Letters To My Mother From WWII: June 1944

mom3Florence Norton Ellisonmom1

June, 1944

June 1: The best way to get a letter off to you is to write it early in the morning. It’s a little cooler now and I am not as tired. I have been up for a couple of hours and it’s only seven now. Had breakfast which consisted of hash, sea biscuits and coffee. I have shaved, policed my tent and hung my blanket in the sun. Later on I’ll open my barber shop. To do that I put two boxes outside. One for my customers and one for my tools. It isn’t much of a shop, but I made $8.50 yesterday and expect to do as well today. If I could do as well every day I would be lucky, but there are days when there is no business. Here is a question. Can we furnish a bedroom for a hundred and seventy-five dollars?

It sure is beautiful this morning. I hate to think of what it will be by noon. Last night it was so cold that one blanket wasn’t enough. I love this weather, but in time it would get a fellow. This is the kind of weather that makes the bass hit. Wish I could be on the lake back home. I regret that my wife doesn’t like to fish. However, I think if she goes with me a couple of times she will like it.

I met a man from Plymouth. We had a long talk about the swell parks. He knew several girls that I knew, but he didn’t live there when P. Ray and his good-looking daughters were in town.

The fellows play a lot of checkers. Some of the boys are pretty good. The game never interested me, so I spend my time playing solitaire.

There is a small chance that we will get our mail. It sounds too good to be true.

June 4:  Editor’s Note: A note at the top of the letter indicates that dad is in Finchaven New Guinea. A google search of the site indicates that the real spelling is Finschhafen, but it was common for solders to spell it as dad does.

I am dead tired, barbering is really something now. I guess I work from daylight until dark and that leaves little time for letter writing. I have made nearly thirty-five dollars in the last four days. So you can say I am working. I made nine dollars today and took out two hours to go to church.

Everything is the same, no mail, no news, no nothing. I got up before daylight in order to be the first in line for breakfast. After chow I wash, shave, and read my Bible or play solitaire until seven-thirty. I open up at seven thirty. To open up shop I find a palm tree that has nothing but green nuts on (a ripe one might fall) and set up the chair. The chair is nothing more than a box that has a small air cushion on it (we use them for pillows at night). Next I put my tools on another box and I am ready to work. I have a pair of scissors, clippers, three combs, bottle of shampoo, after shaving lotion, razor, soap, towels and disinfectant. Yes I bought a bottle of shampoo from a sailor for four dollars and a half. The bottle cost him about 30 cents, but you don’t know anything about high prices. A shampoo costs three bob (48 cents) and the customer has to furnish two helmets of water and a towel.

Speaking of high prices, if you have anything to sell over here you can get your own price. One fellow stole a case of beer (from where I don’t know) and sold it for one pound a bottle. If I had been there I would have bought two.

June 8:  News from Europe looks pretty good. Everyone here is pretty tickled over the second front and although we haven’t had many details we feel as though the end is coming. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was home in another year?

It’s trying to rain this morning. I didn’t bother to open shop because I didn’t want my tools to get wet. Anyway, this morning is my morning to write to you.

My washing turned out even worse than I expected. My clothes were at the bottom of the tub and there were too many on top of them. Consequently, my clothes were burned and I had to throw them away. I still have a shirt and a pair of trousers and two pair of shorts. That’s enough for me.

There is a river close by and we have to cross it a great deal. At first we had nothing but a log that was high above the water and every now and then someone would fall into the water. The boys have made a raft and fastened a cable and pully to it and a tree on the other side of the river. It works pretty good, but now and then too many try to cross at the same time and the raft turns over.

Some of the boys here have Jap money. I am going to try and send you some. A Native was around last night selling wooden combs for a half pound. He carves them himself and they are not too much. I want to send you something from over here ant I will but it’s going to be nice. I would like to send you a block of teak wood and if I find some I will. There is plenty of it here, but I can’t very well send you a whole tree. I have a small hunk of wood that I cut off the dock at Alcatraz. Yes I have been there.

I could stand some food. It has been only two hours since breakfast, but I am starved. Didn’t eat enough powdered eggs this morning. They are fairly good if someone would throw some salt in them. My waist line is down to thirty. That’s two inches below par.

It has been seven weeks since I have had a letter. It sure would be swell to hear from you. Right now you must be making plans to leave Virginia, but this letter will find you in Bellaire. I am sort of lonesome to see the Maples on the Courthouse lawn or push a boat out in Lake Bellaire. About this time of year the bass fishing on the upper lake is good.

