I was killing a few minutes yesterday, taking empty hangers out of the closet to make a little room, when I ran across an old manila envelope on Alan’s shelf. It was part of the things he brought home from his mother’s house. I knew it contained some of the family’s World War II ephemera, and I knew there were some V-mails and old telegrams in there; did you know that if your son was wounded, the Army would send you periodic check-the-box postcards assuring you he was “recovering normally?” Now you do.
I knew there were letters in there, too, but I hadn’t read one. Thought I’d dig one out. It’s from Alan’s dad, Roger, to his mom, back home in Defiance:
Dec. 17 ’43
Few lines this morning before I take off for town. They gave us a whole week to rare and tear & I’m going to make the most of it.
Well, as you probably guessed, I was one of the paratroopers they dropped behind German lines last Sept. (16 mi., myself.) My God, what an experience. On the way back we split up in small groups, 5-12 (none over 14) so we would stand a better chance. Anyway I spent eight days back there, enough to last me for quite a while. Some spent 21.
The Italians we run into back there treated us well. If it hadn’t been for them some of us would still be back there. We’d be on the top of one mountain when some Dagos would discover us. They’d bring us up food, water & that’s how we’d live. It looked like a pack train when they started bringing up the chow. After we’d eaten we had to take off. Caused too much attraction. I don’t know what we’d (have) done sometimes if they hadn’t been on our side. Then we had them as guides when we started through the lines.
Our guide brought us to the English one night about 10 o’clock. Boy did those lymies look good. They got right on the ball and gave us ciggs and food. Right then it bothered me what I had gone through with, after I was safe. Some of those narrow escapes I had, well, it was downright luck, that’s all.
One nite for example, eight of us came through a German bivouac area without a shot being fired. We run into several Germans, but they must of mistaken us for one of their returning patrols; anyway they didn’t bother us. Some of them spoke to us and boy did we shag ass. Knew that such a small party of us wouldn’t have a chance if the fireworks started to fly. The next morning a Dago said there were a thousand of them.
We had many narrow escapes, really too many to mention. It was eight days packed full of things a guy won’t forget in a hurry. I’ve had some since that job, but those were in a separate category.
What made that job kind of special was that Gen. Clark personally complimented five of us one day. We were eating breakfast one morning after we’d gotten back when who should drive up but old Mark himself. Well, five of us snapped to as if one man. He said we’d done a good job back there, etc. Shot the bull like a regular guy. Those stars on his shoulder didn’t keep him from being a swell guy.
Guess that’s about all for this morning. Have been pretty busy the last couple of weeks is the reason I haven’t been writing. Looks like roses for a while now, so will write more regular. Have got a bunch of bracelets, etc., am gong to send. Some of them, the black one, are made from the lava from Mt. Vesuvius. Anyway that’s what the guy said.
Hope you all had a merry Xmas. Looks like turkey this year for us.
Well. As Peter Riegert said in “Crossing Delancey” — “Your bubbie is giving you diamonds. You should write them down.”
When I first transcribed this, I puzzled over one word. I asked Alan when he got home, “Did your dad ever mention ‘dagars’ or ‘dogars’? I can’t find them on Google, at least not in Italy. There is a Pakistani tribe called the Dogars, but he seems to be describing some sort of, I dunno, maybe an Italian subculture? Could it be ‘drovers’?”
He looked at me like I was the stupidest person in the world and said, “Dagos.”
Yes, that was Gen. Mark Clark. He served in World War I, too. According to Wikipedia, he was only a lieutenant general at the time, but I guess he had enough stars to get a few salutes.
Isn’t that a great letter? Sometimes I’ll have to dig out some of my brother’s letters to me from Germany when he was in the service. Different time entirely.
Today’s Embarrassing Photo isn’t, just an old picture from our first weeks in our new house with our first baby:
Both his ears stick straight up now. How did that happen?
