Penny boxes of wooden matches

March 24, 1943

Dear Mom, Dad, Sis, and Jackie,

Well I’m in the army a month today, that is in uniform. It hardly seems that I’ve been away that long, maybe it’s because everything is so new.

I received four letters and a card tonite, two from you Mom, one from Walter, one from Margaret Goslin in behalf of Gus, and the card from Veronica Mac. I just finished reading them and thought I’d drop a line in return. It’s funny, I wrote to Walter this afternoon and received a letter from him tonite.

I don’t know whether I told you but we didn’t have a sleeper on the way down. We ate on the train. They set up a kitchen in a baggage car and we would file down thru it and pick up our food on paper plates, bring it back and eat it in our seats. My appetite is good, but I don’t know whether I’m gaining any weight or not, for I haven’t weighed myself. I don’t know if you ought to send the hat or not because we’ll be putting our heavy uniforms away the middle of next month. I’ll pick it up myself when I get home on furlo. You can send me some cookies if you wish and a carton of book matches, if you can get them. All they have down here are those penny boxes of wooden matches and they are too bulky to carry around. (Excuse me for skipping around but I’m just writing as the thots come into my mind.) I read that article about the B.C. affair and it must have been quite nice. It’s pouring out now, the worst since I’ve been down here. Thanks a lot for your gift in your letter of March 18. I guess the reason the mail is so long in getting to me is because it’s all going to the Field Artillery. Perhaps by now you have my new address and I’ll get the mail sooner.

It’s too bad Mr. LeBlanc had to work and spoil your whole evening, but you had enough company to make up for it. (There must be something wrong with the lights for they are going on and off in all the barracks. Now they’re all out. Gotta stop till they come on. Almost an hour later and they’re on now).

Look in my drawer and send me that green telephone book I got from the Co. Boy it’s really raining here. We had the afternoon off because of it. We also took an electrical test this afternoon. 50 questions in 25 minutes, mostly on telephone equipment. I think I did fair on it, whereas most of the new fellows were completely lost.

That rest I had in the hospital did me a lot of good besides completely curing my cold. I was there six days.

I’ll bet you’re doing a swell job, Mom, rolling bandages. If every woman who has a son in the service would do as much, the bandage situation would be greatly improved. Tell Dad not to work too hard. You don’t have to do all the work at the Meisel Press.* Why don’t you let the bosses do some; that is if it’s alright with you.

In the barracks now I’m surrounded by sergeants, under and around me. They’re a swell bunch of fellows. One of them has a box of cookies and he’s passing it around now.

Pass this news on to the fellows and tell them I can’t write them all because I’ll only have to tell them all the same news. Also tell Bob MacLean that I could use a couple of those books and I’ll write to him within the next few days. I’ll also write to Da & Frances, and in the meantime tell them and the LeBlancs that this is sure a swell pen & pencil set. The pen writes by itself. All I have to do is hold it. I really appreciate it. This watch that you gave me is really on the ball. It will go pretty near two days on one winding and it’s keeping good time.

Well I’m running out of works now and it’s nearly time for lites out so good night and   Love, Murray.

Epiphany!

http://www.theoi.com/image/img_hydra.jpg

“I’ve just had an Epiphany!”

I enjoyed saying that on January 6th, 1991–the day Nick was born–because it was true in every sense of the word. There’s nothing like the feeling of an epiphany! So I’ll share my latest, although I’m quite certain that you will not derive as much pleasure from it as I have.

“The Book” I’ve been working on…”V-MAIL to email:___” has morphed into a creature so unwieldy (love that word!) that I’ve had to chop it up! It has grown…like the mythological Hydra…into an unstoppable beast! So, like Hercules (although I’m certainly not going to kill my beast), I have discovered a way to control it: I’ll turn it into a series.

After wondering how I would fit everything into the existing 14…15…16…chapters and still have something a reader could hold, I now can focus my attention on building out the first 3 or 4 chapters. When that goes well (“believe and it will happen”…OOPS! I’ve given away “The Secret”!), I’ll have material for more to follow.

I feel better already. How about you? Have you had an epiphany today?

