Looking Clean

June 29, 1943

After having written long letters answering the mail received June 22, I learned that some of the matter which I wrote might conflict with the censorship regulations. You may or may not receive those letters. Now I have to start all over again. I’m sure you won’t mind the duplication, however.

Anyhow I can toell you about my bath. I used to feel sorry for Wilyum because he had such a small both-tub. Now, however, I would gladly trade him and pay 50 pesos besides. How about it Wilyum? My tub consists of one G.I. helmet. Not having a wash-cloth I used my old underware. This has the advantage of washing the underware clean, even if the bath itself is unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, it was quite refreshing. The best part of it was the Sierra Pine soap. (Remember Yosemite?) I look clean, anyhow, and smell so pretty that I’ll bet you wouldn’t mind kissing me.

While on the subject of baths, how about sending me some wash cloths. Pur P-X will probably have some in stock by the time yours arrive, but send them anyhow.

After combat

June 24, 1943

I hope that by now you have received some leters from me more recent than the one of April 29. Starting with this letter I am going to start numbering each one, so that you can know whether all of them are reaching you. I have written quite a few in the last 3 weeks.

Censorship regulations having been relaxed to a certain extent I can now tell you that I have been in combat against the Japs and have seen plenty of action. I may later be able to locate the guy who took a picture of a gang of us after 3 weeks without shaving, washing, brushing teeth or combing hair. If you see the picture you probably won’t be able to recognize me. That Cyrano de Bergerac nose may give you a clue, however, in spite of the thick layer of mud with which it is camouflaged.

I shall never forget the day we first contacted the enemy. Many times at camp I have heard shells going over head, but that certainly does little to prepare one for the time when a determined enemy is directing shells at you —as fast as he can —with deadly intent to kill. I had only half-finished digging my fox-hole when an explosion was heard about 500 yards to the right of us.

Our own artillery had been firing all morning and when I heard the explosion I assumed it was caused by the firing of one of our guns. I continued digging. A few seconds later another explosion was heard. This one was much louder and much closer. Someone yelled, “They’re going the wrong way!” (Meaning that it was an enemy shell and not our own.) Everyone hit the ground. I crawled into my very inadequate fox-hole and hugged the ground, in spite of the 4 inches of water in which I was lying. Not too soon either. A third shell landed and a cruel, razor-edged piece of shrapnel came bouncing over the ground, landing about 5 yeards from the fox-hole next to me. I thought to myself — “So this is it, this is war.” At the same time I cursed the ancestors who were responsible for the long nose which made it difficult to get closer to the ground. It seemed to make such a difference at the time. My heart was pounding violently — threatening to tear itself loose it seemed. Although my face was flushed and hot, I was shivering — whether from the cold or from fear I cannot say. It was probably fear, because the intense cold was completely forgotten.

The candle-light grows dim and flickering. The sputtering wick is about to expire — and so must this letter. I will continue the story in my next letter which I will write tomorrow.

This belongs to Johnnie

June 25, 1943

Yes I’m still in a very happy mood after receiving all of those letters from you. But mail call has its sad interludes. Some names are called, and there is no answer. There never will be an answer. Always there is a moment of silence — a brief memorial — before the mail call resumes. There are packages, too, in such bad condition after the long search for the owner, that it is impossible to return them to the sender. One of these packages was turned over to me to be distributed to the men. It was full of all kinds of good things, put there by loving hands — with loving thoughts. A little note was wrapped around one of the candy bars.

I carried it up the hill to where we live. The men were gathered there—playing cards, reading, talking and joking. The soft light was gradually dimming in the cold, grey sky.

“This belongs to Johnnie,” I started to say. There was a complete silence. All activity ceased. The men appeared as statues of grey marble — faces expressionless. Then a single thought seemed to run through all. One of them picked up a shovel, and we went outside.

Carefully, I lowered the package into the earth and waited until it had been covered. We returned to our shelter. Activity had resumed, but men’s minds were on the other things. I know mine was.

