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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007
292nd F.A. Observation Battalion
Fort Bragg, N.C.
Dec. 10, 1945
Had a big weekend and there is a lot to tell about. I went to Washington with a boy in my section named Ernie Crooks. We drove up Thursday night-an eight-hour trip-and it was raining most of the way. But luckily the weather cleared up and was nigh perfect for the three days we were there. Friday morning we took Ernie's little boy, who is seven years old with bright red hair and a temperament to match, to school and his wife to work at the Justice Dept. (she worked there when Lloyd Nolan was there learning how to act his part in "The House on 92nd Street.") Then we drove around and he showed me all the government buildings and how to find my way around. We went up to the top of the Washington Monument and had a very beautiful view of the whole city. It sure has London and Paris beat. A lot of the parks and landscaping are spoiled by temporary government buildings built to house wartime agencies, but we could still appreciate the general plan of the city, which is really beautiful.
Ernie took me over to the Dep't. of Commerce, where I had an interview with an official in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. A former officer of ours who is pretty high up in that outfit had written them a letter recommending me, and the man told me that I could start work for them whenever I wanted, on a survey crew, at a yearly salary of $2400 plus a subsistence allowance of $2 per day, which would give me an income of better than $250 a month. It was pretty hard to have to tell him that I was planning on going back to school, when they offered a starting pay like that-under civil service with a good prospect of advancement. But he agreed that college would be wiser, and said I could probably work with them summers, anyhow.
I sent over to the capitol building and climbed up in the top of the dome just to keep up to my custom of climbing up domes and towers-it's good for the leg muscles. Then I hunted till I found Homer Ramey's office and paid him a call. I'd always heard that Congressmen were always willing to talk with their constituents, and wanted to see if it were true. He was very cordial, and gave me a lot of pamphlets and stuff about various veterans' benefit laws that have been passed. I guess that Congress recognizes the veterans as a pretty potent political element and is anxious to keep them pacified. I had lunch in the cafeteria of the Representatives' office buildings-open only to Congressmen, their employes, and men in uniform. A large and well-cooked meal was only 47¢ so I guess the place is subsidized by Uncle Sam. The prices were extremely low. After lunch I sat in the visitors' galleries of the House and Senate for quite a while. I heard a speech by that exponent of racial hatred and everything else that's bad, Rankin of Mississippi. He looks and acts the part. The Senate was having a slack day; no well-known Senators were there and I stayed only long enough to get an idea of how they conducted their business.
A very striking thing about Washington, and the thing that makes me darn proud to be a citizen of the U.S., is the complete freedom and lack of formality there is in the buildings I saw. Anyone could go anywhere they pleased without special passes or being stopped and questioned about their business. It gave me the feeling that I owned a share in the place; and had a part in the administering of it-a feeling which a Britisher, for instance, could never get when he looked at Buckingham Palace or the House of Lords.
The rest of that very full day was spent in the Congressional Library. Saw the usual exhibits one is supposed to gaze reverently on, the original constitution, the Declaration of Independence with old John Hancock's signature still as plain as ever, although the document is badly faded.
The immensity of the undertaking at that library is hard to imagine. At least two copies of every book that's published, not only here, but in every country in the world where books are available. A librarian told me that even during the war there were undercover agents smuggling books out of German so the collection would be complete. The system they use is wonderful. There is a central reading room which consists only of hundreds of desks and chairs and row upon row of catalog files. You simply look up the title and number of the book or books you want, write the numbers, and the number of the desk at which you are sitting, on a slip of paper and hand it to an attendant. The paper is carried in a vacuum tube system to the part of the library or annex building that has your book, and the book is shot back through a series of tubes and conveyer belts to the reading room, where the attendant sees the number of your desk written on the paper, and brings you the book. You could sit there all day and ask for books, and they'd bring them right in. Truly a lazy man's way to do research, isn't it?
Saturday morning the loss of sleep from Thursday night finally caught up with me, and I slept till almost noon. After I telephoned you I went to the Mellon Art Gallery. It is one of the most beautiful and newest building on the Mall, midway between Washington Monument and Capitol Hill, and across the Mall from the Smithsonian Institute. The building is slightly smaller than the Toledo Art Museum, somewhat similar in its general idea, but a good deal more elaborate, with water fountains, ferns and palms, and of course much more expensive art collections. Original Rembrandts, Van Dyck, Michelangelo, and the rest, all over the place. The art works are valued at $150 million, all donated by Andrew Mellon, Kress, and a couple of others.
Across the Mall to the Smithsonian Institute, and things a little more up my alley. There were the old standbys, of course; Lindbergs "Spirit of St. Louis," G. Washington's snuff box, and possibly even the hatchet with which he cut down the cherry tree-I don't know. But much more interesting were such things as the evolution of motor cars, from the first old Stanley Steamer and electric brougham and "Merrie Oldsmobile." There is a series of bicycles, from the old ones with a 6-ft. front wheel and a 1-ft. back wheel, to the latest streamlined model. A collection of about every coin that was ever minted. Men's and women's clothing styles, from as far back as the Revolution. There are other parts to the Institute; a natural history museum, an aircraft building, a medical history display. But I just didn't have time; it would have taken weeks to see and appreciate it all.
Sunday before we left for camp, all of us took a long ride, starting with a tour of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, going out through Chevy Chase, Md., to the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where the President has a suite of rooms for when he gets sick. It is a huge and beautiful hospital plant, including over 140 buildings.
We drove on up the Potomac and then circled back through the more wealthy residential sections of Washington. Chevy Chase and other places in that neighborhood are similar to Ottawa Hills and the upriver district of Toledo.
Ernie lives in an apartment in a better-than-average neighborhood about five miles from the center of town. He worked in a grocery store near his home; if you think that doesn't sound like much, you'll be surprised to know that he will work there, as soon as he is discharged from the army, at $5000 a year plus 10% of the stores yearly profit, which is considerable. That is really good for a 29-year old fellow who didn't finish high school and had no special pull, either. He's a hard working and very likeable boy.
Our trip was made after dark both ways, so I couldn't see much of Richmond or the other cities we passed through. Although the trip is 350 miles, the road is so good that the driving was easy. We followed U.S. Route #1 most of the way.
Today we finally got our pay, which has been accumulating for over two months, so I can send you the furlough ration allowance we were given. Sorry I couldn't send it sooner.
Good think our outfit bought this stationery, isn't it? I'm really using a lot of paper tonight.
Thank you for promptly forwarding the U. of M. mail. Fast action on some of that mail may mean the difference between a place to live and a park bench.
"Information Please" is claiming too much of my attention now so I'll have to stop. Hope to see you soon.
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