Edward J. Thomas - World War II

Mon. Oct 2 Germany has defeated a Warsaw, Poland uprising by the Polish Home Army underground. Some quarter of a million Poles have perished. Wed, Oct 4 the British have begun landing in Greece.

Below letter written by Edward J. Thomas

Memphis 15, Tenn.
7 October 1944 Saturday

Dear Mom, Harry and Izzy:

Episode No. 2 of "Pistol Wacky Papa".

Episode No.1 went as far as 8:30 AM without including the 7:30 to
8:30 schedule for Saturday. This is the morning we have our weekly
inspection and it is the most trying period for me. At 7:30 we go outside
and form into platoons on the road just the same as on any other
day. Then we are marched off like jailbirds to the usual drill field
which is about 100 yards away, but instead of having calesthenics we are
ordered to stand at attention while officers inspect each man. The nerve-wracking moment for me comes along when the inspecting officer passes me.
I have a very tough time in controlling my expression. The whole affair
is so funny to me that I have to go into a sweat to keep from smirking
or bursting out into loud laughter. When inspection begins, an officer
very seriously approaches our platoon. The sergeant shouts, "First squad,
ATTENTION." The officer then critically studies each soldier of the
first squad from head to foot. The cap must be a finger width above the
right ear and a finger width above the right eye. The belt must be
clean. For some reason the inspecting officers check this more closely
than anything else. It must be the right length with not more than an
inch overlap. Shoes must be shined. Hair must be reasonably short. The
uniform, however, the main item of the soldier's wardrobe, can be dirty
and sloppy as mine was a couple of weeks ago. The officer just asked me,
"Is that your best uniform?" All I had to say was "Yes sir" and the
officer couldn't say anything more. The laundry sometimes doesn't come in
on time and there is nothing we can do about it but wait until it does
come in. Therefore, for inspection we must wear whatever we have no matter
what the condition of it is. Quite often my shirt and trousers get so
baggy that when the order "ATTENTION" is given, I come to attention but
my clothes won't.

The entire inspection is carried out with such serious and elaborate
ceremony that anyone would imagine a highly complicated process essential
to the war effort was taking place. But what happens. An extremely
simple inspection takes place which amounts to about the same thing as
a dog smelling the trunks of trees. An officer may overlook your pouchy
and begrimed clothes and grimly point out to a man who has neat and clean
clothes that there is a speck of dirt on his belt, or if the officer
particularly doesn't like you, he will bawl you out for some dust which
collected on your shoes during the short march from the barracks to
the drill field. Such farcical incidents as these coupled with thousands
of others that are normally occurring every day in army life could convince
the most zealous patriot that his own (underline) country is degrading him and that he could contribute a thousand times more toward the war effort as a civilian than as a soldier.

After the outdoor inspection is over, we return to our barracks to
check up our Lockers to see that our toilet articles, handkerchiefs, stationery and socks are in the right places as specified by detailed and
pontifical orders and plans posted on the bulletin board. A soldier cannot
arrange the articles in his locker to suit his own convenience. He must
arrange them to suit the convenience of nobody. The towels and underwear
must be in their proper places in the bottom of the locker. Nothing else
is specified to be put in the lockers. The army implies that such articles
as cigarettes, books, magazines, candy, a camera, etc, should be thrown
away. I, of course, don't heed such implications and hide my extra articles
under the underwear and towels or under the nattress. When leaving the
building we must be sure that the lids of our Lockers are left open so
that the officers can inspect them while we are performing our various
assigned duties.

Now I have finally reached 8:30 which is the time I am on my way
to the big leaky barn-like structure called the Quartermaster Section.
Of all the exhibit buildings at this State Fair, the one which holds
our office is the coolest during the summer and for that reason it is one
of the best in which to work--during sumner time only, of course. It
keeps cool because the plank floors are flushed with water during the
night. The water falls in between the cracks and soaks into the ground.
Evaporation, I suppose, lowers the temperature of the ground which in
turn cools the air above. There were a few days in September which were
cold enough in this building to make my teeth chatter. Credit for this
chilliness, however, cannot be wholly given to our unique air cooling
system. Old man weather was partly responsibLe, The temperature outdoors
at that time was unusually low--somewhere between 65 and 70°. During the
night it fell to 60° which is freezing weather to me. Detroit, I believe,
at this time was much warmer if Chicago's temperature is any indication
of what it is like in Detroit. The Memphis papers list the daily temperatures
of many of the large cities including Chicago. Detroit for some reason is omitted. I am so adapted to this climate that nothing short of 85° makes me comfortable. It is hardly imaginable to me that not so long ago, as a native of the northernmost Pacific area, I regarded 60° as hot weather. I would like to know just how I would feel if I were suddenly transferred there again.

