Letters To My Mother From WWII: March 1945

Main Hospital In Manila

main hospital

Hospital Ward


March 4:  Editor’s Note:  Manila is officially liberated on March 4th. However, the city is devastated by bombing and the Manila massacre, in which about 100,000 people were killed.

March 7:  I hope this reaches you before the wire saying I was wounded on March 6th. I had five artillery shells drop close to me and I got hit in the right arm just above the elbow. As soon as they take an x-ray and they will get the shrapnel out. Yes, it hurts. However, I have the use of the arm as long as I don’t try to bend it. That gives me an oak leaf cluster and four more points toward rotation……a hard way to get points. I was lucky to get in a hole when I did. The kid next to me didn’t make it. I suppose he never knew what hit him.

I broke the stem out of my pipe and had to make another. It’s a crude looking one. Cigarettes are scarce. I have got one package in five days. I doubt whether the boys got any today. The front is no place to be out of cigarettes.

This is all the paper I have and my arm will not let me write too much.

March 8:  I have a mighty sore finger today. I got a hunk of shrapnel in it and never knew. I remember at the time my finger felt numb.

I have written a lot of letters today. My buddy James is in here now. He got it this morning. I wrote to his wife and mother for him. His hand is banged up a bit.

The Filipinos have a little stand outside the gates and last night I went out to buy a few boiled eggs.They wanted twenty-five cents for one egg. Guess you know what I told them to do with their eggs.

I slept good last night. Before I went to bed my arm pained pretty bad so they gave me a sleeping pill and I dropped off as soon as I finished my prayers. It’s good to sleep all night without having to pull guard. It’s good to sleep and to know that the Japs are not going to turn a rocket on you.

They are not going to take the shrapnel out of my arm. I suppose that in ten years from now it will start to work out. I wish they would take it out and I would be finished with it once and for all.

You have had such a long hard winter that I suppose you will have an early spring. Even now the days must be a little longer and perhaps a little warmer.

This Jap ink is no good. You don’t dare fill your pen with it and even after it is dry the darned stuff will rub off and make a mess.

Did your mother come for Edith’s birthday? I sure would have enjoyed the cake. This is sort of birthday for me. I left the states exactly a year ago. I had no idea at the time what would be in store for me. I only hope that I am home again next year at this time.

Editor’s Note: The following are two V-Mail letters addressed to Rev. and Mrs P.Ray Norton 

March 8:  Wounded again! This time it was shrapnel from artillery and I got it in the right arm. I heard it coming and tried to get in a hole, but it hit before I could get down. I was very lucky. The fellow next to me never knew what hit him. The shelling lasted for some time and I was scared. I didn’t dare move from the position I was in. I could see my right sleeve all covered with blood and I couldn’t feel my arm. I thought for a while that perhaps I didn’t have one. They have not taken the shrapnel out. My arm is very sore and pains, but I can use it as long as I don’t try to lift it up. I also got nicked on my left hand, but it wasn’t much.

March 9: I suppose you folks are anxious to hear how I am coming along. Just fine! They are not going to take the shrapnel out as it would be more operation than it’s worth. I find that I have a small piece working out of my finger and it hurts like a boil. The hole in my arm is about as big around as a dime.  I had a General stop by my bed this afternoon and ask me how I was doing. As a usual thing I pray enough and in times of trouble I feel that the Lord will watch out for me and so it’s not a habit of mine to pray much while under fire. The other day was so terrible that long before it ended I was praying. No more than five shells hit where I was, but I’ll bet five hundred missed by no more than twenty feet. I never want to go through that again.

March 9:  The shrapnel is working its way out of my finger. It’s worse than having a tooth come through. I still can’t bend my arm without a great deal of pain. The shrapnel in my arm can’t be so very large. it made a hole about the size of a lead pencil.

Remember the boy with the boots and spurs who rode home with you last fall? I guess he is in the Division now/ I am questioning every one I see in the hopes I can find him. It would be fun to talk to someone who had talked to you. Can you remember his name?

The letter I wrote on March 5th was returned to me. The fellow who censored it was sore at me and he took that way to show it. I am going to send it again and I hope it gets through this time. The only thing wrong with it is that I used both sides of the paper. paper is so scarce that they should overlook that.  Editor’s Note: This letter was written on two sheets of V-Mail and then folded and put into a regular envelope. I guess he couldn’t find regular paper.

