letters from dad – letter 12 (probably the first one from the rilfe range)

May 30, 2012


Dear Granther & Granpee,

I went to church today. It was held outdoors in the amptetheater. We are now at the rifle range. Its about 10 miles from the base and is the second biggest in the United States. We live and eat out here for 3 weeks. My address however is the same. We had another inspection last Friday and out platoon was complemented which is going to make things here easier. Out here we go to the P.X. at any time and anything we want. Our bunks are always made down and we only have to shave every other day and also were issued an extra blanket, so we feel as if we were living in luxury. However we have to use our own mess gear and get up at 5:00A.M. We got to sleep late today. We didn’t have to get up until 6:00 oclock AM. We were also issued shooting pads to sew on our dungaree jackets. I received my razor and was glad to get it. We had a lecture on hand grenades & the B.A.R.(Browning Automatic Rifle) last week. We had a little map reading also last week. Our D.I.s are really very smart. The Marine Corps has the best non-commissioned officers in the world. To be a sergent you have to go to officers school. Our sergent knows algebra, trigonometry and many other things. Unfortunately a few college V12 officers have come into the Corps but they don’t have any place in it. One of them inspected us and he was seriously criticized by our D.I.s. All our D.I.s are stacked with ribbons & shooting medals. We learn the nomenclature of our M1 this afternoon. There is a lot more to shooting then just pulling the trigger Also we were told to be courteous to civilians and to say please when you want something passed is an order. We were told not to whistle at anybody when we came out here. You can be court marshalled for cursing or being drunk. I can see  the reasons for a lot of things I couldn’t see before. We can buy candy out here but they never have it at the P.X. Because when it gets hot you will get sick at your stomach and one day in sick bay and your out of the platoon. the fruits of strict discipline are Tarawa and Gaudalcanal. The Marines have the best disciplined and trained men of any service in the world. We get chicken at chow today. When we are in our last week we were issued Blouses, dress shoes and barracks caps (the kind with trills). I appreciate your letters keep them coming. Tell me how my chickens & John & the new baby are. Give my love to everybody.

Love Truman

Re-reading this letter, I think it probably was written before the previous one I posted, letter 11. I’ve tried a couple times to sort through all these undated letters to try to determine the sequence in which they were written, but it ends up a being pretty impossible task and kind of a rabbit hole that gets in the way of the actual reading and transcribing process.

Like the last letter, Dad makes a number of comments that say to me he is getting indoctrinated into the Marines, such as when he says that the Marines have best non-commissioned officers and Tarawa and Guadalcanal are the fruits of strict discipline. I was curious about the disdain he expressed for the college educated officers. Mom told me that even when Dad, himself, went to college he expressed disdain for other college guys, often calling them Joe College. I did a little research and I think the real issue is not college so much as the difference between the Commissioned Officer (CO) and the Non-Commissioned Officer, (NCO). The NCO’s, like the Drill Sergeants, work their way up through the ranks and have more combat experience and more interaction with the lower ranks. The CO’s bypass a lot of this and may go into combat with a lot less battlefield experience. From perspective, it’s easy to see where the disdain came from.

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letters from dad – letter 11 (rifle range)

