Letters To My Mother From WWII: January 6-31, 1945

YANK US 1944 12 08

Editor’s Note: The letters are now stamped indicating he is no longer writing from a combat zone.

Jan 6:  I sure am glad that I didn’t get into the medics. I had a job of being litter bearer one afternoon and it wasn’t fun. I had to go through a place that the Japs had covered with machine guns. I would rather fight because at least you can take cover. I used to think that the war would end as soon as the Japs were sure they were licked. I don’t know. After seeing them fight I have an idea they will hang on to the last.

Banzi does not mean three cheers for Japan, as I thought. It means”May the Emperor live a thousand years.” I hope he does and that he spends the last nine hundred years suffering with the itch.

Jan 7:  Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a letter written to the Rev. & Mrs P. Ray Norton, my maternal grandparents.

When I first hit this island and had that shell go off so close I lost my nerve. For awhile I thought it would be impossible to go on. I got over that while I was in the hills. Of course a Jap can still make me hug the ground, but I do not have that deadly fear that I suffered with at first.

Back in the hills we had to depend on air drops or pack trains for food and the pack trains couldn’t always make it on time. To make matters worse a Jap got in my pack one night and took my rations. Water was a problem at times. I went nearly three days without water. They had two canteens of water at the aid station, but it was for wounded men only. Our wounded had to go out by pack train and it was a long trip. One consolation was that the Japs were having it worse than we were.

Did I tell you about the church letter? We were trying to take a little hill and it was tough going. For three days we had shelled and tried to take it and three different nights we fell back with our job unfinished. The third night I came back very tired, thirsty, and down in the mouth. We had our one and only mail call in twenty-four days that night. I knew I would have a letter from Florence. They gave me three letters, one from the Trinity Church one from your church, and another from friends in California. I was mighty glad for the baseball news at the end of the letter.

Jan 7:  This is Sunday morning, but I do not intend to go to church. My stomach still feels upset and I am going to stay here and keep quiet.

I can tell you one thing right now. We are not going to be able to build a house as you have planned it. It would cost too much money and put us too far in debt. Our house will be a nice house and we will build it with the idea of adding on when we can afford it. As soon as this war ends there will be a big boom and I will make as much and spend as little as I can for the first two years. Perhaps even longer than that, because for a year or two building material will be high. I like a stone house when the stones are faced. When we get to Lexington I’ll show you a stone house that will take your eye.

Whenever you read something in the paper about the 1st Cavalry cut it out and send it to me. My mother does that. We are always tickled to read what they say about it in the papers. The truth of it is I know very little about what is going on. I have not read any official news since early December.

We had some real chicken fights yesterday. Everyone was there from the band to the Regimental Commander. E troop won with every chicken they fought. One boy won 1800 pesos. I didn’t bet.



I figured it up last night and I went 76 days without taking off my clothes except to clean them.

Your Christmas box JUST came and it was perfect. I am thrilled to death over the camera. I loaded up and have taken one picture of Clair T and I. In a little while I am going to take  a picture of James and his good fighting cock. I want to take lots of pictures of me and the men I am with.

The picture of Edith is perfect. What a fat little girl.  Editor’s Note:  SIGH! It seems that some things really do never change.

Jan 8:  I have just finished reading Martha Walker’s novel “Winter Wheat.” I enjoy a story like that where the characters seem so real. You and I will have a lot to read when I come home. I enjoy reading plays and it would be fun to read some of them together. Did you ever read Green Pastures, In Abraham’s Bosom, or Journey’s End? All of them are favorites of mine. There are so many things we can read and so many things we can do and if we are going to build we will have to spend several evenings with ourselves.

My stomach is lots better. I actually enjoyed my food today. I am plenty thin and need a lot of meat and beans. With four fingers I can reach around my thigh.

I left you a year ago tonight. I don’t dare think about it too much. I am not worried about when I come home. All I want is to just be able to come home when it’s over. One of the kids that I took basic with got it over here. We came over on the same boat. Several of the guys who came over on that boat will not go back. One of them was married and had a baby. You and I must never kick as long as I have my health.

Sweetheart, it’s nearly time for me to listen to Oliver Norton say good night to his girl back home.

Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil and dated 10-3-57 is the following:   Oliver Norton was my wife’s great-uncle and served in the Civil War. He was the first person to blow Taps on the bugle.