March 10: I managed to wash out my jacket this morning. It was sure dirty and now if I can get my trousers washed I will start to feel a little cleaner.

I saw one of the fellows from the troop yesterday. If he comes again today he is going to bring me my mail. I sure would like to hear from you. I am anxious to get some pictures of Edith taken while she is standing up or trying to walk. By now she must be walking all over the house.

It is hard for me to write with my arm like this. They tell me to use it all I can though it hurts. I hope the shrapnel comes out before it heals up. I want to get it over with once and for all.

I had a General stop by my bed yesterday and ask me how I was feeling. He went through the whole ward and asked us if we had plenty of writing paper and if there was anything he could do for us. I had a notion to tell him he could send me home.

I had a sweet dream last night. I was either buying fishing tackle or else fishing all night long. Even if it was only a dream I enjoyed it. I can hardly wait until I can take you fishing. You will love it, I hope. If not you can stay home while I fish.

I hope it’s not winter when I come home. Lexington wouldn’t be so nice in the winter time. Of course we could still have fun because we would be together, but the country wouldn’t look so nice. The way I feel right now I would like to take a month’s vacation before starting to work. I will not be able to even though it would be fun.

I have been spending a little money. They sell bananas here and several other things in the line of candy. I want to send a few dollars to you whenever I can get a money order.  I guess I have two month’s back pay coming. Of course I draw very little now that you get twenty-five.

My eyes are heavy. I didn’t get much sleep last night and I am starting to notice it.

March 12:  It’s impossible to write with Jap ink without getting it all over everything. One of these days I’ll get a bottle of good American ink. At last I have my films all packed and ready to mail. The pictures should be back within a couple of weeks. I only hope that a part of them are good because that picture I sent was so bad. I look pretty chipper when I am caught up on my sleep. I am waiting for them to come and dress my arm. It feels good today and it’s starting to itch which should be a good sign. I will be joining my troop one of these days.

We had a good dinner today, chicken pie, spinach, fresh potatoes (the first in months), fresh pineapple, bread and jam, and ice-cold cake. That was a good dinner. They feed good, but I never eat much. I eat a big breakfast and that’s the only meal I enjoy. Perhaps I munch too much between meals.

The news from Europe sounds pretty good. I guess the Germans are having their hands full with the Russians and Yanks coming at them from every side.  The German people are having a chance to see how destructive war is when fought on their own soil.  Before the war ends Tokio will learn the same thing. I am anxious to get back and pick up my mail. I am not happy when I don’t hear from you. Of course, it always seems swell when I get several letters from you at one time.

How is your school work going? You will be in a good position to get a good job if you do decide to work for a while. That’s  not a hint that I want you to work. I am satisfied the way things are now.

I am bound to be home one of these days. I don’t expect to come before the end of the war. Nevertheless, I do not expect this war to last forever. I am anxious to see a force land on Japan. To my way of thinking that would bring them out of China. A war in Japan would be pretty bad because you wouldn’t be able to give the civilians a break. They would shoot you in the back.   I have seen all I want to see and I am ready to turn things over to the Marines. We rode a few miles in some beat up trucks and I see where the papers call us “mechanized.” Enough war talk!

I washed my clothes and took a bath this morning. First bath I had since I came in. In fact, it’s the first bath I had since I was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. I was filthy!

March 13:  I am waiting for the doctor to come and look at my arm. I am going to try to get out today. My troop is resting now and I might as well be with the outfit. I can have the medic in my troop dress it and it will come along alright.

Ever since I have been in the Philippines I have wondered why they raised such a small banana. I found out the reason. They export them to China and the people there do not have much money and could not afford to pay for large ones. Glad I got that worry off my mind.

Next I want to figure out why they don’t raise cows over here. I think it’s due to the feed. They tell me a cow will not do well on this grass. I think they can raise feed here. Even in times of peace Manila hasn’t had a dairy. They use powdered milk.

It sure was cold last night. I thought I would freeze to death about five this morning. I had to get another blanket. In my dreams I fought the Japs all night long and your dad was with me. I have seen enough of that without dreaming about it.

