letters from my father – a postcard & letter 8

January 20, 2012


Postmarked January 24, 1944

Dear Grandmother & Granpee,

Do not ever send me things in glass jars, candy, cakes, chewing gum or money. I don’t need the money and we are not permitted to keep the other things. I am well & happy. Say hello to everybody, also my chickens write me soon.

Love Truman

Letter 8

Dear Granther & Granpee,

Today we went to church at 7:00A.M. It wasn’t very good but it was better than nothing. I just got back from washing clothes. I have received all all of your letters and have certainly enjoyed them. I had another shot yesterday and all of our arms are so sore we can’t move them. Last night the other guys went to  a boxing match but I had to stay back and sweep, mop, & wash the windows of our hut because I forgot to bring in one of my shirts from the clothes line. There is no use of you coming to seem me before I get thru, as the only time we can have visitors is from 2 to 4 on Sunday. This California weather isn’t what its cracked up  to be. Its so cold in the mornings & evening that you shiver. It rain about every other afternoon. There isn’t hardly anything you can send me. I already have more soap than I can use and there isn’t nay place to spend money as we can’t go to the P.X. while a “boot.” Don’t send me candy etc. as all packages are opened and these things are confiscated. However I would appreciate a razor as I lost mine and am supposed to have one. The boy who marches in front of me is very funny & is always out of step. I get to laughing at him and both of us catch hell. I had to have my picture taken last week and if I get one I’ll send it to you. We also had out platoon picture taken today. We ran the obstacle course last Wednesday. Its about 1/4 mile long and pretty tough. The Boon docks is the worst place. Its a big sandy, hilly plane. We have to run in the sand zig-zagging & crouching and fall flat on our faces in foxholes. We had a lecture yesterday morning on chemical warfare. We had to take notes & memorize them. My watch has held up very well and keeps good time. We had our transport packs inspected this morning. Mine wasn’t fixed very well and I got bawled out. I now have to clean my rifle for inspection tomorrow, memorize my general orders & clean my bayonet. So I’ll have to end my letter. I am sending my insurance policy.

Love Truman

In letter 8, Dad is definitely sounding more settled in and to some degree resigned to his fate as “boot.” He still sounds overwhelmed too, but less scared.

The postcard was so abrupt and single minded. I wonder if he was getting a lot of flack for the things his grandparents were sending them.

I also noted that Dad and his grandparents seem to have started a conversation about whether or not they will be able to see him before he ships out.  He says something about there being no use for them to come out there. Having read ahead through a bunch of  letters that come after this one, I know that this conversation about visiting, either him going home or them coming out there, will continue for a while. It’s an emotional thread to follow and I want to mark it’s beginning.

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letters from my father – letter 0

January 18, 2012

In trying to figure out the order of a bunch of the undated letters, I ran across what looks like the first letter Dad wrote home, or “letter 0” as I’ve decided to call it. It seems like a fitting thing to post on the 3rd anniversary of Dad’s death, as it marks the beginning of the experience that, according to Dad, shaped his life more than anything else.

Dear Ganther and Granpee,

We left the station at about 5:10. This is a very tricky train. Our car is made up of eight litte compartments. Each one has a toilet and wash bowl. The boy I am staying with is 18 and is very nice. We were late getting into Chicago so we missed the Santa Fe. Our car was attached to an express. I slept well last night and was wakened up by McCormick a 6:30. We ate breakfast in a restaurant in Fort Monroe, Missouri. I just got back on the train and wrote this. At 5:30 this morning I could here somebody yelling “Poker players this way.” Some of them played poker all night. The presents we got at the station had razor blades, shaving cream, paper and pencil and candy in them. It is just now getting light. Take good care of my chickens and yourselves. I will let you know as soon as I get to San Diego.

love Truman


letters from my father – letter 6 & 7

January 15, 2012

The next batch of letters, maybe 25 or 30, are largely undated. But based on the content it appears that Dad wrote this batch from boot camp and artillery training, definitely before he left the states for the Pacific. However, I don’t know the exact order in which these were written and I’m guessing at their sequence.

Letter 6

Jan. 23, 1944

Dear Grandmother, Grampee, & Aunt J.

