Friday, September 16, 2022

October 15, 1944: Tomorrow our Basic Starts


Postcard from Opa to Grandmother, October 15: 1944.


October 15, 1944


Just a brief note so you hear from me. Your call from Topeka just got through; I wished you could come up with your folks. Phil was as excited as I never saw him before.

This has been a busy day: K.P. since five in the morning. Tomorrow, our basic starts.



This was a short note, sweet that he keeps writing every day. My takeaway: tomorrow basic starts. What?! What have they been doing this whole time? Is he just now going into basic training?? I'm so confused.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

October 14, 1944: POWs in Missouri


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 14, 1944


October 14, 1944


This has been a long day, and I actually did do a little work. In the morning, we hauled some truck loads of gravel to the infiltration range. I had my hands bandaged in gloves and that way could work fairly well. In the afternoon, after some fooling around, I swang a paint brush. There were several prisoners of war working close to me, all Germans. It was a great temptation for me to speak to them. Although there is no law against it, I believe it would be an unwise thing to do so. I had fun listening to them, especially since they did not know that I understood what they said. When they started to sing some of the old familiar German songs, I must admit that a lump came into my throat.

Tonight,at 7pm, our company commander gave us a little orientation lecture. He is a young guy, about my age, lieutenant, with a Polish name: Tetkowski. Apparently, a swell guy. His talk was as unmilitary as he could possibly make it, and it showed that he was interested in the work for its own sake. I think I am going to like him. The only thing I didn't like was the fact that the lecture took till nine o'clock, which took away the best part of Saturday evening.

Tomorrow, Sunday, I'll have K.P. Apparently they think I need some practice in that kind of work. Well, someone has got to do it.

In the mail today, together with the enclosed letter from my friend in California, was one application blank (preliminary) for naturalization, which I received as an answer from the Kansas City Immigration Service. This deal is to be a long, drawn-out procedure, but I think there won't be much trouble.

Glad you went to the doctor. You should have expected that the doctor wouldn't have the diaphragm on stock; are you embarrassed to go to a drugstore for it?

I am tired and have to get up early for K.P. tomorrow, so I think I quit now. Tomorrow's letter may be rather brief too, for a similar reason.

Lots of love,

P.S. Please return Gerd's letter.

This letter has a lot of nice little insights into Opa's life and the cultural milieu of the day. Grandmother is potentially embarrassed to buy birth control at the drugstore, and sadly I think we're still a little embarrassed about sex and birth control as a societal norm. It have a lot of opinions about this, but it isn't the point of this letter (or even my point about this letter), so I'l move on.

I am surprised that the naturalization process for Opa (and I suspect anyone) who has literally joined the United States military, is still so long and drawn-out. Opa knows it's worth it in the end, after all, this is the main reason why he joined. 

Opa doesn't talk much about his family or friends in Germany. My guess is that's because there is nothing new to talk about: no news is coming or going from the war-zone civilians in Europe. I suspect Opa easily avoids this topic as a method of self-preservation. I do this. If I know I can't do anything to help or change something, I cope by putting the whole situation in what I like to call a "black cloud." It's basically compartmentalizing, but I like to imagine a black-hole in space that has its opening just above my head in a dark cloud, perfect for when I need to throw something in and forget about it. 

I don't think Opa has forgotten his family and friends, absolutely not. In fact, his friend in California and Gerd (who I don't know but have a guess) are likely both Germany-related contacts. His whole endeavor to get citizenship is not only for his own survival, but so that he can sponsor his mother when everything is over. I don't think he has allowed himself the chance to entertain that she might not be able to come to the US. He faces what is in front of him, making choices based on the best case scenario and planning for the worst.

The part that intrigued me the most about this letter was the German POWs. I didn't realize that there were POWs on American soil. I suppose I should have known that, but like so many other things I have been ignorant about, I just never thought about it. I did some light searching and found this documentary about the POWs. 

Opa's response to them seems pretty natural: tempted to talk to them but deciding against it in the end. When he said that he had a lump in his throat when hearing the old folk songs of Germany, I got a little lump in mine. Nazis or not, Germany was still his home. The language, the stories, the songs, all of that was the backdrop of a childhood which was, for at least ten or so years, a good one. It's hard to compartmentalize when the black hole spits out a reminder of what you've tossed. Haven't you had that moment? When you catch the scent of something, the melody of a special song, even a familiar phrase or word? It catches you by surprise, evoking a response before you had a chance to shove it back into the abyss. 

I keep thinking about how war dehumanizes. We look back and think in terms of good vs evil, axis and allies, etc. In this weird conjunction of military troops and POWs from enemy territory, what is actually present is a group of humans, each with their own stories, songs, and black holes of memories. 

Opa is standing on the bridge between the two, wistful but moving on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

October 13, 1944: Rare Hosiery


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, October 13, 1944.


