Army Daze – Letters to Wilfred, 1954-57

from Russell B. Guerin

I have long held a belief that our memories are shaded to eliminate some of the bad, and highlight the good. Excerpts of my army-years letters follow, and may very well test that theory. Wilfred, my eldest brother, was kind enough to save letters that I wrote to him during that three-year period of my life, and thoughtfully passed them back to me some time after my discharge.

Three years is not really a large segment of the 71 which I have so far been allotted, but it was an important time: sufficient for an advanced degree, maybe law school. Substituting that segment for another possibility would have undoubtedly changed my entire adult life, for better or worse. Such fantasy serves no purpose, but it is important to try to determine whether – on a balance scale – those years constitute a plus or a minus.

The letters are almost fifty years old now – truly yellow with age – and their revelations will probably surprise no one as much as myself. To begin with, I have just begun reading them, and already I am trying to figure out whether I am still the same person. Someone once said that a person is the sum total of his experiences. Well, I’ve had a lot more experiences since 1954 than I care to remember, and – for good reason -I enter into this perusal with some trepidation.

And so, you see, whether you, the reader, care to continue, matters little. The important thing is for me to reread what I have written.

Much of the content is dull and ordinary, and I shall skip such. Some other parts may be considered maudlin, and I may very well include them even if embarrassing to me because they may include a key to reconciliation with some disagreeable memories. In all events, I shall try to be honest in revealing who I was half a century ago.

*****

July 20, 1954

(hereafter dates will be shortened, like 072054)

From the beginning, my verbosity is evident, as the letter says, “not much I can tell you save conditionals, subjunctives, contingents, hypotheticals, and plain old ‘ifs.’ ”

I had not yet entered the army, and in fact had put in for a deferment. Roland and I were in the process of considering joining the Army Security Agency. “By joining directly into this outfit, we’d be assured of being sent to language school, where we’d spend a year learning to read, write, and speak a language fluently.”

Congratulations were given to Wilfred and “Tootsie,” on the birth of one of their boys (Glenn?), and on the occasion of Wilfred’s recent birthday.

One passage recounts the departure of Vic, who had been drafted, out of graduate school, as I remember. “You should have been at the train station when Vic left to see him at his best. In the midst of all those people telling their sons a sorrowful goodbye, Vic was giving a very audible lecture on the topic of if being necessary for young men like him to give their lives to keep others at home. Then, very dramatically, he ascended the steps of the coach, & turning around, said with feeling, ‘I regret that I have but one life to give for my country!’” (For the purpose of perspective, the Korean “Police Action” had just ended.)

This letter also recounts an amusing incident, but Wilfred, in a discussion a few months ago, suggested that the story could offend someone, and so I will allow his censoring to stand. I mention this, cryptic though it may be, because my memory of it when discussed with Wilfred is borne out in this letter.

100354

At this point, we were in army basic training, and had just finished bivouac, a week of intensive field training. “Last week we…had to dig foxholes, shave, & so forth in the dark. Believe me, they kept us busy. Bivouac was rough. Everyone agreed that it was the most difficult ordeal physically ever experienced. Well, it’s over now and we all cam through it well enough, with two exceptions that I know of: one rattlesnake bite & one possibly broken neck. I had one close call as an aggressor one night. I was hiding in a foxhole when a patrol passed. I fired as the last man passed…and instead of playing dead, the idiot put the muzzle of his rifle right to my face and fired….Blanks shoot out a flame 12 to 18 inches long. But I was more or less out of range, & only had my beard scorched.”

The length of our enlistment (three years) was beginning to sink in. “I do not want the folks to know this, but the probability of getting home after this coming leave is almost nil. We will have about 10 days home beginning next Sunday….but we were told not to expect to go home again for three years. I’m trying to take a such-as-life attitude, but it’s hard. It means breaking off with Anne, of course…. It also means such things as Tommy being five years old when I next see him….It means I won’t see my new nephew until he’s walking and talking up a storm. It means I won’t see Gloria until after she’s married & probably has children of her own….I’m more angry than sorry for myself, & don’t worry, because I can take care of it if it must be. I only hope I get a hell of a lot out of these next three years.”

111254

This opens with a comment on something that Wilfred must have said in a letter, apparently reminding me of an article in the Holy Cross Bulletin a few years previously. That article had referred to the three Guerin boys as the “Guerin Triumvirate.”

“There is no need to remind me of the appellation ‘Guerin Triumvirate.’ I shall never forget it. As far as its recollection being too nostalgic, as you said, I don’t believe either of us really believes that. How can it ever be unwholesome to think of what is good? Things that make one happy once serve to furnish the drive necessary to carry oneself to less splendid times.

“If I am going to mail what I have written above, I might as well unveil my thoughts completely, for such is the purpose of communication. I do not feel that I am – or shall ever – reconcile myself to army life. It is against my philosophy in it entirety of existence. I am embittered by such facts as the duplicity of recruiting sergeants; my failure to get the school for which I enlisted; the lesser ability of many draftees who did get language school….My one relief is in nostalgic recollections of things that happened at least three years ago. To these memories I turn, to wonder if these next three years shall pass as did the last.

“The Ulysses in me is gone. I still realize the value of travel & want its experience. But I wish they could be experiences of the past. You can probably guess that my relationship with Anne is the chief cause of such idle wishes

“I hope this letter does not upset you. Perhaps it will help if I say that my mood changes from minute to minute….

