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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i went home and it was meaningful

May 28, 2012

I just got back from 10 days in Indiana. It was hot and sticky and I saw a ton of rabbits and fat squirrels in peoples yards. My friend Becky almost hit a small rabbit when she was driving. “What should I do,” she said a bunch of times in a row as the little rabbit first went one way and then another, and even though neither one of us could really see the thing over the hood of her Jeep Cherokee, she somehow avoided running over it. I don’t know why I’m telling this story; it’s not something specific to Indiana and I didn’t even remember that it happened until I started writing this post, but I can so easily recall how relieved I felt to look out my window and see the bunny hopping away.

I spent a lot of time with a lot different people and I was more aware than ever of the sound of the Hoosier twang — a definite accent where people say things like Induhnapolis instead of Indianapolis. I pretty much love that twang and can easily slip into myself, given enough time, which I had after a week.  I wish I could keep the accent up out here and not sound like everyone else, but it would take such a conscious effort to do it and I think it would sound forced, which feels like the exact opposite of how a twang should sound. I am imagining effortlessness and not sounding rehearsed and performative. I guess I’m also imagining sincerity and a certain kind of friendliness.

I loved being home this time, even when things bugged the shit out of me or I felt terribly sad, and I wouldn’t trade any part of it in. I hung out with so many of my favorite people and spent time in so many of my favorite places and helped my mom tackle a home project that would have been impossible for her to really tackle on her own and all of it had this mega meaningful feeling, but in an understated and ordinary kind of way, or at least it was not a super showy and self-conscious way, and that captures a part of the Hoosier spirit that means the most to me. I don’t know if I can make that make sense to anyone but me. I can close my eyes and picture the clumps of trees and lush open fields and the sloping highway leading into Bloomington, as much as I can picture the 6 lanes of 96th street in Indianapolis, flat for miles, full of cars and strip malls and traffic lights and utility poles that stretch out to the end of your site line. Indy must have some of the longest yellow lights of anywhere I’ve ever been, which seems much more significant than it is.

I know I’ve talked and tried to talk about Indiana a bunch in my blog, tired to capture what the place means to me and how its shaped me and I am probably repeating myself. Yada, yada, yada. Today I just kept thinking about how there are people in Indiana to whom I belong, which is different from feeling a sense of belonging though not mutually exclusive. Some deep connection that’s grounded in pretty simple things that mostly have to do with “showing up” so to speak.



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manning up

May 27, 2012

My best man story of this year, so far, although I think I already made that claim back in March, but I called it my best sir story.  The stories just keep getting better I guess.

When I travel through airports, I consistently get mistaken for a being a dude. And not just in Indy or Portland. It’s nearly everywhere I’ve flown through or to: SF, LA, La Guardia, Denver, Atlanta, O’Hare, etc.  And even though it can be stressful because of TSA, I generally like getting my masculinity affirmed by being called sir and I also appreciate the tacit recognition that the gender binary is just not working for me. Yesterday when I was flying back to Portland from Indy and I went through the security xray machine thing, the TSA lady looking at my scan waved me over to a TSA guy, saying to him about me, “This man has something on his chest.”

At first, I wanted to say “breasts” but then I thought that might confuse everyone, so instead, before the TSA guy could start feeling me up I said to both the TSA lady and the TSA guy, “That’s because I’m not a man.”

The TSA guy looked kind of relieved and the TSA lady apologized, kind of brusquely and then sent me through the machine again. I assume everyone correctly identified the things on my chest because I was waved through.

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May 15, 2012

The weather gods have smiled on Portland this month. Seriously. I can’t think of the last time there’s been this much sunshine and temperatures in the 80s and 90s in May in Portland. I’ve been wearing shorts and flip flops and working in my yard and planting stuff in my garden and sitting outside on a blanket and riding my bike at night. Which is one of my all time favorite things. I had the best night time bike ride last night. Perfect temperature. Hardly any car traffic. And about 40 blocks of downhill coasting. It was such a deeply pleasurable thing.

There seems to be a 1000 things going on in my life. Lots of minutia, like picking up cat food and going to the bank, sandwiched in between big, sometimes, huge events, like RU moving to SF and having a friend move in my house. I can’t even keep track of the number of to do lists I’ve created in the last month. Things to pack for traveling to LA or Indiana, things to tell my boss while I’m out of the office, things to pack for RU, things to plant in the garden, things to talk about with my new housemate, things to get from Walgreens or New Seasons, people to call, people to email, people I want to try and see while I’m home or while I’m here. It goes on and on.

I don’t think the level of busyness will lessen until after my birthday. Because it’s a milestone birthday and there will be whole new round of things to do and people to touch base with and business like that so I can make it the all around low-key, big deal that I want it to be. And you should come celebrate with me – that’s the big deal part. Seeing people I know and have so much affection for.

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