Wallace's Tent on Salisbury Plain

Wallace's Tent on Salisbury Plain
Writing a letter with candle on clipboard, see Oct. 16 letter

Sunday, January 1, 2017

December 30, 1944 Saturday

France

Dearest Marjorie,

Will-o-the-wisp had nothing on me. Just call me Will. Yes, I have moved again—from M. Kaiser’s to another spot some distance from the front—there are very few civilians in this town, so I just moved my platoon en masse into abandoned homes. Looks like “The Old Homestead” in our squad rooms now. Each has two or more well furnished rooms with stoves or big open fireplaces. In my usual lazy way, I got myself a room with one of the rare civilians so I don’t have to keep a fire or undo my bedroll! The Germans had a school of some sort in this area, and I am writing you with one of Hitler’s lousy pens. I lost mine, and so was glad enough to capture even this poor imitation of a post-office pen.

It aggravates me a lot that I cannot write you more often because this is the place for it. However, the men take advantage of it so much that we officers spend most of our spare time censoring rather than writing our own letters. If we can just stay in one place for more than a couple of days, I’ll be able to catch up on my letters to you.

Again I have a thousand things to write about—among the more interesting was the French war correspondent I met today. He was following up a story about this village during the occupation. I showed him around—the abandoned school, the mysterious modern architecture, the abandoned homes. Then I took him to dinner with me, gave him a drink of my Scotch (officer’s liquor ration), and had a talk with him in English. He spoke English with an accent, but knew all about the U.S. because he had made a lecture tour there in 1938. Strangely enough, one of his talks had been given at U.N.H. [New Hampshire] We talked over New England, and then he told me about France in normal times. He was a very intelligent man, around 45, by the name of Fredericks. He was the first educated Frenchman I have met, really a man of the world. The others have all been bits of local color; he had a lot of understanding.

We had a dry run on a battle problem today! Looked for all the world like a Fort Knox demonstration. Struck me somehow, being so close to the real thing and running a make believe. We needed it, tho, and our boys paid eager attention to every detail here. They know now that there are plenty of things to learn about combat, and all are eager to learn it. They realize now that most of the army training is of vital performance, at least as far as staying in one piece is concerned.

It has been very interesting to watch some of the men react to combat conditions. Had me a fine case of shock after a fellow in my platoon had a mortar shell land about 3 feet from his foxhole. It cut off his cartridge belt, clipped a button off his overcoat and made a four inch rip in the lining. His cold sweats and tenseness required medical aid, a sedative and about 2 days a few hundred yards from the front.

My men suddenly get awfully serious under the strain—no more poo-pooing of the so called “finer things.” One group of almost a squad holds regular prayer meetings, and others write home about their religion. Several are turning out attempts at poetry in an effort to express the things they feel under fire. All this is very good, perhaps, but their efforts at seriousness toward life are as a rule a little belated and the thoughts they express are real but confused because it is the first time many of them have thought along such lines. They literally have to have a bomb set under them before they turn to things that are real and worthwhile! However, that works pretty well, I must say.

As for me, being in the way of fire didn’t change me materially as far as my outlook goes. It was only a good test for the thoughts I had already formulated quite clearly. I wasn’t confused or particularly upset. Of course I felt the strain after a time, but mainly a well rounded exclamation (that’s a good phrase for it) was my only reaction to a close one. You don’t have to worry about my being at all careless for my own safety. I very willingly do all that is necessary, or possible, under a given circumstance. It is surprising how fast and how hard one can hit the ground when you hear the tell-tale whistle of a shell. I admit I have come to be something of a fatalist on the subject of shells, tho. As long as the right one doesn’t come along it doesn’t matter where you are—and confidentially, I don’t think the Germans have got the stuff to manufacture a shell with my name on it. It is inevitable that a platoon leader has to do a lot of things that aren’t completely to his own well being—but I have noticed that those that do spend their time hiding are not any better off un the long run.

Well, now it is Dec. 31—just before New Year’s Eve. By the way, it will be 1945 for me about 6 hours before it gets to you, won’t it? Or another way, I’m getting short-changed by 6 hours in 1944! I’ll be spending the evening with my current French family—Armand and Josette are their first names, I forget the last. They are very good to me, and speak French, not German.