“I fear that if my religion had not been indoctrination from earliest childhood that I would become an agnostic or at least a sceptic [sic]….I can no longer accept any society save the family as a natural one. I mean to include the Church in this negation, hoping that I contradict no dogma, but fully aware that I am in discord with Scholastic philosophy. The important point here has to do with government. I cannot accept a state as something intended by Nature. I believe that all states have become such that the individual is subservient. As I see it, the selfishness of the few – or of many, as you will – has fused into the selfishness of states….Resultingly, I cannot believe in such sins as immigration laws, colonization, conscription….Can it be God’s plan…that we should shed blood over uranium in Africa & oil in Iran so that we can drive cars 300 horsepower while the Indians & Chinese must turn their soil without one horse?….I see the family as the only natural society.

“It is comforting to know that soon I shall travel…and will see things that will either prove or disprove the statements that I have made above.”

112354

“…it was not clear to you why we did not get language school. It’s very simple: the army works on quotas, and the language quota filled the week before we processed, A new opening is now seen for 20 students, but we are already on orders for school, so we missed the boat going and coming….The army is not the efficient organ most people believe it to be. That is propaganda for the taxpayers.

It seems I must have known at this point to which school I was assigned, but it is not mentioned. I assume that we were given to feel that it was not to be revealed, even though later I was given an actual diploma from the army cryptanalysis school. The letter was written while I was in “casual” status, awaiting assignment, to the Army Security Agency school at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. It goes on: “I’ll start school in a couple of days….I hope school will be interesting. I’ve found out this much: it’s tough – mighty tough. But I’m glad, because it will be a challenge. I asked one guy about it the other day, & he couldn’t tell me anything of the curriculum, of course, but he did say that when the students get off, they rush to the barracks & start drinking….I’ll let you know as much about school as I’m able to say, when I’m told what I can say.”

The part about drinking turned out to be an exaggeration.

“Back to philosophy: you say that you agree that the State is not a natural society….If the state is an institution only – presumably a human one – then it can have no divine authority, but only that delegated by human beings….With mere delegated human authority, capital punishment would never be administered or authorized…by the government….A country could go to war only in self-defense….The only defense of capital punishment lies in the supposition that the State, being a natural society, has the necessary direct dominion delegated to it by God.”

“For a change of pace, I’m enclosing one of my poems for criticism. I wrote it for Anne, enclosing it appropriately, I think, with a set of tear-drop earrings. She wrote and said she liked it so much she showed it to all her friends, so I guess I can show it to you.”

When last I left the girl of smiles
Upon her hands twin tears shed I;
But idle droplets they are not,
For they have risen to the sky
As moisture leaving fairest flower
Rises to the stars & rings them wide
To form a celestial bower.

Myriad prisms are these drops of dew,
Which risen light the clouds of every hue;
But more than that to the heavens they’ve drawn
The potency of nectar out of Venus’ clime.
My tears in their ascent shall gather up those drops,
And all throughout the heaven shall like leaven
Make them wine.

And the sky’s great dipper made of stars
Shall harbor this sweet drink of mine
‘til all the world can toast our love
With the ethereal vintage from above.

The magic tears of which I speak
Are gone for now from you and me;
So tears symbolic do I send,
That the real ones might remembered be.

112854

The Chatterbox was a bar and restaurant not far from post, in Ayer, Massachusetts. It was frequented by soldiers from the post.

“I have just come from the Chatterbox, where I watched Maurice Evans & Judith Anderson portray Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on TV….Perhaps you were watching. I hope you were. At any rate, here’s something you can tell those students who fail to see the universality of Shakespeare’s appeal….I got there when it was almost empty & had the waitress change the program from a football game to “Hall of Fame,” which I knew was presenting Macbeth. Shortly afterwards, people started coming in, but most stayed longer than bar-combers usually do, & some stayed for the duration of the play. One sergeant 1st class I noticed in particular. For two hours straight, he sat on the very edge of his chair, moving only to gulp some reassuring beer & talking not at all.

“For once, the Chatterbox was not a ‘chatterbox.’”

Part of the letter was wishing well to Wilfred on the occasion of his being nominated for a scholarship. Apparently in that connection, he had inquired about whether I had visited Harvard.

121254

(11 pages)

This opens with a comment acknowledging that Wilfred had read my letter to one of his classes, presumably the letter about Macbeth. From there, I thanked him for liking my poem, but defended my “faulty” metrics. I added, “I might remind you that contemporary precision in line length is out as a requisite.”

Much of the balance of the letter was a description of my visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “Of chief interest to me & to you, too, probably, were the works of medieval & Renaissance Western art. I saw hundreds of paintings by Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, Vermeer, Bruegel, Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, & on & on….I wandered through the great halls (many of them decorated by Sergeant) & saw such things as 4,000 year old mummies from Egypt, with their fronts painted with the likenesses of the persons within. The paint was not at all peeled & hardly cracked….I saw Egyptian statues & huge boulders on which are inscribed hieroglyphics – many weighing tons….In the halls of classical Greece & Rome, I saw works from the two great cultures intermingled in seeming competition….The collections from the ancient East – China, Japan, India – were fascinating…A whole sanctuary of a 12th century Spanish chapel has been lifted whole from across the Atlantic & transported to Boston….Its murals are exquisite, covering the walls entirely or nearly so in wonderful detail…I must mention before closing that I was pleased to find no surrealism, no impressionism, no “pictures-about-pictures….I hope that I have not bored you or seemed impressionable & emotional, but half the enjoyment is in the sharing of it.”

010855

This was written from Boston, where Roland and I had just seen “a beautifully done Technicolor version of Romeo and Juliet – a J. Arthur Rank production, all filmed in Italy.”

Boston was really cold, and there had been some rain. “The ground has been completely covered with thick ice. But it warmed up today, & most of it is gone. However, the fountain in the Boston Common still had icicles several feet long this afternoon.”

I confessed that I was having trouble reading Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust.

A letter from Anne, I reported, said that Wilda looked like Liberty, which comparison I had come to independently.

