My Parents' WWII Correspondence
I have just completed reading my parents' World War II correspondence from 1943-1945 and thought it was time to share them through our Common Threads blog. My parents, Etta and Charles Cohen, lived in Troy, New York.
I feel so lucky to have access to these letters and other carefully kept Stars & Stripes newspapers, programs from USO shows, opera, etc. informational army documents from Camp Crowder to what to expect when you return to civilian life, etc.
Here is some information about his time in France and a few of his thoughts from his letters.
From his Honorable Discharge:
Zeyda was in Company B of the # 3112 Signal Service Battalion.
His specialty was repeater man telephone # 187.
He qualified in marksmanship August 12, 1943 (at Camp Crowder) for Rifle M 1917 MKM 155.
His decorations and citations: American Service Medal, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal.
Total length of service:
Continental service (U.S.) 1 year 7 month 7 days
Foreign service 1 year 6 months 28 days
Service outside Continental U.S. and return
Departed U.S. for ETO May 3, 1944 Arrived May 14, 1944
Departed ETO November 23, 1945 Arrived November 30, 1945
There is a newspaper clipping from The Times Record in Troy from May 23, 1945:
Cpl. CHARLES COHEN of 186-7th Avenue, a former Troy lawyer, recently received a commendation from his commanding officer for the outstanding manner in which he installed and maintained a teletype carrier system in a port installation in Germany. He worked all hours of the day and night on the job and by his ingenuity and improvisation solved problems caused by a lack of equipment, his commander said. He entered service in July, 1943, and has been overseas since May, 1944." In a June 14, 1945 letter he explains it was in Antwerp.
Zeyda did not write to Grandma about this. She heard about it from people who read it in the paper. A few weeks later, she is notified to listen to the radio at a specific time and date (June 18) for a program called War Heroes. She did listen and heard the commendation to Zeyda read for all to hear.
I have organized all of their letters, but several had parts that I thought worthwhile to share:
"When you received six letters in one day last month from me after a lapse of a week, you felt just as I do when the same thing happens to me. That’s why I write you every day, because I’m trying to do for you what I want you to do for me. Your letters and the pictures you send are my physical substitutes for the home I’m coming back to as soon as possible. I read your letters over and over again and often I stop to tell the boys the latest news on our child.”
He wrote a long letter on Thanksgiving, November 23, 1944. They were married on Thanksgiving seven years earlier. He is lonely, misses Grandma & little me and writes beautifully at length about what we mean to him. He goes on to say: "Though this war was not of our choosing, still it is here and to do it by halves will only bring more of its kind to Debbie's generation. As much as I dislike self-admiration, I'm proud that I enlisted to do my part, even if the proximate cause of that act was the protraction of my activities as a civilian. I've never told you how near I was to volunteering at the time of Pearl Harbor, but the circumstances which you will remember were not appropriate for such action. My only hope is that the struggle will not drag on much longer. When complete victory is ours, then we will be together again. I look ahead to that day, buoyed up by recollections of our past and certain of our future together."
December 12, 1944 - "I've read my mail three times so far and, having heard from you, have become more homesick than before. Still the ache must be endured until the war is over and Germany & Japan beaten soundly enough to ensure some period of peace. The news of our progress here and in the Pacific is encouraging although there are no indications of the much-hoped-for collapse in either country. Actually the Japs are doing too well in China proper for anyone to be complacent."
January 20, 1945 - “So far I believe I haven’t succumbed to the temptation of self-pity nor have I fallen into the trap of wishful thinking. The realities of the situation are too stern, however comfortable I may be physically, to allow me to forget that “this is war!” The necessity for my taking part in it is as well-known to you as to me and neither of us should waste any time seeking an easy “out” for me. With Sam still convalescent from his injuries and the news of grim fighting concealed under brave headlines, I cannot pull my door shut and close out the unpleasant things on the other side. I regret the time that we are apart, the necessity that separated us, the willing blindness of those who refused to see the impending holocaust and pray that, God willing, our children will never have to undergo the same. In short, I am as cheerful as I can ever be away from you and our child; my disposition is as even as my self-control allows.”
June 6, 1945 - "Today is just one year after our invasion of this continent and the European military war is over at a cost that the rows of white crosses tell. Just how today has been celebrated elsewhere, I don't know, but today (my day off) I'm up here on this hill overlooking Sulzthal, deeply grateful that it is over and I am alive and well. Let us pray that the end of the Japanese was will be soon for the sake of all of us." (Sulzthal is in Bavaria not far from Munich.)
All of his mail had to be reviewed by a censor. There was to be no mention of where they were or what they were doing in any correspondence. In so many of Grandma's letters, she worries about him wondering where he is, how close he is to danger, whether he would get transferred to the infantry, whether he was close to where the Germans were bombing, etc. From Zeyda's list on the ADSEC document, he writes that he got to Utah Beach on July 22, 1944. He was in St. Mere Eglise, Carentan, St. Lo, Le Mans, Etampes, Etrechy, Paris, Rheims, Soisson and Spa before he went to Belgium on October 29.
August 7, 1944 - "By now you must have guessed that I'm somewhere in France, safe and sound, sufficiently recovered from a severe siege of mal de mer (seasickness.) For reasons you can understand, I haven't told you that I'm here although it is some time since we, as the history book puts it, set foot on French soil. Was I glad to set foot on soil instead of deck. As a sailor, I make a poor soldier."
August 10, 1944 - "The day, although arduous in a physical sense, was pleasant because the detail I working on took me through some cities in France that I hadn't seen. (Next part is censored.) Everywhere we went, and as accustomed as they have become to "les Americans,'" the French people always have time for a cheerful wave and smile as we go by them. This is true both in the cities, towns or country. Of course the children, even back in England, always liked to wave and say "Hello" to us. Every time the boys see a girl, too, they give either that Broadway long whistle or the universal wolves' howl. Invariably they get a pleasant smile for their trouble."
August 11, 1944 - "I've been out again to pick up rations so that I had another chance to see some more of this country. The countryside and the villages have a charm that is completely different from that of England. Although the fields are somewhat larger than those I saw in England, it doesn't approach the feeling of spaciousness of the farms about our home town. There is more of a chance to see the sky stretching out than in England so sometimes I wish I had my Graflex."