As a rule I write a summary of the year about this time in the back of my diary. I am glad that you are keeping one for us. It will be rather difficult to keep track of me, but do your best and maybe I can clear things up when I get home. More likely I’ll be as confused as you on the many moves I make.

1944 was certainly a big, big year for me. It started with O.C.S.—very busy, with occasional stimulating talks with Tom O’Donnell about basic things. Then my commission and the start of a new phase of my life. Of course the next high point for me was getting married. From then on it has been “us,” not “me,” in our thoughts. Living together, seeing Texas and New Orleans was wonderful. Then traveling—the ocean, England, France. A thousand little daily adventures. Finally, the front and all the emotions there. 1944 was more a year of action and fruition than a year of new thoughts and policies. Without any formal studying I got a degree for work I had done before. I entered the year with a working philosophy and acted on it without any big changes during most of the year, and with tests like Texas, the ocean and the war I think it stood up pretty well. Even marriage tested the philosophy in a different way. I had always looked toward 1944 as a terminal year, and it was one by mor than I had anticipated. It was the beginning of adult life, the end of preparation and the beginning of a life of contributions. Many of the strongest experiences life can offer came my way. I am glad I was as ready for them as I was. It was just after I returned to Knox after my honeymoon that my so-called “credo” was crystallized to its present form—most of the great experiences followed that, and the credo was not changed. Perhaps it will change when all this action stops and there is more time to think. However, I feel no dissatisfaction with it and only wish I remembered it all the time. Here it is, just so we can see what it was in this eventful 1944.

I
Credo:
(I believe,)
1. In a real universe, run by natural laws
2. In the brotherhood of man
3. In the education of mankind out of strife and ignorance to a more abundant and harmonious life of comprehension, sympathy and pleasure.

II
Believing these things, I shall Live, Love, and Learn;
Seeking always the ideals of Truth and Love;
In order that infinite harmony make [sic] come among men.

Now the sun is setting, Hon, and it will soon be too dark to write. Maybe 1944 could be summed up figuratively with a bottle of beer, a gold bar, a wedding ring with bright sunlight behind it, a blue, white-crested wave, and an artillery shell bursting in the air.

Happy New Year, my very own Bunny! I hope it will see us get back on to the track we want to be on. I know our love can last out anything, but let’s hope together that it will not be necessary to spend another year separated as we have been in this one. Remember I love you deeply and sincerely every moment and am happy way down inside with the certainty that you love me. It is such a fine thing to know it.

Always all yours,
Wallace


Thursday, December 29, 2016

December 27, 1944 Wednesday

Somewhere in France

Dear folks,

Now I can sit down amid the hum of German conversation of the family I am billeted with and tell you I am O.K. but a hellova long way from home. Back in the other side of France I had to stay on the ball and join the conversation in French. Here I can smile graciously and ignore conversation except for an occasional “Jahr” [sic] or “danke” and “sehr gute” as they pass around the wine. There seems to me to be more beer and wine here than in the rest of France. Politeness, of course, forces me to try it all. I have sampled cognac, Calvados, schnaps, champagne, red wine, and a lot of types of beer. Have had some interesting things to eat, also, tho food is pretty scarce here. Black bread, barley coffee, apples, various cheeses and milk combinations. Some of these French breads and pastries are pretty good. They have a warm milk, coffee combination that is very good. It’s more milk than coffee, but thick and warming.

The ground was a long time freezing here, but finally it did. Now the mud is not bad and we have clothes enough to keep warm. We don’t get to wash too often. As one soldier says, if our wives lay out a clean pair of underwear when we get back, we’ll say, “What for, these I have aren’t worn out yet.” My habits of eating and cleaning, as you say, have never been good—and boy, they aren’t getting any better.

I like you letters very much, and if I don’t get a chance to write too often, don’t worry. There are a thousand things that can keep me from writing. So long for now and season’s greetings to all.

