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Africa - North West
At Sea

December 6, 1942

Some of the boys have been shaving their heads. One boy shaved all except that part of his hair that shows outside his hat; when he removes his hat he sure looks funny.

We have enjoyed this trip very much, at times I still wish I was in the Navy. It is warm and comfortable and so nice to have a comfortable bed to lay on or rest during the day even if you want to sleep. Soon we will have to get off, and really go to work again.

December 11, 1942

We got here some days ago, and I should have written sooner but I have been very busy. We arrived to find practically no mail, wish more had been here.

The people here don't speak English. The native language is Arabic, however you can usually get some one who understands French or Spanish. I am popular in my tent because I know enough Spanish to order drinks and some foods.

Yesterday I met a French soldier who knew about as much English as I do French, and had about an equal knowledge of Spanish. We had a long talk and used all three languages. His wife and children were killed by the Germans and he is very bitter. The natives tell us the German soldiers do not treat them as well as we do. They stole all their wine and did not pay for it, and they have killed civilians with the bayonets.

I took a walk up on a high mountain the other day, then down the slope to the Mediterranean where I went swimming. It was really cold, however I enjoyed it.

The girls here don't remind me at all of you, they don't wear anything but a sheet wrapped all around them including the face and head. They don't even look human, except when the wind blows.

December 12, 1942

We are each allowed one special Christmas letter of one sheet with delivery in the United States guaranteed before Christmas. That will be fast service if they make it, so I'll write also. First I am limited here in letter writing by a number of considerations; first day light hours are rather short, and blackout is a handicap that is hard to overcome.

We are living in a country where a knowledge of Spanish and French would be very handy. We have to bargain with the natives for our oranges and tangerines. Prices vary according to how much you know about the language. I went out yesterday and got all I could carry in my jacket for fifty cents in American money, but a couple of other officers got larger piles for twenty-five cents.

The country here is beautiful, about like Bishop [editor’s note: California, Owens Valley] in a lot of ways. We have a high mountain which we can climb when we want that makes a wonderful view. The sky is sure blue, and usually flecked with white clouds, and the water in Mussolini’s Lake is usually blue and cold, but the lake is rapidly becoming our lake, and we are pushing Old Mussy back where he belongs.

Thanksgiving day passed without even knowing that it was Thanksgiving day, until the official complaints concerning the mess mentioned the day. Of course we did not have turkey, that is unlikely in war times.

December 25, 1942

Christmas is just past, it was a beautiful day and we had a nice celebration considering the conditions. We sent around the countryside and bought enough turkey for everybody and also we got a barrel of wine. After the meal was over we all sit around and played cards.

Today I read a newspaper account of the dramatic announcement over the radio of the entry of American troops into Africa. I could just picture you all sitting around listening to the radio.

Later today we were back in the mountains and while there we bought some eggs and chickens. My Spanish comes in handy but I had to cackle like a hen to help out.

January 25, 1943

It is sad but true that I have not written you as frequently as when I was in England, however it is not because I don't think of you. It is due to shorter days and longer nights, with no lights, due to increased activity and other reasons. So often there is nothing to tell, except that I am well, and that so far no bullet has my name on it, and that I will be back as soon as I have seen Berlin with a proper escort of American troops.

We are eating better now than we have been, they are giving us fresh eggs on more frequent intervals, and fresh beef twice recently. Of course the bulk of our diet is still canned, but either we are getting use to the canned items or they are improving their technique because the dried eggs don't seem at all bad any more. I imagine that dried eggs will be used considerably after the war to carry eggs over into the winter seasons. Dried potatoes are the hardest things to handle, they increase in bulk tremendously when soaked, and have to be handled just right or they get mushy. One small can of dried potatoes will make enough mashed potatoes to feed the entire unit. We get frequent hot cakes of mornings and with the dried eggs on them are delicious.

The only trouble we are having as far as comfort goes in this section, is the perpetual rain, mud and the scarcity of fuel. Some say the dry season soon starts and then it will be plenty hot for us, but I hope by that time we are some where else.

January 27, 1943

I have been getting some mail recently, yesterday our unit got thirty sacks out of which I got three letters, but day before I had 18 letters from you and today twelve. The oldest dated back to November 4, 1942.

The most appreciated boxes right here are nut kernels, chewing gum, and candy. We get oranges real often and they are so much more reasonable than I expected.

