Wednesday, September 29, 2021

October 5, 1944: Opa's Not in Kansas Anymore


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 5, 1944.


Oct. 5, 1944


Finally, we landed at Camp Crowder where we will be for at least seven or eight weeks. This morning, at 3:30, I was awakened from a wonderful snoar, had to report at my P.O. at 3:45. I hurried to get there in time, then waited in his office till 4:30. Why they didn't let me sleep that extra hour, I don't know. We ate breakfast and boarded an army truck which took us to the train. There were only five of us; I was the youngest in the bunch, the others ranging from 26 to 33. I felt sort of funny, being the leader of that group of older men. The sergeant gave me the railroad tickets, orders, papers, meal tickets, etc., told me when I would get where, what to do there and why, and asked me to keep the destination etc. secret until we had boarded the train. It so happened the I had told the gang already, but the sergeant didn't know that. We left Leavenworth at 5:35, had about half an hour layover in Kansas City, and arrived at Camp Crowder at noon. No change of train from Kansas City to Camp Crowder.

The trip was very pleasant. We played poker from Leavenworth to Kansas City (I lost 24 cents). In K.C., we just had time for a cup of coffee before lining up for the train. It certainly makes it simpler to travel when one is in uniform. We could pass up the entire line, women, children, 4-F's, and boarded the train first. I didn't feel quite right about that, for most of those people were far more tired and exhausted then we guys.

I never did know whether we were in Kansas or Missouri during the trip, for we went straight south for the greatest part of the time. At about 10:30, the M.P. announced that we would have a 15-minute stop with free canteen for all service-men. I thought we were deep inside Missouri, but the place was Pittsburg, Kansas. We had coffee, cookies, sandwiches, cake, cigarettes... I think we are getting spoiled.

The further south we got, the more did the landscape turn to my liking. Fall is coming rather late this season, and the trees are just beginning to turn. Some still green, some yellow and brown, and there were some birds in the prettiest red. Gradually, the country became more hilly, and there were strips of forests, ever increasing in size from shelterbelts to something which almost approached a real forest. Small lakes and streams kept reminding me that we were getting out of Kansas.

I inquired about meals in the diner, but found out that they won't be served till 11:45. At 11:59, our train was supposed to arrive at Camp Crowder. So, I gave the chef cook a little pep talk, and, sure enough, at 11:15, half an hour before regular serving, he had fixed us five meals. Uniform did it again. It was a good meal at that.

At camp, we had to wait around quite awhile and then ate again (at about two o'clock). They had dinner waiting for us, and couldn't disappoint the K.P.'s. Well, it didn't take much persuasion to make us eat it. (Fried eggs, bacon, potatoes, veal loaf, oranges, and apples.)

The barrack here are not nearly as good as Leavenworth; rather shabby and dirty, also, at present at least, very crowded. They put beds up in the center to hold the crowd, one of which I have.

Nothing official as been said yet, but according to rumors, we will start our basic training a week from this coming Monday. It will take abut six weeks for basic, then about three months for special training. Only then shall I be eligible for a furlough. All that, however, is not official, but just a rumor. Official is, however, the fact that I am scheduled for K.P. tomorrow. I guess that's the way to break us into camp, for all five of us have K.P. tomorrow.

I took a little walk around the camp today; it's awfully big and not nearly as nice as Leavenworth, but I shall probably like it alright. Tonight, I feel kind of lonesome and would like so badly to be with you. It may be a long while now before I can see you again; also, I want more than just seeing you or spending a weekend or a furlough with you: I want us to stay together, to build a home in which we can live for a longtime. Where we can unpack our suitcases and boxes without storing them at a place where they are easily available. But that time seems very far away, so far that it becomes difficult to even make plans for it. Even after the war is over, it may take years before we can find such a place. When we have it, though, it is going to be the best home in the world, with love radiating from every brick, every window and open door. We both know how badly we want and need this, and how ready we are for it; all we can do in the interim is to remain strong and always keep this goal in mind, and to have faith in each other.

