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Smiling Through

Posted by on September 28, 2014

For those who have been following this blog via e-mail, I apologize for the extended hiatus. Please know that all is well and that it took a little while to get back on track with my postings after a two week trip on the Appalachian Trail which was followed in quick succession by some business travel. Nonetheless, I am back at it. Thanks for bearing with me.

June 11 & 14, 1943: Dad writes a pair of letters home from Topeka.

In his letter from Topeka Army Air Base of the 11th he writes about a concert the he went to which featured the popular singer of the day Jeanette MacDonald. He goes into some detail “She looked very similar to what she does in the movies; she has flaming red hair and had on a pink evening gown.” The program included some of her better known songs including Sweethearts, Donkey’s Serenade, Maytime, Coming Through the Rye and the waltz aria from the opera Romeo and Juliet. Her encores were Smiling Through (from the movie of the same name – see embedded video below) and Indian Love Call.

At one point in the performance, a man sitting near dad let him borrow a pair of binoculars. Dad relates, “…what a surprise! She is pretty well on in years and from all the eye shadow she had, her face looked as if she had a mask. I was taken aback. I didn’t want to see her through the glasses anymore as she looked lovely from the distant place that I sat and I preferred seeing her that way.”   As far as his general impression of her performance, “She compares in no way with Nelson Eddy or perhaps even Risa Stevens, and if she weren’t an actress I doubt if she would have had that fine crowd. She is a very good singer but not an unusual one. I enjoyed her anyway.”

Image from the front of the handbill used to promote the concert.

Image from the front of the handbill used to promote the concert.

Dad mentions that he met John Plisich, a friend of Stanley’s who was stationed at Fort Logan with his brother. Plisich also sat behind Stanley in class at Oxford, Mississippi. He recalled that “Stanley hardly ever said anything and when he did a problem in school he was particular and tried to do everything perfectly.” Plisich’s bunk is right across from dad’s in the barracks.

Dad’s letter of the 14th is typed as he was in Charge of Quarters that evening. He says it is “annoying” having that assignment but that “it gives you a chance to catch up on your correspondence.” He also reflects that “When you type you can think of so much more to write.”

He says that he has looked into ASTP (Amy Specialist Training Program). He lists some of the possibilities that interest him. “They need some fellows to specialize in language and to know at least one language almost fluently, as these will be used when territory is occupied and for such other purposes, and who knows for how long after the war. Then there is engineering and [the] chemical part of the school, doctors, etc.. I believe that as soon as I get back from furlough which I should get next month, I will surely try for some kind of extra school, perhaps radio.” It is not a surprise that dad was considering a translator job as he grew up in a household where Polish was spoken as much as English. It is also interesting to see that he is still interested in doing something with radio.

Dad also writes about a comedian that he saw at a USO show on the base. He relays a few of the jokes, “The comedian said that he walked into a barracks where a WAVE [a female naval volunteer recruit] was taking a shower; he took two hours to apologize. He also said that he ate chow in our mess hall. It took him one hour to eat it and two hours to regret it. Then he said that our barracks were so clean that there were no bed bugs around…the cockroaches chased them out.”

In the letter Dad also reflects on the current events of the war and how his baby niece, cloaked in her innocence, is protected from it all. “I have been hearing news on the radio and so far I understand that the Americans have about 4 Italian islands, and Sicily better watch out, and after that I wonder what next? Theresa-Marie…is the one person really lucky not to know about what is going on in this world of ours. By the time she grows up to understand it all, it will be peaceful once more and the quicker the better. I remember how quite a few years back when anyone murdered somebody or a ship sank or burned like the Morro Castle, it certainly was news! But now, ships get sunk every week and lives seem to carry low news rating. The situation no doubt is different in that now all is on a greater scale.”

He signs off, “So long for a little while” 

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