On Feb. 14, 1947, John Patrick Rembert and his wife Sarafan were on opposite sides of the country.
It was Valentine’s Day, and Sarafan had been tending to the couple’s home in Arlington, taking care of their dog named Mac and paying the bills as each month rolled around.
At the same time, John was serving in the Navy and stationed at a Naval training command center in San Diego.
The two had exchanged letters for several years — and would continue to do so through 1955 — but on Valentine’s Day, Sarafan’s letter to her husband looked a little different.
Written in curly cursive on pink stationery, her letter leads with two lipstick kisses and a short sentence “this one’s printed, this one’s homemade.”
The letter begins:
Dearest Valentine, Who’s the luckiest and most beloved? Us! I’m the former & you’re the latter and isn’t it fun?
Bright and early yesterday morning, the loveliest bouquet of red roses came from my beau. You’re so sweet and remembering to send me love greetings; I love having them, not only ‘cause they’re beautiful, ‘cause they smell divinely too, but for what they tell me.
I is yo’ Valentine sho nuff, ain’t I?”
Keeping a love story alive
While John and Sarafan’s letters were written decades ago, their love story is preserved in William & Mary’s Special Collections section, deep in the climate-controlled basement of the Earl Gregg Swem Library.
The letters between the Remberts are the post-World War II equivalent of today’s text messages: Sarafan discusses dead car batteries and buying “puppy biscuits,” while John describes his daily work duties and spending time with friends in his off-time.
“The battery on our car was dead as a mackerel – so, my poor be-labored finances were further taxed for a $25.00 battery!” Sarafan wrote.
In a response, John described a hectic day at the training command center.
“School started bright and early this morning. I hardly had opportunity to get my orders endorsed, visit the pay office and the several other checking-in items that are necessary,” John wrote in one letter.
Bought by the college in 2010, the collection was sold by a rare books and manuscripts dealer, according to Jay Gaidmore, director of special collections.
It includes about 1,400 items, including approximately 550 letters, from 1944 to 1955. It also includes Naval photographs of the Remberts and their friends and family and some of John’s military items.
Some items date back as early as the late 1800s, Gaidmore said, but the bulk of them are from the 1910s to 1950s.
A lasting legacy
Even today, the Remberts’ story is teaching upcoming generations about the world.
William & Mary students use the letters for classes in many departments, including travel writing, military history and women’s studies, Public Services and Instruction Archivist Meghan Bryant said.
The letters have also been used as examples of civilian life during wartime, Bryant said.
“The letters allow students to work with real documents,” Gaidmore said.
Despite their usefulness now, the Remberts also found solace during their years apart by writing letters.
“As you mentioned, letters are very comforting,” John wrote in a Feb. 17, 1947 letter to Sarafan.
“All for now, my Darling, ‘cept I love you heaps and much,” John writes in another letter. “I think what a nice girl you are every day and what a lucky fellow I am to love you.”
The entire Rembert family papers collection can be viewed at the Earl Gregg Swem Library at William & Mary.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018.