Memorial Days will be celebrated in the future. The stadiums will be crowded, flags will fly, and bands will play. There will be eloquent speeches and impressive ceremonies, but my mind will go back to this single little incident and others like it. It will always mean more to those who were there than all the formal ceremonies of the future.

Some day I think I shall write a story of the “Good Earth.” Unlike Pearl Buck’s story, it will tell of soldiers and the foxholes which protect them from the bullets and cruel, jagged pieces of shrapnel that seek to maim, kill and destroy them.

The first thing a good soldier does is to dig a foxhole. No matter how tired or weary he may be, he knows he must dig. It may mean the difference between life and death. Many times I have been so tired that I could easily have fallen asleep in the snow or rain, but in the end I always found the hidden reserve of energy needed to dig, and the deeper the better.

Never have I known such fatigue as comes after hours and hours of ceaseless march over mountain peaks so steep and treacherous that a single false move meant disaster. But there was always the time and energy needed to dig a foxhole. I remember one occasion very distinctly. It was very late —about one o’clock in the morning. I was so tired that I felt I could not move even if the whole Jap army had attacked. Yet a few moments later I was at work digging. At the head of my foxhole was a huge rock. I had chosen the place because the rock afforded such good protection. The job was done, and I sank into the hole—completely exhausted.

The next morning, I was awakened by the terrible scream of Jap artillery. It had started about a half an hour earlier and already there were a few casualties around me. I happened to notice the rock more closely. It was shaped like a tombstone. I felt like I was in a grave, but in this case it had been a guarantee of life.

HEY! Snap out of it! Don’t be depressed. I thought you might be interested in some of the depressing realities of war, but just as real are the beautiful things to be seen here. Not the least is the country itself. It is terrible, awe-inspiring almost, and yet most beautiful. Rather than run into trouble with the censor, I won’t go into detail, but must tell you about the little waterfalls. High up in the snow-covered peaks, the tops of which disappear into the fog and mist, like the mountains of Shangri-La, the processes of life are taking place. There are born the streams and waterfalls that delight the eye of any nature-lover. Many times I have been high enough to locate tremendous snow masses which give them birth. Emerging from the mother snow, they cascade and tumble over a never-ending terrace of grey-green granite and volcanic rock. Here and there in their dizzy descent to the valleys, little pools are trapped, full of icy, crystal-clear water. I have never passed such places without stopping to drink, even when I was not thirsty.

Then there are the birds— delightful little creatures. Whistling and singing and totally unconcerned with the destruction over which they fly with effortless grace. There is one in particular that has always warmed my heart. It is one of the tiniest, completely snow-white except for its black wingtips. Often during lulls in the battle, they would come flying over, whistling their cheerful tunes. I would close my eyes and imagine that I was in a park. Not for long, however, for the demands of war are stern and unrelaxing. What a strange and powerful contrast.

A poor selection of books

June 20, 1943

I finally discovered a library here and although the selection is poor there are 2 or 3 books that will occupy my attention for a while. Most of the books are a “Gift from the people of the United States to the Armed Forces”–as the little note reads. They were secured through the Victory Book Campaign. The poeple must not consider the soldiers very intelligent, or else they merely cleared their closets and attics of all the old trash they didn’t want. I picked up one book entitled–“Things Japanese” It looked very intriguing until I noticed the date–1890.

The Paper

July 7, 1943

Believe it or not–I am back in the editorial business again as associate editor of the regimental newspaper. The Colonel was dissatisfied with the paper because it lacked life & humor so a reorganization of the staff took place and I was drafted as an associate editor. Right now the big dispute is whether the men are sufficiently interested in world news or whether the new paper should give more space to personals, jokes, humor, etc.

Incidentally, we have a new Colonel. On the second day of fighting [May 12th] Colonel Earle was killed. I have already written you that all enemy resistance has ceased with the complete defeat of the Japs. All your old friends are well–even Jack Carroll who has recovered from a bullet in the rumble-seat for which he received the Purple Heart.

