September 14, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 14, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

       Gee, it was good to hear your voices night before last, Mom and Dad. It is funny to think that one can talk across 3000 miles so easily.      

       This is certainly a queer Army — after being restricted to the Post for the last three days we are now back to a semi-restriction set-up. We are allowed six-hour passes from 5:30P.M. to 11:30 P.M. on the every-other-night basis again. Reason? You tell me! Apparently the Colonel, expects us to move but doesn’t have the slightest idea when it will be, so I guess we are going to have a repetition of our last 10 days at Ord with everyone taking cleaning and laundry in for 24 hour service every day for 10 days.

       Roy Cohn went to the hospital today – where he should have been several days ago. He has had a bum knee, as I told you, and yesterday Mattie aspirated it and the report today is that there were some pus cells in the fluid removed. Roy is much better today, but because of the lab report the Col. had him go to the hospital. In all probability the number of pus cells was not more than normal, but it might be something worse than Roy anticipated. Hope not! Cultures taken but no growth as yet.

       Our other casualties are doing fine. Miss Thornton leaves the hospital tomorrow and Frank Lusignan was up walking around some yesterday and today.

       It was just 3 months ago since June 13th when Lois and I met. As to the “announcing,” as it was more or less known around here for the last month anyway, and since Miss Nicolls (Nicky), the head nurse, wears an engagement ring (though I think her engagement is broken), we figured there wasn’t any harm in a ring. Of course, we got considerable comment, but it was all favorable, especially from Miss Nicolls and from the Colonel. As a matter of fact, Lois is Nicky’s favorite (which I have known before she started congratulations), and, somehow I am apparently in the Colonel’s good graces — either that or he had had too much to drink at the party the other night when he saw the ring and was congratulating Lois. It was apparently all very much O.K. with him.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
September 17


Roy Cohn




Nicky – Head Nurse Pearl Nicholls



September 17, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 17, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

    Regarding “announcing,” we had decided that no camouflage was better than a poor camouflage. And since darn near everyone knew, or suspected so darn strongly it was the same thing, we felt rather safe in bringing the ring to lite.

     I must admit that we did have a little hesitation along that line but not too much. Miss Nicholls, the head nurse, herself wears an engagement ring, but apparently her engagement was broken before she left Ft. Ord. Anyway, she fully approves and is glad that Lois is engaged to someone in the Unit, so that there wouldn’t be the possibility of losing her from it. When the Col. saw the ring, he gave his full blessings to Lois and he apparently thought it was swell. I, somehow, was in his good graces and he seemed to think a lot of me. ??? why?

     Another interesting thing: Tuesday night one of our nurses, Charlotte Edelfson, got married to a Capt. in the Engineers at Fort Dix. She had known him only about 9 days. He is scheduled to go overseas but does not want her to. However, she wants to and wants to stay in our Unit. How is it possible, you ask? Well, as of Tuesday morning, there is a new order. Nurses that get married while in the Army are not to be relieved from duty with the Army or their Unit. Apparently there have been about 200 resignations per month because of marriage and that is more than the number entering the Army. As a consequence the Army is changing its policy.

     That, however, does not mean that our Col. would necessarily agree. From the way he talked before the new order came out, and even right after, he is not going to let Charlotte stay in the Unit. He may, of course, have changed his mind again in the last 48 hours. I know not, because I think Miss Nicholls still expects Charlotte to be with us. At any rate, don’t worry, we are not going to take any such chance, and intend to remain on the good side of the Col. where we are now, and have every intention of having a San Francisco wedding.

     If the Unit were ever to be partially split, there’s no chance of our being separated, as far as I can see now, as the orders come through the Col. and he makes the decision as to how the Unit is divided, if it ever is. And with Miss. Nicholls particularly on our side, and being in the Col’s good graces, I think we have nothing to fear.

     Just so you will have all the dates, here goes. We met on June 13, 1942 at approximately 10 P.M. at the Ft. Ord Officers’ Club dance. Our first date was a double with Roy Cohn on June 18th at Del Monte. We got engaged on July 8th.

     No more casualties in the Unit. Lusignan is doing fine – getting up now. Miss Thornton is out of the hospital. Roy Cohn’s knee is doing fine and apparently the “pus” found in the aspirated fluid was a hoax. The knee is O.K., no tenderness or swelling and there were no bugs in fluid. He is still in the hospital, but will be out in a few days.

     Post was on “Alert” on Rosh Hashonah and no services on Post. As for Yom Kippur, we may be able to go to into New Brunswick, but I’m sure N.Y. is now out of the question since we only have 6-hour passes.

