The inspiration for "Songs of Love and War" came from real soldier's letters.
Below is more information about some of those letters:
PFC George Robinson wrote the letter to his mother on Valentine's Day, 1966. PFC George Robinson was assigned to the Recon Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion 28th inftantry, 1st Infantry Division, based at Di An, when he was wounded on June 11 1966. He survived his wounds and now lives on Cabrini Blvd in Manhattan. He came home from the war and taught history to Junior High students at Roslyn Junior High School in North Massapequa, NY.
We sing an excerpt from his letter which also says "I've seen some things happen here lately that have moved me so much that I've changed my whole outlook on life. I'll be the same in actions I guess, but inside I'll be changed. I feel different now after seeing some horrible things. and I'll never forget them. It makes you glad you're just existing. I can't say what I mean, but some of the things you see here can really change a man or turn a boy into a man. Any combat GI that comes here doesn't leave the same."
The full text of the letter is here.
Sullivan Ballou was killed a week after he wrote the letter at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861. Ironically, Sullivan Ballou’s letter was never mailed. Although Sarah would receive other, decidedly more upbeat letters, dated after the now-famous letter from the battlefield, the letter in question would be found among Sullivan Ballou’s effects when Gov. William Sprague of Rhode Island traveled to Virginia to retrieve the remains of his state’s sons who had fallen in battle.
Ballou devoted his brief life to public service. He was elected in 1854 as clerk of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, later serving as its speaker. He married Sarah Hart Shumway on October 15, 1855, and the following year saw the birth of their first child, Edgar. A second son, William, was born in 1859.
Ballou immediately entered the military in 1861 after the war broke out. He became judge advocate of the Rhode Island militia and was 32 at the time of his death at the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. When he died, his wife was 24. She later moved to New Jersey to live out her life with her son, William, and never re-married. She died at age 80 in 1917.
Sullivan and Sarah Ballou are buried next to each other at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI. There are no known living descendants. The full text of the letter is here.
Rowland never received the letter that Marjorie wrote. He went missing in action before the letter was delivered. After Rowland died, Marjorie married his brother Arthur who was a Marine (and who was her 1st boyfriend); sadly he died in his 40's from a heart attack, so she was widowed twice at a fairly young age. And -- Rowland died on Feb. 22nd, Arthur Feb. 23 (14 years later...)!
Rowland was MIA, so about 30 letters she'd written him almost daily were returned to her by the military. This is the only reason she has these intimate letters, and she almost threw them away when moving from Providence where she was born and lived for many years before moving to Wickford Cove on Narragansett Bay, a village of North Kingstown RI.
Several months after Rowland died Marjorie says she'd received a music box from an antiques dealer in London. Apparently Rowland and some buddies had gone into the shop and he didn't have enough money to buy her the music box; the owner promised to hold it for him until he could come back. Rowland went MIA and never made it back, but his buddies went in and paid for it and sent it to Marjorie. You can learn more here.
Dear Mrs. Spearing
In Belleau Wood, Walter Spearing, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a University of Pennsylvania man, who had been one of the first Marines to "ship over," received the wounds which caused his death. His comrade in arms had been "Sol" Segal, of Alliance, Ohio, barely twenty years old. And when the grave had been filled, "Sol" sat beside it and, upon paper captured from a German dugout, wrote a letter of consolation to Spearing's mother that is destined to become a classic—in the Marine Corps, at least. A letter of an overwhelmed man it is, a man grieving for the "bunkie" who is gone, yet strengthening the mother who, he knows, grieves deeper than he. Written at the Front, June 26, 1918. Among the lines we don't sing are:
"Should there be anything my comrades and I can do to mitigate your grief and to allay your sorrow — some little keepsake of Walt as a Marine, perhaps — but name it, dear lady, and it shall traverse the ocean to you."
"Beneath the green in Belleau Woods, forever connected with the "Honor of the Marines," lies Walt with two comrades, dead on the "Field of Honor." Above their graves the stately pines sway in their grandeur, an imperishable monument. But greatest of all epitaphs is that engraved within the hearts of his comrades."
Full text of the letter can be found here