On March 19, 1943, I was sworn in as a Private in the W.A.A.C.
This took place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium where many important events in the entertainment world still originate. This particular night was for recruiting women to join the W.A.A.C. The featured guest was Eddie Cantor, a world famous comedian of that era. We were sworn in by a master sergeant from the Los Angeles Recruiting Office. He was accompanied by a representative from the W.A.A.C.
I returned to my position at Camp Santa Anita to await my call to active duty. I received my orders in a letter from Headquarters Los Angeles Recruiting & Induction District, which read as follows:
SUBJECT: ORDERS FOR ACTIVE DUTY
TO: Virginia L. Seale
1. This is to notify you that in compliance with directions from Headquarters, Ninth Service Command, orders are being issued for you to proceed from this station on Monday, May 31, 1943 for Active Duty at the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Training Center at Camp Monticello, Arkansas.
2. You are instructed to report at 10 AM, on Monday, May 31, 1943 in Room 480, Pacific Electric Building for final instructions. Acknowledge receipt of this letter immediately by telephone TUcker 7171, Ext. 7, or by telegram to Commanding Officer, WAAC Recruiting.
3. Do not bring your luggage to this office as your train will leave later in the day. Final instructons will be given when you report for this appointment.
For the District Recruiting & Induction Officer:
/s/ Emily M. Hathaway EMILY M. HATHWAY 1ST OFFICER WAAC EXECUTIVE OFFICER WAAC RECRUITING"
Then on 29 May 1943, I received a telegram from Lt. Hathaway, which read as follows:
"Orders to active duty changed from Camp Monticello Arkansas to Fort Devens Massachusetts. Leave from Los Angeles Sunday May 30 Report to room 475 Sunday May 30 at 11 am for final instructions. Acknowledge receipt of change in orders immediately by phone Tucker 7171 Extension 7 or Western Union= HATHAWAY WAAC RECRUITING"
I resigned my position at Camp Santa Anita on May 24th. On May 29, 1943 I received a telegram from the WAAC recruiting office in Los Angeles telling me to report on May 30th for final instructions before leaving for basic training. I was ordered to active duty to arrive at the training center at Camp Monticello, Arkansas on May 31st, 1943.
However, on May 30, 1943, I began a four-day train ride which started in Los Angeles and ended at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts, where I began my basic training. These changes in destinations and dates were my first, but not my last, SNAFU with the army. SNAFU shortened a much used criticism - Situation Normal - All Fouled Up. Some of the people who were on that train that I remember were Joan Seavey Thomas, Aileen Stegall Maclure (both of whom later attended my marriage to Paul C. Vance, which took place just outside Naples, Italy), Eileen Mallory Bumgardmer, Dorothy Mallory Simpson and Mary Poncierra.
We arrived at Ft. Devens on Thursday, June 3, 1943. It was located about thirty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts and five miles from Ayer, Massachusetts. Our Basic Training Company officers were Lt. Ruth Nichols, who was our Commanding Officer, Lt. Jean Reger, Lt. Mary Carter, a Lt. Sutton and a Lt. Wheatley. Molly Walker was our First Sergeant.
Some other names of those who went through basic training with me at Ft. Devens come to mind. I wish I had written all of their names down, but the records I now have are sketchy. Those people that come to mind and some with whom I shared some memorable weekends in Boston and in New York City (and some frantic scurrying to get back from our week-end passes on time) are Ruth Stockwell Emmons, Mary Edwards Fenstemaker, Peggy Park Dawson, Gertrude Bruggemann, Sylvia Abramovitz Moldover, Frances Parr, Alice Mullen Rabbage, Lela Story, Maxine Talley, Evelyn Colonness Zimmerman, Cecile Poisson, Frances Payne, Alene Thomas Ringer, and Mildred Hollander Panigel. I also remember Mae Donne McKernan, Isabel McMullen and Helen Crowell, but I can't remember if they were in basic training at the same time I was or if they joined our unit later.
There were dances at the Service Club, swimming at Robbins Pond, ping pong and other recreational facilities at the Service Club.
Our quarters were army barracks. Each barrack quartered 80 people, forty upstairs and forty downstairs, double deckbeds, twenty on each side of the room.
