Edward J. Thomas - World War II

Below letter written by Edward J. Thomas

Memphis 15, Tenn
21 Feb 1945

Dear Mom, Harry & Izzy:

I had a hard time to decide whether to send the colored photographed of
myself. Every time I looked at the picture the more I thought of how foolish
I was in saving it. I, therefore, stopped looking at it and in that way
accumulated enough courage to put it in the envelope and send it home.

The last three days were pretty busy for me, not because there is any
useful military work to do but because by pure accident I received extra
duties three days in succession. Beginning last Friday night and up until
Saturday morning I had to take charge of quarters. During the time a person
holds this job, he is called a CQ. All corporals and low ranking sergeants
are listed alphabetically for this duty and each one of these men have to
take their turn when their day comes up. Mine came Friday, the 16th. I ate
earlier evening chow and reported to the desk in the orderly room of the barracks at 5:45 PM. The orderly room is nothing but a section in the corner of the barracks fenced off by a railing. It has a desk and a cot for tbe CQ to sleep in during the night, and two small tables along the wall--one for the typewriter and the other for the microphone and tube amplifier. An amplifying system is used because the barrack is so large that even shouts cannot be heard everywhere. The sergeant permanently in charge of the desk during the morning and afternoon gave me a list of instructions as to what a CQ has to do. I read that he must see there is no gambling going on in the barracks. It made me wonder. Gambling goes on everywhere--around my bed, in the latrine, around all the other beds and in the crummy dayroom at the other end of the barracks which has a few wooden benches, some lumpy upholstered chairs and a broken down piano. Everybody knows there is gambling going on everywhere I just shrugged that off and went on to the next instruction.

The CQ must not allow any drinking in the barracks, Officers can drink
in the barracks but enlisted men can't. Our great democracy at work!
In spite of this vile Naziistic management, drinking does go on. There is
no doubt about that. I myself drank. I haw already had quite a few nightcaps consisting of the wine which you sent me and a quart of sautern and a quart of port which I bought in downtown Memphis around the holiday season. Who knows how many other men drink in the barracks? This reminds me of the party which Headquarters held in the gym next to our barracks the same night I had CQ duty. Free beer and sandwiches were served and there was a good assortment of girls with whom the fellcws could dance to the loud noise of our Headquarters band. Remember that I said "good assortment" and not. "good girls". For me, missing the party was just missing a few free beers. As far as the girls go, I know they wouldn't interest me because I know perfectly well from past experience they are of the type who like to associate with slap-happy wolves or are too young to know any better. The kind I'd be interested in are old enough and wise enough to stay away from parties consisting of strange soldiers, so many of whom have established a bad reputation for the Army. Of course, I don't want to go on record as saying that my type of girl always stays away. Some attend to satisfy their curiosity, others for temporary diversion and many just to be sociable, but what chances are there of recognizing them among hundreds? Coming back to my CQ job, I saw one soldier coming from the party carrying a bottle of beer into the barracks. As CQ it was my duty to take the bottle away or report him. Had I done that, I probably would be ostracized by all my friends. Anyway, why take away rights of enlisted men when officers are allowed to keep them. I would be the last one to do such a thing. So you can see that so far I haven't been able to perform any of the duties required of a CQ.

Next on the list of instructions was the checking of ventilation. I asked
several soldiers, "What ventilation?" They didn't know. No one knew. There
are two big blowers which operate automatically, but they are nao allowed to be touched by soldiers. Also there are windows, but they are so high that they are out of reach. So much for ventilation.

In the meantime the phone kept ringing. Parties at the other end of the
line were calling for men in the barracks and I had to call these men to tbe
phone by way of the loud speaker. Talking over this microphone is something
quite strange when you are not used to it. The speaker is over at the other
end of the barracks, so far away that it takes the sound of your voice some
length of time to reach you. When the announcer says a word, he can hear his
previous word spoken. It's like an echo. To avoid confusion, the announcer should not pay too much attention to what comes out of the speaker and then
he won't feel that his words will pile up one on top the other.

At 10 o'clock I had to put out all the lights. There are four big switch
boxes in the barracks and there were so many switches in each box that it took me about 15 minutes before I could get all the lights out.

