State Auditors Go to War: Letters from Servicemen
Newsletters Feed Information Hungry Coworkers
Cards and letters to and from relatives, neighbors, and workmates provided Americans in the armed forces with a vital morale boost while giving those at home a valued insight into military life, travels, and adventures during World War II. Newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, and movie newsreels contributed greatly to the understanding of events, but they couldn't offer the same perspective as a handwritten letter from a husband, son, or trusted friend. Combined, the two types of information gave those on the home front a deeper understanding of the war. And to the homesick Americans scattered around the globe, news about the neighborhood, church activities, or office gossip was as good as gold.
Numerous informal methods developed to spread news about loved ones and friends serving in the military. Letters were often read aloud at small gatherings or passed on from one neighbor or relative to the next. Simple newsletters were popular too, frequently based on local connections such as labor unions, churches, fraternity houses, or offices. The State Audits Division of the Oregon Secretary of State's Office distributed a newsletter entitled C.P.A. News, puckishly subtitled "Certified Partly Accurate." Over the course of the war, the newsletter became the authoritative clearinghouse for information about the two dozen or so Audits Division employees who served in the armed forces. Members of the office's "stenographic force" would transcribe letters from their coworkers in the military and produce the newsletter, which was then distributed to the office, family members, and others. The keenest readers of the newsletters proved to be those coworkers serving in the armed forces in far flung locations. Their letters nearly always made mention of their great joy in receiving the newsletter and learning about where their coworkers were stationed and what they were doing. A missed issue was often the cause of considerable disappointment. The letters and subsequent newsletters covered a wide range of topics but of course did not include news about troop movements, specific locations, or other information subject to censorship.
Navy Lieutenant Theodore Thompsen relaxes shipboard somewhere in the South Pacific. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
Life in the military
The correspondents rarely failed to mention various aspects of life in the military. For example, Don Griffith, a newly minted Army private based at Camp Barkeley in West Texas, described his early experiences: "The training is rugged and thorough. By that I mean, the marches are long, the sand burrs and cacti sharp, and the full pack plenty heavy." Griffith also received an introduction to the language differences between Oregon and Texas: "Most of the officers speak little english but they speak profanity with marvelous fluency and a southern drawl. This means of expression is a little hard to understand at first, but after a couple of private sessions (with one of these officers) a fellow soon understands what is wanted."(1)
Fighting the "Battle of Barkeley"
Don Griffith had his hands full helping to run one of the Army officer mess halls at Camp Barkeley, Texas. According to Griffith, "'Fighting the Battle of Barkeley' is neither exciting nor dangerous; never the less, around the officers' mess (we have three of them) there is never a dull moment." Griffith was in charge of making the menu, which apparently created a constant challenge: "We serve boiled potatoes every day of the month; which in itself is nothing unusual but what taxes a person's ingenuity is thinking up new names for things so as to camouflage the menu. If this is done in a good manner the officers do not know what they are getting until they see the plates."