August 23, 1944 - "Sitting here with my back to the setting sun and facing a perfect half circle of a rainbow, I wish I had some color film to preserve for your benefit what I'm viewing in this old French town. The rainbow over the buildings in this once-contested town seems to be a symbol of the future. I'm beginning to learn a little more each day about the French people themselves. The greetings of all of the people here seem very sincere but one incident puzzled me because of its implications as to their attitude toward the Americans. We talked with two brothers, both staying in a refugee camp since their house had either been blown to bits or had burned to the ground. There is a tendency among the French evidently to regard us in the light of a rich relative who is a soft touch. The historical precedent of the last World War certainly confirms our habit of underwriting the world. Of course, I do not overlook the fact that our Allies have been in the war longer than we and, while I was home with you, their people were dying or worse yet, living under German dominion. Our policy of fighting with dollars instead of doughboys as much as possible meets with the approval of all of us. Yet our losses so far have not been light, and, though somewhat late, we are now pressing forward in a proportion in excess to our relative strength."
September 3, 1944 - "We have had a few French visitors today. They are very friendly and make every effort to understand & help our French. One of the men had been a prisoner of the Germans in this war, having been captured by them in the fall of Paris. I refrained from asking him how he had been freed."
September 4, 1944 - “There is no need for you to worry about me since I’m as safe as anyone in my position can be. There are many others who are in much more precarious situations than I. I realize that merely telling you not to worry is meager assurance of my safety but please accept that until you can hear it from me at home.”
September 24, 1944 - "I visited Paris today... I went to the house of M. Picard who had invited me to dinner. I had accepted their invitation reluctantly because I've learned what difficulties they have in procuring some foods. I had met them in a camera store where I was looking at a camera... He offered to take some movies of me (8mm) if I bought a roll and, with you in mind, I accepted. Then he pressed his invitation to dinner until I accepted. We also went through an exchange of pictures of our children… They live in a charming apartment on the top floor in a location conveniently near to the center of the city. With them is an uncle who had just been released after six months in the German concentration camp at St. Denis in Paris. The meal was simple, but well-prepared. I enjoyed the home cooking. Afterward we went out for a walk. We first went to the Arc de Triomphe where he took some shots of it and of his uncle & myself. We made some headway down the Avenue de la Grande Armee toward the Bois Boulogue but intermittent showers force us back to the shelter of a sidewalk café on the Champs des Elysees where I treated them to cognac and while wine."
September 30, 1944 - "Let me tell you something about last Friday night when Jensen & I had a grand time and meal at a Jewish home in Montparnasse, a section of Paris. We had met Michel Laborde while trying to get some parts to make a radio; when he and I learned each other's religion, of, of course, we immediately gave up our stumbling attempts to converse in English or French and started in Yiddish. The upshot was the invitation for Friday night at his brother-in-law's house, where we met their family. The family is of Polish origin except for the brother-in-law who is a Persian Jew. So around the table the conversation went from English to French to Yiddish and to Polish... I had the best time since I came overseas. Our friend's sister had a laugh & manner like my Aunt Gert, so much so that I felt at home at once. They fed us in her grand style, too, and, dear, it was great to eat a home-cooked Jewish meal.... We tried to give them some cigarettes we had with us but they refused to take them, so as I left, I put the pack on the table. They accepted with thanks, however, some gum & a package of butterscotch candy for their 7-year old girl, Margaret. If we go again, I'll bring some chocolate for her. Jensen and I are puzzled what to bring the adults. All in all, even getting back very late, I had a wonderful time, the best since we've left the States. The atmosphere was homey and sincerity of their welcome was evident. May I be as hospitable when I have endured their deprivations, wanderings & suffering."
January 9, 1945 "Somewhere in Belgium" - “I ran into two Jewish families although at the beginning, I didn't think I was right since there were crucifixes hung on the walls. It seems that most of the people there knew they were Jewish but never told the Germans about them. Jews put up the crosses to fool the Nazis. I am sending up some of the stuff to them that you sent me.They want to come to America as soon as they can although they say that life in either Belgium or Holland was very good for the Jews in peace time with no persecution at all. Still they each have children and it is for their sakes that they want to go to America. Your father would be interested that their second choice is Palestine."
January 13, 1945 - “I met my two Jewish friends and the daughter of one of them. She is named “Nina.” She is 14 and is going to high school or college preparatory to becoming a child doctor. The atmosphere was sufficiently homey & friendly so that I could kid her about her dropping all medical ideas when she meets her true love. Evidently they all kid her the same way.” (March 14 “Did I tell you that I heard from the sister of the two Jewish families I met in Belgium? She was profuse in her thanks for my news of her folks & I’ve gotten word to them that I heard. I will send her letter to them.”)
February 19, 1945 - “I have been brought back to battalion to go on furlough to the United Kingdom so that I can see Sam. I will have seven days’ time in England, travel time not being considered part of furlough time. The decency of my outfit’s giving me a chance to see Sam is typical of it, but I hadn’t been sure whether I could be spared. It seems that I have been given the second furlough in our outfit.” (Uncle Sam was in the infantry in Europe and was sent to a hospital in England after he contracted trench foot.)
February 22, 1945 - “We started out in the truck while a light mist still hung in the air. I spent the entire day traveling in a two-and-a half ton truck. For ten and half hours I sat at the very end of the truck by the tail-gate, so that the distance from the front gave added impetus to the springs of the truck. In the morning the wet roads flung up small particles of mud. In the afternoon, the dry roads proved that the dust of Belgium is just as poor tasting as that of France. I was sure for a while that when I reached Sam, my only act would be to crawl into the bed next to him while lying on my stomach, before sinking into the merciful oblivion of sleep. What a rough ride it was!!!”
February 27, 1945 - “Well I finally made it and have seen Sam. Sam is all right now; looks older and there’s grey in his hair that was never there before. As I understand it, he has made out pretty well as far as his feet are concerned. If he goes back to duty, it will be limited service, non-combatant only. He is popular & well-liked. We spent most of tonight in his showing me the camp and in telling me his experiences. Honey, just be glad I volunteered and got into the Signal Corps! Believe me, seeing him gave me the biggest kick I’ve gotten out of anything since I last saw the U.S.”