One of the cooks came to me and said that he would like to be awakened at
4 o'clock in the morning. Also a mail clerk wanted to get up at the same time.
Both of them showed me where their bunks were so that I wouldn't have any trouble searching for them in the dark. Here came the most difficult part of my CQ job. I had to wake up two men at 4 o'clock and also had to wake up the whole barracks at 5:45 AM. Now, ordinarily I can't wake myself up even at 7:30. I have to depend upon others to do it. And here I found myself in a situation where the entire barracks depended on me. I called the telephone switchboard operator and told him to give me a ring at 4:00 and at 5:45. Then I took the bedding off my bunk and placed it on the bunk in the CQ office. I was afraid to fall asleep. The phone operator, of course, would try to wake me up by ringing the phone, but I was very doubtful whether I would here the rings. I trenbled at the thought of oversleeping and causing the entire Army Hq to start the day late. All the officers would know about it; the general would review the case, and maybe even Washington and the President would have a conference over it. Worrying prevented me from falling asleep until about 3 o'clock in the morning. In an unguarded moment, I dozed off and jumped up instantly when I heard the phone ringing at 4 o'clock. It was a relief to know that I had successfully accomplished the most difficult part of my work. There was no need to worry any more. When I finished waking up the cook and mail clerk, I went back to bed but did not dare to fall asleep. I just lay there and waited for 5:45 at which time I put all the lights on and then announced over the microphone that it was 6 o'clock, time for everybody to get up. After having breakfast, I had to announce that clean sheets and pillow cases arrived and were being issued near my desk. Then there was the announcement to be made for the sick to hand in their names for sick call so that I could phone then in to the the company clerk at Hq Company, who in turn would relay them to the dispensary. In between these announcements, the phone kept jangling because soldiers who were 1iving off the post wanted to know if the regular outside Saturday inspection of our appearance would be postponed on account of the rain. When this inspection is held, we have to form outside in parade formation at 7:30. Rain always cancels this inspection, but the soldiers who live off the post want to make sure so that they won't come in late. After handling what seemed to be about 50 calls in rapid succession, the first sergeant at Hq Canpany called up and said the formation would be called off. His notice came in unusually late, only about, lO minutes before the deadline. I announced the good new over the loud speaker and everybody cheered. That ended my duty as CQ.

Later in the day, I found that it was my turn to work a half day on
Sunday. It irked me to learn this because I was depending on Sunday to
regain the sleep I lost on my CQ job. Sunday duty is just a matter of sitting
at my desk with nothing to do except write personal letters. I tried to
start this one, but the officer in charge came over to my desk and began
to give to me and the sergeant sitting next to me a sob story about the slowness of promotions in Quartermaster which prevented him from becoming a captain. Then he explained what kind of a good old Joe he was--that he himself had done everything possible to promote enlisted men as fast as possible in units he had been in before, and couldn't see why the same thing couldn't be done for him by the colonel in the Quarternaster Section. But, he said, considerate as he was, he could be strict. The men he promotes must handle the job or get out. He went into a long-winded story telling how he busted one sergeant. I tried to listen in an interested manner. He is a better Joe than many other officers, I thought, but tries too hard to show it. I began to dislike him for his narrow-mindedness. His main interest is his duty. All other interests are secondary. A good way to be in the Army if you are short sighted enough to be more interested in the present rather than the future. If I had to be that way, someone would have to knock me out first, suck out all of my brains and then pump in the right kind to make certain I wouldn't have any interests outside of making a career in the Army. Well, that is how my opportunity to write a letter Sunday morning was shot. This explains how sometimes it's quite hard to get started on any of my personal business in spite of the fact there is barely any Army office work to be done.

The next day I had another extra job assigned to me. It was guard duty.
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon I reported to the guard barracks to find out
what shlft I would be on and was informed that it would start at midnight.
As there was no work waiting for me at the office, I saw no reason to go back there and finish up the afternoon sitting at my desk. Instead, I went back to the barracks and started writing this letter. In the evening I slept a
couple of hours so that I wouldn't be too sleepy on duty. At 11:00 PM I went to the mess hall and was disappointed to find that instead of sandwiches or anything light, they were serving the same old crap we had for supper--tasteless noodles and stale omelette. At 11:15 I arrived at the guard barracks and obtained my unloaded pistol and holster and went hut, two, three, four, with eight other guards, to the guard station. Over there our pistols were ceremoniously inspected in the dark outdoors for dirt by an old geezer who went about his task as if V-day depended on it.

When I reached my post which was No. 7, the most useless work of my Army
life began. I had to walk back and forth along a stretch of fence for one
hour. We were told that this guard was necessary to keep boys from climbing over. It was just as silly as an old maid's reason for waking up every hour to look under her bed to make sure no man was hiding there. In the first place, there are no boys roaming around between midnight and dawn, and if there were, they would certainly not try to get into camp over a high fence with barbed wire at the top. Boys by now know what kind of a regimented, undemocratic place an Army camp is and are glad to avoid it. If a boy managed to climb over the fence, he soon would discover his mistake and would make every effort to get back to freedom again. In the last place, there is nothing inside the camp which would tempt anyone to steal.

After my hour on Post #7 was over, I had to walk for another hour on Post #8 which was just another stretch of fence. Around the corner from Post #8, there is another stretch of fence that goes out into the darkness. Nobody watches that stretch. Why? Nobody knows and nobody cares to ask.