Jan 9:   I can’t seem to think of anything to tell you tonight. I guess this wasn’t a very interesting day. The troop moved to a new bivouac area and I spent the day working. We have a real nice place now with stone walks and all the tents in a line. It is very pretty. I’ll get a picture of it tomorrow.

Jan 10:  Our model troop area is finished and has been inspected by our Regimental  Commander. He said it was a work of art. After the inspection they read us letters from Gen. Cunningham, Gen. Mudge, Col. Finagan, and Col. Kirk. The messages were praise of the second squadron and E troop for the way they fought the Japs.

I hope we have a good dinner tonight. My stomach is empty. I have had a yen to eat a coconut cake for the past two days. Ordinarily I do not care for baked goods (I mean cake), but after going a year without it, well you can imagine how good it will taste.When I get back I am going to spent a hundred dollars on food the first week.

Editor’s Note: Mom told me this story about the Coconut Cake. It seems grandma Norton was told about dad’s yen for a coconut cake and when he got back to the states she made him one. It turned out that the cake was a horrible failure, and somewhat hard. Those of us who knew her knew she couldn’t bake worth a lick. But dad ate the cake with a smile on his face. Then after when he was alone with mom he told her that it was the worst cake he had ever eaten.

I never did read what Yank had to say about our landing. I would like to read that article. They exaggerate, all newspaper men do, and it’s fun to compare notes. I’ll tell you the truth about the landing…it was easy. I hate to think about the future. I am afraid that we will find it tough fighting in Formosa. Of course we may not go there, but it is between us and Tokyo and someone will have to go there. It will be too big a place to bypass.

Jan 11:  I have spent part of the morning taking pictures. I sure hope some of them turn out good. I will send the colored film home for you to develop and all the pictures that are not of me please send back. Not being used to the camera I expect the pictures will not be so very good, but if you can keep on sending film I’ll get some good ones someday.

I sure slept good last night. Scott knew what he was writing about when he wrote “Soldier rest! Thy warfare o’er. Dream of battle fields no more.” I am enjoying my food and my stomach trouble has gone. I had an idea it was just the result of being over tired.

I have lost my suntan. I had to wear a jacket this campaign and didn’t get much sun on my back. We didn’t have too much sun because it rained most of the time.

I have heard that all sports in the states have been stopped. Is that true? Editor’s Note: The 1944 Summer Olympics to be held in London England were cancelled because of the war.   If it is the breeders of Kentucky will sure suffer a blow. If it will help win the war I am in favor of it. As far as racing in Detroit is concerned, I think they will get that straightened out with the building of a new track. It matters little because we may race in Chicago. All of that will depend on our horse.

Jan 13: I received a nice letter from Mr. Moore who is employment manager at W & B. He wants to know what my post war plans are. I would be foolish to tell him the truth. More than anything else I want to get away from W & B someday. I hope you and I can buy a small farm within forty miles of Lexington. That is strictly a post war dream.

Troubles, troubles, now I have ringworm on my feet. We have lots of that over here. It’s my first time to get it. The foot powder that everyone sent me for Christmas is going to come in good now. I got 5 boxes of foot powder for Christmas. It makes the ideal gift. Did I tell you that Grandmaggie sent a shoe shining outfit. A putty knife would have been the thing, because I could use that to scrape mud off my shoes.

If you send more film I’ll take that camera into combat with me whenever I go again. What pictures I could get. Once, while we were in the hills, a bunch of Japs walked right into our bivouac area. After the smoke cleared away I counted nearly thirty of them that we killed. I had to go down and guard against any more coming and from where I sat that morning I could reach out and touch 7 different Japs. What a picture that would make.

P.S. I hope you get the rope I wanted.

Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil and dated 10-5-57, code for “I am going to Manila.”

Jan 14:  I have spent the day reading Mary O’Hara’s book “Thunderhead,” a sequel to “My Friend Flika.” It sure is a nice story to read. As a usual thing I don’t care too much for horse stories, but this woman knows her horses and can write about them.

They had some good chicken fights this afternoon. I saw one or two. I am pretty good at picking the winners even if I don’t bet on them. When we start P. Ray in his first race we will risk a little bet. I think it would be an ideal name for a colt.

When we get to Lexington here are a few of the horses I am anxious to see. At Calumet I want to see the old mares “Some Pomp” and “Nellie Flag” and by that time “Twilight Tear” will be there and perhaps “Best Blood.” At the Faraway we will see “Man O’War” and Mr. Jeffords good two-year old colt “Pivot” if he is retired by then. I could go down the line and list any number, but I am most anxious to see the mares at Calumet.