June 10: I’ll have to use V-mail for a few days. Will not be able to write as much, but I’ll write every day. I managed to buy a mirror yesterday and it’s pretty nice to own one. I left the states without one and yesterday was the first chance I had to buy.

A falling coconut hit a fellow on the head yesterday. It knocked him out for a short time.

I suppose B.J.Miller is having a time. He is with a pack outfit in Italy. They seem to have them on the move over there.  Editor’s Note: I remember a part of a training story dad told about B.J.Miller. The Sargent sent B.J. on a mission at night and in horrible weather to wipe out the “enemy” located in some foxholes.  B.J. returned from the training mission with a roll of toilet paper that he handed to the Sargent and informed the Sargent that “The hole of the enemy had been wiped clean.”

My dreams were pleasant for a change. As a usual thing my dreams are so bad they scare me.

June 15, Admiralty Islands: I have a lot to tell you this time because the last few days have been interesting. In fact I have had more fun than you can imagine. I can’t tell you how many of us came up here or how long we were in coming, but the whole trip was something I have often dreamed of but never thought I would do it.

We came up on a small boat. There were only a few officers on board and they hired me to do their cooking. I had the run of the galley and could sleep in the tiny mess hall. Of course the galley is at the rear of the ship and I bribed the chief steward out of his fishing tackle and when I wasn’t cooking I was fishing. At night while the rest of the ship was in blackout I would be able to have the lights on (they didn’t show outside) and the crew would come down and have tea. The crew was a cross-section of the world. The gunners were American boys, the chief engineer is a native of New Guinea, the first mate was from Russia and the skipper was from Australia. Among the crew were fellows from England and Poland. The chief engineer was very interested in the trip. I happened to be on the gunner deck as we started to approach this group of islands and he told me a little of his life. He was raised on New Guinea and while he was a young man he came up here and married the daughter of a plantation owner. With the coming of the war he had to go to Australia and this is his first time to come back. From the ship he pointed out his father-in-law’s plantation, but he suspects the Japs killed all of them.

While on board I cut the crew’s hair. They took me up on the gunners’ deck and I started with the ship’s Captain and cut until I had them all finished. I cut the Captain’s hair while he was right at the compass. The cook loaned me his room to clean up in. All in all it was as nice a boat trip as I have ever had.

You will notice that I am pretty close to the equator. They say we are about 50 miles south and let me tell you it is hot. I can see the North Star and the Southern Cross at the same time. I think  I am going to like it here. The chow is extra good and I can get Briggs pipe tobacco. I had the bad luck of leaving all of my toilet articles and razor blades on another island. If I can catch a boat I’ll go get them tomorrow. It would be a shame if I lost all the blades.

The Japs are pretty all cleaned up around here. My troop has been on patrol and found a few. I’ll go with them next time and perhaps I’ll get my first Jap.

I met a fellow today that I used to know in 1938. I spent that summer in New York and we both dated the same girl. Was I ever surprised to find him in this part of the world.

I should get mail from you within the next few weeks. It has been so long since I heard from you that I hardly know that I have a wife. I am anxious to hear about my daughter too and I hope you tell me all about her. If you are in Bellaire tell Avis to send my paper here and write the Thoroughbred Record at Lexington KY, and have them send my Record here. I’ll try to write as often as I can, but, there is work to do and I may not write as often as I would like to. The 7th Cavalry is an old Michigan outfit. This is the outfit that Custer had when he fought the Indians. At that time he lost the colors and they never won them back until this campaign.

John A and Clair T are in the heavy weapons troop. Only two others that took basic with me are here.

Editor’s Note:  I think he is on either Los Negros or Manus Island. Los Negros was not completely cleared until March 25, 1944 and Manus during May.  These islands are located 200 miles northeast of New Guinea. Between Jan 22 and 26, 1944 the 1st cavalry division  was at Cape Sudest at Oro Bay in New Guinea and we know dad was at Oro Bay. On the 27th of March the 1st Cavalry division was sent to Los Negros. Los Negros and the larger adjacent Manus Island were needed for air and naval bases in the effort to neutralize Rabaul, the area’s main Japanese base complex some 390 miles away. I think the seventh cavalry was organized to be a part of the first cavalry, but not sure when that happened. I think dad was sent there after these two islands were cleared. My guess is that he is on Manus because, as the last to be cleared and the larger of the two islands, there is more of a likelihood of Japanese presence.