Basic Training was six weeks that I'll never forget. In the first place it was cold in New England in May. We needed overcoats when we marched and coming from southern California it was traumatic getting used to the climate. We as women were not shown any special favors as far as regimen and duties were concerned. We were given the same courses that the men took on military procedures and identification of military aircraft. We did close order drill daily and were in a parade every Saturday. If we didn't march properly we didn't receive our weekend pass. We had an inspection on Saturday morning before the parade and the bed had to be made with square corners exactly right, no dust on the footlockers, shoes polished until you could see your face in them, uniforms unwrinkled. Each WAAC was responsible for her own area although we all cooperated in cleaning the latrine. We were given assignments for latrine duty and took turns. During the basic training weeks all of us experienced KP. This was hard work. It started at 5 in the morning and you didn't leave until after the evening meal and the floors had been mopped and the dishes washed. I can remember the one time I had KP dragging myself back to the barracks and falling in bed with my clothes on. I think that was the most tired I have ever been in my life.
Toward the end of basic training, we were interviewed as to what direction we wanted to go. I thought of applying for OCS but since I actually wanted to be able to go overseas I was told that my chances were better as an enlisted person.
On July 15, 1943, after completion of basic training, I was assigned to the 162nd Wac Hq. Co. The Company Officers were Mae I. Simas, Lt. Nichols, Lt. Gonzales, Lt. Winslow, Lt. Doggett (our mess officer) and Lt. Barnaby. We received advanced training until they could decide what to do with each of us and where to send us.
About the time that I thought I wanted to go to Officer's Training School, in August of 1943 I received a letter from the editor of the Man 'o War, the newspaper published at Santa Anita. His name was Chip Cleary and his letter follows:
"16 August 1943
Seale old GI gal:
I couldn't figure out who you were at first but after awhile it came to me, and I opened up your letter to confirm. I was right. The same girl who disappointed me very much the day I had Sergeant Taylor perch you in a weapons carrier to shoot your picture.
"Taylor," I said in my most solemn voice, "get some cheesecake if the dame's got a pair of pins that don't resemble fugitives from an over-age Steinway."
And so we sat back in the press coop and waited for Taylor to go to the wars and bring back a pair of gams, a torso and a face. Seale, Virginia, one each. Looking out of the window and down on the track I spotted the safari wending its way to the weapons carrier. You lifted your figure into the truck and sat. I could see Taylor pleading. Nothing happened. Your dress didn't move a decimal point. Taylor got prepared to shoot. I leaped to my feet and dashed to an open window.
"Taylor," I yelled down. "TAYLOR!" It was a cry of anguish. I could not understand this violation of my wishes. "Taylor, CHEESECAKE!"
He shrugged his shoulders, but tried again in the manner of a man going to the guillotine with the knowledge that he was going to be cut up a bit. He talked to you. But would you cooperate? No.
"That girl," I said to no one in particular, "is going to have to learn to be less selfish about things. If she's got a pair of legs that aren't as crooked as a shillalegh or lumpy as poorly mashed potatoes she ought to show them. There's nothing risque about the kneecap, and I assume she's wearing whateveer women wear underneath. If she isn't she ought to be, at least I think she ought to."
Then I went upstairs to sit out in the sun and bake the hurt that was in me. After I had sweat out my disappointment, I came back to the office. There was Taylor. "Any luck?" I was pleading. "Any cheesecake?" He shook his head, put it in neutral long enough to nip the end from a cheroot, lighted it, and mumbled: "Shy. Coy. Bewildered."
And so we used the art minus the cheesecake in Man O' War. I gave the story to the Pasadena blats, too, I think. Anyhow we got you into print, but I could have gotten more out of it had you been cooperative and lent the use of your legs. I had instructed Taylor how to pose them in the event they were thickish, thinnish and/or flattish so that they'd look seductive.
Yes, girl, you were quite a disappointment to me back there in May. And you could have been such a help. But I forgive you.
