Edward J. Thomas - World War II

Below letter written by Edward J. Thomas

Memphis 15, Tennessee
19 August 1944 Saturday

Dear Stanley:

Before I write anything I would like to point out that I have a new
address now. It's only a change of about 250 miles farther north--not as
far north as I wished to go. Anyway it was much better than going east
or west as I nearly did.

After I returned to Camp Shelby from my furlough, orders came from
Washington for transferring a group of men to Camp Hood, Texas, as our outfit was being disbanded. These orders included one stenographer. Since there were two in the regiment, we had to decide which one was to go by drawing lots. I lost and resigned myself to spend the rest of my hectic anny career on the parched and treeless plains of Texas. I expressed my distaste for that location to the sergeant-major and he relayed my dislike to the major who was my boss. I had a great dislike for this boss of mine and always looked at his cropped, yellow, egg-shaped head with revulsion. Occasionally he became polite and generous to show everybody how wrong their judgment of him was. One of those good occasions came about when he learned of my reluctance to go to Camp Hood. He canceled my order and enabled me to remain where I was until new orders arrived directing me to report at Second Army Headquarters, Memphis, Tenn.

As long as I was in the Army I should have known better than to think
that going to Memphis, Tennessee, meant a room in a hotel with porter service, a civilian dining room with efficient waiters and a chamber maid to clean and make up my bed. Anyway I expected at least 10% of that to be true. My expectations, however, were dashed like a grasshopper against a 6o-mile-an-bour windshield.

At the depot in Memphis I called up Second Army for transportation
and instead of being taken to the downtown section I was driven over to the
Memphis State Fair Grounds. The quarters and offices consisted of the same
big barn-like buildings that one upon a time held the state Fair exhibits.
For my quarters, I was led not to one of the buildings but to a tent in
which there were about 20 bunks arranged in two rows. Washing facilities
were outdoors. They were just pans on wooden benches which were modernized by thin sticks standing up vertically on top for the purpose of holding up mirrors. The toilets and showers were in two other tents. It was June when I moved in and so far as I know that was the hottest part of the year in this section of the country. For that reason I didn't have much objection to living in such quarters. The walls of the tent were raised and allowed,the night breezes to cool me off. This Arabic manner of living lasted a little over a month. During that time we slept without a change of mattress covers or pillow cases until a complaint was registered. From this you can imagine just how much consideration is given to enlisted men by officers. They knew long before-hand that additional men would be required to replace the men who were going to move away, but made no serious attempt to make proper provisions and accommodations. As a result we lived under more unfavorable conditions than any German prisoners we have in the South. This is something I am going to remember as long as I live.

A severe wind and thunder storm came along one night and almost brought
down our tent. Water sprayed and leaked on our bunks and clothes until they
became drenched. In the morning we waded out of the tent through the mud
like wet rats. That was the end of our tent homes. We moved our soaked
barracks bags and bedding into a huge crowded garage with double bunks scarcely separated from each other by more than two feet. One night in that place and I was wishing to be back in the tent sleeping in a single bunk, storm or no storm. Only recently we moved into cur permanent barracks which has single and double beds crowded closely together. The ventilation, however, is much better. There is a fan blowing across the section I am in and the path of the breeze goee directly over my top bunk.

About six months ago I thought it would require nothing short of an
act of congress to get me out of the infantry, especially since I was
trained in that branch of the army. But without even so much as a conference
between soft-brained officers, I managed to get into quartermaster.
Nowthat I am in it I don't know if I am better off. While being in
the infantry I seemed to have had more freedom to read and talk on the sly
and to get away occasionally from the officers, but here I am tied down to
a desk with colonels to my immediate front and captains and lieutenants
to myimmediate right and left. I am with my back to the wall, literally
speaking, confronted and outflanked by eagles and bars. I am told not to
go away too far or too long from my desk because I have to be within
calling distance whenever an important phone conversation comes in so
that I may be able to pick up my desk head phones in time to take the oon-
versation down in shorthand. In addition to being officer and duty bound,
I also have to participate in a training program which irritates me as
much as the former infantry training I received. At certain hours during the week I have to leave the office to go to see some films such as the "Nazis Strike" or "Divide & Conquor", pictures I have seen a dozen times already which are as boring that I now squint at than in a heavy stupor. Then there is a basic medical class which repeats everything taught me in basic training. Also there is pistol practice in which the officers try their damnedest to make me hate this weapon as much as the rifle and they are gradually succeeding. A physical training period is also in the program, It consists of push-up which finally will have to be done 33 times without stopping; running 300 yards alone and 75 yards with a 160 to l80-lb man on your back and than a fast 5-mile hike with full equipment around and around the hot dusty State Fair horse race track with horses standing along the fence staring
with comtemptuous amusement at the whole human mess as if we weren't good
enough for l0,000 to 1 odds.