Your loving son,

Wallace

December 27, 1944 Wednesday

Somewhere in France

Hello, my Honey—

At last we are back where I am able to write a real letter to you. I am very glad of the chance, too, you can imagine! Right now I am quartered with a M. Kaiser and he has cooperated very well in giving me ink and paper to write on. It’s not the best in the world but it serves the purpose very well.

I am feeling quite “mellow” today, for the first time in many days. We arrived here early one morning, and spent most of the day hunting quarters for the men. Then yesterday at three P.M. I got free and am now resting with all my might and main. I slept a solid 15 hours last night—on a real mattress!  That came just after the Colonel the tank battalion “C” company is now working with fed all of us officers a Christmas turkey with all the fixin’s, beer, apples, candy, etc., etc. That was the first meal I had had in 18 hours so you can see how it was enjoyed. Then this morning we had pancakes for breakfast. My cook friends made mine special, frying them with butter in them. I ate all I could hold and am now in perfect condition to write to my best girl. She has been badly neglected lately, and I wish I could make up for it. She’s such a wonderful girl, you know, that she should never be neglected.

Guess I’ll just write along whatever I am thinking about, Hon. There is more to tell than I could ever cover, so I’ll just say all I can of it as it comes. For local color I might describe the room I am writing in. It is M. Kaiser’s living room, with a richly carved stove in one corner, a clock that has chimes, on the wall between two large religious pictures; two Millet paintings are opposite—The Angelus and The Gleaners. Now there is a Christmas tree on the table. It looks like an American tree, except there are no electrical trimmings. The three little children here are very fond of their “Kristbaum,” and are like children everywhere. I wish I could understand their dialect, which they refuse to call German. But I know it is not French. The middle-aged people can speak French, but the old and very young know only this German dialect. They have many religious mottoes on the wall, and they are all in German. So are their books. This room could easily come out of a fairy tale—I am the only thing that is not completely quaint and European here.

Of course you know, Honey, that I have done many things lately that I haven’t told you about. One reason was censorship rules, another, time available to write, and another was I didn’t want to worry you. The first two couldn’t be helped, but the last one could. I think now that I was wrong in not telling you all I could—I didn’t practice what I preach about telling each other everything and being perfectly sincere all the time. That is more important than anything. And anyway, perhaps you would be more at ease if you knew all you could than if I tried to pad things for you. So please forgive me, Hon, from now on I shall tell all I can about what I do, as truthfully as I can and without making them better or worse than they are.

Let’s see, I told you about catching those AWOL soldiers sometime back, right? Well, when we left that place we were headed for the front with the mission of breaking through the Maginot line. We shivered around in the mud a few days jockeying into position. Finally we got so cold we just looked forward to this heat of battle they talk about. Of course, our orders came about 2 a.m., and I rolled out from about 2 inches of new fallen snow that had gathered on my sleeping bag and got my boys ready to go. We went from one assembly area to another, and finally wound up spending the next night in a Maginot pillbox—Everybody was cold but me, and I slept on the lee side of “Falstaff” Forchielli—he just radiates heat. We took off early the next morning, bucked a few pillboxes and made a grand assault on a village. We “done noble” and the second platoon occupied the place all alone that first night—with German artillery falling all over the place. In “C” company that town is known as “Our Town” now. We took it, held it, lived in it and have passed through it many times since. After the attack things were pretty quiet except for snipers, a few mines and incessant artillery. But these were compensated for by regular chow, relative comfort (we could sleep in the houses we took) and a certain sense of pride in showing the big bugs the area you had taken. Colonels treat us Loolys like white men when we know the places to duck to and they don’t. Time went by in “our town,” a thousand little things happening each day—a few prisoners, civilians to evacuate, oh yes!, and a night patrol of mine out after a mortar position that drew for me a letter of commendation. I don’t really know why—we only found out where the Germans had been a few minutes ago. Maybe they saw us coming and ran; anyway we got credit for clearing out that woods and it was only a 5 man patrol. They said if we had received any enemy fire, it would have been worth a silver star for me! I am satisfied with the letter as long as they do not fire! American artillery has been our main worry on patrols—no matter how often you tell them where you are going, they always seem to plop a concentration right on top of you before you get back.

