Authors: Barbara Bretton
Tags: #World War II, #Women-HomeFront, #Romance
“Don’t say it,” she whispered. “If you say it, you’ll make it real....”
“It’s Douglas,” said Edna, her voice breaking. “Our boy is gone.”
The sidewalk rushed up to meet Catherine as she gave herself over to the darkness.
Can you pass this mailbox with a clear conscience?
— V-Mail poster
Delayed—Received June 7, 1943
May 20, 1943
Happy Birthday! You didn’t think I’d forget my girl’s twenty-first birthday, did you? I guess you know it’s a little hard to find a decent greeting card out here in the middle of nowhere, so I hope you’ll close your eyes and pretend this letter is a big fancy 25-cent card, complete with a red satin-and-lace heart right in the middle.
I guess you also know how much I wish I could be there with you. Remember your eighteenth birthday? Three years ago! Makes me feel like an old man to think about it. Do you still have that pale blue dress with the full skirt you wore to Toffenetti’s? You looked so beautiful, Cath, with your hair brushed back from your face and caught up with one of those fancy clips. Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night I think about that night and remember the way you looked, the way we danced, the way we talked about the future and all the wonderful things we were going to discover together.
We’re still going to discover them, Cath, I promise you. It’s just going to take a while before we’re together again. I keep a picture of you in that blue dress with me all the time. The other guys say I’m a lucky son of a gun to have a girl like you, but they don’t know the half of it.
Our time’s coming, Cath! As long as you go on loving me, I know that not even the enemy can do anything to hurt me.
With all my love,
June 15, 1943
I know you must be mad at me for not writing to you sooner. A lot has been going on here at home and I guess I just didn’t know how to tell you.
I’m afraid I have some really bad news. Cathy’s boyfriend, Doug, was killed on May 30. They say he died a hero’s death, but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier on his mom and dad, or on Cathy.
Aunt Edna and Uncle Les—our families are so close we call the Weavers that—hung a big gold star in their front window to show their son had served his country, but every time Cathy walks by I’m afraid she’s going to throw a rock through the glass.
I wish she’d cry. At least if she cried, I know she’d feel better. But she’s keeping it all bottled up inside and snapping at everybody who tries to help her. She didn’t even cry when a letter from Douglas arrived the day of the memorial service. Yesterday she made Mom cry and I wanted to shake her as hard as I could, but I was afraid that she would—Well, I don’t know exactly what I was afraid she would do, but there’s something really scary about the way she’s acting. It’s almost as if nothing has happened. Or even worse, it’s like Douglas never
. One minute he was the center of her life and, now that he’s gone the place in her heart where he used to be has closed in on itself like a lake over a skipping stone.
As it is, I can’t seem to do anything right. She says I hog the bathroom and play the radio too loud and don’t do my share of chores around the house. Yesterday she threw a slipper at me like I was the Weavers’ mutt, Sandy, and when I told my mom about it, she just patted me on the head and said I had to be more understanding.
I guess I just don’t know
to be more understanding. I feel like everybody’s forgotten I’m alive. Tonight is my high-school graduation, the most important event in my entire life, and I don’t think anyone in my whole family even remembers. When Cathy graduated, Mom and Daddy gave her a beautiful watch complete with an inscription on the back, and a string of pearls. I’ll be lucky if Mom remembers to show up at the auditorium to see me get my diploma.
Thank you very much for the pretty scarf. Mrs. Carlin down the block said it must be silk. I am going to wear it to work on Monday morning when I start my job at the bank. I bet I’m the only girl there with a present from the front! See what I mean? There you are, thousands of miles away from everything, and you remember my graduation and my very own family acts like this is just another day.
Even my friends don’t understand. They’re so busy with their own graduation parties that they don’t even realize that I’m the only girl in school who won’t be giving one of her own. I’m so glad I have you to write to, Gerry. Even though we’ve never met, I think you’re my best friend.
Please take good care of yourself. I promise that next time I’ll tell you all about the movie stars I met at the Stage Door Canteen.