Man O’War and legendary groom Will Harbut

The soap you put in my Christmas box came in good shape. A lot of fellows who got soap in their boxes as well as food had the food ruined by having it taste like soap.

Jan 19: As you will notice, it has been five or six days since I have written to you. The rest was too good to last.

I have met a fellow from Boyne City. He is in the Navy. He went to school with my cousin. In fact, I know this fellow’s cousin. His cousin married Versa Brown, an old flame of mine back in 1929. Last night I went down to his room and he had a picture there of Versa and her family of five children.

I am writing this letter under the worst of conditions. For a seat I have a box so high that my feet are hanging. There is a steady stream of fellows going by and the light is bad.

Something has been sticking in my mind all day. I sometimes read articles about the soldier’s return from overseas combat and how the people treat him.  Most of the folks seem to think that we come back full of horror and resentment. In fact most of them seem to think we will spend all our spare time looking into space and recalling how some buddy was blown into small chunks. I wonder where they get that idea that we are a bunch of softies that can’t face life. I have an idea that most of the soldiers that return will bore their friends stiff with their stories about combat. Flip, I have an idea you will get tired of it before I am home a year.  Editor’s Note:  I remember mom telling me that she didn’t like it when dad told war stories because  he would then have nightmares and difficulty sleeping for a couple of days.

I had both pie and ice cream for dinner yesterday, chocolate cake today. If they feed me like that all the time I would soon be fat. A few days ago I was too busy to eat dinner or supper and about ten at night I found or stole a gallon of cherries. They were sour and I didn’t have sugar for them, but they were good.

I have been having trouble with my lower teeth. I take them out in my sleep and have to look for them in the morning. It is a hell of a note to get up in the morning and have to hunt for your teeth.

I received a Christmas box from Uncle Sam. Editor’s Note: NO….not that Uncle Sam. He sent me some Maple leaves along with other things. They were a dark red and sure did a lot for my moral. It seemed as if he had sent a little part of Northern Michigan.  I wrapped them up and carry them with Edith’s picture.

P.S. Another fellow and I play a game with poems. One of us will give the last few words of some poem and the other has to fill in the first part.  For example, I might say…..”Not a drop to drink.”

Editor’s Note: written in red pencil and dated 10-5-57, Not a drop to drink is code for “We are on the high seas.”

Jan 20:  I sure have been thinking a lot of you these last few days. Last night I got to thinking how lucky I was to have you for a wife. I just can’t figure it out. As a usual thing I try not to think about you too much because it makes me blue. However, I have let my memories carry me away these past few days. I wonder what you are cooking today. It would be fun to be there and grab a few hot cookies. I was always pretty good on the grab, wasn’t I?  Right now I am remembering a pitcher of lemonade you threw on me. Can you remember that? It was out at your house.

Well do I remember three months ago this morning. It was then we landed on Leyte.

We are having a good deal of rain. For the past three days it has been cloudy most of the time. It is much cooler that way. I long to see snow and ice. Guess they have snow-covered mountains in Japan, so perhaps the day will come when I will see snow.

Jan 22. Combat Zone:  Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a letter written to Rev. and Mrs P. Ray Norton.  Now I know you wonder what I am doing. Sorry, but I can’t tell you. I am not fighting just now and it’s a darned good thing. I lost twenty pounds in the last campaign and a good strong wind would blow me away.

My mother cuts out and sends to me anything she reads about the Cavalry over here. What a line of dope the papers hand out to you folks. One clipping told of our being counter attacked by the Japs at one certain spot which I dare not name. I was there. My troop was the first to get there and the last to leave and although we looked high and low we never saw a Jap. Another thing that tickles me is when they say  we bitterly lashed out at the enemy. We creep, we crawl, we plod through mud and everything else, but we don’t lash out.

Actually some of the things that happen here are down right funny. For example, a fellow in our troop had a mortar shell light too close one night and a hunk of shrapnel went into his back. As in the case of most wounds he didn’t feel it for a while and when he did investigate he found his fanny covered with blood.  One of the boys in his foxhole put a bandage on it and it wasn’t until daylight that they found out their bandage wasn’t within a foot of his wound.

Jan 23. Combat Zone:  I only weigh 137 lbs now. I have hopes of gaining it back before we have to do more fighting.

The Russians sure are moving since they crossed the Vistula river. Perhaps the war over there will end this spring. We will still have a job over here, but we sure as hell can do it.