Griffith went on to describe one of the environmental challenges of his job: "If you have ever been through West Texas you know how dusty it really remains here during the four seasons. The red dust and sand drifts in through the windows, floor, and ceiling and sifts over the tables and dishes. Following one of the sudden blows we always have an inspection. They always come in the same order: sand-storm--inspction [sic], sand-storm--inspection, etc. We are getting so that when a sandstorm hits we stand at the head of the tables at rigid attention-- we know what is coming and want to get it over with. The psychologists have a name for this, conditioned reflex or something similar."(17)
Few of the men complained about the food, although their aversion to KP or kitchen patrol duty was clear, with several reveling in assignments that got them out of the hated duty. Of course, the meals varied greatly depending on where the person was stationed. Those serving at bases in the United States usually got standard meat and potatoes fare, and plenty of it, even if the quality was sometimes suspect. Others made do with what was available. For instance, Private Jim Jefferson, apparently based on an island somewhere in the South Pacific, made the best of it, saying that "things aren't too bad. We get a ration of beer (1 case) and coke (8 bottles) each month and we have ice cream about once a week. When we are lucky enough to have fresh eggs the boys stand in the chow line without a complaint." Meanwhile, Navy Ensign Wilson Siegmund couldn't complain about his assignment in Australia. He was lucky enough to be stationed in a "large and quite fashionable hotel with breakfast in bed, if desired (an old Australian custom)." As an ensign, Siegmund also had access to the officers mess, where he noted that the "food is very good, quite like the food in the states and not the steaks and fried potatoes three times per day as is the custom here. Plenty of meat, potatoes, some vegetables, ice cream occasionally."(3)
Most of the correspondents enjoyed describing some of the far off places they visited during their service and sending post cards as illustrations. Bill DeCew spent a couple of glorious days in Paris in November, 1944, not long after its liberation from the grip of Nazi occupation. He marveled at the sights, saying that "you can believe everything you've read about that city for it's all true. I went to operas, concerts, stage shows, the French Embassy, etc. Took a trip along the Siene [Seine River]. And spent one night at Le Lido, the night spot. It was really something. They had a swell floor show...the girls had beautiful costumes, those that wore them. Most of them didn't even wear gloves."(4)
Wilson Siegmund sent his coworkers at the Audits Division this souvenir Japanese occupation money from the Philippines.
Private C.E. Ruddell was so impressed with San Francisco, a key gateway for servicemen shipping out to Pacific Ocean assignments, that he recommended it to a friend back at the Audits Division office. Complimenting the "many places of amusement for service men," Ruddell singled out one in particular: "The San Francisco Stage Door Canteen is probably the best as they get the Lion's share of the business. The Canteen has all the leading lights of Radio Stage and Screen that come to town. Saw Gertrude Lawrence there the other night and many others have been there which I have missed seeing." And, he jokingly gave advice to a young woman who presumably worked as a stenographer in the Audits Division office: "You might pass along to Lucille that this might be the spot for her [to] spend her vacation. The town is full of strapping young innocent appearing sailor boys who seem to have a decided weakness for the buxom type of gal and [I] feel sure Lucille as I remember her could easily qualify. Just passing this information along for her consideration if she is still on the man hunt."(5)
Others were less impressed with what they saw during their travels. Jim Jefferson, after stints on Guadalcanal and New Caledonia, among other places in the South Pacific, saw little to recommend the region. In one letter to the Audits Division office, he admitted that he had no excuse for not writing sooner, "except that I didn't have much to write about. One day is much like another, - heat and rain, rain and heat. I tell you, these south sea islands have none of the glamour given them by the movies and the nearest thing to Dorothy Lamour I have seen were a few very 'sun burned' females with rings through their noses." Jefferson continued with additional complaints about the weather: "After being on Guadalcanal I can appreciate what they mean by a sea of mud. When it rains there the mud is knee deep and it rains most of the time.(6)
Sidney Hoffman, a captain in the Army, offered a number of choice words in November 1943 about his assignment in another rainy place: "Somewhere in England":
...But to pass on to England itself. Over here they emphasize “tradition” but my reaction to a lot of it is “out of date”. Can you imagine meat laid out on a table in the open where dust & flies can get to it? Or warm beer? Or charging more for the seats in the cinema that are farthest from the screen? Or roads & streets that wind around & over the terrain? Or all the houses behind hedges or brick walls? Or the girls riding bicycles with their legs bare and smoking cigarettes? Or two-tone hair jobs (part dark and part bleached)? Or driving on the left side of the road? Or trains with the aisle on one side with compartments that you step into directly from the platform? Or calling a drug store the “chemists” or a telephone booth a “kiosk”? Or calling a flashlight a “torch”?
