Washing Machine Charlie
Nov 1.Combat Zone: Editor’s Note: Combat Zone mail is posted free.
Who said the Philippines were cool? I think there is very little chance of “frostbite” today. This morning I went down to a spring and washed, shaved, took a bath and washed my one and only uniform. The rest of the day I have spent trying to keep cool.
Did I wish you a happy birthday in one of my other letters? If not, I wish you one now. This letter should reach you by then. I would like to send you some sort of a gift but I don’t know where I would get one.
My shoulder has started to itch so it must be healing. It has been draining good and hasn’t been very sore. The troop commander told me not to carry a pack until it has healed.
I haven’t seen Meyers since the twenty-third. I have an idea he is all right because I know where his troop is and I don’t think they are finding anything. I have not seen Clair T since the third day and I have no idea whether or not he made it. They were in trouble for a while.
In a campaign such as this so many things happen that it’s hard to keep track of just what happened. There are so many things I would like to write about. We have nicknamed the Jap Bomber “Washing Machine Charlie.” He comes around every so often. It is fun to watch our fighters tie into him, but when I hear his engine drone and I know he is coming, it’s about then that I hit my foxhole. It isn’t very safe for a Jap plane around these parts.
If the war should end I will have several qualifications for a quick discharge: 26 months of service, eight months overseas, combat, wounded, married and a child. They will all help when the time comes.
Nov 6. Combat Zone: It’s hard for me to imagine that back in Michigan the nights are frosty and that winter is nearly there. It is pretty warm here. Not as hot as it was on the Admiralty Islands, but it is much warmer than summer back home.
We had our first mail this morning. I didn’t get any, but I suppose I’ll get mine within a day or two. The other night they gave us six cans of beer. They treat a front line soldier like a king.
I wish you could see the view I have just now. It’s mostly hills, water, and woods. It is beautiful.
I have quite a foxhole. I started out by digging a big hole and covering it with logs and dirt. Then I went back about four feet and dug a tunnel down into it. Now I am making a tunnel over to another fellow’s foxhole. All this isn’t necessary, however, it helps pass the time away and it’s much cooler underground.
There is a fruit that grows wild here and I spend part of my time looking for it. In size and shape it resembles a lemon. The meat is pink and tastes like strawberries. It’s worth looking for.
Right now I haven’t a single picture of either of you. I brought just one picture with me and it’s in my pack. I was lucky to save my fountain pen. James came behind me and was going to get some of the stuff for me. He got the fountain pen, but by that time it was too hot to stick around there. It was foolish of him to even try to get the pen.
I will try to write fairly often, but don’t expect to hear from me too often.
Nov 10. Combat Zone: This country often reminds me of Northern Michigan. Perhaps because there are cows, horses, and chickens around people who are civilized. When the sun starts to lengthen out the shadows the very air seems like home.
I have had a lot of good food this afternoon. First we got some bananas and then a Filipino brought us a fresh ham that he had barbecued, and a few minuets ago a couple of little girls were along with some candy they had made and I gave them my last 20 cents for some. I have some Jap invasion money, but you can’t spend it. It has as much value as Confederate money had about 1866. I’ll put some of it in this letter and you can have it for a souvenir.
I am glad you received the Xmas gift. Did you ever get the shells and friendship belt I sent? I found a nice blue scarf that I suspect some Jap nurse must have owned. It was blue and gray and was made to put on your head as American girls do. I intended to send it to Jean and then the other day I traded it for a canteen full of hot coffee. That sounds silly? Try sitting in the rain for five or six hours with no raincoat and you will trade anything for hot coffee.
Today I visited an old Catholic Church that the Spanish built in 1876. It was beautiful and the statues of the Virgin Mary and the Saints were fully clothed. There was no glass to the windows and the breeze rustled their clothing. They seemed almost real. Birds were singing inside the church and a Native girl with wooden sneakers was saying a prayer before some Saint. It made me feel as though I was standing next to God. I could hear the noise of the battle and I had a rifle on my shoulder and felt as though I shouldn’t be in such a place.
Vintage 1940’s Philippine Wooden Shoes
I have aged a lot in the past three weeks. Perhaps it’s from being tired and I’ll look better when I can sleep all I want. Sleeping on the ground is not very restful and when your night is broken up by guarding you get little rest. For a while we took a bombing and most of that was during the night, so I slept very little. I feel good and I am happy so don’t worry.
