Mud and War Together
Dec 1. Combat Zone: This is the first letter I have written in two or three days. I tried a couple of times, but gave it up. My nerves have been sort of bad and I find the best way to steady them is to work. The other night, during a blackout, I killed and dressed five chickens. I did have a candle by which to dress them, but I had to put it out every now and then.
I was pleased to see you take an interest in E.Stanley Jones’ talk. Editor’s Note: A Methodist Minister and theologian who was a missionary in India and was pro Indian self-determination. I heard him speak in California. If I felt more like it I would tell you what I think of him and his ideas. He is on the right track as far as the peace is concerned. As for me, right now, I would settle for any peace that would give me twelve hours of untroubled sleep.
Dec 1. Combat Zone, V-Mail: I was so tired when I wrote this morning. I slept two hours this afternoon and I feel much better now. I slept like a baby and the Sgt. had to shake me to wake me up. That is unusual.
I was paid today. They gave me fifty-one pesos ($25.50). I feel that I am rich. I am not going to send any home until the campaign is over. A little cash is a handy thing to have over here. These people are anxious to make a little money doing washing and what not.
I am going to write to your dad tonight. I am glad I have a dad even if it is an in-law. After being without one for twelve years it seems nice.
Dec 2. Combat Zone: It rained last night, all night long. I am always glad when it rains at night because it keeps the Jap planes grounded. It is nice out this morning, but the mud is still deep. Why must mud and war always be together?
Your dad wrote that he was sending me some film in my X-Mass box. Several of the boys have cameras, so I can use it all right. The pictures I had taken in the Admiralty Islands never came back. They should be along one of these days. I have a hunch I will get a picture of Edith for X-Mass and I sure will be glad to get it. I wish I could have mailed you folks a box. It makes X-Mass seem so empty when you can’t give any gifts.
I sure eat a lot of rice. Three times a day a little girl brings me a plate of rice and another plate of fish. The fish are small and I mean small. They are only about 1 inch long and they are fried a golden brown. There are always a bunch of little boys around here. I let them play for a while and then holler “oudelay” and they jump through windows to get out. I don’t know the exact meaning of the word and neither do they, but they sure get on the ball.
I am going to cook some onions, rice and whatever else I can find. Nothing like eating good while I have a chance.
Dec 3. Combat Zone: Talk of chicken soup; we had some last night that was tops. This is the way to make it. Cut up one chicken and put it in a gallon can. Add 3 onions, rice, salt, pepper, and boil slowly for 4 hours. Add one half pound butter and serve in canteen cups. I guess you think that all I do is cook chicken. Wish it was that way.
Filipino girls have it over American girls when it comes to walking. They are so smooth. It comes from being taught to balance things on their head. Two young girls, age 10 and 12, went to church this morning. I laughed to see them coming down the road. It was raining and they had one hat large enough for both of them to use. If I ever can I will send you one of their hats. They have a real wide brim which is protection from both sun and rain. The girls told me they would say a prayer for me at church.
Whenever one of the people here die they make a coffin for them and tie the coffin onto bamboo poles and carry it to the graveyard. The family tags along behind and they never seem to show a great deal of grief.
Here is a story for you. There is one old man who lives alone here and, as all Natives, he sleeps on the floor. Some of our boys have a post close to his house. The other night a bomb fell close and the boys heard the old man grunt, roll over, and go back to sleep. In the morning they found a million holes where shrapnel went through his floor. The old man never bothered to get up and that’s what I call keeping cool.
Dec 4. Combat Zone: At times I wonder just what to write to you. The things that I would enjoy writing about are taboo subjects and the other things seem so uninteresting.
Last night I was with some colored engineers and they were as close to the front as they had ever been. They thought they were right on the front and were pretty nervous. At one time we heard a plane (American or Jap, I don’t know which) and they all jumped into a hole. Most of them work driving trucks, building roads and air strips, unloading ships and in general just plain hard work. Don’t ever let anyone tell you they do not work hard.
We had chicken again last night. We didn’t have any onions, but they tasted good. In fact we had one hell of a good supper because the troop sent us a big pan of fried pork along with the other things.
I bought a years supply of razor blades yesterday. I suppose you folks will send more in the X-Mass box. No need for me to grow a beard now.
There is a boy over here from Bellaire. In fact I know him well and would like to see him. Perhaps I will if they send me his address. Yesterday I met a fellow from Clair T’s squadron and he told me Clair T was still without blemish. At one time they were in trouble and I worried about him.
During the day I get along pretty good without being lonesome, but when night comes and I sit looking out into the dark I get an empty feeling at the bottom of my stomach. It is then that I miss you.
Dec 5. Combat Zone: It’s funny how our minds work. You spend all your time dreaming about how our home will look inside and all I ever give it is a passing thought. My mind is always centered on what sort of material it will be built with and what the outside will look like. By outside I mean grounds and garden. I have always enjoyed a garden. If you will remember, I had one while at Champaign. There is one thing I want for sure and that is a large bed of horseradish. We used to have it on the farm and I love it. In a way I sometimes think I should have been a farmer.
