December 2, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

December 2, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

       ‘Tis a cold and terrifically windy day today and the wind seems to blow right through the barracks. However, I’m glad to be able to say that my bloomin’ sinuses have cleared up nicely in the last few days and my throat looks as good as new. It’s sure swell to be feeling really good again after three darn weeks of feeling only fair and knowing my snozola and throat were on the blink.

       The meals here are worse than usual. Why, oh why, aren’t some good cooks drafted to this joint here. This camp has improved greatly since we were hear last, in all respects, there being an officers’ club here now, some good Post Exchanges with good selections of everything, including some food that officers can now buy (remember, before, an officer had to get an enlisted man to buy any food that was wanted at the PX – a screwy system which they finally changed after a few months of squacking).

       The cooking of the food, I must admit, has improved, but when you consider that when we were here before, even the hogs would have turned up their noses if it had been presented to them, you can see that any improvement gave them still a wide range before they got up to the really edible stage. Right now, about the only well cooked stuff we get is hot chocolate and ice cream. The meat the other day, pork chops, was either all fat or practically uncooked. But, so it goes!!

Gee, I didn’t think that they were going to take us out on a hike yesterday afternoon, but, by golly they did, despite the freezing cold wind. I wore the helmet Mom made me, plus a muffler, plus the wind-proof goggles we were issued, and though I probably looked like the Man from Mars, I was certainly comfortable around my face – my whole face being protected. Everybody else was bundled up but, despite the fact that they made fun of me for the way I looked, they were plenty jealous because their noses and cheeks were frozen before we had gone more than a couple of hundred yards.

This time we hiked to New Brunswick, the long way – about 5 miles, and went to the Johnson & Johnson plant that is on the banks of the Raritan in New Brunswick. Bob Escamilla, as President of the Officers’ Club of our bunch, had arranged for us to visit the plant and we enjoyed the visit very much. It took about 2 hours to go through with one of their men explaining everything we came to. ‘Twas most interesting.

They make gauze, roller bandage, band-aid, cotton, adhesive plaster, plaster of Paris, sulfadiazine ointment, boric acid ointment, first aid bandages, muslin triangles, etc. Some of their processes were fascinating. We couldn’t see how they make adhesive plaster as the Army won’t let them have visitors in that section of the plant, but we saw most of the rest. We saw how they sterilize all of the bandage material – in the packages that you get them in, and how they clean all the cotton, put it up in rolls, etc.

Last night I played bridge over in Lois’ barracks with Bam and Fran for a while, then back here early. No snow as yet, but all puddles nicely frozen solid. It was icy cold, but finally they got the heat going in our barracks last night – the pipes had been busted for 2 days and the place was freezing most of the time. Now ‘tis warm as toast in most of the rooms.

                    Loads of love,



Watch for my next letter
December 3

Despite the freezing cold weather, René enjoys the ice cream at Camp Kilmer more than anything, except maybe hot chocolate.

Photo by gordonramsaysubmissions, via Wikimedia Commons

The officers took a hike to New Brunswick, NJ to tour the Johnson & Johnson plant.

December 3, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

December 3, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

       Sunday night we went to bed early in preparation for an early start on Monday. I got up a little before 6 A.M. on Monday and after getting ready I walked over to Lois’ barracks and with Lois, Bam, Fran, and Pat Barry and Gert Brazil, I took the bus to N.Y., leaving their area at 7 A.M. and arriving in N.Y. at about 9 A.M. We could have taken the train, but probably wouldn’t have gotten to N.Y. much earlier. Furthermore, the nurses have been told some screwy thing about a rule that they are not to ride on trains except on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. ??why??

       At any rate, we had breakfast, the 6 of us – me and my harem, at Toffenetti’s on 42nd and Broadway. After breakfast we went shopping. The gals were looking for some raincoats and also some uniform dresses, so as I had nothing better to do, I went along with them.

       We traipsed around to a few places and then finally landed up at Sak’s 5th Ave. where a couple of wholesale houses had referred them to. The store there had recently opened a new dept. for nurses uniforms, etc. and the woman who was in charge of the department was very nice.

