24 Aug Life in a burned out town, Jan 9, 1945
Three letters all written the same day: one to Mary, one to his Dad, and one to some folks called “The Nesbitts” (no idea who they are). This last letter sums up his experience of the moment brilliantly: living in a burned out apartment building in the dead of winter, one of the few remaining structures in the town. It sounds surreal and I am picturing the film version of this as I read his letters.
9 Jan 1945 V-Mail
Hello, honey – your Dec 18 letter came today – along with one from Mickey (he finally got my Xmas ltr). He was having a furlough and you have undoubtedly seen him by now. Old Flave is doing all right, isn’t he? A Lt. Cmdr, no less. I never knew him, except for your talking about him. Hell of a note to be away from home four Xmases in a row. Very nice that you could put him up. I’m most anxious to get your Xmas letters to hear about Karen. Damn mail, now I don’t know anything about her rash! Oh well.
I was on coal – detail today – loading a 2 1/2 ton truck for all of our stoves. Pretty rugged. Golly, but I’m in lousy condition. After about first half hour of shoveling I was pooped. Worked up a good sweat – and got dirtier than a son-of-a-gun. But we’ll be warm for another week. Golly the way we go through coal is a crime. But it will take a lot of burning to dent some of the piles you see around. The slag piles you see in the country are like mountains. Some are so old they have 20′ timber growing on them! It’s been snowing most of the day. Roads are like ice. We’ve found a place to go to movies almost every night, now. Only trouble is seeing a lot that I’ve already seen at ninth Army Hq.
9 Jan 1944 V-Mail
Dear Dad, Haven’t heard from you in some time, but it’s understandable, as our mail has been snafu – received only about 10 letters in the past month. We’ve had a lot of snow the past week. Small blizzard yesterday. Driving an open jeep (not even a top) is pretty rugged. But we bundle up in our mackinaws & raincoats & keep fairly warm. Roads are like ice, of course, with big trucks packing it down as fast as it falls, so I’m pretty careful. Sure is a good thing you can throw ’em into 4 wheel drive whenever you want to. Sure simplifies many situations. I’d like to have a car in civilian life the same way. Practically impossible to get stuck – in anything. That little jeep would make a hell of a good car for hunting or fishing trips. You can put it in low range and go practically straight up a wall, if you want to. Wouldn’t be too good for taking your girl for a ride – but what the hell – you can always buy a Packard for that!
I carry the bible you sent me with me all the time, Dad. Did you receive the Rosary from the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in time for Xmas? I hope so. Mary & Karen are both fine. So am I. Best to you, Aunt Ag, Harold & Rene,
9 Jan 1945 V-Mail
Addressed to Mr & Mrs Hugh Nesbitt, Mendham, NJ
Dear Mr & Mrs Nesbitt – Received your Nov 21 letter a couple of weeks ago and was delighted to hear from you. (next line blacked out). Its a shame to drive between piles of rubble that was once a beautiful building. One old cathedral built in 85 AD is nothing but a charred shell. We’re living in part of one of the few apt buildings still intact. Four men to a room – spring beds & mattresses! Like heaven! Of course there is a bomb hole right down through the middle of the building, and our halls & steps are frequently 3 or 4 inches in snow, but we have small stoves & coal to keep us warm if we care to bother – which we usually don’t. Taking a hot sulphur bath in a six-step-down sunken tub is quite exhilarating – especially when you look up and see the snow drifting down through the smashed roof onto your (what we laughingly refer to as “clean”) underwear. But you lie & ponder the famous people who’ve probably been there in the eighty years before you. Finally, you get back into your open jeep (not even a top) and with snow pelting you in the face drive back to work. Sometimes – I wish I was a civilian again. Am I kidding!?
Best to you – as ever Rollin