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Gerald R. Rees Papers: Transcripts - MS 1007

Gerald ReesĀ Correspondence - March 1945

March 4, 1945

France, Mar. 4, 1945

Dear Mom,

Enclosed is a part payment on some of the stuff you have sent lately. The 1st class mail with the heatabs and cocoa came yesterday. The heatabs are especially good when we have packaged rations, going on a long trip or something. We keep a supply of Nescafe or other soluble coffee on hand, but I still like cocoa better. Last night we had a real luxury--cocoa made with fresh milk. The people who live here gave us the milk; I'd rather have drank it plain but we thought it should be pasteurized first so we just made cocoa. Also "found" a loaf of bread and had toasted cheese sandwiches. The army puts out some mighty good prepared rations now. One type, called 10-in-1 because it is a complete meal for 10 men, contains canned bacon which is really delicious, canned putter and jam, and all sorts of dehydrated foods which come out fairly good. Of course we don't get hold of that sort of stuff very often.

I hope you got the request for the German dictionary and were able to find and send it. It's an aggravating thing to try and say or find out something and not know the words for it. The other day we tried to convince a farmer not to pull up some survey stakes we were setting, and had a dickens of a time. One way to make sure they're safe is to make the farmer think there are explosives buried there--it's effective, but crude.

Had a letter from Lee dated 'way back in January at Camp Howze; I'd sure like to know where he is now. Perhaps you would too.

Some of the things I mention in these letters must seem pretty paradoxical to you. Accounts of electric lights, laundry service and good food contrasted with the thundering of all sorts of guns is, I'll admit, a little confusing. But this is a funny sort of situation. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that I'm actually in a combat zone. It's different from anything I had imagined. Just be thankful that I'm in the sort of outfit that I am.

The enclosed five-franc notes, worth about 10Ā¢ now, demonstrate what we have to put up with. Most of the values of the notes have two or three sizes and colors, so we never know how much money we have.

With Love,
Ger

March 1945

[page missing - letter number #40 - page two]

In case #39 should have gone astray, I'll repeat my request for the English-German dictionary which is in a wooden box in the north closet. If it isn't there, perhaps you could buy a small one at a book-store, or have Hoffy get me one at the U. of T.

The farmers are out doing their spring plowing here-abouts although there's still a nip in the air. But we've been lucky with the weather so far. I have been more contented the last few days than for many a moon although the environment is not exactly restful for the nerves. But it is a good feeling to get out and do a job and have it come out as it should; we have just been marking time for so long. I've run across some junk that would make interesting souvenirs, but don't have the materials to pack them and not quite enough desire to bother with them. I'll carry most of my "souvenirs" in my head.

Love,
Ger

March 6, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 6, 1945

Dear Mom,

Spending a quiet morning "at home" listening to some might good news from the Western Front on the radio. If the Germans lose the Ruhr Valley, as they may soon, it should mean their finish. But I'm getting more and more to believe that their finish doesn't mean my coming home, much as I wish it did. But there are too many other people over here who deserve to go home before I do.

This billeting in homes has army camps beat, by far. We are well fixed with table and chairs, stove, cupboard and large casement windows. All we lack is beds. At night we pull back the furniture and the four of us sleep in the middle of the floor. It was kind of hard on the hop-bone at first, but we don't notice it now. It seems that as soon as we get comfortable though, we move again, so I had better not say any more. I hope you've sent Fred's address by now. Or is he moved again?

Our host brought us some fresh milk again last night and it certainly seemed good. It can't do us any harm as long as it's been heated, can it? Typical March weather now, not very pleasant and unpredictable.

Love,
Ger

March 9, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 9, 1945

Dear Mom,

One of my scouts just reported back to headquarters with news that his objective had been taken--he put a large loaf of French bread on my table where I'm writing this letter, next to the remains of a can of marmalade salvaged from the kitchen, being careful not to jar the radio sitting at the other end of the table. Yes, we live rough, don't we? The news coming in now is of the unexpected crossing of the Rhine by our troops, the best thing that has happened since D-day, I think. Short wave is wonderful; although the entire Western Front is probably only three hundred miles or so long and those events are taking place comparatively close to me, the news goes all the way to New York and comes back to me by radio as clear as crystal. Other big news to me was that the B.G. basketball would be in the final tournament at Madison Sq. Garden. I had tickets to see that tournament when B.G. went last year--do you remember what happened? That night I was on the way to Louisiana and feeling pretty disgusted with things. Happy to say that, disregarding man's efforts to make an overgrown junk-pile out of it, so far I like Europe pretty well. There is a satisfying mixture of woods, hills, small towns and big towns that suits my fancy. The tradesman and middle class people must live pretty well, but the farmers are in sad condition financially. The women work like horses--in fact, in place of horses in some instances I've seen, pulling large wagon-loads of hay, pitching grain and plowing. In our household here the men and boy sit around and do nothing, while the woman and little girl keep the place immaculately clean, wash our clothes, care for the cow and chickens, churn (we had some fresh butter the other night) and take their hard lot for granted.