Just when they will have WACs on this post is a moot question. The requisition is in, I understand, but from the press wires and other sources I read and hear that the WACs aren't close to being near full strength. Some of it (perhaps the greater part of it, really) can be laid to the failure to publicize the WACs with intelligence and in strength. I state that from knowledge of the matter. A WAC was sent out through Monrovia, Arcadia, etc., to recruit during the test campaign they put on down in SoCalif a month or two ago. No advance notice was given through the newspapers or radio. The gal was forced to shift for herself, and trying to recruit people who don't know what you are trying to do is pretty rugged stuff, and very unfair to the recruiter. We helped her out as much as possible. But all in all it was snafu.
I didn't get any information from you on whether you were applying for OCS (Officer's Candidate School), which is what you ought to do, Seale, Virginia, one each. That is especially true for the WAC side of the picture. In the USA being a GI isn't so bad; in fact, it's swell. But I think for you, you've a much better chance to do a job as an officer than you'll be able to do as an NCO (Non Commissioned Officer). And there's a lot to be done, selfless work. You see, I am now assuming that you will cooperate, even if it involves cheesecake. If you won't you ought to be put back in basic training to catch the drift.
I'd like to write more but I am caught up in a mess of red tape and public relations and Man O' War work, which obviously must be done. I want to thank you for the letter, and the appreciation you expressed for Man O' War. We like it and enjoy putting it out. It could be better, I think but then I never was satisfied. Incidentally, I told the lad on circulation to ship the sheet to you every week. If you have any art on yourself in a GI getup ship it along. We'll use it for sentimental reasons. Get a bit of cheesecake into it, too, will you? Thanx.
Good luck to you. Let us know how you're getting along. Check into the OCS deal if you can figure out where you might do more good than where you are now.
s/sgt chip cleary
editor, MAN O'WAR
camp santa anita
Now, as I look back, I am very happy I wasn't assigned to OCS. On August 29, 1943, I was sent, along with some of the others mentioned above to Ft. Ogelthorpe, Georgia. This post was located seven miles out of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
After much anticipation and waiting, and waiting, and waiting at Ft. Ogelthorpe, we finally received our orders to move out. On November 12, 1943, I was assigned to Peninsular Base Section in Naples, Italy, whose task was to supply General Mark Clark's Fifth Army. But we didn't know this yet as everything was top secret and hush - hush. On November 19, 1943, we arrived at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia to await being placed on a ship, the Empress of Scotland. This was a British ship that had been used as a luxury liner during peace times and was named the Empress of Japan. It was very crowded with troops headed for the same war zone as we were, the European Theater of Operations. We arrived in Casablanca, North Africa. Then there was a three-day train trip on a French train. The compartments seated six people, three on a side, facing each other. I had the honor of being in the compartment with the Lister bag, and if you don't remember what that was, it was our only water supply in a large canvas type bag, and everyone on the train came to our compartment to fill their canteens. We also ate C rations and since they were not labeled, we never knew until they were opened if we would get beef stew for breakfast or hash for lunch. It was fun guessing and we really didn't starve, but it certainly made us appreciate our own cooks when we got settled in Naples. Our cooks were the greatest and had a reputation for one of the best mess halls in the area.
Following is copy from a cassette taped Thursday, October 13, 1994 by Dorothy Simpson:
"Now you said, Virginia, in reading this book that they disembarked in North Africa that it was further up the line from Oran and that they crossed the Mediterranean; and you said something about seeing the Rock of Gibraltar. You cannot see the Rock of Gibraltar unless you came in through the Straits of Gibraltar, so they may have landed - not North Africa but Italy itself. I don't quite understand it, unless I read the book itself. For instance, when I went home, I went home on board a ship that left Naples and we went through the Straits of Gibraltar out to the Atlantic Ocean. We did not land in North Africa or any place like that. I also remember when we landed in Casablanca, most of us had seen the movie, "Casablanca" with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and the cafe that Humprhey Bogart owned in the film was called, "Rick's Place." I remember when we landed, we didn't get off the ship right away and we were leaning over the railing and would yell down to the G.I.s down on the dock "Where is Rick's Place, where's Rick's Place?" Of course, they didn't know what we were talking about. I also remember the name of the place where we stayed in Casablanca. We had cots with chicken wire across them. They were homemade cots and then we filled our mattress covers with straw. Some of the straw had bugs in them and the girls were bitten and scratched all night. The name of that place was Marshileote. We were there two or three days before we took that train trip across North Africa to Oran.