“…a swell bunch”

Laurel’s input: [The airmail stamp on this letter cost 6¢.]

March 22, 1943

Dear Folks,

I received three letters today. One from Mom, with the Income Tax returns, one from Kay, and one from Mr. & Mrs. LeBlanc. Boy I sure get a thrill when I read these letters. The more that comes the better. It’s funny, no mail for almost a month and then get seven letters I three days. Aunt Mart sent me a card yesterday and I returned her a letter. I also wrote to you, the A.T.&T, and Anna. Boy! That’s something for me, to write four letters in one day. I don’t think I wrote four letters in the time I was in high school. I’m returning to you the tax blanks and would you please bring them I as soon as possible.

About three hundred of the new boys arrived in the last couple of days, most of them from California. They are sure a swell bunch and I think we’ll have a super outfit when we’re trained.

In your next letter let me know how the Bruins are making out in the hockey race. I can’t seem to get any news of them in these newspapers. Be sure to tell Gus, Carmie and John to bring about ten coat hangers with them when they leave as they can’t get them in camp for love or money. I ought to receive a package from you tomorrow or so.

I was glad to hear from Kay. She seems to get all the news and sends it the right way. Thanks a lot Sis for Walter’s address. I’ll write him tonite or tomorrow. Paul must be plenty thrilled to be flying. I hope he has the best of luck. Good night and Love, Murray.

 

Mail at last!

Laurel’s input: [Oh, thank God! Mail, finally!  March 20th was . . . ]

. . . the happiest day I’ve spent since I’ve been in the army. I received three letters, one from Dad, Mom, and Jackie. You don’t know what it means to be away from home almost a month without receiving any mail. I think it was my own fault, for not sending my letters home air-mail.

I read Dad’s letter first, and I’m very proud to have a father who’d write such an encouraging letter to his soldier-son. I don’t think you were preaching at all, Dad, and I consider it to be very sound advice. I’ll do my best to keep the way you want me to be, and the only way you and Mom taught me to be. If my moral life is half as good as yours, I’m sure I’ll get to heaven.

Mom’s letter came next and I know if she was half as excited at receiving my mail, as I was receiving yours, I forgive her for her short letter. I received your water money, Mom, and I used it to buy these airmail envelopes. By the way, you can find a dollar in the pocket of my white spring coat. It’s the one that Lita Rogers gave me the nite before I left.

Perhaps this letter will reach you before my last one. In any event, my new address is 302nd Sig. opn. Bn., Co. A. This is a Signal Corps outfit and I’m glad I was changed. They have to send back to Devens for all my records, so I don’t know what I’ll do yet.

I was very sorry to hear about Jackie. He seems to be the hard luck member of the family. At least, Jackie, when anyone mentions any kind of a sickness, you can claim you’ve already had it. I was quite proud of being the first fellow to show off one of the new pennies. Thanks a lot. I think I’ll save it for a good luck piece.

I hope you’re treating Kay all right for she’s my favorite sister and I love her quite a bit. [Kathryn was Dad’s only sister!]  I know I’ll receive her letter by the time you get this one. Are you still keeping all the men happy at work, Sis? If not, it’s not your fault. If the government issues any new five dollar gold pieces, be sure to send me three or four of them.

Well I got out of camp for the first time yesterday. I was assigned to a detail to go to Austin with the Supply Sergeant to pick up some clothes at the dry cleaners. Austin is a beautiful city. I liked it at first sight. We saw the state house, and although it isn’t as nice as Boston’s, it’s pretty good. I also saw the buildings of Texas A&M. It’s one of the most beautiful colleges I’ve ever seen. You can’t appreciate it until you see it for yourself.

In answer to your questions, Mom, the food is swell, and I’ve never felt better in my life, except for being home-sick. I don’t see why they ration coffee. The army certainly doesn’t get it. G.I. coffee is pretty tough and you really have to be hard up to drink it.

While in Austin I bought myself some articles of clothing, such as a dress hat, service insignia, extra underwear and socks. I received an unexpected check from the company for thirteen dollars. It was bond money which I had paid in before I left.