While I am writing this, I am sitting in the telephone office, where I put in a call for you. It ought to get here any minute, and I am so eager to hear your voice. You don't know how comforting the idea is that you are my wife now; that I have you for keeps, that I may love you and be loved by you!

After an hour of waiting, your call just came. It always helps, darling. The rate is considerably higher here, so I guess we will have to quit at three minutes on our calls, and I shall use the money I save that way to call more often. I am sure glad about Yvonne's and Herb's presents. You don't need to be embarrassed about the silver, for Yvonne would not have done it had she not wanted to. Herb's record album is quite a surprise; we just have to get the record player now. There may be a mix-up in address. I'll write to the K-C. Post Office and see what can be done.

Well, this is quite a long letter, but I just felt like writing to you. Furthermore, tomorrow I'll have K.P. and therefore little time to write. I'll go to bed now and try to fall asleep before I get too lonesome.


Opa has had a long trip and a mindless day of assimilation to think about what he's embarking on. He's reeling from the rumors of six weeks of basic followed by three months of special training with no room for furlough. This is not the beginning of marriage that he had envisioned, and he hoped that even in the Army he'd have a little more stability. He's learned already that Army life is unpredictable. Everything is working out OK, but it's different from what he had imagined. He misses Grandmother, and the distance stretches further now, both geographical and time.

Opa's description of his hope for their future home gives me such warm feelings: "Love radiating from every brick." It has been so very long since Opa has had a home at all, especially one that he can store his suitcase and boxes without needing them always available. Grandmother and Opa are hungry to settle down, set some roots, be in a routine and have a family. Not even kids yet- but each other. I can only imagine the hunger for that life after so many years of uncertainty. 

The Army isn't going to give Opa his certainty just yet, but he is happy knowing at the very least, he has Grandmother for a wife, even if he's not in Kansas anymore.

Monday, September 27, 2021

October 2, 1944: Happiness and Fudge

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 2, 1944.


October 4, 1944


After seeing you last night, it is much easier to leave; also, the fact that I know at least approximately were I am going and what I am to do, simplifies matters considerably. After you left last night, I went right back to camp and to bed. The sounded taps, turned the lights on, and made us get up for breakfast. There just didn't seem to be any interval of time between taps and breakfast, except that someone must have turned the clock from eleven to five. I feel rested today, though, and was all up and ready for butt detail. (Found two matches today; that's a great improvement!)

The rest of the morning I spent waiting for the mail, for I knew your letter was in it. I appreciated that you spelled out the word "barracks" on the envelope. Your new spelling of it (with an "r" in the second syllable) looks very nice, in fact it adds to the appearance of the word and uses the alphabet more evenly. Why don't you write to Webster about it and have the dictionary altered to conform with your new theories?

Mac and Don got their shipping orders too, both are leaving tonight, i.e. before I do, so I will be the last of the Mohicans. 

I hope you got that train last night; my guess is that you even had to wait before it left, but maybe not. Anyhow, it was nice to have had that extra hour together. Did you get many mosquito bites? Of all the parts of my body that were exposed, only my right hand rated a bite; if I had been a mosquito, I certainly would not have missed a chance like that. How is your cold? If you catch something like pneumonia or suchlike, I should never forgive myself.

Mac just came in, beaming all over his round face. He will leave this afternoon at 3:30. Also, he got a package of fudge, so now we are all filling and overfilling our after-dinner stomachs with sweets. By the way, both Mac and Don say they liked you very much. Yeah, I'm awfully proud of my wife. I hope I can show her off a little more frequently before long.

The next letter will be from Camp X. (You aren't supposed to know that X marks the spot Crowder.)


Opa is buoyed by a weekend with Grandmother and some certainty in his Army life. He is shipping out to Camp Crowder very soon; his group of friends all separated out. 

Opa has a sense of purpose, renewed by his time with Grandmother and fostered by his camaraderie with his recently-made friends. Any friend that shares fudge is a winner in my eyes.

Opa's heading for Camp Crowder, Missouri, which is still not too far from Grandmother (though it is further). Life is happening, and Opa is ready for it. 