Not much bloggage today; I’m thinking I’m going to have to do some disk maintenance this weekend — my Mac is a draggy, beachballing fool of late and could probably use a hard-drive massage. I’m hoping for a happy ending.
But there’s this. This is one of those stories I studiously avoid, until the day I find the story or blog post that explains everything. I think this link tells you all you need to know about Miss California USA, and if you don’t care, don’t click.
Have a good weekend, all. I’ll mainly be working.
Connie said on June 12, 2009 at 8:25 am
I met General Clark back in the day. He used to march every year in the Leland 4th of July parade. I assume he retired to or summered in the area.
My husband has all his letters to and from his mother while in Viet Nam, and all kinds of other bits such as the Americal Division Christmas stationery.
Joe Kobiela said on June 12, 2009 at 8:38 am
Alan’s dad must have been in the 82nd airborne.
There is a great book he should read called, “Those devils in baggies pants”
Wrote by a paratrooper about his time in Italy,
If he doesn’t know much about his dads service, this might be a way to find out.
Dorothy said on June 12, 2009 at 8:47 am
I almost fainted a couple of years ago when I asked my mom if I could see the letters Daddy sent her while he was away during WWII. I had sneaked a look at them while I was in high school and I got a kick out of reading how gushy and lovey-dovey they were. She said she’d thrown them away. They were condensing to move into an apartment (from a 7 bedroom house) and it was a space consideration. It’s the only time in the last 30 years that I really wanted to smack my mother.
ROgirl said on June 12, 2009 at 8:58 am
Loved the Miss California emails and the translations provided by jezebel. She’s gonna ride this thing as long as she can, no doubt with the help of Fox et al.
Sue said on June 12, 2009 at 9:01 am
I have a few of my dad’s letters from the Pacific. He never went into much detail, but I always thought they weren’t allowed to, even after the fact. I love the word “swell”. It’s dated but it still holds up better than “groovy”. Roger sounds like a real brick, to use another dated term. Here’s what got me from the letter: “On the way back we split up in small groups, 5-12 (none over 14) so we would stand a better chance.” Huh – better chance. Imagine reading that from a loved one. Well, actually, American family members still are today, although it’s as likely to be email as snail mail.
Today’s Big Dilemma Question: Yesterday Barack Obama spoke in Green Bay, and a father spoke from the audience, noting that his daughter was skipping school to be in the audience also. Barack asked him if he needed a school excuse, and wrote one to Mrs. Kennedy, the daughter’s teacher. Here’s the question: who gets the note? Does the daughter get to keep it or does it go to the teacher?
Jim said on June 12, 2009 at 9:17 am
ONLY a lieutenant general? LOL!
Thanks for sharing a beautiful letter. Tom Brokaw figured this out, but history is really told by such things.
brian stouder said on June 12, 2009 at 9:45 am
You know – the light on your hair reminds me of….Cruella DeVille! (Run Spriggy, run!!)
Randy said on June 12, 2009 at 9:47 am
Wow, just… wow.
It’s striking that the letter is written in a “just another day at the office” tone, but with tangible fear and no false bravado.
It reminds me why Remembrance Day and Memorial Day are so important.
And I want to create a movement to make “swell” an everyday word again.
Dorothy said on June 12, 2009 at 9:51 am
Sue if it were me, I’d make a photocopy of the note, give it to Mrs. Kennedy and keep the original. It was awfully swell of the President to write her that excuse!! (See Randy – we’ll get ‘swell’ back into use in no time flat!)
jeff borden said on June 12, 2009 at 9:57 am
The e-mails written by Carrie Prejean underscore what Donald Trump said the other day, when he finally fired her. She had been super nice to him –he’s the money guy, natch– but he said she was a complete %$#$ to everyone else.
