Thursday, November 25, 2010

Umnak Island, 28 August 1944

Dearest Nunny…

This has been a good day, one of the best. For a change the weather was fickle, the right way. When I went to bed, around noon, after a post-breakfast trek to the commissary for more Nescafe and pineapple juice, the sky was dull and the wind heavy and damp. But when I woke about five the sun was out and the meadowland flashed silver and green and the soft and warm wind undulate the long yielding grass. 

I decided to give my stomach a break and instead of inflicting a dinner for breakfast on it, brewed up a bit of Nescafe over the hotplate and then went to wake up Jack. He was reading “Life and Death in a Spanish Town” in his sack, had started the morning with a quart of overly sweet grapejuice, and was in such a Hitlerian humor that the local absence of rugs was probably a good thing. 

We went for a walk. Today marks his anniversary on the island and about his 29th month away from the States. That probably accounted for the mood. He told me about his memories of his first day: he had gone, all unwilling, to a movie. There was a line outside and while waiting the fellows he was with read a very funny letter. They giggled as they passed it to him. It contained gags like “I wish you luck like pork, that is in a pig’s ass I do.” And “I hope you fall through your arsehole and break your back.” He does not remember the show, but on his way out an MP bawled him out because he had not brought his rifle with him.

The anniversary was, I believe, more pleasant. We walked to the Bering, but to a stretch of the beach we had not visited before, a spectacular pile of basalt boulders which thrust abruptly from under the grassy topsoil into the corrosive sea.

We reached the shore just before twilight, and as we clambered over the twenty-foot rocks, lamenting our leather-soled GIs, the moon came out, large and lustrous and lopsided. Behind us, far behind, the mountains of our island: one distant and white, the other near and black and fleetingly fog-girdled, both flowing down into green valleys. Close behind the tall grass, fireweed flamed. Under our feet the prehistoric, elephantine rocks. And nowhere a hint of habitation. In all the miles our eyes could cover, not a sign that man had been there before. 

Perhaps it was because of an article I read last night. The piece was “In Pursuit of the Earliest Americans” in the July Harpers. It is the story of the Folsom man, who lived on this continent nearly fifteen thousand years ago and disappeared not long after the last Ice Age. His remains have never been found. All that is know about him has been reconstructed from the flint lance-heads he left imbedded in the bones of such animals as the American mammoth and the pygmy horse. But these points are expertly shaped, much more adroitly than those made thousands of years later by the Indians we know. A Negro cowboy found the first point, and since then they have been found regularly, mainly in an area just east of the Rockies and south of Montana. Then one turned up on a Ketchikan curio store, and the scientists turned north. Near Fairbanks they found huge deposits of mammoth bones frozen in the muck. Many still bore flesh. The scientists sampled steaks from animals extinct for millenniums. Naturally, the steaks tasted like mud and sand, but the dogs liked them very much. Chilled dinosaur might be the answer to the dogfood in wartime problem.
The scientists next went to the Alaskan coast and there, in a stormy inlet on Kodiak, they found another deposit of Folsom points. Before they could complete their studies—and they were not sure whether the Folsom man came across the Bering straits or along the Aleutian chain—there was a war on. Perhaps you have heard of it. And so their studies were suspended temporarily, which, perhaps, is a good thing, for it left me free to stand on the slate colored rocks and look down the moonpath and wonder about the early man who, before the pyramids were built or the great wall started or the first word written came along this coast in his dugout, paddling down the moonlit streak in the sullen sea.
Or Baranoff, a mere hundred years ago, standing off our island in his little sailing ship, the water speckled with the kayaks of the Aleuts. Not even the rocks would have changed much since then; a few inches of erosion, a little more or a little less water in the lagoons. But otherwise, the scene unchanged. I was feeling sheepish about my romancing when Jack said, “I’d marry the woman who understood how this makes me feel.” And I knew you would understand how I felt.
We walked back from the Bering by moonlight and talked of many things: planetariums, Sorel’s theory of the political elite, over-writing, Al Storz from whom Jack received a Museum of Modern Art postcard of a Uraguayan painting today, the merits of the graveyard shift, Machiavelli, and the confusions of modern education.

By the time we reached camp we were well talked out and, going to my hut, brewed coffee and looked up references to various topics we had talked about. And, turning the pages, hearing without listening the goodnight tunes on the radio, we decided we did not want to go to midnight chow in the mess hall. Se we cooked two cans of Campbell’s chicken soup, made some more coffee and broke out Phyllis and Otto’s cookies and spent a long, leisurely hour sipping and sampling and talking of Henry Morgan and Dick Pack. It was my best evening in the Aleutians.

