Monday, October 25, 2021

October 11, 1944: Blurr

Letters from Opa and Philip to Grandmother, October 11, 1944.


October 11, 1944


This letter is apt to start in a peculiar setup. I am at the hospital for an eye check; they gave me some eye drops, and these drops are making everything appear extremely blurr. Right now, I can see only the lines I am writing; the words are very indistinct. They say it is going to take several hours before this effect ceases.

Probably, I am to get one or two pairs of S.I. glasses. I won't wear them much, though, for I don't want to look any more like a moron than I do already. Right now, I am waiting for the examination; thought I'd utilize the time.

Last night, after I mailed your letter, Johnny came and we went to see the show "San Diego, I love you." Awfully cute and funny; see it if you have a chance.

Slept through reveille this morning, but did get up for breakfast. (Missing breakfast would be too great a sacrifice even for Morpheus.

A while ago, we were issued a whole slug of stuff, including a bayonet. Yesterday, this bayonet was taken away from us, indicating that we are not going to have any bayonet practice. You can't imagine how glad I am for that, for in my estimation, bayonets are slaughtering instruments of more cruelty than any others. I'm getting a headache, so I had better quit and finish this when my eyes are normal again.

Your letter came a few hours ago, and with it those of Spohns and Philip. I can't do any work today on account of my eyes (good excuse, anyhow) so I went over to the prison office (there ain't no z I prison) to look up Philip. He is a swell guy, much nicer than I had expected from your description. We had a good talk together, and now I am at the Service Club. Philip will come up here after work, and we will have supper together. It is too bad you can't be here too; better buy some ice cubes and put them on your ears, for they will need cooling off.

I don't have your letter here to answer it but I didn't think there was anything in it which was intended as a question. Don't worry about my swearing, since there is nothing to worry about. I'll write to the Spohns one of these days; not only for the wedding gift either, even though this decidedly plays in as a mighty good reason.

Philip may be going home around the 19th. I hope he stops in Lawrence, which he probably will. Too bad I can't go with him. On my first weekend pass, however, we might go together. By the way, he is a corporal now. 

Well, my eyes start hurting again. The next time they dope me like this, I'll quit my job. I decided anyhow to send a petition to the colonel which would state that Company A of the 27th Battalion be granted an honorable discharge, with $10,000 mustering-out pay, and a monthly pension of $500 for life. A general survey has revealed that most numbers of my company would be in agreement. I, however want to wait till after I get my citizenship, while the rest of them do not see any need for that. I am sure the colonel will have no objections, aren't you?

Write me a long letter, darling, and be as sweet in my dreams as you are in reality.



Dear Marjorie,

Was surprised and happy this afternoon to have Tom come walking in the office and introduce himself. We have spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening visiting, eating and playing ping pong, which by the way is a new sport to me and it's needless to say who won the games. Tom seems like a very nice fellow and I find him very interesting and feel sure we will be the best of friends. I'm awfully glad he landed here. I hope some time you can come down and see him soon so that I can see you too. Now that he is here I still don't expect to hear from you often as I will be seeing Tom every once in a while.

Best of Luck and with Love,
Your Brother

I started laughing when I realized Opa was writing this with dilated eyes. You can tell by his handwriting and some of his small errors. Opa needed glasses for as long as I knew him, so perhaps this was the beginning of that truth being known. He seems to think glasses won't look good on him, but he quickly adjusted. I thought he looked very dignified with glasses on. 

Opa's mention of his relief in skipping the bayonet and its cruelty was an interesting aside. It reminds me of his pacifist origins, still in there even in the middle of army life. 

Grandmother's brother, Philip, was in the army, and at the same base as Opa now. Opa introduced himself and they seemed to get along well. Philip was much older than Grandmother, 17 years older. For Grandmother, he was almost like an uncle and not a brother she knew very well. He was the oldest in her family of six children (two of whom died as young children). Grandmother was the youngest and only girl. That helps explain Philip's letter to her: sort of formal and paternal. It is sort of a "small world" thing that Opa and Philip should be meeting on base like that. 

I'm reminded of the quick and small wedding Grandmother and Opa had, hardly any of Grandmother's family was there, including Philip. I can't imagine meeting my sister's spouse for the first time a month after they were married! 

Also, I realized that Opa still hasn't gotten his citizenship, his main reason for joining the army and hanging in there when things are bizarrely inefficient. I'm waiting for that big day!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

October 10, 1944: Waste of Manpower


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 10, 1944.