Well all that in brief is England. I could go on for hours. I really believe it is beautiful here – I have never seen greener grass with nearly all the land in cultivation. At the other place I stayed in a British home or “billet” as the Army calls it. Each morning I would be awakened with a cup of tea and a biscuit (cookie to you) and a pitcher of hot water to shave with. The British are always eating. They have tea before breakfast, then breakfast, then tea at ten, then lunch, then tea at four then dinner, then tea before retiring at nite. You can sure get “teaed up” over here and I don’t intend to pun as liquor is as scarce as “C” coupons in the states. I believe Scotch is only about 50 proof and the beers are all around 2%. But try & find Scotch! Of course, Bourbon, my favorite, is unheard of. The bars and cocktail rooms rack up [close] about 9:30 pm (2130 hours in the Army) so you have to stumble your way home in the total darkness with the help of a dimmed torch (the “stumbling” being do [due] to the terrain and not your condition).
(view entire letter)
Despite the mixed reviews by some of the correspondents, most were excited about their experiences, especially the occasional brushes with celebrities. Clive Courter was in an unlikely spot to see a movie star since he was stationed at Fort Riley right in the middle of Kansas, an area not known for glamour sightings. Yet he relayed to his fellow auditors that "you might be interested to know that Gene Tierney, movie star, is here visiting her husband Count 'something' [fashion designer Oleg Cassini] who is a 2nd Lt. [Lieutenant]. Gene stays close to Whiteside hospital as she is expecting." While on the subject of beautiful women, Courter couldn't resist getting in a dig at the Women's Army Corps (WACS), an Army female auxiliary that suffered considerable sexist ridicule during the war: "We also have scads of beautiful (?) WACS here and one verse of a song we sing goes--"
"The WACS that we have here,
Are really very fine,
They say they are twenty,
But look forty-nine."(8)
Clive Courter saw celebrities while stationed in Kansas. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
Courter gleefully conveyed that there were many other verses that were "not exactly good material for a letter." Jim Jefferson also focused on the women while appreciating blockbuster USO shows where he was stationed in the South Pacific: "We have had several good USO shows here during the last month. The most important were the Bob Hope and the Jack Benny shows. They both had some gals with them which are the most appreciated over here. Jack Benny and his crowd, Carol Landis, Martha Tilton, and Larry Adlar [Adler] the harmonica king, had lunch in the enlisted men's mess hall on noon and almost caused a stampede."(9) (listen to part of a Bob Hope show from the South Pacific.-via Marr Sound Archives)
Into the line of fire
The men from the Audits Division performed a wide range of duties around the world. A few moved, almost too logically, directly into audit work with the military and described some of the differences in practices compared to their old office. One started in the artillery but after a physical found he had tumors he was assigned as an auditor. One was a combat engineer. Most served in the Army, several were in the Navy, but none appeared to be in the Marines. Their ranks ranged from lieutenant colonel to buck private. A fair number of the men never left the states, even if they were moved around the country extensively. Several went to Europe where one was part of the D-Day invasion. Several also went to the South Pacific, Philippines, and eventually Japan. At least one went to Alaska and one served in China. Apparently, none of the correspondents was seriously injured or killed during the war.(10)
His job in training was dangerous since he had "sweated out a lot of take-offs and landings with student pilots but all have gotten me back safely. I've been in one crash landing (the plane was finally scrapped) but everyone got out safely. There have been a good many fellows killed here but so far our squadron has had only one casualty." Perhaps in recognition of the dangers, his normal work day was short, at least most of the time: "They did increase my working day from four to eight hours a day and that didn't make me a bit happy. It is rumored around here that we'll go back to four hours a day next week. If that's not true I'm going to put in for a trip to Lake Lure for a rest cure. I don't mind the hours so much but it increases the take-offs and landings that I have to sweat out each day. Some of them are pretty damn rough." Apparently, he and his friends adapted to the stress of the job and heat of the Southeast, as he wrote: "We sit around in the evening drinking Tom Collins and that helps a little."(12)
By the fall of 1944 DeCew got his wish to get into the thick of the war, joining the waves of bombers flying day and night missions over Germany. An October 1944 letter to his old workmates in Salem described the highly dangerous work:
Not much to write about from France tonite. The missions are coming in pretty regular for me now. I don't suppose I'll ever be very much at ease while on one but it's a wonderful feeling when you get back on the ground and know that you dropped a good load on the Jerry's. That feeling is extremely different to the one you experience while over the target. When the flak [bursting shells fired from antiaircraft guns] starts popping all around you and so close that you can smell the powder - well, I guess you just pray a little harder.
