Letters To My Mother From WWII: September 14-23, 1944


Edith and P. Ray Norton, Sept 1963

September 14-23, 1944

Sept 14.48:  I received a letter from your dad today. It was mailed at the start of his vacation. Both your father and mother write very interesting letters.

There was a stage show tonight that was very good. After we had a movie. I didn’t stay for the movie because I am on KP tomorrow and I want to get up early. Who ever gets up first has his pick of the jobs. I have always managed to get there first.

I am going to bed very soon. I wouldn’t have written tonight, but I hear there is action north of here and I know you will worry until you hear from me. Cheer up darling! I am still on my little island and just as safe as you are. I have got the jungle rot and right where I have to sit on it.

Sept 15.49:   Received letter #15 today. Out of 15 letters I have received the last ten. Perhaps I got the other five and never noticed the number.

I will tell you why Orra married Ruth. As a kid he was knocked from pillar to post and never had a real home. He wanted a home so bad that I think he jumped at the chance to get married. He sure got a lemon. Honestly, if you kept house like Ruth I am afraid I would take to drink.

I am dirty as a pig from KP. I helped sort some potatoes that were half rotten and it left me with a smell. I can’t take a shower (no showers after five.), but I’ll take a bath in my helmet before I go to bed. I do most of my bathing in a helmet.

I galloped a pencil for about an hour this afternoon and this is what I figured out. Within a year after I come home I will be able to swing a loan for about five thousand. The GI Bill of Rights will back $2000.00 on the loan and pay the interest on the first year for the $2000. Through the Veterans Administration the interest will be 4%.  In other words the first year of our interest will be $120.00 and after that it will be $200.00 a year or sixteen a month which is far cheaper than rent. Between now and when we build you and I will have to save enough to buy furniture and it will cost us close to a thousand at the very least. In other words, as soon as we can save $1000.00 I will build you a house. For a while I thought I wanted at least five acres of land, but I have given that up. I know where there is about eighty acres I would like to own and I have an idea it will be for sale in about ten years. We may be able to swing it by then.

I suppose you have an idea that I am fighting at Yap…..not so. I always had a hunch I was going there, but I guess I wasn’t needed.


Editor’s Note: In WWII Japanese held Yap was one of the islands bypassed by the US island hopping strategy. It was regularly bombed by US ships and aircraft and the Yap based Japanese bombers did some damage in return.

_________________________________________________________________Darling, this is the most perfect climate in the world and I love it. I will hate to leave this place and I hope that someday you and I can come over here. It would be fun if we didn’t have to stay.________________________________________________________

I put the above paragraph in to fool a guy here. He hates this place and I always tell him I love it. I let him read what I wrote and he blew his top. I do like it here, but I sure as hell don’t want to come back.  Editor’s Note: Just a small sample of dad’s sense of humor.

I once rode a horse from eight miles the other side of Otsego Lake to Mancelona in a day’s time. It was winter and I tried to go from Otsego Lake to Mancelona by going straight west. It’s all woods through there and the road was untraveled and full of snow. We got lost. The mare got tired and I had to lead her the last five or six miles. What a time I had that day.

Sept 17.44:  Six months ago this afternoon I got on the boat that was to bring me over. What a feeling that was. I thought we would leave that night and not wanting to miss anything I spent most of the night on deck. The next day at noon we went under the Golden Gate Bridge. A lone girl stood on the rail of the bridge and waved good-by.  It must have been the thrill of a life time to her when five thousand soldiers cheered and waved back.

That was sure a great trip and the only real scare I had was when the guns on the boat opened up. At the time I thought it was the real thing. It was only a drill or as the army says “dry run.” While on the boat I got a lot of extra duty because I would open the porthole to cool off the cabin. Another thing that used to give me the jitters was the fact that if one of us fell off the boat we would be going to our own funeral. They wouldn’t stop to pick you up because they would be a soft mark for a sub. No one fell off.

Each evening at sunset you would hear this announcement. “Your attention please. One half hour from now all portholes and openings will be closed. There will be no smoking or lights of any kind showing above the open deck. Any infringement of this rule will jeopardize the ship’s crew and all passengers on board. Thank-you.” I looked for evenings to come because the fellows would bring out a guitar or two and everyone would gather around and sing “Rolling Home.” I liked the moonlight nights the best. The master of the ship preferred a fog or mist that would let him sneak  along unobserved by enemy subs. It was a great trip and one that I will never forget.

Sept 17.50: I spent part of the morning sharpening my machete. When I finish with it I’ll have an edge on it that will cut. I hate to have any kind of knife dull. I have a scar above my knee that shows how sharp I had one knife. I also went to church this morning. I never can get used to church in the Army. It never seems to feel like the real thing.