       While I was sitting down and the gals were preparing to try on things, this manager came over and asked me where I was from. When I told him, “California” he asked, “Where in California?” When I said, “San Francisco,” he proceeded to reel off a couple of names asking me if I knew those people. And, by golly, of course I did!! When I told the gals afterwards that the manager and I had had quite a conversation, they were amazed. The people this man knew were Jim Ransohoff, Bob Ransohoff, Jerry Simon, Harry Camp, and the Levi Strauss gang. ‘Tis a small world, ain’t it?

       After whopping around a bit and walking up Fifth Avenue, it got late in a hurry and so Lois and I went to the Essex House to meet Helen and Mischa. After a good lunch with swell oysters, we left and went looking in shops for a few other things that Lois wanted, shoes, slacks, etc. We also went to Macy’s and got some groceries for the gals, as their food at their mess hall is so lousy they have taken to eating most of their meals in their barracks out of groceries that they get plus cookies, etc. They get their thermos bottles filled at the PX and manage pretty well. They go to maybe one meal a day, or at least some of them go and bring stuff back.

       At 6 P.M. we met the gang at the bus station and got back here at camp a little after 7 P.M.

       On Tuesday morning I loafed in bed until almost lunch-time. Then at 11 A.M. we all went over to the gas chamber and went through with our gas masks on. The man in charge wanted us to take off our masks and go through rapidly with them off, but as we had done that once at Ft. Ord, we very nicely refused. The gals took off their masks and went through, however, but they hadn’t done it at Ord. The concentration of the gas in the chamber here was only about 1/10th of what it had been at Ord when we went through, and I remember how we cried for hours after that little experience.

       Tuesday afternoon we had a hike – about 9 – 10 miles, skirting the camp and going along the banks of the Raritan River for a while. It was pretty cold, but not terribly windy and we walked pretty rapidly so we kept warm enough. Wally Greene and I were in the lead and we kept up a good pace the whole time.

       Tuesday night we went over to the Officers’ Club where there was quite a mob. The club is now a two-story affair, the second floor being a balcony all around the room. There was a juke box providing the dance music, but the pieces were old and bum, so it wasn’t so good. However, for a change it was better than sitting around in the barracks playing bridge, etc.

                    Loads of love,



Watch for my next letter
December 8

“René’s Harem” – minus one. René went to New York City with nurses Bam (Charlotte Bambino), Fran (Trembley), Lois (McFarland) Gert (Brazil) … and Pat Barry (not pictured here).

René and his “harem” had breakfast at Toffenetti’s

Wally Greene and René were at the head of the group all the way back from their hike.

December 8, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

December 8, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

The nurses that were dropped have just been replaced in the last few days. However, we had a new blow yesterday – this time no doing of His Highness.

We all just wish we had gone overseas when we were here at Kilmer before – then everything would really have been O.K. We would have had George Sterba, Miss Nicholls and Frank Lusignan. Yes, Frank was the latest casualty, damn it.

Like fools, yesterday, instead of taking a hike, some of us decided to throw the football around for a while. The game started between our group and the group from the other barracks – also a hospital unit, from Syracuse, I believe. They were a bit on the rough side, and of course, someone of Frank’s size and brittle bones should not be playing like that – he has no muscle or fat around his bones at all.

He went up in the air when blocked once, and landed down on his knee, being unable to get up. We thought at first it was just a cartilage injury and then it was decided that it might be the fibula, but no such good luck – he had a fractured condyle of his left tibia. As a consequence, of course, he will be laid up for from two to three months. The leg was set yesterday by Mattie and Bret Smart, and he is supposed to go to Walter Reed Hospital. But he is trying to go to Letterman in San Francisco and I believe he will be able to. If that isn’t the damndest luck ever!! Also, he is not only the most valuable of our majors, but he is the nicest. What we are going to do without a neurosurgeon, I do not know. None of the others have ever done more than a very small amount of neurosurgery!

