The Watch Trick

April 18th, Palm Sunday:

Here it is Sunday again, and Palm Sunday at that. I just got back from Mass and communion. Time seems to go by so fast in the army. When I left home it was Washington’s Birthday, now it’s Easter. Our dance was postponed again until the thirtieth so I’m still hanging around camp.

Thursday we got paid. This pay covered the period from when we entered the army until March 31. I was paid $48.50. This does not include the $6.75 for my insurance, nor the $3.75 for war bonds. In other words I made about $59.00. Since we will be paid again in about two weeks for April, I am sending home $40.00 with which you can do what you want. [I’m guessing my Grandma and Grandpa put it in the bank for Dad]

The last time I wrote you I also wrote Fr. Hagan, and Eddie Harrington. I intend to write Mary and at today if I have time. Civilians don’t realize how little free time a soldier actually has. At nite after we eat and go to mail call it’s usually seven o’clock, and since lites are put out at nine, we only have two hours to write, study, or play ball.

Yesterday I got a magazine from the Company, and Friday a letter from Gus, thanking me for the advice I’d given him. I suppose he will be gone by the time you get my letter. I’d sure love to be home now to see Paul and Walt. I hope they get lengthy furloughs. No word about the test yet; but as they say, “no word is good word.” We started elementary electricity Thursday, along with map reading. Dad, I learned a way to find your direction with a watch. First it has to be a sunny day. Put a match or a pencil at the center of your watch. Then line up the hour hand with the shadow on the match. Half way between the hour hand and 12 will be South. Try it out some time and see if it works. Of course you have to allow for Daylight Saving Time. There’s only an hours difference here in Texas from Eastern time. We’re in the Central time zone. [Probably doesn’t work with a digital watch!]

The fudge Jackie sent me was in fine condition and was certainly swell. Any time you have any extra sugar and stuff, you know what to do with it.

I guess I’ll end now. Haven’t got the picture yet but I imagine I’ll get it today or tomorrow. Let me know if you get the money all right. My pictures ought to be ready Wednesday. By-by and love, Murray.  P.S. I’ll remember you all in Church next Sunday.


Love that Western Music!

April 14, 1943, Wednesday

Dear Folks,

Yesterday I received the carton of matches and they certainly came at the right time. The P.X. is all out of them and I had to keep asking someone for a light. Today I got four letters, an old one from Mom, a new one from the same, one from Fr. Hagan, and the last from Eddie Harrington, my chum at the Co.

Well I went to confession last Saturday and went up to our church Sunday morning to the 8:30 mass. I got there kind of early and was asked if I’d ever served before. I told the fellow I hadn’t for four years but that I’d give it a try. Everything went fine and I was the only one that received Holy Communion. [He was probably the only “good boy” in the whole gang!]

Monday we went out for a hike with full pack and as Carmie has probably told you we had quite an experience. Yesterday I wrote to John Buckley as he wrote me two letters already.

We’re supposed to finish our infantry basic this week and start our specialized basic next week. We haven’t got our marks yet but I saw a list of the colleges that some of us will go to. One of them was M.I.T. That would be pretty nice if I could go there.

I sure would like to be home to see Paul, for I bet he’s quite handsome in his navy uniform. Tell him to drop me a line while he’s home. I’d like to hear from him. Talking about the radio, one of the fellows in the barracks has one so we hear the news and music of the day. At home I used to get tired hearing “George and Dixie” sing cowboy songs. Now when we get tired of hearing one cowboy song, we just turn the dial and get our choice of a half a dozen more. This sure is a swell state for western music lovers. [sarcasm at its best!]

I’m glad Bob Mac got his letter. I was afraid it wouldn’t get to him in time; but I see he got a ten day furlough. More luck to him! I’m waiting anxiously for the miniature, but I didn’t receive the book that you said Sade sent. Hope Dad gets his Sundays off. He needs the rest and it will give the family a chance to see more of him. Good old Dad, I’d sure like to see him myself. I don’t want you to freeze your face Mom, for I still consider and always will consider you to be a very beautiful woman. No one can beat you.

As long as the Blacks keep having babies [say WHAT?], I guess you’ll always have a job on your hands. Give my love to Mrs. Black [OH! Okay] and tell her I may meet up with some of her sons some day. I haven’t seen Chick Mac Sweeney yet but I will sooner or later. Haven’t been paid yet but expect to soon. I’m glad I brought as much money with me as I did for I’m just about broke now.

I guess that’s about all for now except that I love and miss you all.  Murray. P.F.D.

p.s. P.F.D. means Private for Duration   [such a card, that Dad o’ mine!]


Girls and Refreshments…

April 10, 1943, Saturday

Dear Mom, Dad, Kay & Jackie,

Here it is the end of another week. The weather is still warm down here, and we expect it to get hot any day now. I haven’t heard the results on the test yet, but when I do I’ll sure let you know. I was over to the main post this afternoon and was going to call up but the operator said it would take from three to six hours to put it through, so I didn’t bother. I did make it a point, though, to go to confession and I’m going to communion tomorrow. [The next best thing to calling home: going to confession! Could any of us now imagine waiting 3-6 hours to “put a call through”?]