Sue said on June 12, 2009 at 10:12 am
My thinking on the letter is that if it were me, luck would have it that this would be the year my kid had the teacher who would not understand the importance of the letter to the child and would assume it was hers; the rest of the year would end up a living hell for all of us, with split factions among teachers, students and parents. Worst case scenario, I know, also one I can imagine happening with at least half a dozen of my children’s teachers over the years. I’ve seen it happen on a smaller scale with a kindergarten teacher and a denied PTO request, just as an example – that one included threats to “stack” PTO meetings and angry complaints to the principal. So a fight over a signed letter from the president? I can only imagine.
ROgirl said on June 12, 2009 at 10:58 am
She’s no match for the Donald.
brian stouder said on June 12, 2009 at 11:11 am
Sue – I think the girl has an iron-clad defense, for keeping the note forever
On a piece of paper, he [the president] wrote: “To Kennedy’s teacher: Please excuse Kennedy’s absence. She’s with me. Barack Obama.” He stepped off the stage to hand-deliver the note — to Kennedy’s surprise.
“Kennedy’s teacher” = who, specifically? If indeed “Possession is 9/10 of the law”*, then I say, case closed! Mom and dad are ‘teachers’, and indeed all education is self-education.
By the way – with a surname of “Corpus”, isn’t it odd to name your daughter “Kennedy”?
*my mom always said that, back in the day
LAMary said on June 12, 2009 at 11:14 am
I use the word swell all the time and not with an ironic tone. Peachy I use ironically.
Jolene said on June 12, 2009 at 11:15 am
Small correction: It was the daughter whose name was Kennedy. This was, indeed, a very cute moment.
moe99 said on June 12, 2009 at 11:20 am
Dorothy, I was back in Paulding in 1981 after Aunt Bebe died. She had lived for years in her parents’ house (WH and Lulu Cullen) so it was full of photographs, letters, and clippings from the newspapers. WH loved to clip articles that caught his interest–I framed one–a full page from the Chicago Tribune from 1932 that is a map of all the clans of Ireland. Part of the saved letters consisted of those that their son Seth (my grandfather) sent to them from France during WW1. Seth wrote, among other things, about how his job was to ride on the outside of ambulances at night and direct the driver where to turn. The ambulances couldn’t have their headlights on because the Germans would mark and shell them. I put together a little packet of these letters and gave them to my grandmother, thinking she would really appreciate them. She threw them away as soon as I left. I still kick myself about that.
Jolene said on June 12, 2009 at 11:21 am
It is, odd, to name your daughter Kennedy, Brian. But I’m not sure that it’s worse than Madison.
brian stouder said on June 12, 2009 at 11:30 am
Jolene – indeed, the name ‘Kennedy’ is fine; but it would have given me pause to name my daughter ‘Kennedy Corpus’ ! Similarly, I would also have avoided ‘Christine’ (all too easy to become ‘Christi Corpus’)…just sayin!
Jason T. said on June 12, 2009 at 11:54 am
Beautiful story about your father-in-law, Nance. I don’t think I’ll see anything else today that matches.
… however, if you need to know any other colorful ethnic slurs, let this hunkie know, and I’ll clue you in. 😉
Peter said on June 12, 2009 at 11:56 am
And this sunday is Corpus Christi!
Sue said on June 12, 2009 at 12:04 pm
Did anyone ever see the episode of Rescue Me where they had to attend sensitivity training, and it devolved into a discussion about feeling slighted because your ethnic group didn’t have enough slurs or other groups had better slurs than yours? Hilarious.
And, curious person that I am, I’ve always wondered about the origin of some slurs, ethnic and religious. Kraut – obvious. But dago? Mackerel snapper?
adrianne said on June 12, 2009 at 12:08 pm
The AP story on little Kennedy said she was going to photocopy the note to give to her teacher and then frame the original. Smart gal!
Nance, loved the letter from Roger, the GI. I know he had some absolutely harrowing experiences in Italy, so the matter-of-fact tone, is, well…swell!