"And I also remember the convoy we took from Naples to Leghorn, when we were moved to Leghorn was the day after Thanksgiving in 1944. In Rome that night, where we stayed, we ate leftover Thanksgiving Day dinner that they provided for us and I remember that I got the G.I.'s and I went to Captain Gutman (our Company Doctor) in the morning, on Sick Call, and about three of us that had the same problem. I said I could never stay in a truck, or make regulated stops for a latrine and Captain Gutman put the three of us in a G.I. sedan, with a G.I. driver and she told him to go straight to Leghorn and when we stopped for him to keep his back turned to us, while we got rid of what we had to get rid of. She gave us some pills to take and a loaf of bread, I guess to dry us out, I don't know, but I remember we got to Leghorn long before you girls did - hours ahead of time."
We arrived in Naples on December 12, 1943, anxious to get to work and thankful that we had arrived safely. I don't recall when our unit changed from 162nd Wac Hq. Co. to 6716th Wac Hq. Co. It probably was after we arrived at our final destination in Naples, Italy.
The Fifth Army was somewhere near Rome and we weren't far from the action. I was assigned to Command Group Headquarters of Peninsular Base Section, along with Joan Seavey and Mary Niven. Colonel Francis Ott was Commanding Officer of PBS and Colonel Harrison Shaler was the Chief of Staff. Major Kiefer was also assigned to Command Group Headquarters.
During the time that I served in this office, I had occasion to meet some distinguished people, among them Irving Berlin, who visited our office in June of 1944. While there, he dictated the words of a song to Joan, entitled "There are no Wings on a Foxhole," which he dedicated to the men of the Infantry. I don't believe this song ever did make the top ten or the hit parade, but I still have the words to it; however, I don't remember the tune. He just seemed to make it up as he went along -he was a very talented man. I sent the following letter home:
PENINSULAR BASE SECTION Command Group Headquarters
"11 June, 1944
Thought you might be interested in the attached song that Irvin Berlin dictated to Joan a little while ago when he was in the office. Could be that you'll be hearing a lot of this song in the near future. By the way, this isn't the same song he sang at "This is the Army" that I wrote you about recently, but one he made up as he went along. Put it in my scrap book.
'THERE ARE NO WINGS ON A FOXHOLE'
Words and music by Irving Berlin
Dedicated to the men of the Infantry
There are no wings on a foxhole If it's where you happen to be While the shells are flying It's doing or dying
For the men of the Infantry
There are no wheels on your tootsies When you march from night till the dawn Twenty miles of hiking
Is not to your liking
But the foot soldier marches on
From the night--till the dawn
The foot soldier marches.
There's a sharp end on your rifle
When you're close to your enemy
At the close up meeting
There is no retreating
For the men of the Infantry.
A General Patch also used to come to our office and use our Commanding General's office to make plans for the future. At that time General Arthur Wilson was the commanding officer. He used this office to make some of his plans for the Southern France invasion, and I had occasion to make phone calls for him, make arrangements for him to see a boxing match, and do some stenographic work for his G-1, Colonel Craig. General DeGaulle, from France, also visited our Command.
During the time that I was stationed at Naples, on March 15, 1944, the city of Cassino was bombed. I visited Cassino sometime after this took place and I wrote to my family describing this trip, as follows:
"My first impressions of Italy are beginning to be changed somewhat, as more and more I have occasion to view some of the natural beauties of this part of the country.
When you try to forget, if that is possible, for a little while the suffering experienced on the very ground I walked on, and drove over in a jeep, you can view the high surrounding mountains, valleys containing babbling brooks of cool clear water, rich fertile soil and the many other beauties that are God-made on this land that has been perforated with bombs, shell holes, etc. which leave the terrain in a state of affairs that is definitely man-made.