Don’t worry about sending me a fruit cake. I do not lack for food and sugar is hard for you to get. Sometimes I cut a stalk of sugar cane and suck on it.
I saw Meyers yesterday. He had just received 40 letters and his face was all smiles. He has twenty-three packages on the way and you can bet I’ll stick close to him.
Yesterday I saw some Natives harvesting their rice. They do it the same way people did it thousands of years ago. They go through the field and pick the heads of grain by hand and thrash it by walking on it. During the harvest everyone seems to work and all the huts have great piles of rice in front of them.
In the October 7th issue of the Saturday Evening Post there is an article titled “They paved their way with Japs.” It is about the first Cavalry. If you can find it would you please cut it out and mail it to me?
Nov 10. Combat Zone: I sure got a lot of letters today. It was my first mail since the first of October and it sure seemed good to hear from you and mom. Most of the letters were written before October 5th. Your dad sent me about half the Detroit paper and it was good to get some horse and baseball news. In fact any kind of news seems very good just now.
Night before last I slept on the shelf of a store. The shelf was just wide enough for me and I had a poncho and blanket, so I was plenty warm. The last few days have been fun. Last night I stumbled on Meyers. He had a letter from his mother that was dated the 20th. She didn’t mention you. I hope to see Clair T tomorrow or the next day; that is if he hasn’t been wounded.
When Germany falls I will be eligible for a discharge. The War Department claims they will start mustering out men with the fall of Germany and I have everything that it takes to get out. Right now I am not worrying about getting out, it’s getting through that counts.
Right now the boys are dealing with a Filipino for a chicken. Looks like we have chicken for dinner. Yesterday I traded a worn out fatigue jacket for about four dozen bananas. These people have not had clothes that were new since the Japs came.
Nov 13: Combat Zone: I have spent the morning washing my clothes and bathing. I only have one set of clothes and when ever I wash them I have to strip down. There is a nice stream close by and it makes an ideal place to wash clothes.
It looks as though it might rain. We have been very lucky about rain, but we had a couple that were bad ones. One of them blew my tent down and I spent the night sleeping in the rain. It was worse than the night in Palmer Woods.
The boys brought in a couple of game cocks and we have been having a chicken fight. When the fight ends the boys will kill and eat both of them. I have an idea they will be pretty tough for eating. Most of the chickens over here are small and they are of no special breed, but seem to be a cross of all the light breeds. I guess they never feed them, but let them pick their own living.
Nov 16. Combat Zone: I have been down to the river doing the usual washing. When you keep your cloths on twenty-four hours out of the day they soil very easily. In fact I have slept in my clothes for the past 39 days.
Talk about bananas…..I spent the past two days out in the bush and I saw enough bananas to fill a house. I have never seen any of them ripen on the tree, but when you pick them and hang them up they ripen within a few days.
Did I tell you about the chickens we had? Nine of us fellows had five chickens. We fried part of them in our mess kit and boiled the balance of them. I tried to broil one and it was pretty good even if it wasn’t too tender. A feed like that is the same as a weekend pass back home.
I suppose you have received my first letters now and know that I am safe. I see by the official news that we lost about 500 in the first nine days. That was considered pretty light for a campaign like this.
I was talking with Meyers last night. He sure is getting lean and lank from going up and down these hills. He is the picture of health. Right now we are within walking distance of each other.
I could enjoy living over here. There is plenty of unharnessed water power and a man could put in a small mill to grind sugar cane and then make it into rum. I wish you could see this country. If you and I ever have a chance to travel in our old age we will come over here and spend a couple of months eating chicken and drinking “Tuba.” I will have to tell you about the Tuba which seems to be the Native’s drink. It looks like tomato juice and has a taste similar to the old home-brew, but it has a tang that reminds me of wine. It isn’t too potent, however, it bears watching.
Editor’s Note: Tuba is made through a process of extracting the sap from an unopened coconut bud. Over time it will ferment into a strong alcoholic beverage called Lambanog.
Nov 18. Combat Zone: You should see the big stalk of bananas I have hanging on my tent pole. Wish you could help me eat them when they ripen.
I sure got a good night’s sleep. I went to bed at dark and didn’t have to pull guard until this morning at five. I got up once during the night, however, that was only to rest my hip bone. Lying on the ground is hard on hips especially when they are as skinny as mine.