Our new A.P.O. number must have worked some sort of magic with our mail. Instead of small dribbles every week or so, it now comes every day. Yours of Feb. 20th came last night, along with some earlier ones. No packages for anyone have come as yet, but I guess the supply problem is pretty complicated, and I'm thankful to get even letters. Glad Ray Dix was able to rest at home after his harrowing experience. If Westminster Choir was even half as good as when I heard them in Detroit, I can understand your "spine tingling". E. & J. write to me regularly, which pleases me a lot.

Love,
Ger

March 10, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 10, 1945

Dear Mom,

Your errant letter of Feb. 6th arrived tonight, and with it the news of Aunt Alta's death. I won't attempt to write any letter of condolence--never could do that. But you know, and I hope they knew, the special liking I have for the Morgan family and how sorry I was to hear the news.

A new sergeant who came in our section today from the New Guinea and New Britain campaigns said this was the screwiest war he had seen, and I agree with him. No fox-holes, all the comforts of home. And yet we're doing what we're supposed to, and well, if I may say so.

The clippings from the Feb. 6th Blade also came tonight. The Friends of Music group seems to be thriving--a fine thing for the town. One page you sent had a cartoon in the lower corner, with the caption neatly cut off. I'll never know now what the joke was supposed to be. No joking, though, I'm mighty glad to get those clippings. Hope the packages come soon.

Love,
Ger

March 15, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 15, 1945

Dear Mom,

I've seen two things that will stick in my mind a long time, just recently. One was a visit to a fairly large town that had suffered several weeks of bombing, shelling, and bitter street fighting before falling to the Americans. Not a single building was untouched. The civilians still in the town had been living in cellars on potatoes and water. There were stove-pipes protruding from piles of debris that had been homes, showing where families were living like moles underground. Now that the fighting was over there were block-long lines in front of what stores remained, in the hope that there might be some food left for sale. The streets were piled high with brick dust and stone. And yet in the midst of the ruins they had brought out big French flags and hung them over the streets. The flags had been hidden from the Nazis for five years.

The other sight was a large-scale bombing attack at night by allied bombers--fortunately, from a long distance. Although it was many miles away, we could feel the vibration from exploding bombs, and the ack-ack light up the sky like the Fourth of July.

Another event of not such world-shaking importance but none-the-less impressive was the receipt of two letters in one day from Reyn and Grace. It was fine to hear from and about them. Even on March 15th it's interesting to note that young Frances had chicken-pox on Christmas. One gets used to hearing the news long after it happens. A large envelope of Blade clippings also arrived, was digested, and appreciated. The prize of the day was for one lucky fellow who got the December, January and February copies of Readers Digest, which we will all enjoy. Packages are finally coming through and I expect yours momentarily.

The weather lately has been enough to put the joy of living into anyone. Being able to go in and out without bothering with coats is a pleasure, and the sun is surprisingly warm for March. The roads are changing from mud-holes to dust-bowls--I don't know which is worse.

My hand-writing gets worse by the day, doesn't it? Pity the censor who must decipher all this.

Some time as an experiment send a regular V-mail and also an airmail V-mail at the same time, and I'll see if they arrive any sooner. My last letter from you so far is Feb. 20th.

Love,
Ger

March 18, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 18, 1945

Dear Mom,

The calendar says it's Sunday again, but if it weren't for the newspaper coming every day we'd have a tough time keeping track of the date. This battalion isn't large enough to have a chaplain attached to it, so I haven't been to church for the last few weeks. The region we are in is 200% Catholic and hold services in homes that are still standing, several times a day, even though their churches are badly damaged. Unfortunately churches are military objectives for both sides because they are usually on top of a hill and make good towers for landmarks. So neither American or German artillery can afford to try to avoid hitting them. Even the poorest cow-towns around here have had beautiful churches, and the houses we go in all have elaborate crucifixes and paintings. At night we can hear the families gathered together chanting their evening prayers.