     Yes, the 59th is the movingest outfit there ever was – we move and move and get nowhere in a big hurry. We are always hurrying-up to wait. This A.M. we moved into other barracks 3 blocks away – why? You tell us! It’s nuts.

     Funny thing happened yesterday. Just as we were getting ready for calisthenics, a messenger drove up in a jeep and asked for Lts. Stratte and Johnson. He had a telegram for them. Then we noticed another jeep drive up in which an M.P. was sitting. The latter also asked for the above Lts. And they were plenty scared. He said that the Post Intelligence Officer wanted to see them right away. Reason: the telegram!

     This is what the wire had said: “Tell Army to get off dime and on horses, beautiful blue heaven available if permanency assured.” – The Women. Meaning, of course, that their wives would arrive here if we were going to stay any length of time longer. The reason Intelligence questioned the telegram was not only the funny sound of it – suspecting code – but also because “blue-heaven” is an Army code word, and naturally they suspected the worst. The boys adequately explained the whole thing, but last nite they phoned their wives and had Halter do the talking at first — saying that they better not wire any more like that, as the 2 boys were in the guard house.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
September 19


Lois and René at the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey in June 1942 – the month they first met.




Lt. Paul Stratte – in trouble with the MPs?




Lt. Cy Johnson – in trouble with the MPs?



September 19, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 19, 1942

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey

Dear Folksies,

     Well, the last two days have been bad ones. This gang is a sorry looking outfit today to say the least. At the present moment there are three of the twenty-three in this barracks who are bundled up in bed – their diarrhea is just slowing down, but they feel un-good. ‘Tis Cy Johnson, Bill Newsom and Bob Treadwell. There are six who are throwing darts a small distance at the end of the barracks, indoors. Two radios are going – not too loud, and this typer isn’t too soft or musical, but maybe it will lull the boys to sleep. Pete Joseph has a cold, Bryner is just getting over one and I’m right in there with them somewhere. In the Major’s and Captain’s barracks there are also a couple of “under-the-weather” boys. Wally Greene and someone else has the drizzlies also and nobody feels too hot.

     At first when we moved to new barracks on the 17th, we were packed in like sardines in the upper part of the barracks, as there was some screwy post rule that the downstairs should not be occupied, as the downstairs was to be used to have last minute inspections of enlisted men’s equipment or to have lectures in.

     Well, we were 39 upstairs when there shouldn’t have been any over 30 at most. Finally, we squawked to the Col. since none of his underlings would do anything about it and the Col. did his squawking in the proper places and the 59th moved downstairs in the same barracks, leaving the chemical warfare boys, etc. upstairs, where they were in the first place. Downstairs is far more preferable as it is cooler and also nearer to the lav.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
September 22



Just a few of the members of the 59th who were in the barracks “under the weather”…



Pete Joseph



Serge Bryner



Bill Newsom



William Wallace “Wally” Greene



September 22, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 22, 1942

Camp Pickett, Virginia

Dear Folksies,

     On Sunday evening, being Yom Kippur, I was going to go to Services, but found out that they were only given on the Post at the opposite end of the place from where we were and since it was raining, I decided to go to the A.M. Services instead. But woe is me!! All good plans of mice and men go awry.

     I was over with Lois, just sitting, talking and reading some letters, Sunday evening, around 8 P.M., when the Colonel came bursting in and said to start packing, as we were leaving by 11:30A.M. the next morning. He didn’t say where we were going, but one of the gals ventured that we were probably going to Camp Pickett, Va., to join the 3rd Division which had gone there and that had missed us so badly since we left Ord. Some of the girls had had letters from some of the fellows in the 3rd Division, and they had sort of anticipated our joining them — or at least it was wishful thinking on their part. Anyway, the Colonel’s face was a picture when Del said we were probably going to Pickett. He wanted to know how she got her information so soon — as, by his face, she was correct and had hit the nail, or the picket fence, on the head.

     Anyway, I went back and packed up my stuff, got to bed early as we were to have breakfast at 6 A.M. A lot of good getting to bed early did!! The officers who lived in the barracks above us Lts. were also moving at the same time and they proceeded to pack in shifts apparently all during the night. They made noise all night, had their radio going the whole time and, I think if it hadn’t been so cold that none of us were ambitious enough even to get out of bed, we would have formed a gang and gone up there and shown them how to pack by throwing their things plus themselves plum out of the window. At any rate, I believe we managed to get an hour of sleep during that whole night.