March 1, 1945 - “I saw your Aunt Sarah. She, Manny & Lily are all O.K. and getting along well. Manny is with some Army band or orchestra and Lily is working. Sam came into town tonight. We had a kosher meal and saw “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
March 3, 1945 - “Sam & I had a swell time yesterday. He got the works from a barber in the Red Cross Club. Then we took the taxi tour of London that the Red Cross provides. It was the best way of seeing the town quickly & comprehensively. The running commentary of the driver was interesting and informative. After we had a kosher supper, we went to Strauss’ “Night in Venice.”
March 4, 1945 - “I had a good meal at Aunt Sarah’s. They trotted out the old family album and told me some tales about you. After comparing your earliest pictures with those I have of Debbie, I have come to the considered opinion that she looks just as you did.”
March 4, 1945 from Sam - “This certainly has been an exciting and enjoyable week for me. Charlie’s unexpected arrival here in England for seven days certainly fulfilled a prayer of mine. We had a swell time together. I don’t think there was one minute silence between us.”
March 4, 1945 from Grandma Etta to Zeyda - “My mind has been wandering all day, back to the year 1931, a long time ago. It was February 28 and the first time I met you. Some of the fellows were trying to tell me how very nice you were. And, then, exactly a year later, we renewed our acquaintance at a basketball game.”
March 12, 1945 - “So far as infantry is concerned, under the present regulations, I am over-age (32) to be considered for it as well as initially exempt because of my work. Therefore, it is unlikely that I’ll be transferred. However, because of my work, it is quite possible that I’ll be considered essential after V-E Day, so just where I’ll go and when I will go back to the States is problematical.”
March 15, 1945 - “This morning we were shown the first of a series of films on Germany to orient the soldiers as to how to conduct themselves in the defeated Reich. Supplemented by shots of their brutalities, it was an impressive warning against permitting the cycle of war, peace, war which the Germans used under Bismark, Wilhelm & Hitler.”
March 27, 1945 - "This will be the first letter from Germany, where at last a fitting vengeance is being wreaked upon those who inflicted so much suffering & damage to others. The mood of the few Germans, whom I have seen so far, seems to be partly fear, partly hate and a fawning obsequiousness that is sickening when one remembers the recent action of their country. Since fraternization is forbidden, none of us talk to them; our judgment is predicated necessarily upon their actions as they pass us in the streets or in their faces as we road by them in our truck."
March 31, 1945 - “Eisenhower told all German troops out of touch with their C.P. (command post) to go to the nearest Allied C.P. Chuck told me that he had been told by infantry boys when we were making such a headlong dash across France that the G.Is had to ask the Germans, who were surrendering themselves, where our C.P. was.”
June 30, 1945 - “I had a talk with one of the German technicians, who professed to have had it hard for the past six years due to not being in the Nazi Party. Some of these people did have it hard but they can’t seem to realize that the German people as a whole will be punished. They want the Americans to take over and the French to leave; they are mortally afraid of Russia and Communism. I ran into a Jewish boy in the French Army, who was happy to meet another Jew. His mother and father disappeared into a concentration camp four years ago.”
Letter of July 26, 1943 - “So far as life in the Army, well I made the remark the other night that the Army is no place for a civilian. I have no fault to find with their minute and detailed rules and regulations except that it irritates me so to be forced to perform daily according to a trainer’s whip. Shoes must be shined and the extra pair kept under your bed on the right side with the top tip on line with the side of the bed and the right side of the right shoe touching the inside of the end of the bed. That’s just an example. Then the beds must be six boards back from a pole; the folds of the blankets must be just so long; the pillow must be placed just so. I don’t like the Army, but you must remember, as I do, that the war was not of our choosing. Any army is needed to defeat the Axis and it’s my privilege, together with millions of other Americans, to be a part of that Army; I feel that I’m doing something to make it possible for you and me and ours to live the life we want. Therefore, I have put all my personal feelings aside and, if there is still some unhappiness about being away from you, it’s just a greater incentive for winning the war more quickly than I had before.”
Telegram from Uncle Sam to my father October 3, 1943 - “Daddy, Girl at 19:10 o’clock. Condition prevailing as with Pauline. Weight seven pounds. Telephone Etta.”
(From my mother from Leonard Hospital October 9, 1943: She described me. “She is dark, dear, chubby cheeks, a lot of black hair, nice ears. She was very red at first but she is getting pinker now. She isn’t a long baby but nice and round.” She gained 19 pounds. I was born 10 days early. My father’s father, Joseph, went to shul the following Thursday to name me.)
April 29, 1944 - “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to hear your voice on the phone tonight. Please check on my war ballot since I’d hate to lose a right for which we’re fighting. Moreover, as much as I don’t like some of the things FDR has done, I know of no Republican who has shown enough to top Roosevelt. Dewey’s Scotch caution or Bricker’s prepared platitudes have only convinced me that Roosevelt still is the best even with those fringes of clay.
November 6, 1944 - “There is a lot of interest over here in the election even though we are so far away. I can’t tell whether the interest is deep with the significance of the vote as it might influence the war, or whether it is merely the sporting interest that any contest can bring out. I’ve voted for Roosevelt, not because I thought he was indispensible but chiefly because I feel he can do a much better job in arranging the peace after the war. This doesn’t mean that I believe Dewey couldn’t do a good job; his late entry into internationalism, I’ve always believed, was due to a political caution that has served him well. Roosevelt has made many mistakes (I’ll never forgive him the unstable, shifting policies of the Selective Service that put Sam over here.) but anyone who held office will do that.”
May 29, 1944 - “Just received your first V-mail letter. It took only 8 days to get to me.”
