The First Day of the Rest of His Life

Though none knew it at the time, Lester’s letter home on December 3, 1941 was written on the first day of his last year on earth. It was a routine letter, upbeat and chatty. Nobody suspected that in only a few days, life would change drastically for all of them, or that Lester had only 365 days to live.

December 3, 1941

Dear Folks:

I want to drop you a line to let you know that I am feeling fine.  I hope that dad & granddad are better by now.  I’m sorry that I can’t find much news to make my letters more interesting but we live very much of a routine life here, one day is just about the same as another.  Today we had another bag inspection & this time nearly everyone passed it.  Mr. Baker said it was the best bag layout any of his companies had ever had.  By the way, that picture of the “other boy” was Mr. Baker.  He is our commander or boss.  We all like him just fine.  He is going to sea when he gets through with us.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Solace (AH-5) ...
The U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Solace (AH-5) circa 1941 in Hawaiian waters. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 27 October 1941 and handled hundreds of casualties on 7 December 1941 during the Japanese attack there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new officer is working with Mr. Baker so as to be able to train recruits.  We call him Bakers’ shadow & “The Little Colonel”.  He is a mighty fine fellow too.  We joke & have a lot of fun with him.  He came into the navy as a petty officer, has been in five months & is drawing $110 per month.  Of course he had special training to do that.

I forgot to tell you in my other letters about Mr. Baker.  I sent you the little booklet about Navy life but I didn’t know what was in it as the envelopes were sealed when we got them.  You asked about the training here.  We drill with rifles nearly every day but it is all marching.  We haven’t fired a shot & won’t while we are here.  I don’t get along with the marching any too well.  It is hard for me to keep in step.

Postal card from the U.S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Ill. 1941
Postal card from the U.S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Ill. 1941

We won the red rooster flag this week.  It is a flag with a rooster emblem on it which is awarded on points won on drill.  There is a blue rooster for next week.  Our bag inspection, barracks & personal inspection count on it.  We are working for it.

Something To Crow About
Something To Crow About (Photo credit: cobalt123)

Does the climate agree with me?  Well, the last time I weighed I had gained about twelve or thirteen pounds.  The grass is still green here & we don’t wear coats or gloves except once in a while.  I’ll probably freeze when I come home.  It is damp & foggy a good share of the time.

Yes, we will have to pay our own expenses home but I will have enough money & there isn’t anything I need, thanks.

That sounds like a dirty deal about Lillian & her boy friends.  Did you go to her program?  Ernest is ready to mail a letter so I’ll close & let him take this one too.  Write again.

P.S. I got a letter from Wylie.                                                               Lester

Letter from Lester: November 18, 1941

Ambassador Bridge at Night between Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ont. Photo from postal card, 1942
Ambassador Bridge at Night between Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ont. Photo from postal card, 1942

Lester’s letter from November 18, 1941, less than three weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, describes routine life for Navy recruits. Perhaps he did enjoy a “liberty” in town and was witness to a scene like the one in the post card he sent home. He is looking forward to a trip home over the Christmas holidays.

November 18, 1941

Dear Folks.

I have just finished writing to Uncle Loren & I guess I should have made carbon copies as I can’t think of anything that I didn’t tell him.  I hope your good weather is holding out as well as it is here.  The sun has been shining fairly steady the last few days.  It is still warm here.  You must have been having some bad weather there.  Did you have my anti-freeze tested?  Also did you get my battery from Fred?  I intended to give you the money to pay for it but forgot to do so.  Tomorrow is pay day but by the time we get our bills paid there won’t be much left.  I have a little other money so I will have enough to come home.

Lester and the automobile he was proud to own.
Lester and the automobile he was proud to own.

We received our grades yesterday but this is the first time I have had time to write to you.  Here are my grades:  English 87, Spelling 94, Arithmetic 95, Mechanical Aptitude 93, General Classification 93, with an average of 93.  I was one of the five highest in our company, So I should get to go to trade school.  I don’t know where the school will be but it may be here at the Great Lakes.

We have to go to a show or something tonight so I won’t have much time to write tonight.  Did Josephine tell you that I have received the rating of a petty officer?  I was made a squad leader as a result of the first bag inspection.  We had another inspection today & I made it ok, too.  There were about three or four others in the sixty on this floor that had good bags.  I didn’t tell you about my rating before because it isn’t permanent & I didn’t know if I could hold the job.  I’ve gotten along ok so far so chances are that I will make it now.

We go over to Paradise this Saturday so we will start getting some liberties then.  I haven’t found it bad here except that there isn’t anything to do on Sunday afternoons.  We’ve walked all over the place where we are allowed to go & we can’t just study or write letters all the time.  We usually have time in the evenings during the week to keep up on our correspondence.  If there is anything you want to know which I haven’t told you, ask some questions.  Frances sent me some papers & Josephine sends me clippings once in a while.  She sent me some candy this morning & I didn’t get time to open it until tonight.  I didn’t get to read my letters until this afternoon.  I got four letters today.  Everyone wrote on Sunday, I guess.  That means no more until the last of the week which won’t be long at the rate the time is going.  We got another haircut today.  Just when my hair was getting where I could part it.  It will grow some more tho, I guess.  I’ve gained almost ten pounds.  Paul, I enjoy your letters.  Keep on writing to me.  I will write you a special letter someday.

Lester