Your letter today was as your letters always are—the best substitute for you that can be delivered in these parts. The idea of Haj developing an Aleutian stare rather worries me: if she gets too deep in reverie that rabbit may sneak up on her some day…Your project for shipping bees her to go with the fireweed is unnecessary. There are some here already, huge bumbling fellows at least an inch long. They make so much noise as they waddle through the air that everyone calls them bee-17s. I don’t know if they produce honey out of their efforts for no one seems to know where they shack up…Carmen’s story on anti-semitism and negrophobia on her father’s part seems incredible. Carmen still hasn’t written me, by the way…Your comment on “an armistice, if not peace, in Europe” reminds me that John C had a good article in the current Fortune on “Five Years After the War.” I liked it for a very smug reason—his account of Europe in the first five years after the last war contained little that I did not already know. I was quite proud of my background on the subject. The article, incidentally, was one of John-boy’s best. 

As I told you the other day I have been filling in all my spare time while on shift by operating one of the local teletype circuits. Occasionally my regular duties make it necessary for me to talk to the parties at the receiving end of the messages. All last month I talked to a man who signed his initials merely LW. On the last day on the swing shift I talked to him not on the teletype but on the telephone. I had kidded him once about a bit of sloppy poking by saying “OK Finnegan, Wake up”  and he had come back immediately with “River Ran.” I didn’t get the allusion so when we had finished our business talk I asked him what he meant. It turned out the River Ran is the second chapter of “Finnegan’s Wake.” So we got to bullsessioning a bit and I found that he is a graduate, ’42, of Yale who was going to go to work on Time, except that the Army got him first. He comes from Brooklyn, does not like John-boy because of his prewar isolationism, and thinks John Hersey the best young American writer. His name is Larry Weistrub and the next time I go down to the library I am to drop over to his outfit and look him up.  It will be nice if there is someone literary to visit here after Jack goes out on rotation. Jack expects to be here about another month. 

Speaking of the library reminds me. Did you send my copy of The Prince? Also, could you send me a list of the packages you have started this way since I came from the old post. I believe I still have one missing that you sent here and the only ones received here are those containing the pajamas and the vitamin pills (but not the lime tablets). Did you ever find my Serb hat to send me? I’d like to have it especially as this will probably be the only time it will be useful besides spectacular. And it will be nice to have something to wear that belongs to us instead of the army. For the benefit of any food you might want to send and have not a request for—I want it. 

[The rest of the letter is a summary of Argentine history, from a book by John White]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Umnak Island, 28 August 1944

My Darling…
I am smackdab in the middle of changing shifts. We make the shift of shifts every month. It gives me cramps. I was supposed to go on days but Al Hesse, the third censor, who was to get graveyard wanted to stay on the daylight detail, whereas I have a passion for the obscure delights of early a.m. work when labor there is little and leisure much. So we swapped. As payment for the change, I drew the sixteen hour workout of my regular swing session and the new corpse-hour siesta combined.

The current change of shifts is fabulous. If I credited our Chief Operator with imagination I would believe he had arranged the swing shift with an eye to ridding himself of all his problem personnel in one climactic chance-medley. He stocked the place with more guys who hate each other than Agatha Christie would put on an island in a murder mellerdrammer.

If it were not for Ted Godfrey, the chief censor, who will also be swinging low, I doubt the anything could be accomplished as no two men are on speaking terms. Godfrey will act as interpreter or intermediary, like the good Padre Jose Maria Cuevas between the Cristeros and the government. Methinks his job will make him section eight stuff. 

As a matter of fact, the arrangement of the swing shift is so Machiavellian that a number of fellows accused Martin of machinating it in a subtle attempt to sabotage the administration. But as Ted mentioned when someone called his attention to it, the only way to get a shift which didn’t run afoul of the feuds would be to have the censors do it all. They don’t feud because there are only three of us and we never work on the same shift, seldom see each other, and get along fine. 

There are more vendettas here than at a diplomatic function in Lisbon or a staff meeting on Time. The number of deep dislikes among the forty-odd men is surprising, especially when you consider that nearly all have a deep desire to get along, a conscious will to make the best of a long and at most a bad year. On the other hand, it is surprising that the feuds don’t seem to really hamper the efficiency of the outfit.