You would have laughed to see your husband riding through the jungle on the back of a tank. It was as rough a ride as I had ever had and I might say as hot a one. The back of a tank is nearly as hot as a stove.
I sure would like to get some hair oil. I have had to wash my hair so often and between the sun and the rain it is pretty dry. Guess I’ll have to use gun oil.
Nov 19. Combat Zone: I received seven letters from you yesterday. Most of them written late in September. One of them was written the 20th of October which was D-day over here.
You must expect to see a change in me. My hair is thinner and if I don’t get hair oil soon I am afraid it will be worse than it is now. To me my face looks pretty much the same, but this country and life will leave its mark on anyone. Inside I am pretty much the same and I will always enjoy having fun in my own way. Yes, you and I will always do different things like we used to do.
As soon as they give me my purple heart I’ll send the medal to you. I will have a pin to wear showing that I have the purple heart and that is all that matters to me.
Flip, I don’t want you to worry too much about me. I am glad you worry a little bit, because it proves you love me. It isn’t as bad over here as you might think and the times of danger are of a short duration. There is one thing for certain and that is a man has to be on the ball over here. I dig my foxholes deep and dive in whenever I think I have a reason. Some of the boys can sleep with a Jap plane flying around. Not me!
Never in my life have I seen such a variety of insects. You should see them. They come in all shapes and colors. Also worms. While digging a foxhole we uncovered a worm so large that one of the fellows swore it was a snake. I would like to have some of them in the States to use for fish bait.
We are going to have church this morning. That is something. I haven’t been to church since I left the boat. Church will come right at dinner time, but I will gladly miss my dinner if necessary.
Last night I entertained the boys with poems. There are several fellows here who enjoy poems and they would quote from some poem to see if I could tell them the name of the poem. They didn’t stick me too often.
Nov 21. Combat Zone: Happy Birthday! I bought two bottles of tuba this morning and drank to your health.
I am more or less the guest of a very charming Filipino couple. They are so nice and both of them have a good education. They are about our age and have two children. Their little boy is only five months old. She used to teach school and her husband studied to be a doctor, that is until the Japs came and spoiled their plans. I have an idea they are very wealthy or at least have more money than the average Filipino. They have two maids and their house is nice. Just now I am writing this letter in their dining room. Yesterday she cooked me a real dinner…..fried chicken, chicken soup, rice, fried sweet potatoes, bananas, and plenty of tuba. After dinner we spent a couple of hours talking about how the Japs treated people here and from there we talked about Shakespeare, Ivanhoe, and American History. These people know their American History. The told me one of the most brutal stories that I had heard. They owned a house in town and the Japs took it over. During the time the Japs had the house they raped and killed forty Filipino girls in it. It is hell when these stories are told by people who saw it happen. When I think of all the things I have to tell you it makes me think we will need two weeks in Lexington.
I wish you were here to meet my friends and I think you would enjoy it. I am glad you are not here because we do have other things to do besides eat fried chicken. The night before last I slept in a pouring rain with only a poncho to wrap up into. The guy next to me had a tooth ache and he spent a bad night.
Nov 26. Combat Zone, V-Mail: I have been reading the rules we have to abide by in regards to censorship. I find that I can tell you more about my living quarters. For the past few days I have been living in a Filipino house. It is built off the ground and it’s nice and dry. The walls show the marks of battle and a part of one wall has been blown away, but it’s home sweet home to me. It has about five rooms and the kitchen is in the back and it’s a typical Philippine kitchen. A sand table to cook on, a basket to screen rice with, a stick with a gourd on it which we use to draw water , and floor boards spread wide apart for sanitary reasons. All told it’s a very nice place and I am as happy as a bug in a rug. I even have a cane bottom bed.
Nov 28. Combat Zone, V-Mail: It has been raining most of the morning. There is a small advantage to rain because no planes come around while the clouds are so close to the ground. A few days ago James and I were standing by a buffalo wallow when a Jap plane made us hunt cover. We jumped in. At least James jumped in and I jumped on him. He was covered with mud and I wasn’t much better off. We got a laugh out of it and I wish someone could have taken our picture. At the time it wasn’t a laughing matter. Did I tell you about B.J.Miller? He captured six Germans and got the silver star for it.