35: What Daddy Did During The War.


Dear Girls,

Well, somehow or other we got back from the field; a terrific march–30 miles, with full equipment. The heaviest packs a man can carry plus all the rest of the gear–started at 10PM and got in at 7 the next morning–and we had been running problems all the preceding day.[2] After that 24 hours I think I was as tired as I’ve ever been. We didn’t lose a man from the Fourth Platoon, though the Battalion lost 52–passed out on the roadside–the Third Battalion lost 127 doing the same thing. But the spirit of unity and cooperation was wonderful. The old and the new men are beginning to pull together–two men in the platoon almost didn’t make it, so the rest of the boys in their squad took their packs so that the platoon would have a perfect score.[3]

There are inspections that take all day–and believe me, there is nothing more maddening–and finally a long-awaited 72-hour leave. I spent the first couple of days pleasuring with the boys in L.A., having a good time with the cabarets, drinks, and the girls. Not spending very much, but having an awful good time nonetheless.

Finally I got in touch with the Wings, went out there to Pasadena and spent a day and a night.[4] I really enjoyed it a hell of a lot, for many reasons–the rest, the wonderful, home-cooked food, the homey sort of people, and the talking of Daddy.

If you told me I forgot, but Mr. Wing Sr. (Armand?) died a couple of months ago, and Aunt Nell is at home with Tris.[5] I didn’t expect to see her, but was tickled to death. She is in wonderful shape, she can still snap her eyes–full of wit and feeling–a grand old gal. They have to sell the Shirley home–both Ham & Elise were thinking about it, but decided no I guess. Aunt Margaret is just the same–running the house completely. Tris really doesn’t look as though he’s aged from what I remember [of] him, but he certainly sobered down. No drinking at all, from the way the talk ran, he’s all wrapped up in the Church and Red Cross activities, and still devoted to sports. He’s in the real estate game, and seems to be doing somewhat better than moderately well–they are buying a very nice 14 room house in Pasadena. Aunt Nell, his uncle & aunt and Aunt Margaret’s mother are living with them. Tris doesn’t look too well, but the boys certainly do–the two oldest are away, Bob at Purdue with naval training, line officer training, and Al in Texas heading for Naval Air Cadet.[6] The two youngest are fine boys–only one of them seems to have escaped from Aunt Margaret’s mold of forthright Americanism–not that it isn’t swell, but Larry is the most interesting.[7]

They certainly extended me the warmest of welcomes, though–everybody was swell. Uncle Tris spent the evening showing me his war pictures, which include one in particular which I would give my eyeteeth to have–a group picture of Daddy’s Field Service bunch, and he is on the end of the line, of course the one who catches the eye, the only one with a swagger stick–a dash to his appearance, and his cap cocked well down over his eyes.[8] And he read aloud from his diary, which was full of the things he and Daddy did together–including the time they went to the Folies Bergère and wrestled with the strong man on the stage, and both of them got thrown into the pit.[9] Daddy kept spraining his ankle or caught between a couple of trucks–Tris was always wrecking trucks–rolling up to the front lines night after night, with artillery bombardments screaming overhead–the times they were AWOL–once wandering up into the forward lines, into a fort through underground trenches, and instead of being reprimanded the French CO mistook them for captains and served them wine and cake and had a sergeant major conduct them safely back just as the big push started–wonder if my few exploits will ever sound as glamorous as the tales of Daddy’s youth? Then in the daytime they greased trucks or wrote letters or more often Tris & Daddy would get some chocolate and go up on top of a certain hill and “talk of the future”–“of when the war would end”–“of poetry, and read our own to each other”–the French girl Madeline who, along with the rest of her family, considered that she was engaged to Tris.

Wonder what it was that changed him from the kind of lad who could have interested Daddy so much when they were young, and matured into such an ordinary man–Margaret maybe, or having to conform to accepted patterns in order to make a living.

Got a much clearer picture of what Daddy did during the war–pictures of where he was and what he saw. I’m a good bit older than he was then, but I still like to keep the parallel–for I don’t think I’ll ever stop [saying?]–what would he have done if he were here–and I usually seem to know. And of course I was tremendously pleased when Aunt Nellie said, after embarrassing me, that I looked just like Daddy. I don’t–not as much as you do, Gretch, but I think I’m getting more so as time goes on.

I wish though, very much, that this were all over and done with, and my law school complete–I’ll be starting my own family pretty late in life, and Daddy and you were young, which is right.

I know I’ll never feel as though I am living until I have my own family–a loving wife, a handful of sturdy boys and a pretty little girl or two. I’m getting so that I turn my head on the street just as readily for a cute child as for a pair of nicely turned legs.

I probably won’t get started before I’m thirty though. It’ll take me quite a while to get up to marriage pitch again–maybe not, but I feel that way now.

This has been long enough–oh, and thank you Gretch for your long one of last time–wasn’t Van Gogh’s fight over a picture called something like the bread eaters?[10] And you’re quite wrong about the ballet–I have wanted to see it very badly for several years–I even like the Music Hall versions of it.

Too bad about the Shinkai–I sort of thought of you all as in their capable hands.[11] Hope Pixie gets up to NY more often now, with Gussie there.[12]



[1] Letter undated, but believed to be mid-October, following the two-week battalion maneuver.
[2] This march survives in the collective memory of Company A because of Captain Schechter. The other companies of the Battalion were loaded into trucks for the drive back; Schechter decided that his company would hike out. The march culminated in scrambling up “Buck’s Shortcut,” a steep hill that led up to the company barracks. Phil is not exaggerating when he says not a man fell out–they couldn’t, because the trucks were gone.
[3] “New men” referred to here are almost certainly the cadre of “Hollywood” Marines who joined the battalion from Training Camp Elliott on 26 August 1943.
[4] Forrest (“Tris”) and Margaret Wing, family friends.
[5] Almond Morse Wing (28 July 1853 – 25 June 1943)
[6] Robert Adams Wing (1 Sept 1923 – 2 August 2014) served in the Merchant Marine. Alan Wolcott Wing (28 October 1925 – 10 April 1980) in Naval service from 9 Oct. 1944 to 2 May 1946.
[7] “The two youngest” are Larry (19 Oct. 1928 – 13 Dec. 2005) and John (1932–?)
[8] Phil Wood Senior served with a Field Service ambulance unit during World War I.
[9] A famous cabaret hall in Paris.
[10] Probably a reference to “The Potato Eaters” (1885), which Van Gogh considered a great triumph despite criticism from his close friends.
[11] Unknown, possibly a neighbor. “Shinkai” is a Japanese surname.
[12] Gussie Garwood was a friend of Gretchen’s from Swarthmore, who moved to the city for the “Bohemian” atmosphere.

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