Several years ago one of my sisters and I visited a woman who was an old friend of my mother’s . Old , I mean , as in old ; and old as in long-term . They had been college friends , and maybe were friends earlier than that . This woman , at the time of our visit , was a retired lieutenant colonel from the Army . She was living in a high rise military retirement place in San Antonio .
My sister and I were staying the night , and we were going out on the town , past the 10pm lock-up of the high rise . My mother’s friend picked up the phone to inform the clerk at the front desk that we would have to be allowed in late . ” Mabel , this is Lt. Colonel R………..” she said in a starchy command voice as if she were issuing orders .
Earlier in the day we met an old codger slowly making his way along the hallway with a walker . Seemed like a nice old guy . When we got to the apartment I said something to that effect . ” He’s only a two star general , ” the retired lt. colonel said sourly , ” but he acts like he’s a five star general . ”
I began today thinking back to the visit in the military retirement home in San Antonio . I have some letters to my mom written by this woman during the war . My mother’s friend , this retired Army officer , was an Army dietitian assigned to a field hospital in the Philippines .
The letter had been opened and resealed . The sealing strip of tape on the envelope was marked : OPENED BY U. S. ARMY EXAMINER . It was the time of ” Loose Lips Sink Ships” and all that . The letter starts : ” From somewhere in the Philippines ” .
” About the boat trip —- we got on with helmets ,OD suits , field coats , gas masks , musette bag , pistol belts and canteens with the band playing “Easter Bonnet ” and the Red Cross serving us cookies and coffee before we crossed the gangplank . In our cabin we found ourselves alone with eleven others in what had formerly housed two people on this luxury liner . Our bathtub served 24 people and the payoff was that while we were still in harbor one of the gals took a bath in the fresh water in tub which was to last the entire trip’s hairwashing , etc. We eventually accustomed ourselves to salt H2O baths…….”
Future generations will not have the pleasure of reading a handwritten letter from a good friend , written days ( or weeks ) before . That experience is on the endangered species list , almost gone already . There is even talk of the demise of the Post Office itself . We all now live in a world of instant messaging , the so-called social media .
……..…… ” here formerly was a curfew at 11:00 for military personnel but that has been lifted so we can come as we please but during the day must go out in twos and cannot go out without an escort and there must be two couples and the fellows must be armed . When one thinks these fellows have been over here 30 and 38 months ( South Pacific ) sometimes it would seem that we should be carrying the firearms ……..”
” We live on army cot in room with 14 gals and sleep under our mosquito tarp . When the shower doesn’t work which is almost always we bathe in our helmets and do our laundry there also…………. “
There’s your history , seldom taught in schools — the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances , the minutia of everyday life expressed in inked words with their own matchless idiosyncrasy , immersed in humor , frustration , hope , and assurance of affection .
My cousin has a letter written to her father in 1944 from one of his brothers , my dad , from a navy ship somewhere in the Pacific . My uncle was an England -based B-17 pilot , at the time listed as Missing In Action after being shot down over France . The letter was eventually returned to my father with several stamps of those ominous words on the envelope , Missing In Action , Missing In Action , Missing In Action , as the letter made the rounds of possible locations for him . In the letter my father was joking with his brother , light-hearted , playful . Dad saved the letter . Letters were cherished .