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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007
Sunday, June 3, 1945
And so, after long neglect, I take pen in hand to send you greetings from Swäbisch Gmünd (pronounced correctly only when eating hot mush.) The weather is ideal, we are doing practically nothing and that is driving me practically batty, not because I dislike doing nothing, but I like to choose my own place and companions. The Russians at the D.P. camp continue to be our only problem; they can't quite understand why they are supposed to stay fenced in instead of wandering about starting fires and digging up German gardens. They are all of a pretty low peasant type and although they're sometimes likeable, more often they're a pain in the neck. We have four of them working in our kitchen and they're wonderful help, better than G.I.s for K.P.
This morning I went to a fine church service held in a local cathedral with a good big organ which added a lot to the service. This is a big Catholic holiday and the streets are all decked out in greenery and flowers much as we do for Christmas. Since the whole town is Catholic, everyone was out in all their finery and I noticed especially that their clothing was better looking and better quality than either French or British. It's also worth noticing that Germans are the only people in Europe who wear leather shoes to any extent-even in Paris where things are outwardly on pretty high standards, the women wear cloth shoes with awkward hinged wooden soles. In many respects, such as household appliances, electrical fixtures, gadgets, all mechanical products, Germany is surprisingly similar to the U.S. and makes England and France look almost primitive by comparison. Hitler had some good selling points to help salve people's consciences and I'm not surprised so many gullible people believed in him.
Last night I went to see "A song to Remember" again because I liked the music in it so well the first time. We have a new show every other night, and they are even opening a P.X. in town this week, so we are rapidly slipping back into civilized life again. I even keep my clothes on hangers and in drawers instead of being packed and ready to move at a moments notice. That sounds like a small item, but really seems good not to have to dig to the bottom of a duffle bag for a pair of sox or a towel.
Our newspaper has been mentioning some balloon-carried bombs hitting the U.S. last week. This may shock you and make you think that the war has dulled my morals or something, but that news pleased me a lot; I'd even like to send a list of targets to the Japs. Prime targets would be union officials who call strikes in war plants. At least a couple of bombs placed in Washington would do the whole country a world of good. To understand this attitude properly it is necessary to stand outside of the country and view the news that comes out of the country as an impersonal observer. Of all the picayunish things that have come out of a nation supposedly at war-there have been some good ones. But then, I guess that's part of the American way of doing things, and I wouldn't want it changed.
I suppose Uhlemann has sent you a bill for my new glasses-this forty bucks will handle it and if there is some gadget you want to buy for the house but don't quite feel like spending the money, buy it out of that too. If they have another season of light opera out at the zoo this summer, take Mom to a couple of them, or else buy tickets and have someone take her. Everything that we have available to do over here is free or nearly so, and someone had better be getting some good out of the money I save that way.
The enclosed snapshot was taken when I didn't know there was even a camera around. it was on the day the war ended and we were out locating some German gun positions which they thought had been knocked out by our artillery. The two officers poring over maps are particularly dumb and aggravating ones, and the look of disgust on my face is not just a pose. They point out things on a map and then go and take it easy while we do the dirty work. The other shot is looking out the barrel of a German 88 mm gun that was knocked out of action by our shells. In one place we found 21 such guns in a small area. The 88 is the best known German field piece-about a 3 ½ inch gun-and is pretty deadly sometimes.
Sorry to read of the increasing food shortage; I suppose it's hitting you folk pretty hard. However, I've seen now just how little a person can live on and it makes the U.S. diet even with short rations look pretty luxurious.
Just heard from Burt Frost-he's been at Rome for several months. Wish I could see him.
End of the page-Good night, Pop.
June 10, 1945
Birthday week came and went without any notice; must say I don't feel any more capable of voting now than I did last week, although the law says I can now. No mail has come from home lately but I know it's not your fault. I hope Eleanor came as planned and your birthday was properly observed. I don't envy her the long train ride and hope she was able to get Pullman. Am waiting to hear whether I should start addressing mail to her at Toledo or not. Ordinary letters are coming by airmail here as quick or quicker than V-mail, so I've quit using it.
We had to leave our modern homes and have moved temporarily into a large ex-school building in a town near Heilbronn-that should show on a map of German in the area bounded by Stuttgart, Mannheim, and Würzburg. We're not too far from Heidleburg and I hope to get there to try and see the famous university tomorrow. Heilbronn figured in some of the battles recently and is really a sorry mess. We took a truck and tried to find a Protestant church service in town but by the time we found our way through the wreckage the service was over. The Neckar River runs through town, and rivers always mean long detours to find bridges.