While walking, I kept mumbling the words I must use in case I saw somebody
advancing toward me. I didn't want to be caugnt off guard when it would be
necessary for me to challenge any one. The words are: "HALT, who is there". The trespasser may answer by saying: "This is the officer of the day". The guard then says: "Advance officer of the day to be recognized. The officer
advances until he is halted again six paces away. Then the guard flashes his
light on him and says: "Officer of the day recognized" and salutes smartly.
On my previous guard duty of about two months ago, I actually went through
this procedure several times during the night and each time wondered whether the Army finally succeeded in taking away my sanity. I halted everybody who came toward me, even the guards who came to relieve me. I did that because I didn't know just when the officer of the day would advance toward me to check up on my alertness. During my present guard, I knewt hat he would come around only once during a particular period and that it wouldn't be necessary to watch out for him until the right time arrived.

During the second hour it began to drizzle. I put up my overcoat collar
and tried to spend as much time as possible under the eaves of a deserted
warehouse rather than walk back and forth in the mud as I was supposed to.
At 2 o'clock relief came and I went into the guard station which is in the lobby of the building I work in during the day. There I sat in a chair reading the Reader's Digest until a 3 o'clock when I was ordered to go out
again to guard Posts #7 and #8 for two more hours.

At 6 o'clock, while it was still dark, I helped the corporal of the guard
to hoist up the flag on the the flag pole and then went to breakfast. In
45 minutes I reluctantly cam eback and was told to break up the bed in the
ladies' rest room where the officer of the day sleeps during the night. Then
for one-half hour I sat guarding a back entrance of the building until I was
relieved for the day and free to go to bed in my barracks. The shift lasted
for a total of eight hours.

Mom, my next furlough date has already been set. It's May 21. I can't
depend on that date too much because it's still three months off. In the
Army many things can come up suddenly to upset any plans. Maybe they will
come up soon because the work here has dwindled down to a point where the
brassy bigwigs are thinking that something should be done about it. Already
something is being done. 60% of the officers are going to be transferred to
other camps. Rumors are going around that enlisted men will be handled in the same way. 60% of them may have to leave. Whether I'll be part of the 60%, I don't know. My chances of staying, however, may be better than those of other men who haven't had any overseas service.

I hope I'll be hearing from you soon, Mom. Let me know how you're getting
along with the mink.

Izzy, I am collecting some more cigarets for you. Today I may be able
to finish buying my second shipment and in a couple of days will send it to you. It will be 2 1/2 cartons this time. I can't add any more films because the PX never received any ever since the last ones I bought for you. In looking through my barracks bag, I found only one roll for my camera. I had intended to take some quick snapshots, but since there is only one
roll left I'll have to go easy with it to make sure it, won't be wasted. When
the pictures are all taken I'll send the roll to you for developing.

I received your lette, Izzy and enjoyed reading it very much. Write again soon.

Harry, your long awaited report was finally received. It relieved me
to hear that nothing seriously has interfered with your dif icult task of getting the mink moved to Detroit.

That meat situation, though, doesn't seem to look any too good. Up to this
time it seems as if your supply is only temporary. Also I was sorry to hear that you couldn't get the meat ground. It means added labor and in your position that isn't so very good. I am getting sort of restless thinking about the work you have to handle while I'm wasting my time here in the South like a bum.

Whatever prices you agree to charge for your mink will be satisfactory
to me. I think it would be better to undersell competitors by at least a
few dollars in order to be sure of selling all the mink you would like to.
In regard to the half-page ad, I would like to ask if you would care to
keep the design I originally suggested with the four corners containing the
words "selected", "qualified", "enriched", and "vitalized". If you do, then
it would be just a matter of inserting from 30 to 50 words in t be middle.
What those words will be is something I will think about later. When you receive this ad you maybe able to improve upon it or use it as an aid to make up your own. Possibly you have a better idea for the marginal arrangement. If you have, don't hesitate to eliminate any part or all of mine. Everything I submit in the way of advertising is meant to be a suggestion and nothing final or positive.

The report from the Mink Association showing the money received for mutation mink was eagerly studied. Silver-Blu apparently averaged only about $74 per pelt. That's not too far under the expected price. As long as prices do not continue to decrease so drastically, there won't be anything to fear.

Let me know what your total estimate is on all the pelts Gladfelter has
sold or is going to sell for us.

With love to all, Eddie

P.S. The Christmas card I inclosed is an extra one I had lying around which
I couldn't use.

Thur. Feb 22 the Allies mount a huge air attack on Germany's transport lines. The next day, Feb 23 the United States launches Operation 'grenade' in its movement to the Ruhr valley.

Sat. Feb 24 Egypt's Prime Minister Ahmed Maher Pasha is assassinated after declaring war on Germany and Japan.

Music Concert - Memphis, Tenn. Feb. 27, 1945

Go back Go forward