I went over and had my jungle rot painted yesterday. It is a lot better. I’ll go every day until it clears up. I suppose I will be bothered with it as long as I stay in the tropics. I would rather have that than frost bite. There is very little danger of frost today. Wish I knew just how hot it is out there in the sun. The tent seems fairly cool.

Volleyball seems to be the big game right now. We have a court and the boys play from daylight until dark. I never get in on the game. I get most of my exercise by double timing. The whole troop double times in the afternoon and sometimes I double time from the Red Cross to my tent. My wind is even better than it used to be. When I was seventeen I used to run from my place to the golf course. I doubt whether I could do it now.

Did you see Albert Parks? He lives in back of Maggie’s place. He has a little shack on the river. He is some character and in spite of his dirt he has a fair education and is noted for his knowledge of wild life. He has a pair of swans who nest there each year and the wild ducks come in and feed with his chickens. Sometimes during a cold winter the muskrats will move right into his house. He used to fish with me on the upper river and he sure knows how to catch pan fish. I have often though a lot about that old man’s life. At one time he owned a laundry in Bellaire, was married and had a daughter. As a boy he broke his foot and never had it set. Consequently he walks with a limp. His wife left him and I guess the old man hasn’t taken a bath since. For a while he owned a small house, but during the depression his house went for taxes.  The old man took a few packing boxes and built his shack down by the river. He has a few chickens and once in a while he gets some little job he can do, but he never seemed to care too much about himself. He used to pick up garbage so as to feed a few wild ducks that stopped by each fall. The ducks soon learned they had a friend and started nesting close to his shack. A couple of swans came each spring and that is almost unheard of. His flock of wild ducks has attracted a little attention and a few years ago there was a story in the Grand Rapids Press about him. Perhaps when he is dead people will realize what a naturalist he was.

Sept 18.51:  I received a letter from my brother Steve today. It was the first time I heard from him in at least five years. Longer than that. I received a letter from him in 1934 and I guess that was the last.

I am not going to write much tonight. I am sitting on my jungle rot and it’s just like you with your boils.

We had a very easy day. Would you like to know what I call an easy day? We drilled for 30 minutes this morning. This afternoon we double timed (about ten minutes) and stood retreat.

I wear nothing but shorts socks and shoes. There are no women on this island, so I don’t have to wear the shorts.

Sept 19.52:  Your letters 18 and 19 reached me today. Sixteen and 17 have not come yet. I like it when we number our letters because I know exactly how many of your letters reach me.

Flip, I may want you to buy some war bonds. They told us this morning that we have to pay a five percent victory tax on what we draw in 44. We will not have to pay until after the war and we will be exempt if we have a certain amount of bonds bought in 44. I think they figure it at about 12% of what we draw and I  will have to buy about sixty dollars worth of bonds to cover it. I’ll have you buy them and make darned sure they are in my name.

The war seems to be going in leaps and bounds. I predicted that the European war would end this week. It is still possible. We still have a job ahead of us over here if Japan wants to fight to the finish. In a way I hope she decides to do that. She should have a taste of war when it’s fought in your front yard. Perhaps it would teach her people that was is not the least bit glorious. I suppose I’ll fight my was in the Philippines. Perhaps not. I spend a lot of time wondering where I’ll go next.

Sept 21.54:  I often think  of the people in Bellaire and the fun I used to have there. In fact I wouldn’t mind living there, but there is only one job I would want and that is Game Warden. I never could figure out whether I liked racing horses better than fishing and hunting. In the long run a Game Warden pays more money. How would you like to eat fish and wild rabbit the rest of your life?

A fellow in this troop just received a Christmas package. The funny part of it is, the package was mailed last year and was meant for the Christmas of 1943.

What a horse sale they had in Lexington. Four hundred thirty-seven colts sold for $2,285.800. An average of $5,230. Calumet Farm paid $40,000. for a yearling by Bull Lea and Elizabeth Arden gave $46,000. for a yearling by Eight-thirty. Bull Lea has a male brother standing at Northville and I am very glad of that. We will have a well-bred horse nearby in case we want to breed a mare. You and I will some day have a small stable of our own and two or three brood mares. That’s when life will be something.

John A may go to O.C.S. He has high hopes. I wouldn’t want to be an officer in combat. A private is better off than anyone else because he can watch out for his own skin without having to watch out for a platoon as well.

I am going to tell you about my platoon officer. He is in the hospital just now so I know he will not read this. Martin is his name and he is eight ball right. He always needs a haircut and I guess he just doesn’t give a darn. He is well liked by all the fellows and he seems to be extra friendly for an officer. I think he is the sort of fellow that you would like to have close during action.

I will be glad when the books get here and thanks for sending them. I am going to get some other books one of these days. Not poems, but close to it. I guess you would say prose. Prose is darned near to poems when it comes to reading.

