Monday, November 20, 2006

Lives in Letters: Postcard from WWII Soldier

I love the pictures on old postcards, so I've started putting mats and frames with them and displaying them around my house. I've done that with 6 so far -- here are a couple of pictures to show (roughly) what they look like in frames. Everyone who's seen them likes them a lot, so next up is to put together a few Christmas presents like this.

But enough about my projects. Today's postcard intrigued me because it was from a World War II soldier to his brother.
Bear Mtn Hudson R. Bridge
West Point, NY
(no stamp: “Free” postage)
October 6, 1944

Addressed to
Mr. Frank O-
Paterson, NJ

Hi ya Dink
Arrived safely + on time
this morning. How did
you make
out getting back
to Pat? Thanks for taking
me to the station. Didn’t
work much and got enough of
rest. Lots of luck kid.
Love Brother

The postcard was sent from Pfc Alexander O-, U.S.M.A. Med Det., West Point, NY. So this tells us a thing or two. Alex was part of the Medical Detachment at West Point, but he was not a doctor. A doctor would have been an officer, however Alex was a Private. I picture him as the WWII equivalent of MASH's Radar. But I don't picture the glasses or the receding hairline for some reason -- I think it has to do with the tone of the message he wrote.

I noted that there was no stamp, only the word "Free" written across the spot for a stamp. I've picked up several postcards like this, with "free" or "X" written on that spot. They're all from soldiers to civilians. I asked around (thanks Dad!) and found out that military personnel were exempt from needing to use postage on letters sent during wartime. It's a good thing too. When you think about the weather conditions soldiers had to endure, can you imagine how tough it would have been to keep the stamps dry and intact?

From the message itself, I gather that Frank (Dink) took his big brother into New York to catch a train back to West Point. It's not a very long trip, but for Alex to have arrived "this morning" means that Frank probably took him in to the city in the wee hours. This explains in part Alex's question about how Frank made out getting back to Paterson. It's not a bad drive these days, but I don't know how it was in 1944. I do know that the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge were both built in the 1930's so at least he wasn't stuck having to go all the way down to the Holland Tunnel or having to take a ferry. But he would most likely have been driving slowly (speeds restricted during the war) and in the dark, and the gas rationing of the time might have made this drive a tight squeeze, so it was not an inconsequential trip.

It's good that Alex arrived safely and on time, remembering that "on time" has a pretty strict interpretation when you are in the military. It's interesting though that he sent a postcard for such a simple message. Tells you how few people had phones at that time. There was a sentiment (or was it a saying?) during those years that "after the war" everyone would have a telephone. But during the war, most civilians had no phones or had 4-party lines.

I have to go out on a limb to interpret Alex's meaning when he says "Didn't work much and got enough of rest." Again with a nod to Dad, the conjecture is that Alex had a pass rather than a leave. With a pass, it is good for so many hours (48-hour pass, for instance) and it sometimes comes with strings attached. It's possible that Alex had homework that he had to have completed by the time he returned, and so he spent his time working on this in the train station and/or on the train.

"Dink!" Again with the nicknames. This one looks like it's straight out of my mother's family, where names like Duck, Tootsie and Butsis abound.

"Lots of luck kid." I wonder how old Frank is. He's old enough to drive, which means he might be old enough to be a soldier himself. Or very close. "Lots of luck kid" has an entirely different connotation when you consider how soon Frank might be in Europe or the Pacific, with another year left in the war.

1 comment:

featherbee said...

I love the nickname "Dink." Such a big brother thing to say! Your research on these postcards really brings them to life. I've always found old postcards interesting.