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in: A Man's Life, Featured, Grief, Letter Writing

December 16, 2010 Last updated: March 26, 2020

An Excellent and Manly Example of a Sympathy Note

douglas fairbanks jr military officer portrait uniform

Awhile back, we published an article on how to write a sympathy note. Penning this type of correspondence is a difficult task. While I think we offered a good guide, it’s one of those things that’s easiest to understand when you see a real example. So I when I came across the following letter in the book War Letters, I knew I had to pass it along. It’s truly an example of a pitch perfect sympathy note.

The letter was written by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Many know him as an actor, but he was also a highly decorated Naval officer. His awards span the globe: the United States Navy’s Legion of Merit with bronze V (for valor), the Italian War Cross for Military Valor, the French L├ęgion d’honneur and the Croix de guerre, and the British Distinguished Service Cross.

When his dear friend, John Kremer, was killed when a kamikaze plane crashed into the USS Orestes during WWII, Fairbanks wrote the following note to Kremer’s mother.

Jan 9th

Dear Mrs. Kremer-

Word has just reached me about John.
No words of mine will supply the comfort and the strength which these days require. However, I could not let the day pass without letting you know how very deeply I am feeling the effects of this crushing news.
To say that I was fond of John would merely be the echo of any and all who ever knew him. He was a man whose courage I admired, whose wisdom I respected and whose friendship I treasured. No one will miss him as much as you, but know that I, for one, will remember him with affection and count myself fortunate for having known him,-for as long as I linger with “this mortal coil.”
Dick Barthelmess wrote me the news and said, in part, “I hope he is sitting on a nice comfortable cloud, conversing in Greek, with a quartet of harps playing soft chamber music to him. He’d like that.” I feel sure that’s right.
This sort of letter should be brief but I’ve gone on because I did want to say my say about a fine man, a courageous warrior and a great friend.
My wife joins me, dear Mrs. Kremer, in sending you and the children our most very sincere sympathy & friendship and the hope that the great sorrow you have will somehow be mitigated by the pride you must also feel.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Lt. Commander USNR

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