Love Letters

Show focuses on wartime correspondence

November 25, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Donna Groom of the Skyliners sings during her “Love Letters” show Saturday at St. John's United Church of Christ in Evans City. The show is a multimedia look at the wartime letters of servicemen and their families, accompanied by the music of each era. Groom, the female vocalist of the Skyliners, is the principal artist and creator.

EVANS CITY — Soldiers' letters home proved to be comedic, sad and heartwarming during a performance of “Love Letters” Saturday at St. John's United Church of Christ, 501 E. Main St.

“Letters” is a multimedia performance using video, narration of letters and songs of the various eras sung by Donna Groom, St. John's musical director and singer of the Pittsburgh doo-wop group, the Skyliners.

Groom said she developed the show in collaboration with the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh and “from people we know.”

“It's the music and letters of wartime,” she said. “I put it together several years ago.”

She's performed “Letters” with a 12-piece symphony orchestra, although Saturday she was backed by keyboardist Rick Purcell and drummer and husband Mark Groom who also plays with the Skyliners.

Mark Groom said his wife had been the Skyliners' lead singer for nearly 40 years.

“For the show, we worked together and did most of the music,” he said.

“Love Letters” covered conflicts from the Civil War to the Gulf War.

Some of the letters were funny, such as the one from Lt. Jack Sweeney recounting a long-distance call he tried to place from the South Pacific to his fiancée back in the States in 1946. All he got for his trouble was static, confusion and a whopping phone bill.

Another, from William Smith serving with the Army crossing Germany in December 1944 to his mother lamented not being home for the holidays and missing talking about the old days with the relatives and her good cooking.

“You are the best solider I know,” wrote Smith to his mother. Knowing of her courage, he wrote, made him “able to fight the battles much easier.

A postscript noted that four weeks after he sent the letter home, Smith was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.

One letter from Regis Costello, serving in Korea in 1954, to his son noted the conditions Korean children faced.

“In the United States, children are allowed to play and be themselves, but in Korea they had to work,” wrote Costello.

A letter from a solider wounded by a phosphorus warhead in Vietnam in 1969 explained how he refused to be sent home because he was playing in a band.

Donna Groom accompanied each letter with a period song ranging from “Don't Get Around Much Anymore,” “Purple Shades,” “Merry Christmas, Darling” and closed the show with “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “God Bless America.”

Groom said, “If there was a little more love in the world, I wouldn't have any show content.”

St. John's pastor Lisa Griffin said Saturday's performance was a fundraiser for the church.

Griffin said, “She wanted to offer it to the community and the veterans in honor of them.”

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Eric Freehling

Eric Freehling

Eric was born in Butler and grew up in Winfield Township. He graduated from Knoch High School and later Indiana University of Pa. with a degree in Journalism. After working as a reporter and editor with the Kittanning Leader-Times, he moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where he worked at The Pantagraph newspaper as a copy editor, page designer, reporter and business editor. Freehling later worked at the Houston Chronicle as senior copy editor and the Chicago Tribune as a copy editor on the business desk. He moved back to Pennsylvania in 2010 and joined the Butler Eagle as Community Editor in January 2011.