Dear Aunty Clara:
Jack Molyneaux has finished his second year as a soldier in the Selective Service army of the United States. It scares me every time I think of staying in it that long. Just think, Aunty Clara, he has spent two years of his life away from home and there is at the present time no sign of a let up in his sentence. Tomorrow will be the last day of four months for me. That is powerful close to a half a year. That just doesn't seem possible, does it? And it will be a half a year and then a year and in time, I too will have been gone for two years.
But time spent in the army does not seem long in retrospect because we live at home in our thoughts. Everything back in Cicero and in our house itself seems as fresh in my memory as if I just left it yesterday or even a few minutes ago. That is one of the tricks a mind can pull in cutting down time and distance to nothing. Sometimes (it may be any time of the day) my mind will revert to some nostalgic memory. For instance, the other day I happened to gaze up from my work and I was walking down 58th Avenue just south of 24th Street. That was one of the ways home from Morton.
In my dreams I can imagine people very well but in my wakeful hours it is scenes that pass my mind. The garbage can in the back yard, the criss-cross of clothes lines down the block in the back yards, summer in Cicero, the leaves rustling in a soft breeze, Wilson school at a distance, the coffee grinder noise in Banke's, and the "home from work" scene every night at 5:30 are some of the things which remain vivid and recurring in the mind's eye.
Other trips down memory lane: The warmish sluggish summer days when Harold, George, Jimmy and I used to play "baseball" against the apartment building with a rubber ball. . . The whole gang and I crawling over the garages in back of the store and our own garage and sheds. . . Sitting with Clarence in the shade just talking. . . Clarence and I talking in the shade of the Columbus Park trees not quite a year ago. Talking about life of man in the future and the part war will play in that future. . . Sitting an evening out on the old back porch. . . Coming home late at night in late summer and seeing a head at the porch window. And coming upstairs to talk to you for an hour or so before even going inside. . . Being able to change into three or four pair of shoes in a single evening. . . Walking past the Ford building at the World's Fair and trying to get you just to look at the displays once. And you refusing to do so because it might slow us down in getting to the Lion Arena. . . Going without a hat. . . Coming home from a swim on a hot, lazy afternoon. . . Spotting you and Aunty Florence walking on 22nd Street and riding up to you on my bike. . . And then going to Stanley's for the usual ice cream cones. . .
Then there are things which have continued with me right on into the army: With my hair growing long again, two waves have miraculously appeared once again. Something to comb in every morning now and give them that little extra push. . . Continuing to plow up that scalp. . . Collecting boxes to put things away in. I have about five or six boxes in my desk drawer with miscellaneous items. . .
But the one thing that winds up all thoughts, the one idea which haunts all soldiers, is that eternal question, "When?" "When will we be free?" "When shall we go back?" "How long must we wait?" We want time to move fast so that it will soon be over and we want time to stand still because we know we are well off here.
I owe letters to dozens of people but why should I write to them when I don't even write to you.
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(The paragraphs which follow between the sets of stars were written two days ago)
Doesn't a transcontinental airplane ride for the total cost of $1 sound intriguing? Well, just think, every soldier in the army today has that opportunity. A ride to anywhere in an Army bomber for one buck. With the three day passes they have been handing out last week, I have been tempted to see if I could make it to Los Angeles and back. The only trouble is that it is difficult to get a return trip whenever you need it. But, gee whiz, Aunty Clara, I could take any three days off and take an airplane ride for $1 each way. Seems too good to be true. Why it only takes a day to get to Chicago!
Going to the Service Club every night has awakened my eyes to some of the things which go on down there. For instance, on Monday night they have a dance and on Tuesday night they have a bingo game. The bingo game costs a quarter and you play all evening. Wednesday night is dance instruction night. This Wednesday they were teaching the rhumba --- just how to sway the hips and all that. That rhumba rhythm ("Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer---Dad's Old Fashioned Root Beer") kept floating into the library all evening long.
Hanton has been gone on leave for most of the week; therefore, my OCS application just sits on his desk awaiting his return. This is for sure though, that if I get by the board and the physical, I will be a cinch for a school. It so happens that most of the fellows are choosing such schools as Engineering and Infantry while few, if any, are selecting any of the Artilleries. We are placed in quota pools according to our choice of school and then drawn from the pool as the quotas come in. If I make the first two obstacles, that would mean I would go in the first quota that comes along.
