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! 

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