We had planned to go to N.Y. on Saturday and we were going to have dinner at Helen’s and Alain was going to come over after. But, then, late Friday night we found out that there was going to be a restriction starting the next A.M. and we were sunk. All good plans gone to heck.

Saturday night we had a little party for Miss Nicholls – that is just a few of us, about 5 couples. There was a terrific mob over at the club, however, so we didn’t stay there too long – went over to Nicky’s suite, which she now has over at the Station Hosp.

Sunday we awoke to find snow all over the place. Some of it is still on the ground, though the sun has been shining brightly. We took some pictures of Newsom, Joseph and me, in various attire.

I don’t know whether the income tax forms will be sent to me or to you. I understand that it may be wise to defer the paying of the income tax until the end of the war. Reason being that they may just cancel the income tax for those in the service during the war. The Army never used to pay income tax, and I hear that it was canceled in the last war – but of course anyone who had paid it already could get no refund. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, I believe it would be better to forget it for the time being.

Incidentally, there ought to be plenty in my bank for you to draw out. As I see it, unless I was to lose most of my clothes and have to buy new ones, I won’t have any use for more than I am getting at the moment – that is the $65 or so, which, if we go overseas will be raised to about $80. Also, with the bill just passed, we are supposed to get $100 more for uniform allowance. Unless I’m wrong, there ought to be more than $1000 in the bank for your use. I have put no money in war bonds as yet, so if you want to take some of the money and use it for that, ‘tis O.K. When overseas, I will either turn extra money into bonds or will cable it home to the bank.

We are now on 6 hour passes only and are going up to N.Y. tonight and plan to see Helen, Mischa, Therese, Horace, Babs, Lenny and Alain, all together, if possible. The phone have been so cluttered up that it has been darn near impossible to get ahold of one. I hope to be able to call you, also, but in case I don’t succeed – well you know what we wish you all — A Merry Xmas and a Happier New Year.

                    Loads of love,



Watch for my next letter
December 9

A football game puts Frank Lusignan out of commission.

Pearl Nicholls is leaving the unit.

December 9, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

December 9, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

       I was sure glad to be able to catch you last night from N.Y. When I called home at first, I was terribly disappointed because, as that was about 10:15 P.M. I knew that we only had about an hour more in which to try again. Then, as no one answered at home I figured that maybe you were at Sal’s and I decided that if not there I would try also Gram’s, Cerf’s or Wildberg’s, as I knew ‘twas better to get you from N.Y. than from Camp, as it is darn near impossible to get a line around that time from here.

       I was thankful when I heard Minnie’s voice say to the operator that you had just left there and were heading home. I was then praying that you weren’t going to stop at Children’s Hospital or Cerf’s or some such place. It was certainly good to hear your voices. Just before getting you, we had called Lois’ Mom and were lucky there, getting them easily.

       Since I wrote yesterday the only one in N.Y. that I was able to contact on the phone from camp was Therese. She agreed to try to round up the others and get them to her house. Then, just before leaving the camp at 4 P.M. I was able to get a call through to Alain. We called him again from Penn station and agreed to pick him up on the way to Therese’s.

       This we did and when we entered Therese’s apartment we saw she had done well. Besides Therese and Horace, there were Lenny and Babs and Helen. We stayed at Therese’s until around 8 P.M. As Therese and Horace work on draft boards they gave Alain some advice as he was going up the next day for his physical exam.

       Before leaving Therese’s we went over and picked up Nadia (who had already had dinner) and took her with us to Lindy’s. As it was a meatless Tuesday we had some swell chicken and also had some wonderful oysters. I treated Alain for dinner as a birthday present for him, as his birthday is tomorrow.

       After dinner we went back to Nadia’s and then started the phoning to California.

       As far as Xmas is concerned, the call last night would be enough of an Xmas gift – ‘twas sure swell to be able to talk to you more or less on the eve.

                    Loads of love,



Watch for my next letter
December 21

Lindy’s – New York City


“As far as Xmas is concerned, the call last night would be enough of an Xmas gift – ‘twas sure swell to be able to talk to you more or less on the eve.” — René

December 15, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René since December 9. Would his parents have known that he was on a ship heading across the Atlantic? They certainly would have been thinking of him, so here are some photos of him from 1919-1941.