Wednesday was my morning off and I had intended to go golfing. Alas and alack, I did not have the ambition which was necessary to drag myself over there so, after breakfast, I laid myself down on the bed and never got up again until lunch time. I slept all night long and still had to go and kill a full morning by sleeping from 7:30 to 12:00. And there were a million and one other ways which I could have more profitably spent my time.
By the way, I received a letter from Dolores the other day. She still writes the same scintillating letter as always. The main news is that Bennie is in Pittsburg, California and it doesn't look like Dolores knows that that is a port of embarkation. Perhaps Bennie is not going across but what is he doing in the very spot that this regiment might leave from when it sails?
Of late I have been getting an additional snack of food in the Service Club at moderate prices because the food they have been serving us for the past week or so in the mess hall isn't worth eating.
The bivouac has been called off once again and who knows when, if ever, we will go on it now.
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Last night we signed the payroll and Curry came along before I was finished with the job. Harvey did me the favor of taking over and I took S/Sgt Curry on for a chess battle. The first game was over in about four minutes as he pulled a wrong move and gave me a knight scott free. When we attempted a replay of the same game (which he conceded to me immediately upon losing the piece), I ventured to move another way and he wanted to go back into the same losing position which I had before he made his error. Of course, I politely refused to give myself a bad game for a second time. This next game was a humdinger because he brought down his power fast and I was wedged in something terrific. It was only by unwittingly losing a man that I was able to even things up somewhat. With the advantage lying with him, I had to play a desperate game and I did. Within a short time, I fortunately managed to win back the lost piece and then tricked him into a move whereby I won another piece and there in the last stages of the game was preponderantly in the lead with a checkmate in sight. Here is where he started his monkey business. I played the move in such a way that if he moved one way I would win the game and if he moved the other way I had a losing position. I didn't dare replay it but he insisted and naturally won. He has the habit of taking back moves. We used to do that at Rathborne but found that it doesn't pay. When a move is made it should stick. Anyhow, he noticed that I did not care particularly for that stunt so he was willing to play another game on those terms. This game was a lulu. From the very beginning I drew him out and tricked him into letting me have a free bishop. He almost trapped my bishop; but, Aunty Clara, I pulled such a beautiful play that even Bob Hesser would have admired it. I studied the situation over to see how I could make an opening for my man to escape --- all escapes were blocked at the time. Then I started it, forcing him into one move, then a second and a third and a fourth. Believe it or not, for four moves I had him playing the game the way I wanted him to and when it was all over, I pulled my trapped bishop clear over to my side of the board and safety. I didn't blame him for feeling let down then and it was my game hand over fist from then on. It finally came to another tight spot and once again I managed to get the upper hand. He conceded the game.
I've noticed that with two players who are unfamiliar with the other's knowledge of the game, they will demand execution of the most simplest plays. Curry no longer questions my chess playing but has begun conceding. That is what I like to see in a man. There are so few things which I am better than the other fellow in that I get a big kick out of them. To be able to win at chess or at ping-pong makes me feel good. And I'm not bragging or boasting when narrating the facts to you. It is just that I'm so exuberant about winning.
All that aluminum which was collected in that drive a year or so ago was not turned into airplanes. Our new canteen cups are made out of thick aluminum.
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Saturday Morning March 13, 1943
I had a dreadful dream last night. I was back home in uniform and Aunty Florence was there but I didn't see her. Gonzalez was there and Mrs. Infiesta was there. It was Saturday night. You and I went into the kitchen and turned on the light. The switch began sputtering and then the dream became sort of tangled as the entire wall burst into flame. What we salvaged was laughable --- a slice of cantaloupe, several lemons and a bowl of butter. We couldn't outen the flame with water because it would short the electric wires; so we smothered the flames. As we did that you sort of sat down and then slumped against the chair next to the oil stove. It was a heart attack. Cheerful dream, eh? Then the dead began coming back. Old Mrs. Fiala or what was her name, Frontek or something begins a toast (liquor drink not the eating variety). As she finishes someone comes up the front stairs and it is Uncle Joe bringing the paper which was delivered on Saturday nights again. At first he just gazed at me sort of blankly and then said without emphasis and, as a matter of course, "O, hello, Roman". Somehow things seemed to be so different and strange. Everyone was the same but there was an eeriness to the air which I could not account for.