That’s about all I can think of now except that I miss you all and Love, Murray

Fit as a Fiddle

Laurel’s input: [My hopes for Dad’s happiness are dashed as I open his March 16th letter]

I was released from the hospital last Sunday, feeling fit as a fiddle and ready for love. My cold seemed to clear up over night. I really had a tough one, worst one I ever had.

To date I still have not received any mail. I know it is not your fault, but damn it all it’s mighty discouraging. I stand out there day after day to hear names of fellows all around me. Mail call is regarded to be the most important event of the day here and in every army camp. I suppose once it starts coming it will come pretty regularly.

Well I started on my basic training Monday. We get up at 6:30; fall out for revile at 6:45, and eat at 7:00. About 7:30 we fall out again and have about an hour of physical exercise, and I do mean exercise. We do all kinds of body bends and twists. Then we form in a circle, walk then run, then do all kinds of torture movements such as squatting down and walking, or walking on our hands and toes. After this we have classes on various things such as courtesy and customs, motors, hygiene, the artillery guns, and other army methods. We eat dinner at 12:00. After dinner we usually have a few more classes, or a training film on different things. Then we usually go for a little walk about 4:00. It’s not so easy to keep step marching in sand. Monday, we did a bit of wood marching. First of all we had to leap across a pretty wide ditch. I didn’t realize it was so deep or wide until I was half way over. I made it all right but some fellows just aren’t jumpers. Poor fellows! Then we do double time running up and down hills, over rocks, and over a log, which is a bridge over a ditch. After going through that I think I’ll give up cigarettes. Boy! was I winded. We march back, change into our dress uniforms, and stand retreat about 5:30. We eat supper at 6:00 and have the rest of the night to ourselves, provided we aren’t bagged for extra detail.

Tonite the commanding officer pulled a surprise inspection and caught quite a few fellows who hadn’t shined their shoes or shaved. Their names were taken and they’ll be given extra detail.

Luckily for me, I passed inspection and might get a pass to leave camp Sunday. The nearest city is Austin, the capital of Texas, and it’s thirty-five miles away. There are buses running down there every few minutes. Of course there are a few towns nearer camp.

We’ll probably be taken out of confinement over the weekend, and it sure will be nice to be able to go to the P.X., or Post Exchange, to get tonic, candy . . . etc. It’s kind of tough to be confined in a strange place for two weeks. You’d like to get out and see the country around.

By the way, in case of emergency that you’d ever want me home, do not send a telegram. Call the Red Cross, tell them the reason, and my address. Tell them to send the request to: (address here). This is the only way in which I can be granted an emergency furlough.

How is everything way up in that little state of Massachusetts? I hear you’ve been having some cool weather there. Down here it’s so hot, the sweat just runs off you, if you’re doing anything strenuous. However the nights are still cool and you can get a good night’s sleep. I haven’t written to any of the fellows because I don’t know whether they are still home or not. Be sure to let me know in your letter.

That’s about all I can think of right now so until I see you all again, I send you my love because I miss you all.    Murray

Lonesome in the hospital

March 11, 1943

Still here in the hospital and no change in my cold. There’s about five hundred fellows here all with colds and sore throats. The sudden change in climate, food, air, and the cold trains gives most of the boys colds.

I haven’t received any mail yet but I’m sure there’s some waiting for me at the barracks. Would you please send me that Income tax blank and extra blank that I left home. I have to sign them then send them back to you. When you write be sure to let me know about any news from the fellows. I imagine Walter has left by now. If so, send me his address.

I wrote a letter to the Telephone Company yesterday, thanking them for the little bag and giving them the news to date.

Being here in a hospital so far away from home sure gives you a lonesome feeling; but I’m not the only one. I met three fellows from Boston so far, and two of them were from Dorchester.

I really haven’t much news to tell you because I haven’t done anything for the past couple of days. By the time I see you again I’ll probably have a real Southern drawl.

By the way, the Company might send you about twenty or thirty dollars. If so, put it in my account. It will be the difference in pay for my first two weeks.