020355

“It’s really cold now, but will get even colder, this the meanest month of the year. Temperatures range from 0 degrees to –10 degrees every night now, & we have quite a lot of snow. I cannot help but think of Moby Dick when I gaze on the vast expanse covered by snow, so much did Melville impress me with whiteness..”

I then mentioned that I had given up on Intruder in the Dust, but liked Mosquitoes, by Faulkner.

In writing about a trip to Boston with a friend, I believe I was referring to someone named Stoll, a real character. If I do not describe a trip to Smith College in another letter, then I should come back here for a more complete tale. “Monday I went to Boston with a friend, a Yale graduate from Kentucky with a veritable mania for outdated piano rolls – & was taken to some department store larger than Maison Blanche that sells only 2nd hand goods. They have everything from rusted coast hangers to volumes of Shakespeare. I was interested in the latter type article, picked up Cowper’s Homer, Lay of the Last Minstrel, Lays of Ancient Rome & Heroes & Hero-Worship (Carlyle). Price in toto: 40 cents. Other good buys for 2/5 cents. One of mine dates to 1838, another to 1849; second in excellent shape.”

Another friend was then described, “…from Morgan City – name of Russell – was a psychology student at U. of Ohio & worked with a famous hypnotist….Last night {he} hypnotized Dan Mc Mahon (from Lake Charles, remember?)….As you can gather, I’ve got quite an assortment of friends, & fellow students. One upstairs is …high school teacher with several years experience. Think he has a master’s. Another was well on his way to a law degree….When I went to Boston with the Yale grad Monday (we had a half-day – payday) we had supper at an Italian restaurant in Cambridge. Good spaghetti. It caters to Harvard students.”

021355

Wilfred had apparently sent clippings of Indian mounds, possibly Poverty Point. I mentioned that I had a new ambition relating to that information, but did not elaborate. I went on to say that I was reading de Quincy’s Confessions, in which he defended the use of opium.

Back to the hypnotist: “The other night, he had one fellow back – in memory – to when he was six years old. He stuck a pin through the guy’s arm without causing pain or flow of blood.”

Mardi Gras was shown on the Colgate Comedy Hour, live from the Court of Two Sisters and the Old Absinthe House. The coverage included Satchmo.

022455

(8 pages)

I commented that I had spent too much money the month before: $105. My pay: $85.

Apparently with reference to Wil’s mentioning disturbing statistics for freshmen remedial courses, I told a story about Mr. Paganelli, an instructor in Psychology I had at Loyola. It seems that he once flunked a girl (not at Loyola), not knowing that “she was an honor student and president of this and that. She didn’t hesitate to let him know who she was…but he stuck to his evaluation….She proceeded to go over his head to the dean, who, without much consultation with Mr. P, changed the girl’s grade officially to either an A or a B.” She told him at one point, See, I told you so!” Eventually, she got a fellowship for graduate school. I was in P’s office one day when he got a letter from a former colleague at the previous university, telling him of the girl’s utter failure at graduate school, with resultant loss of fellowship and ultimate nervous breakdown.

For some reason, I related this story to “modern formal education” and Bob Faulkner, who had just returned from Korea and had broken up with Carol.

Wilfred had asked about Anne, and I replied that we were still corresponding (approximately three letters per week), “But we are making no plans, under the circumstances. I know that she dates very infrequently in spite of my periodic proddings that she should go out; by Christmas she had had two dates since my enlistment…and did it to please her mother.”

The letter closed with a mention of a Time cover story on Jung, commenting also on Freud and Adler.

031555

Roland and I went to Providence RI for the weekend and visited with “former member of the all-too-painfully dissolved Culture Corner.” That was Jovite Labonte who then was a senior at Brown, described as “very impressive, possessing atmosphere of culture and learning, tradition, spirit, etc. I would like to have gone to a place like that for my bachelor’s”

“I wrote a poem for Gloria’s 18th birthday & made her cry. I didn’t realize my poetic feet stank so badly. It went something like this:

From reminiscence sweet a beauteous face confronts the mental eye,
While yet again the formal ear resounds the music of a sigh.
Void of matter, these sensations, & yet they matter much:
Fro they’re the memory of a youthful bud that’s flowered into bloom.
Glorious memories both, but yet the greatest a simple touch,
– a parting touch, so vivid, lasting, it leaves no want, nor need, nor room, etd, etc.
I don’t remember it all.”

Wilfred had expressed concern for my “nervous system.” I said he should not worry, that “I can now look on such things objectively, so the personal frustration no longer enters….”

I had read Streetcar Named Desire and was working on a biography of Joan of Arc.

032755

Vic had written a stream-of consciousness letter, and so did I.

040755

“I am now on official orders to leave this post in the early part of May to report to Camp Kilmer, there to await shipment to Europe. I will not get a leave before going over, & 28 months is, after all, a little bit of eternity. I found it imperative to write Anne tonight…& tell her to make some kind of decision….”

“Had a little fun with a poem last week, which I wrote in some spare time at school. I’d send you a copy, but it contains a few classified details. The poem, of some tem quatrains length & with a rhyme scheme abab – had for its subject school, the instructors, etc. I showed it to an instructor, after “coercion” by fellow students, & he got such a kick out of it that within a quarter hour carbon copies circulated throughout the school, were read to other classes & by the lieutenant & the captain in my section.”

Referring to Wil’s mention of a “freethinker” he knew, I informed him that the Catholic Dictionary “explicitly states that atheism is a mortal sin, basing this on a supposed sin of imprudence in judgment. It’s hard to swallow for me.”

041855

“It is good news that my tour book is being put to good use….While on the subject of books, let me request that you promise – on your word as a scholar who can laugh – that you will …get a hold of 1066 and All That.” A quote from that book: “The Romans were intelligent and cultured because of their classical education.”