January 30, 1943

Recently I went down to the edge of the desert, where the trees are thin, and grassy places are scarce, but where there is a nice level wet place and grass is very green. I drove across the edge of a grassy spot; on the other side there were some Camels. There was a great big one with two humps, obviously the Daddy of the crowd, and a couple medium size ones and a lot of little camels. When we first spotted them they were standing perfectly still, as we came across the grass towards them, suddenly the old fellow started jumping up and down and making a loud noise with his feet on the ground, and roaring in a loud voice. All the other camels then took off at a great rate of speed, and the old fellow followed behind keeping them all together and moving swiftly.

Another time when we were down on the desert proper we saw a caravan of camels walking beside the road with loads on their backs. One had a very peculiar gate, and when we got closer we could see he had his front leg tied up so that he had to run on three legs. That was probably to keep him from running off.

In the desert there is a paved road such as we have at home, and besides the paved road is another wide dirt road that is used by the camels and donkeys. Most of the traffic we see is on the dirt road, and several times a day we see a caravan of camels, donkeys, sheep and a few horses. The local tribes seem to travel in that manner, apparently with all their possessions with them.

While on the desert one day I was walking along the crest of a ridge when a tawny yellow animal slunk rapidly across the terrain ahead; after a while I figured it must of been a female lion. I kept my eyes peeled for quite a while but did not see her again. I judged it was about three feet long and looked like a yellow cat.

The desert is not at all like I expected. It is very mountainous, and very rocky. The soil is not very sandy and I suspect would be fairly fertile if it had enough water. The tufts of grass make little hillocks about a foot higher than the ground in between, which is swept by the wind to a lower level. The grass tufts are usually about a foot apart and it makes very difficult traveling for wheeled traffic.

The most interesting little animal here is the donkey, he stands about two feet high and seems to be a very docile little beast. They say they are very gentle to handle and will work for five or six years pretending that he does not care, just waiting for a chance to kick you in the right place. They never use lead ropes or bridles like we do, but control their animals by voice using hobbles when the animals are not well controlled or trained. I saw an Arab the other day driving a four horse team entirely by continual stream of sounds that all sounded the same to me, but they would turn left or right and back; he must have had perfect control of the teams.

Coming back to the donkeys, they usually are well loaded when you see them. I have seen them in the roads with loads so high that a tall man could not reach the top, and a woman has to run along the side and steady the load. Incidentally the only thing that works hard over here except the donkeys are the women.

The man will walk along the road and donkey and women carrying heavy loads, while he has nothing and may even be riding. The only exception that I know of was one day an Arab was riding a bicycle, and carrying a goat on his shoulder.

February 13, 1943

When I first had a day off here in Africa a meal cost 30 francs or at their current rate of exchange at that time 40 cents. Now last meal I had in town was 380 francs or $7.60 in American money. This is partly due to the increased price of the franc, and partly due to the fact that I get delicacies off the ration. Frankly I don't think I would have eaten there if I had known what it would cost me, but it was the best meal I have had since I left the States.

February 22, 1943

We are commencing to get a few nuts locally now, almonds and English walnuts mainly. We have to buy them in some down town place in order to purchase the nuts, as they are not close here.

At long last I got a little time off. I can't tell you how much, but I will tell you what I did. I went to town and first thing I did was to rent a bath tub, filled it with hot water and relaxed in that for an hour. That was the most heavenly experience I could think of having experienced in six weeks. Then I got out of there, and saw the line waiting to use the tub looking daggers at me, (they all had watches out, but what do I care), then I got a beautiful shoe shine from an Arab kid on the street. From there to call on all the people that I knew, and some I did not know. I met a wonderful family in that town when I was there some time back, and while I was calling on some other people I knew at their business places, and practicing up on my Spanish I ran into the son of this family I spoke of. He insisted that I come around and spend the rest of the day at his house. I finally decided to go, although I had accepted a dinner invitation from a French Officer, and wanted to make a few other calls, but the boy insisted and along I went, and had a wonderful time. The family is old stock, and real people. The grandmother speaks Spanish only, the mother speaks Spanish and French and the daughters speak both and a little Arabic and English. The baby, (fourth generation under the same roof) speaks French only. When I got there the oldest lady answered the door and was she glad to see me. All the women were keeping the house and fires burning, and they invited me in, gave me some brandy and chattered.