May 28, 2012

positions – scanned drawing from letter; click on it to see larger version


Dear Granther and Granpee,

I recieved your letters and the candy and certainly appreciated it. Everybody in our hut also thanks you. It didn’t last long but it was good while it lasted. I have just got back from church and it is raining hard now its pretty cold out. The first week in the range has been pretty tough. We get up at 5:00 and have leave for our school range at 7:00. This is the 3rd biggest range in the world. It covers about 15 or more miles. There are 10 M4 ranges 2 22 cal. ranges, 5 Carbine ranges 3 or 4 pistol ranges and several school ranges. There are 100 targets on each M1 rifle range and 25-50 on the others. This place is about 10miles from the base and is back in the mountains. It is beautiful country and the ranges are terraced and have green grass and little streams running through them. Our rifle coaches are really swell. There are 3 for our platoon. Coach Allen is a Daniel Boone sort of person from Oklahoma. He can knock a spec of dandriff off a midget a 1000 yards. He never gets mad at us and never swears. There two are Cooch’s Moore and Willis. We go to the range which is about a 5 mile march from our hut 1st thing every morning. There we snap in. We get in position with our rifle. There are four positions. (This is where Dad drew of the positions I scanned in) 1. Offhand (standing) Sitting kneeling & prone, These are really painful to get into. You have to bend and twist till it hurts. One of the coaches twisted my arm so far under my rifle I thought it would crack off. At first I had awfull sore muscles but I hardly notice any pain now. We get 10 min. rest periods after every ½ hour. In the afternoon we shoot the 22 range. The target looks like a penny. We also shot M1 carbine 2 times this week. Once in the morning & once in the afternoon. Its 30 cal. and has a big kick. I did pretty well on the prone at 300 yds. On record day we shoot are M1’s (Garand’s) at 200, 300, and 500 yds slow and rapid fire. We 68 shot. Bullseye counts 5 pts 4 ring, 3 ring, duece & 0. 268 pts. makes marksman. 292 – sharpshooter and 300 expert. Shooting is a lot of fun. The food out here is terrible. Everybody has a cold too. Our coach brought 2 platoons thru that landed at Tarawa. Every dead Marine on the beach was lying in a shooting position. It wasn’t the air corps, navy, army, or any big guns that took Tarawa. It was just individual riflemen. He told us how one rifleman can destroy a tank, airplane or pillbox. When in combat in the Marines, they just say “you 2 men go over and take that gun crew of about 20 men.” And if they aren’t pretty good riflemen they send two more over so I’m trying to make expert. I suppose you heard the good news about Truk. That hand to hand fighting is right up our alley so the Japs might as well leave now. It’s a good thing the “dog faces” (army) aren’t there or they still be trying to establish beach heads. If they’d send the Marines to Italy I’d be willing to bet it would be over in a few weeks, Rifle marksmanship is what does it. And every marine just has to be a qualified marksman. Two platoons had 100% qualifying last Thursday on record day the rest had 98.9%. When the other fellows get food they pass it out to so we get some candy once in a while. I’m not sure about any furlough in fact it looks doubtful because you don’t know your going to get it until you get your furlough papers. I have to fill out income tax stuff so please send anything I would have to put on it. Give me the dope about my stock & war bonds that would have to go there. If you want to send me something, I would like some fudge, hard candy, cookies, & handkerchefs. Also a picture of my chickens. We get paid today, but only about $5. Take care of my chickens & yourselves. Lots of love to everybody.

Love Truman

P.S. Don’t send the hard candy in any kind of glass container.

It seems fitting to resume this project on Memorial to honor my Dad’s service.

There is a lot going on in this letter. First off it’s written in pen, whereas most of his letters are in pencil, and I wonder where he got the pen. I imagine that pencils were a much more pragmatic and reliable tool, not having to worry about ink or the nub being messed up, and pens would have seem like a luxury, certainly not something you would have taken out with you into combat. So it’s interesting he’s at the range and using a pen.

I had to look up some of the Marine jargon, like “snap in”, which means practicing aiming with an unloaded rifle, and “record day,” which was a high point in recruit training that occurred during the third week on the range, where the recruits fired shots in the all 4  at the 200, 300 and 500-yard lines for a maximum score of 250 points. Also, I had never heard of Truk before Dad’s letter. It was a Japanese naval and air base that U.S. attacked and decimated in February, 1944.

Some of the euphemisms and slang Dad uses in this letter, like “shooting a spec of dandruff off a midget” and  “give me the dope,” make him seem more seasoned than he is and give a kind of casual tone to an account of being trained to use a weapon to kill someone, which of course, is the exact opposite of anything in the realm of casual. But there is something almost summer-campy in the tone, “Shooting is a lot of fun.” Maybe that casual approach is purposeful to allay the fears of his family and/or maybe it’s part is how Dad made it through that kind training,  to kind of shut down to what it would actually mean to use a rifle and the other guns. Also, maybe shooting up a lot of shit is fun. I’m sure its a combination of things, some I probably can’t ever imagine quite right.

It’s strange to read Dad so totally buying into the Marine indoctrination and the glorification of the Marine rifleman. I know it’s essential to his training, but he was so cynical later in life and was not at all a gung-ho kind of guy. It makes him feel like such a kid to me, the way he seems both earnest and eager in paying homage to the wonder and glory of the Marine rifleman and Marines in general. I would guess he aspired to be bad ass Marine, which I’m sure was part of the point of training.

I’ve never understood the inter-service rivalry and how that makes for a stronger all around fighting force, but I’m not shocked to find echos of it here in Dad’s comments, like the one about the dog faces (army) and sending the Marines into Italy. It’s pretty hubristic stuff and from a distance it’s hard not to wince a little because everybody was fighting their asses off and so many were being killed. But I remind myself that whatever hubris is there in Dad’s comments comes from his naivety and combat innocence, married with the thrill of Dad discovering that he can make it through this training.

