Letters from the Good War

EN ROUTE TO PARTS UNKNOWN
At Sea 4/6/45

Dear Mom,

If from my penmanship I seem to be drunk, attribute it to the roll of the ship. We are several days at sea, and reconciled to all the inconveniences that at this stage of the game is old stuff for us.
You might call our voyage, as someone just did, a Coney Island beach party. All over the deck, all over and under the equipment, spilling into every imaginable (and unimaginable) nook and cranny, is infantry gear and its somewhat grimy owners. Tiers of cots strung along the bulkheads fill the dank stifling holds, but we prefer the air and the sun, and yes, even the rain, as we strip down to take a freshwater shower though it is cold and cutting.
For the first few days I felt whoozy, and many felt sorrily worse. Our first meal on board, supper, went over the side in one form or another either before or after digestion. The normal ones, gloating over their remarkable immunity, made the destitute souls only feel worse. To our bleary eyes, their smiles seemed cruel. Now everyone has recovered (I had only a mild case), as evidenced by the heated crap games, serious card games, solemn reading, industrious writing, laughing, singing, and reminiscing at dusk.
I've strung my jungle hammock across an aft mooring winch amid a nest of such hammocks. I sleep like a babe - that is after I trained the damn thing to respond to my maneuverings. During the night - once a night on the average a groan, following a perplexing racket, rents the breezy dark silence; it's only a hammock giving way.
We hit a tropical squall the first day out. The rain pelted us like arrows, the wind screamed, and visibility was barely to the nearest ship in the convoy. Our gear was strewn about and soaked, but our bodies remained the same, and, when after an hour the sun broke through, tarpaulins went up as if by some magical command. So far our improvised shelters have been successful against a couple of recent nightly squalls.
We left the dock in such haste that we were unable to batten down all the equipment on deck. A pair of us built quarters with spectacular ingenuity across two pontoons. It consisted of cots set under a canopy made from a shelter half and a pancho. After we got out to sea and mean swells, the pontoons began rocking, then separating. Scrambling to save their gear and their new home, the two fellows struggled to hold the pontoons together and prevent them from going over the side. Meanwhile, despite our seasickness and bloated faces, we laughed ourselves still sicker. So help me it was a veritable clown act.
On this voyage we have an exceptional menagerie on board. There are three bitches that dash wildly from one caress to another, six new born pups that are mercilessly manhandled, a monkey that sits on its haunches screeching, a multi-colored bird in a cage that screams for its native haunts, a duck that waddles bewildered about the deck, and a few humans that behave like animals. You call Franklin Park a zoo? Baloney.
We get news regularly. Sheets of it are printed daily. The invasion of Okinawa gave us a premature thrill of optimism, because it's so near mainland Japan. The appalling American European offensive made me leap with glee. Oh, if it would only be finished over there. The end, so unreal until now, begins to be conceivable. The futility of a year ago was terrible. The ocean is both to my port and starboard gaze. Every time I look at it and into it I'm reminded of washday back home and the tub swirling with bluing water. The sea is yet bluer, iridescent. It's all so clean, chaste, untouched. Who can believe that all the world's waste empties into it. Methinks, I sort of like the sea.
Music is broadcast over the public address system to the breezy decks, mostly up-to-date popular tunes. (I Walk Alone, I Make Believe, Tomorrow). So we have resumed our usual self-imposed entertainment, as with half an ear cocked, we listen.
A twinge of nostalgia took hold of us during the hours that the land's outline grew misty. Altogether our stay at that spot wasn't unpleasant. Everything we left behind, we built or witnessed. I felt like brushing my hands against each other and saying "There, that's done."
The nights are getting cooler. We're unpacking our blankets. The days are still hot. Our second year overseas has begun. May this be our next to last voyage. May this be that "once more, one more job, then home."

All my love,
Hughie

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