Fifty-three’ish beautifully handwritten letters uploaded (i.e., typed)! Next steps . . . read through them all, highlight significant statements, events, trends, compile questions for the author!
In 1943, just a month after his 19th birthday, Dad boarded a train to “somewhere” with a toothbrush and a change of underwear. He had joined the army. In one of his first letters home, I discover both his early sense of humor and his sheltered naiveté:
“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.”
The train’s destination: Camp Swift, Texas. He describes his new daily routine:
“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.”
Torture movements! I know Dad played tennis back in his high school days . . . I’ll have to ask if that was the extent of his physical activity before his army days. At least he wasn’t one of the “poor fellows” who couldn’t jump; perhaps he should have played basketball!
I suddenly realize how difficult it will be to find the focus of this memoir writing. So many letters, so much information, so much still to ask . . .
On October 25th, 2010, one of my high school sophomore English students asked, “What was your dad’s generation called?” She wanted to know so that she could add some meat to her VFW speech competition essay. The topic was, “Does your generation have a role in America’s future?” I whip out my cell phone (which we were not supposed to use in school) as I tell them the prompt should read, “What will be your generation’s role in America’s future,” and call home. To my delight, Dad, almost 87 and a WWII veteran, picks up.
“Hello, Leadville!” I hear his jovial voice, and my students smile—delighted to see their teacher breaking a rule. I explain the purpose of my call, and get an immediate response:
“The Greatest Generation.” Journalist/News Anchor Tom Brokaw termed the phrase in his 1998 book. I can hear the pride in Dad’s voice; he knows that my students are listening.
Jump to today, almost one year later, and I finally have the time to dig more deeply into Dad’s life to write my own responses to his experiences. This morning on the phone my Mom suggests that Dad might like to post something to my blogs now and then, and it hits me–OF COURSE! Who better to respond to the treasures I discover in Dad’s letters home over 60 years ago than the author of the letters himself!
And so…Dad…if you’re reading this, I would like to invite you–formally–to co-author my book! Whadaya say?
Before you read on, please remember that my background is in writing and literature, not in computer technology!
I just discovered that there’s a difference between “posts” and “pages” (and I’m hearing now the collective groan of savvy users everywhere! All the handsome men at the top of this post page are wondering where they got me). The pages I created evidently will be there forever and ever (until I delete or convert them), and maybe that’s okay. With only one week behind me as a professional writer (and I’m going to call myself that until it comes true), I still have scads to learn about this 21st Century media.
Today is nearly over, and the realization that I haven’t come close to maintaining my new work schedule is hitting me like the cold sleet that has been assaulting my house all day. My book–V-Mail: (something)–requires me to finish uploading (i.e., typing) Dad’s letters so I can hear the story that must come from them.
Enough of this dilly-dallying! I will keep the pages containing a bit of my background and a week’s worth of my daily musings capturing the start of my new career, but my posts will now be about the discoveries I find in the letters!
Welcome to my daily’ish blog about what it’s like to realize a dream. There may be work involved . . .