12 Dec 45
Dear Aunty Clara,
A most remarkable and amazing trip. When we approached the ship all interest in Japan and what remained of it on the horizon was lost. Here was something massive and compelling - the Lurline. Never before had we seen such a ship as this during our Pacific travelogue. She was anchored several miles out at sea and we had to ride out to her in an LCT for more than an hour before reaching her. The grey of evening was beginning to settle on the land of the Rising Sun and this only served to focus our attention on this sea giant. Words can hardly express what our emotions were at the time. Could this be our incredible luck to travel in a luxury liner? Incredible as it may seem, we were there. Our LCT pulled up alongside a raft fastened to the side of the ship and over the top we went - then up into the ship via a gangplank. Up one flight of stairs, down a passageway and into a cabin! By this time our amazement was overwhelming us. Twelve bunks (four columns, three high) with mattresses, clean sheets, blankets and pillows! We were dreaming, but the dream continued on. We had a wash basin, a medicine cabinet, a toilet, and two closets all in our cabin. And our little corridor group of four cabins has a bathroom also.
We were on D-Deck, cabin #376. But that wasn't all. We still had to contend with the chow line. We had received wild rumors to the effect that we ate at tables, had ice cream and all other sorts of conveniences. Bushwah we said, but it wasn't. It was true and more so. The chow line passes our cabin door and the mess hall is just below us. The army details supervise the traffic in the mess hall, the marines supervise the lines until it reaches the mess hall and the civilians cook the food.
The entire arrangement of the mess is almost beyond description. Basically the dining room has not been altered since this line was converted to a troop transport. The fellows pick up a tray and pass thru the chow line what is a chow line for the food. A fellow then directs you to the line of incoming traffic and posted at intervals are guides to point out the nearest vacant seats. The tables range from 2 men tables along the walls to 6 men circular tables in the center of the room. They also have 4 men square tables. On the tables are loaves of sliced bread, dishes of fresh butter or jam, cans of condensed milk, pitchers of coffee or cocoa, shakers of sugar, salt and pepper.
GI waiters refill the empties at all tables. Passing from the mess hall your tray is taken from your hands, and then all you have to do is to dump the silverware and cup in their trays and take off back to the cabins.
The food is the best since the train ride to Camp White at the beginning of the Army career. There also, we had first class conveniences with regular civilian diners. On board boat the coffee - black of course - tastes like coffee should taste and since I was scarcely what one might call a coffee drinker in civilian life, I had almost forgotten how coffee could taste.
Another long lost privilege was recovered, fresh butter and in whatever quantities we wanted it in. As a general rule in the Army we have been given more butter than could be used and then most likely the canned kind.
The very taste of the food is different which disproves the old army theory that when cooking for a great amount of men, the quality must necessarily suffer. 5,000 men are being fed from one mess hall and the food is better than any army chow was or could be.
Everyone wears O.D.'s aboard ship except those on details and they are dressed in either fatigues or khakis. All the fellows with whom we shook hands and departed from the Replacement Camp before we did are here on the boat too.
After searching and searching for Bill Grauel, I found him or rather he spotted me as I came through the chow line. He is on the mess detail and takes loaded trays of coffee cups to the washers. All these fellows who boarded the ship prior to us are on details as either MP's or KP's. However no detail is a hard one. 1,000 details out of 5,000 men just can't be hard - it is too evenly distributed. M/Sgts down to Pvts pull detail. It is done by sections. One entire group of cabins is placed on detail at one time including all men in them.
Grauel, very fortunately, happens to be just down the corridor from me in cabin 321.
A very peculiar coincidence took place. Back in Camp White, just about two or three weeks after being in the Army, I was in Co. A 353rd Engrs and the fellow sleeping in the bed on my left was Ted Wolinski from Chicago. Not long thereafter he transferred to the 1177th while I went to the 1393rd. Now - aboard the Lurline, within two or three weeks of being out of the Army, he and I ended up in the same cabin - top bunks - and he, once again, sleeps in the cot on my left! Coincidental? Yes! But not surprising because we have never been able to lose track of the men from Gp Hq. Barnat and Campbell are right now in the next compartment. They were in Co F of the old 353rd at White.