They spring, in part, from the very effort to avoid them. The consciousness of the effort to be friendly militates against normal relations. There is too much tension.  …

There are many other factors besides the tension of loneliness which cause friction up here. One of the worst is race prejudice, overt and secondary. A number of our more noxious characters feel themselves superior to other denizens of this dump on grounds of nationality or race. Tim Eagon, for example, dislikes Jews, Negroes, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Danes, Englishmen, Poles, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Italians, Mexicans, Hollanders and, I imagine, Aryan Hindus and cross-eyed Celts. He has a lot of company, although few of the men have such ample hates. Any conversation which deals with race is likely to do so in terms of kikes, wops, spics, dagoes, niggers.

It is strange that there can be so much prejudice in a group which has few representatives of minority races. The stock here is predominantly British-Nordic. There is one Pole. Two of the boys are Jewish. We have a few second generation Germans and a number of Scandinavians. For prejudice to crop up in such a group in a democratic army seems incredible. Yet the seeds are sprouting.

Secondary race prejudice is my own type. I am prejudiced against those with prejudices. This complicates my relations with my friends—mainly the Rebel.

Another cause of trouble is sectionalism. Texans seem to be generally unpopular in the army. Here we have little trouble with our lone Lone Star because he is essentially likeable. He is very much the puppy when he is not morose … 

Other sectional dislikes are for New Yorkers, and hillbillies, and sometimes for Californians. Then, here in the ACS, there seems to be a sort of Seattle against the rest of the world feeling. These are all more or less minor dislikes, and have little to do with the sometimes strained relationships of the enlisted personnel. But differences in military background seem to play a big part now, and in the recent past played an even more important role.
Not everyone in the ACS wants to be there. Or ever wanted to.  A lot of men have been transferred in, not even knowing what they were getting until they reached Seattle. Most of these men had Signal Corps training at Monmouth. They feel themselves to be, consequently, superior to the “ACS commandoes,” the men who do not care for GI life and like the comparative freedom of the ACS. Since most of these transfers are in one branch of work, it makes the differences even more obvious and tends to divide our camp in to groups. A second military difference is between the pre and post Pearl Harbor soldiers. Tim Eagon again is a shining example. Whenever he gets drunk, which is often, he goes into details about what he thinks of any man who was not in uniform before Pearl Harbor. He does not even like guys who volunteered after Pearl Harbor. He talks one of the best fights I have ever heard, but, as is often pointed out to him, he asked for duty in the ACS in order to stay out of the infantry. A final difference in this type is between the men who like the Army (there are some) and those who don’t.
Among the more beautiful feuds now in full blossom are those between Martin and Eagon; Hesse and a wild-eyed boy named Coleman who wants to stay in the army when it’s all over; Rebel and Mochkatel, a society boy from Seattle; the poet Traina and the perverted bridegroom to be  Graffunder; Bender and a long, lank interesting kid from Oregon named Cobb.

The best comment yet on the swing shift personnel: “It’s not sabotage, it’s an act of Godelewski.”
I’ve often told you about our black mountain, the basalt cone of which dominates our local scene. Yesterday morning at sunrise it was red, a deeper red than our hill at Patzcuaro, the red of drying blood. It was so beautiful that I decided to climb it then and there. But before I could get more than a quarter mile from camp it was completely covered by clouds, and before I got back: rain.

With the days free during the next month, however, I hope to climb it.
You asked in your last letter about [page] makeup. It is awfully hard to think of anything in that line without knowing the type of stories, whether long or short, the type of paper, the number of cuts [illustrations], etcetera.  …  On the next page I’ll draw three possible make-ups for such a paper. All are predicated on your suing off-set and have free use of pictures.  … There are a few don’ts--Don’t have stories break next to each other below the fold unless there is a good

I doubt there is much to help you there, Nunny. If you’ll send me a few of the papers I might be able to make suggestions. Also tell me how many pages and how many pictures and how much they will let you try typographically. By the way, there is a rather good chapter on tabloid makeup  in the book we have on newspaper makeup. I believe the book is by Allen.

Your being in the Press Photographer’s Union really pleases me, my pet. How are your relations with the Newspaper Guild? Also being CIO in Beck’s town [Dave Beck, longtime Teamsters Union leader] is even better than being CIO in New York. Do you get touched by the CIO Political Action Committee?

Love of my life, the war news is better than I had dreamed it could be. But don’t start counting on my being home ahead of time. We’ve got the biggest half of our other war to fight yet, and it would take a military miracle to end that one in time to get me home before my year is up. Just set your sights on our staying together when we get together, for that is the most important thing of all. I can’t help hoping for miracles myself, but I am almost superstitiously afraid of hoping too high. 