June 3, 1944 - “I believe I told you that we entrained at the P.O.E. to the ship and were promptly put aboard, although the process of checking took long enough so that the Red Cross did pass out coffee, doughnuts and chocolate bars. The Red Cross has been a great help to the boys in giving them those little things and I suppose they do assist in things of greater scope, of which I have no knowledge.When I walked up the gangplank into the hold of the ship, I felt no regret, exaltation or any emotion except one of extreme annoyance at the weight of the pack on my back and the bulkiness and awkwardness of my duffel bag. I’ve since compared notes with the others and they all felt the same way. I suppose to most of us the reality of leaving the United States did not become apparent until contact with home was cut off for some time. As for myself, I had been in continual contact with you while at Crowder both by phone and mail and, of course, at Monmouth, I came home regularly besides hearing from you by mail. There had been times when I hadn’t heard for three or four days from you, but I always knew I could pick up the phone & talk to you. On the ship there was no way or nothing by which I could hear from you. At first the novelty of being aboard ship and exploring those parts to which we were allowed access helped to take my mind off you and the baby. Since we had sailed the morning after we had been loaded, I also had the necessity of getting my sea legs, for, frankly, I thought that I would be seasick. Then the lonesomeness and desire for you and the baby that the time in the P.O.E. while we were restricted had built up came to the front and I sat on a box at the stern and looked back into the horizon. The pictures of you and Debbie were some help in cheering me up but I was as clueless as I could be. I know that you, too, were and now are going through the same emotions but, as the kid said, “I didn’t care who else was feeling bad, because I’m feeling bad, too!” I don’t think that I’ll ever be anything but lonesome for you and the baby until we’re all together again. Our company, together with detachments from other companies & units, slept in one of the holds three decks below in bunks that were simply a canvas cloth laced to a frame with cord, the cord acting as springs. The bunks were four high and I was lucky enough to get a top bunk where I could sit up. Since we were not supposed to take off anything except our shoes & life preservers when we slept, I used my field jacket and mackinaw as pillow & cover depending upon how hot it was.”
June 7, 1944 - He writes about the time before they left for Europe. “Everything was at a standstill waiting for the time to shove off. When the time draws near for a shipment to leave, the whole camp is alerted,, by which they mean there are no passes. No use of telephone or telegraph or any means of communication except letters which are censored. Under such a setup, there was no way in which I could let you know what’s what, which was exactly what they wanted.”
July 13, 1944 - “It’s hard to believe that it’s a year ago that I said good-bye to you in the Albany station. Michael was a year old and Debbie just a hope which was realized. You held back your tears and I tried to be nonchalant & cheerful. All of that seems so long ago. We were both telling ourselves that the war would be over before long just as we’re doing now.”
September, 1944 - He writes about attending synagogue in Paris on Yom Kippur. The women’s gallery was similar to Beth Tephilah. There were stained glass windows that were beautiful. The décor was dignified beauty. He said Yiskor for his mother. “As I went in, a G.I. gave me one of the Jewish Welfare Board’s prayer books and one of the trustees guided me to a seat. The trustees all wore black cocked hats with the French tri-color on the front and a silver chain about their necks. The synagogue was about three quarters filled with French Jews and the remainder were soldiers like myself. The fellows had little or no difficulty in talking with the French people there since Yiddish was a medium in which almost everyone could speak. I never dreamt that I’d pray for my mother in Paris and, as I sat in the synagogue waiting for the prayer, I thought to myself that my mother must have been thinking the same thing, too. I know that she would want me to say the simple prayer and it would please her. Next month it will be seven years ago that she died and I’ll always regret that you & I didn’t rush the cadence enough so that she could have seen Debbie. I only hope that our baby takes more from her than just her name. I may not be able to go to a synagogue for Yahrzeit but I have my prayer book so that I can always read it myself. Well, dear, I fasted today again, though I’m not an apostle of the creed that sanctity may be obtained though mortification of the flesh. I did it simply because my mother would have liked my doing it although she would not have insisted that I do so. She was orthodox, of course, but she didn’t believe and never taught us that strict adherence to any rituals or conventions made one a better Jew or a better person. So, on the Day of Atonement, may God have forgiven me and mine all of our sins and show us the way to lead a better life. May He protect you and our child forever.”
September 10, 1944 - “The boys and I turned some laundry over to a couple of French women. We had given them & their boy, Pierre, some little things such as candy, cigarettes, soap, etc. They had brought us tomatoes, eggs, apples, etc. The exchanges were beneficial to all of us, since, to some extent, the articles secured filled a shortage caused by the war. Our chief concern was to have clean things and as soon as possible, since the length of our stay in any one place is, of course, uncertain and unknown to us. When I went to collect it, armed with my month’s pay & a paltry knowledge of their language, I found the laundry extremely white & pressed. The grandmother, mother & daughter refused completely any money, saying that we had been extremely kind to them and that we were their liberators. In spite of my insistence that we were not their liberators but only their Allies and that none of us were actual combatants that made no difference in their determination to repay in their way some of the debt of gratitude that they feel for having driven the hated Boche from their land. All I could do against this veritable barrage of friendship was to empty my pockets of some candy & chewing gum and promise that as soon as we would be able to do so, we would send them some gifts from our next station. This evidence of our “reservoir of friendship” here in France is proof that the future peace of the world depends chiefly on us; our kindliness & theirs, too, is a stronger tie between us than any bombastic, diplomatic treaty.”
November 11, 1944 - “Belgium celebrated Armistice Day today as we do; that is to say, to them it is a national holiday with undertones of religious ceremonies to the memories of the dead of both the last & the present war deepening the somber air that the Eleventh of November provokes. For the second time in a quarter of a century, this little, industrious state has been ravaged by the Boche beast. I’ve acquired a much more active hate, which is becoming more emotional than intellectual, since I’ve come to this country. The volatility of the French dispelled most of the bitterness aroused by their stories about the Huns. The people in this country seem to be much more intense so that they impart their hatred to listeners as well. Perhaps Sam’s coming over to the ETO has helped change me a lot, too.”
November 23, 1944 - ”This is my second Thanksgiving Day without you two and I miss you terribly. Since that happy Thanksgiving Day when you & I were married seven years ago, I’ve come to love you and cherish you more than ever. You brought a depth & height, a richness, to my happiness that I had never thought could be. I hope that you, too, have found some of the same delight in our married life. Memories of our time together are bonds “that flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude,” that draw me closer to you than I had ever imagined. Only the sulky, selfish greed to be with you and drink continually of our joy together is a hard thing to suppress. My natural tendency for self-indulgence is oblivious to the reality of our position in the world. All I want is to be with you and Debbie all the time; I do not think of any material things save of the pleasure that we would have in being together.”