Years ago I thought that when I had a home of my own I wanted a front lawn of Bent grass. Bent grass is used on golf course greens and it makes a real thick carpet. It takes so much care that I have given up the idea. Our lawn will be a mixture of lawn grass and Canadian bluegrass. The bluegrass will do well in the shade. I hardly suppose either of us have an idea of the work ahead. It will be worth it. Oh yes, I have been wanting to get a hold of some good Beech and make a bookcase. I think the heartwood from a Beech would take a good finish and if I can’t take a hammer and wood chisel and make a bookcase my name isn’t Ellison. They are nice dreams.
Remember the Sgt. in the picture I sent home last winter from Fort Ord? He jumped into a slit trench the other night and a bomb lit within fifteen feet from him. He never got a scratch. Editor’s Note: A slit trench is a narrow, shallow trench dug during combat for the protection of a single soldier.
Dec 6. Combat Zone: For some reason or other your letters are not coming through. I have gone several days without hearing from you. It’s just one of those things and I’ll be hearing from you any day now.
Yesterday we bought eight chickens. This morning we dressed them and the Mess Sgt. came down and fried them for us. By the way, our Mess Sgt. used to be a cook in the Kentucky Hotel at Lexington. He is from Lexington and you will meet him someday. Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil is the following: “She did in 1947.”
I was going to send Steve and Jim some Filipino money for a X-Mass gift. We can’t send it home so that’s out. If I was in the states I would get them a copy of Kipling’s “Just So Stories.”
My arm is sore. They gave me a shot this morning. Every once in a while we get a shot and I never know what it’s for. We stay a pretty healthy bunch, so I guess they serve their purpose.
I had my boys hauling water for me while I scrubbed my kitchen. They are good workers and about all they get for pay is something to eat or a shot of hair oil. They love the smell of hair oil.
Cock fighting is still the main event around here. The boys will sure bet on a good fight. Sometimes the stakes run as high as $150.00. It’s a mighty healthy soldier who, in the midst of one of histories’ great battles, can take an interest in cock-fighting.
Dec 7. Combat Zone: I have decided to buy a fighting cock and train him for a fight. I might be able to win a stake if I get a good one and train him so that he will be in good condition. I will not be able to do that until the campaign is over with, but it will be something to look forward to.
I had chicken again for breakfast. I still have a pullet left and that means chicken again tomorrow. It sure beats the spam the army hands out.
Your dad seems to enjoy putting a cane bottom in a chair. He should see the way these people make a bed with a cane bottom. They make the frame from wood and then weave the sleeping surface out of cane. I have been sleeping on one and they are pretty nice. Most of the people make mats which they spread on the floor for beds. The people who own this place must be well off because this is a nice house. They are living in the country for the time being. I guess it is quieter out there.
If everything goes right, by tomorrow I will be the owner of as fine a fighting cock as there is to be found around here. He has won has last four fights. I may not try to fight him for big stakes because I don’t know too much about fighting chickens. Later on I’ll go for the downs. Some chicken over here is going to pay off my debt to Wanda. Perhaps tomorrow I will tell you how chickens are trained and what the rules are in regards to fighting. It is very interesting.
P.S. Sure has been hot today Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil and dated 10/3/1957; This post script meant “The Jap plans gave us hell.”
Dec 8. Combat Zone: I am sending you a complete set of Japanese invasion money. The bills without serial numbers are the ones used at the time of invasion. The ones with serial numbers are the ones they issued after they had proclaimed the Philippines a Republic.
The man came around with his fighting cock this morning, but after a close inspection I decided not to buy him. I let him spar a little with another cock and he seemed too slow. Not only that but the man asked twenty-five pesos for him. When I pay that much I want to be sure I am getting something.
Any man who ever set foot on a race track has seen chicken fights. However, I never did realize how much there was to it. In fact, I am very interested in it and I am going to have a few at home if for no more than to fool around with. I think you will like them too. I certainly hope so. We can keep them at the stable which is the proper place for all game cocks.
If you get an envelope with just a piece of cloth in it do not be surprised. The holes will be where the shrapnel went through. When the war is over I will pin my service bar on this and with spurs and Grandpa Ellison’s spurs I will make a plaque.
We both lost our vote. That part matters little. We had a chance to take what ever stand we wanted to and that is what is important. I am satisfied with the administration now in office if only they would stand definite on some foreign policy.
I am reading “Drums Along The Mohawk.” It is very good in case you haven’t read it. I am looking forward to the day when you and I can curl up by the fire and read “Paradise Lost.” Several times during this campaign I find myself repeating some lines from the “Rubaiyat.”
“The ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes, But Here or There as strikes the Player goes; And He that tossed you down in the Field, He knows about it all – He knows – He knows!”
Editor’s Note: This is a translation by English poet Edward Fitzgerald of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In his letter dad correctly quoted the poem. The format is thanks to google.