What's in store for Opa? I'm guessing basic training (boot camp). Something tell me he's gonna do great, because if there's one thing I've learned about Opa in these letters, it's that he rises to the challenge every time with a ridiculous amount of optimism and confidence. I didn't think I had that trait, but the more I look back at what I've been through and accomplished, the more I realize that I've been brave, confident, and resilient in my own way.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

September 27 & 28 & 30, 1944: Missing You


Postcard from Opa to Grandmother, September 27, 1944.


(Image: "First Call" by Marshall Davis, sketch of a disheveled man waking up, half out of bed, sleepy eyes.)



No time for a letter, for I am on duty. Chances are I shall remain here for at least another day or two. I'll call you if any sudden change occurs. Chin up, I hope to be seeing you soon.

Love, Tom

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 28, 1944.


Sept. 28, 1944

My darling wife,

After a busy day and some anxious minutes, this rainy forenoon seems like a rest to me. About 80% of our bunch for their shipping orders last night and are leaving this afternoon, but my name was not among them. Fred, however, will be leaving with this group. We were a little disappointed that the three of us are split up like this, but that's the way the Army works.

Two hours later. Another bunch just received orders, but I didn't. I wished I knew what is going to happen; this uncertainty is no fun.

Got your letter today, a well as Miss Derby's and Eilleen's. I had one from Eileen two, but I'll save it for Sunday, when I'll give you a whole bunch of letters. 

Yesterday was a busy day. Three of us had to scrub the whole barrack, clean all windows, and polish all brass. In between, we were called out twice for what is commonly called "butt detail," and consists of walking over the camp with a sack in your hand and pick up all cigarette snipes, matches, papers, etc. Not much fun, but not exactly hard work. Ordinarily, there is a large group of us doing this, and we get a lot of visiting done in the process.

It's too bad about the theft in your rooms and I hope you will be able to get things back. I hope you can do this without suing anybody; there may be a chance if you kids get together and send a lawyer to the contractor and have that lawyer present a list of all the articles which you know have been stolen. The threat of suing might possibly have effect. If it doesn't, I would sue then, though.

I discovered something helpful today. As "latrine orderly," I am acting non-com and can detail any man in my barrack who has no other detail, to do work in the latrine; so, today, I got me three men to clean toilet bowls, urinals, and do the rest of the dirty work. Unfortunately, this made me get through so early that the sergeant gave me other jobs.

This letter has been interrupted again. It's time for the mail now, so I'll quit. Maybe there will be time tonight to write some more.


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 30, 1944.


Sept. 30, 1944


There isn't much to say now, for I want to keep it for Sunday. Oh, darling, I was so happy when I found out we won't be shipped this week. Then, after calling you, I became really excited. It was the first time that we really talked and visited on a long-distance call without having too much business to talk about, and it meant so much.

Tonight, some K.C. girls and a band gave a stage show here. It was good anyhow, but my good mood made me enjoy it even more.

Probably, you won't get this letter till Monday, so there is no use of my telling you about the interview I had or anything like that; it is just so you hear it from me. 

Bye, darling, till day after tomorrow. We'll have a grand time together!


The message of all these letters is simple: Opa misses Grandmother. He is SO thrilled to finally get to see her, and all the uncertainty of folks getting shipped out is now a distant memory. 

Opa's encouragement for Grandmother to keep her "chin up" in the first postcard tells me that Grandmother has ben expressing a similar feeling of missing Opa. This separation must have been so hard for them. At first the novelty of marriage and joining the Army was enough to keep them occupied. But now that all the business and novelty has worn off, it's officially sad to not be together.

Opa is still navigating Army life, learning tricks that aren't so tricky after all (delegating and then getting more jobs). Grandmother's room was robbed, it seems by some fault of a contracting company. Opa seems quick to litigation, I wonder if this was more common (or simple) then, or if that was just him. Now we talk about how we live in such a litigious society, but honestly, as far as my experience, few people actually follow through because legal fees and courts are so expensive and time consuming. It's like insurance: there's a hidden deductible in our minds of how much is worth trying to win back.

