Monday, September 22, 2014

9. 'I never dreamed it could be so horrible'

If my father, Lt. Charles M. Pride, wrote  home while leading his First Cavalry Division infantry platoon in the Pacific during late 1944, none of his letters survived in the papers he left. But his letters of 1945 tell some things about this period.

The first of these three letters discloses that his wound in October 1944 after the landing at Leyte in the Philippines was worse than he had told his wife, Bernadine. He was blown into the air by a mortar shell. The shrapnel tore open his thigh near the groin.

Later in life he liked to tell what he remembered of his evacuation. He was unconscious after being wounded, either from a concussion or from morphine. He awoke in the darkness, reached up and touched a hard surface just above his head. He turned onto his side and felt metal right in front of his nose. In his addled mind this could mean only one thing: He must be in a coffin. He began to scream. A commotion ensued until, to his relief, Dad learned he was on a hospital ship.

The ship took him from Leyte to a military hospital and convalescent center at Hollandia, New Guinea, a distance of more than 2,000 miles.

Each of the three letters here was written to the same household in Fairfield, Conn. The first was to Dad’s in-laws, Evert and Frieda Nordstrom, and Frieda’s sister, Lenny Johnson. The second, four months later, was a Mothers Day greeting to Frieda. The third he wrote to his wife Bern and daughter Bonnie.

The letter to his wife and daughter, written on V-E Day, contains two references to popular culture. Dad, who went to many outdoor movies while recuperating at Hollandia, mentions having seen a piffling film called Frisco Sal. The movie told the story of a New England woman who went to the Barbary coast to seek her husband’s murderer. The title character was played by Susanna Foster.

Dad also advises my mother to avoid books like Forever Amber, although from the context it appears she has already read it. Published in 1944, the book was a 942-page romance novel. Massachusetts, 13 other states and Australia banned it for its sex scenes, abortions and children born out of wedlock. Nevertheless, it sold 100,000 copies in the first week after its publication and was the best-selling novel of the 1940s.

The final subject of the letter is Dad's pique with his brother Bob, whom he chides for spending money on the house he is building in Easton, Conn., rather than on an operation on the upper lip of Don, one of his twin sons. Don did get the operation during his grammar school years..

Here are the letters:
                                                                                    January 9, 1945
Dear Mom & Pop & Lenny,

I suppose you folks think I’ve forgotten you. Well, I haven’t. I think of you often and I am so happy to know Bern & Bonnie are in such good care. I have no excuse for not writing and I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. I guess I never was much of a letter writer so you will have to forgive me, and I want you to know that all your letters are received with utmost gladness. It does my heart good to hear from you about our babies. I love them both so.

As you probably know I was evacuated from the Philippines. I was blown off the ground by a Jap mortar. I suffered shock and what is called “combat fatigue” but I am perfectly alright now, better than ever. I only wish that was the only damage the shell caused. I did not let Bern know of this because I knew everyone would worry. I talked them out of notifying her through the war department too, because I am perfectly fine after gold bricking in the hospital for so long.

Along with everything else I did manage at last to get a promotion in the field. It will be some time before I collect for it though, Washington red tape – I guess I’ll be what it called a “base commando” (non-combatant) for awhile. I guess they will examine me in six months to see if I am back in fighting trim. If you ever hear anyone say they wish they were fighting in this war, you have my permission to smack em down. I never dreamed it could be so horrible, the things that happen to boys you meet, it’s beyond me. I don’t and can’t understand what makes men want to do these things. I pray every night that it will end soon. It’s got to –

Carl and Joe (Dodie) Nordstrom with my dad, Charles  M. Pride, after their homecoming.
Please forgive me for saying things like that. I realize what you must be going through with all of your boys in it and I know you feel badly enough without me making things worse.