The family sure does have a rich background and the war has caused them plenty of misery but they do not whine. They certainly go out of their way to be nice to us American Army fellows. I believe every officer but one in our outfit has been there for a meal. They have a baby aged three, another aged five, and the one who has just passed three was not born yet when her father was captured by the Germans. She and the boy sat on my lap lots, and I taught him some of the tricks I put Patricia through, but the little girl was afraid at being thrown up in the air. Her mother was probably beautiful at one time, but shows her suffering in her face. She, the Mother, speaks Belgium- French only and I could not talk to her.

After school was out, a friend of the daughter who teaches in the school, and one of the daughters who goes to high school and a friend of hers arrived on the scene, then the place was really lively. The two sons came in bringing a boy friend with them, rolled back the rug, started the victrola and we all danced.

After a while I excused myself because I had a dinner engagement, and they insisted I had to eat with them. The two sons escorted me up the rendevous and upon finding the French officer gone insisted that I return to the house with them for supper. I enjoyed it very much. At supper I was especially impressed with the baby, we had reached the third course before there was anything on the table that the baby could eat, but she sat patiently until they gave her something to eat. No complaints or noise from her. After supper we were sitting around eating almonds, when the teacher found a double kernel in one, so she asked me if I would play a game with her called Philistine. I agreed, and we each ate a kernel, then we both told each other what we wanted them to do. The next time we met we were supposed to say "good morning Philistine", the one who said it first won, and the other had to do whatever it was that had been agreed on in the first place. I think I won, but she claims she did, anyhow she thought I would not be back for a month, so I popped in the next day unexpectedly, but she was quick as a flash, and it was a tie. She had made the request for some candy, so I had a sack of gum-drops I gave her, and she was to play on the piano for me, but it sure needed turning.

February 25, 1943

Recently I saw something that I never expected to see, and it will be hard to convince people of it when I get back to the states. But for half an hour we had hail on the desert! I was extremely surprised, especially as I had just sent all the transportation away on errands, and was caught with some stuff that I would rather had not gotten wet. The desert is a surprising and beautiful place, however I was never very good at describing scenery. When you awake in the morning a bright moon is shining all over the place and the desert is lit up like a show window. You force yourself out of the tent into a cold desert air that is peculiarly damp for the desert, and is usually below freezing. With a great effort of will power you get yourself dressed, and thank your lucky stars that you are the mess officer, and can hurry down to the kitchen to inspect breakfast, and incidentally back yourself up against the stove. As they serve breakfast and it grows later the sun breaks across the horizon. The sky is such a deep blue that it makes you think of home and Patricia's eyes. Here and there across the sky is a little patch of white sky which is taking on a pinkish glow on the eastern edge. The eastern sky itself is gradually getting redder and redder until it looks almost angry. Perhaps it is mad about having to get up so early too. The sun is almost human in its reactions, it gets all red and angry when it has to get up.

You start out the day with everything you own on your cold body, and by nine you can take off your overcoat, by ten you are down to shirt, and by eleven you have to start fighting with yourself to keep from taking off the shirt. Ho, Hum, such is life.

March 9, 1943

I am sorry that I have not written you lately, but I had a little FLURRY of work that kept me until too late to write before lights out.

March 16, 1943

I will just have time for a very few lines, but want you to hear from me any how.

I sometimes don't date my letters because of censorship and some times I don't know what day it is. The censors don't like dates on some things.

April 3, 1943

I have lost all track of time, but I think it has been about three weeks since I wrote any letters. There has really nothing happened that would pass the censor, but I have been right busy, but thought I must write you a letter.

About a week ago I got 50 letters from you all at one time and they were dated all the way from December to March 9th. I have been reading them in what time I had, and just finished the last one today. I have had no letters since. I like that daily letter, even if they do reach me in big batches. In that same large batch from you were ten others from relatives and friends, which I have not answered but had to destroy them because of regulations. I hope to answer their authors if I can remember the contents, but from now until we get another garrison tour I will be lucky to write to you as often as I would like.

I have not seen a nurse or female of any variety in uniform since I came to Africa, and females I have seen are no credit to the human race.

About two weeks ago all the Officers of this unit were invited to dinner with a French Official’s family. Six of us accepted and since his household consisted of three women and himself it was not so terribly unbalanced. The governess of his children sat between "Doc" and myself. She spoke fairly good English, and we tried out a little French on her.