Love

Murray

 

Laurel’s input: Oh!  What if there’ no mail back at the barracks! Come on, fellows (and mom, dad, sister, and brother)! If this next letter is as forlorn, there will be tears on my keyboard. Despite his loneliness and sickness, however, he was clearly able to maintain his humor, and probably even chuckled at the idea of returning to Boston with a southern accent!

Runny Noses and scapulars!

Pvt. C.M. Bernier, USA

March 8, 1943

Dear Folks,

Here I am in a hospital again, only this time it’s not so serious. My cold got a little worse on the trip down here and the doctor thought I should get a complete cure for it. The hospital is very nice, quiet and cheerful. I’m in a ward with about thirty fellows. All with colds and sore throats. The nurses are lieutenants, and very pretty, and the doctors are at least captains.

Before leaving Fort Devens the chaplain passed out scapulars to the Catholic boys, so I thought you might be happy to know I’m now wearing one. There was a little article with it about all the graces and privileges it had, and I’ll mail it to you later on.

We were told that it would be at least six months before we get a furlough, which means that I’ll be plenty homesick before I see you all again. If you ever come down here, take a Pullman for it’s a helluva long ride. But I doubt if I’ll ever see you way down hyar.

The weather is just about how it is in May in New England. The grass is green and the trees are starting to blossom. As usual my nose took a good burn and it’s a nice red. I got my G.I. haircut Sunday and now look like something the cat drug in. As soon as possible I’ll try to get my picture taken so you can see your son in uniform.

Well Dad, have you been made President of the Meisel Press yet? If not I bet you’re still doing your best anyway. I suppose you are still going to boy-scout meetings on your nite off.

How are you Mom? Are you still turning down cases? Don’t worry about me, because I’ve only got a cold and the best doctors to take care of it.

It has taken me nearly three hours to write this much, because it is so warm, so I guess I’ll sign off now with Love and I miss you all, Murray

March 5, 1943 . . . to Texas!

Dear Folks,

Well I’ve finally been shipped out way down here deep in the heart of Texas. We left Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 P.M. and arrived here this morning at 10:00 A.M., with a swell military reception. About 500 boys came down with me, and the shipment was claimed to be the largest out of Ft. Devens. There’s so much to tell that I’ll probably have to wait until after the war to tell you; but I’ll do my best now.

To begin with we rode on a Boston and Maine day coach that saw its prime 75 years ago. Nothing but the best for the army, you know. However, the other cars were all more modern and it was better than walking. Leaving Mass., we hit the corner of Vermont, then thru New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, then Texas. I might have missed one or two states, but it doesn’t matter. We hit snow in every state except Texas, which I think is God’s country. (It might be a little of the devil’s too, for it is so hot down here!) We passed under the Appalachian Mts. By way of the Hoosac tunnel, and crossed the Mississippi river. After viewing the country all the way down here, except for Texas, I was thankful that I lived in Massachusetts, for you don’t realize the poverty that most of the people live in. Most all shacks we passed were inhabited by colored people, and a few whites. Yet they seemed to be happy and waved to us as we passed by.

Among some of the things of interest we saw were the oil wells of Oklahoma; also the biggest factory I’ve ever seen, later found out to be a Douglas aircraft plant; also oil refineries, brick kilns, miles and miles of flat land, and finally real cactus.

Camp Swift is one of the newest army camps in the country and is very nice. It is a camp for specialists and practically everyone is a sergeant or a commissioned officer. We’re the second group in here and pretty near all of us will have stripes (arm stripes) shortly. We were started on our basic training, that is, some of the most important commands.

I guess I’ll turn in now and continue tomorrow, March 6, 1943.  Here’s my new address. This is permanent, so please write as I am anxious to hear the news from back home.

Pvt. C.M. Bernier U.S.A.

A. Battery, 922 F.A. Btn.

A.P.O. 445

Camp Swift, Texas

The F.A. stands for Field Artillery, the Btn. stands for Battalion, the A.P.O. stands for Army Post Office

I don’t know why I didn’t make the Signal Corps, but I’ll do my best here. The Field Artillery are the boys who man the big guns behind the lines. I will probably be assigned to a gun crew but I’ll have to wait to find out.