As the situation changed the 2nd platoon came to occupy hill 310 [near Moyenvic and Dieuze, Lorraine] defensively. We sat on it for about a week and had a lot of fun, except for sweating out the possible counter-attacks. Jerry was on the next ridge over—front, right front, and left front. We would lay in our positions and snipe or direct mortar and artillery fire over a radio. It makes you feel very powerful to direct corps artillery—like Zeus with his thunderbolts. German morale seemed very low and many surrendered. Hill 310 was the point of our front > —like that—so everybody up to the general staff came up to see how the 2nd platoon was doing on it. We were well dug in, so it really wasn’t too rought—we didn’t get much big stuff on us—after the first couple days, tho, there was enough so that few but my own platoon cared to come up on the hill—that was how we got so much practice with artillery control. We had a loud speaker from corps set up on our hill and ask the Germans to surrender. They listened politely and then began sniping at the speaker. That was O.K. except I was lying just under the speaker. I had them get it off my hill very quickly.

I guess you do not know Lt. Parsons—he was a southerner in my O.C.S. class. He has a mortar platoon here and we worked together all along. He would come to my O.P. and direct the fire of his platoon—he used to get a big kick out of firing white phosphorous shells and chasing Jerries all over the hill with it. It makes them come out of their holes and run. Lt. Bukovinac has left us for a time at least. We hope he will be back with us in the near future. He thanked you for the Xmas card as do all the other “C” company officers. It was very thoughtful of you, Hon.

We had a busy Christmas day, but our morale was of the best. I spent a part of Christmas eve at my most forward listening post, and had all the usual thoughts of the incongruity of it all as I listened to the German vehicles and voices in the clear cold starry night. There was no singing “Silent Night” across the lines tho, and our only greetings to them were beautifully bursting incendiary shells that looked for all the world like Xmas lights.

I did have time for a few dreams of you and our future on Christmas Day. One I like best, one that seems from here like the very consummation of all dreams, is of meeting you first after the war. It always takes place in the Great North Station, and we are anticipating a few days by ourselves in the Bradford Hotel. That day will be a great beginning for us, Hon, and it can’t come too fast for me. You know how much I love you, Bunny – it is the most real and the most precious and the best thing in my life. I know that more and more as time goes by, and I can never forget it – even in the thick of this lousy war.

All yours always,

Wallace

Xmas Day ’44 Monday

Somewhere in France
[V-Mail]

Dearest Marjorie,

Merry, Merry Christmas! It is a fine clear crisp day here, and relatively quiet. Our outfit has been committed now, you know, for some time and consequently I haven’t had time to write. You needn’t have any goose pimples over me tho, it’s a gentleman’s war in this sector; and tho I’ve had a few thrills nothing has really had me worried. Soon we may be relieved and get to a place where I can write you a nice newsy letter. That’s what I want—until then, thanks a thousand times for your Xmas packge. It hit exactly the right places—that hood I wear 24 hours a day and do not plan to remove it until spring! Your letters come thru in fine style and are appreciated more than you can imagine. My platoon is the best one in the world, and we operate better than I had dared hope. We have been fantastically lucky so far and plan to continue in the same fashion. I’ll write more if I can today.

Always all my love,

Wallace.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

December 17, 1944 Sunday


[V-Mail]

Dear folks,

I can see that V-mail was never made for Ma’s uninhibited flourishes. Marjorie gets quite a letter on a form, but your few lines, Ma, make up in color and mood what they lack in content. So don’t give up on V-mail, at least I get it—and sometimes a week or more earlier than air mail.

France is not nearly as cold as New England. I see by the paper that you are getting a lot of snow. We have had only a little, and the weather is probably much milder than yours. Hope Pa hasn’t caught a cold or anything yet. Marjorie writes of your doings pretty often and the big picture at 23 Pleasant St seems reassuringly the same.  Can see that you are all sweating out the Lorna-Bob affair. Wish I could remember her at all.

Christmas is rolling around again, and I sure like the season and atmosphere. Hope you all have a big time—wish we could go over some of the fine points of “The Specialist” together. That book is a classic in its field. Well, Merry Xmas to all, and as we are crying around here—“Heaven, Hell, or Home in ‘45”

Yours,

Wallace.