June 17: I have been pretty busy today. This morning I fixed up my bunk. I have a frame over the top  and for the first time in months I can have your picture out. I put my clothes up there too and it seems pretty nice not to have to get into a barracks bag every time I want clothes. After lunch I walked along the beach and picked up shells and coral. The shells are beautiful and I am going to send Wanda a box of them for her gold-fish bowel. There is a kind that is rare and tomorrow I’ll wade about a quarter of a mile to a coral reef where I may find some. If I can find two that are a perfect match I’ll send them to Detroit and you shall have a pair of ear rings such as you have never seen. On top of all this, I made $3.84 this afternoon. Barbering is going to hold out better than I thought. Tomorrow I will wash my clothes, go to church, and work on my rifle. One of these days I am going to see a Jap and when I do I want my rifle to be in working order.

Clair T and I found some Jap bones this afternoon. That’s as close as I have been to one of the varmints. I think I told you that Clair T and John A are in the heavy weapons group.

The 7th cavalry has the name of being the best show outfit in the whole 1st cavalry division. Editor’s Note: Guess I was right, the 7th is a part of the 1st. We have Saturday morning inspections, police up, shave every day, and keep our shoes shined. Everything is as neat as a pin and they have hauled white sand in and spread it over the troop streets and floor of the tents. The palms are not as nice here. Too many of them had their tops blown off. It’s nice to wake up in the morning and have everything clean and neat. Sure beats the mud from the last place.

June 18: It seems as though every time I turn around I get a bad case of sunburn. I spent most of the afternoon in the water and I am cooked again. I wanted to get some shells that are rare around here. I waded out about two hundred yards to a coral reef and managed to find twelve of them.You find them back under the coral, but it’s a job to find them. I sold ten of them for a  half pound and the other two will someday be earrings for you. I will not try to make them myself, but I’ll send them to your dad and have him take them down to Peacocks. They will make a nice gift for your birthday.

A coral reef is the most beautiful thing in the world. The coral grows from the bottom and though it comes to the top in a few places the usual depth of the water is about two feet. I saw starfish that were as blue as the sky and fish of all colors. They were tiny and they seemed to have no fear. Hid back in the coral were all forms of marine life and most of it was so odd-looking that you wouldn’t think that it had life.

I told you that I lost my razor blades. Clair T brought them in today. He managed to get a pass this morning.

Isn’t the news good. I do not hear very much but it all seems good. Without a doubt you know what is going on over here better that I do. I have heard that Japan was bombed two or three days ago. Just how much truth there is to it is more than I know. I am going to the Red Cross after a while to see if I can pick up any news.

We have three lizards in our tent. One of them is black, one black with a blue tail and another is green. One of them has got into my bed about three this morning. By the time I chased him out I was wide awake and ready to get up. We have boilers here, so I built a fire and boiled my clothes. They have given me more clothes and that means more to wash.

Tell mom never to send me cigarettes. We have plenty of them and they are free. When ever you send a package make sure it is well wrapped. So many of the packages take a beating before they get here.

I can’t get over how good we are being fed. After six weeks of C Ration hash this food is just like eating at the Chinaman’s. I’ll get fat.

Whenever I see a picture of a baby I get lonesome to see Edith. I wonder what kind of baby she is. Who knows, I may get a letter from you someday. It’s been a long time and I am pretty lonesome.

June 19: I expect to hear from you this week and I am pretty thrilled over it. It’s going to seem pretty nice to hear from you.

Nothing much happened today. It was pretty hot this morning, but it rained this afternoon and it’s a lot cooler now, The nights are fine and I don’t have to use a blanket until towards morning. I sure enjoy this weather, but in time this heat would get a man.

I guess I will be the troop barber. They have two barbers in this troop, but they don’t care for the job. At the end of the Troop St. is a small tent with a chair in it and I cut hair all afternoon. I have better that thirty-six pounds to send you whenever I can get a money order. I have better than two months pay coming and will not be paid until the last of July. Don’t worry Flip, the five dollars I spent for the scissors, comb, and clippers is going to darned near furnish our house.

This sure is a pretty little place and I seem to be enjoying myself. I am glad I do, because it would be hell if you hated it. I get lonesome, but it never lasts long. I am glad that I have a little religion. I don’t know what I would do over here without it.