Even though I didn't go to church today, I did the next best thing--found a place to take a good hot shower and change clothes. That's a morale-builder any time. We have had several quite warm days, and maybe we'll be able to discard our heavy wool clothing--that would simplify the laundry problem a lot. Sunny days also bring an accompanying hum of planes overhead, and we can certainly be glad that they're allied planes. I probably wouldn't recognize a German plane if one did come over, which is highly improbable.

Our unit P.X. is finally functioning a little and we get occasional items like cookies, two-month-old magazines, and towels. They will also have our films developed--if I had a camera--and other useful services. The Readers' Digests, Time and Life are very welcome; they keep us in contact with the U.S. better than anything except letters.

Late news item--a package just arrived with cookies, olives, cocoa, etc. in fine condition. Thanks very much. Excellent selection. I have an ample reserve of Heatabs now, thanks to your efforts.

Love,
Ger

March 19, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 19, 1945

Dear Mom,

Time out for a special note of appreciation for the package which came yesterday. Everything you sent was something which couldn't be gotten here, and that I especially liked. You are becoming expert at packing cookies, and they were almost as good as if I had stepped into the pantry and taken them from the cookie-box. Olives are another special item, as is cheese, if they don't make your supply of ration points suffer too much. One packet of cocoa powder had broken; suggest you either buy it in bulk, or open the individual packets and put it all in a stronger container--perhaps a tin can like you sent the little cookies. Ordinary peanuts would be a welcome addition to the diet. If you can send another little package of cheese, try to include a box of soda crackers--we can't always get bread from the kitchen. In a strong box they would come O.K. Don't feel bad if you didn't find a can opener; we can always use a knife blade, although that's not so handy. Clippings, church news and Westminster Choir program came today, read and enjoyed. Also your letters through March 4th.

Love,
Ger

March 24, 1945

[V-mail]
France, March 24, 1945

Dear Pop,

Two nights ago your letter of March 14th came and that was a momentous occasion for several reasons. One was that it was the first letter addressed to our new A.P.O. number, showing that you got the change all right also that, knowing what army I'm in you can follow my general location from the daily papers although I can't tell you where I am. Another reason is that it looks as if I've begun to break down your usual reluctance to write letters and believe me, that means a lot. It's easy enough to say "Oh well, Mom will tell him all the news" but it isn't the same; as you write more you'll think of more to say that Mom wouldn't have thought of and the job will get easier. I know, because I used to hate to write letters too, and now I don't mind a bit. So here's hoping there'll be more. The night your letter came we moved into a house with the furniture still intact in it, and I had just settled down at a table to write you when my pen ran dry. That's serious here; it has taken me these two days to find some ink to fill my pen. Anyhow I got the ink and can do a proper job now. Also got a letter from Eleanor; she's been swell about writing, as has Johnny. These have been exciting days on the Western Front with the Rhine crossings, the 3rd Army's running wild. This seems to be a tank and armor war now with not too much for our kind of outfit to do. But we've seen some beautiful country and interesting towns. The weather has been well-high perfect, with frosty nights but almost hot days and wonderful sunshine to bake some of the cold-weather kinks out of us. I have a new possession that I'm having some fun with--a German light machine gun. It's in good condition--we took it to a near-by quarry where no one would get hurt, and fired away to our heart's content. There's always ammunition lying around that the Germans had to leave behind. When it came to taking it apart to clean it, there was a lot of puzzling and experimenting, but we got it down to the last little part and back together finally. It's a fine weapon but the law says I can't bring it home with me, darn it. We also found quite a bit of rifle and pistol ammunition which we took out to our improvised range. My marksmanship is fair but not impressive. The Germans make some darn good guns; their Mauser is an accurate and hard hitting rifle, and the Luger pistol has our .45 Colt beat, I think. Yesterday I found some good batteries and rewired them to make a pack for my radio. There's always some tinkering to do on it; lately a tube blew on the set, but luckily a fellow in the outfit, a radio operator, had a spare tube which was similar to the bad one, so he re-made the set to take the new tube. A regular radio man would go crazy trying to fix my radio; it has so many gadgets, changes and makeshifts in it that Emerson himself wouldn't recognize it. What a swell graduation present that turned out to be, although you probably never dreamed then that three years later it would be kicking around Europe in an army truck.

My thoughts got ahead of my pen, so this is a pretty hastily scribbled letter; hope you can read most of it.

