November 17, 1942
At last I have time to write a letter. Five of us came down to Boston for a few days to attend a fire-fighting school. We didn’t get here in time to start in the first day so will just get in on the last day of it. Don’t know what we will do this afternoon. We have spent half the morning trying to get our baggage and have finally got it. We didn’t have blankets of any kind last night and it got cold in here. We covered up with our peacoats and still froze.
Had a good breakfast of grapefruit, oatmeal, doughnut, an egg, toast, potatoes, bread and butter. That is more than we have aboard ship, especially after we have been out for a day or so. We are up there for practice in drills and gunnery. Two days is the longest we have been out of port. We will be there for some time yet.
I like the country fine, it is very pretty with the islands, rocky coasts and tree-covered hills. But I don’t like the town. There isn’t anything to do in it. I’ve been on liberty there only once. I’ve got rocks from three different places for you, mom.
I don’t have your letters with me so don’t remember what questions you asked me. It is rather hard to write letters and not say something that would be censored. We aren’t supposed to mail anything ashore though we can send post cards with the name of the town if they are censored. We are in the bay that was on the card I sent you. Howard’s ship is still there but he was transferred, wasn’t he?
I received Frances’ package and one from Josephine but I haven’t opened them yet. Hope I get a chance to do some shopping pretty soon. We get liberty only about once a week, don’t get off the ship until sixteen thirty and have to be aboard by one forty five. Quite a number of the boys are “aos”, so the rest of us have to stand more watches. I can’t complain though because I haven’t stood many watches yet. It gets a little chilly but not too bad, sixteen above the other night. We were issued woolen underwear, heavy socks, and a suit of clothes that are rain and wind proof. I don’t think it will be too bad this winter.
Have you ever received the cacti that you were supposed to get?
It is fifteen hundred now and all of us have been asleep all afternoon. We haven’t anything to do except write letters as we can’t go out on liberty until sixteen-thirty. Two of our officers are here also and one of them tried to get liberty for us at noon but didn’t succeed.
I must try to write some more letters so will say good-bye to all.
Love to all
September 1 – 1942
Well I went to New York City this last Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t like it too well but it wasn’t so bad either. Haring and I went up Saturday evening and stayed until Sunday evening. After getting out of the station we started walking toward the central part of town which is 7th Avenue and 42nd Street. We had walked up to Fifth Avenue when it started to rain. We stopped in a doorway for about fifteen minutes while it really rained.
Haring was disappointed with the city already and was about ready to go home but I wanted to visit The Stage Door Canteen so we started hunting for it. After inquiring about a half-dozen times we finally found it down in a basement. That part wasn’t so bad as a great deal of New York is underground. As we entered we were given a ticket for a lunch. The floor was crowded with the service men and girls, a few of whom were dancing. We didn’t think much of the place so left without getting any lunch.
We ate a lunch in a small restaurant then started walking again, just going with the crowds. I have seen crowds before but nothing like that one and that was a regular occurrence. We were waiting for the light to change and talking about which way we should go to get back to the train when a girl who was standing in front of us heard us talking and said to “come this way.” She was from Indiana and was staying in New York to visit her husband who is in the army. She claimed that she enjoyed the crowds so we walked around together for awhile then went to a show.
Haring and I decided to get a room for the night then go out to Coney Island on Sunday. We went out to Coney Island about noon and stayed until about five. It takes forty five minutes on the subway from the main part of town to Coney Island. I don’t like the subways because you can’t see anything but they are fast and cost only a nickel to ride. That was my first ride on the subway.
Mom, I tried to find a rock for you but there just weren’t any. The beach is of fine white sand but no rocks. Coney Island is just one enormous carnival with every kind of ride and concession stand imaginable. They had a parachute drop where people were pulled to the top of a high tower then released and lowered by a chute. They were stopped just before they reached the ground and boy did they bounce!
We didn’t go on any of the rides as neither of us wanted to spend very much money. We spent most of the day on the boardwalk just watching the people on the beach. We didn’t have our swimming suits so couldn’t go on the beach. We walked out on the pier where lots of people were fishing but we didn’t see anyone catch anything. The waves make quite a bit of noise when they come in. The boardwalk is a wide wooden walk about ten feet above the beach. There were many boats and several ships on the ocean that day.