It's sure hell to watch a ship [another bomber in the formation] blow up right next to you. You're scared, mad, praying and cussing. Then you get out of the flak and start home. It's a great feeling. When you reach the field, everyone is out to meet you. The Chaplan [sic] is at the end of the runway standing on top of his jeep waving to you; the mechanics greet you as soon as you taxi up to the hardstand and stop. There is no scent of pretence [sic] in their 'sweating us out'.
Best Regards, Bill(13)
After a number of dangerous bombing runs over Germany, Bill DeCew was "reeling" from the flak and crackups. He was later shot down and became a POW. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
DeCew's attitude about his dangerous job seemed to change radically over a period of about two months in late 1944 and early 1945. He noted in a December 4, 1944 letter that he always felt "pretty bad when they come around to wake the crews and [I] find that our crew isn't flying, yet when we do fly I start shaking the moment I crawl into the plane. Guess I'm hard to please but I still like to fly even if it does scare me." By the time he wrote a letter on January 26, 1945 there was no doubt about his wishes: "Now [I have] definitely changed my mind about flying. As soon as I complete this tour I'm going to stay on the ground. Between the flak and the crackups I've been in it's really got me reeling. Been lucky so far. Hope my luck continues."(14)
But his luck wouldn't hold for long. Just over a month after writing about his apprehensions, DeCew's plane was shot down over Germany. There was no word on his fate for about two months. Then, four days after Germany surrendered, DeCew's wife got a letter from the government telling her that his plane had been shot down over Griessen, Germany and that "the last anyone saw of the plane it was still under control." Mrs. DeCew relayed that "I also received a letter from one of the Mothers of the crew and someone had written her that they had seen some chutes leave the plane before it dove into the clouds but whose they were or what happened they do not know. No one they say saw the plane crash."(15)
Some time later, probably late May, Mrs. DeCew came by the Audits Division office with the good news that her husband had been found in a cellar in Germany and was safe. A few days later, they received a V-Mail letter that DeCew had sent from Germany on May 4, 1945 saying that he was anxious to catch up with the CPA newsletters he had missed:
They knocked me down but not out. A ME 109 [German war plane] got us March 2nd causing me to leave the plane for the ground by way of a parachute. Been a POW [prisoner of war] from that time until just a few days ago when they liberated us. Has been rough at times but guess the experience was worth it. Although still in Germany, I will soon be on my way to the states and then home. Will no doubt be able to stop in Salem.
Sure could use a few copies of the [CPA] News. Until the army came in we've had nothing to read. Hope the news is all good from the other fellows.
Best Regards to all, Bill(16)
1. Letter from Don Griffith to Audits Division Employees, October 4, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
2. Letter from Doug DeCew to Audits Division Employees, November 22, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA; Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, June 6, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
3. Letter from Jim Jefferson to Audits Division Employees, September 25, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA; Letter from Wilson Siegmund to Audits Division Employees, September 16, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
4. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, November 4, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
5. Letter from C.E. Ruddell to Audits Division Employees, June 9, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
6. Letter from Jim Jefferson to Audits Division Employees, July 26, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
7. Letter from Sidney Hoffman to Audits Division Employees, November 7, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
8. Letter from Clive Courter to Audits Division Employees, September 27, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
9. Ibid., Letter from Jim Jefferson to Audits Division Employees, August 24, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
10. Various Letters From Coworkers in the Military to Audits Division Employees, 1943-1946. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
11. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, June 19, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
12. Ibid., Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, November 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
13. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, October 14, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
14. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, December 4, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA; Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, January 26, 1945. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
15. Letter from Thirza DeCew to Mr. Starr, Audits Division Supervisor, May 12, 1945. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
16. "C.P.A. News," Volume 3, Number 9 and 10, May and June, 1945. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
17. Letter from Don Griffith to Audits Division Employees, December 23, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.