image
WWII 32nd Station Hospital | WWII Africa to Caserta Italy | Willard O. Havemeier WWII
SCARCITY OF NEWS FROM HOME



SCARCITY OF NEWS FROM HOME AND THE FRONTLINES

During the entire time we were in Tlemcen we knew very little of what was going on in the Tunisian Campaign; news from the front arrived only with the casualties, and even then, the fighting men had very little concept of the overall picture. We found  that many of the men were not only severely wounded, but also dehydrated and covered with dirt and mud.  It was a long trip from the front to the hospital in Tlemcen, and the men were weary and disheartened. I tried to imagine what they had been through, but to me it seemed that the actual war was somewhere off in another world.  It was not until many years later when I had time to read accounts of the war that my ignorance of the true nature and details of the conflict was to some extent dispelled. In Tlemcen I was still overwhelmed by the newness of the situation. I never felt homesick; there was too much going on around me.

During my entire time in the service I received few letters from home, but then I wasn't much of a letter writer myself. It was some time before I knew that my brother Willis had been drafted, or that he would wind up in some of the heaviest fighting in Europe after D Day. Somehow the lack of letters was to be expected. My father never got over my decision to attend high school and stay in town after graduation. My life in the Army was filled with new friends and new experiences.  It was like our own small universe. I was coming to have less in common with my Minnesota friends.  I was part of something closer and this sense of closeness would last a lifetime. We had dances on the roof of our hotel, and local girls were invited. Eventually our nurses joined in, although this was against regulations, since the nurses were officers and we were enlisted men. When we got a new commanding officer he threatened us in writing with court martial if we continued having nurses at our dances. It was difficult for young people who had so recently been civilians to conform to the restrictions of army life.

SOCIALIZING
 
After we had been in Tlemcen for a time, we were invited to visit several Arab homes. The Arab women were not allowed to participate actively in these gatherings, but did serve the food. Everyone ate from a common bowl with the fingers of the right hand only. Meals consisted of lamb, chicken, vegetables and bread. The French residents also entertained us with food and lots of wine. These excursions away from the base were welcome respites from the work we were doing at the hospital. During the entire time we were in Tlemcen we knew very little of what was going on in the Tunisian Campaign, news from the front came only when we received casualties, and even then, the fighting men themselves had little concept of what the situation was. All we knew was that many of the men were not only severely wounded, but also dehydrated and covered with dirt and mud. It was a long trip from the front to the hospital in Tlemcen, and the men were weary and disheartened. I tried to imagine what they had been through, but it seemed like the actual war was somewhere off in another world. It was not till many years later, when I had time to read about the war in Africa, that my ignorance of the true nature of the conflict was to some extent dispelled. At this time I was still overwhelmed by the newness of my situation.
I never felt homesick; there was too much going on around me. During my entire time in the service I received few letters from home, bu then I didn't write that many, either. I did not know right away when my brother Willis was drafted, or that he eventually wound up in some of the heaviest fighting in Europe after D Day. Somehow the sparseness of letters was to be expected. My father never got over my decision to attend high school and stay in town after I graduated. My life now was filled with new people and new experiences. We had dances on the roof of our hotel, and local girls were invited. Eventually our nurses joined in, although this was not supposed to happen. In fact, when we got a new Commanding Officer he threatened us in writing with court martial if we continued having the nurses at the dances. It was difficult for young people who so recently had been civilians   to conform to the rigidity of Army life.
 
                                                                                                  A TRAGEDY
I became friendly with one of the nurses, Rachel Sheridan, a real Irish beauty with a great smile. We were seeing each other regularly at the dances. I really liked her a lot. The nurses also had dances at their hotel where only officers were invited. Apparently one night she met a fighter-bomber pilot, and accepted a ride in his plane. This was tantamount to going AWOL. When Rachel didn't show up for work, an investigation was initiated, and it was discovered that she had gone off on the plane. The plane never returned, and no traces of it were ever found. The Registrar's Office was responsible for the paper work in all deaths or missing in action cases, and it fell to us to prepare her effects for shipping home. When we received her footlocker, I was still not able to believe what had happened.  What were we going to tell her parents? As it turned out, we didn't have to worry. The parents of every casualty received the same cold form letter. For a long time a pall hung over our unit. Rachel was the first of us to go. We suddenly realized that our youth was not the protection we had believed it to be. I thought about Rachel for a long time. I still do.
 