It wasn’t a great deal of fun just watching others play so we got on the subway and came back to Times Square. While we were in the station waiting for our train we were talking and wondering where to find it when a couple of ladies stopped and the older one asked if she could help us. We told her that we were trying to find the Philadelphia train. The younger lady said that she was going to Philadelphia also and invited us to ride with her. She was very nice. She is a subject of Canada but lives in Philly. She is married and has four children.
She invited us out to her home for dinner any time we wanted to come. We told her that we would accept the invitation the next time we have week-end liberty. We hadn’t had supper so when we got back to Philly we went to an Automat to eat. An Automat is a restaurant where you put your money in a slot in the wall and a little door opens so you can get your food. They are all right but no better than an ordinary café.
Last night I had to go to a football game at the stadium which is close to the station. A thousand of us had to go so the duty section was drafted. I didn’t care much about the game as I didn’t know either team.
I got a letter from Frances today but suppose she is home again by now. I’ll try to write to her tonight if I can but think I shall write to Mr. Stewart next. How is everyone getting along? Just about time for school to start, isn’t it? Paul, I was surprised when I was home at how well you could read. You must keep on studying good this year too. I am to have charge of the refrigerating system on board ship so I have to study too. I’m going to write letters all evening if I don’t get too tired. I have a lot of them to write.
Love to all
Lester’s days are filled with activities, learning his new job, and orientation on the ship. The discussion about his assignment is crucial to his future activities. Haring must have decided to hold out for a lifeboat assignment with the diesel engine training. Lester volunteered for the refrigeration crew when no others stepped up. This will prove important in days to come.
August 27, 1942
I am over in the sail locker tonight and am not busy so will start a letter. I don’t work in the sail locker very much now as we have been going on board ship the past two days. It isn’t nearly ready to go but we go on board and look around to learn where things are at.
You have no idea how many men are working on her or how crowded it is. Everything is very compact. We were assigned to jobs today and it looks as though I would have to take care of the refrigerator system. That will be a good job but I was hoping to get on one of the lifeboats as they have the only Diesels there are on the ship. Haring, one other fellow, and myself are the only ones that know the Diesels but when they asked for refrigerator men, I was the only one that spoke up. Haring had it in school along with me but he slept most of that course.
I have been very fortunate in getting good jobs so I shouldn’t complain. Our ship is to be commissioned on September 15th so I will start drawing sea duty pay then even though we won’t be going to sea for some time after that. Sea duty means an increase of twenty per cent in pay or about ninety-three dollars per month. That will be pretty good wages. My bond and insurance takes out twenty-two dollars every month.
We seem to have a nice bunch of officers, however we don’t have our captain yet. My chief seems very nice. He and I went aboard another ship today to look at her refrigerating system. I am on the auxiliary crew and we have charge of the upkeep of the refrigerating system, reducing valves, air compressors, the galley (kitchen), the laundry and the lifeboats. There are only eight of us including the chief so I guess we will have enough to do.
There are lots of airplanes flying around all the time, all day and part of the night.
Haring and I went on liberty together last night. We went first to a town shop where he had ordered a suit of tailor-made blues but they weren’t ready for him. I had a suit of dress blues cut down so they would fit me better and bought a suit of tailor-made whites. The whites cost five dollars. Regular issue whites cost a little over three dollars but they are worth the difference.
After we left the tailor we started out to find Independence Hall. On our way we heard music coming from someplace. As we crossed a narrow street, there was a merry-go-round mounted on a one-horse wagon. About eight or ten children were riding the wooden ponies. An old man, an Italian I think, was furnishing the motive power to turn the merry-go-round by operating a crank such as is on our corn-sheller. Men and women were crowded around to watch and listen to the music. I certainly never expected to see anything so old-fashioned back there though the whole town seems antique. This was out in the Italian settlement, in the older part of the city. The sidewalks are of brick or stone, rough and broken. Some of the streets are paved with wooden blocks, about four by six inches, set on end. They seem to make a good road. I think I have told you that the houses set right up to the sidewalk and are joined together. They have no lawns or separate homes. This is all the older part of town which I have been describing to you. As we walked along the sidewalk we could look right into their rooms. I wouldn’t like that, would you?