I have been thinking about E. Stanley Jones. Why didn’t he stay in India? I hate these people who try to do so much for some race of people and then when things get hot they put their tail between their legs and run for home. India needs men like E. Stanley Jones, but she needs them over there. I can hear you starting to sputter.

At last I have found out how to spell dysentery.  Editor’s Note: Thanks to auto-correct dysentery has been correctly spelled throughout this blog.   We call it “GI’s” which is much simpler and far more expressive. I suppose I could improve my spelling 100% if I put my mind to it. Some day I am going to be like Fred Allen and spell all words exactly as they sound.

We had a swell dinner: Roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, soup, cherry pie, ice cream, raisin bread, and hot coffee. Wish the army could feed us like that. A man could sell me a gallon of ice cream and name his own price up to fifty dollars. I love it, but I sure as hell don’t get much of it.

I am still sour on the Red Cross. The morning we landed here the Red Cross had a field day. That morning, when we went to ships mess for breakfast, a Red Cross man was stationed at the door and he gave every man a stick of gum. He had a sour expression on his face and I didn’t hear him say Good Luck to a single man. At a time like that I would rather have someone wish me Good Luck than have them give me a gum factory.

Jan 24. Combat Zone:  Last night Fineout and I made some coffee. It was what we call deer hunting coffee and it sure was good. He made it plenty strong. There was a time when I didn’t like strong coffee, but after drinking army coffee for a year or so I have decided I like it strong once in a while.

My stomach hurts this morning. I have been having a lot of trouble with it. More than I have told you about. I would like to get in a hospital, but it seems impossible. I haven’t been able  to see a doctor much less a hospital. If it keeps on I doubt whether or not I could stand any more traipsing through the mountains. Don’t worry, your husband will be able to take care of himself even if he has to resort to skullduggery.

Jan 25. Combat Zone:  This sure has been a beautiful day. It has been so cool outside and I took a nap this morning and another one this afternoon. I had to stay up last night until after two this morning, so you see I needed a nap.

We are still eating good; soup, cake, pie, and all that. I have some K rations in my pack to remind me that it will not always be like this. Oh Florence, do you want to send me something that I can use? I love tea and we never get it in our field rations. We only get one hot drink in our rations and that is coffee for breakfast. I have often thought how easy is would be to make tea. I tried it a few times, but with only one canteen cup you can’t do it as the leaves never settle. If you could send me some tea bolls it would be the real thing. I could have tea. Black tea is preferred.

tea boll

Jan 26. Combat Zone:  It’s pretty close to payday again. Flip, do you suppose we will be able to save anything once we get our debts paid? I have no idea how much it costs you to get along, but it seems as though we should be able to save a little and we will sure be able to use it.

I will soon have one year of overseas service. By September I will be eligible for rotation. Right now that has very little meaning. So far I think E Troop has sent one man home on rotation. Should the roar in Europe end by next September my chances for coming home might be pretty good. At least it’s something to dream about. I feel as though I shouldn’t kick as long as I get home sometime.

Did you send me that Greek History last summer? It seems as though you told me you mailed it. I never did get it. I have been reading “The Outline of History” for the past few days.

I sometimes wonder if I write to you about the things you want to hear. I do my best, but Florence you must remember the conditions under which I write. If I could tell you where I am and just what I was doing it would be interesting. NO! I have to write about where I have been. Your letters are always so interesting to me that sometimes I think I fall down on the job.

Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil, not as a P.S. and not dated; “Landed at Lingayen Gulf the following day.”

Jan 30. Combat Zone, V-Mail:  Even though I hate to use this type of letter it is the only thing I have or can get a hold of now. I have moved. I can’t tell you where I am, but if you read the papers you will know by the time this reaches you. I spent most of the day with a Filipino fellow who reminded me of Uncle Sam and he cooked about like the Chinaman in Detroit. He sure is a good fellow and it seemed good to get food like we used to eat. This country is beautiful and under conditions other than this I sure would enjoy myself.

Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil, not as a P.S. and not dated; “On the island of Luzon.”

Jan 31. Combat Zone, V-Mail:  This is a beautiful morning and I have been helping the mess Sgt. by his request. I had big plans for today, but he changed them. The wind keeps blowing this paper making it hard to write. We are having very little rain. I am glad too, because for the past two nights my bed consists of a pile of rice straw. I am feeling fine and starting to gain weight.

Editor’s Note: Written in red pencil, not as a P.S., and not dated; “We are moving towards Manila.”