We had fried eggs for breakfast and apples too. I will start gaining weight if they feed me like that. I will need to gain about thirty pounds.

March 14, V-Mail:  I just received your letter of March 1st and how you couldn’t make out about the hospital. Evidently you had not received my other letters telling you I was in the hospital. I was hospitalized twice last month for my stomach and dysentery (which I still have) and once this month for shrapnel in the arm. I know exactly how you must have felt. I am sorry.

March 14:  There were eight letters waiting for me when I got back. Chauncey’s Christmas box was here as well as one from my cousin in Detroit. All told I got three fruit cakes and two boxes of candy. All of it was good. I wrote to Chauncey (Editor’s Note: My mother’s brother) last night and thanked him for the box. I told him I was not interested in showing dogs. However, I did offer to let him go in with me on breeding a few. If he wants to show a few he can, but I don’t know anything about that end of it.

Tomorrow I have a pass and I’ll spend the day in the city. You know what city, but I can’t say the name. We got paid this afternoon and I’ll have money enough to buy you a gift providing I can find something nice enough for you.

I like the idea of you staying with Chauncey. The extra money would come in handy. I know of another race track between Detroit and Lansing. I could train there and the land wouldn’t be so high. In fact if we wanted to go there and build on a small-scale we could do it without going too far into debt. I have been thinking about it pretty strong. Even though I like Northville I hate to start out and be behind the eight ball. We will have plenty of time to decide between now and when we build. This is 1945 and in 1962 we are going to have a daughter ready for college and we want to be ready to send her. Editor’s Note: Turns out it was 1961 when I left home for college.

March 16:  I was in town yesterday and I am sending you a souvenir.  I think you will like them. I was very lucky too because I found a pen exactly like the one I lost and I bought it. I only had to pay $12.50 which was only a couple more dollars than it would have cost new. I ate everything they had and a lot of food like we used to get at the Chinaman’s. It was good but I ate too much. I weighed myself yesterday and I am darn near back to normal, 150 lbs. Whenever I weigh 150 I don’t worry, but when I drop down to 130 it’s time to worry. At the rate Edith is going she will have a full mouth. That expression, “Full Mouth,” seems turned around when I use it in regards to Edith’s teeth. In the equine  world it is right. I was going to buy a dress for Edith yesterday but I couldn’t figure out what size she would take.  You will notice that I am not using paragraphs, it’s a waste of paper and paper is as scarce as cigarettes. I am afraid that the  quartermasters are trading out cigarettes to the Filipinos. If we are lucky we get a package a day. Yes Flip, the cigar deal was black market. However, in that part of the world money would not have a great deal of value.

March 17:  What a beautiful morning this is. There is a cool breeze blowing and I have been reading, writing, eating bananas, and taking naps. Clair T stopped by for a while. He wants me to visit him tomorrow, but it’s too much effort. Clair T and I went to see a buddy of ours yesterday and found that he got killed early this month. The three of us used to be together at Fort Ord, New Guinea, and the Admiralty Islands. I never mentioned him because he was more Clair T’s friend than mine. I suppose Edith can do a pretty good job of walking by this time. I am darned near going to have a grown daughter by the time I get home. She is very apt to be afraid of me. Most of the fellows in the tent are sleeping. They were in town yesterday and I guess they had a big day. By golly, they deserve  to have a good time. They certainly earned one. It’s almost time for dinner and I am not the least bit hungry. I eat too many bananas. I thrive on them and I am terribly tired of G.I. chow. I have a bag full of books and I have been doing a lot of reading. When I say bag I mean just that. I have a weather proof bag and every time I find a book or magazine I save it until I have time to read it. Some of them I brought from Leyte.  I will have to stop writing now because I have run out of paper.

March 18:  Your letters of February 27th and March 5th came today. Mail seems very scarce.  As a usual thing we get lots of it while we are resting. Not so this time.  I went to church this morning and after church the Regiment had a memorial service for the fellows who were killed. Our Regimental Commander gave a short talk and then Taps were blown. I had tears in my eyes.

