Sunday, December 11, 2011

May 13, 1943

Carl has finished his army training and now he waits with his company to be sent into duty. They have been moved to three different camps in three states within the past month, with no idea where they will be sent next. He is now in New York City, preparing to ship out any day.

He writes on U.S.O stationary, with the words "IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS" printed in red on every piece of paper and on the outside of each envelop. Each letter is subject to censorship and already a few lines were cut out from one he wrote earlier in the month. Somehow, he knows that this letter will not be censored--probably the last uncensored letter he will write until the war is over.

To preserve his writing, I have not edited any spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Here are his words:

Well dearest it seems like the zero hour has arrived. I have no idea where we will be transfered from here. Plans and prepairations are being made for our exportation. It is quite certain that we will leave New York in a boat. I assume it will be either England or Alaska, according to the clothing that have [sic] been issued to us.

These two options of England or Alaska seem very arbitrary to me. What sort of clothes could they have been given which would suggest these two places? Did my grandpa really think they would be taking a boat from New York to Alaska? Was the U.S. Army really sending troops to Alaska during WWII? At first I thought this was a joke. It might be, but this next excerpt made me wonder.

I have a plan to out-smart the censor. In case they do not permit me to tell you where I am I will give you names of persons representing places. Here they are. Loyd = London, Alice = Alaska August = Australia Alfreda = Africa Irma = Ireland Isaac = Iceland, Alta some Island in the Atlantic and Paul for some Island in the Pacific (Greenland = George). I will questing [sic] you in the following manner; How is Paul by this time, hereby you will be able to tell where I am. I sure get radical ideas you may even smile at them. I hope to be “smarter” some day.

As someone looking back on WWII, I find these choices of countries very odd. There seem to be several glaring omissions. What's the code for Germany? France? Italy? Did he really think he was more likely to be sent to Australia or Greenland than to Germany? Did the U.S. Army even have operations in Australia during WWII? Since this is the last uncensored letter Carl will write for the rest of the war, it would seem he would want to cover all bases. Thoughts?

Letters from World War II

From September 1943 until March 1945, my grandfather wrote a letter to my grandmother almost every other day. My grandmother kept every single one. She only told us about the existence of these letters a few years ago, very close to the time of my grandfather's death. I now have the letters in my possession and am slowly reading through them, typing them up, and tracing my grandparents' relationship.

Since these letters are so intensely personal and highly valued, I have hesitated to say anything about them here and am still unsure what form my posts take. But I wanted to share some thoughts and some tidbits with you. My knowledge of World War II is not great, so I also want to pick your brains and get some feedback.

As an introduction, let me just say that the man who wrote these letters, a 23-year-old awaiting both the right moment to propose to his sweetheart and his summons from the draft, is a man that neither his son nor his grandchildren knew. He was a hard-working, no-nonsense father and by the time my sister and I came along, he was a quiet, serious grandfather. But the man I have met in these letters is, as he labels himself, a "wide-eyed dreamer," filled with philosophies and theories about the world, writting tenderly and candidly to my grandma.

I first started typing out the letters in November, 2010, exactly 67 years after my grandfather first penned them. I was typing his letter from November 12, 1943 on November 12, 2010. He was 23 when he wrote them. I was six months older and 24 at the time. I have since fallen behind in my recording, but I strive to keep this connection as I follow my grandfather's pen strokes.

I do my best to type at least one letter each night, and so spend my evenings developing an intimate relationship with my 23-year-old grandfather, a stranger who is quickly becoming a friend.