A couple of days ago I was a few minutes late for one of these classes.
It wasn't my fault. I was taking down some long distance phone conversation
and couldn't leave until I was finished. Anyway that didn't matter. "It's
no excuse" the vacuum-headed, parrot-tongued sergeants end officers said
and consequently I was punished or as they say in the army "gigged". For
three days I had to report to the orderly desk in the barracks every half
hour fran 6 to 11 PM. I tried to have this punishment repealed by having
my complaint go through channels to the colonel. From what I have heard
it went only as far as some 2d lieutenant. At first I was going to be
punished for six days because I failed to report every half hour the first
day before I was even notified of the punishment. Of course, the dull-witted
sergeant was bright enough to know that I couldn't have reported before being notified; so he canceled the extra punishmaent with a gesture that implied he was only doing it through great generosity. Such behavior on the part of officers and sergeants is not something that occurs once in a while.
It is continual. It seems as if they purposely try to be spiteful. Sometimes
I actually can't help myself from believing that the American Army
is in the hands of Nazis who are encouraging the officers to do everything
in their power to make the American soldier inefficient and rebellious
so that the war could be prolonged for the purpose of discouraging the Allies from their intention of utterly crushing Germany.

To be gigged in a place like this is about the same as being thrown
into a German concentration camp. This probably could be called a downright lie because I don't know what it is like in a German prison camp. My fussy conscience, however, is not bothering me at all. The Fair Grounds is a very small inclosure when it is compare dto som eof the large camps I have been in previously. Here there is no movie house, no library, no service club or recreational halls--just a PX and a Red Cross canteen which serves ice cold tea and pop and which contains some books. This canteen is a poor place to stay in because the flies seldom allow any one to sit undisturbed, and there is no other place to go to but the barracks where the bunks are crowded close together. Therefore, it is quite necessary to go to downtown Memphis every evening. I catch a street car which runs nearby and in a half hour am in the downtown section. Usually I first go to the YMCA or the Catholic Club swimming pool and then to a restaurant to eat. About the only meal I do eat in the army is the noon lunch. I skip breakfast because I prefer to sleep an extra half hour or 45 minutes. Most of the army meals are so hastily and poorly prepared that I do not, at any time feel extravant in spnding my last cent for an expensive meal in a civilian restraurant. After eating in a restraurant I often go to an air-conditioned show or either the library cr any one of the three USO Clubs in Memphis. I am gradually coming to know this town almost as well as Detroit. I ride street cars and buses to different parts of the city with as much casualness and assurance as any true Memphian with the exception that I am still not saying "Haaow ah you all", "He done gone", or "That place up yonder".

It's about time for me to refer to your last letter. I was interested
in the manner in which you sumned up your opinion of present day politics.
I intended to make some comments of my own along this line, but since I feel
I won't have the time right now, I'll deal with that in my next letter.
There is only time left far me now to discuss your main subject which was
spiritualism. It's a subject which has been popping in and out of the limelight
for tie past century. At one time or another somebody important comes out
to prove in a sensational manner that there is no truth in spiritualism--that
it's all a fake. Houdini was one of them and probably the most effective in
convincing doubtful people that all spiritual phenomena were accomplished by trickery. As you know, before he died that day when you webt so far as to put on your coat on your way to see him at the theater in Detroit, he left a sealed message intrusted to his wife. Nobody knew what was in the message
except his wife. Mediums all over the world submitted their answers to Mrs.
Houdini to prove that they had comnunicated with her husband. None could be accepted as genuine because it did not agree even remotely with the sealed message. About 10 years after Houdini's death, the sealed message was opened in the presence of witnesses. It confinned the fact that no medium had received anything from the spiritual world that could even be construed to mean what the message contained. In death Houdini did more in assuring people of the fraud or falsehood in spiritualism than he did in life.