Your letters are wonderful, Nunny. I’m glad you liked, or rather approved, of the short story. I sent Ann a copy the same time I sent you one, so she should have it by now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Umnak Island, 1 September 1944

My darling…

This is just a note. I just finished work this morning and am dog tired but the day is so nice that Jack and I are thinking about climbing our mountain. We will probably compromise on a walk to the sea but since I didn’t write yesterday and haven’t had a chance today I’m whipping this one off before running over for breakfast.
The reason I didn’t write yesterday was that I spent all my time working on a New Yorker piece about the library. I have it in final shape now, ready for retyping , and I’ll send you a carbon. It is very much as in the letter I wrote to Bos, but there is a bit more detail. 

The last time I was over to the library I had a talk with the librarian who wrote all the marvelous reviews. He is from Chicago, not Brooklyn. He was drafted right out of high school and placed in the MP’s. From there he was transferred into cooking school, and I know you’ll remember the gag about there being a lot of good cooks in the army. After that he got in artillery and came to the Aleutians as a gunman. But up here he decided to try something different. When he heard they needed a librarian he decided to try. “I submitted a list of my qualifications,” he said. “There was one man more qualified. He had been with the Library of Congress. But his commanding officer would not release him so the job became mine.” I can hear the real librarian gnashing his teeth. He is probably filling some useful niche—like filing clerk. 

Gail Fowler has been regaling me with tales of Seattle and of our sporting friends. He received a letter recently from a former Washington State halfback, now in China. The halfback got there by way of Australia and he liked the Australians. He also liked their remarks about Americans. A favorite Aussie joke now concerns an American who was complaining about a train. Finally he asked his traveling companions, “Do you know what we’d do with the train back in the good old USA?” And a girl across the aisle said, “Judging from your previous conversation you would either eat it, drink it, or make it pregnant.”

Slim Lynch photo, Seattle P-I, 1938
Gail also told about Mike Abalonthea (last name spelled by ear), the ACS photographer whom I talked to you about while in Seattle. Mike is a rather strange character and gives Gail grief. Recently this happened. They were to take pictures of some ceremony at Fort Lawton. Gail arranged for a car and Mike was to be there at one. At a quarter of one Gail started making inquiries, for he hadn’t seen Mike for some time. No Mike. One o’clock. No Mike. One ten. No Mike. One twenty and Mike shows up but without equipment. One forty-five and he shows up with equipment but minus flash apparatus. One fifty-five and they are on their way to the fort, not speaking. They make it in time for the end of the ceremony. Mike explains, a week later, what had caused the delay. He had been thinking about the ceremony and suddenly realized that there would be a lot of officers present. So he had gone into a barrel joint and had his pants pressed. It took more time than he wanted. Gail, who has been around sloppy snappers like Slim Lynch, said: “Photographer, hell—he wants to have his picture taken.”

No letter from you yesterday but the one of the day before, telling of Bill’s [Bill Speidel] incredible performance with the Boilermaker paper on press day, was a gem of purest ray serene.
And now this does it, for I must eat if I am to tackle any pinnacles today.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Umnak Island, 2 September 1944 -- Includes a letter from the New Guinea campaign

Rosa darling…

We did not climb the mountain today. When we came from the mess hall after breakfast (a very good breakfast; bacon, eggs, tomato juice, canned grapefruit, cornflakes) the  mountain, which a quarter hour before had been black against a washed blue sky, had lost its head in a layer of clouds which pushed down from the north. So we went instead to our personal peninsula on the Bering.

The tide was the lowest we have seen it here. Down near the point where we chased the fox we came on a reef invisible on our earlier walks. The rocks of the reef are low and grooved and the tidal pools made me think of Otto’s quote from the Sea of Cortez: “We must look from the tidal pools to the universe, then back to the tidal pools again.”

I tried to photograph a few of the pools, although what tricks the reflection will place I can’t imagine. The water was so clear that we had to be careful as we walked not to step into a pool without seeing it. The rocks were alive: kelp lay sodden on the exposed stretches and stood flowing in the pools. Blue mussels hung to the rock and were in turn coated with two inch barnacles which played host to tiny plants. I assume they were plants but sea animals are so flowerlike it is hard to tell.

Farther out we found thousands of sea urchins, like tams or upside-down baskets, their slender green spines waving in the water. The Aleuts prize their roe as a delicacy and Jack, who claims to have eaten one on his last hike here, denounced me as lacking curiosity when I admitted not having an overwhelming desire to sample all the raw seafood in sight. I confined myself to nibbling on a piece of kelp, quickly followed by half a Mound bar.

Mussels and gooseneck barnacles
The most beautiful of the sea animals were the oval limpets, which are also a favorite Aleutian food. They are tiny shellfish which cling gently to the side of rocks and may be picked off without trouble. The shells look like half a clam shell, but are more delicate and finely colored in brown and white. I picked up quite a few and, if possible, will send you samples. 

