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.
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.
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,