We stopped by the side of the road just outside Cassino and crawled up on top of an American tank that was more than likely in the same spot that it had been knocked out of operation, probably around two months ago. It was burned badly, and rusted, but even a fire doesn't destroy the distinguishing features of our tanks, as they are easily recognizable. In the distance far upon a hill could be seen the Abbey of Monte Cassino. It is said that since its fall and complete destruction by our bombers from the air, that no one has been able to enter the Abbey, as the enemy left the grounds and rubble heavily mined. Our planes fly over the Abbey ever so often and spray it, because there are numerous bodies (mostly German) there, and it causes a terrific odor in the valley below.
The road we took across the mountains going toward the sea, had recently been cleared of mines by our Engineers; but it was quite evident that in many places, mines were in fields to either side of the narrow dirt road over which we traveled. Several times, the jeep would stop or slow up, in front of a sign reading, 'Detour - Mines', and our jeep would go around the road to the left or right. All along the way, stripes of white cloth strung between stakes in the ground were noted on either side of the road, indicating mined areas.
Numerous graves -- French, American, British and even German were observed. They all appeared to have been buried by our Graves Registration Service. Sometimes right on the side of the road, there would be a lone grave, usually a Kraut -- with his helmet still on top of the grave. The helmet, in most instances, had a hole ripped through thetop of it.
Cassino, from a distance, looks like one big mass of piled up rocks. The town had been built on the sides of the surrounding mountains, with the Abbey of Monte Cassino on one of the tallest peaks. Evidently most, if not all, of the buildings had been constructed of the rocks out of the mountains, which presented the appearance from a distance of a rocky slope, forming parts of the mountain sides. We were amused at a sign post stuck about half way up a pile of rubble which more than likely once had been a hotel, that read, 'Hotel Continental - Under New Management.' (I didn't observe one room left standing in the whole town.)
After we left Cassino, it was necessary for us to cross the Liri River by ferry, as the only near-by bridge had been blown up. The ferry had been constructed by the placing of a number of boards together, and a rope was tied to a cable that had been strung across from one shore to the opposite side. The ferry was just about large enough to carry a jeep across, a typical Italian man, middle aged, manipulated the ferry across the river. When we drove up on the opposite side, he ambled up from his reclining position under the shade of a tree and brought the ferry across.
We stopped, at one time, where a small brook (about two feet wide) was running along the side of the road. As we ate hard boiled eggs, sliced ham sandwiches, pickles, fresh tomatoes, tomato juice that had been cooled in the brook, and chocolate cake, a woman came out to a well to draw water, the well being right beside where we had spread our food. We offered her a ham sandwich, and when at first she refused it, we were shocked almost to the point of not being able to speak. However, I have noticed that those living in remote communities are the hardest working, the most honest, and consciencious of all the Italians. We asked a farmer walking down the road for directions, and offered him a cigarette in return, which he refused --this also being most unusual.
We had occasion to observe what once used to be an ammunition dump. Just a very short time before, someone had set fire to it, and the remains were a sad sight, indeed. Ammunition dumps are usually concealed in a clump of trees. This one had been, but the remains that were left standing of what used to be tall flowering trees, were only burnt stumps, averaging about three feet in height.
At several places, we noticed empty tank shells, 105 mm and various other sizes. We noticed also some shells that were still unexploded. One was underneath one of the tanks we climbed all over. We had picked up two shells to bring back with us to have made into ash trays or flower vases. When we spotted this wrecked ammunition dump, we knew we could find all the shall cases we wanted, but we didn't want any more. One of the shells I picked up was a German -- and the other an American 105 mm.
I have seen the Tyhranean Sea at a point south of Gaeta. The first white sand that I have viewed in Italy, I have now seen. It was deep and sifted with a stiff sea breeze. The beach was wide -- like our coasts are at home and the sand actually looked clean, the water also. You could walk out into the water for quite a distance and it would still just be up to your knees. There were very few people around the beach; in fact, the four of us were the only ones in swimming at the time; almost like a private beach.
Thus, some more of Italy's historic spots were veiwed and observed; places that in years to come, no doubt, will be visited by many people interested to see the battlefields upon which Allied nations and Germans fought one another and made history.
