Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Umnak Island, 5 July 1944


Dearest Nunny…

The outer characteristics of the local contingent of GI characters are coming into focus. There is an individual with the most magnificently mashed nose I have encountered since the dear dead day of Leo Dardeen. There is a San Antonio special who believes that Negroes come in heat like dogs and should be shot likewise. There is a lad who looks enough like Alan Ladd to spit for him. There is the man whom the sweating Sergeant Luckman and I had to arrest that day in Seattle. And there is smiling Jack Martin, unfamiliarly known as Juan Marteen.

Jack is a curly headed kid of 22 years. Irish extraction and uncertain U.S. citizenship. He has been trying to get his U.S. papers for four years but keeps bumping into the problem of where he is from.
He was born in Northern Ireland and went with his parents to Canada. His father took his sisters, two, down to the states, and later Jack crossed the border with his mother—a mistake, that.

His parents took out papers and Jack claims derivative citizenship from that. But they took out papers as Canadian immigrants and Jack was a minor while in Canada and born in Ireland. He had not come under the jurisdiction of Canadian citizenship. As far as the Canadians are concerned he is either North Irish (United Kingdom) or American. The U.K. claims him, and the U.S. says that since he crossed the border with his mother instead of his father he cannot be a citizen by derivation. This seems silly to everyone except the authorities concerned. 

Jack is still fighting it through and the last word he received was that if he would appear in court in any Alaskan town the case would be reopened. You know how many Alaskan towns there are in this area. But the whole affair is becoming slightly academic because Senor Juan has an overpowering urge to go to Mexico after the war. He may take out Mexican papers. 

I’d better back up a bit. I met Martin my first day here and noticed nothing about him except that he looked faintly like Craig Hartwich, minus the girlishness, and that he wore a turtle-necked sweater with an Errol Flynn arrogance. One of the kids in the hut noticed my Spanish text books as I unpacked and suggested that I talk to Jack, because “I think he talks it.”
So last night when Jack wandered into our hut looking for someone who wasn’t there (the second time he had been in the hut in eleven months) I asked him about Spanish and he said he had studied it for several years. He made several visits to Ensenada and has plans to go to the University of Mexico after the war. That, of course, led to pictures of Patzcuaro and a general bullsession. Somewhere along the line I mentioned being from Tacoma. “Do you know many people there?” he asked. 

“Quite a few. I grew up there.”

“Know Roger Mastrude?”

He had met Roger at Fort Lewis in 1941. They became almost inseparable. As we talked he kept pulling things out of his pockets—the key to Mastrude’s car, which Jack later bought from him; Roger’s old GI drivers license; a piece of poetry they had copied while in the Tacoma library. He is a great admirer of Tarz, whom he always calls Margaret; and he knew Kenny and Fay, Elmer Stewart (he has one of Elmer’s Esperanto books), Otto’s friends and Brown’s Point, Jack Mansfield, and others. He had dinner once at Clark and Maurine’s houseboat, but did not see them again. He thinks that he met Otto once but is not sure.
Jack lost track of Roger more than a year ago and could hardly believe (A) his current lofty status in the United State Army (B) Ruth Leo’s reports in Roger’s current attitudes. Jack is now rounding out his second year in Alaskan service. He put in around thirteen months in Fairbanks, where he seems to have done considerable drinking with Roger Shaw, a friend of the Elliotts. You met him. He is the individual who came to that first or second evening at the James’s place with Jean Elliott and at the end of eight hours in which we had not spoken to each other told me how much we had enjoyed our conversation. 

Roger Shaw and Jack lived together for a time in Fairbanks. They shared a hut which was mounted on sled runners and could be moved around. It was furnished with a woodburning stove, a kitchen chair and a pile of old clothes into which they burrowed when the temperature got into the minus forties. “That place was stark,” Jack says. “The sight of a kitchen chair, alone at the end of an elongated room, has always been a symbol of insanity for me anyway. Oh, but that place was stark. However in the end I fixed things. I used that chair for kindling.” Shortly thereafter he and Roger Shaw moved out.

Politically, Jack is as lackadaisical as Craig used to be. I don’t know if there is such a term as “apolitical” carrying the same connotation in politics as “amoral” does in ethics, but here there such a word it would fit perfectly. He simply does not care. In a way that suits him admirably for a life in Mexico.

deadrock that morning: he had fifteen cents which would buy him (1) breakfast, or (2) cigarets, or (3) a ride to UCLA to take his final exams for the quarter. He bought cigs and started to hitchhike to UCLA when he saw an Army poster. He enlisted, got a meal ticket, and took the test. The Army positively ended any vague ideas he had of backing out of his enlistment. So he decided to buy his way out, as you could in those beautiful days. But first you had to be in a year. By the time he had spent a year in the Army and saved enough money to buy out—nobody could buy out. 

And so endeth the first chapter about Jack Martin. Of him, undoubtedly more later. And, Nunny, next time you are in Tacoma would you try to find out from Mastrude’s folks or Tarz’s or someone where Roger is now. Jack owes him some money he wants to pay.

Besides the bullsession, I spent yesterday learning the ropes in the local operating room and, after that, knocking together a desk and a clothes cabinet out of a couple of old packing cases. Since I can expect to be here longer than I was at 980, I am doing a slightly more elaborate job. But I’ll never be the man with a saw and hammer than you are!

Jack and I walked to the PX and I bought a case of fruit juice, and later in the evening we made a pot of tea. Which reminds me, I have forgotten to put in my weekly requisition sheet to you: I’ll take the cups you suggested previously, the cheaper the better but they should have handles of some kind. Drinking tea out of a hot bowl is unhandy. I could also use some more Mannings, since the commissary kind is a bit Curacuaroan.
I am increasingly hopeful of being able to do some really good writing here. So far, I like the place. But oh, my Nunny, how I wish that I could be with you. I’m still waiting for your letters to start catching up with me. 

All my love,
M

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