Today is Sunday. We were up 5:30 and made are sacks (beds) up. Which was very hard at first but I have caught on to it now. The bugle blows over a loud speaker which practically blasts you out of your bed. You then have 4-5 min. to go to the “head” (the potty) make up your sack, sweep and mop your hut & be ready to fall out. Discipline is plenty tough. You are not allowed out of your district except to go to the head. You call everybody from graduated privates & P.F.C.’s to generals sir. You have to say “Pvt. Moyer requests permission to speak to the instructor, standing at attention all the time. I cannot go to the P.X. except when accompanied by the instructor & whole platoon. There are 68 in our platoon. The food is etibale but thats all, after eating you take your trays and cups to huge troths and wash them. Are sergent, a big 6 ft. ex-boxer looking guy, said he wasn’t going to have discipline like the army, he was going to have real discipline. We were going to Church but at the last minite we had to clean out the receiving barracks. We have been sworn at & rushed by our superiors ever since we got here. I felt terrible the whole day after my shots. But things are better and I’m beggining to like it here. Our shots were the worst. They had needles the size of tire pumps & no mercy at all. We get on schedule tomorrow. Our lights go out at 10:00 no sooner no later. We were classified yesterday. I am in the infantry. When I get thru here I go to a line camp. Elliot or Pendleton Cal. & stay there from 3 to 6 months. This is the first time I’ve had any time. When you have your sea bag & are in your under cloths. They yell “Fall Out” & you drop everything & run like hell. Then they cuss you out for having your cloths on & your sea bag unpacked. It’s cold in the mornings & evenings & hot in the day. There is inspection at 9A.M. & 5P.M. & your sacks & sea bags better be in order or else. I have to get my blankets stenciled now remember my address and Print It.

Love Truman


P.S. We get a 10 day furlough when thru.

Letter 7


I got your letter and certainly was glad to here from you. Please keep the letters coming you can’t understand how much they mean. This has been our first week on schedule and its been terrible. I and everybody else here have gotten hell from our D.I.’s (drill instructors) every time we turned around. I’ve never seen one of them even smile. We have our own rifles and bayonettes and they’re hard to clean. The Marine Corps has the strictest discipline and toughest training of any of the services. We get up at 5:30 run for 10 min eat chow have about 2 minutes to go to the John. Then we all march all morning eat lunch run obstacle course and work til 3A.M. then we have to wash cloths and take a shower. We had inspection this morning. In the evening we have to study our Marine Handbook sew up clothes, clean our rifles bayonettes and cartridge belts & shine shoes so I’m kept pretty busy, I’m supposed to be memorizing my general orders now but I wanted to write home worse. Today we had “extended orders” which is learning battle formations. We went to the boon docks and dug fox holes, charged positions, and ran til we were ready to drop. Punishments are pretty hard. Some of them are funny, but not to the party concerned! If your rifle is rusty you get thrown in the brig. if your rifle is rusty you have to exercise with it or 10 minutes. It only weighs 10lbs but after you carry it for an hour it feels like a ton. Everyones sleepy & has bad colds. If your bunk isn’t right you have to clean out the “head” (toilet). If you knock over any stacked rifles you have to clean & sleep with them. You get pretty tired taking stuff off P.F.C’s but you have to control yourself. Although our platoon Sgt. & P.F.C are tough there realy good at heart. Both have seen action. Don’t send me what I wrote as all packages are open & things confiscated. Everyone in our platoon is swell and we have a lot of fun. We won’t be able to get out of this place until 7 weeks. The sgt. said that at the end of 7 weeks 1/2 of us would be P.F.C’s. In the army this doesn’t mean much but in the Marines it’s plenty. A Marine P.F.C. has to know as much as an army sergent. Please write me & take good care of my chickens. Give my love to everybody.

love Truman

As far as I can tell, both of these letters are from boot camp and it’s as overwhelming as one would expect it to be – tons of rules, a tiring schedule, bad ass superiors, new lingo, etc. Dad speaks to that experience directly, explaining that the first week on schedule is terrible and everyone’s getting hell form the D.I.s, and indirectly in the way he wrote the letters, the sentence fragments and run on sentences, omitting periods and commas, misspelled words, writing “are” instead of “our,” repeating himself.  Things like that. He’s obviously just trying to keep his shit together.

What  jumped out at me in  letter 7 was to see Dad showing some vulnerability, which is pretty alien to me when I think of Dad, especially when it came to his family, most of whom he seemed invested in differentiating himself from. But there he is revealing the slightest bit of tenderness, saying how much it means to him to hear from people at home and ending it with sending his love to everybody. Maybe Dad was just scared and tired and just needed to find comfort where ever he could, but I also suspect there was some familial closeness that sadly devolved over years after Dad returned from WW2.