Of the original Co A boys 353rd first echelon (14 men) there are left aboard this boat Ted Wolinski, Tony Piplak, Joe Bauer and myself. Most amazing of all is that Tony & Ted slept on the sides of my cot while Joe's cot was in the center aisle across the feet of our bunks. Strange things happen in the course of an army career.
A word about the PX. It seems well supplied and judging from what the fellows bring back the prices are reasonable and the brands are well known.
An interesting thing I've noticed about fellows when they get together and hardly know each other from Adam, they go bragging about their war experiences or the Jap souvenirs they have. Some of the fellows have quite artistic sabers and guns of all sorts. They seem to take joy in deriding fellows who have Jap lugers. I myself am not even mentioning to anyone at anytime that I have in my duffle bag, a Jap luger. I think it is a very good souvenir and I haven't any ambitions to display it before covetous eyes; nor will it provide any self satisfaction to show it around.
At this stage of the game it seems as if we are to dock in Seattle on the 22nd or 23rd. We will be in the States for Xmas and, if we are lucky, we can make it home as civilians by the 1st of the year!
Being back in the States just for the sake of being there has never meant as much to me as it has to the other fellows. If I could be home it would be different. However, this Xmas will be joyous because (1) I will be on my way home (2) I will be able to notify you I'm in the States again and perhaps make your Christmas a wee bit more happy.
Coming home again has many serious attendant problems. And those are the problems of the future. I've written a letter to Mr. Hackbarth telling him I want to come back to work again. Now I have to begin thinking of just what courses I want to take up in school at nights so as to provide myself with added insurance for a permanent good livelihood and increase my worth. Accounting is one of the main and more immediate studies. Not that I will end up an accountant but it is an important background of knowledge to have for any important office job. Something like being a company clerk before being a Pers Sgt Mjr. I can't tell right now just what job I'm setting my cap for but I want it to be among the upper brackets. I'm not afraid of hard work (it took the Army for me to find that out) and if our 1393rd Pers office was any indication of the average run of abilities and responsibleness, I now know that I possess a slightly above average sense of responsibility and a yen for accuracy. Not tops but better than most. This is not any attempt at bragging on my part but a self analysis as near as can be obtained.
13 Dec 1945
As each day passes the length of the letters will necessarily decrease. Not only for the routine which will gradual build up but also because of the limited quantity of writing paper at my disposal.
Phew! This anyway has been a hectic day if there ever was one. Somehow I have forced upon myself the habit of little sleep. I usually go to sleep hours later than my fellow GI's and that puts me on an equal footing with them when they yawn and stretch in the morning for then I can yawn and stretch along with them. However, when I hit the hay early, I wake up before the rest do and so it was this morning as I woke up for the umpteenth million time and realized no more sleep was meant for me. I got up, dressed, washed and sat and walked around waiting for the rest of the members of my cabin to get up. They finally did and we swept and mopped our place in preparation for the daily inspection. Then after what seemed an interminably long time - we went to chow (Blue Ticket Line). Upon returning from chow I noticed the PX line was rather short (less than half the ship long) so I got right into it. It took over an hour of waiting and to within 15 minutes of closing time (for EM sales in the A.M.) before I got to the counter. I bought one box of Powerhouse Candy Bars (80¢), one bottle of ink (10¢), one Schick razor (75¢), one package of blades (30¢), one Cocoa-Cola (5¢) and retired to my cabin. Why the purchase of Schick Injector Razor and Blades? For the simple reason that I have heard it so strongly reputed throughout the war by fellow GI's --- especially that for civilians it was practically unobtainable and, therefore, if I were to shave upon return into civilian life, it would be Schick I would most desire to use if an electric shaver was unobtainable or proved to be unsatisfactory (or my Gem is not repairable). Secondly I believed it to be a good Christmas present for my Uncles or Dad and before the end of this voyage, if possible, I intend to obtain several more razors and blades for presents. I anticipated purchasing fountain pens as presents but the #2.50 price even at G.I. reductions seemed too expensive for any type of suitable present.
