October 10, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

October 10, 1943
No 61
Palermo, Sicily

Dear Folksies,

          Last night Bob Treadwell, Fran and I were invited to dinner by some Yugoslav officers for whom we have done some things. Lois was working anyway, but not knowing how great were their facilities, we three went alone without Lois and Hal. It was a most interesting evening. They are well educated men, having been educated in both Paris and either Oxford or Cambridge. A British Captain was there for dinner also and he was likewise most interesting. One of the men spoke only Yugoslav and French, so I was able to give my French an airing and amazingly enough I think I did darn well!

          Strangely enough, also, one of the men was an ex-violinist who had heard both Mischa and Toscha at different times, but surprisingly enough, not Yehudi. They are all, including the British officer, coming out here Wednesday night to visit us.

          A couple of nights ago when we returned from a jaunt downtown, Lois walks into the dining room and almost falls over when she sees a friend of hers from St. Francis Hospital. This gal is with a General Hospital considerably back, but they, the lucky bums, get leaves varying from 8 to 14 days, and this gal got a plane ride to Sicily and dropped in on us. They had quite a time with “Old Home Night”, but unfortunately with Lois working nights, she did not get too much of an opportunity to be with her.

          I wish I could write down all the funny things that happen around here from day to day, but somehow, when it comes to writing them down, my mind does not remember all the things we laughed at during the days. However, I had a prize today. Yesterday a horse wandered into our area and then proceeded to lie down and die before anybody noticed him. Then, the problem of getting rid of him came up, and, as usual we were given the run-around from all the various offices — somebody said to bury him here on our grounds (obviously nuts); somebody else said to call the food ration dump; then the Civil Affairs bunch said they would find out and then proceeded to do nothing as far as we can gather. We were all for taking him down to the headquarters building and dumping him on their steps, but I think that the boys got conservative finally, and took the poor horse out to some last-resting-place.

          Lois’ goofy ward-boys had her going round and round last night. She made herself a cheese sandwich and then the boys came around and each in turn, while the others weren’t in the room with her, told her that the piece of cheese had been lifted by one of them off the floor because the cock-roaches on it were getting too sick from eating it. She didn’t know whether to believe them or not.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
October 15, 1943


A nurse that Lois knew from St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco is visiting Sicily, but, René tells his parents that “unfortunately with Lois working nights, she did not get too much of an opportunity to be with her [friend].” The photo above shows Lois working the night shift.




Unbeknownst to René or his parents, his beloved French cousin, Yvette Baumann married Jean-Guy Bernard on October 8. In this photo, taken on their wedding day, Jean-Guy and Yvette are the couple in the middle of the group of six, one of whom was the mayor of the town who performed the ceremony. Yvette and Jean-Guy were both important members of Combat – one of the Resistance groups working in France to defeat the Germans.



October 15, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

October 15, 1943
No 62
Palermo, Sicily

Dear Folksies,

            Yesterday we had quite a nice experience. We had little joy ride around the island — a plane ride that took us to such places as Sciacca, Agrigento, Castelvetrano, and a couple of other places. We were taken to lunch at Agrigento by the pilot who, it turned out, is a fellow from Westwood by the name of Engle. He was in U.C. at the same time as Lois, being a junior when she was a freshman. He was awfully nice to us and we had quite an enjoyable time on the whole trip. Left late in the morning and returned late in the afternoon.

            It was a transport plane and we even took one of the motor-pool drivers along with us. Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy and even rained part of the time so we three camera fiends were sort of foiled. Agrigento is one of the towns that has numerous ancient ruins, but we only managed to see them from a distance due to lack of time.

            Mattie’s birthday was yesterday and old Ehrbacher the Baker baked a swell cake for him. We only had large candles, so he stuck a big one in the center and Mattie successfully blew it out, and then told me that if his wish came true we would spend Christmas in Rome. Hope the wish does come true.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
October 16, 1943


René and Lois had what René described as “little joy ride around the island – a plane ride that took us to such places as Sciacca, Agrigento, Castelevetrano…”




The pilot of the plane took Lois and René to lunch at Agrigento where they saw the famous Greek temple ruins from a distance.