I hope Opa and Grandmother have a lovely weekend together, and that we get to hear a little bit about it in the next letter. We'll see!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

September 26 (part 2 & 3), 1944: Almost Feminist


Letters from Opa to Grandmother, September 26, 1944.


Sept. 26, 1944


I just am back from calling you and am using a typewriter which I can have here for rent; ten cents for half an hour. That period of time ought to be sufficient even for you. It was so nice to hear you again, and I do hope that we get to see each other Sunday. I shall try to remember including your mother's letter in this; keep it, as well as other letters which I may send you every once in a while. It is very difficult to keep stuff like that here, especially where our bags have to be packed at all times on account of the fact that we are now on shipping orders.

I haven't been doing much since this morning except shrubbing, digging deep into toilet bowls to clean them out, polishing brass, etc. It isn't half as bad as it sounds, though; I finished my job before noon, but knew enough not to let the sergeant know about it, for he would have given me some other job. SO, in the afternoon, I rearranged all my stuff, packed my bag, and reread your letters several times; also, I took quite a while to answer your folks' letter.

So Hubert showed you the letters I wrote to him. I don't remember what I told him about your folks; was it complimentary?

I guess I shall address your letters to Mrs. Thomas W. Doeppner. In principle, I don't like this custom so well; it implies a sense of ownership on the man's part which is in contradiction to modern marriage, but in little details like that, it means no harm to follow the crowd.

Have you heard from Marjorie (Kiefer) yet? Her silence really is strange.

Fortunately, Mac, Fred and I got into the same barrack again. This was sheer accident, for most of the group was split up, and all three of us are on completely different duties.

Can you imagine me having trouble finishing my supper? Tonight, some of our gang had K.P. and were serving in the mess hall, so they really filled up our plates. Double serving and more of everything: hash, tomatoes, spaghetti, tomatoes, beans, salad, spinach, cottage cheese, and pineapple. How's that for a wartime menu?

Honey, if you have a chance to get some sort of a bag for toilet articles, etc, please get it, for I have absolutely no place to put things like that. Get it small enough to fit into our bags, but large enough so there is some room for letters, stationary, etc.

Well, I guess I had better close; it's time to get back to work.



Sept. 26, 1944.


This is the third letter I am writing you today; one this morning, one three hours ago, and this one now. I have some time, though, and want to see you so badly that I resort to the closest facsimile possible: the mail.

Just got out of a show in the War Dept. Theater, called "Till We Meet Again." It was a fairly good show, picturing the escape of an American flier from France. Better than usually in this type of pictures, it gave some of the man's background. He talked about his wife Peggy, and in my mind, to the tune of his thoughts which he expressed to a young nun in France, he was talking about a girl called Margie. The little things he mentioned were like taken out of my heart. Things he remembered and missed: her hair and the way it flung in the wind; picnics; a swim; and, in the morning, to have her awaken next to him, curled up to him; the times she cried in his shoulder and the hours of crisis when she believed in him even though he had given up all belief in himself. He was away, far away; probably much farther and for a longer period of time than our separation will ever be. Honey, it made me realize how lucky we are, in spite of everything, that we know it won't be more than a few months that we can have at least some time together. How lucky I am to have you, like he had his Peggy, to give me strength and something to come back to; something which makes life worthwhile and beautiful, no matter what the odds may be.

Fred, Mac and I went to that show, and afterward I suggested to go up to the Service Club to write to "our wives." After this inspiration, the pen seems to flow freely and there was not much talk between us.

We will be going back to our barracks soon, taps will be sounded, and I shall be lying in my bunk. thinking and dreaming about the best girl in the world: my wife and my friend. Good night, darling; let's have faith. It won't be long, even though many months may go by. There will be a day and a time when we shall look back on these months as a period in which we learned to appreciate our happiness, and in which we were made to deserve it.

Ever yours,


Opa pours out his heart to Grandmother. An Army film reminds him of how lucky he is to have someone he loves so dearly. My favorite part is how he addresses her: "my wife and my friend." This is the foundation of their marriage. He has no idea what they will see and do together, but in this moment, in a Service Club in Kansas, he knows that their relationship gives him meaning and purpose. 