Jolene said on June 12, 2009 at 12:09 pm
“Mackerel snapper” just comes from the old “Fish on Friday” policy. Not sure about dago.
basset said on June 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm
More WWI letters – a teacher in England’s been running a blog for the past year and more, putting up his grandfather’s letters home on the same day of the year they were sent, 90 years ago.
Start at the top, no cheating…
Sue said on June 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm
Ooh, thanks Basset, I’ll be spending some time on that blog.
Scout said on June 12, 2009 at 1:56 pm
A friend of my daughter’s named her daughter Kennedy Reagan. Reagan is the middle name, not the last. I’d say she was either politically confused or maybe trying to appease two different sides of the family. Anyway, I’ve always thought it was an odd name.
Thanks for sharing that letter – there was so much between the lines. Interesting how words like Dago and Limey were just written so matter of factly.
Finally, Miss Prejean. Wow. Not that it should be surprising that a total bigot also turns out to be an insufferable prima dona.
Dorothy said on June 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm
Hey folks I just had a visit from our very own Jeff (TMMO)! Second time I’ve gotten to say hello to him in person. He’s quite a tall drink of water!! ANd that’s saying something because I have two brothers who are 6’6″. I’m used to tall people.
Hope you and Chris had fun at The Olde Mill, Jeff!!
Dexter said on June 12, 2009 at 3:09 pm
Thanks for the letter. It is a very insightful look into the life of those fellows.
My uncle passed away two months ago and my cousins packed up his house for sale, and came across a few letters I had sent them from Vietnam, but they would bore anyone to read them, very lame compared to Alan’s father’s letter.
My great great uncle Joshua’s letters tracing his movements from Shiloh to his end at Chickamauga are another story—Hollywood could make a movie out of them.
Here’s an on-topic twist: my best buddy while in Vietnam was born in Genova, Italia, and moved to Detroit as a high school kid. His mom was a teenage girl who had a fling with a US soldier, just passin’ thru, as it were. My buddy Franco moved to Detroit with his grandparents and graduated from Cody HS in ’68, then, of course, was shanghaied into the US Army.
paddyo' said on June 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm
That letter ain’t just swell, Nance, it’s roses — and it reminds me I need to pump my almost-84-year-old dad one more time for missing details of his time in the Army Air Corps (precursor to the Air Force) in WW II.
He was a tailgunner in a B-17 bomber (name of plane: The Purple-Heart Kid), based in Foggia, Italy and flying the requisite 25 missions over Europe, accompanied by Tuskegee Airmen in P-51 Mustangs.
At age 18-19, he had some amazing stories of near-misses and such, but I suspect he has not included all of them in the self-published (spiral-bound 8-1/2-by-11 pages, typewritten with his own drawing on the cover) book he did some years ago.
Mom was the unmarried-sweetheart-back-home, whose dad was a block warden in Berkeley, CA, making sure everybody complied with the air-raid blackout warnings and such that were common on the West Coast.
God, what a world that must’ve been …
basset said on June 12, 2009 at 9:19 pm
in a former life I got to ride in the tailgunner position on a B-25, with a P-51 formed up behind us… quite a sight. amazing how loud it was inside, too.
meanwhile, some Civil War letters home to my part of Indiana – no relation or connection to the senders, except that I went to high school with some of their descendants down in Martin County:
Deborah said on June 12, 2009 at 11:06 pm
I had a recent experience where a relative sent me old letters from my dad while he was stationed in the Caribbean in WW2. He was in the navy, hardly ever talked about it, but when he did it was about how much fun he had while isolated on an island for months with only beer and softball as a diversion. I finally stumbled across info that explained what happened. German submarines were spotted in the area, Hemingway was involved in helping spot them. As a result the effort to route US planes through the caribbean continuing down through South America across to africa and up to Europe was thwarted and things were shutdown until it was safe again. My dad had been a mechanic who worked on those planes, his team got waylaid on an exotic island for awhile until it was deemed safe to move about. Pretty cool to find old letters that help demystify it for you. One of the other things it clarified was why my parents moved to Miami FL from Iowa. My dad had fallen in love with the tropics while living in the caribbean during the war.