We continued our search for Independence hall. Finally we stopped and asked a cop where we could find it. He surprised us by telling us that we were looking at it right in front of us. It looked like a new building to me. It was dark by that time so I am going back to see it in the daytime and go inside. Haring and I are planning on going to New York this week-end so I’ll tell you what that little burg is like. We are going on the week-end so that if we get lost we will have time to get back. I must close now but will write again. Don’t forget to put my address as it is on the envelope.
Love to all
Only two days after Lester’s joyful letter announcing his leave to visit home, he writes another story. All leaves have been canceled. What a tragic turn of events. Since the family had already canceled their trip to visit Lester at the Great Lakes, they would have received this news with heavy hearts. Things changed so quickly for the Navy boys in 1942 America.
Lester included a hopeful note by saying that some of the unit would be granted leaves. With his kind and generous heart, he admitted there were those who deserved a leave more than he did. What could possibly happen next?
August 3, 1942
Well, here’s the bad news. All of our leaves have been cancelled. We may get them later but for the present we are under 24 hour orders, prepared to leave at any time. I’m sorry to have it happen after we had planned on it and you gave up the trip up here. It is just as well that you didn’t come though as we had only from Sunday noon until midnight and the boys didn’t get out the gate until about two o’clock. They said that they cut down on our liberty because we were getting nine-day leaves and didn’t want us overleave on liberty.
The lieutenant announced the cancellation this morning while we were taking tests for rates. We don’t know yet who passed the test but not many of us think that we passed it.
I understand that we are to be divided into groups. Some of us will get leaves. Some of the boys have been in a year with no leave so they deserve a leave before I do. If I can possibly get a leave, I will be home, you can be sure. I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come up here as we may go out at any time with only short notice and again we may get our leave later. I don’t think I will call you as there isn’t anything I could say. If I do get sent out right away, I’ll write as soon as possible. You can write to me at barracks 614. My telephone number is Ontario 4548. However, I don’t imagine I would know anything if you did call me. I can’t think of anything else now so will close.
Remember I may be home yet.
Love to allLester
In a letter to his father, Lester actively encouraged his dad to come visit with his mother and youngest brother, Paul. Evidently, Dad had a few reservations. The other brother, Wallace, wasn’t mentioned. Perhaps it had already been decided that he would stay home and take care of the farm chores.
Given all that there was to do on a farm in wartime forties, it was probably hard for Charley to think about leaving, even to see his oldest son. He didn’t travel too much. However, in his younger days, while he was courting Georgia in 1911, he had accompanied his mother to Colorado Springs on holiday and sent a postcard photo to Georgia from the west.
In wartime Kansas 1942, it was not that easy to leave. Lester gave it his best shot, however.
July 11 – 1942
I don’t know how long it took you to write your letter but it usually takes me quite a while too, and I’ll have to go put my leggings on for regimental review this afternoon so this will probably be short.
Can’t you arrange to come with mom and Paul to see me at the Lakes? I’m not going to insist because you know if you can come or not but I would like very much to have you come. We still can’t find out when we are leaving but it will probably be the 14th. I don’t imagine there is much chance of getting a leave to come home. According to an article in the navy paper from the Lakes, we are entitled to ten day leaves if we have six months active service, if our services can be spared and if our commanding officer sees fit to give us leaves. Quite a few “ifs” aren’t there?
I’ve had over six months service. Diesel men from the last draft are still waiting for ships, so my services can be spared. It seems that the last “if” would decide the question for us. That will be the officer at the Lakes and I don’t know who he will be. The boys who left two weeks ago are still waiting at the Lakes and most of the diesel draft of six weeks ago are waiting in New York. I wish we could find out something before it happens but that seems impossible. Just have to wait and see, I guess.
I bought a new pen over at the store in the Ford plant the other day. It is a $2.95 Parker but cost me only $1.65 over there. It writes swell. If mom hasn’t bought a pen yet, I’ll get her one here if she lets me know by the last of next week. Does your pen still work OK?
Do you have most of the work done now? I suppose that you are thru with the corn.
It is time for me to go so I’ll close and mail this. Remember I want to see you if you can come. I won’t be able to find out anything about getting leave until I get to the Lakes and if we waited until then to decide to come or not, you couldn’t get to the Lakes until my weekend liberty would be over. If we stay at the Lakes more than a week, I would probably get a long liberty. Hoping to see you.
Love to all
Anticipating a visit from the folks, Lester details his schedule of free time. Classes are drawing to a close and he is looking forward to assignment on a sea-going ship. Josephine’s visit has ended. She has gone home again.