René and Lois got back in time to celebrate Mattie’s birthday.



October 16, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

October 16, 1943
Palermo, Sicily

Dear Gram,

            We are still working steadily, running quite a big joint all the time, but at least we have all the conveniences we could really wish for. In fact, one day someone got the idea that it would be better if the patients on the second floor of one building didn’t have to be carried by litter down stairs, outside, and then up stairs again to get into surgery. So, what happens but the Engineers come out and pretty soon we have a bridge running across from one building to another. ‘Tis all enclosed and really mighty fancy. Wonder what the Sicilians all think about the changes we have initiated in what used to be their hospital.

            Some of our buildings were rather badly shaken by bombs and shell fire several months ago, so new leaks are constantly showing up when the downpours come along. As a consequence we have to move patients out of one ward into another every so often when their wards begin to get flooded. Now, however, I think we have practically all the leaks stopped so we are looking forward to a dry winter, at least dry inside.

            It really is a relief to have cool days now. We have had more than our fill of roasting hot weather in the last several months. It’s really a pleasure to be able to wear an undershirt again, strange as it might seem. Probably, however, before the winter months are finished, we will be saying the same thing about the cold weather. But truly, cool weather is so much more conducive to work than is hot weather. You can always put on more clothes, but propriety prevents the reverse. Aren’t people funny?

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
October 20, 1943


René tells his grandmother about how things are going at the hospital where he works.



October 20, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

October 20, 1943
No 63
Palermo, Sicily

Dear Folksies,

            We are now having ice-cream twice a week. It’s made out of powdered milk and eggs, but it has been swell. They started us off with vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce and there was plenty for all. That is, all except Lois. She sneaked back in the kitchen after everyone had gone and had another huge, heaping, plate full, and then would have kept on going if the boys hadn’t insisted that they had to save some for the Colonel, as he hadn’t been in to dinner. Yep, by golly, she can out-eat me when it comes to ice cream — can you imagine that? Last night we had peach ice-cream, which also was good but not as good as the vanilla and chocolate sauce. The boys make up the stuff and then it is frozen for us downtown at the cold-storage plant.

            George finally managed to get the baker, Ehrbacher, satisfied! He finagled an oven and a dough mixer and Ehrbacher is really going to town with the buns, pastries, etc. He fixed up a swell batch of apple pies. He makes swell hot buns and then comes out with some fancy thing for his own little gang every so often. Of course, if we keep our ears open and know when something like that is cooking, we are always included in “his gang.”

            The other night Lois and I went with Liz and her Major Cohn (no relation of Roy’s) who is a medical officer for some engineers, to a concert. Yes, a real concert. It was sponsored by the Red Cross at the local theater and it was pretty good. There was a whole symphony orchestra with sopranos, tenors, etc. They sang things from Traviata and some operas, etc. There was quite a mob there.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
October 27, 1943


Big news from René: “We are now having ice-cream twice a week.” Made with powdered milk and eggs, René’s favorite seems to be vanilla with chocolate sauce.




René and Lois went with another couple to a concert at the local theater. Might have been this one.



October 27, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

October 27, 1943
Continuation of No 63
Palermo, Sicily

Dear Folksies,

            Have a new innovation in the hospital now. Have instituted a broadcasting system so that now the place almost sounds like the San Francisco Hospital with its system of calling “Doctor so and so,” but instead it is now “Captain so and so, or Major, etc.” During the day they also use the broadcaster for entertainment for the patients. They play records and the radio and it blares forth through the loudspeakers all over the area. We don’t really have enough loudspeakers and it doesn’t work too well, but it is certainly lots better than not having the system at all.

            The boys had to get used to talking over the system, for it really sounded funny when they started in. Their words just ran together and sounded as if they had more than a hot-potato in their mouths. Now, however, they have improved and the main difficulties are differentiating such names as Bine and Klein, etc., but then we’ve always had that trouble.

            The other day we had another new food. ‘Twas fresh fish! The Mess Dept. bought a big tuna somewhere and it was really good. The tuna weighed some 125 lbs and they made tuna steaks out of it. Strangely enough it tasted very much like roast beef, not rare, but medium-rare type. They plan on getting another one this week and this time they are going to roast it.

