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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