Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Gunman 2: Some Guys Had Daggers In Their Eyes

with 2 comments

Some of the more nuanced relationships between the sailors come out in this letter. I am excited to read some details about Alex’s life on the ship. Alex compares his recounting of events aboard the ship to him coming home from a day of work and complaining to Sylvia about work. As he puts it, he is doing Sylvia a favor: “I just write about this to sort of thing to make you feel like we used to when I arrived home and complained about the days happenings.” It is nice to hear a reference to their life together before the war and the intimacy of their relationship.

In this letter Alex has just passed an exam to become a gunman. When I visited his grave at Arlington National Cemetery, I noticed it said GM 2 below his name. I cannot find a good source to more fully explore what kind of exam a sailor had to take to earn this position. Alex is proud of earning such high marks on the test. This is still unclear to me but GM 2 (Gunner’s Mate Second Class) means Alex was a Limited Duty (or Petty) Officer. Alex either had to “satisfactorily complete initial Gunner’s Mate “A” school training,” or  “‘strike’ for the rating as a deck seaman by showing competence in the field of ordnance.” (Wikipedia Entry “Gunner’s Mate”) I am endlessly astounded by Alex’s intellectual prowess, having only attended school through 8th grade. I imagine there was a pay raise that came with his becoming a gunman but wonder what else it might mean. His role as a leader on the ship has come up in a few letters. Sometimes Alex is “one of the boys” and sometimes he finds himself separated. In 1945 Alex was 33. It seems that the average age of a soldier in WWII was between 23-26. As Alex was already married and a father, this might have separated him further. As a caring and social man I have no doubt this was hard on him.

The only time I heard my grandfather speak about being a gunman during the war was also the last time I ever saw him. He regaled the family with stories about the war, though some were more believable than others. I wrote down that he told us: “When I got to New York City there were one hundred people waiting for me. They did not know me but they began to march down after me and they began to sing Happy Days Are Here Again.” (We are pretty sure that this isn’t exactly true.) He talked about how terrified he was when he was squatting behind a gun and bullets were flying at him, and it seemed almost like he was still there when he spoke of it. It is as if he waited until the very last chance to confide this in the family. I have trouble reconciling the image I have of the gentle man that he was with the idea of him behind a weapon.

In this letter Alex also gushes over his daughter, again. He writes quite a bit about the photos that he has received. He talks about who she resembles, the fact that she looks strong and healthy, full of gumption and not fat. This is at least the second time Alex has mentioned that he does not like fat women (or babies, apparently). Still, from what I’ve heard and seen of Sylvia (and her various descendants) she was no wisp of a woman.

I apologize for the scan mishaps on this letter.

March 14/45

My dearest sweetest wife,

I received your dated as up to March 3. To my great delight when I opened one I’ve seen the pictures of that adorable brat of ours. She sure grew since I last seen her. She is practically a lady. Really I can’t find words of how to tel you, what a wonderful mother you are. She is pretty, she looks healthy and strong. I care [?] type to look at these pictures.

On one of these she looks like Serena when she was a child or mom on others I recognize myself and on others still, you or your mom. But no matter who may she resemble she is beautiful by herself. Some of the snaps are really sweet as the one where she is trying to take the doll away from the kid, and sort of makes me feel proud where she towers over the others, I am particularly happy that she is not round and fat like some babies I know. I can hardly wait for a shot where she has lighter clothes on, or better still, where I’ll see her in person.  Darling, I love you even more, if that is possible, for being the mother of such a beautiful baby.

We had a bit of work aboard lately, but now all is squared away and I’ll have a little more time to write you.

We just received word from the Armed Guard that 2nd class rating can be granted only if the tests have been taken ashore, so our officers recommendation wasn’t valid. But luckily in this port we could take the tests ashore and so you can write to ARGm 2/c because I passed my exams with 3.5, which appeared to be the highest mark aboard this ship. We were 10 to take them 4 failed and Teddy will take his test tomorrow for  2nd, I am shore [sic] he will pass it, so we will have two 2/c.  I am very happy to heave the highest marks particularly because no one can say that I didn’t study of work for my rate.

I am in particularly peculiar position. If there is a slight tightening in discipline or the crew is bawled out by the officers for some reason, the boys think that I am the cause of it. But of course they don’t think that if something good comes about that I might have something to do with it. So of course I am between the hammer and the anvil. For instance the other day liberty was postponed to a couple of hours later and some guys had daggers in their eyes.

Today someone misplaced the gang way book (which of course promptly was found) after liberty was canceled till it was found. And of course I am the guy who gives these funny ideas to the officers. Needless to say, I am mostly interested to have a smooth running crew, and to accomplish as much as possible with the least necessary disciplinary action. But at the same time I do believe that either some one gives orders or there would be nothing to show as accomplishment. In the morning I manage to be the first out of my bunk and down the line, share in all the work, because I believe that one who wants to have the respect to be obeyed has to show his own willingness to carry out orders.

            At the beginning of this job there were a few signs, but I guess most of it is appearing now, of resentment. One day I found  roll of toilet paper on my bunk, another time, they made up a work list all in fun of course, and made me “wiper” in the engine [?]. Of course both [?] were not accidental, but I took no notice of them. As the person responsible did not get the satisfaction to see me angry or even that I would understand that an offense was meant to be directed at me. So he must be quite unhappy.

On the other hand when something comes up I make my decision to heave the men’s opinion and so try to run things justly. So it is not bad at all and most of the boys consider me their friend. Many times I anticipate their thoughts and in that case I act as I see it is right to act.

            Now don’t think I have a difficult time. It is really easy to deal with these problems, and most everybody is really my friend. I just write about this to sort of thing to make you feel like we used to when I arrived home and complained about the days happenings.

            I am so glad you took those pictures in the projects. It makes me feel closer to home, and I imagine myself walking up, and meeting you white you walk the baby and you don’t expect your sailor to putt into port. Now, now don’t start to look behind your back, takes a little time yet, and I’ll let you know as soon as something sure come about. Right now I expect to go to the Continent again, and I hope that the war will be over soon and I come home for good and rejoice in seeing my two most gorgeous girls in this whole wide world.

With all my love to both of you,

Alex

Written by Molly

August 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. This is a wonderful post. Alex comes across as very thoughtful about his relationships with the younger sailors. It’s clear that he gave thought to how he would handle things and to how important it was that he do his part and not act as if he were not one of the group. It was clearly important to him to be fair and responsible, even if he was the recipient of misplaced accusations. This is what those of us who knew him loved. His fairness in all things. And, of course, he comes across as so passionate and loving…which we also knew him to be!

    Kathy

    Kathy

    August 30, 2011 at 10:35 pm

  2. Oh how wonderful that you have these letters full of personal information and emotion – Alex seems to have been such a loving and kind person :-) Jo

    Jo

    September 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm


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