Quite often, during the evening hours, after we had returned to our barracks from our respective duties in offices, kitchens, etc., we would receive a visitor -- a lone German plane, which was nicknamed "Jerry." It flew over the area to drop bombs, or a bomb, aiming for the Port of Naples. Our Allied Forces would then in turn activate the anti-aircraft guns and the fireworks would begin. For the Wacs, we were hurried to the basment of our building, along with the Sisters who also lived there to wait out the action. One night, Joan and I decided we didn't want to go to the air raid shelter and decided to watch the action from the balcony of our room. All of the upstairs rooms had balconies. Dorothy Mallory made room checks that night and we went to the balcony, where we could not be seen when she came around with her flashlight. Well, we got a show, all right, and a bright display of shells being shot into the darkness, which reminded one of the Fourth of July. Our ground crews would search the skies with their searchlights and then finally they had the airplane spotted. Joan and I were hoping the plane would be spared and we didn't want to watch it being hit, and I think it did get away. Shells fell in our courtyard --or maybe it was the empty casings -- the flack, but it was enough to cause us to go to the air raid shelter the next time we had an air raid alert."
In August 1944 in our Company Newsletter, The Wackery, was the following statistical item:
Churchill Hitler Roosevelt IlDuce Stalin Tojo
Year Born 1874 1889 1882 1883 1879 1884
Took Office 1940 1933 1933 1922 1924 1941
Age 70 55 62 61 65 60
Years in Office 4 11 11 22 20 3
Total 3888 3888 3888 3888 3888 3888
END OF WAR-1/2 of 3888 is 1944; 1/2 of 1944 is 972 or Sept 7 2:00
SUPREME RULER..First initial of each party spells CHRIST.
The uses we had for our mess kit were numerous - more than just eating out of. Once when we were being moved from Naples to Leghorn they were used for brushing teeth and washing whatever. The following poem depicts how one lieutenant described our mess kit.
ODE TO A MESS KIT
So very often do poets write
Of flowers, birds and such,
That one gets tired of seeing them And reading them so much;
Now I've a thing more dear to me, Romantic and divine,
Its shining face a symbol of
That appetite of mine.
God bless each little rivet,
The knife, the fork, and spoon-Forever may they render forth
Their sweet metallic tune.
And when these days of corn-beef hash Are memories all aglow,
There'll be a place for it somewhere Where all good mess-kits go.
--Lt. H. S. Davenport
Joan Seavey and I joined the WAAC at the same time and went through basic training and Fort Devens, Mass. together. We were also discharged on Oct. 14th, 1945 at Camp Beale, Calif. near Sacremento.
In a letter that she wrote to my parents from Italy on Aug. 21, 1944, she said of me:
"Perhaps I should tell you a bit about Virginia. She has just returned from two days spent on the Isle of Capri. Her complexion is several shades darker and she looks like a million. They spent nearly all of their time on the beach I guess so she should come back to work with some fresh vim and vitality. Considering the multitude of every conceivable kind of disease that is all around us here, we have been most fortunate in staying as well as we have. Very few of us have lost many work days because of illness."
"Virginia was getting a bit tired the last couple of weeks but it was nothing that a few days change of routine wouldn't cure and I'm sure that by the time she comes back to the office on Wednesday morning that she will have regained all of her vitality. Our work isn't difficultbut the steady grind of 6 1/2 days a week does get a person down after a while.
"As I told you, Virginia just got back from Capri but hardly any more than hit the place until she took off again for Rome. She didn't finish out her full five days rest time so she decided to see a bit more of the country while she was about it. She had to go alone because none of her gang could get off at that time but I know she will have a good time. I went by myself last week and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. The city is beautiful and so unlike any others we have been in this country. The town is undamaged by bombs or artillery and the people are healthy looking and clean, (such a change from the other cities in the southern part of the peninsula). GG will no doubt write you all about her trip when she gets back.
"Virgnia and I have been together for over a year now. We met for the first time in Chicago on our way to basic training in Ft. Devens and have been alphabetically together ever since. She now has an excellent poisition as Secretary to the Chief of Staff of this base section -- a position which she is handling efficiently and conscientiously. As secretary to the Commanding Officer we find that our duties and responsibilities are similar.
"The allied Armies are really making progress these days. All of us are getting very optimistic and feel that it wouldn't be too long before this European war will be over.