It was beyond all doubt the best meal I have had since I left the states. There was the most delicious tender steak I have ever tasted. He served lots of his best wine. The cook stirred up a job which the governess, (known by Blondie) said was mostly eggs and air, baked to a golden brown and was grand. They called it souffle. They also had French fried potatoes and French fried carrots which were very good.

We have a new Officer who I suspect was a New York gangster before the war from the way he handles a Tommy gun and his remarks. I like him fine, and he is in my section. He was at the dinner also, and has tried to teach me some French. He is of Russian origin and quite a linguist. Blondie and I were conversing about the meaning of some American slang word, and he attempted to butt in, and she told him "I do not speak with you." I don't think she quite meant it the way it sounded, but sure hushed him, especially since he thinks he is a lady killer.

April 7, 1943

So far they are feeding us pretty well and we are getting plenty of everything in the food line.

The weather had been beautiful lately, and every one seems fairly contented here.

April 29, 1943

This is just to let you know that I am still alive and kicking, but I have not been to bed lately, so don't expect much mail now for a while.

May 7, 1943

I am well fed, healthy, but over-worked. As long as we get ammunition and food we won't kick about anything else.

May 20, 1943

We have been having the most wonderful weather lately. The sun shines nearly all the time.

One night not so long ago I was working late as usual in Survey Center. About midnight I stepped outside for a minute, and was horrified to see a convoy of trucks going by with lights on. Frankly I was scared, and I waited expectantly for the bombing and shelling that was bound to follow. It was a beautiful night for bombing such a target, blacker than the inside of your hat, with stars scattered through the sky.

The trucks kept on rolling, and nothing happened; gradually I realized what had happened. The Germans had surrendered. I sat down in the middle of the field all alone and watched. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. The tears came to my eyes; the FIRST lights.

The next morning I went out into the plain to observe the results of the battle. As I came over the hill onto the plain, I could see the roads in all directions as far as the eye could see, choked with traffic. Women trudging along barefoot, carrying their household goods on their backs and leading their children. Old men and young boys driving herds of cattle and sheep. Wagons drawn by horses, and often, loaded with mirrors, tables, chairs, plows, and such choice impedimenta of farmers' life that he had taken with him when he fled the battle-field. The civilians were returning to the farm. It certainly made a picturesque view, and I felt like crying again. To me it was symbolic of what we are fighting for, fighting that the farmer may return to his land and live in Peace for another generation.

Of course the scene was still not peaceful, because the mine fields had not been cleared. Even as I looked, an occasional cow would stray from the road and step on a mine. One ox-drawn wagon took a short cut, hitting a mine and killing an ox, wrecking the wagon, but all that would soon be straightened out, as the Army engineers gradually remove the mines and the farmers return the soil to its normal function of raising good things to eat.

I am working hard, trying to do my part to get an early end to this war, so that the American's can return to their farms, as these civilians are returning to theirs!

June 7, 1943

I had occasion to use your dictionary the other day. I was shopping for some bread to supplement the diet and had to go before the local ration board. We had a great time looking up words and without the book I probably would not have gotten the bread. Needless to say I got the bread to "feter l' victorie" about two slices per man, and did they enjoy it.

When I first got to North Africa I found a natural cork which I carried for a few days intending to send it to Patricia, but decided not to, after living in cork forests so long.

Since writing you, the unit had an invitation to send some Officers to what we laughingly termed an Arab open house. The local Caid, which is Arabic for Sheikh, gave the dinner in honor of the American forces, and I went as part of the group from our unit. In our party were the French Judge of the District, the French Administrator of Civilian Affairs, and the Frenchman who owns all the land in this end of Africa, each acting as guest or host for a carload of American Officers.

We were the last to arrive, except for the mayor of the district, whose car had 'broken down,' the polite French term for out of gas.

As we approached the Caid's house we saw all the men of the local tribe lined up on grounds in double line, standing in line like soldiers on parade, all grins and smiles. The musicians started playing as we started down the line. The main instrument was a sort of fife, on which was produced a continuous sound; the short simple refrain was repeated again and again for nearly and hour. The rest of the music was the continuous beat of a drum.

The Arab in the line were dressed in every conceivable item of discarded soldier equipment, the favorite being a shirt of 'long handled' wool underwear worn as pants with neckline part down about their knees. All of this was crowned by a snow white turban.

