Jugglers, Dancers and Gun Loaders
In this letter, Alex writes about the USO show that came to his base. The acts that he describes sound dismal but they serve to pass the time and let the sailors hoot and holler. There is a tap dancing act and an acrobatic act. But for both performances, the costume upstaged the talent. There was a juggler, and the MC’s instrumental talent resembled the purposefully poor violin playing of Jack Benny (an American comedian, vaudeville performer an radio/television personality). The mission of the USO is to give the men overseas a feeling of “a home away from home.” And yet, Alex didn’t move tot he United States until he was 18. Does this show reflect his home (in New York or Europe) in any way? He is also older than most of the other sailors, which enters into his letters often. His relationship with these men can become strained. In his letters, Alex always separates himself from “the boys.” We rarely see a story in which he is “one of the guys,” and feels a strong sense of camaraderie.
This letter moves from a description of this performance, meant to boost morale, to the list of gun commands that Alex must learn. I did not type all of these out, though they are posted here if you are interested in reading them. I can’t help but notice that this letter moves from the USO show to gun commands and then abruptly to a conclusion from a loving father. In this letter the violence of war is juxtaposed repeatedly with the nostalgic, cheesy, luxury of a “homey” performance and the loving sentiments of a father. The letter concludes, “The orders on machine guns are brief and I’ll tell you in another letter. The projectiles are beeshes because they are heavy on the big gun – Goodnight sweet, I love you very much.”
I’ve seen the U.S.O. Show and it wasn’t too bad. Of course, 4th class. I guess most of their “do” must go for administration if this is what they can afford.
It consisted of a tap dancing girl who went through the routine. The only thing which was worth about her was her very scanty clothes. It gave a hard on to most of the boys. Then there were 3 sisters on a half acrobatic team with a miserable routine and when one thought that they started it was all over. Of course they were quite shapely and scantly clothes, so there was plenty of applause just to get them out from the curtains.
There was a singer of funny songs. Her voice was hardly able to carry over these easy western songs. She had a long evening gown so, she had to make up with winking and cooing to the boys.
There was a juggler and he was good. But jugglers have to be good. The boys did appreciate him. The last was a woman who played the piano and led mass singing, I prefer our own organist at our regular movie nights a first class sailor!
The master of ceremonies had a stack of stale jokes and tried his best to be funny but his jokes either went over the head of the boys or they were as old as Methuselah.
So he tried to make up by singing and that was poor his guitar playing reminded me of Jack Benny’s violin.
So, you see, for this I almost neglected you. But how would I have known in advance.
The boys are better behaving now, but there is one who is getting on our nerves. But its my fault I gave them too much confidence. And I should know better. I guess I was so anxious to make some friends that now they are over friendly, and they either kid with me or annoy me with their eighteen year old jokes. But I’ll know better next time.
Today we took a 50 caliber machine gun apart. I don’t know the name of one of the part yet, so I better begin to buck up. With the various positions on the gun I am not so bad. Particularly on the big ones. I make a good first loader. I guess I’ll explain you when I come home.
Now I’ll write down all the commands. This will give me practice and give you something to read. OK?
____ everybody runs to his position around the gun and sings out his position in the following order
Pointer switch on –
Trainer on target
1st loader man
5 command is:
The loaders pass the ammunition buck into the boys. Plug man closes the breech and every body leaves gun.
In case any one in the crew sees something wrong around the gun he calls out silence.
At that command, who ever gives it, all mo
Well darling its time to hit the hay. This was good exercise for me and at the same time gives you an idea what the arm guard is doing aboard ship with the big guns.
The orders on machine gun are brief and I’ll tell you in another letter.
The projectiles are beeshes because they are heavy on the big gun –
I love you very much
Both of you and Cookie.