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Dear Mom

by David Westheimer

 

When the fortunes of war made me a guest of first Italy and then Germany, my hosts gave their guests a limited number of letter forms each month so I was able to write my mother back in Texas almost every week for the twenty-eight months I sat out World War II. And she saved all the letters.

Last month I read them for the first time since I wrote them. And was surprised that on the whole they boring. List of letters received, when they arrived and when they were sent; lists of foods Id like to receive in personal parcels and books Id like in book parcels; lists of clothing I could use more of (socks and underwear, mostly), and reassurances that everything was just fine behind the wire. There were, however, a few bits I enjoyed reading and which may even be of general interest.

Here are some of them:

Feb. 10, 1943

Dear Mom:

Remember how I used to go to nightclubs and stay out all night? I don't do that any more. I just stick around the house and go to bed early.

Remember how I used to spend all my money on clothes? I don't do that any more, either. I have one outfit which I wear all the time.

Remember how I used to turn up my nose at food didnt like and refuse to eat it? I still turn up my nose at food I dont like but I eat it. And remember how you used to complain about the number of my shirts in the wash? You couldnt complain about that now. I have only one shirt.

June 30, 1943

Dear Mom:

My favorite evening entertainment is a song we hear over the radio at the same time each night. The song is Lili Marlene, which was the marching song of the Afrika Korps. Its in German and very poignant. Ive copied the words and will bring them home when the war is over.

Jan. 8, 1944

Dear Mom:

My Christmas this year was far better than the last. Our hosts lent us an amplifier and we had record concerts holiday week. Christmas Eve and day I spent about six hours listening to the music. Altho a number of records were played over many times I enjoyed every minute of the time.

Here I was the meal I cooked for *Christmas:

Canadian pork roll baked with English bacon,
New Zealand peas,
Potatoes au gratin
**Chocolate pie


Everything but the potatoes were canned. The meal was flavored with garlic given me by a Serbian prisoner in October. The pie crust was American ration biscuits and margarine. For filling I used American army ration chocolate bars, powdered milk and some English custard powder.

In the afternoon we had four American sergeants to a kaffee klatch. We had parcel (Red Cross food parcel) coffee and all the dried fruit, hard candy (from personal parcels) and cookies (British Xmas parcels) we had been able save in two months.

*(Note: For several months I was the cook, with one helper we called the Orderly Dog; just plain The Dog for short)

**(Note: Ordinarily we did not dine nearly so well but we had special Red Cross food sent to us for Christmas.)

April 6, 1944

Dear Mom:

Al and I still do the cooking. We specialize in corn beef and potatoes. Our greatest ambition is to cook them so they taste like something else, anything else.

May 13, 1945

Camp Lucky Strike, France

Dear Mom:

On my first plane ride in 29 months I disgraced myself by getting airsick. We were liberated April 29 at 12:09 by a spearhead of the 14th Armored Division after a 3 hour battle. During the thick of the skirmish, with machine guns chattering all around, Kennedy (Larry Kennedy, my pilot) and I crouched on the washroom floor brewing coffee.

After 9 days we went by truck from Moosburg (site of our last POW camp) to Straubing, Germany. From the latter we were flown to Liege in transports. It was during this flight that my breakfast rose as high as my spirits.

From Liege we were taken by truck to Namur and from there we entrained for this camp, which is about 75 kilometers from Le Havre. Eventually we will embark for home tell my friends I will be home in June.

(Note: It was actually July before I got there, having obtained combat leave passes for Paris. Just a couple of years ago I wrote a novel based on that excursion. It sold 51 copies.)


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