Saturday, August 30, 2014

1. We’re losing a lot of men. It all seems so useless'

A drawing of my dad done at Fort Riley, Kans., on Dec. 12, 1942.

Shortly before my father died in 2007, he gave me many letters he wrote and received during and after World War II. Recently I found a dozen more family letters written between 1943 and the early 1950s. The letters tell an interesting story, heartbreaking at times, and while it is a story personal to me, others may appreciate it, too.

I already shared one post  “Somewhere in New Guinea” – about a poem my father co-authored while serving in the Pacific during World War II, and readership was high. All the writers of these letters are dead, but I will provide some context where it might be useful. 

My father, Charlie Pride of Bridgeport, Conn., was a few days short of 26 years old when he joined the army on Jan. 14, 1943. He had worked before that as a men's clothing salesman in a department store, a salesman for a Ford-Mercury dealer and a toll-collector. The day he joined happened to be the 22nd birthday of his wife, Bernadine, the daughter of Evert and Frieda Nordstrom, who had recently built a large house in Fairfield.

My grandfather, Evert F. Nordstrom (right), sold refrigeration  equipment. 
Dad was a high school dropout who, as the letters disclose, considered himself and his family inferior to the Nordstroms. Evert Nordstrom, known as Nordy, was a successful salesman, an expert in refrigeration, a community leader and a church choir director. He had written a book about refrigeration technology. His wife Frieda was the church organist, a graduate of the New England Conservatory. Their two sons (my uncles) were on the way to careers as college professors, although the war interrupted their journeys.

My dad trained at Fort Knox, Ky., and went to Cavalry Officers Candidate School at Fort Riley, Kans, He was a good rider and thought of the cavalry in the original sense as soldiers on horseback, but by the time he joined the First Cavalry as a second lieutenant, the horses were history.

Mom managed to spend some time with dad at Fort Riley, but she lived mainly with her parents during the war, as did her Aunt Lenny. She wrote to my dad nearly every day they were apart. He did not keep all her letters, but he kept some.

We begin our look at their story with two letters she wrote to him on Sept. 17-18, 1943, a Friday and a Saturday. At the time he was across the country as a member of Troop F, 104th Salem, Ore.
                                                         Friday Sept. 17, 1943
                                                         3 weeks from today [a reference to her due date]

Dear Charlie –

I can’t be using my good stationery on you so I bought this at the 5&10 – Poor neglected little boy. You don’t care as long as I write, do you? – I don’t know why I shouldn’t use good stationery – you’re better than everybody else – Boy, I won’t be able to touch you.

We had a blackout tonight – It lasted about a half hour – Very exciting – Helmer was here for supper so also got caught here – We had just finished doing the dishes so we can’t complain –

Of course dear little Bernadine ate bananas tonight and has a tummy ache – I thought when you were pregnant your whole system changes and you can do things you never could before. I still can’t eat bananas – I’ll learn tho – not to eat them.

I didn’t know you skipped the night of the alert cause I got a letter today anyway. I didn’t understand half of what you wrote about the alert – It must have been quite an experience tho – something different – It’s too bad some of the boys got hurt – I just read your letter to Dad so now I know what you’re talking about – I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what a “ford” was – He did – Why don’t you tell me these things –

Gee, from the sound of it Capt. and Charlie are hitting it off fine – I hope you continue to do so and also hope he’s nothing like Putt Putt – In personal matters I mean – I know – none of my business –

Why didn’t you let your men drive? You’re going to get yourself in real trouble one of these days and then you won’t act so smart – I have to bawl you out once in a while – I can’t be so sweet to you all of the time –

It’s blowing out right now – I guess it’s pretty cold out – The wind blowing reminds me of Kansas – I’ll still take Kansas even though we didn’t like it there –

Mother bought a dress today and I bought a pair of shoes – Remember the ones Jean had without toes and heels and I said I liked them –

I called Ethel today – She’s fine – Poor Kay, she feels lousy – She’s changed doctors so maybe he can help her – She said he seemed to take a personal interest in her instead of this matter of fact stuff – I sure hope he can help her – She mentioned how Normie had a toy gun and one day tried to balance a penny on the gun and she asked where he saw that and he said – Remember the soldiers at Auntie Ethel’s who did that – Boy, I don’t even remember your doing that. In fact I’ve never seen you do it –

Pappy, can you buy me some bonds this month? It’s the 3rd war loan you know and it’s money saved – Next month I’ll buy one for the baby –

Gee, I’m getting scared – 3 more weeks – I’m getting fidgety – I’m not really scared – I guess just anxious – I feel the same way as I do when I go to the dentist’s office –

Del is in the “Seabees” stationed at Williamsburg, Virginia – I wish he’d given me that negative – now I’ll probably never see it –

The news is pretty good but gee they must be doing some awful fighting and I know we’re losing a lot of men – It all seems so useless –

Good night, pappy – I love you very much – Take care.
Lots of hugs and kisses
Always from me –

                                                                                          September 18, 1943
Hi ya honey child –

They are playing “Put Your Arms around Me” – Mmmm – How about it?