July 9 – 1942
I received your letter today and am glad to hear from you. I’m glad that you are planning on coming to see me. However I can’t tell you very much for sure except the regular schedule which says we will have liberty from Wednesday noon until eight Thursday morning and from Saturday noon until eight Monday morning. However the last draft stayed longer than scheduled and had an additional liberty from Friday at 4 PM until eight the following morn.
There is a rumor that we will get nine day leaves—but I don’t believe we will get them. You can go ahead and plan to come. I will let you know as soon as I learn anything for certain but that probably won’t be until we get to the Lakes. You asked how much time I would have before going to the Lakes. I would go directly to the Great Lakes from here in a troop train. We will probably leave here Friday morning, July 24th and get to the Lakes that same night. We would have liberty from noon Saturday, the 25th until eight the following Monday morning. Then again from Wednesday noon, the 29th until eight Thursday morning. If we aren‘t sent out on Friday the 31st, we would probably have liberty again and might possibly get a leave. That is something which no one can say at this time.
There is a small town, Waukegan, where you could stay if you wanted to do that. It is only four miles from the station while Chicago is several miles farther. Will let you know as soon as I find out anything new.
We hear every few days from some of the boys who have gone to sea duty. All of them like it fine. Everyone in my class is restless, tired of this place and wanting to go to sea. I was surprised to get to talk to Wallace the other night when I called Josephine but glad too. I had been wondering what Herb Clayton was doing now. Well, certainly he isn’t too good for the job.
I met a boy from Emporia today. We have been in the same part of the dormitory for two weeks and just now are getting acquainted. He used to live in Toledo. We both knew Einsmingers, south of Americus, and some other folks down there. Another Emporia boy, Snyder, who drove the Camel tobacco truck, is here in another barracks. More men are being sent to school all the time.
We had watermelon for dinner today. It was good too. We had peaches for breakfast but they weren’t any too ripe.
Guess I better close and write another letter or two. I’ll be expecting to see you before too long.
Love to all
In a long letter just in time for Father’s Day, Lester describes his busy life. He sees more of the nearby sites, now that Josephine is around to take places. Included is a special, reassuring note to his mother, who evidently has expressed her concerns about what Lester will do after he finishes his training.
June 12 , 1942
Well finally I am getting started toward answering your letter of two weeks ago. That is very prompt isn’t it? Mrs. Wolfram was right when she said I wouldn’t have much time for writing letters. I have been going on all my liberties, even though there isn’t a great deal for us to do in the evenings.
We went out to Bob-Lo Island on a picnic last Saturday. We had quite a nice boat ride but the picnic wasn’t very much. I sent Paul a picture card of the boat which we took. I don’t know how many people were on the boat but it seemed to be filled. On the trip back from Bob-Lo there were quite a few small boats on the river. I got a big kick out of watching our waves hit them. None of them upset but they would nearly go out of sight when in the trough of the wave. The river channel is marked with bouys which must be lighted each evening. Men were lighting the lanterns for them as we returned. We saw James at the picnic but didn’t talk to him. I don’t see much of him on the station.
We don’t have anything to do tonight which is unusual. I was on guard last night and today so didn’t go to school today. This afternoon another of the boys and I washed the foundation of the barracks and watered the shrubs and trees. I washed all of my whites again this evening and I didn’t have anything to wear to chow so I missed it this evening. I had one of the boys get me an ice-cream sundae at the canteen so I think I will make out until morning. We had a real good meal at noon. Pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, pea soup, lemon pie, ice cream and cool tea.
Your new pen seems to work fine. Try it again sometime. No, I’m not lonesome or homesick. I don’t have time to be. It is easy to make friends and all the people are so nice to us. They are very nice about giving us rides.
Thursday evening: Didn’t get this finished so will continue it today. I wish you could be having some of the rain which we are getting. It rains every time I have liberty and sometimes oftener. We have had several showers last night and today. I had liberty last night so we went out to Greenfield Village but it hasn’t opened yet so we couldn’t go thru it. It is to open this Saturday so we will go see it on the first opportunity. We did walk around some of the grounds but not the main part. We ate supper in Dearborn then went to a show. When we got out of the show it was raining so we stayed in a doorway until the bus came. Megdall’s (where Josephine works) had company so I didn’t stay but started back to the station in the rain. The bus wasn’t due for half an hour so I started walking. A car stopped and picked me up. The fellow brought me right out to the station. That’s the way they treat us up here.