Jolene said on June 13, 2009 at 1:01 am
This letter really is a gem. It’s not surprising that Alan’s father raised a newsman. He certainly had a gift for telling stories. It was a little surprising that he reported so thoroughly, if somewhat offhandedly, about the danger he was in. He didn’t seem to be worried about frightening his mother after the fact!
We haven’t really had a chance to go through my dad’s things yet, but, when I was at home for his funeral a few weeks ago, we found a box containing his WWII correspondence. I doubt it contains any letters that shine in the way that the letter Nancy posted does, but even a quick scan of the contents revealed some very touching things. In particular, my grandmother included in her letters to him small (about 2×3 inches) B&W pictures of people and places close to home, with homey labels and comments on the back. Samples:
This is Boyd’s new pig. He is hoping to make some money with it.
Trixie and Pal [puppies]. They are getting to be a nuisance.
The chickens are sunning themselves on this unusually warm day (On a picture dated January, 1943.)
Grandma looks good for her 88 years, doesn’t she?
Also various pictures of people doing things on the farm. What emerges is a picture of a mother striving mightily to maintain a connection and a sense of normality–probably in the face of terror, as I understand that he was feared lost for a while–to her son who was far away and living through extraordinary things in North Africa and Italy.
Just posted a few pictures of him; would be interested to know whether anyone can tell me when the two formal pictures might have been taken, i.e., after basic training, when he was discharged, whatever.
One of the sorrows of losing the old people in your life is that you don’t have people to answer questions anymore, so you are right, paddyo’ to try to elicit as much info from your dad as you can as soon as you can. I did try, once, to ask him about some of the he’d been through, but he didn’t want to go into much detail. I like to think I could be a better interviewer now than I was way back then, but he was very much of the “only talk about the good times” school.
CrazyCatLady said on June 13, 2009 at 1:58 am
My father-in-law ( Beb’s Dad) was stationed in the middle East during his army days repairing airplanes during WWII. He rarely speaks of those days, but still can fit into his uniform. We have a photograph of him on top of one of the pyramids in Egypt! He said that he and his buddies climbed to the top (nobody tried to stop them) and he was shocked to see tons of graffiti up there! The photo is lost in the attic, but we will find it eventually. He did say he did a lot of sight seeing in the East during off time. He and his buddies traveled all over Egypt, Iraq, Iran in a time when Americans were their friends. They walked into palaces and mosques. He said repairing airplanes was good work, and how they just dumped oil in the desert sand! The number of WWII vets is slowly dwindling away to meet their final rewards, but have come to believe they were indeed the Greatest Generation.
Jolene said on June 13, 2009 at 8:33 am
Now that it’s daylight, I realize it sounds a little dopey to be asking you when my family pictures were taken. What I meant was: Does anyone know whether the Army had standard times for taking pictures of their recruits?
coozledad said on June 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm
Another day, another election stolen by authoritarian cultist asstoys. Got a big problem with the popular will, it seems. At least the Iranians have the guts and the sense of civic duty to fight in the streets.
moe99 said on June 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm
Nancy have you heard of the Netflix independent filmmaker competition?
Julie Robinson said on June 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm
I was busy yesterday but I loved all the letters. Here’s another great source: War Letters, gathered by Andrew Carroll. There are letters from the Civil War onward, both from the battlefield and on the homefront. They are historically informative and often wrenching. I also highly recommend the audio version, which uses a range of professional actors. It will bring to you to tears multiple times.