October 10, 1944

My darling wife,

Today I have been working just awfully hard. After breakfast, I changed into my best uniform and went down to Headquarters to apply for correspondence courses. I didn't find out much. Was sent from the Orderly Room to Headquarters; from Headquarters to Special Service, from Special Service to the Field House where I finally found the guy who is the expert in this field. Mr. Expert gave me the following advice: to write to Washington and ask them. I thanked him for his all-inclusive information and walked back to my barracks. There, I lay down to recuperate from the hard labor. After about half an hour of sweet dreams, a lieutenant happened into the barricks. He thought he may have some work for me; I should change into fatigues and report to him. It took me another half hour to change clothes, then I reported to the lieutenant. He referred me to the first sergeant, who deferred me to the corporal, who told me to remain in the barricks till he called me. At chow time, one of the boys woke me up, and I really had an appetite after all that hard work. I wouldn't have minded it so much if they had given me some rest in the afternoon, but the Army would not consider such a waste of man-power. At 1:00pm, I was to report to help breaking, loading, and unloading rocks. At 1:30, the corporal in charge appeared and told us to wait at the next block for the truck which was to pick us up. At 3:00, the first sergeant appeared and asked us what the hell we were doing, lying in the grass, smoking, and shooting the bull? We told him we were waiting for the truck, so he asked three of us (including me) to go with him. Ten minutes later, the truck got there, and the boys who stayed really had to work hard. The three of us, however, were told to go to the supply room and get shovels. The supply room was closed, so we waited. It finally opened up at 4, we got our shovels. In the meantime, the first sergeant had disappeared, and we didn't know what to do with the shovels, so we sat down and waited. Right now, it is close to five. We are still waiting.

Time for retreat now. The first sergeant is still missing; probably a.w.o.l. No kidding, this waste of manpower in the army is scandalous.

Did you read about the plan that came out of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference? If it should be followed, and it probably will, it means that our kids or at least our grandchildren will have to fight a war again. There just can't be any peace as long as nations retain their sovereignties. Also, the fact that the proposed counsel can't do anything but make suggestions, means that no nation will ever take it serious. It seems as though they will never learn.

It's after seven now, and I am at the Service Club, waiting for Johnnie. Just wrote two letters: one to Winton, one to the Shelleys. Writing letters is almost a recreation here, for one has to do at least a little thinking for it. Elsewhere in the army, the ability to think is a liability rather than an asset. 

What is the address of Philip? I think I shall look him up one of these days, just to see another one of the possible types our kids might resemble.

I do hope army life won't last forever, but the news of Europe seems to indicate that the Germans may be able to hold out through the winter. Not a very pleasant prospect.

Oh yes. If you should have hid at the extreme corner of your closet some extra clothes hangers which you are just about to render to the scrap drive wrap them up and send them to your hubby. We need them pretty badly, and they can't be had for any amount of dough. Send them only, though, if you don't need them, for I get along without them better than you would.

No sign of Johnnie yet, so I think I'll go investigate. For some strange reason, I had no K.P. today and won't have any tomorrow. The sergeant must be slipping.

Good night, darling. If you head would rest on my shoulder now, I would be perfectly happy.


I do believe this letter contains within it all of my arguments for why I struggle to work for institutions of all sorts. My tolerance for inefficiency and waste is severely low. I have become much better, even recently, as my fierce need for efficiency has some terrible consequences for my sanity (and those around me). But my God, this army day of Opa's is testing my zen-like growth. 

Anyone in any institution can attest that the army is not the only behemoth with efficiency problems. I think the whole thing would be easier to swallow if they weren't so insistent on pretending they are such a well-oiled machine. I think I mentioned this before, but just like you can rag on your mother but no one else is allowed to- those in the military all know very well how ridiculous things are- but if you are NOT in the military- you better shut your mouth. I get a pass as a military brat.

I was once a part of an organization (I won't say which, to protect the innocent) that had every bathroom in the facility outfitted with brand new, fancy soap dispensers and hand dryers. Just six months later the bathrooms were remodeled, with recent upgrades cast to the side. Or maybe it was the door locks on the stalls. I can't remember, but it was ridiculous. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

October 9, 1944: Sad Shift


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 9, 1944.


