Letters

Letters

Monday, February 16, 2015

FEELING DIFFERENT


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Feeling different resonates.  Getting uniforms would seem to make one more the same.  Hiding differences.  Yet Dad probably meant feeling different than what he and his new buddies sensed as they rode trains to Texas from far off cornfields, distant sky scrapers and fishing docks; feeling different from where they had come, who they used to be.  The uniforms would do that.  Clothe them in the war and a reality of where they were.  Why they were there.  No claim or proof now of who inhabited a tiny apartment just a week ago, who typed railroad requisitions just a month ago, who wrote sports and editorials for the Athenian high school paper just two years ago.   No country kid anymore who couldn’t tell mountains from hills, wanted his wife with him, but not with all these “naked men running from the shower.” (Feb 17, 1943 #5 letter) A uniform and a new haircut; feeling different along with thousands of others, all sensing different together.

How long did the fresh uniform aura and hair length sustain him?  How long before it endured stains of Texas dust, Mississippi sweat and frozen vomit?  How long before he knew he could still hold unto speckles of differences and likenesses which molded him unique, but still cast him as a World War II airman?  Gazing at the “Acres of Cadets” photo, differences are not apparent.  Sameness, precise military meticulousness and minutia resonate.  

In the same February letter Dad discusses “There are some things we have to do that are as nutty as the things I had to do when I took the exam at Kalamazoo.  I have gotten over the little homesick spell I had last night and feel considerably better. Things like that are bound to come I guess and all I can do is just face it.”  Was he able to talk about the “nutty things and the homesickness?”  Were these feelings too different to share? Did he endure it inside himself, alone?   

Feeling different continued to resonate.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

SEVEN ON THE SEVENTEENTH


 

 
On the day, February 16, 1943, my father departed by train from Chicago for basic training in Texas he began writing letters to my mother back in Michigan.  There are seven first letters, postmarked at different times, but all the same date, February 17.  Each letter echoes the poignant pleas of a very homesick twenty year old, “…to say I missed you last night would be putting it mildly, but then I have got to face it.  More than me had that homesick look in their eye.”

Mom and Dad were country kids growing up in the southern farmlands of Michigan.  A big trip meant traveling slightly northwest thirty miles to Kalamazoo or slightly northeast thirty miles to Battle Creek.  Now, Dad has left all that is familiar, especially his wife of just a year.

Dad describes these new scenes… “the hills or mountains (take your choice) of Missouri. Rolled across the plains of Arkansas, the oilfields of Oklahoma, went through Claremore, the home of Will Rogers, saw the Will Rogers airport. We went by a huge airplane factory and saw lots of bombers flying around…”

After sharing the lower train berth with his card playing new buddy, Herb, and “waking up about six times” he continues… “Well this is Texas—rolling plains and ranch homes, little old shacks that look 100 years old… we just passed a field of Texas Longhorns.  There is a lot of cactus.”

Each letter is a new chapter… “Well, this is San Antonio—wow!!!---they piled us all in a truck---had a physical---our names were taken---chow---marched to barracks---Herb and I bunk together---cut cards for upper or lower. I got the upper… I have your picture all set up and darling you sure look sweet to me.”

Millions wrote letters home during World War II. Today emails more instantly gratify spouses, sweethearts and those on modern battlefields. These communications can’t conquer loneliness, lost time together, or death.  They can, however, endow a daughter with specifics to shape a memory of just what it was like to be her father.  Seventy two years later the sentences surround me with a cascade of images I savor.  He is my father I can now know and touch and feel and love through these pale photos, yellowed scrapbooks, and brittle letters.