You know, Aunty Clara, that it is almost hopeless to think of home anymore. It is almost certain that we will not win the war against Germany this year and only a hope that we will win it in the following year. And then when that is over, we must beat Japan. And Japan has one of the most colossal empires in the world today. Moreover she has had a full year and a few months to consolidate her gains. Before we can strike against her effectively she will have had more than two full years in which to develop the countries she conquered at the beginning of the war. It isn't going to be a one year job beating her either. It will take two or three and by that time I will have won my bet from Bob Miles that the war would go into 1947 at least if not beyond that year.
Clarence was fortunate in that he has escaped the long years of misery and discontent which still lies ahead.
One thing I know is that the friends you make while in the Army are very seldom kept when the war is over. So to cultivate and develop such friendships is just to make the duration a little more pleasant and endurable. But then the friendships we had at home begin disappearing as the people leave.
And just think about that wonderful thing Americans used to have called a standard of living. It's low now and getting lower right along. And if we win this war there is that immense task of rebuilding. New homes, new cars, new products, new and more foods, improvements, developments and all that are going to take money, time and labor. I sometimes wonder why the people just don't drop everything and just live.
And just think of those poor human beings who had the misfortune of being born in Germany, Italy or Japan. For ten whole years they have been living in torment. What must they think? Even being inculcated with the idea that their race and their nationality is the super race, they still must become weary of the perpetual conflict and despair and uncertainty.
I wonder when the next war will start? I wonder if we will even have a breathing spell in between times? And what will happen to the United States? Clarence was lucky!
* * *
Last night I went over to the baseball field and played catch and batted a few balls out to Ray Gradler. When the Regimental team started practicing, I stepped out of the picture because I didn't think I had what it took to stand side by side with those guys on a baseball diamond.
The O.D. pants were not ready at the cleaners yet so all of the clerks came down in fatigues again this morning. We don't look as bad as that picture of me in fatigues. In fact, I wear my hat brim up and leave the neck open so it looks pretty good. The fact of the matter is that it must look good because a few of the fellows said sarcastically, "You think you look cute, don't you?" They wouldn't have said that if it didn't look good, right?
About ten o'clock in the evening I met the student clerk from Company D and we walked over to the Service Club and bought two pieces of pie and a quart of milk. I've been hitting the hay quite early during this past week (before twelve bells) and I find that I wake up around four in the morning because of that. Then from 4 until 6, I twist and turn like nobody's business and never do get much rest. The late hours seem to have agreed with me.
O, by the way, I have the picture I bought. They didn't mail them to our home addresses as we thought they were going to but gave them to us instead. I will mail it along with the list of names either today or tomorrow.
Did I ever comment on Ben's collection of soldiers and airplanes? I don't think I have. Anyway, you are absolutely right when you say that I could still enjoy them. All you need is a crazy imagination and the ability to waste time and a person can have more fun zooming toy planes across the parlor floor and marching play soldiers into battle than in a lot other kind of recreation. Clarence and I clinched our friendship on just that kind of amusement. He had skipped into my class and lived in the apartment building across from Vintera's. We decided we ought to know each other better and when he found out I had a set of those little dime toys, he brought his over and we built garages, hills, airports, bus stations and everything you could think of in our back yard.
Time and again as I get thoroughly sick of this Army food which becomes monotonous at times, I long to have a good dish of your chili or meat loaf or meatballs, mashed potatoes, shrimp salad, or that salad with the eggs and peas, or almost any of those good dishes. Come to think of it, now that you have mentioned potato pancakes, they are the only things which I absolutely refused to eat. I may have complained about the others from time to time but I would at least taste this, that and the other. I have found that most soldiers grow to have a repugnance for army mess hall food and purposely go out once in a while to get a real home cooked meal. Since they took our two attached cooks from the General Hospital back there, we haven't had any decent pastry. That used to be the face saving quality of our kitchen.
We haven't heard a thing from that Army Institute yet and you can't say we are expecting too much now. It is over two weeks since we mailed out those applications. FLASH---Just now Jack Molyneaux's came thru but not mine.
I never did tell you how nice the scenery was at the Golf Course, did I? On two sides of the course there were two high hills and at the very top of each was a mansion. Those homes looked like castles in the air. The hills were not the rolling type but almost cliff like in construction. The course also rose with the hills around it and at one time we had a swell view of the entire city of Medford. That is another sight to see being up on a hill looking down in the valley.
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Intermission while I await another mail delivery in anticipation o answering one from you.
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Ah well, I haven't sent you any so why should I expect one in return!
Enclosed you will find my golf score card --- please file.