Before starting out with my daily work at the office it may interest
you to know just how I was given my present job. When I entered the Quartermaster Section, I was placed in the Plans & Training Section among many other typists. There was a stenographer's desk up in front rear the two. colonels, the big shots in our departnent. This desk, however, was being
used by another stenographer whose rating was Technician Third Grade
which is almost equivalent to the rating of staff Sergeant. When the
master sergeant found out I could write shorthand at 160 words per minute,
he said that I belong up in front at the desk the Tech 3rd Grade was
using and instructed me to take it the next day after the Tech 3rd Grade
would move away. I did as I was told and began to look into the drawers.
One of the colonels eyed me and then jumped as if someone gave him a hotfoot.

"Say, private," he yelled, "what are you looking into those drawers for?
Get away from that desk. Who told you to sit there?"
"The master sergeant, sir ," I answered without clicking my heels.
"Where did you work before?" he aeked,
"The l53d Infantry Regiment," I replied and wondered what the l53d Regt
had to do with my desk.
"I don't mean that," he said. "What desk did you have before?"
I pointed to my desk.
"Then go back there," he ordered.
"Yes sir," I said "With my ego deflated but comforted a little by the
thought that it was I who had the last word.
Upon second thought the colonel called me back and asked, "say, how
fast can you write shorthand?"
"160, sir, I replied fearfully thinking that he would court-martial me
for going faster than a PFC should.
"Well, that's different," he beamed. "You're the man I went. Go back
to that desk. It's yours." Then he added, If you can do 160, we have
a job for you. There is a conference this morning that we want you to
take down."

There wasn't just one conference. There were a series of three 2-hour
conferences--one each morning for three days. When I was through taking
then down, I had three notebooks filled--the largest bunch of circles, tails,
and hooks I have ever had to transcribe at one time. While deciphering
my hieroglyphics, I had to jump to various phones to take down conversations
of long distance calls which I barely could hear and quite often couldn't
hear at all. Then some letters were dictated to me. I thought to myself,
"So this is what I got myself into." Even with promising prospects of a
promotion, the job hardly seemed worthwhile, but I thought I might as well
try to stick to it to see what happens. Something did happen. The Army
Ground Forces in Washington froze all promotions until further notice. Even
now the order prohibiting all promotions is still in effect. Now you can
see what I am up against. This isn't the first time a thing like this
happened to me. While I was at Camp Shelby, I was going to be promoted to
some grade higher than a PFC, either a Tec 5th or Tec 4th. Just then an
order came through forbidding promotions. At that time the order covered
only the 153d Regt because it was about to be disbanded. Now the order
covers all the armies. and separate units under Army Ground Forces. well,
the best thing, I believe, for me to do is shrug the matter off by saying,
"Freeze your armies, damn it--freeze them until they creak, crack and crumple. Why should I care? A few dollars this-a-way or that-a-way (as they say in Arkansas) won't take away or add even a few belly hairs to a Black-Cross mink."

In my desk there is a set of head phones which I can plug into two
different telephone lines. Whenever a long distance call comes in on any
of the two lines, I am able to take down the conversation right at my desk.
When a call comes in on a line which I can't plug into, I have to dash
with pad and pencil to the right extension phone at some other desk.
I am glad to say these calls don't come in too often because it is a
nerve-wracking job. The speed doesn't bother me. It's the difficulty
in hearing. Sometimes it isn't possible to hear anything at all. In
a case like that I try to make up whatever I miss or if I can't do that
I must depend upon the last resort, and that is to ask the officer who
received or put in the call to supply the missing conversation. Some
times there may not be a call for many days. Then I either have nothing
to do or may have some repcrts or letters to type or may receive a little
dictation from any of the two colonels who sit near me. 99% of their
dictation is personal matter; so you can see how rosy they are. During
short periods when I have nothing to do I go to the coke machine for a
pause that refreshes (use of these words for public advertising not
permitted by writer), or study the dictionary to enlarge my vocabulary. I
am even going so far as expanding this study period to include memorizing terms and outlines of a book I have just finished reading called "Psychology of Conflict". Of course, I also take advantage of the Government's time by writing personal letters just as I am doing now, I have to be careful, though not, to let the officers know exactly how much government time I do take up for my own use. Occasionally I pretend to be interested in learning mare about my work by reading certain pamphlets and bulletins which I really don't read at all but just stare at. Then again at regular periods practice on
the typewriter. In doing so, I kill three birds with one stone. I am increasing my speed, taking out some more of that stiffness which is still hindering the movement of my right forefinger, and by appearing to be very busy I avoid being given work which anybody else can do just as well as I.