“As much as I hate the army…I’m really learning a lot. Already, three of my unmarried ‘buddies’ are, or will be, fathers. Sunday, I saw a face covered & dripping with blood, the result of an argument over whose state uses the other’s sewerage water for drinking water. I have seen young kids so drunk they couldn’t stand. I read ‘warsh basin need cleaned’ on the lieutenant’s weekly gig-list. I witness daily…the vegetation of some who go to bed very soon after supper, not to rise until time for duty the next day. Others, of course, are more ambitious: many devour a 25-cent novel per night….Yes, this is the army….And I’m looking forward to Europe, where Walter Pater’s candle will burn….”

“Anne said that she did not want to decide….By the bye, you said ‘C’est la vie’ in connection with this; no linguist I, but I think ‘C’est la guerre’ would be more fitting.”

052555

“Greeting from the continent….I am in casual status & have been here several days…We are not allowed to leave the post…I began a letter to you the day I arrived…but it was interrupted by an invitation to drink some native beer. We must put first things first….This post is very small, but more beautiful than I could have imagined for a military station. Any type of recreational facility can be found….I am told that the beauty & comfort of this post isn’t even a hint of the facilities we will enjoy on bigger posts, if we get stationed on a bigger post. I shall know soon: I leave tonight for the reassignment station.

“The trip across was uneventful, really, but it wasn’t bad. We had a PX, soda fountain, nightly movies, variety shows, library, etc. Of course, I enjoyed most just watching he gigantic waves & feeling the salt breeze and spray on my face. We had rough weather for several days & almost everyone was seasick a great part of the trip. Not being affected at all, I was able to see humor in the whole situation….

“The white cliffs of Dover we passed close-by & in braod daylight, so I was afforded a good view of them….

“As to this country, I have seen little thus far, yet I can predict that I shall love it.”

052955

“I am allowed to tell you where I am. The name of the town is Bad Aibling, Bavaria, which is southern Germany and touched Switzerland and Austria. I am only 45 minutes from Munich, & the Bavarian Alps can be seen from my window. Switzerland, Austria, France, & Italy are within easy reach, & I shall have much opportunity to travel, because my duty hours – when I start work in a couple of weeks – will afford a three-day pass every 11 days. Isn’t that great?

“Although I have already seen a good bit of Germany, having now traveled its full length…by train. Apart from this country’s natural topographical beauty, the color and quaintness of its villagers has also been a source of thrills. Bad Aibling itself has furnished most of this so far. It is a small town, but one known widely as a resort for tourists & , more specifically, convalescents.

“I must tell you of the meal I had yesterday. It was venison steak with potatoes and cranberries and mushrooms, served at one of the town’s finest restaurants, & was, I believe, the most expensive thing on the menu. Cost: 4.00 Deutsche Marks, or less than one dollar. I had also a half litre of exquisite white wine recommended by the hostess for 1.70 DM, or roughly, 40 cents. Good German beer costs 8 cents per large bottle.

“Many other things are cheap here. Germany, as you probably know, is famous for its clocks. Because of this, I perhaps made a mistake. I bought a beautiful 400-day clock for Gloria and Joe, in spite of the realization that everyone gives a clock as a wedding present. But the clock is the most beautiful I have seen of its kind, & it only cost $13.50.

“Apart from sightseeing, I have been doing a little reading. Three books that I have enjoyed particularly are Steinbeck’s Pearl and Tortilla Flat & Graham Greene’s End of the Affair.

This post, though small, has an adequate library & a fine music (records) collection….No chapel though, but a priest comes in from Munich for a Sunday afternoon Mass said in a classroom.

062655

“I have been writing letters home telling of Salzburg, etc, that were meant for you, too, instead of writing you separate ones. Well, maybe the folks will forward them.

“I’m back in Bad Aibling now and I think you know why I did not stay in Austria longer….It meant a transfer to a different company where the duty is much better. When I was in Bad Aibling before, the company was not the best….Well, now I have the same quality living facilities & I’m in a good company to boot. My room…is beautiful and I share it with 3 others….I have bought an Agfa, 85 mm. It will take time exposures and flash-pictures, has a leather case, tripod attachment, & simple adjustments for light, distance, & speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, & 1/200 seconds. Pretty good for $12….

“Roland called here for me several times while I was in Salzburg, & yesterday a letter came from him saying his 1st Sgt. will try to get him transferred here….We’ll know something soon.”

071155

“Any new developments concerning your job security? Why don’t you just go all out for a scholarship & get started on your doctorate?

“I went to Berchtesgaden this past weekend and had a good time. Took a tour to the peak of one of the Alps where Hitler had his Eagle’s Nest, his home and headquarters for several years; also Hq. of Gestapo. Most of the buildings are gone now, as Allied countries figured they’d better leave no reminder at all; so they blasted them to hell. Tried to get some good pictures, but there were too many clouds between me and the valley & other mountains: sometimes couldn’t see a few feet away. Funny how one can watch a cloud come and engulf him….Bought a little souvenir on Eagle’s Nest that I’ll send you shortly.

“Have read a bit of Fulton Oursler’s Greatest Book Ever Written. Very good, but can’t distinguish fact from embellishment. Think I’ll try Bible itself if I can get my hands on anything but King J. version.

“Did I write & say that I visited Roland & that he had arranged a tour to Nuremberg for us? We heard (& saw) the Meistersinger finals.

071855

(On stationery from Hotel Goldener Hirsch, Rothenburg ob der Tauber)

“Enclosed are pictures I bought at Rothenburg…I promised to send you a souvenir….I haven’t mailed it yet, because our privileges for mailing packages have been temporarily rescinded.”