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letters from my father – letter 10 (still in basic training)

February 14, 2012


Dear Granther & Granpee,
I received your letters & enjoyed them very much. Next week will be our last one before we go to the rifle range. I went to church this morning. This week has been pretty good and I have had a lot of fun. We have had alot of bayonet practice this week. We were instructed by a captain back from Gaudalcanal who taught us all the latest tricks. We went thru the gas chamber Friday afternoon. We wore gas masks inside and then took them off.  Our eyes watered and noses stung but we were all right a few minutes after we got out. We had a rifle inspection by the colonel Friday morning and our platoon did very well. We were out on the Boondocks twice this week. We had another shot Saturday and will get one every Saturday we are here. The Tetnus will be the last. Things will be better at the rifle range as we can go to the P.X. any time out there. We were told this week that we could receive candy by mail so I would appreciate some. But make it enough so I can pass it out to the hut. There are 21 in a hut. Some of the other guys have received packages. We went to the movies Monday & Wed nights. They are outdoors and its pretty cold. We had a lecture on the Reising sub-machine gun Wednesday. Our D.I.s have been better this week. all except Sgt. Chaney but he’s an old veteran. He has been in the Marines 8 years and has fought with the Japs. Our uniforms are very nice. Our overcoats & overseas caps & trousers are very good but our shirts & ties aren’t so hot. We don’t get a blouse(coat) and barracks cap until the last week. If we want Dress blues we have to buy them in town after we get out of here. Don’t send me money because I can’t spend it & will just probably lose it. Don’t come out here because I want to come home just as soon as I’m thru here. Everybody in our platoon is seriously religious which surprised me. Most of them have bibles & prayer books & use them a lot. Keep the chickens & yourselves well, & keep the letters coming.

Love Truman

It’s clear here that Dad’s adapting to the routine of boot camo and figuring out how to be part of the platoon (getting enough candy for everybody). He talks about his day nonchalantly as though going to a gas chamber or practicing with a bayonette is normal stuff and as though the reader knows about D.I.’s and boondocks and submachine guns.

The two two things I want to point out that I know will be a theme are 1) church and religion, which is going to come up during the entire course of his service, and 2) the idea of a furlough, seeing his family and or going home, which will continue to come up while he’s stateside.

After this letter I’m going to have to go back and do some sorting so I can try to get a bunch of undated letters in order. There are thread to follow and clues that can place one letter close to another, but Dad also talks about the same things over and over again. Plus, I think some days he wrote more than one letter.

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letters from my father – letter 9

February 13, 2012

Dad’s platoon


Dear Granther & Granpee,
I received yours Aunt J’s & Uncle Harrys letters. Tomorrow we have rifle inspection by the Colonel. This has been a very busy week but much better than last week. I’m begining to like the Marines a lot now. I have gotten used to being bawled out, so I don’t mind that any more. We have been having bayonet practice this week and more “extended orders.” We were running up a hill with our rifles and I hit the ground so hard on the signal that I cut my hand. While we lay there we have to sight another foxhole and run for it. We have also been practicing security on the march.” I was one of the rear guard. So far I have never had a dirty rifle & I hope it keeps up. We had to get all dressed up in our “greens” today and go to Company parade with transport packs. We marched with the Band & the Colonel received us, then we had inspection of packs & display of equipment. I had another haircut today. All clippers. Next week is our last one before we go to the rifle range which is about 20 miles away. We get gaurd duty next week. We are now doing the marching manual of arms. If I get a 10 day shore leave don’t come out here because I want to get home if just for an hour it would be worth it to see Indianapolis and everything back there, The chaplains aren’t very popular with the D.I.s and don’t have any assistants. If our platoon breaks up at the end of the month we get 30 days mess duty. But it will break up in the middle & we will probably get a few days gaurd duty instead. Don’t send me money as there is nothing I can buy & would only loose it. Everybody in our platoon is swell and we have had lot of fun being together. The quarters are crowded but you don’t mind it much. You can’t find Camp Pendleton & Camp Elliot on the map as they are only Marine Corp Camps out in the desert about 25 or 30 miles from town. I am sending you our platoon picture. Give my love to everyone.

love Truman

Dad is standing at the left end of the second row. He looks young, a little bit pudgy. He’s squinting into the sun. He’s wearing his cap straight down on his head, and not tipped to the side. For some reason that makes him seem like more of kid to me, a kid with gun and bayonette and one who’s learning how to run from foxhole to foxhole.

I like it when Dad says “give my love.” It’s more sentimental or emotional then I’ve ever thought of him as being. It’s like he’s revealing his tender heartedness. Or I just want to find that tender hearted part of him.

I have to get my brain wrapped back around this project. I’ve been heads down writing a couple other pieces and working on a web project and doing yard work and going on walk in town and in the woods with RU.

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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.