René with his mother, Alma, and sister, Marie-Louise

René in Golden Gate Park

René with his father at Lake Tahoe.

René with his sisters and mother in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in 1923

René at summer camp near Feather River

René with his father and sisters in Auburn

René as an intern in 1941


Watch for my next letter
December 21

December 21, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

December 21, 1942

No. 1

Dear Folksies,

       Here I am sitting on deck, on the wood padded by my life preserver, listening to the usual daily band concert. Lois is beside me and I notice she is also writing to you, so you may get some repetition. But since you haven’t had any mail from this quarter for some time, 2 letters, even though they say the same thing will no doubt be welcome.

       Our trip to date has been O.K. though I must admit that my actions on the Leviathan 19 years ago were far more commendable than were my actions the first two days out this time. Yes, the first afternoon of motion kind of got me a bit unsteady and then waiting in line for dinner and crowded stairs where it was hot and stuffy put the finishing touches on everything, so I rapidly declined dinner and made for the rail.

       I wasn’t much better off outdoors, so, though our rooms were pretty stuffy I felt much better flat on my bunk and consequently spent most of the next day in that position. That second day of motion I managed to eat and keep breakfast, but couldn’t stay more than a few minutes for dinner. Though, on my bunk, I later enjoyed a couple of turkey sandwiches Lois brought me. Since that day, however, I’ve felt fine and have long since made up for the missed meals.

       Lois has been a regular sailoress and though she was bad for a couple of days, having a bum cold (which many have had), she has more than done justice to the ship’s cook. We are served only two meals per day – our bunch gets in at the second sitting and the new head nurse and Marv Kahn got together and did some fineegling so that Lois and I are not only at the same table but are next to each other. We sit at a long table opposite Carroll Russell and Bret Smart – the latter two continually heckle Lois about her appetite. They kid her about getting fat and how she’d get stuck in a port hole if she tried to get out of the ship that way; how she’d better watch out or I won’t marry her if she’s fat, etc. It’s really a kick and Lois is in hysterics through all the meals.

       At the other side of Lois are Fran, Gert and Bam and opposite them are Armanini, Halter, Drew and Bryner. Poor Halter has also taken somewhat of a ribbing about his lack of appetite and his peculiar taste. He eats all the queer things that appear on the menu daily, such as salted herring, tripe, codfish with pork scraps, etc. And not only for breakfast, but for dinner, too!! Of course, besides these things he never can make up his mind which of the entrees he wants, so he just naturally has to have both. Why, even Lois doesn’t keep up with Halter!

       We have really had excellent meals all along: rare roast beef, turkey, veal, and even duck. We’ve also had ice-cream for dinner a couple of times, though jello has been the dessert a good part of the time. Dinner for us comes at 6:00PM and breakfast at 8:30AM, so we generally make a sandwich at breakfast for our luncheon, and with an apple or orange to add to that we manage to survive between meals.

       I’m in a cabin with Drew, Carlson, Bryner, Hamilton, George Davis, Cy Johnson an engineer (Geissler) and one other fellow. The bunks aren’t bad at all, though at night it gets sorta stuffy.

       Fresh water is scarce and only used for drinking purposes, and occasionally for a little shaving or sponging. Taking a shower in cold salt water certainly leaves one nice and sticky and not feeling any cleaner, so we’ve all sort of had our nasal mucosa become less and less sensitive to such odors. And as we sit on the floor of the deck frequently (their being no chairs, of course) our clothes are beginning to stand up in the corner by themselves at night.

       We are able to be together for about 15 hours of the day and have spent almost all but our meal hours on deck. During the day we have played quite a bit of bridge, but every so often it gets a bit too windy and though so far we haven’t lost any cards over the side, we have been forced to quit frequently when the ship changes its course and leaves our previously protected corner exposed to the elements. We also have played some chess and occasionally do some reading. We found a copy of Cyrano on the boat, and we’ve read some to each other, but it is a bum translation so not as enjoyable as it might be.

