‘I’m still looking for sheets, Eddie…’
Today’s feature is another one of my favorites from my Mom and Dad’s World War II correspondence. When I assembled the letters into a book back in 2007, I took care to create a historical timeline that ran as a continuous sidebar through all 556 pages of the book. The purpose of doing that was to be able to keep the tiny, personal dramas of my parents’ love and courtship in proper perspective against the titanic backdrop of the history that was unfolding during those years.
A letter my Mom wrote on August 13, 1945 gives you the most intense feeling for the texture created by that juxtaposition. She was writing just one week after the U.S. military carried out President Harry Truman’s order to drop the ultra-secret atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Just three days after Hiroshima, a second A-Bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilian lives evaporated in those bombings, but Truman’s rationale for authorizing them was that he was saving the lives of perhaps a million U.S. servicemen who might have been sacrificed in an invasion of the Japanese home islands.
Here’s another weird twist that adds even more texture to the juxtaposition. My Mom grew up in Independence, Mo., in an old house at 902 North Liberty St. By coincidence, Harry Truman himself had lived in that very house for a year or so right around the year 1900, when he was a teenager moving around from place to place with his family. (I discovered that fact myself, when I was going through some of Truman’s old letters and papers while working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star in the early 1980s. My Mom and her family had no idea of the home’s history, for most of the 60-plus years that they owned it.)
In the following letter, which was written at a desk or table in that very home, my Mom touches briefly on the historic implications of Truman’s decisions in the preceding week before moving down to the most trivial (except to her) items: The first was whether she would meet my Dad alone at the train station in Independence when he finally came home after their three years apart, or whether she would wait to join him after he’d met his family at a bigger greeting at Union Station in Kansas City. She obviously preferred to meet him privately first. And who in her position wouldn’t?
The second item 24-year-old Lucille brings up is even more urgent: Her quest to find some nice bedsheets to make her Eddie, 26, more comfortable at his barracks in Frankfurt, Germany. He had mentioned in July — two months after the war in Europe ended — that he was sleeping on scratchy, woolen blankets and that he couldn’t find any sheets for sale in Frankfurt and wondered if his sweetheart Lucille (pet name, Smiley) might send him some. That launched my mother and her own mother into action. But in a time of war-rationing back home, something as simple as finding a pair of bedsheets in Independence, Mo., or nearby Kansas City was no simple matter. It ultimately would take the two women several weeks just to locate and purchase four sheets. And because there were time and weight limitations on overseas shipments, they had to divide the prized, 8.5 pound commodity into two separate packages mailed a week apart. They finally reached my Dad in Frankfurt at the end of September, by which time he was waiting day-to-day for his own orders sending him back to the United States.
So when he got them, Eddie just shipped the sheets right back home to Lucille without even unpacking them. And that was probably all the proof Lucille needed that the war was really over.
August 13, 1945
The past few days have certainly been full of anxiety in anticipation of the message from the Japs. As yet they have not given their answer. They better quit stalling or their little homeland will be blown into the great Pacific.
What did you think about the Atomic Bomb? It is a horrible thing to loose on mankind, but let us thank God we’re on the right side – this time. Even though it is a means to an earlier peace, it is terrible to think that man has gained knowledge whereby he can shower destruction on civilization and even vegetation that God created. If another war ever happens – well, we won’t think of that. I probably sound rather boring in my speculations, but darling it does seem that man has gone almost too far.
I gathered from your letter of August 5th which came today that you would prefer my meeting you immediately instead of waiting. I really think that is what I had planned anyway for as I wrote before, I probably couldn’t stand it to wait knowing you were within reach. Of course, circumstances may alter my decision so we’ll just have to wait.
I’m still looking for sheets, Eddie. But no luck so far. I just missed some at one store. I was so disappointed.
Eddie, I’m in much the same position as you with not much news to report. The newspapers seem to be taking care of everything important. One thing I did discover the other day – I have a gray hair. So you see, darling, I’m not the girl you left behind. If you don’t hurry home, I’ll be the little old lady. Oh well, if you’re going to be bald I may as well get gray hair.
Darling, I don’t think you complain too much. After all, one is entitled to get disgusted, especially when they’re far away and want to be close to home. When you first put your arms around me again, do you think we’ll ever be able to let go sweetheart?
‘Night now, my darling. See what you can do to expedite yourself home.
I love you,