I have to admit I heard a little refrain from Disney's animated  movie, Mulan, in the back of my head while reading that part. Do you know it? "A Girl Worth Fighting For!" The scene juxtaposes the overt masculinity in war-time propaganda and morale boosts, which of course become hilarious when a woman, Mulan, has to pretend she has some girlfriend at home that she's swooning over. It's less hilarious when you think about the fact that she's in danger of death, and protecting her father who would surely have died if he had reported for obligatory military service, being the only male in the family. The movie has within its theme an attempt to push against the assumed patriarchal power and assumptions. But, I would say it doesn't 100% succeed for a number of reasons, even though I still love the movie and have lots of nostalgia for it.

That's a bit like Opa's almost feminism. He sees clearly that addressing Grandmother by his name with a Mrs. in front of it is not quite right, or indicative of their equality in the relationship. However, he consents to tradition and nostalgia, saying that there isn't much harm in following the crowd. I disagree, wholeheartedly. But I guess better to be almost feminist than completely enmeshed in toxic masculinity? 

To this day I will hand my husband Jason any letter that is addressed in this traditional way ("Mrs. Jason Snow") and say- "Hey this letter is for you and the Mrs. You." I refuse to open it, it is not addressed to me. I hate this tradition and there is literally zero reason for it to continue. It has no grammatical, logistical, or theoretical benefit. It is simply a function and result of patriarchy. 

I'm intrigued by this letter from Grandmother's mother. Opa had to spend lots of time responding to it. Was this their "Hey- I guess you married my daughter, so here are our expectations now" letter? I don't know- we don't have it. I laughed when Opa asked if Hubert's letters from him were complimentary to her parents. Oops. Hope so.

I'm still very impressed by Opa's little secret "toilet duty isn't so bad" knowledge. He scrubs the latrine and has time to write three letters in one day. Wise guy.

Monday, September 20, 2021

September 26, 1944: With and Without Girls

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 26, 1944.


Sept. 25, 1944


Yesterday, we were moved to a different company and are on shipping orders now. This may mean that we get shipped out tomorrow, we also may stay here another week or two.

We also were interviewed and classified yesterday. My interview took three hours, and I don't think there is a thing left the Army doesn't know about me. I found out, though, that I had passed all tests with highest score; since I am the only college boy in the gang, this was to be expected.

After interviewing me, they gave me a special technical test in radio; asking me a bunch of technical and math questions. Then, they classified me as radio research man, Signal Corps. This classification, however, is tentative and only their suggestion; I may still end up in the infantry.

We were shown two movies. One on military courtesy, which showed the correct way of saluting, when to salute, when not to, etc. It was fairly well done, a little drawn-out though. The other picture was called "Pickup" and dealt with venereal diseases. The show left nothing to the imagination and showed many of the results of syphilis and gonorrhea in all its cruel details. The show was very well done. A nice talk by the chaplain followed this.

Afterwards, we were given typhoid shots and some others. They make your arm feel a little funny, but aren't half as bad as people claim.

As you see from the enclosures, I took the $10,000 life insurance as well as a monthly $10 war bond. Keep these papers, they are the only receipt we got. 

We were moved to Company B, from which we are to be shipped out. If shipment should come suddenly, I will call you. Our sergeant is a humdinger. Reminds me, both in looks and in his way of talking, of Mr. Zimmerman. Swears, chews, spits, but is otherwise as particular as he can be. When there is only one extra fold in our bed, he just tears it down and has us make it over. He gave me a nice job: latrine orderly. Every morning, I have to clean, scrub. and polish everything in the latrine, from the shower faucets down to the toilet bowls and urinals. Anyhow, it gets me out of K.P. (I think) and doesn't take too much time. So far, I have had all my evenings free, which is more than I ever expected.

Last night, Mac and I went to the Service Club, played pingpong (part of the time with girls) and then went to the show (without girls.) We saw "Kismet," a nice technicolor show.

We are not going to get weekend passes, so try to come up on Sunday if I am still here. Chances are, however, that we will be shipped out by the end of the week.

