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.

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