I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m going to write about – I didn’t do anything exciting today – My days are usually so full of excitement – It gives me a lot to write about – Maybe you’re interested that I just washed my hair & took a shower I’ve been trying to do it all day but it was a necessity so I finally drove myself to it around 7:30 –

Mother plays in church tomorrow for communion – Here’s where I lose 10 lbs – It would be funny if I lost the 24½ pounds – Huh – that would be some excitement – I wouldn’t go only I haven’t taken communion for over a year and besides I can help Mother –

I received a gift today from Peggy Ann Calderwood – It is a very cute sweater and bootie set – Martha also enclosed a picture of the baby – I think she’s adorable – I’m sending it to you so that you can see it but don’t forget to send it back to me – I’ll shoot you if you don’t – I mean it – I keep looking at her trying to figure out who she looks like – She’s so darn cute – I like that pout –

Dad had a fire in the fireplace – It’s pretty cold out – He just said we’d have to go to bed pretty soon cause we’re just about out of wood – Gee, they have to pay about $16 a cord here – and we paid $4.50 – Course it wasn’t logs but it would serve the purpose –

[The dog] is down here – He’s been here all day so we finally put him out seeing Helmer was home – Helmer went away and left him so we left him out anyway and I was pressing my dress down the cellar and he just cried and cried to get in so I finally let him in – I couldn’t stand that anymore – He looks so forlorn and lost – Still is about eaten up tho – Poor dog –

I was talking to Jean today and Bob [my dad's older brother; Jean was his wife] was sleeping when I called so it woke him up so I told her to tell him you said you wanted to hear from him – She gave him a big line so he said sure he’d write – That was just to shut us up – The results remain to be seen –

Gee, the time sure seems to be going fast – I’ve been home now 2½ months – It seems like always but also seems like it went awfully fast – These next couple of weeks will be the longest I guess –

I didn’t get any mail today I probably won’t Monday either – I don’t usually but maybe I’ll get today’s letter today –

I sure hope you took care of your income tax – You never mentioned it – No one knows what’s going on out there anyway – but if you didn’t file, the gov’t sure will.

I can’t think of anything else except that it’s getting pretty cold at night and I could use a bed warmer – especially when I get up about 69 times and the bed is cold each time – I’d probably get pushed away anyway – seeing you’re not crazy about me when I’m cold –

Good night honey child
Again you’re finishing supper
and I’m going to bed – Do
you still have retreat? What
time do you eat now?
Lots of hugs and kisses
always from –

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Somewhere in New Guinea"

Dad's grandson Misha loved to hear about World War II. Here they are together in 1992. 
The letter is dated military-style, 20 July 1944. My father, Lt. Charles M. Pride, has just arrived in New Guinea to fight the Japanese. He has left behind my mother, Bernadine, and their 10-month-old daughter, Elizabeth Jeanette, already known as Bonnie.

Dad is writing to his in-laws in Connecticut, Evert and Frieda Nordstrom, to thank them for taking care of Mom and Bonnie. That his girls are in “such loving and capable hands [takes] a load off my mind, and makes things easier for me.”

He writes that he and the other officers, while censoring mail, have composed “a little poem which describes this place.” It is called “Somewhere in New Guinea,” although Dad says he wanted to call it “A G.I.’s Lament.”

Here it is:

Somewhere in New Guinea,
Where the sun us like a curse,
And each day is followed
By another, slightly worse,
Where the black dust is thicker
Than the dirty shifting sand,
And the white man dreams
Of a greener fairer land.

Somewhere in New Guinea,
Where the mail is always late,
Where a Christmas card in April
Is considered up to date,
Where we never have a payday
And some never have a cent,
But we never miss the money
’Cause we’d never get it spent.

Somewhere in New Guinea,
Where the nights are made for love,
Where the moon is like a searchlight
To the Southern Cross above,
Which sparkles like a necklace
All through the tropic night,
’Tis a shameful waste of beauty
’Cause there’s not a girl in sight.

Somewhere in New Guinea,
Where the women are never seen,
Where the sky is ever cloudy
And the grass is ever green,
Where the natives do night howling
And rob a man of precious sleep,
Where there isn’t any whiskey,
And beer, sometime next week.

Somewhere in New Guinea,
Where the snakes and lizards play,
Where 100,000 mosquitoes
Replace the one you slay,
Oh, take me back to Bridgeport,
Let me hear that old church bell
For this god-forsaken outpost
Is a substitute for hell.

Dad went on to write: “I am on my way to join one of the best outfits in these parts, so that compensates for things a little.”

His p.s. reads: “I think you have the sweetest daughter in the world and I’m madly in love with her.”

Mom (Bern) and Bonnie, Christmas 1944. Dad remained in the Pacific till shortly after V-J Day. 
My family's story in letters begins here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Popular posts

Thanks for continuing to read this blog during a stretch when I am too busy to post. If you are a pack-rat like me moving out of a house you’ve lived in for 36-plus years, you’ll understand my problem. How long the hiatus will last, I can’t say. I continue to find fodder for posts on the Civil War and other topics but just don’t have the time to write and illustrate them.

Here are the top 25 posts, which now range in hits from 1,056 to 217. Numbers in parentheses are last month’s rankings.

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22. My friend Chester (returns to list)