I haven’t received any mail in over three months and I am frantic with worry. I’m so glad you two met and got married, cause if you hadn’t and there were no Bern I would be worth a damn. I know when I first started to go with Bern how disappointed you were and I can’t say I blame you a bit but she has changed my whole view of life and I have found peace and happiness I never dreamed of., and I am a rich man. She is all that I could ask for and more. I’ll tell you a secret: As you probably know and have observed, my family was never close like yours. I wish it were. I tried to make it that way, but I guess some things just have to be. I guess I’ve always been a little jealous of the fact, but one thing I’ve learned, Bern and I will always be as close to each other as you are. I think it is wonderful to see you two together. I guess I had better change the subject or I’ll be down in the dumps again –

I hope you don’t mind me sort of unburdening my soul, but I really want to be one of you.

Well, Len, I suppose Bonnie keeps you hopping too. I appreciate all you are doing, and thanks ever so much for your letters. I only wish I were a better correspondent, but I guess we must face the facts – I’m not.

This has sure been a disconnected sort of epic but I guess it’s just that I say what I am thinking when I think of it – result = this.

Give Bonnie and Bern a big smooch for me and all of my love –


                                                                                          [Undated but May 1945]
Dear Mom [Frieda Nordstrom, his mother-in-law],

I am writing a few lines to thank you again for all you’ve done for Bern and Bonnie. I can’t begin to tell you how happy it makes me feel to know they are safe and sound and get such loving care.

This mother’s day card is not the type I would pick out if I had any choice. It has too sticky a verse but I do want you to know I’ll be thinking of my three mothers on mother’s day and wishing I were there to celebrate with them. A fellow is lucky to have three such swell moms.

I think with Mussolini dead and Italy fallen and Germany just about finished that the whole mess will soon be over and we’ll all be home again, ready to forget this awful mess. It looks like I’ll be back in it again before it’s over but I am feeling fine and fit as a fiddle. In fact I am putting on a little weight again. I am up to 175 pounds again. The only trouble with me is they are giving me too many shots. I really hate them too.

I hope Carl gets home soon. It seems funny we all left about the same time. I hope we all get home the same time too. I have a hunch Dodie will be home soon. The navy really takes care of their men. Maybe I’ll see Dodie soon. I hope so. If he’s where I think he is I will.

All it does is rain here. We sit out in the movies in it and everything else. We are used to it. I check my feet every once in awhile to see if they are webbed.

Thanks for writing so often and happy mothers day.

                                                                               May 8, 1945

Darling Bern and Bonnie,

We just heard the wonderful news we are have been waiting for. Germany surrendered. The boys are really cheering around here. I’d sure like to be in the states for the celebration. What a time they’ll have. I guess they’ll forget about us being over here, right? I don’t think you will though, darling. I can feel your love way over here, darling, and I love you so.

Received a letter from my Mark Magnus written in Feb and one from my Dad written in Mar, a little late but then – they both had the wrong address on them. Also received a letter from my best girl. Mark sent a few small snaps of you holding Karen. They sure weren’t good of you. Do you have a copy of them? Do you want them? Mark seems about as dull as ever. I guess they have no idea of what war is. He’s a good kid though. I’ll answer today. I love you.

I give these stinking Japs eight months from today, no more, no less, and I aim to kill a few more of the bastards personally. Look for me by Christmas cause I’ll be home with bells on. Boy won’t that be a happy day. I get goose flesh just thinking of it.

Saw “Frisco Sal” with someone, I don’t know who, but it stank. I am feeling real jubilant today though. I can really look forward and visualize coming home. It will look good. The boys are all smiles and very happy. Played volley ball yesterday with the officers. Earlier in the day I played football with my boys in the motor pool. I feel my age now. I’m about as stiff as a poker. You shouldn’t read books like “Forever Amber.” You sure are enjoying your freedom from your old tyrant husband, right? The boys are sure good looking in those pictures, but so is our daughter, and how. When I see Donnie’s lip, I really burn. Damn that Bob – all he cares about is that damned house. I love you. Bonnie, too.

                                                                                            Your very own Pappy

Next: Life-saver.

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