Well I see that it is time to go to lunch so I shall close. I too enjoy your letters to Virginia. Sincerely hope that you are feeling much better by now.
P.S. You have a very lovely daughter.
Excerpts from letter to my family 21 Dec. 1944
Well, I can add another Italian town (Florence) to my list of "have seen". Yesterday was Evelyn's and my day off and we got up at the regular time yesterday morning, so that we could get started early, as we didn't have a ride and planned to hitch-hike. We dressed in our new issue wool trousers, and I wore the top pair that goes over the wool ones, both for warmth and to keep my others clean. We wore our air corps jackets (she has one also that her husband got for her), our yellow gloves and high topped shoes. We walked by the PBS Building, and then got on the main highway, and had walked about two blocks when we got a ride with a Red Cross girl, who took us to a "pick up point," and from there we got a ride in a weapons carrier, who weren't going where we were, but who took us as far as they could---where the road forked. We got out there and had hardly gotten off the truck, before a whole convoy of 6 x 6's came rolling by and the last truck stopped for us. The boy that was driving was quite pleasant, young and said he was always glad to have company go along with him, as it made the trip seem shorter. We had a nice trip, the weather was nice and it was a beautiful day. We got to our destination about noon. The first thing we thought of was getting something to eat, so after making several inquiries, we ended up by going out to a nearby hospital with three boys who were drivinig an ambulance. They were from an evacuation Hospital near the front lines, and had just driven in on business. The hospital where we ate lunch was located in a beautiful spot with lots of trees around, and the buildings were quite modern.
".....When we got back to town, we inquired as to where the Allied Gift Shop was, as we heard they had everything there to buy that you could possibly want, and the boys helped us find it. We spent practically the whole afternoon in there, besides spending all (and I do mean all) our money. But, it was more fun. It's the first time since I've been over here, that I actually felt as if I was shopping in a shop like we would have at home. The prices seemed pretty reasonable too, so I tried to buy something for each of you.
When we left the shop we went to the Red Cross to relax and have a cup of coffee to warm us up. Both Evey and I were feeling rotten, as girls someetimes do, and by the time we unloaded our bundles and plopped in a nearby easy chair, we were so exhausted, that we both heaved a sigh of relief. We took one look at each other and it struck us so funny, that we laughed at each other to beat the band. I know we must have looked like you and I used to when we went to Dallas shopping and walked up and down Main and Elm streets along about Christmas time. We stayed at the Red Cross until we felt sufficiently revived, and then we took off again. (I forgot to say that before we left, Evey had a game of ping-pong with a fellow while I sang a few songs to the tune of the piano. The boys that we had ridden up with told us that if we wanted a ride back that they would probably be passing along about 6:00, so we got there at ten of, but they hadn't come by 6:15, so we asked the MP if he wouldn't see if he could get us another ride. Some of these MPs over here are really nice and this happened to be one of the nice ones. We were standing on this side of a big bridge, so he stopped each truck, jeep, etc. that looked as if it might be suitable and asked if they were going back to Leghorn. In about five minutes he had us a ride with a Mr. Stransberg of the American Red Cross and we got back in about two hours. Mr. Stransberg told us the next time we went back to (censored), to look him up and he would send an Italian civilian out with us to shop for linens, and we would be able to obtain them much cheaper. I didn't get around to buying any linens yesterday. In fact when Evey and I started out of the shop, I had 25 lira left, so dropped it in a box for poor children.
Evey and I had another laugh when we came up the stairs and I took one look at her. A combination of a lot of things -- dust on the road and a bad cold -- had caused Evey's eyes to swell and she looked as if someone had hit her in both eyes. The swelling was down some this morning, but she had to back to the dispensary for treatment. We surely were two sad looking sacs. We didn't get to do any sight seeing, but just shopped, so hope to go back before long to see the sights.