I wonder if you understand what I mean when I talk about Brigades, Regiments and such? The 1st Calvary Division is made up of two Brigades that are called 1st and 2nd. In the 1st Brigade there are the 5th and 12th Regiments and the 2nd Brigade is made up of the 7th and 8th Regiments. The Regiments are broken up into two Squadrons, the 1st and the 2nd. The Squadrons are broken up into Troops. In other words, E Troop is in the 2nd Squadron, 7th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Calvary and the 1st Calvary is a part of the 6th Army.

We had a taste of ice cream for dinner. What wouldn’t I give for a gallon of it. I know of a place in Lexington were we can get home-made ice cream. The people were old when I was there, but perhaps they are still in business. I only hope we do not have to go to Kentucky in the winter. Guess we will be glad to go any time.

I am wondering how much the Kentucky breeders will cut down on their stock now that they have stopped racing. It would be an ideal time to buy a young mare. I know several Bull Dog mares that could be bought at a reasonable price. Editor’s Note: I have no idea what a Bull Dog mare is. Could find nothing on Google.

You missed something when you couldn’t go to Steve’s place. Whenever Steve, John, and Wanda (Editor’s Note: Dad’s siblings) get together things are bound to happen. Wish I could have been there too.

We are supposed to draw a little beer this evening. One day we got ice-cold beer right on the line. I was in my foxhole drinking cold beer. That was something.

I am reading a biography of George Washington Carver. It is good. Trouble is I go to sleep when I start to read.

March 19:  One of these days I am going to make a drawing for you of how I would like our house. The sewing room could be fixed up so that it could be used as a spare bedroom. I have a lot of ideas.

You should be here and see the fruit I have on my bunk. I have been eating a lot of it. I have bought some fruit from the P.X. We are eating pretty good. We had fresh eggs for breakfast and steak for dinner as well as having it last night too. Oh Well, we will soon be eating field rations.

Laura Marie told me that she might not teach next year. She has an idea that she wants to get into the service. Foolish Girl! It makes me sore when they send girls over seas. I saw a couple in town the other day. They are having a lark. They should have been here a few weeks ago and they would have seen first hand what war is like.

Filippino Women

Filipino Women’s Guerrilla Corps Training, 1941


Lyudmilla Pavlichenko, Russian sniper who  killed a confirmed 309 Germans

jewish resistance fighters

Jewish Resistance Fighters: Warsaw Ghetto, 1943

March 20:  Yesterday we had a little formation and they pinned a few Purple Hearts on us. After it was over they put us in groups of ten and took our picture. I am not sure whether I will be able to get one of the pictures, but if I can I’ll send you one. I sent you the Purple Heart this morning. I kept the small ribbon I wear. The metal one is for civilian life and the extra ribbon in the box will come in handy when I come home. The one I have will be pretty dirty by that time.

I had a chance to go into the city today. There isn’t a great deal down there and every thing is so high. The best part of the town has been destroyed. I need the rest and I’ll stick around here. I have 105 bananas on my bunk and shouldn’t starve.

The rain season is drawing close. I hope we are all through fighting by then. I don’t go for all that rain and mud.

No mail from you. I did get two Christmas Cards and I received a V-Mail from your dad. Seems funny to get Christmas Cards in March. Dad said he was sending more film.

I think I have ring worm on the back of my neck. I have been lucky about not having any until now. My luck has changed I guess.

March 23:  Your birthday card reached me on my birthday. I’ll bet you couldn’t do that again in a lifetime. I hope I can spend the next one with you.

I expect the pictures back any day now. Both Blanche and your father are sending me film and I’ll be able to get them developed much faster after this. I carried that other film in my pack for so long and I was always afraid something would happen to it. I am going to try to get colored pictures of the flowers over here. They are beautiful. If I had some way of doing it I would press a few flowers and send them to Mrs Mosher.