I just got back from supper, and had some ice water. What a treat that is! I’d give a dollar for a quart of Boston water. Down here it’s awfully flat and you don’t seem to satisfy your thirst.

By the way, please send me my Polaroid sun glasses, my ring if you have it, an extra bath towel, and about ten coat hangers. Try and send them as soon as you can. Tell all the fellows my address, and that I’ll write as soon as I get enough to tell about.

We’re confined to our barracks for two weeks, because of measles, colds, etc. They do this to every new group in camp. Of course that doesn’t apply to us while we’re training.

If there’s any news you’d like to know ask me in your letter and I’ll answer them. I guess I’ll sign off now with love, because I miss you all.

Murray.

Damn heavy shoes!

I open the first age-stained envelope dated MAR 1, 9 PM, 1943, from Ayer, MASS, Fort Devens STA., with the word “FREE” handwritten in place of a stamp, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Bernier, 10 Pond Street, Dorchester, Massachusetts.  No zip code needed.

Dear Folks,

Haven’t anything to do this afternoon so I thought I’d write. I’ll begin from the time I left home. Arriving at the Draft Board, I was given charge of the train ticket for the four of us. We left North Station at 8:15 and arrived here at 9:05. An army truck met us at the station and brought us to the receiving office. We were then checked off and sent to a supply depot. There we received raincoats, towels, and toilet-kids. My raincoat would just about fit Frank MacLean and myself. From there we were taken to our barracks and issued bedding. These barracks are two-story, wooden buildings, sleeping about 60 apiece. We have double-decker steel cots, mattresses, two blankets, two sheets, a pillow, pillow-case, and a comforter. It’s very comfortable and I always get a good night’s sleep. We were also given mess kits and over-shoes.

After lunch, we were taken to a school-like building and given our I.Q. tests. These consist of three tests, each of 150 questions. The first one is a mechanical aptitude test; the second is a radio telegraphy test; and the third is a General Aptitude test. The marks you receive go with you thru out (sic) your army career and are considered at every advancement you may get. The results are not made known to you, but I think I did fairly well on them.

The same night we were marched up to the dispensary and given a vaccination and some kind of a shot. The next morning everybody had stiff arms, from the effects of the shot. This wore off in a couple of days and all were happy.

We then were interviewed by soldiers who are trained in that line of work, and who can get all the information they want from you. The fellow that interviewed me was concerned about my telephone experience and recorded it all on my card. After this we went to a ware house and got our uniforms. It’s quite a place. You go in one door and come out another a half an hour later with all your clothing. Here is a list of the equipment:

2 winter uniforms – pants and shirt

2 summer     “            “                    “

2 fatigue        “           “                    “

1 winter hat

1 summer hat

1 fatigue hat

1 helmet hat

1 helmet

2 pairs of winter underwear – long drawers

3     “         summer        “

3     “         work socks

3      “        dress socks

2     “         damn heavy shoes

1 field jacket

1 blouse – dress coat

1 overcoat

1 pair of gloves

1 belt

2 neckties

4 handkerchiefs

1 mess kit – which we had to turn in

1 canteen

1 barracks bag – to put everything in

1 basic field manuel (sic)

We were given the afternoon off to roam around. The next morning I was bagged for K.P. by a very polite sergeant, who woke me up at 4:40 A.M., while the rest of the crowd I came with was shipped out. Friday was the longest day I ever put in, fourteen and a half hours of hard work. That nite the barracks was full again with fellows from Worcester. Today they all left, and I’m practically alone again.

Well that’s about all I can think of for now, but I’ll write later.         Love, Murray

Dad’s first correspondence…March 1943

My V-MAIL project starts with a postcard from Ft. Devens, Mass. (from back when the abbreviation was “Mass.” rather than “MA”!) showing a painting of the Post Theatre:

Dear Folks.

Got here about 9:15. An army truck brought us to the Fort. We were then issued rain coats and toilet kits, then bedding, and over-shoes. Boy! We sure needed them. Very muddy here. Learned how to make a bed, army style. Just got thru eating. Pretty good food. More later, Moe

No zip code . . . no charge . . . no idea what he’s getting into!