20: What It Means To Be An American.

Monday night[1]

Dear Girls,

I wish I could tell you all about it–there is so very much to tell–about what I saw and what I felt–perhaps what I felt is more important, for you will both see the sights for yourselves someday.

Really, for the first time I have realized what it means to be an American–I don’t think that I ever knew patriotism as an emotion, outside the stir in your heart at a passing flag, or the whir of drums. But if you want to make a man a patriot, send him across the country, and send him across as a Marine, an officer, and in command of his troops, and you will have a zealot. There is no way of telling you the breadth, of the beauty, of the warmth the people showed–little pickaninnies in the Atlanta freight yard dancing their hearts out–then throwing back the nickels–“Free for the sojers, please, mister”–girls in New Orleans flocking to the station, and exchanging addresses so that they could write to a Marine–nice girls. And the engineer slowing down as we went through the orange groves so that the little Mexicanoes could throw us fat, sweet oranges.

And the beauty of the land, the rolling red hills of Georgia, the dark, thick, black swamps of Louisiana, the endless china-blue sky and calicoed hills of Texas–desert and sage and cactus and space and solitude of Arizona–sunset behind purple hills that rise suddenly from the flat plain as though someone below had punched up into the soft tissue of the land. And the fertility of California–past all believing, after the New Mexico emptiness to find these wide valleys between snow-girt peaks, filled with peach, plum, and apple trees, all in ordered bloom. All the land is planned for–you are unconsciously glad that none of the rich loam is wasted, but every plant produces so luxuriantly–the cows instead of being lean and athletic, as a hundred miles back, are fat and creamy–and the orange groves–the very symbol of richness and productivity–each tree catching the essence of Kismet, Eden, and the Garden of Proserpine–the largest vineyard in the world, olives, avocados, and nectarines – the whole state is unbelievably rich and satisfying in its productivity.

And I will never get used to seeing palms and cacti – from Alabama on the land is full of them, and they too are lovely.

Gretch–never fear about Louisiana–for if nothing else, you will be near New Orleans. And never have I been so entranced with a city in such a short time. It really is lovely–open streets with parks in the middle, planted with palms and geraniums–the houses old but clean and well kept up, everybody proud of his house because it is different from his neighbor, and all of the balconies in cast-iron filigree, like high lace collars. Signs and names in French, and warm and sunny. You will love it.[2]

Oh, I could go on endlessly. I will later, but I want to get this off to you all tonight.

The quarters here are those of a model camp–more than that–of a model dude ranch.[3] And the country and climate are unparalleled–this is the perfect place to train, and the word is that we will be here for three or four months, then New Zealand.

More tomorrow, but write me soon–and send me the S.A. issue, Gretch.

Love,
Phil

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FOOTNOTES
[1] Recorded by GWW as “Camp Pendleton, California March, 1943.” The company departed North Carolina on 8 March, arriving at Pendleton on 13 March. Letter probably dates to Monday, 15 March.
[2] Probably a brotherly tease about Gretchen’s relationship with the Louisiana-born Al Tate.
[3] Camp Pendleton was built on the site of the sprawling Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, a nineteenth-century ranch. The eye-catching adobe buildings stood out among the barracks, and today are national landmarks.

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