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February 17, 1944
No. 4

Palermo, Sicily

Dear Folksies,

           The weather here has been rather invigorating of late, that is, if one has guts enough to stay out in it – it’s nice and crisp and the wind that comes down off the snow on the mountains kind of freezes your exposed parts. But, personally, I am far happier with the weather this way than it was when we first got here – so bloomin’ hot.

           Today, despite the rather changeable weather, I took a hike downtown and we experienced as many different changes of climate as one does in going from Sea Cliff to 22nd & Potrero in San Francisco. Luckily we had worn coats so were prepared for anything. We again visited a place that I had been in about 10 days ago, but found that the merchandise we had ordered was not as yet ready. I don’t believe I told you about this place before – it is a place where, in peace-time, they made numerous of the typical Sicilian carts. Now, for the most part they are making small ones as souvenirs. They are all hand-painted and the workmanship that has gone into them is really something. I’ve ordered a small one, I guess ‘tis about 10 in. long, for Amie.

           It seems that, in peace time, this particular shop was popular with travelers – I imagine partly because the owners (two elderly sisters) speak very excellent English. Anyway, they showed us a scrap book they had kept with some letters, pictures, and newspaper articles, sent to them by those who had bought some of the big carts. The total cost for the carts, for a donkey, and for the shipping of same to the U.S. was only $72. The buyers had sent her pictures of the carts and donkeys in their new homes in the U.S. – so we saw pictures of the Vanderbilts, Annhauser-Busch, Hertz (of “Drive-Yourself”), and also of Kathleen Norris and her Saratoga Home. ‘Twas most interesting.

           Well, the basketball season is over and though the boys didn’t end up at the tail end, they came pretty close to it. They only won four out of the fourteen games — ending up with a win over the Navy Officers’ team, the latter being the lowest standing team in the league. The tournament was finally won by a troop carrier outfit, a team that was really good — they were speedy, had height, had team-work, excellent passing, and just couldn’t miss the basket at any time. Their last game was a rip-snorter when they played the colored-boys’ outfit.

          Our baseball team hasn’t been able to function as yet because of “game called on account of rain,” but we are hoping for good weather this next Sunday.

          George Wood, we heard today, is not just Chief of Surgical Services in his new unit, but the C.O. He apparently likes the outfit – hope that he continues to be happy there – he certainly hated to leave here. Phil Johnson finally left at the beginning of the week – he went to a Station Hospital, apparently a large one, and is supposed to be Chief of Surgical Service there. Wonder who the new majors are going to be?

           Serge and Bill Drew were able to get to Cairo on their leave and apparently had a fine time, however, on the way back, Serge had to leave Bill in a British hospital, as he became very ill. According to Serge, he apparently had either a dysentery or a para-T. Everybody is kind of worried about him, but I imagine he will be O.K. Bish and Bob Treadwell are going on their leave this week, and will be able to see Bill, so we shall not be without reports. Too bad that they couldn’t have made it back here before he got so ill.

          Had a swell letter from George Davis yesterday. If ever there was a friend, he certainly is one! He’s a funny guy. I wish you all knew him, but he is certainly tops as far as both Lois and I have been concerned, ever since the first day that I met him when he crawled into the bunk above me on that crowded trip over from N.Y.

                                                                                            Loads of love,



Next letter…

While René is touring around Palermo on February 17, he has no idea that his French cousin Yvette Baumann Bernard is in Drancy prison, where she has been since she and her husband Jean-Guy were arrested by the Gestapo on January 28. You can read the details of their arrest, which she provided in an interview in 1980, HERE.

And in the same interview, she recounted the following about what happened to the unborn child she was carrying: “My baby died during the days following my arrest. I only gave birth on February 17, 1944, alone in a cell, to this baby who had been dead for at least a fortnight.”