A love story with missing pieces

This week I received the final batch of letters from Zip to my grandma, all the way up to August, 1945.

It’s been heart-wrenching to read them. They’re not so much love letters as they are loneliness and longing letters. Zip wasn’t one for the “mushy stuff” as grandma complained in one of her diary entries.

Grandma was in a weird place at the end of 1942. After Zip went off to Camp Endicott in Rhode Island in early November she was bereft. She mentions him in every entry, whether she’d received a letter or not. The gist of grandma’s feelings for Zip was: I love him, I miss him, I wish he liked me.

She couldn’t enjoy anything. After spending a couple of months house-bound with an infected toe (I know, ew. This toe prevented her from finishing high school), she finally started going out again in November. There was no shortage of interested boys, even as a lot of them were shipping out. But she found herself thinking only of Zip. On December 18 she went out with a boy named Daryl, and writes:

…said he loved me — fooey! — he’s nice but — if only I had been with Zip — all the time with Daryl I was pretending it was Zip — (trying to).

Daryl wasn’t the only male proclaiming his love. There’s the somewhat creepy appearance of a guy named Bill Clark. It’s implied that he’s a friend of her mother’s, and therefore most likely a grown man:

Mom got a letter from Bill Clark — and he said to forgive him for loving ME so much — but he can’t help it — I think maybe he’s getting me a watch.

Bill Clark shows up on New Year’s eve, and goes out to the Blue Danube for a NYE party with Ethel (grandma’s mom). But not before once again declaring his love:

Bill Clark came — he had wine — Birdie + I got feeling good… — I kissed Bill Clark — Happy New Year — He said I’m the only one he loves.

Grandma spent New Year’s Eve at home with her sister’s best friend Birdie. They put on Ethel’s formal dresses, sang Auld Lang Syne, and kissed at midnight. (Grandma kissed a girl!!) But she couldn’t have a happy New Year without Zip.

Despite the pining away for Zip, grandma wasn’t exactly piously waiting for the war to end. And neither was Zip. He spent New Year’s Eve on leave in NYC. He writes:

Sammy Kaye’s Orchestra played on the roof. There are 6 girls to every boy, and none want civilians. But who cares. You know them today and no more. The crowds on Times Square were so thick you couldn’t even stop once in them. All the time there we only ate 4 meals, but 16,000,000 gallons of whiskey.

I’ve done a bit of digging on the internet and figured out that Zip was part of the 51st Naval Construction Battalion, a “Seabee.” They trained in Rhode Island before they were assigned to the Aleutian campaign in early 1943. There wasn’t much fun to be had in Dutch Harbor, and even less when they were living in tents on some barren island, building roads and churches and housing for the troops.

Zip was miserable in the Aleutians, and became as obsessed with grandma as she had been in her 1942 diary. Her lack of frequent letters bothered him a lot. And frankly it bothers me, too. I don’t have her side of the story after 1942, but Zip wasn’t getting letters from her for weeks or months on end. And then they were often disappointingly short. A lot of his writing is complaints about not getting letters from her. He needed those letters, it’s pretty clear. He writes this from Dutch Harbor on February 26, 1943:

Well honey it’s been a long time no see no hear from you. I’m beginning to think you don’t want to write, if so let me know. I sure wish you were here honey, this without a doubt is the place for confirmed bachelors or men that hate women. As there isn’t a girl here.

After multiple requests, grandma sends Zip a photo of herself, which he puts up next to his head in his bunk, so she’s the first thing he sees every morning, and the last thing he sees at night. Zip wrote 38 letters to grandma in 1943. There were a few gaps, but he sometimes wrote several days in a row.

Meanwhile, there was some upheaval in grandma’s life. In the Spring she and Ethel (her mom) and Ginny (her sister) moved to North Idaho. Ethel had been offered a job with the railroad (for which she was qualified), but when they saw she was a woman, they retracted the offer. So she got a job in a drugstore. Meanwhile, her daughters had a whole new crop of boys to test. I don’t know much about grandma’s life in Coeur d’Alene between 1943 and 1946 (when my uncle was born), but I know she was making new friends and having pouty photos showing quite a bit of leg taken. I’ve seen the photos.

As Zip’s stay in the Aleutians drags on, he gets more depressed. This letter from August 10, 1943:

Dearest Pat,

I’m laying in my bunk writing this so excuse bad writing. I received your July 24 letter. It really is a rare moment when I receive a letter from you. I’m glad you liked my picture, but you’ll never know me when I ever get back. My morale right now is really low. If you were here you’d know why. I don’t like to hear that you aren’t going out + having fun. You’re foolish if you don’t. Better get yourself a 4-f’r or sailor, but be careful. A guy gets to thinking too much up here. I think I’ll be here till March or April, maybe later. Too damn long for anybody in a place like this. I don’t blame you if you don’t write, but I hope you have a good time + always thinking of you. Well maybe I’ll see you in a few years at least. It seems damn long here. Don’t mind me tonight just down in dumps.

Love, Bob

But grandma could still cheer him up. On August 21, 1943 Zip writes:

Well sweetie I’ve read your Aug 11 letter about 4 times so I guess I’ll start answering it. I’ve got 3 days to write it in as boat won’t be in till then. I noticed your letter cost $.12. It was worth $1,000,000.

And then in early 1944, they start talking about meeting. Grandma wants to come visit in Alaska. He says he might see her in Idaho, or Seattle, whenever he gets back to the lower 48. On January 8, 1944, Zip writes:

Pat when I get my leave I’m going to spend a few days with folks then if everything is okay I’ll probably come over + see you. Have you ever been to Kellogg, Idaho? I heard that is a swell place to go. Also no sailors for a change. A couple could have a perfect time.

On February 7, he writes:

Here it is Saturday nite again. Oh for a Sat nite in U.S. Would be somewhat different methinks… It is snowing a bit on the table. Gives you a mild sort of idea of weather. A little sunshine sure would be wonderful. Of course if you could arrange to make a visit up here everything would be okay. Bring up morale + such. I’ll see if I can’t get back to the U.S. + visit you. Excuse me if I’m off the beam. Little Harbor Happy I guess. 12 months too long or something.

On March 25, after a letter from Zip in Port Angeles, grandma receives a Western Union telegram: 

Okay see you Tues 7:30 = Bob

To be continued….



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