Will at Camp Lee, Virginia, 1942
In the past few weeks, in between all my other activities, including enjoying the unusually wonderful weather and critiquing various submissions for a writing consultancy I work with, I read some more of my parents’ letters. This time I dipped into my father’s letters and noticed that they began about six months earlier, than those my mother wrote. I suppose this is natural since my mother would have saved these letters and she never threw anything away.
Through reading his letters I was able to go further back in the relationship and have closer insight into how they got to know each other; a picture more detailed than my mother’s short anecdotes or general explanation that they met in night school, her mother sat on his hat when he came to visit once and she painted her nails bright red to see if it would put him off.
Such detail was strange and in some ways funny, because I could think of my mother on the other end of these letters and know some of her reaction. I also detect a little attempt to impress at first with a slightly flowery choice of words. In other ways it reinforced what I knew of their interests and also how much they now reflect mine and others in my family.
Sunday, 5/17/42 (USO stationery)
I received your most welcome letter and it seems that I attend to my correspondence the same day as you.
I have been transferred to the Quartermaster Department and so I start my basic training tomorrow, and that means hard work. There are ample diversions at nite to caress one’s woes of the day provided one is able to take it. We can get plenty of drilling and food, but there are no headaches or woes, no income tax or young ladies and that bothers me a lot. Dances are held but the girls are terribly outnumbered making the dances too short, one is allowed to cut in at anytime.
Well, Kathryn I see you are terribly busy. I guess everyone is praying more, ost of them probably think so.
While I am in this department I don’t think I’ll do any fighting being a non-combatant. In other words I’ll probably not slap a Jap or bury a Jerry.
Give my regards to McReady when you see him, and my best wishes to you.
In the next letter he’s a little more relaxed and even spells her name wrong, something she never liked and calls her ‘Kathy’-- even worse.
Thanks for the letter but am my dilatory (?) with answering before. WE have all been terribly busy, the going has been getting tougher as it progresses. Our company were on the range last week, our platoon shot Saturday. I shot a measly 75 out of 200. Thursday and Friday I was stationed behind the targets 200 yards from the firing range. I spotted and scored the shots. If you saw the movie ‘Sergeant York’ you remember the flag waving they indicate of misses or zeros. They are termed in the firing range “Maggie’s Drawers.”
By the way you refer to ‘Robin Hood Dell,’ that is the one place I am going to miss this season. I don’t know whether I have ever mentioned the fact that I was very fortunate in seeing the Russian Ballet in New York twice previous to my induction and what a treat. There are few opportunities to hear recorded classical music here. I take advantage of some of them, which is not often. We had every detail in the past few weeks that I can think of. Gas mask test- tent pitching- guard duty and others. Well Kathy Cheerio and all the best,
Will and Kay in Virginia, 1943 on honeymoon
This next letter is a little more fulsome, a bit sheepish and more informative. Not quite ‘Band of Brothers,’ though. My father was 32 at the time and his duties and postings were more directed towards using the head rather than the gun.
Dear Katherine[strike through] Kathryn
Sorry Kay for misspelling your name and here I went again—dress me down!!!
I have two more weeks left and then _________?__________!_____?
I am still studying the administration of the army. We cover quiet an area of ground in the clerical field. We also cover typing and stenography if qualified. In our company we have quite a few men exceedingly important in their particular field in civilian life. We have a major league baseball player, a secretary to a senator from Maryland, several players from famous dance orchestras, men that owned businesses, executives and many others. These camps are the meeting grounds that level off all stations. Only temporary in many cases. They shine eventually. Some of these men know more about certain technical fields than their instructors. In one of my classes, the instructor frequently calls upon a trainee to cite or explain, more fully, certain topics in question.
No matter where we go it is reached by marching in formation. We hear whistles all day long, they are the signal for “fall in.” I guess you have heard of most of this.
You had better take advantage of a vacation because we all need a change of pace while everyone is working so close.
We are given the information that we are supposed to get 30 days furlough a year. The question is when you are given it. And that is precisely a question from what I have heard. Well Kay this is all for the present.
Over the months, I hope to take time and read a lot more of the letters and read them as they would have been exchanged. Then it's time to pause, absorb what I've read and integrate it into my own ideas and perceptions of my parents-- who they were and who I am.
Kristin Gleeson is a writer, artist and musician who lives in the west of Ireland in the Gaeltacht.
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