December 10, 1944 Somewhere in Belgium - “I had my laundry done by one of the women who cleans the building. She speaks a little English which I can understand and I speak a little Yiddish which she can understand from her Flemish. She has six children, ranging from eight months to seventeen years. Her husband is an “involuntary” worker in Germany and has never seen his youngest child. No communication is possible between them. Her protestations of hate for Germany may be sincere or may be just an echo of what is popular in sentiments now. There is no doubt in my mind that as a whole the Belgian nation hates Germany deeply and bitterly but I do not know now deep that emotion runs in the case of people like my laundress who worked hard before and after the Boches.”
January 2, 1945 - “Your father’s description of Debbie as the “interest” on our seven years of married life is very good and I only regret that our “interest” isn’t “compound.” We can only wait now until after the war to increase our “account.”
January 19, 1945 - “I was working with some of the British signal lads and talking over the phone to one of them who seemed to be struck by my omniscient grasp of our work and he asked me to stop down at his station later to tell him the lowdown on just how the equipment (ours) worked. I resisted the temptation to appear to be a Tesla or Steinmetz and confessed that I had our manuals in front of me so that I wasn’t quite as smart as I might have seemed to be. He took no notice of that and promised to come over and see me on the workings of our equipment. I have done as much for him by borrowing some British technical manuals to look over so that I can understand what his problems are and how his equipment works. While I doubt that I will help him as much as he will help me, I am looking forward with some anticipation to his visit. Any kind of activity even work is much to be preferred to monotonous idleness. My contacts with the English bring up an interesting point in that it appears odd that the “limey” should be such an object of universal dislike with the American and Canadian soldiers. Whether my meetings have been only with the more pleasant element of the British army or whether the common ground of signal work is a solvent of dislike, I do not know nor do I care. I have found the British to be agreeable and pleasant and cooperative in working with them. It may be that as with so many group dislikes that the individual does not arouse the same emotional reaction as do the mass. A large group of people too often sinks to the lowest common denominator and so can easily be repellent where the individual members thereof may well be decent. For that reason I have always tempered my remarks when the British are derided by the boys. I have defended them at times but whether that has due to my normal contrariness or some unconscious desire for fair play is beyond my ken. The world would be better off as a whole if all of us could be more temperate in their judgments of others.”
April 13, 1945 - “The news which some of the boys heard on the radio is almost unbelievable; in fact, those of us to whom it was told were skeptical. Our attitude was that it was enemy propaganda broadcast in English to upset our morale. Unfortunately the death of Roosevelt is not a rumor nor was it an enemy broadcast. The news has left all of us stunned. In view of his leadership, ability and foresight, we have lost heavily and his successor, Harry Truman, has a great man to whom he must measure up. The Luxembourg radio has broadcast the news both in English and German (or Flemish) and has given Truman’s statement as to the continuance of Roosevelt’s program. I pray earnestly that Truman can carry on as well as Roosevelt and so help us win the peace that the news brings so close. Our advances in the field on this continent are heartening and it may not be too long before V-E day. Then with V-J day we can have the kind of world we want with the Four Freedoms for all.”
April 30, 1945 - “The news that Germany offered a surrender proposal to Britain & us and not Russia didn’t arouse as much excitement as one would expect. The attitude of the G.I.s here is that, even if the war is finished here, there are two alternatives more likely than the prospect of returning home to be discharged. Most of us know that an occupational force will be needed here and then the Pacific theater still needs men. Add to those the fact the transfer of men to the latter theater will receive priority in the way of shipping space & you will understand why there is so little open enthusiasm over V-E day. Don’t assume that it would not be welcome since obviously the sooner V-E day, the sooner V-J and then V-day. I can understand the wild excitement over the European people who have been in the zone of the actual fighting but there is no valid reason for any such activity in our country. This is only one phase of the war and I feel that we should save our rejoicing until V-day. Even then I’m not sure that rejoicing is proper, rather prayers for those who made the final sacrifices would be more appropriate.”
May 7, 1945 - “Just heard on the radio (4:00 P.M.) about the unconditional surrender of Germany at 2:31 P.M. Good! There is no real thrill or excitement here as I’ve written before. None of us have any real hopes of getting home real soon. We’re all glad that the war is over here but as yet we don’t know what the story is for us. At least now some of our boys will not be lost in a last-ditch struggle. For that we can be thankful since there have been too many lives lost as it is now.”
May 7, 1945 from Grandma Etta to Zeyda - “Well, it’s finally here. V-E Day will be celebrated tomorrow. Thank God, one phase of this war is over. I don’t know why I don’t feel more cheerful; maybe it’s because I feel it will still be a long time before we will be together again. I’m getting so tired of “just writing letters.”
May 12, 1945 - “We’ve been given the works in explaining what will happen to us now that V-E Day has come. Simply it appears that I will either go to the Pacific or stay as part of the occupational troops. The probability of our passing thru the States, if we should go to the Pacific, seems slight so both of us must draw deeper on our reserve of patience. I don’t want to hold out any false hopes, which is why I’ve stated the matter so bluntly. Military necessity, I’m sorry to say, must take precedence over sentimental concern. We must just sit tight and hope.”
He then explains the point system for discharge.