While unlovely, the bidarki was the most interesting of our discoveries. Bidarki is an Aleut word meaning boat. The creature is a limpet [actually it’s a chiton] and was named by the natives because the scooped out shell resembles a kayak. The shell is soft and black and hinged and the flesh of the creature is a bright pinkish orange. He doesn’t look tasty but according to the army booklet on emergency foods he is a year round part of the native diet and has saved the lives of many stranded white fishermen and natives. It seems sacrilegious, eating a kayak. 

In the fields walking across to the Bering we came on several patches of berries. I thought they were salmonberries and so did Jack, but they had much more taste. On looking them up in the book Bill Bernnard left me I find they are thimbleberries. We also found some bright red mushrooms with ochre undersides which we did not eat. 

Sea urchins, chitons, and barnacles, and a limpet
We went down as far as the cliff we had all the trouble climbing a month ago. It still looks easy from below and I was tempted to go up it again. But the recent wet weather would make the grass even less stable and we decided against it. I did have a few bad moments, though, in trying to climb around the face of the rock cliff which barred our path along the Bering beach. I want to see what the land does on the other side—“you know,” what will be around the next bend?—and I got pretty well around the point. All I could see was another point and more Bering. Coming back was difficult because the tide was running in rapidly and my previous path was under water. 

I was very tired when we turned back. I worked pretty hard last night and the distance to the cape is between five and eight miles, so there was good reason. I was so tired that the sight of an old oil drum, wallowing in the surf like some Coney Island obese obscenity was screamingly funny. And then the sight of a heavy-winged black coot slogging along about ten feet above the water made me inexpressively sad. 

He was the first coot I have seen up here, although the emergency food booklet claims they are plentiful. But the booklet also says the American Scoter (also called coot) have a fine steady flight. Snafu. 

We got back to camp about one in the afternoon and I slept until nine-thirty. Then coffee, a quick look through a new pile of New York Times plus the New Yorker with the beach trio cover, and then a night at the office. 

Here is Pete’s last letter to us: [Pete Antoncich was a UW friend and classmate of Murray’s. Born on Bainbridge Island, he was a varsity football and basketball player for the Huskies, serving as basketball team captain in 1933. After college, they worked together on the Grays Harbor Washingtonian. I met him a few times as a child. Even in a middle age that seemed old to me then, he was also incredibly handsome. ]

July 29
New Guinea

This evening I have been sitting on a box, propped up against a post, smoking a cigar, bully beef settling a bit uncomfortably in my stomach, and watching the setting sun tint the clouds in the east. Yep, we suffer hardships in New Guinea. Hardships, by the way, is title of one of our most popular songs. Typical verses go something like this with many variations just as you’ll find variations in Bless Them All:
Ack ack here, and ack ack there
And God Damned zeros everywhere
Hardships, you bastards
You don’t know what hardships are.

When I went down to old Brisbane
And heard the P.D.* boys complain,
Hardships, etc.
When I reach that U.S. shore,
The P.D. boys were there before,
Singing Hardships, etc.
*per diem ($6 per day in Australia)

There is another nostalgic tune called “I Wanna Go Home.” The chorus tells us, “Gee, mom, I’m too young to die, I wanna go home….”

Those are two of the favorites. When anyone does a bit of bitching, another will usually pipe up with Hardships. [“Hardships,” in various versions was also popular among Australian forces]

I’d also like to tell you of our CO. For months in the states we were indoctrinated with lectures, at frequent dull meetings, that the enlisted men came first. It was a lesson we should never forget. However, we should keep our distance, as there was a definite line between EM and Officers and that line should not be crossed by too much familiarity. I think he read that in Officers Guide, cost $2 at the Military Bookstore, my copy of which has been consigned permanently to the jungles of New Guinea.

Anyway, at every station in N.G., the boss has had a house built for himself, the present one with a floor, radio, running water, a sink, a private shower, an electric toaster and a small electric washing machine. Incidentally, we received a new radio yesterday, so he is taking that one, and giving the old one to the men in the mess hall. 

The men don’t live in discomfort. They have the same setup we junior officers have, showers, four holers, etc., with the exception that we don’t have to wash our mess kits, eating out of enameled plates. In all, we live comfortably, unlike the infantry. Food is fair and poor, usually the latter, and our biggest concern is jungle rash and ants. The latter are a constant nuisance and the former seems to break out in the most private sections of the body. Luckily, I’ve escaped the latter. 