There ought to be a letter from you in the mail Today. Note the change of my address. Army life isn't bad, if I could only be with you. I miss you something terrible.

Love and kisses,


The pace is picking up, with Opa now in an assigned company, on shipping orders, and with a potential classification. Opa wrote about this in more detail in his autobiography:

At Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I was given a choice between Military Intelligence (probably because I spoke German and passable French,) and the Army Signal Corps. I figured that if I worked in Military Intelligence, I might have to spend the rest of the war translating German field manuals, while in the Signal Corps I would learn something related to my field. "No guarantees," they said... 
(pg 30-31, From Nazi Germany to a Career in Freedom.)

I wonder if Opa told Grandmother about that choice or if he assumed her support (which she likely would have given). It makes sense that Opa would choose the classification that more closely matched his education and aptitude.

I hadn't realized Opa was the only college kid in the group. That's kind of amazing, and also likely why he was getting so much attention and praise from the officers. I guess it was late enough in the war that he didn't raise any suspicions of allegiance; to enlist in the Army at the lowest rank towards the end of the war would be a poor spy technique.

I had the "pleasure" of watching the old Army video on venereal diseases, and let me tell you, Opa is not kidding about them leaving nothing to the imagination. SO many pictures of diseased genitals in that video. They approach it from the assumption that all Army men are perfect sweethearts who are potential targets for harlots and seemingly sweet yet disease-infested women. As far as a teaching technique, it's not bad. Even more convincing were those photos. Woah. 

I cannot imagine what the chaplain had to say that didn't feel weird after that.

Opa's experience with his new sergeant is a great indicator of how age and maturity are his best friends. He has seen this type before, and he knows how to live with it. His perspective on latrine duty is another indicator of his hard-earned wisdom (and cleverness), he knows that no one would volunteer for this service, but it takes less time and is somehow less terrible than K.P. (Kitchen Patrol), perhaps because of the time it takes? I hate cleaning bathrooms. Opa happily accepts his "low" assignment, because he knows it's all about perspective. He does a good job and doesn't complain, the grumpy sergeant is pleased, and Opa has his evenings free to write his wife.

I couldn't help but laugh when I read Opa's obligatory confession and follow up assertion of when he had fraternized with and without girls. He's transparent, showing Grandmother he can be trusted. 

Opa misses Grandmother. The Army life is picking up, but his married life feels a little bit like it's on hold.

Friday, September 17, 2021

September 24, 1944: Defending Conscientious Objectors

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 24, 1944.


Sept. 24, 1944


I have found a pretty fair library out here, even some books on electrical engineering were to be had. Since this is a Sunday afternoon, there is plenty of time for reading and such like pleasures.

Right now, you are probably on your way to Lawrence, and I wished I were with you. Poor Skunkie is howling in the luggage car, wishing he were back on the farm, exposed to the cruelty of cats, chickens, and Margies.

Last night I dreamed so distinctly of you that it seemed as though you must have been present in some mystical way which we don't understand. There are many ways in which we are together right now, but that makes the separation none the easier. My only hope for the near future is that we shall not be shipped out before next weekend, for I shall be able to see you then.

Last night, Fred and I took passes and went to the show: "A Wave, a Wac, and a Marine." It was a rather silly show, but the only entertainment available except for some Follies which we didn't particularly care to see. Afterwards, we went to the Service Club and had cake, ice cream, and coffee.

This morning we got to sleep an hour longer than usually, which means we were called "only" at 5:30. I went to church(!); a very poor sermon by a chaplain who fell back on what he calls religious experiences in Europe. He gave a try insulting, uncalled for accusation to conscientious objectors. However, he has a very interesting way of talking and getting your attention, which almost made up for his intolerance. The chapel, even though barrack style, is intensely beautiful and has just the right atmosphere for worship.

What do you think of this dinner menu: Beef, green beans, turnips, mashed potatoes, gravy, lettuce-and-tomato salad, chocolate cake, ice cream and coffee. If you will feed me after the war the way the army does now, I'll be satisfied.

