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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

From July and August 1945

7/26/45 Dear Mom, Not more than an hour ago, I was splashing about in a paradisaical, lucid, tropical stream. Great stuff - makes me feel like wading home. The freedom of going nude, forgetting the heat, relaxes body and mind and is a relief. Since I struck these islands, I've acquired a pleasant, carefree attitude. I wander about like a vagabond and feel like a million. I no longer take the job or the service more seriously than I have to. What a triumph it is to learn not to worry. Pass on my thanks to George. [a neighbor] I'll enjoy the candy he sent, but somebody else will get the better portion. Once upon a time George thought he had converted me to communism. He certainly tried hard. Now, more than ever, I'm an individualist. Poor George. We have a few men in the outfit that have a sense of humor. One or two of them announce clever witticisms over the PA system. I had mentioned that a good number of our men practice free marriage, even support families. Without a doubt they will eventually abandon these abject girls. Most of the girls have an inkling of what to expect, but for them only the present matters. So they assume the role of married women, a jealous lot at that, while the men let them rant about their temporary home lives. The girls frequently visit their "husbands" in our tents, which can be quite embarassing to the "husband." Meanwhile the other fellows take advantage of this opportunity to exploit their difficult situation. For instance the PA system might blare, "Jack So and So, your wife is waiting for you at the tent with the groceries." It's certainly true that a good many of these freak romances could be branded as adulterous. A fair number of the "husbands" are married men. But it's also true that they expect the same behavior from their wives back in the States. So, another gander at the human side of life, eh. Amidst the immorality, there's humor and decency too. It's a quaint mixture of blameless circumstances. Living with all kinds of men, I have no choice but to resign myself to approve their behavior. It's all simply one big, insane, hilarious experience. A war can't be won any other way. I guess people must be human. 7/31/45 Dear Mom, Again, taking off to the country for three days, I relaxed amid the freedom and hospitality of the country folk. I don't stay with one family, but rather divide my time among several. We also congregate at various homes for discussions. I have stayed with the Reyes, the Quiboloys, the Sangcos and the Santos', all friends of mine and each other. I might have dinner at the Reyes, supper at the Quiboloys etc. One night we'll have discussions at the Sangcos, another night at the Santos' villa. They haven't placed me on a pedestal yet, but mighty near it. I've happily made a hit with all of them which I attribute to my straightforward approach. The men listen to me reverentially, which I sincerely try to discourage. Time after time I insist that I rarely practice what I preach. I feel very much at home with them, and they know it. As for the girls, of whom every family seems to have a goodly share, they listen with fascination to my discussions with their fathers. They ask me to help them with their lessons, and above all they want to know all about the romanticized U.S. Sometimes we have long discussions, occasionally on delicate subjects. They love music, especially American ballads. (By the way, would you send me song sheets of songs on the Hit Parade or whatever nonsense is being sung nowadays?) The Sangcos have an organ, and Sunday night their eldest daughter, Virginia, played a piece from Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria and the wedding march from Lohengrin. The other night in a discussion with the girls the subject of dancing arose. The girls, the home type that is, don't indulge. There I was, an abstainer myself, now considering its merits, it's necessity as a wholesome social outlet. I told them that dances are held back at camp. They asked if I went, and I said that I did. Then they asked with whom, and I said, myself. They asked why I went, and I said for the ice cream and cake and they laughed heartily. Although convention restrains them, they still have an innate desire to dance. My relationship with them is strictly platonic. I know how they think and anticipate their reactions pretty well. They are intrigued by the dashing American, by the very high bridge of his nose. I'm aware of what they say to each other because, as with all girls, they talk about each other to me. After slitting a few throats they are satisfied that they've well disposed of their opponents. And as with all girls, for whom mirrors are an obsession, they make sure their jet black hair is just so. Whenever I swiftly scour the room and my glance meets a few eyes, smiles cross their faces. However, they fully realize the futility of becoming involved with an American. The infatuation and desire must remain silent, dormant. Ironically the more timid a girl is, the more she's infatuated. An American is perfectly safe if he sticks to a "ne touche pas" policy. This recent vacation was in the main similar to the others, except that I was introduced to some new varieties of fruit. The villagers insistence that I keep returning put me rather on the spot. The expect