Sept 22.55:  I received the W&B tobacco today and I was sure glad to get it. I have a friend that chews and I am going to give him a package of it. The nine packages will last me as many years. There are times over here when smoking is out of the question and I will rely on good old W&B. You should try some. As a joke Fern once took some of John’s tobacco and she sure was sick.

Editor’s Note: I have been trying to find W&B Tobacco on the internet. What I found was B&W  (Brown & Williamson) Tobacco, today known as Winston-Salem. The Cigarette Company was founded by George Brown and  Robert Williamson in 1894. Robert Williamson’s father owned two chewing tobacco facilities. I can find nothing about him on the net. What is interesting about all this is that one of the company’s employees was Jeffery Wigand the biochemist who blew the whistle on cigarettes resulting in 46 states filing a lawsuit against the tobacco companies.


 This resulted in a $368 billion settlement in health related damages again

Tomorrow or the next day I will send you a canteen. An officer in the Japanese Tiger Marines gave it to me. Boil it out real good before you handle it too much. When the war is over you and I will fill it with brandy or wine and have a drink on them.

Today I sharpened Clair T’s knife. I sure put an edge on it. I love to sharpen knives and I have a big stone here to use. For some reason or other it seems to settle my nerves. I wish you could have seen dad sharpen an ax. He was good at it. I used to turn the grind stone for him when he sharpened the mowing machine blades. It was a long job and at the time it bored me to death. I guess my dad thought I wasn’t a good worker and he thought I didn’t know a thing about a horse. He would be surprised to know what I picked out for my life’s work.

I just read where the Japs lost 4,134 men here on the Admiralties. That is a lot of men, isn’t it?  Perhaps we can whip them by spring.

I found out that the Lt. was wrong in regards to the Victory Tax. I will not have to buy bonds to cover it. I don’t want too much money tied up in bonds. By the way, haven’t you got a few hundred dollars in bonds? it seems as though you mentioned it some time ago. Hang on to them Flip.

The W.A.C.S. have made a beach head in New Guinea. I can’t see the reason for sending them over when there are so many men left in the states. It costs more to operate one of them than it does to run a GI. They put up barracks and all that for them. Give a GI and a poncho and some bully beef and he will make out.

Speaking of meat, we had steak twice today.

When I first got here I loaned my Bible to a fellow in the 8th Cavalry. He had never read the old books in the Bible. He just now returned it. I am glad because I have missed having something to read.

Sept 23.56:  It has been raining most of the afternoon. We are supposed to have a stage show (local talent) tonight, but I have an idea it will rain us out. The wind blew hard today and for a while I thought the tent would fly away.

I didn’t do much today. Had to work a while this morning, but that suited me fine because I didn’t have to stand inspection. I worked for a while sharpening my bayonet. I sure have an edge on it. I can hold up a sheet of paper and cut it in half. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have a chance to use it, but if I ever do it will sure be sharp enough.

Letters #20 and 21 just came. I like your new stationary. You write more on it. A long letter means a lot over here….the difference between a good day and a bad day.

It is nearly dark and the lights haven’t been turned on yet. We don’t have light until they start the motor. It is hard for me to write but I want to keep my seat at the table.The lights have just come on so everything is ok.

I have received several Bellaire Records the last couple of weeks. They come direct to this A.P.O. now so the news in them is a little more like news.

Ernie Pile is a hero of man and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be getting the ten-dollar infantry combat pay each month. He was responsible for getting that bill through. I have read “Here is your war” and enjoyed it very much.

One of the boys gave me a big can of Christmas candy he received from his mother. It had melted to one solid block but it was very good. After I had it nearly eaten I found out his mother mailed it in November of last year. It was intended to be here in time for Christmas last year.

This troop sure had a party last night. I went to sleep at twelve and it was still going strong. This morning the troop street was a sight. There were more beer bottles out there that I thought there was beer over here. Every one still seems to be feeling mighty happy and things indicate another party tonight. They got beer from a Seabee base close by and now and then a quart of whiskey. I have a quart of bonded whiskey buried in the sand. Had to pay $46.00 for it. I can’t afford to drink anything that expensive so I’ll sell it one of these days.

I may send you 40 pounds of Australian money. If I do just hang on to it until I ask for it. If I do send it I will send it in several different envelopes, so if one letter is lost all will not be lost.  Editor’s Note: Back in 1965 dad sent me $100 in 5 dollar bills each in a separate envelope. That was back when I was hitching through Europe and the Middle East. I was just returning from living on the kibbutz and took a boat to Rome. He sent the money to me at General Delivery, the main post office in Rome.

Tomorrow is Sunday and I am going to write a long letter to my mother and to your folks.

P.S. Write Often

Editor’s Note: And there it is….the postscript. It was written in bold also in his letter. Pretty sure it is a prearranged code and we know, thanks to history and the letter John posted on FB, that the 1st Cavalry landed at Leyte, Philippines on 10/20/1944.


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