ARMY CASUALTIES INCREASED BY 875
Thirty-nine Men from New York,
11 from New Jersey, 7 from Connecticut
New York Times
June 30, 1943
July 1, 1943
I can’t believe how fast your letter reached me. I can’t believe I got so lucky. Wish it could happen more often but I know there isn’t much chance. (Troopships are slower than snails.)
I’m real sorry to hear about Cathy’s boyfriend. We heard rumors about a real bad skirmish up there in the Aleutians. Guys killed and wounded, and for what? It didn’t even help the war effort, at least not so far as anybody can see. I hope she’s starting to feel better about things now.
Glad you liked the scarf. I can’t tell you exactly where I got it (they’d probably censor it out anyway!) but Mrs. Carlino wasn’t far from wrong.
Things have been real hectic around here lately. We did a bit of traveling from island to island. Rumor has it we’re going to see some action any day now. About time! I’ve been here almost a year and I still haven’t seen the enemy except in the movies. I know you like to think we’re all running around like John Wayne and all those other stars you’re so crazy about, but I’m afraid the truth is pretty boring.
It seems like we spend most of our time waiting for something to happen, and then once it does, we spend more time waiting to find out when it will happen again. I guess the fly-boys get most of the glory, while the rest of us hang around waiting to do what we were trained to do—kill the enemy. We spent three weeks on C rations and now I’m even skinnier than I was before. Good thing Mom can’t see me! She worries enough as it is, especially since my kid brother Andy joined the marines back in May and will be shipping out any day now.
Bob Hope and his show will be coming our way around Thanksgiving. They also say Rita Hayworth will be with him!!! Most of the guys have a picture of Rita taped to their mess kits and one of Betty Grable glued to the inside of their helmets. Ever since you sent me that picture of you in your senior-prom dress, Rita doesn’t stand a chance! You’re real pretty, Nancy, and, yes, I do like redheads.
I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself. You’re smart and you’re pretty and by now I bet your parents have given you your graduation watch. I wish I could give you the string of pearls.
Well, it’s time to go. Please keep on writing to me, Nance. Your letters mean a lot to me!
July 12, 1943
Dear Mrs. Wilson,
I showed up at your house that morning but a neighbor lady of yours told me what happened to Catherine’s boyfriend. I’m really sorry. Please tell her that for me.
Maybe you’ll give me a rain check on that big breakfast when we come home.
August 2, 1943
Thank you very much for the kind words. I hope you don’t mind that my mother showed me your letter.
She also said to ask you if you want pancakes or waffles. Take care of yourself and please watch out for Daddy.
P.S. Pick the waffles! Mom makes the world’s best—C.
September 8, 1943
Waffles. Fried eggs over easy. Bacon. Fresh milk.
We haven’t been over here real long and already I’m beginning to dream about good food. You’re lucky to be able to eat anything you want, whenever you want it. They switched us over to K rations because they’re easier for us to carry on bivouacs. Besides, those empty gold C ration cans were making it easy for the enemy planes to pick us out. I guess we’re not the neatest bunch of Joes around. You learn how to eat right from the cans, don’t even bother with the mess kit. Mostly you scoop up your food with a hard biscuit or spoon.
K rations give you just about everything they say you need. Only trouble is, they don’t taste too good. They even put a pack of cigarettes and some crackers in there to keep the can of meat from rolling around. Some of the guys have made up a recipe for D ration fudge. You kind of mash sugar and chocolate and condensed milk with a shell fragment and cook it over a Coleman stove—if you’re lucky enough to find one. They say we’re the best-fed soldiers in the war, but I bet this wouldn’t hold up to your mom’s cooking. (Or maybe yours, too? Are you a good cook? Somehow I can’t imagine you standing at the stove!)
It was good to hear from you. I hope you keep writing.
