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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007

Gerald ReesĀ Correspondence - February 1945

February 5, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 5 [1945]

Dear Mom,

That heading looks ominous, doesn't it? France at last. But that's misleading; we are in a comfortable camping area and so far have nothing to complain about expect perhaps a little mud. Sorry I haven't written for a few days but getting ready and traveling precludes any serious efforts at correspondence. This must be short since it's written by light of an improvised gasoline lamp which illuminates the tent all right but that's about all. We were paid the other day in francs which are all paper notes, no coins. It's beautifully printed and looks like "play money". Not really as complicated a system as pounds and shillings. We came over in an L.S.T. of which more later. Smooth, comfortable crossing. Letters may be shorter or slower, owing to a shortage of V-mail stationery.

With Love,
Ger

February 6, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 6, 1945

Dear Mom,

More details of my travels, this time by daylight so I can write more easily. Going from our billets to the post was not pleasant, being done in fog and rain. But the present warm spell that has hit most of Europe helped us a lot. The crossing was smooth, in spite of what everyone says about the traditional roughness of these waters. Our ship, L.S.T. or landing ship, tank, was large enough to have comfortable quarters, and the navy puts out excellent food. Didn't get to see much of France after we landed, since I was in a closed truck. The people we saw didn't look too bad off, although the little kids who swarmed over the trucks when we had to stop didn't, by their actions, speak well for the future of their country. From what I could see there are a lot more wooded areas here than in England, and a lot of planned reforestation. Our tents have little stoves in them, and there is plenty of fire wood to be had, although it's wet and hard to start burning. The tents seem comfortable and homey, especially with the radio; the English broadcasts come in quite clearly on it.

Just finished dinner, and who should be at the end of the serving line but two charming Red Cross girls with donuts, candy and gum. They get into the most unexpected places. Am sending some pictures of places of interest and miscellaneous stuff--don't think they are letters and around false hopes.

Love,
Ger

February 9, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 9, 1945

Dear Mom,

Nothing new to report on the general situation. We're living a life of Riley--whoever he was--except for guard and K.P. details and small nuisances. The weather can change faster here than I ever saw. Our tents aren't too water-tight but with stoves going we dry out pretty quickly. They issued a fine new sleeping bag affair made out of blanket material which is really warm.

We can't wander around loose here like we could in England, so I haven't seen much of the country. It will be a little strange not being able to talk to people or read their signs but I guess we'll get along. There is one thing I like about this new environment--the officers stand in the same line for food that we have to, and they don't seem nearly as cock-sure as they did on the other side of the ocean.

Figures in today's paper show that only one percent of discharged veterans so far are going back to school under provisions of the G.I. Bill of Rights. That seems an awfully small amount but it suits me--less competition. They don't know a good thing when they see it.

Love,
Ger

February 10, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 10, 1945

Dear Pop,

What a difference a few letters make! Now that I know that the mail boats still run to France, everything's O.K. Mom will probably open this by mistake, but I'm sending it to you to thank you for the letter of Jan. 18. Optimistically expecting more in the future, I offer these suggestions for V-mail: if typed, single-space instead of double. And don't bother to leave margins--you can say more that way. No excuses, either, about not knowing what to say. You can tell whether you had to work last Sunday, what the stenographer said to the boss, what kind of mileage the "boo P'ymouth" is getting, whether the thermostat still works, etc., etc. And I will reply promptly I promise. V-Mail is all that's coming so far, but the other letters and packages should catch up soon.

Coming down the road a few minutes ago, I saw a bright blue outhouse alongside a farm house, and on the front in large white letters was painted "Villa Repos" or "House of Rest". Good, huh? The countryside is very green and pleasant looking. The little kids are not dressed very well, and all wear large ungainly shoes, some with crude wooden soles and heels. Even small boys smoke constantly, and beg for "cigareets".

Love,
Ger

February 11, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 11, 1945

Dear Mom,

Today has been rainy and pretty gloomy, as happens so often when we have the day off. There was a church service which was certainly out of the ordinary. It was held in a large tent; we sat on the ground, and the chaplain, with muddy boots and no tie, preached from a pulpit of rough pine boards. The army provides a pocket-sized pump-organ which competed manfully with the rumble of trucks over the axle-deep mud outside. The chaplain was young, dynamic, knew the right things to say under the circumstances. A boy in my section who has a remarkable tenor voice, led the singing, and the canvas really shook above us.