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letters from my father – letters 4 & 5

January 14, 2012

I counted up the letters my dad wrote home during WW2 in box and there are around 150. That’s kind of a books worth. We’ll see how far I get.

Letter 4

Undated, but probably Thursday, January 14th, 1944

Dear Granther and Granpee,

We are now in California. We just had breakfast and I saw palm trees for the first time. It is now 7am and about 50 degrees. It is much warmer than it was this same time in New Mexico. I sat next to a colored Coast Gaurdsman at breakfast. He was very nice and we made friends quickly. He has some ribbons and has been in a couple fights with German submarines. He said some of them sailed right up to New York harbor. The sun is now coming up over the mountains. And we are going thru a sandy, rocky, desert. We were wakened up this morning by somebody singing at the to of their lungs. It was the short, fat,  boy next to us. As he would pass by each room pillows and water cups fly out at him. The conductor said we probably wouldn’t get to San Diego till 7 or 8 o’clock.

Love, Truman

Letter 5


I arrived here Thursday night at 12. We went to bed at 2:00am & got up 5:30. Friday was hell and I was almost sorry I joined. We were on our feet from 5:30am until 10:00pm, sitting down only 4 times, 3 times for meals & once when I got sick from shots. I have my uniform & things are a little better. We are busy all day & night & I hardly have time to write. I left some things in my bag I sent home as I was rushed. Its plenty tough out here. I am completely bald after my haircut. My address is (please print it).
Truman B.Moyer RDMCB
Platoon 68, San Diego 41, California

Love, Truman

What jumps out at me most in these letters is the the change in tone. In letter 4 there’s still a sense of adventure and surprise. Dad seems boyish and kind of innocent, in a way, or maybe naive is a better word. The fat boy is still singing. Dad’s still checking out the landscape and making friends. The reference to “colored” was definitely a sign of the times.

Thinking of Dad on the train makes me think of all the train rides I’ve taken across the country when I wasn’t willing to fly. I can so easily remember looking out a train window and seeing the sun coming up. I understand why Dad wrote it down. It is something you feel compelled to at least mention.

In letter 5 the shine of the adventure is off. Dad sounds tired. Dead tired. He got through the first couple days and in the quip about getting his uniform and feeling a little better, it sounds a little bit like he’s trying to assure himself he’s going to be ok. It’s the start of his ordeal.


letters from my father: letters 2 & 3

January 9, 2012

Letters 2 and 3 were written on the same day.

Letter 2

Wed. Jan  13, 1944

Dear Ganther & Grampee,

I woke up this morning on the desert of New Mexico. It was covered with about 3 inches of snow all over and is twice as cold as Indianapolis. Last night we had dinner at a restaurant in Kansas. We ate with army & navy boys who were on our train. We had chicken, green beans & mashed potatoes. We also had milk, coffee, oranges and cookies and ice cream for desert. We just now had breakfast at Las Vegas. Two indians met at the train selling jewelry. For breakfast we had cereal, orange juice, oranges, eggs, bacon and fried potatoes also milk and coffee. We are going thru rocky country now and I haven’t seen a house or a person since we left Las Vegas. Our next stop is Albuquerque. I will write you again tomorrow. We expect to get in to San Diego sometime Thursday evening. I just saw some chickens that looked like my own. The short fat boy is next to us and would go singing down the hall at of the top of his lungs last night until pillows and water cups would come flying out at him. I am getting to know the other boys better now and I am having a lot of fun.

Love, Truman 

Letter 3

Wed. Jan 13, 1944

Dear Ganther & Grampee,

We just left Albuquerque and are headed for Arizona. We had oranges, milk, coffee, steak, noodles, carrots, and ice cream & coke for lunch. Some of the army boys here are from Butler University and are going to a flying field in Arizona. We went by San Felipi Indian pueblo a little while ago. All the Indians were out working and waved to us. We also went by Santa Ana pueblo. We are still in the desert but you can see mountains and red cliffs in the distance. It is getting warmer now and we have one window opened. It still is along way from being hot and is a little chilly. All the creeks and ponds are still frozen but there isn’t hardly any snow. We will probably go through Arizona tonight and get into Los Angeles tomorrow.