June 20: Mail at last. So far today I have received nine letters, five from you, one from your mother, one from mine, one from H.J. Lord and a letter from Shirl. I used to go with her and she wrote telling me that her husband was over here. Your letters covered a period from May 9th until May 20th. Mom’s letter was mailed April 28 and your mother’s was mailed May 26.

At last I know what my baby looks like. Thanks for sending the pictures and I must admit we have a pretty sweet baby. The pictures of you are good. Your hair is longer and I can’t figure out what earrings you have on. It seems so darned nice to know that you are all right and to have a good picture of you here. I can’t seem to thank you enough.

I have K.P. tomorrow. It has been some time since I have been on K.P. By the way, tell your mom that when I mention work I mean work and not fighting. She worries too much, but she must remember that there is work to be done over here. In fact I have had a crack at everything from unloading boats, making roads, to help building a saw mill. Tell her I never did see Doc. Fuller and I left the states one day later than she thought. I made two dollars this afternoon. Barbering isn’t as good here, but I’ll manage to make a little.

Of course it will take more than two thousand to build. However, if I have that much cash I’ll be able to get a loan. I expect it will take five or six thousand at least, but I’ll make it so don’t worry your pretty head. I am glad you are paying off your school debt. I will work on the furniture and you can sort of take care of the debt. When you come right down to it we are not so bed off.

You must have been sick after the baby came. You mentioned Sulpha and your mother mentioned a bad kidney. Perhaps other letters will tell me all about it.

We were glad to get the news about Pensive. His sire was imported from England by Walter Chrysler and American breeders have expected great things of him. Last summer one of his yearlings sold for $66,000. I am not convinced that Pensive is a great horse. He won in slow time and I suspect he didn’t have too much to beat. I am glad to see you take interest in the Preakness, you are a darling.

I had to laugh when you mentioned how hot it was back there. We haven’t had much frost around here. Darling, you don’t know what hot is until you get a shot of this. I love it far better than cold and I am glad they sent me here rather than Italy.

Right now we are having a cloud burst. I am glad we have sand on the troop st. or we would have to wade through the mud. If I have to fall out for retreat in this rain I’ll have a job cleaning my rifle tonight. Out tent has flooded. The funny part of it is that there is a whirlpool in the middle of the tent and the water is going into the ground. In fact it’s making such a big hole that out table is apt to fall in. I’m not kidding either.

June 22 V-Mail: I am out of writing paper and I don’t know when I will get more. My letters are coming in packages now. I’ll be glad to get the one that tells me what was wrong with your kidney and Edith’s eye. You buy the set of dishes or hang onto the money. You mentioned making one payment and August 1st I’ll send you a hundred dollars. Don’t worry, your husband can take care of you. Tell mom not to send chewing gum in a letter. This a hot country and it reaches me in liquid form. I can get all I want for nothing.

June 23 V-Mail: Your letter of May 26 asking my opinion on the job came today. I haven’t much space so my opinion will have to be brief. I would love for you to have a chance in the musical world, but I am afraid I would kick loud and long if you were singing in a Night Club or left Edith to the care of anyone over a period of time. I will not be over here long enough to make it worth while for you. If you want to work I would rather you had an office job. I would just as soon you didn’t work a lick. However, that part is up to you. I have to go on guard right now.

June 25:  I have an air mail envelope, so I will write you a letter. It’s so darned hard to write anything on a V-Mail.

It sure is hot this morning. I was expecting a friend from another island and walked down to meet his boat. He wasn’t on it, but I sure got warm going down there. I hate to think of going to church this morning.

The news over here sure looks good. I am not sure what they are telling you back there, so I will not mention anything definite. I have a hunch that Tojo will have his hands full before the year ends and I plan on being home next summer, if not before. I will come back whenever this division comes back and they have been here for a year. Editor’s Note: The 7th and 8th Cavalry departed San Francisco on June 26, 1943 and arrived at Brisbane on July 11, 1943. Not only that but they are the pride of the Army and I think they will be one of the first to come home. Of course these are my own ideas and not necessarily those of the officers and men.

I have not been barbering very much. It’s so blamed hot and in a way very unhandy here. Of course I do a little now and then. I am looking the ground over and trying to plan some way to make more money. The best thing is selling, it’s easier and the profits are greater. Of course there is washing. You can do that when you are ready and the pay is pretty good. I guess the best way will be to work all the time. As long as I can send you a hundred dollars every other month I’ll be happy. I can do that and better. Editor’s Note: Adjusted for inflation, the buying power of $100.00 in 1944 is equal to $1353.02 today.