     Just as we were thinking of getting up at 5:15 A.M., what do we see but Bryner and Stratte sauntering, or staggering, into the barracks. They had been up in N.Y. and had overstayed their 6 hours by another 6 hours. They were two surprised cookies when they saw us getting up – being all packed – at that hour.

     As usual, the 59th gets up early so that they can hurry up and wait. We sat around doing nothing until 10:15 A.M. then leisurely walked down to the train. Train finally pulled out after box lunches were thrown on at the last minutes – at 11:20 A.M.

     This time we had no nice Pullmans but had chair cars with two to a wide seat – no room to stretch out and no air-conditioning. It wasn’t terribly hot, but the car got awfully stuffy at times. Then if we opened the windows, which we did, we got awfully sooty as these darn trains in the East burn coal and even wood, instead of oil like we do in the west. Of course, they have a lot of nice Diesel engines, but they don’t seem to use them to pull the Army around.

     What a ride – there were other trains ahead of us and we waited in various spots so that we were on that bloomin’ train for 14-1/2 hours, for a trip that should have only taken 7 hours.

     Our meals were prizes – we were given 5 bum sandwiches for lunch and dinner combined, an orange – and that is all. As it happened we weren’t given enough boxes of lunches so the officers gave their dinner sandwiches to some of the men for their lunch and then Marv Kahn arranged to get some more food – sandwiches and ice-cream — at Washington. These sandwiches were a little fresher but hardly any better.

     We arrived here at around 2:45 A.M. and amazingly enough, were met by trucks. We had fully expected to have to walk to wherever we were to stay. In fact, when dumped out at the barracks that were even lit up for us, we were told that there was some food awaiting us over at the Mess Hall of the Station Hospital. Well, that was 10 times more than we expected and we thought right then and there that we might even like this place. Certainly no place could be much worse than Kilmer as far as camps go – for, as far as camps go, Kilmer went.

     They even had sheets and blankets on the beds for us here and as we didn’t get our bed rolls or foot-lockers till this A.M. all we had to do was make our beds and crawl in.

     This morning, awoke at 11 A.M., showered, got the soot out of body and hair and had a GOOD lunch. At the moment we are eating at the Officers’ Mess at the Station Hospital, and, to reiterate, it is GOOD. We are soon, however, going to have our own Mess, right next door to our barracks.

     This camp is a large one – about 60 square miles. Most of the camp seems new – streets so much nicer and not as muddy as Kilmer. Some trees around too, and all in all looks like a nice camp. Treatment here is much different from Kilmer – they try to be nice here!

     Plans?? Nothing at all definite. Anywhere from 1 to 7 weeks, is the latest rumor, but nothing definite.

     Love from de both of us,

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
September 25


Serge Bryner, MD




Paul Stratte, MD




Camp Pickett, Virginia





September 25, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 25, 1942

Camp Pickett, Virginia

Dear Folksies,

We are situated behind the Station Hospital, which is rather a nice location. We have some shade and some cool trees in the neighborhood.

As things stand now we are all working in the hospital. Many of the men of the Station Hosp. are away on leave, etc. and besides that they are somewhat shorthanded, so were very pleased that Mattie requested permission for us to do something around the hospital. Of course, there isn’t an awful lot to do but at least it keeps us busy enough.

Bill Newsom, Pete Joseph, Jim Hamilton, and I are in Surgery in the A.M., learning anesthesia and seeing some operations. In another day or two they are going to let us give some of the anesthetics ourselves. Then, besides that, we are assigned to a surgical ward. The one I am in is divided between Frank Gerbode, Chuck Schwartz and myself.

At the moment there are only about 20 patients on the ward so you can see there isn’t very much to do. Most of the cases are pilonidal cysts, hemorrhoids, hand infections, boils, etc. We have full charge of the ward with, of course, the major of the Hosp. Surg. Service, as chief. They have ward rounds thru the whole hospital – few cases on each ward, twice a week and have medical and surgical conferences twice a week also. It’s not bad, although some of the medical and surgical practices that we have seen do not meet with the approval of our well-trained bunch. In fact, the amputation that we saw this A.M. was a job that those of us who have had no more surgical training than I have, would shudder if we couldn’t have done a neater and nicer job.

But be that as it may, we are seeing patients, seeing x-rays, and getting the feel of stethoscopes, etc. In fact, we are going to be able to pitch in on some of the operations even.

It apparently is the plan that we will be here somewhere in the neighborhood of a month, but of course we do not know anything for sure, or even for unsure for that matter.

