This is long...and I'm not sure many will be interested...
by ufl (2014-01-30 10:35:42)
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..but I feel the need to relate something and I'm not sure who to tell it to.

As I posted earlier, my mother passed away last summer at the age of 94. As her only child, it has fallen to me to tie up all the loose ends. I've disbursed the assets and have only a final tax return to deal with this year. It takes a bit longer to deal with personal things.

In particular I have a host of letters which she saved from WWII. There are dozens from my father: some from various parts of the country from Blythe, California to Williston, Florida as he went through training; then from "somewhere in England" when he was flying bombing missions; then many "kriegsgefangenenpost" from POW camp (apropos a thread in the PBR this week, I'm considering the idea that the Germans lost the war due to the strain of dealing with 20 letter words on a daily basis); and, finally, letters from San Antonio as they were fattening him up before separation from the service. There the letters end as they were not separated again.

These letters were stored in a box in my mother's house for decades and I gained possession of them when she (very reluctantly) moved to an assisted living place after her stroke a few years ago. When I discovered them I decided to take them to her, a few at a time, to read. This seemed to give her great pleasure. Although she often couldn't quite remember exactly where she was, she seemed to remember those days as if they were yesterday.

I finally steeled myself to the task of getting them in order last weekend. Some of the letters are separated from their envelopes and I want to match them up in order to get them in chronological order from the postmarks. My mother's dementia got worse toward the end and the letters are somewhat in disarray. Why I want to do this and what I will do with them, I cannot say. But I feel it should be done.

I was surprised to find among the letters several from my mother's brothers-in-law. My father's younger brother, Lloyd was stationed on Tinian, although he never saw combat. My father's older brother, Walt was with the 3rd Army after D-Day and saw a great deal of combat (I have posted about him before).

Each of these letters starts with "Sis" which I guess is how they addressed her. Each of Lloyd's ends with "your little bud" and Walt's end with "your big bud". There are quite a few from Walt. In one of them he assures my mother of his intent to sweep through Germany with the 3rd Army and liberate my father from prison. Stalag 17 was near Vienna so this would have been quite a feat. Walt did not think small.

While Walt's plan sounds outrageous, maybe it wasn't. As the war drew to an end, the prisoners in Stalag 17 were forced to march north into Bavaria where an American tank column blundered into the marching (and starving) POW's. The tank commander popped out of his vehicle and was revealed to be the brother of one of the prisoners come halfway around the world to personally liberate him. I remember my father describing the emotional scene to me. Walt must have been envisioning something like this.

The letter which is the subject of my post is the last chronologically, It was sent by "V-mail". This was a clever innovation which required some description. The writer would write a brief letter on a letter sized form which would be photocopied and reduced to a size that could be folded into a 2.5" x 3.0" envelope. The envelope had a window which lined up with the addressee box on the form. This could then be shipped relatively cheaply by air.





These images are very close in appearance to the one I'm looking at on my desk. The date on the form (inside) is December 25, 1944. The postmark on the outside is January 5, 1945. There is usually a discrepancy of a day or two on other V-mails but this is nearly two weeks. The dates are important for reasons I'll explain later.

The photocopy is nearly 70 years old and tiny. In addition, Walt's handwriting, while better than mine, is not good. I spent about an hour on Sunday trying to decipher it. I scanned the image, played with the contrast and brightness and blew up. With a little guess work added, here it is:

_____________________________

Dear Sis,

I’m taking it easy this Christmas. Have had yesterday and today in a nice warm building. Turkey dinner today and a hot shower, also a mattress to sleep. Can you imagine a combat soldier spending a Christmas like that. In all God has been good to the outfit this Christmas. Of course it’s due us after the past month. Things have been awfully busy and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see Art before Christmas. Considering we are in the same country and should get a chance to see each other soon. I expect important developments very soon.

I received the pictures of the folks, and you and Ruth. You all look swell. It’s pretty nice getting pictures from home. It’s sort of a connecting link to civilization.