Guess I had as well answer mom’s letter also as I probably won’t have time tomorrow night.
Yes, Mom, $4.00 an hour seems pretty high wages, doesn’t it? Guess what the sweepers at Ford get an hour. They get a dollar and a nickel an hour just to sweep floors. Of course it costs more to live up here. It costs a dollar every time Josephine and I eat a meal and we don’t indulge very heavily for that. Yes, I know that help is scarce. It is scarce here too, especially skilled men. We need more instructors at school but can’t get them. The papers are full of ads for experienced men and women. Better earn and save the money while you can. I imagine Mrs. Rutledge was glad when Leslie was turned down. I admire him for being willing to go anyway. Someone had told me that Don had joined the Marines. I wouldn’t want that branch.
You asked about the Ford Trade School and the Service School. The Service school is for navy boys who work and study in the Ford schools and shops. The Ford trade school is made up of boys from ten years on up to around eighteen, I think. They work as apprentice helpers for several years and are paid two dollars per day while learning. Some of them study in the classrooms to learn mathematics. They operate a good many machines on production work. I think it is a fine chance for them to learn a trade. I believe I like Diesel work better than the machinists trade though I like both courses. If I get to continue in Diesel after I leave here, I should understand it pretty well.
We won’t know until after we get back to Great Lakes whether we go aboard ship or stay on shore. By far the most of the boys go on board ship and they like it much better than ashore. All of the other navy men prefer the sea unless they are married and want to stay settled. I think you are doing a lot of worrying about something which can’t be changed. I know you can’t help worrying but it doesn’t do any good and I am really looking forward to going to sea. Would you want to come to Chicago to see me when I go to the Lakes? You could come here but it costs so much to live here and I wouldn’t get any more liberty than at the Lakes. I don’t know how long Josephine is going to stay.
Glad you enjoyed the magazine. I am sending you a couple more of Our Navy.
I am going to call Josephine then press some clothes. Gale and I bought our electric iron the other day.
Love to all
Lester said a lot in one short sentence. Now that Josephine was nearby, the liberties he previously had not even bothered to take no longer seemed frequent or long enough. What does a young couple do in wartime Dearborn? Take long walks, evidently.
June 3 – 1942
I’ll try to answer your letter which I received from you today. I didn’t write last week because Josephine said that she was going to write to you and I am sure her letter would be more interesting than mine. Besides there wasn’t any need for both of us to write about the same thing.
I had liberty last night so she met me down at Dearborn and we went out to the Ford Rotunda and walked around on the grounds there. The Rotunda is closed but there are some pretty walks on the grounds. We went back to town and ate supper then went to the park for the evening. Nearly everything closes at 5:30 except the shows and we didn’t care about going to a show.
We don’t have time to go very far because I have to be back on the station by midnight. Usually I am pretty lucky about getting rides but last night I had to take a bus. I left her at a quarter til eleven and was in the barracks at eleven – thirty. I get liberty every second week-end and one night each week. It doesn’t seem very often since I want to go out now. Until Josephine came I didn’t often go out during the week because there isn’t anything to do. The Ford trade school and the service school are holding a picnic at Bob-Lo Island this Saturday so I expect that we will go to it.
All of us on the station changed into our white clothes this evening. They are nice and cool after our woolen blues but they are going to be hard to keep clean. Another boy and I are going to buy an electric iron so we can press them ourselves. Probably have to wash them three or four times a week. I’ve been busy this evening. Washed my hammock this evening, got a haircut, called Josephine, went to the show and am writing this.
I would sure enjoy helping you eat that fried chicken and the fish. We have both of them here but they aren’t good. I never eat the chicken but usually manage to get rid of my fish. We had strawberry shortcake and ice cream last Saturday as a holiday dinner for the parade we had that morning. I didn’t go on it because I had been on guard duty. The boys marched seven miles and were simply drenched with sweat when they returned. It was hot that morning and they had to wear dress blues and leggings.
Josephine told me tonight that Leslie Rutledge was being inducted into the army soon. I was surprised at that. I supposed he would be deferred.
I just have time to get ready for bed so will close for this time. Glad to get the letters from all of you.
Love to all