“That gives me a grand total of 61 points. Right now they have estimated that a minimum of 85 points needed for a discharge so you can see where that leaves me. I don’t regard myself as unfortunate since I’ve no real complaint on my life in the Army when I consider what Sam & the other front-line Joes went thru. Living in a hotel in Paris, in a cellar (but very comfortably) in Antwerp, passes to Brussels, furlough to England, soft mattresses, etc. are not “rough.” Then again I was with Debbie & you for some time where there are men who will go home who will see their four-year old children for the first time. The three of us were together for a good while, thank God, and we will be together again as soon as possible! No matter how many points one may have, if one is considered a specialist or a key man, then he will not be discharged. In my case, I was exempted from the Infantry, not only because of my age, but also because of my specialty being considered essential & difficult of rapid replacement. I (and my teammates) have eaten our cake and we can’t ask for another piece now. So as I can see the whole picture from my status as an EM, my “spec” is essential no matter what my opinion may be as to that. When I went to see Sam, I refused to wear those battle stars because I didn’t think I deserved them compared to those infantry boys with him who were in a hospital because of combat injuries. I finally gave Sam the ribbons & the stars which I had. “
May 23, 1945 - “I am what is called a carrier and repeater man. That is regarded by the Army as an essential spec so that, even if I had sufficient points for discharge, I would not have been able to leave the Army. That is a price I must pay for having had about the most comfortable job in the Army with the least chicken. It has been and still is work that calls for the exercise of one’s mind more than anything else. Because of it I have been quite comfortable in almost every place I’ve been.”
With censorship lifted mid-May, he is able to write the following:
June 6, 1945 - “The V-bombs were bad in Antwerp and some came close but I never had any trouble from them. I was in about the best spot in town since I lived at my station with was underground and with a ceiling of two inch reinforced steel under concrete floor. I feel free to tell you now that one landed across the street from me and Jerry Sicherman the first day we were there and we were scared stiff. As I have said I wasn’t hurt nor was he. Another bomb landed on the corner of the street where we had first lived when we hit the town but that was a month after we had left the spot. That was the only dangerous spot that I was ever in.”
July 1, 1945 - “I have been reading Charles Beard’s The Republic. One of his contentions is that when it come to war, nobody cares about the Constitution or any written instrument. With the latest attempt to limit warfare by the proposal at the San Francisco conference, I hope that what will make it work, if at all, is not the document or its noble phrases, but the decision and willingness of the member nations to make it work. So long as that intent remains with those individual nations who have the power to enforce it, so long will it work. I feel we must accept it and keep that intent dominant in our actions. For whatever it is worth, it is an attempt to bring about a prolonged peace while aiming at eternal peace.”
July 3, 1945 - “I gave Kent (the English technician on this assignment with Zeyda) our Troy newspapers to look over. He feels judging from our advertising, we don’t seem to be feeling the war at all. Since his hometown, Norwich, was bombed during the war, it has left him with a complex that no one else has suffered as much as he & his town. Every now & then I rib him about England & its war efforts, which he takes well at times & at others begins to dig at us. I take his ribbing quite well except for his insistence that we are a mixed people & the English are not. Since I feel we have benefited from the very diversity of racial stains which he derides, I don’t mind that. I do feel compelled to point out to him that the English are as mixed as we are only it happened some time ago and the new strain came from the new conquerors of England, such as the Normans. So now I’ll close and go to sleep. It has been nice being with you and talking to you by means of this letter. Our enforced separation is more endurable because of my letters to you; your letters toss me from the heights of happiness because I’m hearing from you to the depths of homesickness because I’m not with you. I don’t feel so far away from you when I write; when I have Debbie’s and your pictures before me, it seems even closer. That is because I love you so much! Yet we must be patient until the time when we can be together again.”
July 5, 1945 - “The chief news is that the Americans are coming into this town Sunday. This area has been assigned to the 100th Infantry Division. Since the headquarters will be in this town, some Special Service will be provided for us. There will probably be a Red Cross Club, so I’m looking forward to their coming.”
July 16, 1945 - “Another day of interest has gone into my life as a soldier but I’ll have to remember all the details for relating when I’m back home again because it has all been censorable. Annoying as it is to be unable to tell you what I’ve done today, I’m sure that you won’t mind because it is all to ensure our safety.”
July 30, 1945 - “We are now on a seven-day work week I don’t mind since I hope I am doing my part to get this war over as soon as possible.”
Now that censorship was lifted, he was able to write her about his time in England at Bentworth Manor.
“Our former routine ran something like this: We were awakened about 5:40 for 6:00 A, M, reveille. Then we had ten minutes of calisthenics followed by the usual well-known “police” call during which we looked for cigarette butts, paper, etc. We still do that and as long as I’m in the Army I’ll always have “policing” to do. Then we had some time for washing, etc. before breakfast. Then we had some time after breakfast before we started our training program which started about 8 A.M. We had dinner at 12 noon and started the afternoon part of our training program at 1:00 P.M. That went along until 5 P.M. with a half hour to wash up before supper at 5:30. The evening was ours unless we were on guard. I’ve told you before that we were limited to two passes a week. One was to a nearby town and the other was to a town about 12 miles away. I had a chance to get another twelve hour pass before we left but I pulled guard duty. I had some pleasant walks while I was there. I can now tell you that I was stationed at an old English estate in the country and we were in Nissen huts. The gardens there were beautiful.”
August 3, 1945 - “By the way, you’ve mentioned coming over here with Debbie several times. I don’t know where you got the idea that it would be possible except from some irresponsible vote-seeking politicians. The food, fuel and clothing situation here is miserable and since we have to bring over everything that we (G.I.s) eat, you can see how difficult it would be to get the right foods for Debbie, even if you could get by on them. (I’m not used to it yet and I’ve been eating it for a long time.) Believe me there’s nothing here that warrants having you come over and, if the expected diseases crop up during the cold of winter, I don’t want either Debbie or you around here. As much as I want to be with the two of you, I’d rather sweat it out a little longer. Maybe my 71 points, married and a child, will be of some help in getting out soon.” (By then he had two more battle participation stars.)
August 11, 1945 - “Now that Japan is out of the way, I’m aching to be with you again and hold you close to me. I want to hear Debbie talking and I want to see her smiling at me. In short I want to go home.”
August 12, 1945 - “I’m waiting impatiently for the news of Japan’s unconditional surrender for I trust it will be that I’ll be home soon.”
August 14, 1945 - “I am lonely, homesick and blue!! Oh, to be back home again.”