Attu

August 4, 1943

Dear Harry

I was greatly surprised to learn that you had been evacuated to Letterman. I thought you were still in New Zealand or Australia. What d’ya think of Munda?

If you received any of my previous letters you already know that I emerged without a scratch and without any medals, but there will be plenty of opportunities for medals before this is over.

We are taking things easy noew. It’s like living in garrison–minus a few comforts and conviences. The chow is very good–there are frequent shows–we hear short wave audio broadcasts–hot showers once in a while. If the mail service was better we could be quite happy here.

Four years in the Army

June 5, 1945

Well, yesterday was my 4th anniversary in the Army. It’s hard to believe that it has been so long. It seems only a short while ago that I was saying adieu to you at [Fort] MacArthur, not knowing when I would see you again. Time certainly seems to have passed quickly when viewed retrospectively; but now each day seems like a month, because I am looking forward to the Great Day. Everything is going well and I am in the best of health. I’ve even begun to comb my hair as it grows out, so that I will look half-way civilized and won’t frighten the kiddie. As usual, the rain is pouring down. In spite of the fact that it slows things up out here, I still enjoy the rain very much. It’s so relaxing to hear it beating down on the pup tent as you prepare to go to sleep. Like a regular concert, sometimes fortissimo and at other times falling very gently and smoothly. We’ve managed to keep pretty dry. The tent is on a little knoll with a good natural drainage. As I lie here, I think what fun it will be to go camping with Willie & you, and teach you all about the fun of living out of doors. It will be even more fun with no artillery shells whistling by overhead. Of course, it will be nice to enjoy the comforts & conveniences of a home, but I will always enjoy the out-of-house life — the close contact with the good earth, the trees and birds and little animals — the rain— and the vast starry skies. We’re now sharing our 2-man apartment with a little nest of field mice — and outside —enjoying the rain and the mud are a lot of tiny little frogs. There are also a couple of little white goats, a he & she, living peacefully in the midst of it all and completely uninvolved in this unfortunate human folly. They’re very friendly little goats too, in spite of the fact that they are Japanese. Willie would have a lot of fun with them chasing at his heels and rubbing against his legs, waiting to be petted and spoken to….

My own “creative urges” are being directed toward making little objects out of the good clay of Okinawa. It has been a pleasant way of passing time. I think I’ll enroll in a sculpting class. The time is dragging so slowly that I’ve had to organize some sort of diversion. I’ve been trying to read “The Plumed Serpent” in spite of all of the difficulties & interruptions…..

Okinawa

May 3, 1945

Received your letters of April 12 and 20. I usually dig my fox hole 6 inches deeper every time I get mail from you. Out here, one sometimes gets careless. There’s so much death and destruction all around that it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether you live or not. But mail from home usually reminds us that there is another world that we can come back to, and the will to live is revived. I am in the best of health–a little nervous perhaps, but otherwise in pretty good condition.

A struggle between Japanese feudalism and American industrialism

January 26, 1945

As for your questions about the war, it seems to me that the Jap defense on the Philippines is much less fanatical than it was at other places. They have abandoned tremendous supplies of guns and ammunition and have retreated from positions in great disorder instead of making the ussual last ditch defense. I am convinced that the majority would surrender if they were not held in check by their officers.

On Kwajalein, there was a Jap officer who, in the closing hours of resistance, charged a U.S. tank with his Samurrai sword. He was cut to ribbons by machine gun fire.

That incident characterizes the whole war in the Pacific. It is a struggle between Japanese feudalism and American industrialism. The Japanese Army, just as in the case of that Japanese officer, thinks that the “spirit” of the Samurrai warrior will prevail over the “materialistic” United States. There is no question that this war is being won not only by the front line soldier, but by the producers on the home front. I think that if the people of Japan were not so thoroughly “propagandized” and could see the real picture, there would be violent repercussions in the home land