We hacked this present home out of the jungle. It is damp as we had rain constantly for two weeks, but the past few days have been dry so that we managed to get the musty smell out of our clothing and blankets. Contrary to popular belief, there is little colon [?] in the Guinea jungle except on the coast and we haven’t been located anywhere where there was a wide variety of animal life. We have a few snakes, and some varmints. The white cockatoo is the most common bird we’ve met. When they alight on trees, they appear as snowballs against a green background. 

Recently I spent three weeks in Australia on leave, and as is my custom I dodged the men I went down with and did a good deal of meandering by my lonesome. I’ve met such assorted characters as a Yugoslav who thought I could get him a passport to the U.S., a Danish second mate, an English ship engineer who was an introvert with a delicate stomach and so confined his drinking to good scotch and poor Australian whiskey when the scotch ran out; two Aussie privates, brothers as tall as I am who teamed up with me one afternoon at the bar. The three of us were the object of scrutiny by the assembled multitudes so that we were frequently interrupted to answer questions on our height, a padre (I don’t know what denomination) at the same bar who spent years in Guinea and could speak pidgeon English much faster than I could follow him; some gypsies who bummed a match then wanted to bless the money I had in my wallet; some common ordinary folk; some bums, some Americans; a streetwalker who wanted $29 for the night; two sailors in a small coastal schooner who invited me on a trip after I gave them a pack of cigarettes; six Yugoslav communists with whom I had quite an argument when the attacked the U.S. but who stumped me and with whom I agree when they wanted to know why in a democracy there was racial prejudice and violation of civil rights; two charming Australian officers, one of whom would sing “I’m minding my own business and am busy all the time” when in his cups; a lovely girl with whom I played golf and want to theatres and dances; and a barmaid who sold beer to the Aussies but saved the scotch for the Yanks. I had an excellent time…

To me, the Aussies are developing a national consciousness and are trying to impress themselves and the Allies that they should have a vital role in the Pacific. It makes sense, but remember that the entire continent has less people than the city of New York. Their newspapers and magazines encourage and demand Australian music, literature and art to develop the artistic resources of the country. The newspapers and newsreels make great ado about new industries, such as an aircraft factory, plugging them as R.V. Mack would plug a new fish cannery or the airport which was to make Hoquiam a great city. It seems to be a recent trend by which Australia hopes to take its place among the great nations of the world. 

I like their energy, but not their cold rooms, extremely so to me whose blood must have thinned out a bit. There is a great deal of antagonism between Yanks and Aussies, much of which doesn’t show on the surface. It is a result of American bragging and Aussie resentment of  it; Aussie bragging and American resentment in reverse lend lease attitude. Another factor is the higher rate of pay that Americans have. The American is boastful, as our standard of living is higher and we have more material comforts and luxuries than the average Australian; the Aussie in meeting an American is polite and a bit distant until thawed out, then is a great companion. 

I liked them as a rule and as in most cases, a bit of understanding on both sides would straighten out the dislike. I liked their newspapers though they now overplay the part Australia is doing in the Guinea campaign, even with all due credit to the opening days of the war when they fought the Nips with little more than their bare hands. However, that seems like a [?] in the campaign to have a decided voice in the peace. They’re loyal to the King but fiercely resent being called English. Their reviews of plays and literature are critical. Reviewing one play, a critic said that the performance of the leading characters by no means sullied their amateur standing. On another occasion the soprano in Lilac Time was pictured thus: “Her conception of acting consisted of ear-splitting smiles.” One review of a new book was a peach and I’ll send it along but wanted to retain a copy for myself. It was entitled “Consign to Your Dust Bin.” Their humor is excellent, but more subtle and ironic than ours and they use the understatement to excellent effect. 

After Mrs. Roosevelt’s visit to the South Pacific, she wrote that it appeared that Americans were getting all the Australian girls. To which one Aussie sailor replied, “They’re sorting them out for us.”

That about covers this epistle. The Aussie is no different, under the surface, than we are, but I’m afraid that he’ll be criticized just as the businessman, rotarian, kiwanian, lion and energetic chamber of commerce member criticizes the Mexicans as shiftless and inefficient merely because his standard of living is lower. Likewise, the Aussies criticize the “Dagoes” and foreigners because their mode of life is different. I’m through arguing with Southerners. I’m tired of the question, “Would you want your sister to marry a nigger?”