October 9, 1944

Dear old lady,

Three minutes just aren't enough. The call just came through, and in my mind are still all the many things I was going to tell you when we were so rudely interrupted.

When I came home late last night from a long visit with Johnnie, today's K.P. list was posted, and I was again assigned to the Officer's Mess. So, I wound a towel around the foot of my bed and was awakened early in the cold, dark more. The work wasn't bad, in fact I think the horrors of K.P. are vastly exaggerated. Not that I like it, but I bet thousands of boys overseas would give their paycheck to get K.P.

Last night, Johnnie and I went to a Service Club. We played chess for a while (Johnnie beat the life out of me), and then, while Johnnie danced, I had a good look around the library.

Today, shortly after dinner, I was called away from K.P. for processing. First, they gave us a test in electrical work; out of 50 questions, I got 43 right. That gets me in the highest group; the average is 20 and less. Afterwards, we were interviewed and classified. After basic, if there should be any openings, I would get into radar work. As second choice and most probable, they listed me as radio repairman; third choice, repeaterwant. (not sure of this transcription?) Radar would let me go to an Eastern school right after basic, while both other possibilities take two to six months training our even more right here at Crowder. I may have had a chance to apply for O.C.S., but for the time being I turned it down. It would mean at least one or two extra years in the service.

Well, I have to admit that I am rather tired today, so I will quit and get a good night's sleep. My sergeant must be slippery, but I am not listed for K.P. tomorrow. (He probably has some ditch he wants dug, or some latrine he wants cleaned.)

Lots of love,

When Opa mentioned that he bet thousands of boys overseas would give their paycheck for K.P., I had a brief moment when I thought he was talking about Europeans. Then I realized he was talking about American soldiers, which of course makes absolute sense. But for some reason this realization made me sad. 

Opa's mind is off of his past and those from home, and on the present, in his new country. Sympathy and perspective was gained by comparing to US soldiers, not European soldiers, or  citizens. It's a shift for Opa. It makes me a little sad. I know he still cares for folks back in Germany, still worries about his family, but something in this shift shows me that Opa is beginning to forget. 

When we were growing up, Opa didn't talk much about Germany to us. He didn't ever mention his friends, we barely heard about his family. Even in his autobiography, everything was written as a prelude to him joining the army, as if he were hoping and planning to have the opportunity to be in the US military and fight against the Nazis. He certainly never mentioned his past pacifism. 

This is one of those subtle moments when Opa moves into his new life, leaving the old behind. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

October 8, 1944: I'll go to a USO dance


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 8, 1944.


Sunday, Oct. 8 1944


Yesterday, I made the acquaintance of three extremely interesting boys; I wrote to you about one of them already, M.I.T. graduate with postgraduate work in Math, born in Brooklyn and half-Jewish. Very well educated and brilliant. The second guy an Italian specializing in languages and music; wonderful piano player. The third guy "just" an ordinary American; graduated from Chicago U., master at Princeton, and PhD. at Howard. The four of us ate out for dinner and had a real good discussion at the Service Club. When ready to leave there, whom did I meet? Johnny! He is still at Camp Crowder and probably will be here for quite a while. Still a buck private, he told me to forget everything about ratings in the Signal Corps, for they can't be had anymore; also, he gave me plenty of other dope about this camp which might come in handy some time. (Among other things, ways to bypass the pass difficulties; I'll write you more about that when we can make use of it.)

I am just starting the Sunday now; it is eight o'clock, the barracks are cleaned and we finished breakfast. At ten, I have a date with Johnnie, but I have to be back at 11:30, because at that time is mail call, and I've got to get your letter.

It's in the afternoon now, I am with Johnny in the Service Club. There was no mail from you today, but there will probably be some tomorrow. Johnny and I had a good time today, talking about old times and times to come.

There is a recorded musical program, and Beethoven at that, going on right now. They are just playing Beethoven's ninth, one of my favorites. I shall linger awhile, maybe "our" fifth will follow!

We are planning to go to a show tonight, don't know where or what yet, though.

I finally found out how to behave in the army in order to get far. Here are some of the rules: 1) Stay away from a. non-coms and b. commissioned officers as long and as far as possible. 2) Never volunteer for any job; it won't get you out of doing what you were supposed to do, but just gives you additional work. 3) Do as little work as possible. 4) Count all little sins as long as you can get by with them. 5) Gripe and cuss at least 24 hours a day. 6) Know nothing. If you should know anything at the time of induction, forget it as fast as possible. 7) Work as slowly and inefficiently as possible. If they give you a job of one hour, make it last the entire afternoon. If you don't, they'll find something else for you to do.