       The ship has a broadcasting set-up so that there is music from recordings heard most of the day. In the afternoon there is a band concert on deck and it is usually pretty good. In the evening there is always a program being broadcast over the boat (inside) – local talent performing, but I haven’t heard much of this as it‘s been much too nice on deck to miss the fresh air available there.

       Several of the gals have been sick – some of them even spent a good part of the trip in the hospital. Ag Alkiere and Miss. Bell were the sickest and Chris Colletti likewise was pretty bum for a few days. All are now O.K. however.

       I imagine that by the time you get this, it will be well into the New Year. I hope all had a good Xmas and brought the new year in right. We will be thinking of you even more on these days.

       Well ‘tis all for now.

                      With loads of love to all of you,



Watch for my next letter
December 30

René, Lois and the rest of the 59th Evac. Unit departed from New York on December 12, 1942 on the Uruguay, heading for Casablanca, Morocco. When launched in 1927, the ship, originally dubbed SS California, was the world’s first major ocean liner built with turbo-electric transmission and the largest merchant ship yet built in the United States. In 1938 the California was renamed Uruguay and from 1942 to 1946 she was operated as a United States Army Transport ship (USAT). She was returned to civilian service as SS Uruguay in 1948, laid up in 1954 and scrapped in 1964.

Hear what Gert Brazil had to say about the trip to Casablanca on the Uruguay…

December 30, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

December 30, 1942

Casablanca, Morocco

No. 2

Dear Folksies,

       Here I am, having unfortunately been unable to write for the last 8 or 9 days. My first letter since leaving was on the 21st and I hope that by now you have received it. Unfortunately, the day after we arrived here it was decided that no more unofficial cables could be sent, so I was unable to let you know that everything was O.K. I hope that you haven’t been too worried over the fact that you didn’t receive any word from us before this. The Padre was the only one who was able to send any cables and he sent one to a friend of his at the Hospital, so perhaps that person told Mrs. Noonan and possibly you have heard via her – I hope so!!

       We are allowed to tell you that we are “Somewheres in Africa.” It’s a funny place as both Alain and Claude can tell you. Right now I’m sitting in our tent trying to type by the light of two candles and a gasoline lamp. The wind is blowing so much outside that our lamp won’t work correctly and the candles have gone out on me several times in the last few minutes. I may be continuing this in the dark, so don’t be too surprised at some of the crazy mistakes I may make. Oh, Oh, it just now began to pour outside… Changed my location in the tent to a less windy spot so I may now be able to continue more or less in peace.

       As our ship pulled into dock here, the band began playing. And what should they be playing but Stanford’s “Come Join the Band” and University of California’s “Sturdy Golden Bear.” It gave us a funny, yet awfully good, feeling.

       We really had a wonderful Christmas Eve. We are situated out of town a ways, by a cemetery, and that first night the men were far better off than we were. They had their tents and blankets and we had nothing but what we wore off the boat — our coats and raincoats and long underwear. There was a load of hay there and we managed to fix ourselves a fairly comfortable spot. I was between a couple of bales of hay with George Davis and we were not too bad off. Then all of a sudden, it seemed as if a whole bunch of locusts descended on us, for we were practically without any hay in no time at all. What had happened was that another outfit came around and their officer told the men to take a bale for every two men — and none of our boys were fast enough to stop them and those that might have didn’t know whether we were supposed to have the hay or not. Anyhow, we spread a little hay under us, and Davis, the Padre and I huddled together and froze for the rest of the night. And that was our Christmas Eve — true Baby in the Manger stuff — but we didn’t even have the roof over our heads.

       Christmas morn, Davis and I set out for town. Of course, we had no transportation other than our own feet, but we managed O.K. My prime reason for going with George was to find out where the nurses were located, but before more than a couple of hours I found myself as unofficial assistant supply and transportation officer for the outfit. Since then, George and I have been working together, and I must modestly admit, that if it hadn’t been for the two of us, the men and officers would be in quite a spot here. We worked like fiends down at the docks getting our equipment that had come with us — trying to get our bed rolls (sleeping bags) and foot lockers, so that we wouldn’t freeze at night any longer than necessary.