me to be a second "I shall return" MacArthur. They read about MacArthur returning on the leaflets that were dropped prior to the invasion. Having taken pictures of this visit, I'm now faced with the problem of having the film developed. Somehow I'll manage. Anita, who is apparently my favorite, was miserably ill with a cold, and absolutely refused to talk to me because her voice was unpleasant. After learning that she had a fever, I demanded that she be given aspirin. These people have no idea how to deal with sickness. A few weeks ago when Lucio had an eye infection, I made him apply a hot solution of some Boric Acid that I found in the house. His eye quickly got better. During the three days I spent in the village your pictures were on exhibition. They were fondled and marveled at by everyone whose gaze fell on your happy faces. The villagers positively couldn't get over the youthfulness of my parents and the handsomeness of my brother. Why, some even thought you were almost young enough to be newlyweds. You three reinforced my prestige three fold. Now that's the honest truth. I was bursting with pride. When they look at pictures they examine every detail - your clothes, ornaments, shoes, the crease in your pants, your hairdo. The girls went completely daffy over Ronnie. So help me, I wouldn't stand a chance against him. Mothers and middle aged women looked at you in awe. They branded Dad a middle aged executive type. Mind you, I did no prompting. I'm sure, Mom, Ronnie's new experience, so utterly different for him, won't do him any harm. A little grime, a few pounds lost, associating with a few wise acres, are all part of learning self-reliance - provided he keeps on the straight and narrow. Soon he will learn to make what is inconvenient less so. The first thing he should learn is how to spend money. Now and then a splurge that pays dividends won't hurt. His reversing telephone calls is wrong. It's his business to pay, his task to manage that thirty cents per day. He'll learn to leave the chow hall full regardless of how little food is served or how poor it is. He can't be choosy about what he eats; he need only know what benefit he can derive from it. Most important he should keep his body well rested, and free of tension. The two things necessary to maintaining this condition are sleep and cleanliness in both body and clothes. To learn how to sleep anytime anywhere is a great thing. I've succeeded at it. The eyes, the head, the entire body needs rest. Bodily cleanliness means, whenever possible, taking at least one shower a day. If it's not possible, then use a bucket or helmet, and make sure that water cleanses every portion of the body. This is impossible only when the boys are in battle. Clean clothes means frequent changes. As soon as they become grimy, change them. I wear two (sometimes three) pair of trousers a week, three to five sets of underwear, two shirts (sometimes one), and three to five pairs of socks. In wet weather I make a complete change daily. To avoid running out of clothes more frequent washing is necesary. If washing isn't possible, then beg, borrow or steal more clothes. There should be at least a part of the waking day when you feel clean and refreshed. This is essential to ease the mind as well as the body. I've seen men that relax their personal habits, especially on board ship, become a miserable, wretched lot. Frankly, it took me a while to realize the value of such seemingly minor things. Ronnie will learn these things too. I hope so. Above all he shouldn't be over-enthusiastic, or anxious to do things because nobody cares whether he will become tired or not. The only one that cares about you is you yourself. 8/1/45 Dear Mom, I hoped that this weekend would see the war end. It wasn't an altogether absurd possibility. Damn them to hell, unfortunately the [Japanese] leaders, driven by a frantic and futile determination, are willing to let their own people be massacred and their cities laid waste. They are guided by a bent and twisted logic. To ignore our ultimatum means sheer disaster, yet they persist. Apparently they cling to a flimsy hope for negotiations. They remind me of the stubborn fellow, who in the throes of losing an argument, can't bring himself to back down. Or as with Germany, they need more proof of our might. Whatever their reason, their decision makes me angry, and, for the first time, I wish that none of them will be spared. I can't help but believe that wars, like people, die when the forces of nature and chance are good and ready to let them die. Last week was a gala one for seeing movies. I saw two notable mysteries, one with Gene Tierney, and the other with - well, she was an eyeful anyway. I can't remember the names of the stars or pictures lately. I know during the most recent picture, despite the beauty that adorned the screen, my eyes were more often drawn to the eastern sky as I watched a bewitching moonrise that gave an exotic cast to the land and the sea. The clouds, massed behind a magnificent golden sphere, were radiant with green, yellow and pink tints. The maneuver was serene and fleeting. Oh yes, her name was Ella Raines, but her powers weren't as captivating as the moon's that night. The tropics can be so lurid and infectious at the same time, so completely magical and inspiring. Here's eighty dollars, a tidy sum, to use if you need it. I still have a little over a hundred on the books.