            We have two chaplains now, the second one joining us soon after we got here. He had been on the boat with us coming over here and everyone likes him and soon he was with us. He is living with Dunlap and myself and he is really a swell guy. He is a Protestant. He is such a contrast to Clark that it is amazing.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter on
November 5, 1943


The hospital now has a broadcasting system for paging the doctors and for entertaining the patients with records and radio broadcasts.




René reports that, “The Mess Dept. bought a big tuna somewhere and it was really good.”



October 31, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René on October 31, 1943, so we will enjoy an excerpt from the journal of Dr. Phil Westdahl.





            The mountains around Palermo are really beautiful. Behind us is one long ridge, about 2500 feet at its highest point. Behind the airport is a single peak about 1000 ft. high. Chuck Schwartz and I have at one time or another covered almost every notable nook and cranny in these mountains. It is unbelievable to see the efforts the people have made to cultivate every little acre of land, even on the steepest, rockiest slopes. Most of the slopes are terraced and on many, small individual terraces have been made for individual trees, usually olive or lemon.

            The country people are extremely pleasant and friendly and industrious as compared with those in the city. This is on the whole true of other parts of the world. In the city we are continually besieged by people asking for money, candy or cigarettes. In the country the people offer us what little fruit they have growing, even before we have given them anything, and they don’t expect anything. They are extremely grateful for a single cigarette or piece of candy.

            There is one small community nestled on the other side of the ridge whose only route to Palermo is up, over and down a very steep trail, many miles long and climbing to a height of about 2000 feet. All members of the family, young and old, make this trip in and back again as a routine matter. Chuck and I really thought we were hearty mountain climbers and we were puffing and sweating profusely on our way up and we stopped for a rest. While resting there a little old lady carrying a shopping bag of tangerines came wandering up the trail and passed us merrily by with a “Buon journo” without a drop of perspiration on her brow. That was really quite a blow to our ego. What’s more, she insisted that we have a few tangerines which she had taken all the trouble to carry up the mountain. We tried to refuse, but she wouldn’t listen.

.

Watch for René’s next letter on
November 5


Phil Westdahl often went hiking with Chuck Schwartz, pictured here, in the mountains above Palermo.



November 5, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

November 5, 1943
No. 64
Palermo, Sicily

Dear Folksies,

            I have been kept busy for the last couple of weeks and never did manage to sit down at a typer long enough to do much good. When I have had some few minutes time then all our typers have been busy. Mine, at the moment, is somewhat on the fritz, but is in the process of getting fixed by one of the boys.

            Today is the kind of day that makes us all rather thankful that we are so nicely situated inside of buildings and that we have sidewalks between the various buildings so that slushing through mud is not a necessity. I am remembering our sojourn at Pickett a year ago, when we stepped out of our cabins into the reddish mud of Virginia. Nope, this place is definitely rather nice and though the buildings are rather cold because of the tile and the wind whistling through the large hallways, we have managed to close up most of the window frames with tar roofing paper and thus have warmed them up a bit. The heating situation is still a big question, because of the great quantity of fuel needed to heat these buildings and the question is, do we have it?

            George Davis left us yesterday. He is to be an Adjunct for the American Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT). It ought to turn out to be quite a good break for him and certainly should be interesting work. His replacement has not yet arrived and no one is very anxious for him to arrive from all the stories we have heard. I don’t know why the Col. doesn’t just let Fadley handle the job instead of getting a new man in when our Table of Organization doesn’t call for a QM officer anymore anyway. But so it goes.

            Understand that Miss Bell is returning to the U.S. She is the oldest of the nurses and under the ruling that 1% of the outfit can be returned to the U.S. she is being sent back. Speaking of trips, the Old Man had a nice 7-day one, which took him to the land of Cleopatra. Wish we could get a nice trip like that. Such is the life of a Colonel.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for the rest of letter on
November 10, 1943


René’s pal, George Davis left the 59th Evac. Unit – to serve as an Adjunct for the American Military Government of Occupied Territories.





“The Old Man” – aka Colonel Bolibaugh – had a nice one-week trip to Egypt.