 
        MY LIFE TAKES A NEW TURN

In April of 1943 I received a phone call from a nurse named Sara Riley. I had known her for some time. I was in and out of the wards and got to see everyone. She told me that she wanted to see me. As an enlisted man, I couldn't go to the officers' quarters, so I said I'd get back to her. I was floored that she had called me. There were 275 men in our unit, after all! The next day I asked the Commanding Officer's driver (a good buddy) if he would take me in a staff car to the nurses' quarters where I arranged to pick up Sara. We drove around and engaged in small talk. The next time I saw her, we made arrangements to meet in Tlemcen. From there we walked up into the mountains. Sara talked about her work, and the difficulties the nurses had with the combat troops coming back from Tunisia to be reassigned, who were always asking for dates. The nurses were invited to their unit parties that turned out to be disasters. When the women objected to going the commanding officer issued an order that they were to attend. The nurses only felt safe with the men of the hospital unit. I was so surprised with my good fortune that I was content to just listen. The afternoon wore on and we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery in the hills. Toward supper time we walked back to the base.

From then on I would sometimes take a clipboard and go on the ward "on official business" in order to be able to see her. She would blow me a kiss when I passed through. Letters flew back and forth between us, courtesy of the base mailman. We felt like kids passing notes in school. There were strict regulations concerning fraternization, and I could have been court martialed. I had been invited to dinner by a French family and discovered that they had a room and bath to rent. I had little cash, but they were content to rent it to me in exchange for foodstuffs like powdered eggs and sugar. After I had made the arrangements, I could hardly wait to tell Sara. The next night we had a double date at the "apartment". There was a Telefunken record player, and I got some new Big Band records from the Red Cross people. We "danced the night away". My buddy Ray Polzak and I made sure that these occasions were on the up and up, since we knew the nurses trusted us. (Only a few kisses between the dances). There were some nights when just some of the guys got together. We were able to get excellent wine from the French--- not that I could tell the difference, but others could. Sometimes our French friends treated us to a good meal. We always had to be back at our hotel bed check at ten PM. We were warned not to be on the streets late at night.

 I thought that I was falling in love, and for the first time. Throughout the war there was always the prohibition regarding dating between enlisted men and nurses, but there was a lot of camaraderie among us as we tried to outwit the system. Sara was two years older and much more sophisticated than I. The dust of Minnesota was still on my shoes. It was hard for me to believe that Sara had chosen me out of the 275 men in our unit.

I still have a love letter from Sarah in which she complains about our having to sneak around; she would like to see me every night. She closed with kisses XXX ('But these are not like the real thing"). It was here Sarah complained bitterly that we could not see each other in the open. We needed each other, but all I could do was "back off", telling her she needed to meet someone else in the unit or we would be in deep trouble.  I got a terrible hurt feeling in my stomach which later turned to a pleasant ache in a melancholy way. We were in the military and at war and there was no one with whom I could discuss my dilemma. I became aware that we needed to "cool it". I did not sleep for a week or more.. Sara had a technique of kissing my eyelids with her warm lips which I will never forget. There were times we were close to having sex, but it never happened. I was the strong one at the time, but  I often wished I would have followed through with what we had started.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 



 


next


Back To Index | Home

 

WWII 32nd Station Hospital | WWII Africa to Caserta Italy | Willard O. Havemeier WWII
WWII 32nd Station Hospital | WWII Africa to Caserta Italy | Willard O. Havemeier WWII

 

image

Oppenheimer Group® Lancaster, PA Website Design & Lancaster, PA Search Engine Optimization
© website design 2004

image