Letters from the Good War

A running series of World War II letters written by a Navy Seabee who served in the South Pacific theatre taking the reader through the entire war experience.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Letter from the Philippines - 5/14/45


Dear Mom,

My morale needs no lifting despite a call to report to work for 1:00 tomorrow morning. Finally, all your letters have caught up with me in one blessed batch. As a result my spirits are spilling over. I suppose today is nature's way of officially opening the rainy season. The land is soaked and covered with running water and our faces are chagrined, but not mine. No, my dear, because I feel suddenly and nonsensically elated; thoughts 10,000 miles away have done this to me.

The letters clear up inconsistencies and provide missing links, especially reports of losing two or three pounds now and then in your marvelous campaign. Now that you are making marked headway in regaining the comeliness of your pre-matrimonial days, of course, Dad's threats to find a curvaceous blonde and buy a sleek convertible roadster should have all but ceased. And soon, I expect you will be in a position to apply your art, so gallantly won, to taunt Dad. Today, however, the come-hither glance has lost its effectiveness even when accompanied by spirited curves. The reason: nowadays there are more glances and curves and fewer males. It's just like eating peanuts: you can't stop. I'll be watching you shed those pounds until the grand finale the photograph of your remarkable achievement.

Now for your letters.

I've received all the pictures. What a stack. I shouldn't have asked for so many. I can get rid of those of myself pronto. My estranged correspondents request such catastrophes to the imagination. Both friends Dolly and Sybil have lodged a request. In such cases I would never take the initiative. These girls are - oh how should I put it? - strictly not my type. They have no higher ambitions beyond high school, work for a brief time, then_my own guess work here - marriage. All well and good, to be sure, but a college-aspiring lass is so much more interesting. And then from the portrait alone of one Dolly, I can see by her lipstick coated lips and overall hairdo that this is the type girl I've avoided. From these observations I come to conclusions concerning her personality and character, which are of primary importance. Frankly, Mom, she is a typical Jewish girl who tends to be artificial rather than genuine and honest. It's their greatest fault. Trying to beautify themselves, they end up looking cheap like Astor's pet horse. They revel in promiscuity. I'm not blinded by some unattainable ideal; I know what I want and what's available. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Goodsteins are encouraging me to write. It couldn't be for my beautiful penmanship. They, too, confess find deciphering it an ordeal. I'm glad others are interested in my letters. I enjoy writing about strange lands and people.

Just before I left Hollandia, I procured enough cat eyes to make a bracelet. One of these days I'll send the coin bracelet home. Perhaps I could send [Aunt] Anna a cat-eye bracelet for her birthday. When is it? There are plenty of souvenirs to be found here: straw and reed work, wood work etc. I'm keeping a weather eye open for something worthwhile to send home, rather than insignificant junk that will only clutter up the house.

So Sawyer's made Dad an attractive proposition. He'd have no big worries, he'd have a secure and steady salary, a good thing as he grows older and becomes less active. Ronnie and I appreciate our parents - we do. During the past two years Ronnie has grown younger in his outlook compared to me. While I've been away, my perspective has come into perfect focus on you and Dad. I know the M.U. Company has unlimited possibilities. With its fine reputation, someone ambitious could bring it far. That's why I'm anxious for Ronnie to follow the course he's now prescribed for himself. I wouldn't hesitate to invest all I have in the future of the M.U. Company. I hope Ronnie will have big ideas, for big ideas make big money. The foundation is already there for him.

Back in Hollandia the fellows living in the tent above me would kid me about the rent. As it grew to be quite a joke the first of every month, I'd string along with them. Some of them would visit with me, shoot the breeze, and we'd have a good time talking nonsense.

Since I've been in the tropics, I've never witnessed the fantastic temperature of 160 degrees that you refer to. On a sunny day in Luzon the daily temperature ranges between 85 and 95 degrees. A rainy day like today is comfortably cool.

Since I've been overseas, the weather has been mild. Each time we moved, even in the States, we just missed bad weather. The weather in Hollandia was consistent year round.

For your information, a Floridian comes from Florida, an Angeleno from Los Angeles. As we say in Tagalog, iintindahan? Understand? And by the way, my Tagalog vocabulary is expanding nicely. But my Filipino friends have yet to set me straight on the grammar.

I have no dictionary to consult while in the service. As you know, I read a lot which has done wonders for my vocabulary.

Henry is not alone in being disgusted with Stateside duty. We hear similar reports from others. You see, after the freedom and laxity of duty overseas, the rigid discipline of a Stateside camp is in sharp contrast and seems silly. Then, the boys miss their service friends, all the girls are working, and there's the wartime regulations and rationing. It's understandable, natural and reasonable, that knowing it isn't over, that he'd rather actively participate, that Henry longs to be back with his friends and his unit. As I've said before, I prefer to remain here to the end. I can return to a U.S. at peace, a nation striving toward peacetime luxury.

Have I explained that officially and for good I'm detached from the 113th and assigned to the dredge unit?

Yesterday, having gone fishing Filipino style, I had an enjoyable afternoon, different from any before. Four of us, three Filipinos and myself, set out in a banca (a canoe with double outriggers, fitted with a sail) to search the inlets for signs of fish, a school or a fish leaping into the air. We must keep silent. Without removing the blade from the water, the paddling remains silent. We sight a school, say fifty feet away, and throw a grenade. An explosion follows, after which we speed towards it and dive into the water to scoop them up. One of us wore goggles and had a net, while the rest of us kept diving and searching the bottom for the white reflection of the dead fish. Our first catch must have consisted of half a hundred or more. The fish are no more than four to six inches long. I had a great time diving. We searched at one spot for a good half hour then returned later to find more that were killed by the concussion. The leader of our party made the grenade from Japanese dynamite and caps. Quite clever. The Flips swim well under water, but I beat them at surface swimming. I'll describe the meal in my next letter.

The Filipino men are inclined to be slight of build, even the tall ones. They got a great kick out of my physique, quizzing me on how much boxing I've done. The kids call me by the names of comic strip characters and ask me to make a muscle, show my biceps. As we passed their friends in other boats, they referred to me as the Filipino with the big body. The women stood gaping at me, so I left their presence as quickly as I could. These people respect the mind, and from the physical condition of their slight physiques, apparently they also respect the body.

They were so persistent that finally I consented to meet one of their chosen maidens. Of course, I made them understand that unlike other Americans, I would insist that everything be purely platonic. They agreed, saying that they realized I would prefer an American girl. So as not to insult them, I praised their womanhood and explained that I had no wish to marry until I had completed my education and settled myself in life. To this, though they were astonished, they nodded in understanding. This is a good boy, they said, and they expressed admiration. By using such diplomacy, I get along well with these people.

In each letter to come I'll probably describe the people or the country as I see it. Others may express opposite views. I prefer to see the beauty and good in these people. I'm aware that I may overlook many of their more distasteful traits. But I know both their aspects quite well. I can write about the filth later.

Tomorrow expect another letter. I've been writing no others, only you.