Well Dot, I hope you all have a nice time sharing these holidays and I do hope that I will be with you next year at this time. I’m doing all I can to see that this can be realized. Just keep your chin up a little longer.
Do write often.

Your Big Bud

Walt
_________________

"Dot" is my mother and "Art" is my father. Ruth is his little sister (my aunt) still living at that time with their parents in Nebraska. The story about not seeing Art yet must have to do with Walt's dream of sweeping across Europe to rescue him. I interpret the letter to say that he still sees that happening.

The letter was written on Christmas day. It is possible to determine where the 35th Infantry Division of the 3rd Army was on that day. Walt would have been ordered not to reveal specific details and they would have been removed by the censor in any case. However, there are no secrets now and I've got the internet.



You can see Walt's outfit near the middle of the picture: "35ID" just inside Luxembourg about 10 miles from Bastogne. One can imagine the action that kept them "busy" in December. It included the German offensive which began on December 16 and became known as the Battle of the Bulge". The poor weather had shut down the allied air forces and prevented the allies from bringing their air superiority to bear. It is, perhaps, that poor weather which produced the lull that allowed Walt his two nights in a warm bed and turkey dinner.

However, the weather started to clear before Christmas and I know that elements of the 4th Armored Division ("4AD" on the map) reached the outskirts of Bastogne on the afternoon of December 26. I wonder if this letter might have been written in the morning or early afternoon before the 35th moved to the offensive. If so, Walt did not have another night in a warm bed.

I heard the story of Walt's exploits as a child but now they are on the internet. I googled his name and, to my surprise, this came up:

Walter Bomberger

The same citation was on the newspaper clippings framed on my grandparents wall when I was growing up. Which brings me to the dates. The letter may be the last one he wrote. Perhaps he also wrote one to his parents that same day. If so, it has not survived. This letter was written on Christmas day but postmarked after his death.

I look at it and wonder about the sequence of events that intervened but the letter does not reveal its secrets. I want to give it to his grandchildren but he had none. According to all reports (including Walt's own, he was not humble man) he had at least three girlfriends ready to marry him and, I imagine he expected to have grandchildren but events intervened.

Now read it again with the backstory in mind and you may see why I found it so poignant and disturbing and why, when we went to bed Sunday night, my wife asked me why I had been so quiet all day.

_____________________________

Dear Sis,

I’m taking it easy this Christmas. Have had yesterday and today in a nice warm building. Turkey dinner today and a hot shower, also a mattress to sleep. Can you imagine a combat soldier spending a Christmas like that. In all God has been good to the outfit this Christmas. Of course it’s due us after the past month. Things have been awfully busy and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see Art before Christmas. Considering we are in the same country and should get a chance to see each other soon. I expect important developments very soon.

I received the pictures of the folks, and you and Ruth. You all look swell. It’s pretty nice getting pictures from home. It’s sort of a connecting link to civilization.

Well Dot, I hope you all have a nice time sharing these holidays and I do hope that I will be with you next year at this time. I’m doing all I can to see that this can be realized. Just keep your chin up a little longer.
Do write often.

Your Big Bud

Walt
_________________

Can one grieve for someone one never met? Someone who would likely have died decades ago even if he never gone to war? I don't really think so but I find myself thinking about him a lot. I remember my mother recounting (just last year) the day the telegram came to my grandparents and my mother spent the day with her mother-in-law who didn't get out of bed the remainder of that day.

I know that there is nothing unique about this story. It was repeated tens of thousands of times. But I find myself thinking about him. Since I am old man, a portion of that thinking occurs at 3 in the morning (as it did earlier today). I think about the fact that I have spent nearly every night of my life in a warm bed and despite some evidence of greater worthiness he did not. I cannot easily square this with any concept of justice.

I am looking at the letter on my desk. I cannot let it go. I find myself thinking about him.


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