MichaelG said on June 13, 2009 at 2:34 pm
Jolene, you have the pictures backwards. I can’t speculate on the occasion of the first picture. To my knowledge there was never any picture taking to mark one’s discharge but this is not a basic training picture. Several things. He is a corporal, he has several ribbons and he is sporting a unit patch. Looks like the First Armored Division maybe, but I’m not a tread head. He is also wearing his uniform like he belongs in it. The one on the right would be from basic. No rank (he’s a slick sleeve), no unit identification, no decorations. Also the uniform just doesn’t look right on him yet. He and the uniform too newly acquainted. Nice pictures. He looks like a great guy.
MichaelG said on June 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm
A little trouble with the edit function there. Probably a loose nut behind the wheel.
4dbirds said on June 13, 2009 at 4:54 pm
Jolene, when I was in the army, formal pictures were taken in basic training about four or five weeks in, also during specialized training schools and later each time I was up for promotion. (There was some controversy about this because one’s record should speak for itself so what did it matter what we looked like? It was especially irritating to women since we were required to wear skirts not our dress slacks.)
coozledad said on June 13, 2009 at 7:25 pm
Completely falsified tallies. A gift for the righties here, as well as there. Big oil is coming in its pants. We’ll be seeing a whole lot more Sarah Palin junkets.
MaryRC said on June 13, 2009 at 7:28 pm
My dad was a mechanic with the air force in WW II and he had a great time. He was stationed in England and managed to travel all over England and Scotland on his leaves. My mom lived in a little whistle-stop town and on weekends she and her girlfriends would take the train into the city and hand out coffee and doughnuts to departing soldiers at the train station. One day a train passed through her little town with cars full of Australian troops (what they were doing here, I don’t know) and the train stopped to let the soldiers stretch their legs. Everyone made a fuss over them — so far from home. It’s strange to think of young men like my dad and the Australian troops who in the normal course of their lives would probably have never gone far from home, but suddenly they’re on a troopship bound for England.
Jolene said on June 14, 2009 at 5:31 am
Great observations, MichaelG, and subsequently confirmed by a cousin who just retired from the Navy. He noticed the same things you did, but you described them more interestingly. You got the badge on his sleeve right too. Dad was, indeed, in the First Armored Division.
MaryRC: The experience you described is very similar to my Dad’s A Midwestern farm boy, he went overseas on the Queen Mary in May, 1942 before it was converted to a troopship, disembarked in Scotland, trained in Ireland and England. He was operating the equipment your father was repairing, so didn’t have as much time to get to know the British Isles. His unit sailed for North Africa in November 1942. In all, he was overseas two years–May, 1942 – June, 1944.
Dexter said on June 14, 2009 at 2:07 pm
Small Town News
We had a reunion yesterday for anyone who attended the old township schools of East and West Richland and Corunna schools of DeKalb County, Indiana. All those schools were abandoned in 1967; I last attended in 1959.
It was the best reunion I have ever been to—reunited with my best friend from my young boyhood who I last saw exactly fifty years ago, and many more I had not seen in over forty years. It is amazing, my old friend and I started yakking and laughing just as if it was fifty days gone by and not a half-century.
The idea was hatched just a couple months ago via internet chitchat, and a search yielded my old pal’s work email address, as he was involved in a newsworthy research project which provided a work contact email addy. Nobody can hide in this age!
Most reunions are OK, then you clean the picnic tables and forget about it—not this one.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 14, 2009 at 7:19 pm
Hello back to Dorothy, who works in the second most quaint and charming village in Ohio! Always nice to wander through Kenyon College, once home to Paul Newman, Jonathan Winters, and Allison Janney, and a really fine bookshop even if it is a shadow of its former self — these are hard times for bookstores.
I recall there are a number of fans of pareidolia and apophenia around these parts: my friend the curator of archaeology for Ohio just sent me this trailer, knowing i’d find it weirdly compelling — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SwElYy7F9A — i suspect many of you will, too.
MichaelG said on June 14, 2009 at 10:32 pm
Been scanning back issues of Readers Digest, eh, Jeff?