With Love,
Ger

March 25, 1945

[V-mail]
Sunday, March 25, 1945

Dear Mom,

Today by good fortune we are billeted in a town in a little valley and have a swift running stream going by our back door. The sun is very warm and we had several hours of peace and quiet, so I took a bath in the stream and then baked in the sun for a while. It was wonderful. Sometimes the war moves so fast it just leaves us behind, and these peaceful intervals are certainly welcome. Yesterday I went inside the remains of a Catholic church and spent quite a while examining the relics that were still there. The crucifixes and statues that had escaped injury were really beautiful and very life-like. There were parts of stained-glass windows and some remarkable decorations which looked like paintings except that they were in relief--sort of three-dimensional and very impressive. Of course the roof was smashed and the floors littered with plaster and it was a strange mixture of grandeur and wreckage. There is no one left in the town so we can come and go in the houses as we please. Yesterday and today there has been a sorry sight on the road--a long column of French soldiers in every conceivable kind of rag-tag uniform and equipment on. We gave them all the extra cigarettes and supplies we had for they had absolutely nothing. Today one group of ten men had one loaf of dark bread for lunch--that's all. One poor fellow came by limping along with canvas tied over his stocking feet instead of shoes. One of our medics taped up his feet and found him a pair of shoes and they drove him up to his place in line in a jeep. They have no vehicles at all; everything they own is on their backs. But they're on their way up to fight the Germans--using mostly captured German weapons at that.

It will certainly be swell if Vernon gets--or has got--that 20-day leave. Be sure to send his address when or if he gets to Miami so I can write. Also wish I had Jim Moon's address; I did write to him since I was at Ft. Sill, but apparently he didn't receive the letters. If Lee has to come over to this part of the world I sure wish he would come near here; I could probably make contact with him. All depends on what army he gets put in. Would you send me Anita's address? I've thought of writing to her several times. Also Reyn's if he decides to make that change. What a job to keep track of one's family!

With Love,
Ger

March 30, 1945

[V-mail]
Germany, March 30, 1945

Dear Mom,

Germany is very different from either France or England--it reminds me very much of the U.S. in many respects. France has been badly beaten up from being invaded so often but Germany proper has scarcely felt the real effects of war except for the bombing. As you can see from the papers the front has moved so fast in the last week that there has been little destruction from the fighting. The people act so distressed when we move into their houses, but I'd like to take them and show them the mess that their armies have made of the rest of Europe--maybe they wouldn't say so much then. This isn't a natural feeling in me, and it was quite a wrench in my conscience the first time we told a family they'd have to leave. But I'd be home now if these people hadn't believed in Nazism. So they shouldn't mind if we borrow their houses for a few days. Most of the houses are modern and very well furnished and kept up. They are well stocked with food and firewood, although that may not be true in larger cities. The place we are in now has a laundry room with all the necessary things for doing a washing, so I did up all my clothes. That's a chore I don't like and was glad to at least find a convenient place to do it in. The towns are all blossomed out in white flags--sheets, pillow cases, or anything to show us they are neutral. As far as I can see, our Civil Affairs officers are leaning over backwards to be fair to the civilians, which may or may not be a good thing. Of course, there is inevitable souvenir hunting but otherwise the civilians don't stand to lose anything. We moved in just in time to spoil some of their spring planting--everyone has a garden. But I had something today that I've been craving for a long time, and out of "our" garden, too; some fresh green onions. Maybe we'll move somewhere when the lettuce and other greens are ready--hope so. The cherry trees are beginning to blossom and there are forsythia and other flowering shrubs and some crocuses poking above the ground. So spring is doing itself proud even if there is a war on. The weather continues its ideal spell except for a few rains which help keep the dust down.

Speaking of souvenir hunting; one of the funniest sights in Europe is to see a muddy, battle-stained G.I. bouncing down the road in a jeep with a tall silk top-hat perched on his head. No self-respecting home is complete without a collapsible top-hat in the closet.

Had occasion today to drive one of these vaunted super-highways that Hitler built. It reminded me of the Pennsylvania turnpike in most respects except that there are more approaches to it and no elaborate clover-leaf intersections. The roads in general are excellent. As you can read in the daily papers, all of our armies are well across the river barrier that had caused so much worry, and are into Germany's inner sanctum. My own crossing was very un-spectacular, but interesting. Do you remember in history about Martin Luther's strange appetite? A gold medal to you if you can answer that one.

With Love,
Ger

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