When we finally passed the line we reached the house, a surprisingly modern place of the California or Spanish type of architecture. It was snow white, with a patio, a glassed in porch, and screened porches, which were used as first and second dining rooms. There was a typically French kitchen with two charcoal burners and wood range. Off the kitchen was a bath, and in the center a master bedroom; opposite the kitchen was a guest room.

We found a receiving line of the Caid and a lot of French notables on the back porch. The Caid offered us swimming suits, including his wife's and we went swimming from his beautiful beach, and dripped water all over the Caid's guest room. As we dried we heard music again and went out to the back yard, where they were roasting twelve sheep all at once over charcoal. There seemed to be a kitchen force of 30 working under a French chef. An Arab patiently turned each carcass on its stick while another basted it with butter.

While waiting for dinner to be served we were honored by being shown a peculiar dance, which I take is a sort of ritual with the Arabs, and was done by five young dancing girls.

In the meantime, the Caid turned his stables of Arab steeds over to us and we rode around the field at breakneck speed. We then went for a ride in his speed boat. By three o'clock we were starved and welcomed dinner. I found a place-card between two Englishmen, opposite two Frenchmen, and one seat removed from the Mayor.

We had mutton soup, seminola, then the piece de resistance. Our plates were removed after the seminola; we had only a spoon, with a knife placed here and there. The meat was served as it came from the pit, simply placed flat on the table cloth, the carcasses laid end to end; five at our table. We attacked the mutton with whatever implement was at hand, and even as the Mayor, we tore off a rib with our bare hands and dipped into the dressing of onions, mushrooms, and butter. I wish I could say we picked the carcass clean, but we seemed hardly to have touched it, and it was delicious.

There were after dinner speeches by all the French notables, and the Colonels, through interpreters, which were roundly cheered.

Soon after the party I went with the Colonel as his aide on a trip, which was supposed to have served as a pleasure trip for me, but turned out badly. I talked the Colonel into staying at a hotel, which was infested with bed-bugs, and the next day I took sick. The Colonel left me in a hospital along the way, so I turned out not much good as a companion. When I recovered a friend took me back by plane. We stopped off at Algiers and did the town. The Red Cross club, is sure doing a good job in the rear areas. We sat in the Red Cross club, ate free ice-cream, read funny papers and decided the war wasn't so bad after all.

Funny thing; when you're ill first in the hospital none of the nurses seem pretty or interesting; then just when you start to change your mind, out you go!

June 19, 1943

I received a citation and silver star, but the order giving them was confidential, so can't tell you how I got them. I have asked permission to send the order home and think they will then let me tell you something about it.

I received the Silver Star while in Tunisia, for establishing artillery control survey in what was then "No Mans Land" while under fire, "Which enabled our artillery to occupy the surveyed positions immediately upon advancing thus giving us an advantage in the artillery duels". I got the Citation for leading patrols into forward areas and keeping my unit accurately informed as to the disposition of the enemy, which I can't make clear to you because I was keeping up my survey work, and any information that I sent back on the enemy was purely incidental. I won the Silver Star in the "Gasa El Guettar" area, and the citation for work in general in that area and also in the early part of the Korian engagement.

Today being Sunday I don't have as much to do as usual, and after I finish this I want to wash all my uniforms, re-pack all my equipment and go censor a lot of the mail. After that I hope to go to the beach and take a bath in the Mediterranean.

Don't believe anything you read in the magazines or in the papers about life in North Africa. They are all very much exaggerated and I almost think most of them are written by authors who never saw Africa. Certainly never got out of Algiers, Oran and Constantine. They think they see London, they have seen England and are qualified to write on anything relative to the troops in England. They seem to think the way to find out about the conditions in Africa is to visit the Big Cities and listen to the stories told by the bar flies in those places.

They see mostly soldiers who have just got to Africa, and want to pretend like they have been here since the campaign started. The picture is entirely different in the field. The majority of the troops naturally are not in the towns or allowed to go in the towns.

The majority of the Red Cross clubs facilities are in the towns and are available only to service troops stationed in town.

I have never seen any U. S. O. outside of the States. The British have similar units which do go into the fields but not the Americans that I have seen of.

Of course we came here for business, not for recreation, but it doesn't pay to devour all you read.

A couple of attempts I saw of a few reporters to tell our miseries in the field are just about as badly exaggerated the other way. If we could get more cigarettes, and better mail service, things would not be half bad.

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