P.S. Your dad’s doing real well here. He’s the oldest guy in our platoon but probably the toughest. (Except for me, of course.) Do me a favor—write and tell him to shave! That is one crummy-looking mustache.—J
September 17, 1943
I’ve been hearing some good things about you from Lou and Victor and the others at the plant. It seems you’ve been shaking things up around the office. In fact, Betty Hudson told me you even managed to reorganize payroll and that things are running smoother than silk, even with the overtime they’ve had to put in.
You’re really making me proud, Cathy. I’ve been worried about the business, but hearing those glowing reports has eased my mind. But don’t work yourself sick. You’re the owner’s daughter. You don’t have to put in 18-hour days. That’s why I put Lou Anzio in charge in the first place. Go out to the movies with your mother and Nancy. See your friends.
Remember you’re only young once. The war won’t last forever. Don’t spend all your time working. A pretty young woman like you has better things to do.
Last night I had to write to a guy’s mother and tell her that her son had died a hero’s death. Packing up his personal effects was about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It made me think of Douglas. Take pride in the way he lived and died, princess. He did what he had to do to make the world safe for the rest of us.
Take good care of your mom and little sister, and extra-good care of yourself.
September 26, 1943
I know I shouldn’t be writing to you about this (and I really hope you won’t tell Mom I did) but I am so unhappy that I just can’t stand it anymore.
Cathy has been awful to me lately and I don’t think it’s fair. I feel very sorry for her—losing Douglas was awful and I miss him as much as everyone else does—but is that an excuse for treating me so mean? Nothing I do is right and she yells at me all the time. We used to be good friends. Now she acts as if I’m her worst enemy and it’s making me feel terrible. I didn’t make this bad thing happen to her, but she’s acting as if everything was all my fault.
She won’t let me talk to her about anything. She works all the time, and when she isn’t at work she’s at the USO or volunteering at Horace Harding Hospital. When she is home, she’s buried up to her elbows in ledgers and reports and if I even make one teeny-tiny noise she yells loud enough to knock the walls down.
I know she’s lonely and sad and I really want to help her but she just won’t let anybody near her and I don’t think it’s fair that she’s making everybody feel so bad, especially Mom. I hope you’ll say something to her in your next letter. I’m getting tired of not being able to play my Frank Sinatra records or have my friends over.
Hope you’re fine. Say hi to Johnny for me.
Love and kisses,
October 8, 1943
I’m sorry Nancy found it necessary to write you about my disposition. Believe me, I am doing very well. Yes, I am working hard but there is a lot that needs to be done at the factory, and if Nancy would get her head out of the clouds, she might realize that. I’ve told her we could use her on Saturday mornings but she would rather spend her time at the movies.
I am sorry if her letter caused you any worry. Things are under control here. Don’t give it a second thought.
P.S. She can play her Sinatra records all day and all night if she wants to—C.
October 11, 1943
Al (the guy from Florida I told you about) took these snapshots of your old man on KP duty. (That’s me behind him. I’m the one waving the potato peeler in the air.) Thought you’d like to see for yourself that he’s doing just fine. Make sure you show your mom.
We saw some combat the other night. Sure isn’t anything like it is in the movies. I can’t say any more, but imagine being stuck in the middle of the worst thunderstorm you ever heard as a kid, and you’ll kind of get the idea.
Haven’t heard from you for a while. Is everything okay? Write when you can. I’d really like to hear from you.
If you have a picture of you, and your mom and sister that you can spare, I’d really like to have one. It’s nice to know what we’re fighting for! Most of the guys here have someone back home waiting for them. I wouldn’t mind being able to look at your picture and think about the way you looked at the Stage Door Canteen the night we met.
November 25, 1943
Happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a long time since I last heard from you. I heard Bob Hope on the radio last week and he said the army actually roasts turkeys for the men and serves them up with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving here without Dad to carve the turkey and say grace. Nancy and I were going to take the subway into town to see the Macy’s parade but it’s been canceled. I guess all the rubber they’d use in their Tin Woodman and Uncle Sam balloons could go to better use in the war effort. I saw in the paper that 4,000 of their employees are in the armed forces now. They say their mechanical Christmas windows will be as spectacular as usual, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time between now and Christmas to go and see.