I have to admit that I expected some real dramatic stuff going on in my Dad’s letters when I got to the beginning of May – knowing that the war was coming to a close. I’ve been shocked by his preoccupation with volleyball and ping pong – wondering why he wasn’t concerned with more substantive things related to the war around him. This letter is one of the most revealing yet! He admits it, he’s numb. Great letter Dad!!
7 May 1945 V-Mail
A guy ran up and down the hall this afternoon yelling, “The war is over”. We said “No kidding?” and he said “‘S fact!” We said “Well”, sat around and looked at each other a couple of minutes, and went on working.We ate supper and went out and played some volley-ball. About 7:30 we start hearing train whistles and sirens and sporadic (as we say in the Army) small arms fire. A few minutes later somebody comes out and says it is official, war is over. We say “What’s the score?”—and go on playing volley-ball. About 8:30 we retire to the RatsCellar for a few beers. We read about the CBI and hear about how they are tearing up ticker-tape in New York. We say “Hey, fellas, the war is over!” Somebody says, weakly, “Yippee” and we drink our beer and read the S & S, where it says Service Troops will mostly be shipped direct to the CBI. We come upstairs and wander around, not many guys working, finally dig up a ping-pong game, wallop his fanny four or five games — hi ho ….
The WAR IS OVER!!! Nope, even writing it like that doesn’t make me excited. What the hell is the matter with us? Are we numb? This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for a long time now … Do people really get as excited as the newspapers would have you believe? Is it mass hysteria, or is it different at home? There is nothing the matter with us, but by golly, for some reason, this just doesn’t mean as it should. Maybe there are too many things that can still happen to us before we get home. After all, we’re still a long ways from home, and we are too well trained to expect much of break — I mean something such as going home. It will take me some little time, I’m afraid, to actually believe that this business is all over — even when I get home. What is there but routine and orders in life, anyway? I don’t really mean that, of course, but it is going to take some time to realize it.
I frankly haven’t the vaguest idea of what is going to happen to us, and no one else has either, I think. Everybody has good sound reasons to believe that we will be going home; going to the CBI; staying here—have a cigarette. Thank you very much, I think I will.
Had four lovely letters from you last night –lovely, but maddening. Why maddening? Because they were April 16 and 17, then skipped to 27 and 28, at which point you say the doc says you will be able to go back to work in a couple of days, and the kittens are doing fine!!! What the hell goes on? I didn’t even know that you were sick or that the cat was pregnant!! And no mail tonight to clarify the situation. Just as a guess, I’d bet that you were simply wearing yourself out and not getting enough sleep, etc. Even if that isn’t what put you in bed directly, it still goes. You relax more. That’s an order.
I LOVE YOU
the old sarge
Side note: didn’t know what “CBI” was or what he was referring to here – Wikipedia says that stands for “China Burma India Theater”. I imagine Dad and his buddies were afraid they were going to get shipped off to another part of the war going on in these regions.
And in doing more research about this day, it appears there were great contrasts in people’s feelings – of course we’re all familiar with the classic images of soldiers kissing girls and banners in the streets, but this quote from the BBC website also shows that it wasn’t just my Dad that had mixed feelings about the end of the war:
“For many the great excitement came on 7 May, rather than on the official day of victory the next day. All across the nation the people tuned in to the wireless to find out more. They were told that Allied victory in Europe was to be celebrated officially the following day, but many people had already begun their celebrations. People were out on the streets, hanging bunting and banners and dancing. The famous World War Two diarist Nella Last recorded the scene in her diary:
‘…all the shops had got their rosettes and tri-coloured button-holes in the windows and men putting up lengths of little pennants and flags. Till at three o’clock, the Germans announced it was all over. As if by magic, long ladders appeared, for putting up flags and streamers. A complete stranger to the situation could have felt the tenseness and feeling of expectation. Like myself, Steve [Howson, a wartime friend] has a real fear of Russia. He thinks in, say, 20 years or so, when Nazism has finally gone, Germany and not Russia will be our Allies.’
So although war was won and the threat of Nazism removed, there was still some uneasiness. The war in the Pacific was unresolved, and millions of people in Europe and Russia had to rebuild their lives.
Nella Last goes on to note that the decision to celebrate victory the following day led to a feeling of anti-climax, and when VE Day arrived she felt ‘curious, flat’. She spent the time quietly at home.”