We’re thru work at 5 every nite, then we have to dress up for retreat at 5:35. Supper is at 5:45, mail call at 6:30, then we have the rest of the evening to ourselves. On Saturdays we have dress and barracks inspection about 10 o’clock. If everything is satisfactory we get the afternoon off. Those who have passes can leave camp and be back Sunday nite. Those who stay in camp can sleep all day if they want to. I haven’t left camp yet on a pass but I may next weekend. We’re supposed to have a dance next Friday nite at a town named Taylor. Girls and refreshments will be served. It’s just for our outfit. (By the way the Opn. in my address stands for Operations).

One of the fellows just got a cake and it was pretty good. I got your letter with the prayer in it at noon time and a letter from Aunt Mart tonite. It was very nice and contained a lot of advice, but the best thing it contained was a dollar. [A DOLLAR!]

Have you sent the book matches yet? I’ve been getting the Post for the past week and it’s mighty good to get the local gossip and dirt. I heard a funny story today. One of the fellows in the company who comes from California was in town last week and met a local girl. They got talking and he happened to mention that this was the first time he was ever out of the United States and yet so near to it. [He must have been a blonde!] When she heard that she got up and walked away from him. That’s about all for now-lites out, so till I write again,

Love to all, Murray.



Eating Dirt in April

April 8, 1943, Thursday

Dear Folks,

Two things of interest happened today. First, I was selected this morning to take an exam which will determine whether or not I will be sent to some college or other advanced training school. In order to take this exam you had to have a mark of 110 or better in the IQ we got at the reception center. I got 122 out of 150, considered fairly good. If you get 110 you qualify for Officers candidate school. [Dad has always been one of the most modest men I have known].

The test was pretty hard, 150 questions. We were given three hours to do it, and I think I at least passed it. Secondly, when we got back we were told to prepare for a tornado. We had to wear gas masks, rain coats and helmets. Something went wrong so the weather man called it off, thank God!

Three out of six barracks in the company are quarantined on account of measles & mumps. Never a dull moment here. They say you have to eat a ton of dirt before you die. I’m well on my way to my last few pounds. We have a drill field that is so dusty, it would make the Sahara desert look sick. There’s dirt in our eyes, ears, mouth, and it just loves to stick to our sweaty clothes. I hope I get sent to school before it gets real hot here. It’s getting kind of dark so I’ll close now with I love and miss you all, Murray. [What a concept: when it gets dark, it’s time to turn in!]

p.s. I’m enclosing the form that was given us before the test.

p.s. I got the text book Tuesday. Thanks a lot. Also got the money!


Tragedy and Comedy

April 4, 1943

After a week of taking it easy, I’ve decided to take up writing again. I received the box of brownies last Tuesday and although they were a little under the weather, they were still edible. Thanks Mom and congratulations on your becoming an A.C., as you call it. I don’t think they’ve found my records yet but they know about my status. [Dad was born in Canada, and did not yet have his U.S. citizenship!]

I received quite a few letters during the week from Mom, Dad, Kay, and one from “Buck.” Three of these letters were dated March 19, and I guess they were some of the first ones written. It was the first news I had of Dad’s freak accident, and I do mean freak! You’re a pretty lucky man, Dad, in that you came out of it so easily, but you’re still unlucky, that you got it in the first place. However it wouldn’t be right for you not to have something to worry about.

I have two stories to tell you, one is amusing, and the other is tragic; however, you should not worry over either of them, as they are just as liable to happen here as there. Last Tuesday or Wednesday, a group of Engineers were out in the woods, blowing up tree stumps. They had planted a charge and stood back for it to go off. When it failed to do so, a Lieutenant and seven soldiers walked over to see what was the matter. Just as they got to it, they had taken their last steps, for it went off and killed all of them. That’s what is thought to have happened. The examining officers haven’t released the official report yet.

The other night I was tired and went to bed early. Some of the fellows came back from the P.X. crying and laughing at the same time. Somebody either planned or accidentally dropped a case of tear gas. Immediately the alarm was given to put on our masks. In my first experience with gas, where was I but in bed, reading a magazine with my gas mask on.

The routine we’re following is pretty much the same as the Field Art., classes, exercises, movies, marching, etc. It’s not quite as tough, but it will be as time goes on.

(This penmanship is very poor as I am writing in bed). Tell Kay [Dad’s younger sister] that if she gets the urge to play tennis, she can use my racket; but make sure she loans it to no one and always puts it in the press when not in use. [A place for everything, and everything in it’s place . . . no wonder I married a man who lives by this same philosophy!]

I am enclosing an article from a Texas paper that might give you a laugh. Make sure Johnny sees it and his mother, and Gus. It will give them something to argue about.

Until I write again, love to all, Murray

[the article: “In Ireland You Have to Call Long Distance to Get Room Service in Hotel Room, Elevators Are Run by Timetables].



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.



“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