Hardly had I settled in my bunk to begin reading a book and consume a candy bar and the extra sandwich I obtained from the server (Balicki) at breakfast, when a Naval officer put Barney (formerly of Hq 353rd & later 1177th Gp) now S/Sgt in charge of a special detail of 21 men to work in the storeroom. We were to receive "white mess cards" which entitled us to eat first or at any time we desired. That was the main "come on" and Barney didn't have to worry himself about his 21 men because in short order he had 21 volunteers! And what a crew - a S/Sgt in charge of 2 M/Sgts, 1 First/Sgt, 5 T/Sgts and assorted Sgts, Tec 4's, Tec5's and Pfc's!! We received some good natured ribbing as we went through the corridors for it was a sight to see so many 5 & 6 stripers on detail. I laugh because they think I'm one of those 5-stripers who have been living an easy Army life, but no one realizes that prior to that I was an ordinary Tec 4 and after getting into the upper crust only a few short months ago, I have worked harder than I did even as a Pvt in Camp White during the formation of the 353rd.
But what a detail! We worked about 40 minutes or less out of the 2 hours we were down there in the storeroom and all we did was to stack and sort the various boxes of food down there. A crew of 10 of us would work in chain formation taking the boxes of tomato juice cans from one corner of the room and passing it to another corner where it was then stacked. During our breaks we opened up boxes of crackers (saltines) and cookies and ate away to our hearts content.
At the end of the detail (during which we missed a boat drill) the storekeeper brought us down to his station and treated us to a priceless feast. For the first time in over 31 months we had fresh ice cold MILK!! Milk and cookies, all we wanted. So much that I had to stop at the 15th cookie and third glass of milk.
We are to report on this "detail" everyday for the remainder of the voyage. We can take whatever we want from the store and (with the approval of the steward, George) we took up 4 cans of cookies, many cookies, 3 jars of sweet pickles.
Movies have begun and will be shown nightly. Ticket #4, my number, has not been called for this evening. Saw Bill Grauel twice. He was in his bunk and once again apathetic. Altho the roll of this ship is barely perceptible, it has made some fellows feel low down if not actually sick. I think it is in the mind.
This is the first boat I have found more interesting on the inside than on the outside. Amazing these luxury liners. If they are this good today they must have been super during peace time travel. And so to put today to bed adieu.
14 Oct 45
Today was another interesting day aboard this most interesting ship and although once again the activities were numerous, two untoward events occurred to cast foreboding shadows across my future days. I might so well take up these subjects first. The "athlete's foot" or violent rash which, so unfortunately broke out on my feet towards the last day and persisted throughout our stay in the Philippines miraculously disappeared in the invigorating climate of Japan. Now - on the Lurline - sailing in the warm waters of the Pacific it has once again, inexplicably broken out. The other and more painful experience was the discovery of pieces of tooth in my mouth. The filling of the tooth crumbled away leaving a jagged edge which will require immediate attention upon return to civilian life. It is indeed unfortunate that during my last army months in the 1393rd we were either so frightfully busy or under such constant movement that I was unable to have Captain Stieler check out my teeth. And so it appears as if I will require dental attention prior to his arrival to his home in Albert Lea, Minn.
Otherwise our day consisted of our "work" detail lasting from 12:30 until 1:15 after which the storekeeper treated us generously to dishes of ice cream, chocolate, white and with sliced almonds spread over it. In addition to that recompense he allows us to walk off with cookies, jars of pickle (sweet & dill). He cautions you in the meantime to take such articles up to your cabin immediately and then return to get the ice cream.
In the evening we saw the show, Laura. And it was a good picture. A most startling suspense thriller.
There is a map of the Pacific Ocean in the B-Deck Forward Foyer and is most interesting since a light pencil line has outlined our course and as we cover the distance, the line is penciled in red while our exact position as of 1200 that day is marked by a thumbtack . Attached to the thumbtack is a ribbon which leads off the map to the prow of a large cardboard outline of the Lurline.