August 14, 1945 9:15 P.M. From Grandma Etta to Zeyda - “The town is going wild. The official statement of surrender came over at 7:00 P.M. and I had Debbie out in all of the excitement. We paraded uptown. The kids had flags and whistles. The streets were like New Year’s and Halloween thrown together-but all I could think of was that you would be home soon. Now the waiting will be harder than ever. The first unofficial statement came over the radio at 2:00 A.M. and I was awaked by shouts in the street. I was up listening to the radio and looking outside until 5:00 A.M. I’m going outside now as everyone is going full blast. Everything is closing up tight tomorrow.”
August 15, 1945 from Grandma Etta to Zeyda - “There were special services at all the synagogues and churches tonight. All of our discussions are about the “Atomic Bomb” and predictions of when to expect our husbands.”
August 15, 1945 - ”I’ve had a full day today and one which I enjoyed to the utmost. In short and to be brief-I saw the Bob Hope show (the first big name show that Zeyda had seen) and the war ended. Without being dramatic or trying for an effect, we all got more of a lift from the show than we did from the war news. The official confirmation from Washington was at 1:00 A.M. The general attitude here was mostly of relief that the war had ended. While I am happy that the war is over and no more lives will be lost, that feeling of rejoicing was soon left behind in a welter of guesses as to my future. We have absolutely no idea (of actual facts that is) of what will become of us and what bearing our essentiality has or what affect the cessation of hostilities means for the communication system. All we can do is sit tight & wait and restrain our eagerness to get home.”
August 22, 1945 - Officers came to inspect the German vans “Their visit was welcome since one of the officers told us, unofficially, of course, that the long-term plan for us was to turn communications in the American zone over to the Germans with a minimum of G.I.s for supervisory purposes only. While it is not certain how long this will take, the probable date by which this may be done will be January.”
August 25, 1945 - “Suppose I start off this letter with the big news first. Simply & briefly, I will be no longer essential as of the 14th of September. We secured one of those rarities, an issue of the Stars & Stripes. In the lower left-hand corner was a list of essential ‘spec” number being cut down to three, none of which were 187s. Hallelujah! Of course, I still don’t know just what effect it will have on us but it is certainly is a step in the right direction. I’m aglow with the hope that my return to you may be even sooner than I had dared to hope.”
August 30, 1945 Letter from Lily, a cousin in London, to Grandma Etta - “I can well understand your wanting to get settled down to a normal life. Here for six years we have been living anything but a normal life, and we are still in a bit of a daze at the sudden ending of the war and the sudden ending of the Lend-Lease, which came as such a shock to us. You at home in American have no idea how the food, etc. sent to us helped and with winter looks very bleak. You ask, “Are clothes still hard to get in England?” Are you kidding? If you came here for awhile and were given a coupon book and went shopping, this is how you would do your buying. I see a lovely dress in blue! Go look! Try it on! Almost buy it! Then, have I got shoes to go with it? No! Coat is brown. That means a tan dress, which means more looking around, and many is the time I have spent a whole day going into one shop after another and going home feeling miserable. Last July we were bombed out, the doodle bugs, and lost quite a bit of our clothes, so we have been building up stock from coupons. So you will understand that dresses for Mummy will be very welcome, extremely welcome. Also, woman to woman, Etta, cosmetics are always welcome. The situation here is not very rosy yet. Not until next year will things return to anything like normal if then. Mummy is not too well, just tired out from the war strain, the bombing. The rockets toward the finish were nerve wracking so it takes awhile to settle down to peace when the queuing is just the same and the shortages are just the same if not worse.”
August 30, 1945 - “I went out of town to Hechingen, which is in French controlled territory, to get some equipment for the repeater van. My technician, Herr Ried, had operated a van during the war and, when he was forced to abandon it, he stripped everything from it that he could. All of it was hidden away in Hechingen by a fellow Reichpost technician and its whereabouts was never known to the French. Ried called his friend and arranged for me to pick it up when I could get a truck to go there. Since the French are notorious for not giving up anything which they could possibly use, it was improbable that they would consent freely to my taking the equipment. I, therefore, resolved not to try for official permission but just took off yesterday afternoon with our truck. We left after chow and started off with high hopes & high fears. On the way we picked up a Jewish refugee who had been liberated & was now looking for his family whom he hasn’t seen in five years. This was after we had been checked by Americans at one point and then the French at another. The G.I.s were satisfied by our appearance but the French looked at the trip ticket which I personally know was rather illegible. We finally got to Hechingen and to the telephone station only to be blocked by a French guard, who did permit me to ask for my contact. He had the afternoon off and no one knew where he was. Being desperate, I had the German who checked on my contact take me to the house of the contact where I spoke to the wife. As soon as I mentioned my technician’s name, all was known & they began getting the stuff for me. The stuff included two radios, one of which went to the technician for his information and the other is playing now in our van. I had considerable useful equipment out of the trip to have made it worthwhile.”
September 2, 1945 - “We heard another story this morning from Munich. Some of the boys (not repeatermen) had over 100 points and were still giving their all, so they asked the IG (inspector general) to check. They did do so with the USFET, who came back with the answer that, in spite of the virtual abandonment of the “essential” list, certain skills in the 297th & the 3112th were considered by USFET to be essential after the 14th of September for a period of 10 to 90 days. The opinion of the Munich boys is that, because of our long experience and good record, we have been given the old one-two. I don’t feel badly, however, since my honest expectations not are that we’ll be together by January ’46, and any date earlier than that is so much gravy. I’ve waited so long to be with Debbie & you that the few months that do remain are as nothing to me. I’m being very patient!”
September 6, 1945 - “I’ve just heard on the radio that the Army plans to send all men with 70 or more points in the ETO home by Christmas. If one bottle of wine (all I have) can do it, I’ll be drunk soon.”
September 8, 1945 - “I did get through to Sam today and, as I expected, after we were through asking about each other’s health and (more important) point score, we had little to say except about our families. He is well and kept busy. I told him that I’m trying to make arrangements to get a pass to Paris to see him but I didn’t know just when I could make it.”
September 17, 1945 - (Yom Kippur) “I said “Yiskor” this morning at the Century Theater where services were held. There was a liberal sprinkling of civilians in the congregation and a civilian cantor led the services, two facts which I found quite surprising.”
September 19, 1945 - “Sam called and he hopes to get here this weekend. I’m working it so that I’m staying here instead of leaving.”