Food here continues to be swell. In fact, breakfasts are really fine and perhaps I shall be gaining back a few of the pounds that I lost because of the heat and lousy food in Kilmer. Though, actually, I just as leave not gain them back as I feel swell as it is at 185 pounds.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
September 26


Frank Gerbode, MD




Chuck Schwartz, MD



September 26, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 26, 1942

Camp Pickett, Virginia

Dear Folksies,

Last night there was a little party at the Hospital Officers’ Club and they had invited the 59th, so naturally, there being little else to do, most of the gang were decent and showed up, taking a majority of the nurses along with them.

Unfortunately, the floor of the Club had been waxed only a couple of days before, in anticipation of the party, but somehow the was did not dry as a consequence one had to check every couple of minutes by looking in the direction of one’s feet, to make sure that one’s shoes were still in their proper place and were not trailing a few feet behind. It was hard dancing there, so many went to the Nurses Recreation Room where the victrola records were not as good or as numerous, but worked O.K. The only difficulty was that there was 2 blocks separating the two buildings and the only refreshments were in the Officers’ Club.

Several of the wives have trailed down here but because of the poor facilities in the surrounding towns, most of them are leaving to return to Calif.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
September 29


1940s vintage victrola




September 29, 1942 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

September 29, 1942

Fort Pickett, Virginia

Dear Folksies,

       Sunday nite the Col. came out suddenly and announced rather secretly to a few that officers and nurses were to be allowed leaves up to 10 days with the provision that they be back here by midnight Oct. 9. When I finally found out that officers could get this, I was already too late, as only 25% are allowed to have leaves at the same time.

       Anyway, if Mom and Marie-Louise come here, they would not be here probably before the 8th, so that a leave before that time wouldn’t do much good. Twelve of the men have gone or are leaving in the next 24 hours. Ed Welles left this A.M. by plane to S.F. Bill Drew and Chuck Schwartz leave by plane tomorrow afternoon, on the same plane. They were really lucky to get reservations.

       Then there are the five guys who really took the Col. in. They are going to Baltimore – to study for their American Board of Surgery Exam, that they are taking on the 7th here at Camp Pickett. Mattie is giving it to them here! All they would need would be a couple of good books and they could certainly study out here very nicely but, no, they have to go to a Baltimore Hotel where they will have peace and quiet, and, of course, their wives who they have had with them in N.Y. for the last month.

       These guys are Gerbode, Phil Johnson, Huff, Armanini and Collie (who is unmarried). When only 25% are allowed off it seems unfair to all of the gang that they could get off on the pretense of studying when fellows like Roy Cohn and others deserve leaves more. Roy wanted to go to Boston to have his knee looked at there.

       One funny thing and rather complicated matter was that Lois had been talking to the Col. about wishing to be able to go to Fort Monroe which is opposite the Bay from Norfolk, where Lois spent some years. She has friends there but the Col. took her to mean that she had relatives there and consequently she was one of the chosen few who were told specifically that she could have a pass before any sort of announcement was made. She was granted a pass for October 1st to 9th, but today, after much deliberation, she finally decided to cancel it and hope that you do come and we can both get passes at the same time after the 9th or maybe even beginning the 9th, all depending on when you arrive.

       Anyway, we are anxiously awaiting info. As to your change in plans so that we likewise can make plans and perhaps a little finagling. Would appreciate, if you haven’t already written me concerning the above, if you would wire details as soon as you know, so we won’t be in such suspenders.

       Yesterday was pretty clear, no rain, but last nite, OIY. Was it ever cold??? We were freezing when we woke up this A.M. despite 2 blankets, a bathrobe and woolen underwear and pajamas. 25 min. exercise didn’t even thaw us.

       Now today, with Gerbode and Schwartz gone, I have Phil Westdahl working on the ward with me. We really had a work-out today with 7 new patients – hemorrhoids, cellulitis and thrombophlebitis.

       Today Ed Blasdel got to do some surgery!!!! What happened was that the fellow came in that Ed diagnosed as appendicitis. Mattie agreed with him and the two of them followed the case right into surgery. When they got there the Major in charge asked Mattie if he would like to do it. Mattie answered that he would like to assist Ed doing it as Ed had worked up the case. And, much to Mattie’s and Ed’s surprise, the Major said nothing. Ed did a fine job and duly impressed that Major and all, as it was a tough one – retro-caecal and hard to manipulate and hard to invert the stump, etc.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
October 1


René’s mother, Alma, and his sister, Marie-Louise may be coming to visit René and Lois in Virginia.




René and Philip Westdahl had seven new patients with hemorrhoids, cellulitis and thrombophlebitis.




Ed Blaisdel got to do some surgery!