The sermon in church was good today and the church was cool. Funny, but whenever you find shade over here you will find it’s cool. I don’t mind the heat too much, but you lack ambition from it’s being so hot.

John A is feeling a little better. The shock of his brother’s death is wearing off and he has a chance of a furlough back to the states. You see he has a trucking company in his name and the business may demand his return.

Steve’s letter tickled me. The first Jap I see I shall certainly ask him for his rifle to send to Steve. Do you suppose he will give it to me?

Mom seems to think we lead a hell of a life over here. Well, it isn’t too good, however, I came over with the idea I was going to like it and that helps. The big thing is to keep your mind busy. You can’t let it get you down. I try to make everything as interesting as I can even if it’s no more than a trip to the day room to read the news. I try to get as excited about it as I would on a three-day pass.

You must have a wonderful figure now. I am glad of that. I always hated to see a woman with a bad form. Yes, I remember the blue dress. Now that you have the shorts let’s see a picture of you in them. I kick myself for not bringing my pictures over here. Send pictures please. Pictures of you, mom, Wanda, Jean, your folks. Hell, there isn’t much to do but brag on the folks back home. Send the ones of Laura Marie, or at least some of them. Have you a picture of yourself in a bathing suit?

In regards to horse news, last fall Mr. Hollis payed sixty-five thousand dollars for a yearling by the same sire as Pensive. He gave the colt a Greek name, but I can’t think of it now. The colt will be in New York and should get a lot of publicity. See what you can find. Mr. Combs of Lexington will have a good three year old mare at Chicago by the name of Duranza. Although she is one hell of a mare her owner does not care to race in New York. If you see anything in regards to her let me know. Later on I will get the Thoroughbred Record and you will not have to do this for me. As long as the rest of your life is going to be mixed up with breeding and racing this will help you develop an interest.

I hope I have some mail tonight. I can’t kick because I have been getting as high as sixteen letters a day. Most of them were written in April, but it’s news just the same.

Yes I have a fair idea of where I would like to live in Northville. I think I will be able to buy five aces out west Seven Mile Rd. I wouldn’t want much more than that. I guess it would be possible for us to have a swimming pool. We will fix something or other. I am not sure what land would cost, but I have an idea it would be high.

June 28, V-Mail:  No mail for the last three days. All told I guess twenty of your letters have reached me, twenty-five at the most. I’ll be glad when I get a few that are up to date. It sure seems good to be up here where there isn’t as much mud as there was at Finchaven or Milne Bay. I was there you know.

June 29: I ran into an Edward Ellison. By mistake I received his mail and thought perhaps it might be my cousin who has the same name. This Ellison is from Prom Minn. and his great-grandfather came from England same as mine.

I told you how John A had received word of his brother’s death. Yesterday he received two letters from his mother, one written the day he died, and the other eight days later. In neither letter did she as much as mention what had happened. In case any thing should happen at home I would want to know about it, and not be in the mental mix-up that John A is in. Why do people back home think that a man overseas shouldn’t hear any bad news?

Yesterday I found a  *****. They have a split toe and my first thought was to send it to Steve. I picked the darned thing up and the ******had not only left his*****, but he left his foot inside of it. Steve wants a Jap rifle. I am afraid if I do get one I’ll sell it. They are worth a hundred and fifty dollars and some Jap flags bring a hundred. Some of the officers carry “Hara Kiri” knives and I would like one of them.

We have lots of pipe tobacco now. For a while I gave up smoking a pipe, but now they have my brand and I am happy again.

Guess what, I spent a half pound yesterday. On the average I don’t spend that much in a month, but I wanted some clothes washed and hired a fellow to do it for me.

I received seventeen letters today. One from Wanda, several from you and mom. Tell mom that her Easter Card reached me a little late. I know why the mail is slow, but from now on I will get them a little better. Tell mom not to bother to send any more Detroit papers. Just now we are getting pretty much all the news. In regards to V-Mail, I use it because sometimes it ‘s impossible to get anything else. I do not like it as well, and your letters come faster by air.

Steve Fuller isn’t here (I mean young Steve). The Japs had this place when he was killed. I think he is buried on Guadalcanal. I didn’t look at Milne Bay and he wasn’t at Finchaven.

 

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