This manner of spending my time goes on from 8:30 to 11:00 AM at which time I Ieave for the canteen to drink pop and read. At 11:30 I eat lunch and then go back to the canteen to continue reading until 12:15. I would remain in tbe canteen much longer, but the colonels are very strict about a stenographer being present to take downphone calls. From 12:15 the type of doodling I do in the morning goes on until 4:30 when I awaken to full consciousness and walk out into the sun with blinking eyes.

I have given a pretty fair account of my work-dqy schedule for full
six days a week with the exceptLon of classes that are attended at certain
hours for medical and first aid instruction and talks on current events.
Besides these classes, there is a physical fitness period which comes
every Wednesday afternoon. Also there is occasional overtime work to be
done in the evenings and on Sundays to make sure there won't be any work
for anyone the next day except dusting desks and cleaning ash trays. More
can be said about, the medical and first aid classes and the physical fitness
period, but I'll make reference to them in some of my future letters.

Mom,that was a good description you gave of that $18,000 farm. I was
able to form a definite opinion about the place from what you wrote. If
the place were 10 to 20 miles farther north in a scenic location, it would
probably be cheaper and something really to consider if we were ready to buy. I believe anything that is so near Detroit adds from 2000 to $5000 to the cost of the property.

It's a good thing that the young male you mentioned regained his apetite
for raw meat. If he hadn't we'd have to become cooks as well as mink raisers. l'd hate to see anyone of us standing beside a hot fire and stirring a
steaming vat of boiling hamburger.

Harry, the story you gave me concerning your situation at Hudsons
held my attention from beginning to end, It seems as if you are meeting
the same setbacks I am. I can't help looking at our situations philosophically
as a man invariably will who is getting old. The setbacks may later
prove to be very profitable in that they will add to our incentives to make
our venture in the fur business an unquestionable success.

Your report on that Woodland Lake property came so quick that it surprlsed
me. It gave me the impression that you had dashed over there the second you finished reading my letter. I agree with you that the place is very unsuitable for our purpose. I will see if I can pick out something else later on.

Izzy, your birthday gift is appreciated very much. You can be sure that sharp razors never can be considered a dull gift no matter how long you look than over.

I didn't use that pistol you told Harry to inclose in his letter because I found a better way to practice pistol shooting. I managed to get hold of a better pencil than the one I had before and practiced wrlting "75" instead of "49". When I went to the range the second time, I improved immensely. I handled my pencil with such great skill and ease that "75" was written down on the score card completely and accurately even before I finiehed shooting.

While all of you will be celebrating Columbus day with ice cream, I'll be at Walgreen's shoveling a banana split or a strawberry Sunday into my drooling hatch.

This is about all I have to say for the present except fer a little more about the weather. Now and then it turns cool, as I have alreaqy mentioned, but most of the time we have mid-summer temperatures. On October 6 it was 88°. On the 7th it was cloudy end drizzly with the tenperature somewhere around 70°.

I couldn't finish this letter Oct 7, so I can give you a report on the drastic change in the weather Oct 9. The thermometer went down like an elevator. It must have at least reach d as low as 45 or 50°. The cold made me stiff and I don't believe I'll thaw out until I get to bed tonight.

Freezingly yours, Eddie

P.S. I'll watch out for that package which I understand is coming to me. I'll be able to get it as soon as it reaches this camp because the post office is only a few yards away from my bed. I check every day at 4:30 to see if there is any mail.

I know definitely now when my next furlough will begin. It's Nov 27. I tried to get it during Thanksgiving week but couldn't because the Tec 3d I have already referred to elsewhere in this letter is taking it during that time and I must wait until he returns on the 27th.

Thur. Oct 12 Germany punishes Belguim because it opened it's ports to the allies. V-1s and V2s are fired killing 3,000 people and wounding thousands more.

Sat. Oct. 14 Erwin Rommel, German field marshal kills himself, because it is thought he was involved in the July 20, 1944 attemp to assassinate Hitler. Germany just staes that Rommel died from wounds of war.

Surprise Present From Mom

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