Excerpts from letter to my family 2 February 1945:
Last night I went to a party given in the office at Command Group. One of the boys who works in the Control Section, Jack Cameropn, is going home soon on rotation, and he and the boys fixed up a lovely dinner. Two of our officers from Command Group were invited, and both were there for cocktails before dinner, but the Chief of Staff (for whom I used to work) had to leave before the dinner as he wasn't feeling well. However, Kiefer stayed and entertained us all with his stories he has such a clever way of relating. Jack had made some darling little place cards, and I'll send mine home for my scrap book shortly, and he had purposely sat me between two fellow Texans, one from Ft. Worth and the other from Frankston. So Lt. Col. Kiefer took advantage of the situation and remarked that he noted that all the Texans stick together. One of the boys said he didn't know what he was missing if he had never visited Texas, so Kiefer started in on a story about his first and only trip to Texas when he was a kid hitch hiking from his home in Glendon, Maryland to Dallas, Texas. It is too long to repeat here, but you may be sure that he had us all in stitches before he was finished.
The table for the dinner had been prepared in the Secretary of the
General Staff's office, who is in the States now on TD, and Jack had obtained two Italian waiters from the NCO Club to serve the meal. Sheets represented the table cloth. Since there is no such thing as real long candles here, Jack took some sealing wax and waxed two 12" candles together and then dropped dabs of brown sealing wax over the finished product to give it a poker-dot effect. Since all he had in the way of dishes were the saucers to the cups they use for afternoon coffee in the office, he used some originality and made some cardboard salad dishes and cake plates, which he had painted an artistic design on. Kiefer complimentd him on his originality, and he said, "The truth of the matter is Sir, that it was of necessity that I make these, since we didn't have enough dishes," but Kiefer came back with, "Yes, but some people would have been stopped at that -- you weren't." To eat there were creamed chicken, pear salad with salad dressing, olives, chocolate cake and coffee. The other day Joan and Jack were out in the country sketching, and they came upon an onion patch, so Jack immediately put on his best Americano smile and made friends with the owner, and the owner gladly let him take all he wanted, back with him. Jack is an artist and he paints beautifully.
The boys had flowers for us to wear in our hair -- two or three small flags (purple) and the same amount of narcisusus. Joan and I wore our off-duty dresses -- and had a bright red wool scarf at the neck, which Mary Edwards bought in Florence and brought to us. That is against regulations -- to wear a red scarf with our off-duty dresses, but we didn't feel much like being GI last night, and they do brighten the dressess up. Those attending the party were Sgt. Lou Hoffman, Sgt. Joe Greenburg, S/Sgt. Jack Cameron (who gave the party), Cpl. Jimmy Bolero, M/Sgt Mac O'Donald (the one from Ft. Worth), M/Sgt. John Saunders (from Frankston), Gill from G-2, T/Sgt. Bill Kilborne, Lt. Guy (Control Officer), Sgt. Marion Olson, Sgt. Mary Niven, Joan and myself. Since I realize that you probably aren't interested in all these names, I'll explain why I am, being so particular to list them. I don't keep a diary and I intend for my letters to you to serve as a permanent record of the good times and experiences I've had overseas, so I can refer back to them in years to come and remember the people I had as friends over here. I trust you have been keeping my typewritten letters to you, since they might come in handy some day. Evey and I were discussing the other day that we thought it would be a nice idea after the war was over and we are both back home -- to write a book, if we can manage to find the time. There are so many things that we have experienced and still are experiencing that we are unable to write home because of security measures involved, that we hope we will be able to remember enough of it to put it all down in a book. What things we have been able to write home will help us to remember the rest of the situations concerned, and our book is to be one on opinions and true facts -- not fiction, although some good fiction could well be written, also.
I got access to a write-up on a certain General who returned to the states on TD, which was written in his home town papers. I believe I've already written you one letter regarding a write-up of a WAC from L.A. returned from overseas duty, that you sent me, and this one was even more exaggerated. When I was a dumb and gullible civilian back home I used to believe everything I read in the newspapers, but never again will I do so. Now, I know the habits of correspondents and learn to take it all with a grain of salt. I guess it is a war correspondent's job to fool the public, for that's about the only way they are able to get a real scoop, and there is a certain art to camouflaging every day occurrences and making them seem like something BIG, but boy just wait until some of these American women return home -- we'll really have some scoops. I just hope I can remember half as much as I want to. One thing to remember is that the people who are really doing an excellent job and all the hard work are those that don't get elaborate write-ups, because they don't do a lot of talking -- but those of us over here know who they are.