On the other hand there are important men come out with beliefs which
oppose Houdini's evidence. Some of them were Sir Oliver Lodge, Conan Doyle, Booth Tarkington, Upton Sinclair, and Stewart Edward White. Booth Tarkington and Upton Sinclair are not, really spiritualists as the· other men mentioned. They merely reveal opinions and stories to indicate that there is something in spiritualism which warrants study. Quite long ago I was interested in what Conan Doyle had to say about spiritualism. A man educated as he, I thought, should present some strong facts which led him to believe in spirits. I opened one of his books and before beginning to read, I looked at some of the photographic illustrations. I vaguely remember that one was a picture of some small fairies in the midst of something which looked like vegetation. I studied the, photograph closely and, as much as I can remember, I saw that the tiny human-like creatures had butterfly wings. So this is what happens to a man who believes in spirits, I thought. I didn't want to think any more about the subject for fear that I also and my camera as well would be seeing fairies. That kind of fate would be even worse than delirium tremens because the victim of this affliction at least finds gratification in his drinking orgy before losing his reason while I would satisfy no desires before going nuts together with my camera.

Many years later I came upon Booth Tarkington's autobiography which ran
serially in the Saturday Evening Post. In it he mertioned the occult powers
of his sister when she was a child. She could communicate with the dead whom
she had never known who identified themselves by some characteristic peculiarity recognizable only by persons well acquainted with the deceased. Also she was able to perform the usual routine stunts commonly perforned by most mediums, such as table rapping and lifting and moving furn1ture. This psychic power of hers embarrassed the entire family and they tried to hush it up as much as possible because at that time most people considered it scandalous. It was while reading this story that I began to believe for the first time that such psychic phenomena mighht be genuine. Tarkington's story was pretty convincing to me becarse I assumed it was improbable that he would concoct a story like that through any selfish or deceitful motive. He didn't sean to have anything to gain by it. It could not have added to his reputation; if anything, :it would detract from it. Also, it was quite reasonable to assume that his autobiography would have paid him just as well if he hadn't mentioned his sister at all.

For the last four or five years I knew that Stewart Edward White and his
wife were spiritualists. In the Aleutians, I read an article in the Coronet
about him and his book the "Unobstructed Universe". Since you have found the book so very interesting, I'll remember to read it whenever I'll have the chance to lay my hands on a copy.

From reports I have heard so far, I must admit that there are minds able
to accomplish extraordinary results, such as receiving communications and
visions like a radio, but I not convinced that these communications or visions
are actually received from spirits because there is the possibility of receiving them from living minds. It is quite natural for a medium with telepathic powers, who is a spiritualistic fanatic, to believe dogmatically that messages concerning some dead person come from the spiritual world when actually they come from the living mind of someone who once knew that dead person. It appears to me that this quite likey could be the case because the messages usually received from alleged spirits are only snatches of thoughts--merely phrases or words which a medium who is a mind reader could pick up trom terrestrial minds nearby. If you believe that this cannot be so and if you think there is evidence to indicate positively that the messages are spiritual, I'd be intereated to know it.

As far as the floating and moving of furniture and other objects are concerned, I hardly know what to say. If it is claimed that spirit are able to
do this, then it could also be claimed that unusual terrestrial minds can do the same. One claim has just as good grounds to stand on as the other. Then, of course, you would have the same question as you have concerning the reception of meseages. Is it the power of living or spiritual minds performing this phenomenon?

Thanks for your enjoyable letter. I suppose I should also say thanks to
your wife who prodded you to wrlte it. In sympathizing a little with you, I
hope the thing with which she prodded you wasn't too sharp.

I understand you quit working for the Richfield Oil Corp. Where are you
working now? I presume you were looking for another job while writing your
last letter because you didn't say you were workingfor anybody else.
By the way, I don't believe I ever asked you how you like Los Angeles
when comparing it to Detroit. I have a close friend here with me in the
Second Army who has been with me in the Aleutians. He comes from Los Angeles (Venice) and brags about it quite a bit. Could the city claim more beauty than Detroit, a more impressive downtown section or better amusement and recreational places in and about the town? Your views may help me in some of my arguments I hope. I don't think Detroit is anything exceptional but I do think more of it now than I did before because I have seen so many smaller towns all of which have such limited sources for anything like recreation, entertainment, study, and opportunities for purchasing a variety of products. On top of that, with the exception of Seattle, the towns I have been in, including Memphis, don't have the good vacation spots within as easy reach as Detroit. Such a thing as having a cottage by a lake is unheard of in Memphis. How is Los Angelas in this respect?

Since I am beginning to feel like a guest who has overstaid his visit
I am nervously going to jump up and reach for my hat ani coat and apologetically slink out like this:

So long, Ed

P.S. My present address is: Revised

Pfc Edward J. Thomas, 36576155
Hqs Bks, Second Army Hqs
Memphis 15, Tennessee

Letter to Mom - Sept. 22, 1944

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