P.S. I can possibly shed some light on your derelict ship. Along about 1928, during the summer I believe, a Japanese fishing boat came to shore near Port Townsend or Port Angeles. There were skeletons aboard and no signs of life. A diary was found aboard and a translation indicated cannibalism. The boat’s motor had failed and the derelict apparently drifted four years. I believe its name was the Bachimo. It was a front page story and perhaps some energetic person could find it by going through old files at the public library. Possibly it’s the same boat. It could have floated to the Canadian coast, then cast on the Washington coast by currents.

And that covers everything I can think of, little one, except how much you are missed and longed for and loved. …

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Umnak Island, 4 September 1944

Hello Piltzer my pet…

I climbed our mountain Saturday, which is my reason for missing a day in my letter writing. When I got back to camp I was as tired as on the downstream side of Box Canyon and as frazzled as a tinned gringo. I had my troubles staying awake on the graveyard shift and, that ordeal over, I went to bed and slept fourteen marvelous hours. The ascent took ten hours.

It must have been Mt. Recheshnoi: 6500 feet

The mountain—I can’t tell you its name—dominates our part of the island. It reaches up from the sea in a series of progressively steeper lava slopes. The peak is about five thousand feet above the sea.
Once before I tried to climb it but bogged down early and turned back after only a couple of hours. I think I was smarter that time, much smarter. On that trip I approached the mountain by way of the valley formed by two of the basalt arms. I got very tired waking across the plain and was in no shape to tackle the tougher climbing. So this time I decided to gain the top of the nearest ridge and then work along it to the peak proper. I still think it was good in theory. 

The first trouble was I went alone. That meant that I did not pace myself well and took fewer breaks than I would have had I been having bullsessions. Jack and I have been talking about making the climb for at least a month but he was tired and, I believe,  little piqued yesterday. So when I said Let’s go, he pointed out how late we would be getting back and added his doubts that the good weather would hold. I figured that with winter coming—the days are already noticeably shorter and colder—we would never have a better chance. So I said if he didn’t want to try I would do it alone and he said go ahead.
So with a bellyful of Robbie’s pancakes to give me ballast and a pocketful of Nestles and Mounds to ward off starvation, I started up. It was eight fifteen.

The first part of the trip was familiar.  I had been along it with Jack more than once. It follows an old trail for an hour or so to a point where the ridge is sliced by a ravine and then twists to the right, mountainward. Working down this ravine I came to a snowbridge, so deep that it must be perpetually shaded. I do not believe the sun gets far enough north ever to shine down on it. As I crossed the snow it broke through and I fell about five feet into a little stream. I was not hurt or shaken up. The only ill effect was that I got my feet wet and my fatigues splashed as I waded upstream to the mouth of the ice cave. But it scared me bastante. After that I went to pains—quite literally for extra steps hurt—avoiding the snow bridges.

Once up the other side of the ravine, the going was easy and pleasant. The grass thinned into tundra and there were many berries. I fund a furious little stream that had eaten through the thin dirt skin of the ridge and was working diligently on the bare rock. It was an ambitious little stream with took eight foot jumps with a run and a roar and I went quite a bit out of my way to follow it. I crossed a lot of little rivers during the day, but that was the only one I really liked. 

When I left my stream, the going was tougher. The tundra faded into the black dirt when was mushy as beach sand, but unpleasant to look at. The slope grew sharper, and I stopped to rest after each hundred yards. This went on a long time. Worse, the wind grew stronger and colder. As I gained the top of the main ridge it had a straight run at me across several hundred miles of the Bering. My hands were cold and when I tripped the sand stung and burned for a long time afterwards. Soon I was one up on Wordsworth, I was wandering lonely in a cloud. The puffy cumulus which do so well by the local sky are much prettier from the outside than the in.

The best part of this trip was a waterfall, which must be 150 feet high and leaps out around a huge gray rock in twin streams. It was here also that I saw a gray bird, big as a young seagull but with swallow-like wings, and a magnificently coated fox who gave me a K. Hepburnish look of frank disgust when I startled his quarry into flying away.

I constantly encountered ravines which if filled with snow I skirted and if filled with water I climbed through. These ravines were the worst feature of the ridge. They tired me out. When the ridge was not crevassed it folded into soft sand dunes. These were very soft and porous and when the sun came up they steamed until it seemed I was walking across a new lava field instead of an old one.

As I neared the base of the final slope I had an unpleasant surprise—the deepest ravine yet. Fortunately it was not as steep as deep but crossing it got me down to my last energy and my last candy bar but one.
At the start of the final ascent I followed a stream bed up to an ice crust. The grade was quite steep and I had to use my hands to make it. The ice was too slippery to cross so I had to skirt it. This was the most difficult part of the climb. I was desperately tired. The mountainside was covered by a layer of volcanic pebbles ranging in size from sand to baseballs. The blanket was at least five feet deep, probably more, and the pebbles were loosely packed. They rolled under my feet and if I dug my toes in they gave way and sent me sprawling. Looking down at the larger rocks bounding into the ravine inspired no confidence in my own ability to catch myself if I ever started rolling. I was scared stiff. I would have turned back but I was afraid to do that either. So I kept going up.