At noon today we were approximately at the 163° meridian so close to Japan and so far from Seattle. We are taking a southerly course - even further south than the Tokyo - Frisco run. We will turn & travel north to Seattle once we reach the waters near the U.S. However, the skipper entertains the hopes of docking at this ship's home port - Frisco - so he himself can be home for Christmas. It has been rumored though that we are slated for immediate transfer to trains upon debarkation at Seattle. We all sincerely hope that this is true and that we are not detained at the coast for days or even a week or more waiting on the transportation there. We read quite a bit about that backlog in the Pacific Stars & Stripes.
15 Oct 45
I had a most unique experience this morning as I was down in the mess hall eating chow. The chief steward is none other than the same individual who was aboard the Grant. In yesterday's letter I forgot to mention my going to the barber shop and getting "the works" - haircut, shampoo & special tonic. (75¢).
A naval officer came through for the 1100 inspection and he called us down severely for not having things as shipshape as they should be. He said he would come back again in 30 minutes and although we cleaned up again, he never did show up.
For our work detail we went into the Baggage Room where such things as chinaware, silverware, toilet paper, soap and miscellaneous articles are stored. We uncrated chinaware by bringing the barrels from F Deck to E- Deck via elevator (I was elevator operator) and then fishing the chinaware from the sawdust. We put in about 2 hrs working & 1 hr eating strawberry and vanilla ice cream. In fact I ate so much ice cream I didn't bother eating supper but slept in my bunk until 8 P.M. when I began reading a book "Honey In the Horn" finishing it at 11 P.M.
16 Oct 45
The ship has published a daily shipboard paper in addition to its "Wireless" a world newspaper. This little daily 4-paged mimeographed journal has explained some questions away. For instance, we are going the Southern Route to avoid the more bitter weather to the north. Altho we were supposed to have saved 2 days in speedy loading operation, this time will be nullified by our taking the longer route home. We are scheduled to land on 23rd Dec. We are to have a pre Xmas dinner aboard ship about 2 days prior to debarkation with all the trimmings, milk, ice cream, turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes etc.
I forgot to mention that on the 15th of
Octob Dec they passed out telegrams for the fellows so they can send home word of their arrival. They all have the same stock phrase "Arrived safely. Expect to see you soon. Do not attempt to write or contact me here. Love". As I will not have the opportunity to send you a telegram at an earlier date and since it may make your Xmas a bit more happy to know I am at least on this side of the world again, I sent one.
We have 3 possibilities upon arrival (1) stay on board boat (2) debark and await transportation at Ft. Lewis or (3) catch a train to Cp Grant. If we land on the 23rd and luck is with us, we could possibly be out of the Army by the 1st of the year. However, any delays may cause our release to be delayed until well into January.
18 Dec 45
I did not write on Monday 17 Dec 45 or on Monday 17 Dec 45. Sort of a holiday in honor or crossing the IDL (International Date Line). Actually we crossed the line at 0145 on the first Monday which would have then changed our time into 0145 Sunday 16 Dec 45 once again, but since such procedure would cause to many complications we continued to live the day thru and repeated it the following 24 hrs. That brings back the day we lost coming overseas.
Our work detail better known as the "dream detail" continues and for never more than 2 hrs work we are rewarded with ice cream, milk, sandwiches, cookies and almost anything we want to take up to our rooms. It ruins our supper daily and yesterday we were almost sacreligious at the supper table where the men had ice cream and real milk for the first time. We made some acid remarks about no appetite and left the table with only one cup of milk apiece.
The days have really settled into a routine with breakfast, cleaning up, writing, working, eating, sleeping, reading, showering and dreaming of home.
Only 2 more sheets of paper left too so I'm going to have to hunt around for some in a hurry if I intend to write any further.
We had an appendectomy performed on board boat and the Captain is trying more than ever to get this ship docked at SF so the man won't have such a long trip. That will be bad if he succeeds since tonight's Wireless states that 17,000 men are right now sitting in SF harbor with 47,000 due in 3 Pacific Ports tomorrow & that it is impossible to handle the congestion.
I got hold of some air mail envelopes and am mailing what I have written up to this point.
Editor's notes (December 2004):