072655

”That lump Brierre diagnosed as a cyst turned out to be a boil!” (Ed. Note: Dr. Brierre was right after all; I had a pilonidal cyst removed surgically after discharge.) “It’s of a type hat can last for years, & since it recently grew to many times its dormant size, I’ve been hospitalized in Munich in order to take four hot baths a day….This hospital life is great…this afforded time to catch up on some reading. I’ve only read one complete book this past week (Waugh’s Put out More Flags), but have gone deeply into several others, including Edith Hamilton’s Mythology & Wil Durant;s Renaissance. Also touched Joyce’s Ulysses, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

“The ‘old man’ is getting youthful again: he mentioned that Roland’s voice teacher has a young and very attractive daughter, & wants to know if Roland “is studying abroad.”

Writing of my lack of interest in current affairs, I said, “Hobbes said before me, a state is a man-made institution with a foundation in imperfection, not perfection: a state is created, so to speak, by men to prevent other men from usurping their rights, & – alas! – in some cases it is formed by men so that those men may usurp the rights of others….I am very close to a passive anarchist.”

081855

“…have been carrying on nightly (almost) arguments with two friends, one Boston U. grad and the other a Princeton grad & son of a Who’s Who architect. Both were English majors. Most debates have to do with esthetics, especially in music….Have recently read O’Neil’s ‘Hairy Ape’ and am reading ‘Emperor Jones.’ Both good.”

082755

“There will be another festival in Bad Aibling tonight – a wine fest this time….Bought a little beer mug today, & ordered a large (1 ½ liters) one. Very pretty, with a fox clinging to the handle….All the kids, and men too, wear “lederhosen” in Bavaria….Most of them are all decorated & embroidered beautifully.” I added “Anna Christie” to the list of O’Neil plays read.

091555

In a letter to Wilfred, I mentioned that I had just received a letter from Dad that had been mailed several weeks previously; he had mistakenly put only a 3-cent stamp on it.

“Thanks for the news on Morrison, Long, etc. I’m pulling for the former….

Regarding pictures of Tommy and Glenn: “I must confess that looking at these pictures fills me with a profound sense of privation. If only I could tell you how deeply I am now aware of the transience of things.”

There was also a reference to an amusing story about Tommy: something about black olives at a meal.

092055

“More of your pictures have arrived…On the back something was inscribed about your weight being 160 and the heaviest yet. Well, Mama said, I believe, that you weigh 174.”

“I went to Switzerland this past weekend by means of an American Express tour for which I paid $10. That is not a bad price, considering that it covers transportation, hotel bill for one night and one breakfast. The trouble was, however, that a couple of hours were added to the tour each way, going and coming back, and after we got to Zurich was informed that we would arrive back in Munich at 1:00 a.m. Monday instead of sometime Sunday evening. This meant I would necessarily be AWOL on return.” I had to leave the tour and pay my own way back. “I never did get to Lucerne. Boy, was I mad….Well, enough of that. Zurich was very beautiful of course, especially Lake Zurich with the Swiss Alps in the background. I just hate to think that the few hours I spent there cost me a week’s pay.”

“I’m in a new room now with three other fellows. One I don’t know too well except that I know he is a swell guy; another is equally nice and a Brown grad – degree in Classics; the third is extremely intelligent and artistic, though, I think, an atheist. Anyway, the latter has a VW and not at all selfish….Last night we drove to a wonderful little village only a few miles from post. It is ancient and walled and has only two restaurants. There is an old castle right on top of a hill in the heart of the village….We had a voluminous and delicious meal and four huge and potent Bavarian beers apiece for the rough equivalent of $1.15….Tomorrow night I plan to drive to Munich with the same two fellows for the Oktoberfest.”

I referred to Lumiansky and Centenary as though Wil was considering a change.

“What do you think of Gloria’s and Joe’s ‘great expectations”?

“When you go home for Thanksgiving, how about visiting the Napoleon House for me….There will probably be two waiters: Nip and Pete. Tell them hello for me and you may get free drink.”

092455

“Went to the Oktoberfest in Munich the other night and had a great time. It is really a fabulous festival, gigantic and chock full of the joy of life. Probably hundreds of carnival stands, sideshows and the like, smack-dab in the heart of the city in a section where the city allows nothing to be built. Each year these stands and immense mead houses are rebuilt for just a couple of weeks….But to get back to what I was building to, on the way back when we were within sight of the post gates, we swerved to avoid a collision with a car coming off a small adjoining road onto ours, the main road, spun and crashed into a telephone pole. No one was injured badly, and I guess I got the worst of it with a few bruises, a couple of cuts on the forehead, and a mild case of amnesia. The cuts required only two stitches, and the amnesia cleared up almost completely. I still cannot remember approximately an hour’s worth of happenings immediately following the wreck, but that’s all. For a short while, I could remember only my name, that I was in the army, and probably all of my past had I tried to remember it….but I didn’t recognize my surroundings and could not remember my work or where I worked and so forth. Very curious, really, strange and exceedingly interesting. This only lasted about an hour, and this is, in the main, the part I cannot remember now….I was not the driver.”

100355

“The cut is completely healed, the stitches having been removed on the fifth day after the accident. No trouble and not much of a scar, but I don’t suppose there is much sense in mentioning it to the folks.…

“Nothing much new, except that the weather has really been great, like perfect football weather, and with just a slight touch of chill that makes sleep really pleasurable when the windows are open.

“I forgot to mention above that my friend’s 18-month –old Volkswagen was demolished in the wreck. He is selling it today for $326.

“…to tell the truth, there is very little that I can gripe about lately. The colonel is going all out in our favor and making this as pleasurable a post as possible. Really, it’s very much like an 8 to 5 civilian job, except for an occasional inspection and GI party to keep the troops in shape. Not bad at all, really. The big worry is that one never knows how long he can expect something like this to last.”