These are just a few suggestions which Johnny and I consider as most effective toward full success in the Army. Just yesterday afternoon, the fourteen of us who were dumb enough to hang around the barracks when the corporal was in charge, were issued a spade each and had to dig a ditch, three inches deep, a foot and a half wide, and approximately 60 feet long. Alone in civilian life, it would take approximately one hour to do a job like that. There were fourteen of us. We started on the job at one p.m. Every hour, we had a ten-minute smoking period, and at 5:15, we actually had the job finished. I am sure we fulfilled all applicable points of the above suggestions, and therefore are all on the road to being excellent soldiers.

I'll have to stay on good terms with my company commander, a very young first lieutenant. When I'll be ready to apply for my citizenship papers, I'll need his recommendation and benevolence. It will depend on him whether I will get or keep from getting my citizenship. Those are Johnny's words, and he is getting his. It will be several weeks yet, though, before I can even apply for them.

The music has shifted from Beethoven to Frank Sinatra. What a sacrilegious conglomeration of art and blasphemy!

That's all, folks. There better be a letter in the mail tomorrow! If not, I'll go to a U.S.O. dance.



Dear Marjorie,

I was happy to hear that you are now Mrs. Thomas W. Doeppner and I wish you all the luck and happiness. Tom is a changed man he is talking all the time about you. I hope to see you very soon at Camp Crowder.


I don't remember where Johnny is from. I wonder if he is one of Opa's previous coworkers- I think that's it. Opa is happy to spend time with Johnny and get the "dope" on army life. I remember Opa using this term in an earlier letter: the 1940s slang for "inside scoop." When I was growing up, dope was drugs, I think it might still be that.

Opa also spent some time with some highly educated folks, probably a lot of fun for him, all of them in the army for un-army reasons. Opa's main goal was to get citizenship, but that is still a long time away. My guess is that he has to finish (and pass) basic training before he is eligible for citizenship. Even now, he isn't quite all the way in the Army, or at least I think he doesn't have all of the benefits until he's made it through initial training. I might be wrong about that. Johnny is applying for citizenship as well. Opa benefits from Johnny's time ahead of him, getting a front row seat to his own likely path if he does everything right.

The army "rules" are so very typical. Already Opa is learning the military humor, where everyone makes fun of the army like you make fun of your own siblings. No one outside the military is allowed the same jokes, just like you wouldn't let someone talk bad about your family, no matter how true their comments might be. It's a weird mix of self-deprecation and pride. 

I'm starting to think that Opa smoked socially with his army friends. This wasn't so uncommon but I never knew Opa as a smoker. I wonder when and if that started/stopped.

John's little note was a little odd, saying that Opa was a changed man, talking about Grandmother all the time. I mean... if I were Grandmother I would ask why Opa wasn't talking about me before or what all needed changing. I'm probably reading too much into it. Hopefully Grandmother didn't have that same problem. 

Hope Opa gets mail soon, or he'll have to go to a USO dance! 

Friday, October 1, 2021

October 7, 1944: Rumors...Lots of Rumors

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 7, 1944.



I didn't write last night on account of lack of time. By the time I had showered, shaved, shined shoes, shampooed, sh___, the lights went out and I was too lazy t go over to the P.X. We had 15 hours of K.P. straight, but it wasn't so bad. Most of the time I washed pots and pans. However, this monotony was interrupted every once in a while by peeling spuds, scrubbing the floor, and cleaning out garbage cans. The mess sergeant as well as most of the cooks were rather pleasant, though, and I assure you we didn't work ourselves to death. One thing about this K.P., though: I'll be doing all the dishwashing, cooking, etc. which I want to do in the Army, so when and if I get back, I won't even enter the kitchen except for inspection and an occasional raid on the refrigerator. But then, since I have a wife who just loves to do dishes and who is an excellent cook, all this will work out just nicely.