Yesterday six of your letters and one from Pop came. Most surprising new was Lee's transfer. Certainly hope he doesn't lose his rating, for Anita's sake as well as his own. College degrees just don't seem to count in the infantry. Very glad to hear that Jack Witte got his commission, and hope you gave him my A.P.O. number. I don't know his address. Also delighted you found fuel for the little stove. Yes, I enjoy the Blade clippings. Please send more of them and an occasional Digest, Colliers or American Magazine. If you can find one, send a small cheap can-opener. Your multi-paged V-letters come in good order and are easily read. My writing is probably very difficult to make out but you haven't complained yet.

Love,
Ger

February 14, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 14, 1945

Dear Mom,

The date says it's Valentine's Day, but I haven't given it must thought so far today. This afternoon we finally got out to look at the country a little. A few of us had to go through the formality of a driver's test to qualify as an army truck-driver, and during the process drove through some beautiful country. Stopped at a little village at a boulangerie (bakery) and bought one of these long thin loaves of French bread, which I'm munching as I write this. It's delicious--and even better toasted over our little coal stove. I want so very much to talk to some of these people, but can't, of course. We picked up a hitch-hiking French soldier who looked so friendly and likeable that we felt very foolish to just sit and grin at him. In this village where we stopped, two small kids stood with their noses pressed against the window of their house and looked so interested and cute that we gave them some candy from our P.X. rations; they about jumped out of their shoes, and their mother came and beamed at us from the doorway. The farms we passed looked primitive but clean and well-kept. All have lots of geese and turkeys, plump and healthy-looking and one farmyard even had a peacock strutting around it for decoration, I imagine. Three large envelopes of Blade clippings arrived, thanks much--also for sending on Elaine's letter to you. More soon.

Love,
Ger

February 16, 1945

France, Feb. 16, 1945

Dear Mom,

First, a brief word-picture of the surroundings in which this is being written. I'm seated on a canvas folding cot in a large six-man tent, before a very cheery little coal stove, writing by the light of a lamp made of a tin can filled with kerosene with a rope wick. We have fastened an inverted steel helmet on the central tent pole for a washing-basin and have a shelf for miscellaneous stuff, small shaving mirror, etc. A news broadcast has just finished giving the details of the bombing of Tokyo by a huge carrier task force. A British announcer is giving us such choice tid-bits as the fact that Princess Elizabeth is going nicely after a severe case of mumps. We have heard thus far this evening the Firestone Hour with Richard Crooks, the Kate Smith program, Amos 'n Andy. Last night Bob Hope, hit parade, Charlie McCarthy. All of them are special recorded programs without commercials. Percy Faith's Hour of Contentment, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, the BBC orchestra, and frequent 30-minutes periods of uninterrupted classical music are included so that on one station we have everything that could be desired. There's not much else to offer here; no reading material except the daily paper of which you should have received some samples by now--"Stars and Stripes". The tent has no furniture expect the cots, but they serve as chairs, clothes racks, shelves, dining-room table, and every other thing. The boys are all gathered around the light answering the batch of mail that came last night. One man in the battery got 65 letters which had been piling up for him. I have all of your through Jan. 29th, one from Eleanor, and at last, a long and newsy letter from Hoffy. Did you know he was enrolled at T.U. in pre-med? He thinks if he makes a go of it he may go on to Ohio State or U. of Michigan. That would please me, for I lean strongly towards U. of M. in my post-war plans. So far I have accrued 29 months of schooling under the G.I. Bill of Rights plus whatever is in my corner of Pop's safety deposit box. I'm very thankful that a large share of my pay is staying in the U.S.A., because the franc is so unstable one doesn't know what his money is actually worth here. A large bundle of clippings also came last night; your selection is good, except you are neglecting the sports page sometimes for news from B.G. do you know anyone going to Scott so you could get a "Thistle"? Social notes from T.U. also include a lot of names of people I knew. The Sunday paper used to have a column of T.U. news. These of course are suggestions, not demands. Don't impoverish yourself for postage stamps just on my account. A large pack of V-mail forms would be indeed welcome, however. They give us a few, but not nearly enough. That's why many of mine will be on this paper, and probably slower in coming, from now on.