       The way we went about things reminded me of a certain 24 year old young man in 1906 — vehicles commandeered, etc. We worked late that evening so that we had some tents and cots and blankets for the officers that night, and then finally around 10P.M., we managed to get out to the school where the gals were located. Yes, we get there only to find that all of the important ones were gone — gone to a party with the bloomin’ air corps boys. Lois had left a note that they’d be back at 11 P.M., in case we showed up. They had been told that George and I were working like beavers and they also figured that we might have difficulty finding their place – particularly at night with blackout conditions.

       Well, we waited for them and around 11 P.M. they showed up and we were able to stick around until 1 A.M. Then Bishop, George, and I walked home — walked home down the middle of the streets, looking to right, left, and behind as frequently as we could turn our heads. We finally were able to bum a ride for about the last mile back to our area.

       The next day George and I set out again trying to get transportation, tents, some cots and two blankets apiece. But we were still plenty cold, so we determined to get our bed rolls if it were humanly possible. Well, some of the bed rolls started to show up and then the Sgt. who was with me and I decided that if they continued showing up as slowly as they were doing, only a few of our officers would be sleeping warm that night. As a consequence, we took 5 of our men and during the 2 hours that the crew unloading the ship took off for dinner, we went into the hold of the ship and ran the elevator down to the lowermost hold and picked out the foot-lockers and bed rolls that belonged just to our bunch. By the time we were done, we were worn out and filthy, but we had located all but one of the bed rolls that belonged to us. There were a few foot lockers that we hadn’t found, but which turned up easily the next day.

       Since that first day I have continued to assist George, using my rather poor, though fast improving, French to get most of the things we have needed. It’s really been lots of fun. Yesterday we opened up for business out here in the field and we are now working with patients.

       I am living with George in one of the supply tents, whereas the rest of the officers are in three large tents together. The main advantage of being with George is the transportation angle — if there is any, we have access to it and control over it.

       Last night there was a New Years Eve Party down at the gals’ place. It was pretty good, with plenty of port wine floating around, besides the sandwiches, etc. As Lois has told you, they have a pretty good set-up there, living in what used to be a school building. They have a nice dining room there and the only two things they haven’t got are hot water and heat – otherwise they are pretty well off.

       The gals have been treated pretty royally because they were the first nurses to arrive, and the air-corps men really have swarmed around their place. The gals even had a party given for them that first night we arrived – and here we lay out in the hay freezing to death while the air-corps was taking the gals out. Such is life!

       Most of the gang have been able to take time off and go into town to one of the hotels for showers occasionally, but George and I have been so busy that we have yet to taste such luxury. However, the third day we were here we did manage to get back onto the boat we came on and fineegle a nice hot shower there. But we had worked so hard and long the rest of the day – wrestling with the bed rolls and foot-lockers ourselves, that the effects of the shower didn’t last very long.

       We have had some news that Col. Monroe is O.K. and having a pleasant time in Africa not too far from us, so it may be that we will be seeing him again in the months to come. It’s funny, a lot of our men have run accidentally into their brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins, etc. in other outfits that are in this neck of the woods – relatives they hadn’t seen for many months while in the U.S.

       It’s funny walking around town here because one is constantly besieged by little kids asking for “Chewing gum,” Smoke,” or “Shoe Shine.” For most, that is the extent of their vocabulary in English. In one hotel someone taught the elevator boy a few words, so now he greets everyone in the morning with “Good morning, you son of a bitch!” — all that with a bright cheery smile on his face. And so it goes!

                      Loads of love,



Watch for my next letter
January 2

Lt. George Davis — transportation and supply officer.

Downtown Casablanca

Former Ecole de Jeunes Filles — where the nurses from the 59th Evac. Unit are living in January 1943 in Casablanca.

Hear what Nurse Gert Brazil had to say about the nurses’ first night in Casablanca…

Soldiers getting shoes shined by local boys.