Friday, June 19, 2009
Treasure: My Father's Letters
My mother passed on in 2001, and my brother and sister-in-law have had eight boxes of miscellaneous stuff stored in their garage since. The idea was that I would go down to New Mexico to sort through the boxes with my brother, but I never got around to it. They are moving house now, and are sending me boxes.
Yesterday I opened a box that contained all the letters my father wrote to my mother during World War II. My mother kept them meticulously, numbered in the order they arrived, with the date she received each one written on the envelope in her careful book keeper's handwriting. There are 247 letters.
In April, 1942, right after his thirtieth birthday, my dad enlisted in the Army in San Francisco. His first message, a postcard, has a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on it. He wrote:
“Dear Nita: It's now 8:45 A.M. & we'll be leaving at 9:00. I guess we'll go thru town about noon. You'll address me as pvt. until further notice. Your private, John” The post card is canceled with a postmark that says: “San Francisco, Calif. Apr 27 5:30 PM 1942.” They must have been traveling by train. The main line does pass through Watsonville.
His second letter is dated May 1, 1942, from Camp Sutton, North Carolina. “Dear Nita: Well, here I am in camp, and is it a dirty dusty hole. We had a good trip across the continent...We came in Pullmans, three in a section. I was lucky to get a pair of brothers as partners and they wanted to sleep in the lower together. So I had the upper all to myself all the way.
“This outfit seems to be a swell bunch of guys, but they're having a little trouble getting used to the army, so you hear quite a bit of grousing. I really don't know what to write you as I haven't seen much of this deal yet. But, anyhow, maybe I'll have more to tell. Until then, All my Love, John”
On May 2, he writes: “Dearest Nita: I just came in from my first day of drill, & what a mess...My writing is kind of shaky but we have no desks & I have to write in my lap. This camp wasn't even here a month ago & it shows it. All the comforts of hell.”
Reading that one I pictured my father writing on this piece of paper in his lap. I've done a little lap writing in my time, and am amazed at how that image made me feel connected to him as I held in my hand the letter he wrote in his lap in May, 1942.
He says he doesn't know how long he'll be at Camp Sutton or where he'll go after. “They don't tell us anything and when they do, they change it.” He says they are spending a lot of time making sidewalks with gravel, using large rocks for borders. In letter #3 he writes, “We live six in a tent, and I happened to get a swell bunch. They're all common working scrubs, like me. There are quite a few fancy pants city guys in this outfit, but I steered clear of them.”
On May 12 he wrote two letters. The first one begins: “My Dear Wife: I got three letters today. They were all very nice. You mentioned hearing Kate Smith singing 'Rose of No Man's Land.' I was listening to her at the same time I guess, from the Charlotte station. They must be on the same network...I was on Regimental guard duty along with about 40 other men from H.Q. Co. from 1 P.M. yesterday to 1 P.M. today...I volunteer on almost everything once, just to learn the ropes. But I haven't had any K.P. or extra duty, on acct. of I'm too good-? Some change. I volunteered in this mess tho, so I have no one to blame, so I might as well do it right.”
Postmarked the same day is a second letter: “Dear Nita: I just wrote you a letter, but I forgot to ask for a few things I should have. I'd like to have my slippers. All of my medium weight dress socks like I wore away. Maybe you'd better send all but the lightest ones including which work socks are good, then I can throw away what I don't want. Also I want the soap box out of that other kit. That's about all I can think of. So goodbye again. All my Love, John. P.S. G.I. Socks are strictly N.G. Love, John”
That's a sampling of letters 1 through 6. They give me a look at my father and a first hand report on what it was like for him during the war. I'm grateful that my mother kept these letters, these treasures. Stay tuned for more!