The new choir loft sounds most impressive and sensible; I can't quite visualize a choir of 200 massed across the front of the church, although there were probably almost that many when I was home last. It should serve as an attraction to a lot more people at the services and an inspiring part of the worship. Did the plan to hire Tom Rehorn go through? That would give Ashland almost four ministers and place it on a par with Riverside Church in N.Y. Even they can only muster up three ministers and about 40 or 50 singers. (as if numbers made a church!) Say hello for me to Mr. Haslam, the Andersons, Mrs. Holley, Massey, Peoples, Hunt, Weber, et. al.

You wouldn't recognize me know, or at lest wouldn't claim me as your son. My hair is a neat 1/2 inch long on top. It feels wonderful and no-one has to look at it.

Only 9 P.M. but to bed because our kerosene is running low.

With Love,
Ger

February 18, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 18, 1945

Dear Mom,

Another Sunday morning, but different from last week. There has been a spell of spring-like weather that has given some relief from the mud. We rolled up the sides of the tent to let the sun in, and it made an amazing difference in things. Last night I boiled out some clothes on the old coal stove and they look pretty good. Did I tell you about the successful sewing projects I've undertaken lately? Coming over on the L.S.T. I made a pair of mittens that are pretty warm out of some scraps of blanket material. And a few days ago I sewed cloth tapes on the corners and along the edges of my blankets so I can tie them together into a sleeping bag, but still take them apart to air them. It's more satisfactory than sewing the blankets together permanently.

The all-girl orchestra in "The Hour of Charm" was just broadcast, and had a fine program. You'll probably hear it tonight, too. Friday night Richard Crooks and the Firestone Hour sounded good--the first I had happened to hear them. There's no church service this morning, so I have the morning to write and dry clothing. My plans may go astray because this pen's about out of ink; I don't carry it because if it ever broke inside my duffle bag the rest of the contents would hardly be recognizable.

With Love,
Ger

February 22, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 22, 1945

Dear Mom,

I now not only go to bed with the chickens, but live among them--and cows, horses, ducks, and the accompanying mixture of odors--most of the day. The French farmers don't live on their farms, but instead gather in smaller villages and walk out to their fields each day. As a result, these villages are nothing but large collective farmyards. However, our quarters are comfortable and it's infinitely better than living in a pup tent. I am in the Seventh Army--do you have Fred Schwind's address? It seems strange that within a short time I have been in the vicinity of the homes of ancestors on both sides of the family, first in Wales, and then here. The little that I was able to learn of the language in first semester at B.G. is standing in good stead now, and I add to my vocabulary daily. The way the natives here live is unbelievably primitive. Yesterday I watched two men flailing grain with a flail on the barn floor, just as the Egyptians did thousands of years ago. They take up the straw and scoop up the grain out of the dirt on the floor, blow the chaff away, and the thrashing is done. It must take all winter to do the whole crop. The flail is two wooden rods fastened together with a leather thong so that when it is swung like and axe the lower rod hits the floor horizontally and beats the grain. Instead of binder twine they use small bundles of straw tied together. As for sanitation, they don't know what it is. The pig sty is next to the kitchen. The children wear wooden shoes just as Hans Brinker did, with a leather sort of slipper in as padding. I wonder if they grow up with flat feet. They seem very clumsy. A brother and sister, aged five and six, blond and rosy cheeked, run in and out of our room and we have a great time with them. There are quaint embroidered mottoes on the wall, and interesting cupboards and furniture. We manage to keep pretty clean and eat only army food, so we shouldn't catch any of the native germs. While I think of it, please try and find some vitamin pills with a lot of calcium in them, and send them by 1st class mail. Many fellows here get bad teeth for lack of calcium in their diet, and they say it's a good idea to take extra calcium. More to say when I've time.

Love, Ger

February 26, 1945

[V-mail]
France, Feb. 26, 1945

Dear Mom,

We have graduated from the barnyard class and are now housed comfortably in a clean place with a coal cook-stove, water, and--wonder of all wonders in this war-torn country--electric lights. The people are more than agreeable; one good frau is even doing some of our washing, in return for which she is glad to receive a little soap, which is practically non-existent here. The army is always well supplied with soap, however. We had a hilarious league-of-nations gathering last night. One of our boys speaks fluent French, most of the natives speak both French and German and some only German. So when one of us wished to speak to one who knew only German, it had to be translated through three languages. My vocabulary increases daily. We are growing used to the thunder of big guns, and things in general are far from monotonous. I am daily thankful for being in the kind of work that I am. It is intensely interesting, and it's a relief to be finally out of the training stage and in doing some good.

With Love,
Ger

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