Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Than Meets the Eye

I've certainly learned over the last few weeks that war makes people hide a lot of things you'd think couldn't be hidden. It also makes them reveal things you never would have guessed. A bomber factory can be turn into a neighborhood, an aircraft carrier can disappear, and people's feelings about each other can come out under the influence of unaccustomed sugar and Champagne.

We're all terribly impressed by the camouflage job on the Boeing factory. If the Japanese bombers really do come to Seattle as our new mayor assures us they will, their pilots will see nothing but a modern neighborhood on the banks of the Duwamish. Never mind that the houses and trees on our plant roof are nothing but paint, burlap and scrap lumber. The illusion serves its purpose.

The Navy's having less success in hiding things. My co-worker Mary's been on the verge of tears every day since the Battle of Midway. Sure, the papers say it's a huge American victory, maybe even a turning point in the war. But there's almost no mention of any losses on our side. Mary's boyfriend wrote to her weeks ago that his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, was safe in Pearl Harbor getting repairs after the Battle of the Coral Sea. But not a peep since. One newspaper article's said that an unnamed American aircraft carrier was "damaged" at Midway. But the only pictures we've seen of the battle are Life Magazine's re-creations using models. "I don't want pictures of bathtub toys," says Mary, "I want to know what's happened to my Tom!"

Meanwhile, a smaller mystery's swirling around my co-workers Susan and Frank. For months they've seemed indifferent to each other (though I did notice Frank's glances lingering a little longer at her than at the other girls.) Betty gave a party last week to celebrate the Midway victory, using up my sugar ration as well as hers to bake a cake. Jane brought Champagne she'd filched from her mother's cellar (nice to come from old money), and everyone including me had a bit too much. Before I left I saw Susan and Frank dancing pretty close. Now they're keeping their distance and won't tell anyone why. Well, at least in this instance I think the truth will come out sooner rather than later!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Letter to Bob - June 5, 1942

Dearest Bob:

I know your location's a secret, but I'm hoping the Army will find a way to get this letter to you. I'm guessing you are still somewhere in Australia, and am trying to imagine my scratchy handwriting journeying halfway around the Earth into your hands.

I have sad news to report. After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, my mother died in the hospital in Portland. The doctor says he did everything he could to save her, but by the time he opened her up on the operating table her lungs were bloody tatters. Needless to say my father and I are devastated, but he's insisted I return to Seattle to resume my war work, so here I am.

Factory life is at least a distraction; it's hard to ruminate when you're surrounded by clattering air guns and roaring engines. We're working like fiends; Boeing's rolling out Flying Fortresses twenty-four hours a day, and the delivery pilots are rushing them into our soggy skies to do battle in Europe and the Pacific as fast as we can push them through the hangar door. I asked our foreman Tom how many B-17s we had built, but he told me our production figures are classified.

You'd hardly recognize me now! Gone are my flowered dresses and white gloves and jaunty little hats. Every day I'm in old slacks that are starting to get patched and oil-stained, and a ratty wool shirt and a headscarf. I tote a steel thermos and lunchbox just like the men, and I can't recall the last time I wore makeup.

Everything seems unreal now, with our normal life receding just a tiny bit further into the distance every day. Your suits hang in the closet, your briefcase lies on the shelf and the car sits in the garage, while events seem to rush past, hurrying toward some unknowable destiny. My fondest wish would be to push all this war back into the hellish depths from which it sprang. But since I can't do that I plan to fight just as hard in my own small way to end it as quickly as possible so that you can come home to me.

Your Loving Wife