September 22, 1945 - “I called Sam this morning and he gave the lowdown on how he hopes to get here. His outfit is sending four jeeps to Frankfurt and he has permission to sidetrack at Heidelberg to come here. He expects to leave Monday morning and get here on Monday evening. I trust that nothing goes wrong with his plans because it was difficult to arrange to stay another week and apparently I won’t be able to get a Paris pass.”
September 25, 1945 - “This is just a quick note to let you (and from you, Pauline) know that Sam made it here O.K. He looks so much better than when I last saw him, there is no comparison. He is full of pep and in good health; his feet are hardly any trouble to him. He is well situated with an officer whom he likes and who Sam (T/5 now) likes. From his talk so far, he’s got a beautiful racket.
September 27, 1945 - “I didn’t have a chance to write until now because Sam and I have kept busy entertaining each other with stories and a show and a trip around Stuttgart. He left early this morning, well-fed and well rested. We were both glad to have had the chance to get together again. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before we’re together again at 186-7th Avenue. There is nothing else new except that we are going back to battalion tomorrow so I will be busy packing and getting set to leave. Since we have a long ride, I want to get a good night’s sleep, too.” (On October 3 he went on a mail run to Stuttgart. It took 8 ¼ hours to get there.)
September 30, 1945 - “As it looks at present, I won’t go out on any more jobs because we’ve begun to call in our men. Right now with the possibility of leaving within the next few weeks so slim, I would just as well go out to some station & work.”
October 9, 10 & 11, 1945 air mail letters from Grandma to Zeyda were returned to sender on October 28. His group must have moved to start getting ready to be shipped back. Additional letters through October 19 were returned November 5.
October 10, 1945 - “I am now high on the totem pole with my 79 points. The bunch that left yesterday morning took our all the men with 80 or more left in battalion. Rumor has it that 75-79 men will leave next week. “
October 11, 1945 - “We chased around Frankfurt until I saw Sam who is now stationed here. He looks good and feels good.”
October 13, 1945 - “As the situation now stands, we will leave Monday morning at 9 A.M. in trucks. We will go to the replacement depot. Conjecture has it that we may be filling out a quota for some outfit; if true, it would be a fairly good thing. We have been talking to some of the fellows who have been at other replacement depots and apparently it is a rough life. As far as the length of time we will be there, no one is certain; the average length of time is eight to ten days but that may stretch out to indefinite periods governed by the availability of shipping space and the necessary routine processing, the latter of which can be so easily ‘snafued” that it isn’t even funny. Nevertheless there isn’t anything that I can do about it nor does anyone in our group have any control over it. I believe that we will be split up when we hit the depot into units corresponding to the various separation centers thru which they will go for discharge. I‘ll write to you, of course. There is no need for you to write any more because the letters will be returned to you anyway. Tell the others not to write as well. If you do have anything, ask Pauline to write it to Sam, since I have his telephone number and, if possible, will call him regularly.”
October 15, 1945 - “I’m back in battalion again but only until Monday morning. About 20 of us-78 & 79 points-are shipping out to Nuremburg Replacement Depot as the first stop on the way home. How long the whole process will take is still indefinite. This strike in New York won’t help either. Saw Sam again today and said good-bye once more.”
October 16, 1945 - “We have taken the first step in processing. Our service records were checked over and I was given a tetanus shot. We all made out so-called locator cards given out civilian address and that was a wonderful feeling. We are scheduled to be processed here for clothing & records. At present we are supposed to leave here on the 26th for another camp before we finally hit the boat. We were split up into blocks of 40 each this morning, keeping the men from each service command together. I am in block C and have moved to another building. We are to be here about seven to eight days.”
October 19, 1945 - “We should leave here on or about Tuesday. Orders are not in yet on us but the basis for our expectations is the length of time a packet usually stays in this depot. The possibility of a prolonged stay, however, should not be overlooked because of the lack of shipping space and the stevedores’ strike. We were told that we would probably be sent by train (box car with 20 men and one officer) to a camp near Le Havre. Our stay there may be two to three weeks (or shorter or longer.) We will be overcrowded on the ship taking us back (as though we cared) and probably eat poorly too. That’s about all we got out of our orientation talk today. I am at the 17th Reinforcement Depot about seven to eight kilometers outside of Nuremburg. “
October 22, 1945 - “Unwelcome news-we 79 points or less) will not leave now until the first week in November. That would mean we will be here for 15 or 16 days and not get home until December. In the afternoon three trucks took us to Soldiers’ Field in Nuremburg to see a football game. I took some pictures of the famous Nazi Party stadium where Hitler used to hold these gigantic reviews. Now it is used as a baseball field and a landing strip for Piper Cubs. I called battalion and learned that all shipments have been halted until November 4.”
October 30, 1945 - “Well we’ve finally been told that we will leave Friday and our destination will probably be Le Havre. The New York contingent will be handled by the Ft. Dix Separation Centre whenever we do get back to the States. The announcement certainly picked up our spirits because we began discussing train schedules out of Dix and Grand Central. I’ve been toying with the idea of calling Morris and having him come and get me. Ho Hum! You two somehow now seem so much closer although there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.”
November 1, 1945 - “There is nothing additional to add except we are to leave tomorrow afternoon at 4 P.M. for Le Havre. I will be in Box Car #6 with 19 others and I wonder how the traveling will be.”
November 2, 1945 - “This morning we were told that the train trip would take three days in box-cars which would have no cots. We will be given K rations for breakfast and two hot meals (probably C rations) a day. Our destination is one of the staging camps in the Le Havre area where we will be from 2 to 21 days depending solely upon shipping accommodations.
Undated Western Union telegram - “Expect to leave Le Havre within next ten days.”
November 14 Western Union telegram - “In England waiting for ship. Will cable when date known.”
November 19, 1945 - “Today I can report some good news. I am writing instead of cabling. We, the Ft. Dix packet, are now scheduled to leave from Southampton on the battleship, USS Washington, on the 23rd of this month. If nothing upsets that schedule, we will arrive in the States on the 28th or 29th. So, darling, it shouldn’t be too long now before we’re together and resume our happiness again.”