FEBRUARY 16

Since going on-line, I have been asked what kind of work I did during the war.  I should have explained that in my introduction.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women in the armed forces were essential to make it possible for the infantry to fight the enemy. Some were specialists: engineers, signal corps technicians, quartermaster personnel, chemists, mechanics, clerk-typists, cooks, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, chaplains, etc. At eighteen, I had no relevant experience except a couple of college courses – the R.O.T.C. where I learned close-order drill, and an art course on how to solve camouflage problems.  While most soldiers were permanently attached to an outfit almost immediately after they reported to the induction center, this was not the case with me.  For almost two years I was like a rolling stone, moving from one job to another, unable to advance up the ranks, increase my pay, or become part of a military family. Most of my complaints in the letters were about this very fact.  It wasn’t until after almost two years in the service that I finally became part of an organization. Yet, ironically, it was because of this varied range of experience that I had a rich source of background material to use while writing my letters.

I hope this explains why I had the following mixed-bag of jobs: drill instructor; chemical-warfare specialist; member of a replacement pool; chaplain's assistant; press liaison for an air force command HQ; writer, actor and disk jockey for a radio station. Most assignments were the result of the arcane method the army used to categorize soldiers; but in the case of my transfer to the American Forces Network, my knowledge of the “system” helped to move things along.  By pure chance, I found myself in the world’s spotlight: in Southhampton on D-Day and then on the Normandy beachhead shortly after; in Paris a few days after the Liberation; and with the first troops into Germany.

My parents were as confused about my army activities as readers of my letters may be today.  With the end of censorship, I tried to explain it all to them. (See May 21, 1945)    

FEBRUARY 23 In the letter of March 13, 1945, I comment on a “babe” named Mary Welsh who was sitting across from me typing a story for Time Magazine.  If I had known she was “seeing” Hemingway and would become his third and last wife a few months later, I probably would have been more respectful.
FEBRUARY 26

The concentration camp in Wolfenbutel, near Braunschweig, Germany, has been described as a satellite of Buchenwald.  I visited the camp a couple of days after the infantry liberated the area.  Wolfenbutel housed German political prisoners and European resistance leaders. While Googling Dutch anti-nazi activities recently, I came across (and then lost) a Dutch web forum that discussed the film documentary: The Reckoning: Remembering the Dutch Resistance.  One of the participants in the forum reported that his great-grandfather, the mayor of a Dutch town, was captured and beheaded by the guillotine pictured in the gallery photo.

MARCH 5

After I posted my February 26 comment on Wolfenbuttel, I found the website. Also, I had the documentary title wrong. The correct documentary is Making Choices: The Dutch Resistance During World War II.  During the forum discussion of that documentary, one participant wrote: I don't imagine there is anything in this film about my Flemish (the original Dutch) Greatgrandfather the Mayor of Lichtervelde who organized a militia to fight the blitzkrieg, and was thus beheaded and the rest of my family sent to die in the concentration camp Wulfenbuttel. (sic)

I apologize for the error.

MARCH 9

In 1943, when I was 18 years old, I wondered in my letters about how my brother, Gilbert, an old man of 28, could survive the rigors of army life.  After reading those early letters, I rummaged in various drawers and found the Gallery photos of Gil and Mildred.

I can imagine the scene as they prepared to take their pictures.  He posed her on the hillock just so; and then, after showing her how it should be done, handed the camera to her.  That’s the way it was in those days.  We men always had to show girls the right way to do a job.  My how things have changed!  I miss them both.

Until now, I have not mentioned an important event in my life.  It seemed unnecessary because my audience was all family and close friends.  But because others seem to be reading the letters, it is appropriate to mention what happened only six years after I returned home from the war.  In 1952, on their way to a vacation in Florida, my mother, my father, Gil and Mildred were all killed in a head-on collision in North Carolina.  Their five-year-old son, Robert, was injured but survived.  Bob is now sixty-three with four children and three grandchildren.  When the letters turned up, he flew thousands of miles to join me in sharing this rare gift: an opportunity to meet our long-gone family again.

I remember Gil as a sweet, funny, guy – intelligent, responsible and ambitious.  He was a lawyer, although he never practiced the law.  When he entered the service, he was the Assistant Borough President of Manhattan.  Among his many duties was overseeing the building of the East River Drive.  After the accident, as I sat tied-up in traffic, the temperature over 100 degrees, my shirt dripping wet, I yearned to needle my big brother for screwing up.  Of course, I was also very proud of his achievement.  I look at him staring off in space, with that macho shoulder patch depicting a snarling werewolf crushing a Nazi Tiger tank between its jaws -- and he looks so harmless.  I don’t think either of us struck fear in the enemy.

With his flattened nose, Gil looks like one of Joe Lewis’s sparring partners.  In the photo of the family (see gallery) he is the delighted, pleasant-looking youngster sitting next to my mother. What happened? Well, now I remember.  When he was twelve, he was on his way home from the grocery store and stopped to watch a “stick-ball” game.  The batter swung his broomstick, hit Gil in the face and broke all of the soft bony tissue in his nose.  As a small child, I watched him come home, month after month, his face bandaged after each surgical procedure. Several times a week, he stood over a basin on the floor, a rubber tube draining his sinuses.  It must have been a tough way for a boy to spend his early teen-age years.

There is a lot more I could write about this delightful man.  He was my role model and I loved him – never mind the cynical things I wrote to my parents.

Gil and Mildred (Wicksman) Goodkind, were married in 1940.  My sister-in-law was a pretty, Cornell-educated, rather shy, quietly witty young woman. Mildred was a greedy reader and could sit for hours in a chair, unaware of her surroundings.  Never a party person, she cheerfully yielded the spotlight to Gil.  She giggled at his sophisticated jousts with their friends, who all imitated Noel Coward and “Gertie” Lawrence (advice to youngsters under forty: Google them!).   I envied Gil for having Mildred with him during his long years as top non-com at the Tank Destroyers Division HQ.  And I hope he envied his kid brother, living it up across the ocean, sending home those long, self-glorifying, descriptive letters to our parents.