101255

I complained that it was hard to save money, that every month I seemed to go through my whole pay. “Other guys buy cars, rifles, & the like, send home an allotment, & are able to drink more often than I ….If I had any hope of a promotion, maybe I’d see a way to save, but it seems that I was lucky to make PFC right out of school. There are many fellows who have been here 12 or 15 months & are still privates. The reason for this is that we are on a peace-time army basis now, when promotions are almost non-existent.” One man made PFC after 32 months, but it was because he complained to the IG that he should be discharged as a “professional private.” It seems there really was a rule that governed such.

102055

I questioned Wilfred as to whether he had accepted a position at SLI.

He had asked about Anne. I answered, “Yes, it’s over, but you know the old saying, something about many piscatorial specimens in a large volume of H2O + Ca = Mgs salts. At any rate, don’t worry about it.”

“Spent a nice three-day pass in Munich” and heard a Beethoven piano concert, visited the Munchen Botanical Gardens, had some good German food, and attended a solemn high Mass with a choir and full orchestra. The composer was Haydn, the Mass being one of a series. “Next Sunday will be Mozart’s Missa Brevis.” The gardens exhibited plants and flowers from all over the world, even from Mississippi. “There are water hyacinths also, just like ours…Also visited Nymphenburg Palace.”

111455

“Sorry I took so long to write. Letters constitute quite a problem for me….Mama gets worried if I don’t write every couple of days, & sometimes that’s all her letters speak of….I often go to mail with expectations of pleasant news from home, but when I have read my mail, I find myself frustrated and dejected….Sometimes they [letters] all seem so insufficient & futile….”

There had been suggestions by Wilfred about the advisability for me of a Master’s of Education; I indicated that perhaps I would try for a doctorate if I could get a scholarship to go with the GI bill.

Wilfred had also offered to help me work out a budget to cut down my expenses.

“Gloria’s baby will be just what Mama needs. A grandchild close-by will make her young again by taking her mind off you & Roland & me.”

“Already I have more than enough time-in-grade for promotion, but I don’t expect another stripe for at least a year. We were lucky when a couple of spare stripes per month come to the company, & I am about 90th on the list.”

“Happy Thanksgiving.”

“I forgot to mention my trip to Munich Saturday to see an exhibit of over 250 Picassos. Virtually all are ‘interesting,’ & a few actually are artistic, and beautifully so….Spent last weekend in Salzburg & Berchtesgaden. In Salzburg I bought a couple of tickets to the Mozart bicentennial festival coming in late January….In Berchtesgaden I stayed at a hotel high on a mountainside & from my window I could see the Salzburg fortress – 18 miles away.”

11-27-55

I had had a good Thanksgiving, and reported that I had asked Dad for a loan of $700 to buy a ’54 VW.

“Did you know that I am sort of a ‘program chairman’ for a Catholic Men’s Club lecture series here on post? So far I have contacted – & contracted – a French-Canadian Jesuit who works with the Russian refugees in Munich & Baroness von Gutenberg, from a long line of rich and noble Germans. You might check the latter’s memoirs, Holding the Stirrup, published by Little, Brown & Co.”

120655

“I am not allowed to go to Vienna, so I can’t see the opera house. However, I was in Salzburg the weekend the opera opened in Vienna, & having heard about a 25-shilling commemorative coin being minted, I rushed to the bank & was able to get one. Face value: $1.00, but a week later I was offered $5.00 by a German.

“The lecture I arranged by Baroness von Gutenberg came off OK, but was lots of work and time consumption.

“Thanks for compliments of my description of leaves. Did you know that Vic is compiling an “anthology” of the poems by himself, a girl, Roland and me?

“Good luck on PhD.”

011856

(This is an 18-page letter recounting in detail the trip to Italy and Austria partially described in the following letter. Because it is so detailed, it is barely summarized here. Though it contains only one date, it evidently was written piecemeal through the trip.)

My friend Walt Pierson and I left Bad Aibling on the 15th. We stopped at Innsbruck, going to Mass there in a church with two rows of life-size bronzes of the Hapsburgs. This was there summer resort. From there we followed the Inn River, observing castles on many of the hilltops. We crossed the Alps at Brenner Pass. Twisting, turning mountain roads. Much fog. Car ran well, except for three flats on one tire. A boot finally fixed it.

Kilometers of grape vines surround villas.

First big city was Bolzano. From there to Trent, where we overnighted across a piazza from the church where the Council of Trent findings were promulgated. Good wine and strong coffee.

Verona: passed through a great arch in a stout wall enclosing the old town; visited the tomb of Juliet in an underground crypt. Roman amphitheatre still used for outdoor operas dates from the time of Caesar.

Padua: tomb of St. Anthony in a basilica. A chapel’s walls are adorned with at least 50 paintings by Giotto.

Venice: on the mainland, we booked a room after asking for a location in the center of town at a moderate price. We took a boat to the Piazza San Marco, “and to our delight we found that our $2.00 per night (apiece) room and bath overlooked the most famous places in town. Only a wall separated our fourth-floor room from the famous clock tower, and from our double windows we could see right down into the piazza, along which everyone from Browning to Marco Polo strolled.” St. Mark church called the “Church of Gold.” Visited the Palazzo dei Doge. “The beauty of Venice is Venice.”

Crossed the Appenines at the Futa Pass, having passed Bologna and Ferrara.

Florence: Cellini’s Perseus and the Basilica.