Flip, the more I think of it the more I am convinced that Bellaire would be a good place for us. The first year after the war and perhaps the second building material is going to be sky-high. I’ll come back and we can make a trip up there and pick out a place and buy it. Land isn’t high and I don’t want too much of it because a lot of the soil isn’t good. I think it would be best to buy five or six lots right in Bellaire. As soon as we had them bought we could start to landscape the place and make plans for our home. In the meantime I could go back to W & B to work. As soon as the price of lumber went down we could build and if you want we could build a stone house. There are lots of stones up there. I do want a stone fireplace. A brick fireplace never seems right to me. My idea of a fireplace is a stone one with a Dutch Oven. We could keep a cow, a couple of pigs, about 500 chickens, bees, dogs, and what not. We could start out pretty free of debt. In fact I doubt whether or not we would have to borrow above $2000. I can get on the GI Bill of Rights. We could buy a trotter and have just as much fun, if not more, by keeping him at home and racing him at places close by Traverse City. If he was good he would have the chance to go elsewhere. The whole thing depends on you. I am anxious to hear what you say about it.

Editor’s Note: W & B; I think he means Whitman and Barnes Mfg. Co. that made tools. I do remember he worked there and had to leave because they put him in a shop with lots of windows.  At that time there was no sunscreen and he had Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.


Every thing over here is fine. I have a good foxhole and it’s dry. Can’t ask for more than that. I sure would like to be home, but I guess the war will be over when I come home. Lots of the boys have been here longer than I.

Remember our poem? Didn’t it go something like this?  First of all I love my God and next he who died on the cross. Had a trotting horse, good one too! Sure loved him like most men do.  It seems as though I left something out. Perhaps I’ll remember it when I come home.

March 24, V-Mail: Every once in a while I take to reading plays. I believe I enjoy them more than I do novels. I have just finished “No Time for Comedy” and “Margin For Error.” The latter is good, but the very last line is a scream all of its own. It is cool this afternoon, but last night was downright cold. When I went on guard about five I could hardly keep from shivering. I am afraid that one of these days it will start to rain.Well, how is that daughter of ours making out? I bet Grandmaggie would like to see her. I sure like my new pen. I got it reasonable because the fellows tell me they cost $12.50 in the States. That is exactly what I paid for it. You have a pretty name, Florence Norton. I always liked the sound of it. I liked to girl too, so I married her.

March 29:  Back in the hospital again. This time with a wound in the head. This is the way it happened. I sneaked up behind a Jap bunker (foxhole) and another fellow crawled around to the entrance and tossed a grenade into it. The grenade must have hit a case of TNT because we sure blew the hell out of things. I guess it blew me ten feet off the ground and it made a cut on the top of my head. All this happened yesterday and I feel fine today. I say fine…..I do have a headache, but I am lucky to have a head to ache. They had to cut all the hair off my head and I sure am a funny looking duck. I needed a haircut.

Flip, every now and then something happens in combat that has a funny side to it. The other day a bunch of us got fired on and we made it out only to find one man was left behind. We could see him and he was right in front of a Jap bunker. He was lying on his back, rifle at his feet and his face turned to the sky. We figured either he was dead or bad hit and I was the guy they sent back to drag him down. I made a wild run and got behind a tree about two feet from him. Just as I was going to grab him he said, “Don’t touch me. I am playing dead.” In spite of everything I had to laugh. My hat is off to anyone who can lie in front of a machine gun and play dead.

March 30. V-Mail: Yesterday I wrote the details, but in case this letter gets there first, I am in the hospital with a scalp wound. It’s a beautiful day and if it wasn’t for the flies I would take a nap. I didn’t sleep last night. I guess I have the jitters. I am out of air-mail envelopes again and have two sheets of paper left, so I have to use V-Mail. Once the campaign ends we will have plenty of paper. Say, do you like Muskegon? Mom sent me one of Jim’s letters and by what he said you must have told him you didn’t like it. Flip, if you don’t like it there tell me. I can’t do much about it, but I would like to know.. There are a lot of goats around here. In fact, there are a lot of goats all over these islands and a lot of them are brown and white. I had never seen a brown one before.

The following is a V-Mail letter addressed to Rev. and Mrs P Ray Norton and dated March 30, 1945.

I am back in the hospital again. This time it is a cut scalp I received on the 28th. I sneaked up behind a Jap bunker and tossed in a grenade. It must have lit in a case of TNT, because I blew the top of the hill off. I was blown several feet off the ground. I say “I” all the time, but there were three of us. Now if I was a Marine I would be able to come home because I have been wounded three times. I very much doubt whether my troop commander would give me a transfer out of the rifle platoon. I need some kind of a transfer, because a man can only take so much of this. I’ll end up a nervous wreck.


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