We met some more Marine recruits on the front of the train. They are from Detroit. 

The ground is red and all the houses are adobe. Indian girls served us our lunch in Albuquerque. Just since the time I started this letter it is getting warmer. We have been poking thru New Mexico all morning because we were behind another train. But it went on when we stopped for lunch. We are now going about 55 or 60. I will write you again tomorrow.

Love, Truman 

These letters remind me of the kinds of letters my sister and I used to write home from camp because we promised our mom we would write. It’s the accounting for things that feels so similar – “here’s what I ate, here’s what the weather’s like, and here’s a funny thing that happened with this fat boy.” Beneath all of it though, I can’t help but read a message of assurance, that “I am ok,” which would be an important thing to convey. It was 1944 and everybody knew someone who had lost somebody in the war and/or knew someone who had died or who’d been injured in the war. I would guess that Dad was assuring himself, as much as he was his family, that he was fine.

I’m curious about why Dad lists out food so much. If it’s out of boredom or it’s something neutral to write about or if everybody talked more about food because of the rationing that went on during WW2.

I love that Dad brought up his chickens. His affection for animals is one of the few things about Dad that I am intimately familiar with and I am not surprised that he could be going off to war and at times be thinking of his chickens.

I was heartened that Dad noted the solitude of the landscape, not seeing another house or person around, because it is something I also notice when I’m in a similar landscape – the lack of humans and human activity. I feel I am forever looking for the things I have in common with Dad, to prove to myself that we really were connected, and it makes me closer to him to think we could look out a train window and notice the same things.

The first letter reads kind of disjointed. Maybe he wrote it in little spurts. I was thrown off by the mention of Las Vegas, because I was thinking Vegas, as in the Hangover Vegas or Bugsy Siegel’s Vegas, which didn’t make any sense geographically, since the train left Kansas and he woke up in New Mexico. But a little internet research turned up a Las Vegas, New Mexico a couple hours south east of Albuquerque.

The mention of Las Vegas and my faulty assumption that Dad was referring to Las Vegas, NV reminds me how easy it is to get things wrong when reading back through time. In 1944, gambling had been legalized for about 10 years in Las Vegas, but the major development that was happening in and around Vegas was about accommodating all the people and the work on the Manhattan project. So, if Las Vegas, Nevada had entered the collective consciousness, it was likely for different reasons than we think of it today.

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letters from my father – letter 1

January 7, 2012

Undated but guessing sometime in early January, 1944 (Dad was inducted into the Marines on January 17th)

Dear Ganther and Grampee,

We are now going thru Kansas. We stopped at Kansas City, Missouri for lunch. A navy shore patrol met us at the station and took us to a restaurant. McCormick gave them our meal ticket. First they gave us orange juice, then salad, then coffee and milk. For the main course they gave us steak, mashed potatoes and green beans, for dessert we got cake, ice cream and an apple. We were served at a big long table. When we came back our car was attached to a troop train. We have gone strait thru so far at a good fast rate. I gave the S.P. my letters to mail. I also have written to aunt J. and Mr. Burrows. A navy boy just came back and he said he never got such good treatment. Nobody has been loud or misbehaved. When we left the station Sargent Hall said that if we were army and navy men she would give us a lecture, but because we were Marines just behave like Marines and we wouldn’t have any trouble. Everyone has been very good to me everywhere we’ve been. I will tell you where to write me as soon as I know.

Love, Truman

I’m guessing that this is one of the earliest letters Dad wrote home, as Kansas City is not all that far from Indianapolis or Chicago (I’m not sure from where his train departed, but those are the most likely places). Dad regularly wrote to his grandparents and to his aunts. His grandparents adopted him after his mom died when he was 9 and for all practical purposes, Dad was estranged from his own father, who must have given up custody when Dad’s parent divorced.

What strikes me most in this letter, which is a pretty brief and banal accounting of his trip so far, is that he sounds young, which he was. He’d just turned 18 on January 2nd. And he also sounds bored and nervous. He’s writing letters and he’s looking around for cues and clues on how to behave and what to expect and he’s trying to figure out what it means that he is becoming a Marine. It’s like he’s at the start of a long rite of passage to adulthood.



what to say

January 6, 2012

I want to post more regularly this year. Writing is good practice for all sorts of things, including writing. But it’s easy for me to run out of meaningful things to post about or to run out of time to compose  meaningful posts. So I had this idea of coming up with some “at hand” or “go to” subjects and here’s what I came up with.