013156

(partial letter)

“…I had to pay only $300 for the car & several months insurance….four good tires & a sun-top….I just covered 2500 km of the famously bad Italian roads with no worse than flat tires. My companion and I split expenses and gas came to about $6.00 apiece. Italy is fabulously beautiful….We left Bad Aibling Sunday the 15th, crossed Brenner Pass, where we crossed the Alps into Italy. Having been delayed at Bolzano by a flat, we were able to make no better distance than Trent the first night. Our hotel window looked down into the main piazza, across from which was the church where the findings of the Church councils were promulgated. And it was from there that we first saw the promenade….In the morning we stopped at Verona to see the Roman arena there and Juliet’s tomb….Nearby was Padua, where stopped to pay my respects to St. Anthony’s remains. Then on to Venice….We took a boat to the main island and got off at the Piazza San Marco, where to our elation we found that our $4.00 per night room and bath had a window overlooking the entire piazza and was separated from the famous clock tower by a mere wall….From Venice to Florence through Belogna, where we had time to visit the tomb of St. Dominic….And down to the city of God….I missed the Pope by five minutes. The Colosseum, the Forum, St. Peter’s (Mass, confession, Communion), the Vatican Museum, Appian Way, catacombs, the Pantheon, Sistine Chapel. Also, “Barber of Seville” at Rome Opera.

“Up the Via Aurelia & along the beautiful and warm Italian Riviera (in Rome the weather was so nice that we had the top back) all the way to Genoa, where we spent the night. Pisa the next day – climbed the leaning tower & on to Milan where we were disappointed at not being able to get tickets to “La Traviata” at La Scala. On to a resort town at Lake Garda, where we spent the last night in Italy.

“Next stop Salzburg, where we heard the Vienna Octet, the opera “Indomeneo,” and the “Missa Solemnis.”

“Came back to find our empty room with 30 gigs! Why? Because we didn’t clean it while we were hundreds of miles away.”

021056

“I have read the Time article on Long. To my regret, I chose to read it right after a hearty supper….As much as I dislike politics, & in spite of my current events illiteracy, my ire mounts each time I consider the state of affairs to which I must return….All we need now is for Eisenhower not to run…But tell me if this leaves Morrison out of a job.

“It seems that I got out of Italy just in time. Undoubtedly you’ve read that it’s the hardest hit country in Europe. Parts of the country – the Appenines and the Alps – through which I had to pass had a temperature of 50 degrees below 0….Of course we’re not doing badly here, either. Temperature last night, according to one report: -27 degrees; according to another: -30 degrees…. Europe’s coldest winter of the century….At least the snow doesn’t fall at such low temperature.

“My plans for tomorrow, Sat., include driving to Munich, where I’ll spend a weekend taking in part of the Fasching, which is the German equivalent of Mardi Gras.

“In case you’re wondering about the chicken—-I mentioned, it’s slacking off.”

030756

“…I am sorry the Danforth fellowship did not come through for you…As for myself, I am afraid that I shall never again be much concerned over the acquisition of another scholarship…that is the state of my mind at present. Oh, perhaps I shall return to school, and perhaps I shall do well….My attitude is leaning more and more to the materialistic side: I want to make enough money so that I can buy and enjoy with enough leisure the things that I have been taught about. Entering the real estate business would be a way….

“Does this letter have a bitter sound to it? If it does, then…pardon…for I have lost all that bitterness since I have been out of school….I believe that I would rather go into business than do anything else with the exception of writing, for which profession I have little aptitude and less capability.

“I suppose you know that Mama and Daddy plan definitely to come over. Isn’t that great news? I only wish that Daddy would have his hrnia removed before coming. Tell me, has he slowed down much more?

031556

“Congratulation! I knew you would get it or something just as good. Let me know the details – where you will study, etc.” To this note a very poor poem was attached.

040956

“Congratulations again….Received your letter today, in which you tell of Daddy’s views and Joe’s and Gloria’s….I was disheartened, of course, but not surprised….I am sorry that these things made you angry.

“So you liked the poems….I’m afraid that I don’t have a copy. You see, I haven’t even heard from Vic for about four months.

“Just read Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun and Fitzgeralds’s The Last Tycoon, & discovered two new worlds….Saw Menotti’s ‘Telephone’ and ‘The Old Maid and the Thief’ tonight here on post – presented by a touring Special Services group. They have brought us several plays lately….Cane Mutiny Court Martial, My Three Angels, Harvey….

042756

“Things have been popping for my lately….I was chosen to become the new manager of the EM club here on post. This job is the most desirable on post, for many reasons, including $75 per month (after taxes)…a private room at the club with a civilian bed, and a virtual separation from military life…But I couldn’t get the job. The officer in charge of my work declared me essential….lots of lobbying and politicking went on for a couple of weeks….then there was a lull until the club council met and decided to try an angle: they unanimously elected me and recorded the fact in their minutes…These they submitted to the adjutant and the battalion executive officer, who approved them. However, the colonel again turned thumbs down on the recommendation of the same officer, who has just turned around and had me promoted to corporal so that I could step into a new job….

“Perhaps you would like to know of my prospective leave plans….In July…I hope to take 15 days and drive up to Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands…and to come back through Paris and on down to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.”

050856

The Catholic Men’s Club guest had been Fr. Menard, the Jesuit “black paratrooper.” He said a high Mass in the Russian rite…It is beautiful, the liturgy…he had a 22-voice choir from the Munich seminary to sing the Mass in Russian.

“You express perplexity about my failure to be disturbed about Daddy’s narrow-sightedness over politics. Well, you know how nervous I used to be, & you realize that I was very near if not neurotic, so I have found it necessary not to let myself get excited. As a matter of fact, one reason why I was offered the job of EM Club manager was because of my ‘self-control’ & imperturbable personality. Now you really ought to be confused.”

“You’re wondering how I’m keeping up with current affairs. I read daily the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. I even intended to vote….”

“Good luck on PMLA.”

052056

Gloria had given birth to Steve.

“Just read a Huxley, The Genius & the Goddess. The one you recommended wasn’t available.”

Herald Tribune had a 20-page article on Port of New Orleans.

062956

“I leave in a week to meet Uncle Stanley in Amsterdam. I am prepared for the trip – have gas coupons, international driver license, new clothes, overhauled engine, maps and books, and a German-speaking friend to co-pilot. I plan to go from Munich to Frankfurt and then through Bonn and Cologne.