This letter is written with intermission. Just got back from oversea-duty dental and optical examinations. Apparently my teeth are very poor, for I am temporarily disqualified on account of them. They will be fixed during basic, and then I'll be ready for oversea duty. (I shall probably get some G.I. glasses too, but I won't have to wear them.) After that, we cleaned the grass, chopped wood, and were otherwise entertained. It's dinnertime now, and I am writing this while waiting for the bugle. Loudspeakers are broadcasting music. That's a nice detail of this camp: most of the day, we have music all over the camp that way. If this were good music, it would be better yet. At meal time, when we are at mess hall, there is a special newscast from U.P., as well as camp new and announcements of what the various camp theaters have to offer.

The pass situation doesn't look quite as bad as I assumed. There will be a chance, after two weeks, together a weekend pass if I have some special reason. So, write me a letter, undated, saying that you will be in Kansas City next weekend and wonder if I can make it down there. Write in pencil or blue ink so that I can furnish the date. It won't be before at least two weeks, though.

Dinner is just over. We eat here family style which has the disadvantage that the meals usually are cold by the time we get there.

It is going to be very hard to get a rating in the Signal Corps. I talked to some guys who are in advanced training: a graduate from M.I.T., a guy who has his Ph.D. in El. Eng., a guy who owned and operated his own radio station in peace time: here in the Signal Corps their rank is back private; one of them. Pfe. That is rather discouraging. There may be a chance for O.C.S., but everybody advises me not to apply for it: it will mean a far longer time of service and almost assured occupation duty. Well, I'll have to see. There is a danger that we may be sent overseas right after our basic six weeks; this happened to the group who finished their basic here a month ago. Rumors... lots of rumors...

Your letter got here today. Herb's gift is so awfully thoughtful; he always was good at things like that. Your friendship with Maridean (are you sure that's spelled right?) sounds okay. Fosdick (this is the spelling!) is good, but he writes too much and is just a little on the sentimental side. Just perfect for a Danforth girl. I don't think he is much of a philosopher; rather a pretty fair preacher.

There is one thing I'll have to get used to in the Army: that is to obey the orders of some damn 20-year old corporals or sergeants or lieutenants who don't know anything of what they are doing.

Time to go back to work. Write often and much!


Opa is knee-deep in Army life now, from a full day of K.P. (kitchen patrol) to already making decisions about how long he wants to stay in versus the quality of assignment. The OCS he is talking about is "Officer Candidate School." Right now Opa is enlisted, but as a college graduate, he has the ability to apply to OCS and potentially become an officer. The benefit is higher levels of pay, potentially better assignments, and higher ranking. The part that Opa is hesitant about is that OCS and becoming an officer requires a higher level of commitment to the Army, in years and assignments. 

I'm surprised everyone is encouraging Opa not to apply to OCS. My guess is that the group is all enlisted men who are there via the draft or for other reasons that have nothing to do with a long-term career in the military. Opa is not on that long-term path, and he seems hesitant even for an overseas assignment. Right now, Opa is just trying to fulfill his obligations, get citizenship, and somehow find a way to settle down somewhere with Grandmother as soon as possible.

I laughed a little at Opa's poor teeth. He likely did not get the nutrition or dental care that he needed in a rationed German upbringing, no matter how financially stable his family had been in the early years.

I can imagine his dismay when he found out that folks with higher and more prestigious education remained in lower ranks in the Signal Corp. This is the officer vs. enlisted problem he's facing. He's keeping his options open and remembering to be careful about the rumors he believes- since there are so many rolling around. 

I love Opa's sneaky method for getting Grandmother to write a letter that could win him a ticket to see her the moment it is possible. This is the Doeppner way: find a loophole (or shortcut) and take it. Not an illegal or harmful one- more like an efficient one. 

I am only recently confronting the negative consequences of my desire and compulsion to be constantly efficient. You'd be surprised how it can fan out. I sometimes do nothing because the way is not efficient enough, and to me it is better to wait and find the "right" way than to try something and "waste" time. The problem is that I end up not trying or doing a lot of things that may have worked, or at least been a good journey for me. I'm working on it! 

But yeah, this thing Opa did: brilliant and I would totally have done the same. 

Another Doeppner trait that I'm not ashamed to claim: a healthy criticism of authority. This is decidedly not very German, but it is very Doeppner. Opa had it, my Dad has it, and I have it. How Opa and my Dad survived in the military is beyond me. I am much more respectful as I've matured, but if you threw 20 year old me in the military, oh lord, I would have been the fittest person there because I'm pretty sure my mouth would get me extra laps, sit ups, push ups- whatever they do to sassy recruits.