Y.
9 1   Letters from Bernie Staller to his parents, 1944-1945
9 2   V-Mail from Bernie Staller to his parents, 1944-1945
9 3   Letters from Myra Strachner (Gershkoff) to Bernie Staller, 1941
9 4   Letters from Gertie (Staller) Gottlieb, Bernie Staller's sister, to Bernie, March-April 1945; letters returned to her after his death
9 5   V-Mail from Gertie (Staller) Gottlieb, Bernie Staller's sister, to Bernie, March-April, 1945; returned after his death
9 6   V-Mail from Gertie (Staller) Gottlieb, Bernie Staller's sister, to Bernie, March-April, 1945; returned after his death
9 7   Photocopy of Bernie Staller's last letter to his family, March 14, 1945
9 8   Official correspondence and telegrams from U.S. War Department, March-May 1945, initially reporting Bernie as missing in action, later confirming he had been killed in action
9 9   Letters and cards from friends, relatives, and public officials, with expressions of condolences, to the Staller family, 1945-1946
9 10   Official correspondence regarding the awarding of the Purple Heart, returning of personal effects, and claims for death benefits, 1945
9 11   School papers of Bernie Staller, ca. 1942-1943
9 12   School papers of Bernie Staller, ca. 1942-1943 (continued)
9 13   Certificates and memorials, etc., 1943-1945
  1. Letters from James Monroe High School giving testimony regarding Bernie Staller's fitness to serve in the armed forces
  2. Honorary certificate from City College of New York
  3. Certificate: Trees in Memoriam planted on Jewish National Fund Land in Palestine
  4. Letters and papers related to changing the name of Young Israel (club) to Bernard Staller Club
9 14   Photographs
  1. Bernard Staller in Uniform (2 images, one showing him with a cigar in his mouth)
  2. James Monroe High School Track Team, 1942
  3. Myra Strachner (Gershkoff)
9 15   Photographs and other effects found in the wallet of Bernie Staller (includes several photographs depicting family and friends)
10     Artifacts (effects of Bernie Staller)
10   1 Autograph book: Public School 106, Bronx; New York World's Fair of 1939 (cover theme); autographs that are dated date to June 1939
10   2 Readings from the Holy Scriptures Prepared for Jewish Personnel of the Army of the United States (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1942). Includes tipped-in photograph of Myra Strachner Gershkoff
10   3 Purple Heart: Awarded posthumously to the family of Bernard Staller, 1945 (in case). With printed card signed: Roland Walsh, Brigadier General, U.S.A., Commanding. Still in shipping box mailed to Mr. Adolf Staller, 2216 Lyons Avenue, New York, New York.
10   4 Cotton khaki cloth garrison cap with blue piping
10   5 Dark green (black?) woolen garrison cap with blue piping
10   6 James Monroe High School Class of 1943 cross country team sew-on letter insignia with year date (no. "1" is missing)
10   7-10 Pennants: Young Israel 1st Prize Field Day Winner, 1944 (3 duplicate items)
11   11 Canteen (metal: aluminum? steel?)
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12

Tobacco pouch (9 x 15 cm.); 2 army insignia lapel pins, each embossed with the letters “U.S.,” and a brass belt buckle enclosed

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13

Mirror (9.5 x 6 cm. in a 13 x 8.5 cm. frame)

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14

Wallet (closed: 8.5 x 11 cm)

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15

Bernie Staller’s high school (possibly college) track shoes

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16

Cloth waist apron/bag (also known as a hot-apron pouch or a U.S. Army WAC’s nurse’s apron)

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17

Cloth waist apron/bag (also known as a hot-apron pouch or a U.S. Army WAC’s nurse’s apron) with label: Forest [?] County Chapter [of] American Red Cross

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18

Envelope (empty) addressed to Bernard Staller from the York Bar Bell Company of York, Pennsylvania. Postmark: August 21, 1941. Postage: 2 cents.

Last Updated: July 7, 2017