Thursday, March 17, 2011

Umnak Island, 4 July 1944


No. 1 from APO 948

Dearest Nunny…
I came here yesterday by plane. It was a beautiful flight. We cruised a white cloud sea that was broken only by the black cones of Aleutian volcanoes: some dead as Durnstein, some sleeping like Ixxi, and one playful as Paracutín.
After sweating out transportation for five days, I was still caught with my barracks bags open when word came that a plane was waiting. Ordinarily the ACS men at the old station get at least two hours’ notice before they take off. Counting on that, I had left my shaving material out of one bag and my clean sheet out of the B bag—which is to follow me here and, I hope, will arrive in time to let me put on clean underwear for Christmas.
Although I was off duty my last two days, I kept on working a graveyard schedule. So yesterday I got up in the early afternoon, caught the last lunch chow in time for coffee and nothing else, and bumped into Joe Miller, who had the day off. We went for a walk, down by the baby river near the library, and sat on the grass and tossed broken bits of plywood boxes into the water. They took the little rapids like little Romurs [all Murray and Rosa’s Klepper kayaks, over 60 years on the water, were named Romur]. Joe talked of his plans for the first night he gets back home and of his current reading, “War and Peace,” “Crime and Punishment,” and “The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu,” which he seems to like in inverse order.
When we went back to the regular camp area I called in personnel and was told there was nothing new about a plane for me. So Joe and I picked up my last issue of beer at Hut 18 and went to his hut. The beds were out on the tundra, being aired. We sat on them and settled down to serous work on the stubbies. An hour and eight bottles later, we were interrupted. Corporal Byers came stumbling across the stream to say I had five minutes to get to the plane. Someone had just cancelled passage and I had his spot.
In five minutes I finished packing and only left behind: my rifle, my sheet, and a shirt and pair of pants which didn’t come back from the laundry as rapidly as anticipated (i.e., within eighteen days). I hope the last items catch up with me and that the rifle is reissued to some unsuspecting latecomer to APO 980. I think it is one of the originals that replaced the crossbow and the thought of having to get it clean under the new GI regime at the old station is one of my chief delights in coming here.
This station appears very pleasant, at least at first glance. I am established in a hut with a sweeping view of a swamp which looks very much like English meadowland. There are only six other men in the hut and the beds, instead of sticking out into the center of the room as at the old place, range along the curved wall. Another good point is that there are no center lights. Each cot has an individual outlet on the wall beside ti. Consequently no glare.
The new hut has men on every shift, so I have yet ot meet them all. Those I have met are all quiet and soft-spoken, probably because everyone in the hut has sweated out a winter up here. One kid is from San Antonio, Texas; another from Lincoln High in Tacoma, class of 1937. He doesn’t remember you but recalls Betty Blood and Florence Crow. Incredible, he doesn’t remember Werdsie. His name is Al Hesse, and he is a censor.
We have an all-Tacoma censor crew up here now. Ted Godfrey, the third censor, graduated from Stadium with Freddie B [Fred Baisch] and Hal Davis. He gnashed his teeth when I told him Fred is a Captain. The chief operator here is also from Stadium. He was in my class and, although he doesn’t remember it, was involved in the football play on which I twisted my shoulder and banged up my knee. He tossed the pass I was trying to catch. His name is Johnny Hazen…End of old home week information.
My duties here are just what they were before except that I handle both types of work at the same time instead of specializing for a while on one and a while on the other. I also may get a chance to do some teletype work, a la Hoquiam. At least I won’t have to try to punch box scores with the whole northwest circuit waiting. Remember? (What’s the matter, Hoquiam? What’s the matter, Hoquiam? Better phone, Hq. We’ll put it on the wire from here.) The height of humiliation.
The physical plant at this station is better than the old one. The operating room is more compact and we have no hot house plants who can’t survive if the temperature drops below ninety, oil heat. The huts are all near enough to a central washroom so that there is no need for the old water hauling detail. The shower room doesn’t steam up so that a man leaves it sweatier than he was before he bathed. And, honest, there are three flush toilets.
There is a fine recreation hall, complete with a pool table, ping pong table and a stack of old Lifes and Esquires. There is also a bar at which beer is sold when there is beer available. There is no beer available. A few books fill a shelf above the magazine stand and while the assortment is rather haphazard, the first one I saw was “The Plumed Serpent,” by D. H. Lawrence, which I was unable to find in Seattle.
A horseshoe pit lies between my hut and the operations building, and there is a rather rundown softball field. In one hut I saw a punching bag, and in another a set of elastic exercisers. The fellows say the fishing is good here, and they take quite a few hikes. There seems to be little of the tension that characterized the old place. This is to APO 980 as CBS was to Time.
I am very pleased about the change. My only reason for being blue today is that I can think of other Fourths. I remember stuffed fried chicken and apple pie topped by misshapen American flags and Madaraz Gabor worrying about being late to pick up his girl on the way to the Amusement Park. I remember the Washington statue in the Budapest park, and the little porcupine the Hungarian woman gave you…I remember a Fourth in New York, hot and sticky and busy. And a Fourth in Hoquiam…in fact a pair of them: the first just after our escape from Spokane and the Chronicle, the second just before our escape from Box Canyon and the Columbia. But the Fourth I think of most is the next one. We will celebrate it.
M

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