I was within fifty yards of the top when the clouds rolled in again, thick as fog over the Montesano valley. It blotted out the wonderful view of the island rolling out in soft folds to the ocean and the sea. It blotted out our neighboring islands. And worse, it covered the peak so thoroughly I had to feel my way to the top. So I reached my goal thoroughly disgusted. 

I waited about a quarter hour for the fog to clear. Once or twice it rolled away and I had a glimpse of the beautiful green desolation below, or of the brute hulk of the nearest island [Unalaska], but each time it closed in again.

Whenever I could see I studied the possible routes down. I didn’t want to tackle the same path back and it seemed there must be an easier way. After a bit I decided to try the Pacific slope. My plan was to go to the bottom of the peak proper on this side and then work around to the north and get into the valley which leads to our settlement. It didn’t work: ravines. 

I had two bad scares on the descent, the first when I slipped in the volcanic gravel and rolled about fifteen feet.  I stopped against a welcome boulder. The second bad moment came at a ravine. A rock pulled loose under my hand and I feel about ten or fifteen feet. I lit on the only moss within a mile and the damage was purely mental.

The ravines kept forcing me away from our camp. I worked across them for an hour or so—I was too tired to think much about the time. In fact, I was so tired that whenever I tripped I just lay where I fell if it were comfortable. At first I crossed the streams by jumping from rock to rock but finally I disgustedly sloshed through. The water was very cold and felt good. At the biggest stream I took off my pants.

When I thought I had crossed the last stream and came to one bigger than ever I gave up and followed the line of least resistance, although it lay almost straight away from camp. Consequently I was about five miles from camp—some say eight when I tell them the position—when I finally reached sea level. I cut over to a road, expecting a ride. But no one stopped. The things I thought about one lieutenant who breezed by, solo, in a command car have no place in a letter which must pass censorship. …

I staggered into camp about six o’clock, tired and not you know what. But a goodly bundle of letters from my everloving fixed me up enough so that I could creak into the kitchen and sponge the remains of a meal off the KPs and then go and stand under a hot shower for nearly an hour. After that I killed a can of pineapple juice and went to bed, too tired to sleep.

Rosa Morgan photo, 1944
I am tremendously proud of your smiling paralytic, Nunny, and even without being told I recognize the difficulties in snapping it. Personally I think you should have had a byline and a check for that sort of a shot. What did you get paid for it? I think that Bill’s writing, to be polysyllabic, is odiferous. It probably would be advisable not to quote me. 

About “Day of the Dead.” I haven’t carried out my project to work on it regularly because I have no time at the office and there is always someone asleep in the hut this month. I can’t send it to you in pieces because censorship requirements seem to be that such things must be submitted whole. Consequently it will be a month or more before I mail the book and how long it will take to clear censorship God only knows.
Rosa Morgan photo, 1944
I finished an article, humorous in intent, on our local library the other day but have to retype it. I hope to find time to do that today. But this week I am on KP again so there goes another hour out of each day. And if the weather remains fair it seems advisable to make the most of it, because in the winter they say there will be weeks at a time when we can’t be out of the hut more than a few minutes. 

The news from the European part of our war is incredibly good, and that from Rumania brings memories reinforced by your diary. You should hear the army announcer wrestle with “Girgiu.” He also achieved four different pronunciations of Ploesti in four tries. But he could call it Puyallup and I’d still be pleased with the news about it. 

I am getting to be quite proficient on the teletype. I can hang the machine now, which means I must be punching at around fifty words a minute. Gail Fowler, who is still around awaiting transportation, has been watching me operate and suggests that I write letters home to you in five letter groups liket hisip resum ebuti guess not. 

I am quite disappointed with Gail. He talked me into taking the job as local correspondent for the ACS Bulletin, a task I don’t like and didn’t want. And he brought a bottle of Scotch and finished it before I had so much as even a smell. He also started calling me “Murray-cle of Morgan’s Creek,” which might stick, Godforbid. In return I call him “Big Wind” and “Blow Hard Gail,” both of which he seems to have encountered before. Since my climb, he has called me “So Red the Nose” in deference to my one spot sunburn.

That covers it, Nunny. I’ll send the picture from the Star to Dad after everyone here has admired it sufficiently.