Monday, May 27, 2013

Letter From Joe, Late May 1943

Dearest Betty. I'm sorry to say I don't know what day it is here any more. One freezing, foggy, blowing hour just seems to run into another, and it feels like we've been here a hundred years instead of just a couple of weeks.

It's an awful slog fighting the Japs. They're clinging to this miserable speck of rock as though their lives depend on it, which I suppose they do since the Japs don't believe in retreat or surrender. The Army Air Force keeps dropping leaflets on them (I've enclosed one for you). They tell me they read as follows:

"The kiri leaf falls. Its fall is the omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf comes sadness and bad luck. Before spring comes again the raining bombs of America, just like the kiri leaves fluttering to the ground, will bring sad fate and misfortune."

A lot of silly words wasted on a lot of paper if you ask me, but I'm only a private and not a general, so what do I know?

Actually I do know one thing the Japs understand, which is a grenade. Since I last wrote to you we fought our way out of the aptly-named Massacre Valley and up onto the high ground. The Japs were dug in on the valley walls, but we got a lucky break. The artillery gunners behind us fire smoke-screen rounds. The Japs thought it was poison gas, and scrambled for their gas masks. That gave us time to lob grenades into their positions and do a little bayonet work.

A photographer got the enclosed picture of some of my buddies in action:

This is pretty much what it's like all over the island. We've been in shallow trenches like this one at times:

But we've also got tents, and hot food and fuel. Heck, the Army's even trying to boost our morale by taking us to the movies, if you can believe that! Here's our "limousine" from the front to the movie tent:

Betty, I've got to admit that Hedy Lamarr is almost as beautiful as you!

Well, that's it for now. We've got just a few remnants of the Japs bottled up around Chickagoff Harbor. Our sergeant says we'll likely be going at them to finish them off in a day or two, so with any luck this will be my last letter from this frozen lump of dirt.

Give my best to Rosie, tell her I see lots of P-38s like her lounging, coconut-juice drinking husband Bob flies in that tropical paradise of New Guinea (she knows I'm joking).

See you soon. All my love,


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Letter from Joe, Mid-May 1943

This is a horrible place.

Betty, I don't know how to sugarcoat things since I don't have a lot of fancy words like the college boys, so I'm not going to try. You'll just have to hear it like it is, but I know you can take it.

We were pinned down in the Massacre Valley for days after we landed. We only got a little way inland before the Japs started shooting us from the hills. We had beach artillery that fired back, but the ships in the bay couldn't do anything for us because it was too foggy. I spent the most miserable night of my life lying in a freezing, muddy streambank trying to stay out of the machine-gunners' sights. Some fellas a few hundred yards away tried to keep warm by setting fire to the stocks of their rifles, the only thing they had that would burn. They were dead by morning. I heard one of the officers say the Japs have fur-lined boots and uniforms and plenty of kerosene. All I can say is, I hope they'll all stay nice and warm in the hell we'll send them to.

We slowly made our way up the valley, a few yards at a time, holding on to each other's cartridge belts. We're supposed to be linking up with another unit that landed in the northern part of the island, but it's been unbelievably slow. A buddy told me he heard that when that Northern Force got to a camp the Japs had abandoned, our fighter pilots didn't realize they were our boys, and killed a bunch of them by bombing and strafing. He said he also heard the Japs killed their own wounded by injecting them with morphine and throwing grenades into their medical tent.

Thankfully we've got what you might call a camp set up now. We've got a little stove, but the mud floor's pretty nasty. It's been tough getting supplies in because the vehicles keep getting bogged down in the mud and the muskeg, but it seems like we're secure for the time being.

Don't you worry about me. I got those socks and sweaters you knit me and they sure feel good. I'm putting all my mind to staying safe and winning this thing. I've got to go now, but I promise I'll write again as soon as I can.

Love, Joe

Monday, May 13, 2013

Letter from Joe, May 1943

Dear Betty

Just a quick note to tell you we've arrived at Attu Island. I thought when we were building the Alaska Highway last year that I'd seen the most Godforsaken country in the world, but the Army's determined to prove me wrong. After we're done here the only worse place they could send me is Hades.

Actually Hades might be a bit of an improvement; at least I wouldn't be shivering as I write this the way I am now. The Army got it wrong about how cold it is here. Most of us are still wearing the uniforms we had when we left California, which are feeling pretty flimsy when it's blowing forty miles an hour and sleeting.

We came ashore at a place called Massacre Bay. A lovely name for an equally lovely place. So far the landing's been a perfect example of what the fellows call FUBAR, since everything in the Army must have an acronym. It means "Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition." We have maps that only go a thousand yards inland, and only a few photos of the interior of the island since reconnaissance planes can't exactly take pictures through the eternal fog here.

At least the Japs are leaving us alone for the time being. They're hiding up in the hills like the cowards they are. And a good thing, too, since we all were supposed to be ashore today and the boats are still unloading.

I've stuck a few photos in here for you. I don't know if the censors will let them through, but what use any Axis spies would have for pictures of scruffy soldiers on muddy rocks and snow is beyond me.

Don't worry a bit about me. When the cold and the scenery get me down I just pretend we're having one of our picnics on Mount Rainier when a summer squall come through. I imagine your face under that silly knit hat of yours, and the basket of huckleberries you always pick.

Well, I've got to go as there's a lot of work to do. They say we'll lick the Japs here in just a few days, so with any luck this letter will barely beat me to Seattle.

All my love,