072056

Course had included Augsburg, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Manheim, Frankfurt, Cologne, Arnheim, Utrecht, Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, Breda, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Namur, Rheims, Dinant, Paris, Versailles, Fontainebleu, Troyes, Chaumont, Langres, Vesoul, Belfort, Basel, Zurich, Arlberg, Garmisch. “Good trip: not even a flat tire. 1800 miles.” Much description of various cities and sites.

082056

“I shall never regret my tour here. Do not let me retract this statement a year from now. My only regret is that I am already 24 and have not started anything lasting.”

I mentioned that I would like to be married. “It’s really the lack of companionship, of two congruous and corresponding, nay, one identical emotion to be shared in all experiences. This want is emphasized in all my travels and shouts out for satiety….Perhaps I’m looking for too much in marriage….You are on your way to something lasting in your journey toward a doctorate, or rather, scholarship….I am capable of attending to graduate work, and in fact feel a duty – one which I will shirk. Yours is the better part….”

“It will be great to see and travel with the folks in a few weeks.”

101856

Wilfred was a student again.

“While the folks were here, we discussed many prospects for the future. I have decided definitely to enter the real estate business….On the other hand, I can’t see passing up the GI bill completely, and wish you give me a hand with both advice & information. I am sincere when I say that I do not feel qualified to enter graduate work in English, so I suppose the only thing left open to me is Education….If ever I have the gumption to crusade for teacher’s pay & better educational system, graduate work in Ed. Would be the background to have.”

120256

Wilda was expecting again, and I was offered the honor to be godfather.

“I took a day off today & went skiing with a sergeant friend, his wife, & 6-year-old son. Well, to be honest about it, they skied and I watched….It was a beautiful day to be in the Alps. Cold but sunshiny. Everything was so white-white that I began to think like Melville….Picture me…on the veranda of a Bavarian ski lodge, bundled up in a heavy overcoat & scarf, with a Donegal tweed suit underneath, with English shoes on my feet, with a flask of Remy Martin cognac in my pocket & a silver jigger in my hand…all the while observing Nature’s whiteness on top of an Alps beauty….Such finery should not be mine: I felt like an intruder.”

011557

“It’s getting harder and harder to write as the time grows shorter….I don’t plan to go to school immediately after discharge….I hope you and your family had a nice Christmas and enjoy having the woodcarving I sent….Plenty of snow here lately, & it’s spoiling the plans for a 4-day leave to Vienna next week.

020457

“I should say a word about my trip to Vienna. It is a most beautiful city, full of the old and strange and the cross sections and the hybrids of culture and society. Statues of Mozart and Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe; the castles and palaces of the Hapsburgs and the garret where Schubert composed…coffee shops and expensive lounges; love and hatred of Americans…American monuments and Russian within walking distance; new buildings next to others that still bear the unrepaired marks of machinegun fire; happy-go-lucky Austrians still reveling in their new freedom, and sullen Hungarians carrying the “US refugee program” flight bags; clear cognac and the muddy Danube; miles of open fields and the Vienna woods; the cosmopolitan and the street urchin: all blend together like a magnificent dusk, the brilliant crimson of the sun opposed to the black of night, the birth of death and the passing of life….

[Vienna} “is the easternmost part of free Europe. As I see it, the Russians forced the withdrawal from Austria to bet the Allies out; they probably figure that with Austria semi-surrounded by three communist nations they have an advantage.

“My time is very short now. Less than five months to go oversees, and of that there will be many weekends and approximately 32 days of leave. That leave will be great, too, especially now that I am making $164 per month.

“I read Greene’s The Third Man yesterday….Glad to see the increase in teacher’s pay in Orleans Parish…Daddy sent me that information….Also read in The Stars and Stripes that Mayor Morrison’s phone was being tapped, and the article mentioned Earl Long but did not really implicate him.

“I know that I have changed a bit – more hair on my face and chest and less on my temples, and a lot more girth on the middle of the torso. That last item has really been worth it – very few days go by that I don’t have a liter or two of good old German beer…I’ve got a new book now and would like to get started on it tonight. It’s Greene’s The Quiet American.”

030757

(postcard)

“Enjoying pleasant drive today between Monaco & Cannes, the former being our headquarters for a day and a half. Tomorrow on to Marseilles, & from there to Barcelona. Came here through Italy: Trent, Verona, Milan, Genoa. Went to Monte Carlo casino last night & royal palace this morning…. Mediterranean is its deep blue-green self.”

032857

(this is letter to Mama and Dad)

“I have given considerable thought lately to the job offer from Holy Cross….I am not at present inclined to accept the offer…I got out a pencil and paper and started to figure an income of $300 a month against expenses….Not that I am planning marriage soon or anything like that (I don’t even know any girls anymore)….I am clearing more money now as a sergeant in the army than I would be as a high school teacher….Another factor…is simply that I believe a teacher should be a scholar, as Wilfred is but I am not. When I was in school, perhaps I was a bit scholarly…but only because that is what I was supposed to be in those circumstances.”

060157

“Orders on hand in the orderly room have me scheduled to leave Germany on June 17. This much I have told the folks. I did not repeat did not mention that I will fly home, and I hope you will keep this little secret…The folks are still a little fearsome about plane travel to any place, and were they to know that I will shortly take a trans-Atlantic flight they would probably worry no end.

“As I have said before, I have enjoyed my tour in the service…and I know that I have profited greatly….I am, however, a bit apprehensive about my future….”

060457

“The news of the arrival of Geoffrey is really wonderful….Boy, there will really be a clan waiting at home for me. It’s a good thing Dad is enlarging the Clermont place….I should be home for the July 4th holiday.”