The funniest thing happened last night: the field jacket which I had been issued looks quite a lot like an officer's jacket; so, a staff sergeant, on passing me, took me for an officer and started a snappy salute. He recognized his mistake in time, though, and was very embarrassed.

I wrote to Herb and Eileen today; am planning to write to Ray before the day is over.


Opa wrote to Grandmother, mentioning her trip from her home farm back to Lawrence, where she was working at the University and in grad school. I thought about the strange way we revert to our childhood roles and even mannerisms when we are home with our parents. It's not always a bad thing, but it's not always a good thing, either. It must have felt strange for Grandmother, straddling home and adulthood. Were her parents still disapproving of Opa? Did they talk to her about it? I doubt it since she was now married and they wouldn't have wanted her to have a failed marriage. It must have been a bit of a whiplash for her. I wish we had her letters to get insight into how she was feeling during this time.

I love how Opa mentioned the mystical-like connection between himself and Grandmother. His dream of her felt so real.... he wonders if in some other realm it may have been real. I don't know what to call it other than mystical, but I have had similar experiences; when I feel connected to someone or present to them in a way that is more than just a feeling or hope. It feels real and present. These experiences are gifts. I have felt this way about Ella, while reading her letters, feeling like I was somehow present with her in a realm unconfined by time. It feels so real that I have to remember we never met. Then I wonder if maybe somehow we have. (See: mystical.)

The fact that Opa went to church voluntarily proves on some level that although he did not accept religion as a whole, he was always curious and open to learning something new. This chaplain sounds unfortunately very typical. I would have been a terrible military chaplain (if they allowed deaf chaplains to serve). I think it would be very difficult for me to counsel and serve a group of people who were in the process of being trained and indoctrinated in American patriotism and warfare. Those are not strong pulls for me. I love that Opa is still defending conscientious objectors. He hasn't forgotten his roots or his friends. Everyone has their reasons for where they go in life and what they choose, and that chaplain didn't need to judge others in order to support the troops in front of him. That's tacky.

Opa still finds time to write his friends, keeping up with them in a way he cannot keep up with friends and family from Germany. He told Grandmother he would write Ray, I'm assuming her older brother Ray.

Opa is certainly enjoying Army food, and I can't help but notice that his listed menus are mirrored in many menus at retirement and nursing homes across the US today. From the green beans all the way to chocolate cake. I hope it gives some of the residents the same joy it gave Opa in his early Army days.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

September 23, 1944: Morbid Raincoat


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 23, 1944.


Sept 23, 1944


I was glad I had a good excuse to call you last night, for I was just a little lonesome. No mail makes things sort of strange, for I didn't have the slightest idea of how you have been faring since that cruel bus took me away from you.

Today, we received our uniforms. I am very pleased with mine; it fits comparatively well, especially the O.D. jacket which we will wear in winter. The only thing I don't like is my raincoat, which is dirty, worn, and even broken at places. Otherwise, I have now more clothes than I ever owned before.

There are three of us who have formed a little trio: Maxwell Bailey, called Mac, who is a 244-pounder, married, 3 kids, 25-yrs old, a pleasant chap; not too intelligent, but lots of fun and always ready to help. Fred Bartlett is 21, has been married since he was sixteen. Extremely handsome, very clever.

We took three tests today: Mechanical Aptitude Test, General Classification Test, and Radio Operators Test. All three of them were extremely simple; such questions as: "If there are 2100 men in your group, 10% of them in the army, of those 59% in the Signal Corps, 20 men in the Engineers and the rest in K.P., how many are in K.P." Nevertheless, there were plenty guys who had trouble.

I assume you got that picture. It isn't very good, cost only a quarter. I'll have a better one made in my winter uniform.

Monday, we'll finish processing, and from then on we'll wait to be shipped out. I'll be "available" for visitors every afternoon from 1 to 5p.m. This is supposed to be a hint.

Write soon, honey, and much.



Have I mentioned that my family (on the Doeppner side) is a bit intellectually snobby? Yeah. They are. It's a hard inheritance to shed. I don't know what to say about it other than it is helpful to see it so blatantly every now and then- as a reminder that this is part of my foundation and I need to work on it not being a thing.