Last night we lost our first battle of the "war". We discovered-too late-that the building is infested with bedbugs. So this morning we had to take all our blankets and clothing out in the sun and sprinkle them with DDT powder and they're at work spraying the rooms with kerosene now. I don't think that will kill them and intend to sleep outside if they'll let us. For reasons known only to themselves, AMG won't let us billet anywhere else in town; personally I favor living in houses and letting the Germans fight the bedbugs. I suspect that AMG will do much to lose the war that is supposed to be won already.
I wish you could see the countryside here these days. There are fields upon fields of wild poppies, and they are the most brilliant red I've ever seen in nature. They seem as common as daisies at home. Oats and barley are heading up and farms in general look very prosperous. The roses are blooming in everyone's front yard now and some are so thick you can't see the trellis they are growing on. Perhaps it's no coincidence that in the U.S. the people of German descent seem to be the best at growing things.
Speaking of growing things, how's your garden coming? Does Aunt Sadie have a garden in the back lot too? I hope she is well. Give the Whitlocks my regards if you see her. That garden idea was a good one. Perhaps when this gets there Jack will be "helping" you work too.
France, June 15, 1945
By great good fortune we have left our bed-bug haven and have resumed our peregrinations through Europe. Yesterday we left Heilbronn, went up the Neckar River to Heidleberg-a beautiful old city in a deep valley. The Neckar has locks in it like a canal and had a lot of barges moored along the banks, stranded because of all the bridges and obstructions fallen into the river. Thence to Mannheim, which is practically an American city now with all of the big-shot headquarters stationed there. On across the Rhine to Ludwigshaven, Kaiserlautern, Saarbrücken, and Metz. There the army has a huge camp for transient troops-clean quarters, theater, PX, real Coca-Cola and the first real square meal in weeks. Rations have been cut in Europe lately to where our cooks are ashamed to serve a meal. At Metz I went back three times during the evening for a meal. This morning we started again and came through Verdun to a huge tent camp near Rheims (or Reims, depending on your preference.) Still haven't seen the famous cathedral there and don't hope to; we had a minor altercation with our battery commander and he has restricted the whole battery to the immediate area. Metz was fairly reeking with historical background, and I'd like very much to have stayed longer. Between there and Verdun is one of the most beautiful stretches of road I've ever seen. One spot on a hilltop shows nothing in all directions but fields of poppies. Some fields had intermixed with the poppies some white and blue wild flowers and the result looked like a huge natural flag. A kodachrome camera fan would have gone into convulsions or something.
This camp-called Camp Brooklyn-is nothing but a bunch of tents with six or seven canvas cots in each, and kitchen tent in each row, no running water or lights, but it stays light till ten o'clock at night so that's no problem.
I'm glad in a way to be back in France. Germany is better kept and more scenic, but one's natural instinct is to be friendly with people, and we can't either by law or morally be friendly with the Germans. You can't imagine how queer it is to be surrounded by people who say "hello" and try to curry favor with you, and not be able to respond normally to them.
As for the future, it is useless to speculate upon. I imagine every soldier in Europe would give a month's pay to know what was in store for him. Above all, don't pay any attention to what it says in the paper about the various armies. If letters seem a little scarce give me the benefit of the doubt.
It's ten o'clock now and daylight's fading so I'll say good-night now.
France, June 17, 1945
Nothing new much to report tonight, except it's Sunday night and seems fitting a proper to write home. I've already mail an army form which you should have by now telling you not to address any more mail to me at this A.P.O. number. I haven't received any letters from home for quite a while but blame it on the vagaries of V-mail deliveries of late. I hope you haven't mailed any packages lately, because moving around as we are, it's hard to say when they'd catch up. I hope we don't stay here at Camp Brooklyn long, because I like to travel and hate uncertainty and waiting for things to happen.