One possibility is to  transcribe letters that my dad wrote home to his family throughout his service as a Marine during WW2. I’ve got a whole shoe box of letters. There must be close to 100. It could be interesting to type out my Dad’s words that came from that particular time and place and reflect on his experience.

The other idea I had was to share some of my practices to get at how I try to be awake to the experience of being alive, which in turn gets at some of what Joseph Campbell was talking about in the quote I posted the other day — “an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Rapture is such a strong word and evokes such dramatic imagery. I’m not sure I can speak to rapture. Or something about the associations I have with word rapture makes it so it can’t speak to me. Anyway, I’m getting side tracked.

I just want to get down in writing some of my intentions and ideas for the blog as way to help myself to post more often and to hold myself accountable to myself.

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random thoughts at the start of a new year

January 4, 2012

The sun is starting to set and I do believe that the day is just a little bit longer than it was a week ago. Which is how it works. Minutes get added on to minutes and then some time in April we notice that the sun is setting and it’s a few minutes past 8pm. If it’s not cloudy. I mean we notice the time the sun sets if it’s not cloudy.

Right now the sky is covered with scattered clouds, turning orange and pink on the their undersides as they move closer to the bright strip of light that hugs the horizon. It’s kind of spectacular looking. It’s like the end of the world is right over there.

I had the good luck to start 2012 off in the company of funny, warm and generous friends. I don’t tend to look for signs, but still, I’m hoping that it is a sign of nice and friendly things to come.

Last night I remembered that it was my dad’s birthday. He would have been 86 this year. I swear I’m better at remembering his birthday now that he’s dead. When he was alive, neither one of us were good at remembering each others birthdays, or at least letting the other person know we remembered. I don’t know who started forgetting first. I’d like to say him, because he was a crappy dad, but it could have been me, because he was a crappy dad. I don’t mean for this to be a crappy dad story, though, because remembering his birthday makes miss him and makes me wish I would have written his birthday down on a calendar and called him every year no matter what kind of dad he was.

January 1st was the 35th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman Episcopal priest. And I was there. It happened in the church I grew up in.

I was 14 years old when Jackie Means got ordained at All Saints church. I think almost the whole congregation was there that day for Jackie, squeezed in along with everybody else who wanted to see history happening. I don’t remember much of the service, except for Martin Bell singing one of Jackie’s favorite songs that was from a folk mass he’d composed and Jim Taylor giving speaking fervently about the historical nature the event. What I remember most were the body guards and news people and the cameras and the protestors, a number of whom came from our own congregation. They wore black arm bands. They held signs, I think. I’m pretty sure they even stood up during the service and condemned Jackie’s ordination and called it a heresy. It was sad and strange. These were people I’d grown up with, people who’d probably been at both my baptism and my confirmation, people who were kind of like a second family. After that day, they were gone from our lives.

It was amazing and overwhelming to be there. Because of the personal significance to my church family at All Saints and because I really loved Jackie and was cheering for her the whole way and because I’d never been as close I was that day to experiencing a cultural shift. I was sitting there and something historical was happening 10 or 20 feet away from me, which would change the Episcopal church forever.

Strangely, I barely remember Jackie at all that day, a day that changed her life forever too. I suppose that’s because I was 14 and in the throws of a typical narcissistic adolescence and it was crowded and hard to see and there must have a ton of people around her after the service at whatever reception was held in the parish hall. But I remember the first time I took communion from her a week late and how moving that was. But Even with my hazy memory, I’m still grateful to have been there the day Jackie was ordained and grateful to have stood with Jackie. It is amazing thing at 14 to get the chance to stand up for something real like that and I feel lucky to have been at All Saints during the years she served as our associate priest. She was good to us and good to me. Thanks, Jackie and congratulations on 35 years of remarkable service.


last post of the year

January 1, 2012

Spent the last day of 2011 driving around the Oregon country side with RU. We took the long way out to Oxbow Park, which ended up being closed, and then took the very long way back, via the Gorge and Bull Run. Not much walking or hiking because RU’s foot is still fucked up, but still a nice day and a nice way to end the year.

I don’t have resolutions for 2012, as much as I have some wishes and intentions, and most of those are about what Joseph Campbell calls the experience of being alive. Here’s his full quote from the Power of Myth:

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Here’s to everyone feeling some rapture in 2012.