When I read the part about Opa's raincoat, I couldn't help but wonder where this dirty, worn, broken coat had been. Where is the previous wearer? I admit, my mind got morbid and I just assumed that coat has seen battle and the wearer didn't make it. Or maybe it's way less intense than that, but that does seem odd that Opa would receive such a noticeably hand-me-down piece of military clothing. It's such a contrast from the rest of the scene with ample food and well-fitted uniforms.

Opa has already formed a small group of friends, the older married men in the group found each other. Both men sound interesting and like people I'd like to meet! I wonder if this friendship lasted any longer than their brief time here at Ft. Leavenworth.

Every time Opa says "shipped out," I imagine this dramatic scene at the sea shore when the huge ship of military men bravely wave goodbye before they embark on their journey to the war front. What it really means is being sent to his first assignment. Which at this juncture is likely boot camp. Does Opa know about boot camp? I imagine he does since Winton went into the service and stayed in touch.

I'm guessing things will shift a bit when he gets to boot camp.

Monday, September 13, 2021

September 22, 1944: No longer a Civilian


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, September 22, 1944.


Sept. 22, 1944


Preposterous as it may seem, I am no longer a civilian, but any ignoramus who has more stripes or bars than I do, can tell me what to do.

This morning, we found out that we passed our physical with flying colors, so we were inducted. Naturally, it was the Army for me. The officers were especially nice to me, and I gathered many undeserved laurels for having taken this step voluntarily. 

If they only knew that I am not yet quite off that fence... Now, however, I'll have to stick to it, for I was sworn in this afternoon. It was a very nice and almost genuine ceremony, conducted by the colonel.

Tomorrow sometime, we are to receive our uniforms and the rest of the G.I. equipment. I'll send my civilian clothes to you and let you take care of them. Let's hope the day is not too far away that I can wear them again. Our captain told us today that we shall be in the army for at least two years, even if the war should end tomorrow.

Honey, I need a copy of our marriage certificate before you can get your allowance, and I need it as soon as possible. Have somebody sign as witness and have a photostatic copy made right away and send it to me. My address is going to change soon, but all mail will be forwarded. You will receive your first allowance within a few weeks if I get the marriage certificate in time, otherwise it will be postponed for another month or so.

There are many things I would like to tell you, but it is hard to write about them. If I should stay here another week, I may get a weekend pass to K.C. next Sunday; if not, you may visit me here on Sunday (or any day) from 1 to 6pm.


Opa announces his induction into the US Army with a bit of a shoulder shrug in this letter. He admires the ceremony, and I understood what he meant about it being "nice and almost genuine." There's a lot of ritual and pomp and circumstance with the military  Many times you can't help but be moved, and yet in the back of my head I know that part of the theatrics of it all is a for the morale and keeping folks in line with the mission. It's an interesting line to straddle. I love ritual, but I have a healthy skepticism for the motives behind emotionally manipulative rituals.

It's helpful for me to see that Opa really wasn't all-in at this point, with his pacifist background still a recent feeling. He is happy for the opportunity and stability that the Army will offer him, but he hasn't been won over... yet. 

When Opa wrote his autobiography, and when he spoke with us, we were under the impression that the Army was a natural procession in his plan. We never knew that he avoided it until it was his only option. I've wondered throughout this project when his opinion shifted. He's not quite off the fence yet, as he points out.

So now, Opa's officially in the Army for at least two years, a commitment he is willing to uphold (though he seems to be eager to skip to the end). He gives Grandmother some instructions in order to get the most out of his service: the dependent allowance. This was a war-time benefit for the families of military individuals and Opa was eager to begin providing for Grandmother. I thought it was funny that their marriage certificate didn't have a witness signature yet. 

Opa misses Grandmother, and he has things he wants to tell her and share with her. Now that he's in the Army, his time is not his own and even his thoughts are not particularly welcomed. He is anxious to have some alone time with her. I wonder what he's thinking about. There is a lot to process.