October 13, 1944


This is Friday the thirteenth; ought to be a lucky day and sure enough, I got a nice, long letter from you. Who is Mrs. Stone? The family sounds interesting.

I guess you did the right thing by buying the silver now; how large are the monthly payments?

It's terrible how this war piles tragedy upon tragedy, like the case of that boy's stepfather. You are right, honey, we must be thankful that nothing has come to us yet except temporary separation. Also, we will have a chance to be together every once in a while, and I can hardly wait for the first time.

Right now, you are probably on the way to the doctor's, and I hope he behaves himself and won't hurt you.

Every night, especially now where I see Phil and Johnny who know you and with whom I can talk about you, I am tremendously tempted to call you. However, it does cost just a little too much money.

Thanks for forwarding the letters. The name of my friend in New York is Hanna Liebes, her address, 63 Riverside Drive, New York 24, NY. She would be very pleased if you would write her, but wait a while; she might send a present.

By the way, I am not quite as bad as you think I am. I did write to the Shelley's, even though it was just a few days go; also my soul was full of repentance for that delay.

This morning, I managed to keep from doing any work till almost ten o'clock; at that time, we were called out with cartridge belt, helmet liner, and leggins, and had a good hour and a half of drill. The afternoon has just begun; I doubt if I will again be successful in avoiding work. (It's not that I don't like to work; it's only the fact that the work they give us to do is so ghastly nonessential and designed for no other purpose but to keep us occupied.) I think I can utilize this time of waiting to much greater advantage by hunting up some quiet corner and reading a good book. Right now, I am reading a textbook on Frequency Modulation. This is a field in radio which has a great future.

Well, it didn't work. Ten minutes ago, some corporal came in and called us out. Right now, we are waiting for a truck to pick us up, which may or may not come.

Well, the truck came, and I did the first piece of real work since I have been in Camp Crowder. We went out to the anti-aircraft rifle range, fixing up targets etc. The sergeant asked if any of us could install a loudspeaker. Well, I violated one of the seven of my army principles, and volunteered. it was a huge public-address system loudspeaker, to be installed on top of a 40 - feet pole. They gave me a safety belt, a rope, and pole-climbing spurs, and I climbed my first pole. Going up wasn't so bad. Up there, I did my work, which took me about half an hour, then took off my safety belt, and climbed down. When I was about 10 feet above the ground, my spur let go and I slipped. I made the mistake of holding on to the pole with my hands, so when I landed on the ground, my hands looked like a mess. Bloody, and more than a dozen splinters in them, some of them half an inch long. It didn't hurt very much, though. I pulled out the big ones myself, wrapped a handkerchief around my hand, and kept working, so you see it wasn't so bad. When I got back in, I did go to the doctor, though, for the hand started hurting again. He pulled out splinters for almost an hour, cussing all the time, for he wanted to go home. My hands are okay now, just look like a mess.

Camp Crowder has a newspaper which in every respect conforms to the common dirty journalism practices. The P.X. is starting a Christmas bazaar today. In the paper it was announced that they had a limited number of pairs of genuine silk and nylon hosiery for sale. The bazaar was to open tonight at 7:00pm. I got there at 6:15, was one of the first, and waited till 7:30, when they finally opened. I didn't know your size, but I think I would have guessed fairly correctly. Well, they had neither nylon nor silk hosiery; the whole thing was just a newspaper gag to get people to go to the bazaar. I can't remember a time when I was quite so mad.

Saw Phil tonight again; he told me some of his experiences as M.P. Many of them rather exciting, but I know I wouldn't want the job. Phil must have been doing an excellent job, though, for his idea was to help the boys rather than to get them into trouble.

Today is G.I. day like every Friday, which means that we have to scrub the barracks. However, due to my bruised hands, I got out of that. You see, even an accident has some good results.

I think I shall keep up on my studies a little. If you should see in one of K.U.'s bookstores an inexpensive pocket slide rule, I wished you would get it for me. Don't spend more than a dollar or at the utmost two dollars for it. Or $1.50 you should get a fairly good one. Be sure it is not made of cardboard, though, and don't waste much time looking for it.

I haven't found either field jacket or cap yet and don't expect to find them. From another soldier, I got a second-hand cap which almost fits me. It is not very good looking, but enough to pass inspection.

Good night, my dear, I'll see you in my dreams.


Opa writes to Grandmother, listing the ins and outs of another day in the life of a soldier with no real assignment. His ability to get to know Grandmother's brother Phillip is a nice happenstance. 

There is something constant about the way humans live, work, and play. Here, in 1944 during a war and tragedies all around, there is a small base with men who go to shows, drink beer, steal jackets, have minor accidents, and line up for the hot commodities of the day... in this case rare hosiery. That made me laugh.

Time continues on and despite the cause and effect of the world's happenings, we still do life about the same as we always have. I'm not sure what to make of that other than to appreciate and enjoy the time I have and not get too fatalistic about the current causes and effects that surround me.