I must be a jinx on my friends here-abouts. For several days Sgt. House has been under the weather, and yesterday he began showing the same symptoms as I had when they took my appendix out. He was worse this morning so I went to get the doctor, and five minutes later he was on the way to the hospital. He didn't want to go for fear he'd be transferred from the outfit, but he was in bad shape and [page top torn] take out his appendix. At least my diagnosis was right. Don't remember if I told you about a month ago about the boy who had what we thought was a strep throat and I had to go for the doctor at three o'clock in the morning. Well, it was a couple weeks later when we finally found out what hospital he'd been taken to, and went to see him. He was still in bad shape and come to find out, he had diphtheria-so bad that they had to cut through his trachea and put in a breathing tube, and administered penicillin every three hours for sixteen days. This was the first time I'd run up against a severe case of diphtheria, and believe me, it's a terrible thing. We boiled everything he had handled and no one else got it, which was fortunate. I think he would have died if it weren't for penicillin.
To lighten my load I threw away my writing kit and kept only this small pad of paper. The result of that and trying to balance it on my knee, sitting on a collapsible canvas cot is proving very disasterous to my penmanship which is fourth-grade level even under normal conditions. A gold medal to you if you can read it. As for spelling, I sorely miss my Webster's dictionary. I solemnly promise to abstain from all letter-writing for one year after the end of the war.
After several cloudy, miserable days the weather is making a feeble attempt to get around to where it merits the praise Lowell gives it in "what is so rare as a --" which up to now has been a farce.
Having covered the past and present and not knowing the future, I must perforce close this and continue reading my old favorite "Captain Blood" by Sabatini. One of our blessings is a number of good books in pocket-sized editions.
France, June 22, 1945
This has probably been my sleepiest week in the army. The days have been quite warm, and there is practically nothing to do. Breakfast is at 6:30, and after we are cleaned up and the tent in order, and maybe a game of horseshoes or volleyball, it's time to take another nap. Evenings there are movies and one night there was a band concert, but the band was small and poor. Yesterday I got a pass and went into Reims, about an hour's drive. Aside from the cathedral, it is just another badly overcroweded army town. There is no food to be had, although the Red Cross serves coffee and doughnuts. With no bus service or maps, we couldn't very well do much sight-seeing.
In general design, the cathedral is a very impressive thing, but at closer inspection I was disappointed. It has an unfinished, bare look to it that seems out of place in a cathedral. It lacks the rich paintings and statuary of the English and German churches; there were almost no stained class windows and plain white light always spoils the effect of a cathedral, I think.
We went up in the huge towers and got to exploring around the bells and found the little door leading to the platforms and things around the roof of the church. We got a fine view of the church and the city from here, but came back to find the door locked, I had visions of spending the night on the roof, but they heard us after a while and let us back in. They couldn't talk English, so I don't know whether they were mad or not, and don't care much.
Part of our time was wasted trying to get into a show featuring Sonja Heine in person, but there were too many thousands of G.I.'s in front of us. Supper was Coca-Cola and doughnuts. I think the remainder of our stay in Camp Brooklyn will find me staying safely in my own tent instead of wandering about the countryside.
I wish some mail would come that would say how long Eleanor plans to be home, or when Johnny is coming, or whether Vernon is coming home or not. My last letter is dated May 30th so all I can do is guess. I just had a note from Lee written June 6th; he was in a band at 3rd Army forward H.Q. at Bad Tolz, south of Munich-which you probably know by now. Probably means he'll be over here for quite a while.
No more developments here, hope you all are well.
France, June 24, 1945
At long last, a stack of V-mails came from home, bringing me up to date to June 14th. So very glad to know that Eleanor came and had such a good trip, and pleased to know you liked the birthday present. Has the Pullman situation eased, or was Eleanor just lucky to get a berth?
A letter from Jim Moon says that he is transferred to a different navy band, and is going to a permanent station at Dallas, Texas. So I guess the school didn't pan out. But Norma is with him and I guess he'll be well off in Dallas.
Hoffy reports he's going to T.U. summer school and got all A's last semester, and will enter medical school next year. That should be a good slap in the face for those members of his family who didn't seem to realize what a gifted guy he really is. Maybe I shouldn't say it, but I don't think his grandmother's death will leave a permanent scar in his family's minds.
Did you notice that Doris Nettleman graduated magna cum lauda at the "U" this spring? She will teach at the University in the fall.
Chief pastimes these days are volleyball and baseball. If we were here very long, think I could gain back the weight I lost in Germany and maybe get some suntan. The climate and terrain here are very similar to Texas; it's hot and dry daytimes and very cold at night. It's no wonder France let the U.S. use this land. It's practically a desert, one of the very few unfertile spots I've seen in Europe. Close by, though, is an extensive vineyard region; Reims is the champagne center of France.
As you can see, there is very little news in this letter, sorry I can't do better.
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