Stories

The Letters of Private James P. McClelland

by Tom McClelland


LETTER #1

Aug. 17, 1944
Somewhere in Italy

James P. McClelland Dear Dad,
Here I am writing from my new replacement center, so my status remains the same as it was before. Everything is going fine and I still have plenty of sleep and plenty to eat, only here we get plenty of beans. So far we haven't had beans for breakfast. I guess they just don't get up early enough to cook them. I have visited Rome but didn't have time to look around much. Saw the Coliseum and some of the old dungeons where the prisoners were fed to the lions. I want to see St. Peters and some of the big cathedrals next time. There was little or no damage done to the main part of town. I have had a ride on a German freight car and it made the U.S. freights seem like Pullmans. The rain came right through the roof, and the load before us had been cattle or manure, so the smell was awful. I have seen lots of bomb craters and fox holes by the hundreds. On the Italian roads were wrecked tanks and airplanes by the dozens. Some towns like Cassino are about level with the ground. The next time I have a pass I hope to go to Leghorn or Florence, but I see no chance of a pass any time soon. The new front has opened in France so it should help end the war sooner.

I have a big straw tick to sleep on and that helps a lot. Do they cut much out of my letters? There are some many things I can write that I will just have to take a month off when I get home and tell you all about it. A fellow gets a lot of experiences in the Army, some of which aren't so good. I get awfully homesick at times and gripe about lots of things but it never gets so bad that it couldn't get worse. In the Army if you don't gripe a lot, they think something is wrong. We have the camp band out in front of our tent to put on a show and some music so I will have to go as the crowd has started to gather. Notice my new address.
Love to all
James P.



LETTER #2

Aug. 21, 1944
Somewhere in Italy

Dear Dad,
Your letter of July 25 just came and was the first lines I have received in four weeks. I think every day I will get a bundle but it just doesn't come. Everything is going fine here and the news is so good every day that we are all in high spirits. Paris should fall soon and then the push from the south should go fast once it gets going. There hasn't been much excitement here the last few days as we have been taking it easy. I was on guard duty Saturday and Sunday for 24 hours. You walk 2 hours and rest 4. Over here you carry loaded rifles with plenty of ammunition, and if they don't halt, you shoot and ask questions later. It was dark as the ace of spades Saturday night and you could imagine you saw lots of things. My tent mate caught a fellow stealing a case of candy and they gave him (my buddy) a pass to go to Rome. I would have given $25 for the trip but some things money can't buy. My chances may come some day and then I can see some sights. We don't get any passes here at this camp, only for special things. I am glad Bob S is having a good time. The boys over here don't seem to mind it like the ones with families. If our mail would only come through it wouldn't be so bad. The soldier mail is so heavy we have to wait our turn. I got Mary H V-mail today. It was dated July 16, the day I got to Italy. We had a little parade this afternoon with music and everything. Maybe they are getting ready to parade through Berlin. Ha! That would be a real treat and the way it looks to me, I got over here at just the right time to see the end of things. The kids should see the big oxen over here. They move so slow and look so funny. We have a night hike tonight but we are in such good condition they don't bother us. We take special tablets to check malaria and it has a tendency to turn your skin a little yellow. I hope you don't think I am turning into a Chinese when I get home.

My straw tick works fine and I sleep much better than I did at the other camp. They may keep me jumping around for months on account of my age. It seems it was a mistake some place to have brought men over 35 over here. A nice time to find it out now. If I had my way I would go right back home. I am so anxious to get back to my old job. I liked it so well and was going great. They keep my job open for me until I get back, and they give Mary a monthly check of $37.50 plus the commissions I have earned. There are not many companies that do that. I wanted Mary to only work part-time but she said she wouldn't be so lonesome if she didn't have any spare time, and she is saving for a new home.

We have lots of olive trees here and the grapes are even better than in California. It seems most of the land of any good over here is owned by counts and countesses, and the work is done by share croppers that get next to nothing.

Poor old Adolph must have his hands full by now. We all hope he will give up soon. In this part of the country the people dress a lot better and seem to be more prosperous They have a good many cattle, mostly oxen. They are large and have great long horns. They look more like horses than cattle. I saw my first turkeys also. Tell Billie Sam the hogs over here don't have any hair and are a rather blue color. There are lots of dogs and kids by the hundreds.

They grow lots of olives and the main crop seems to be hemp for rope making. The days have been hot, and the nights cool; in fact, almost cold. I hope we get out of here before the fall rains start for the mud sticks to your feet like soft snow. Fact is it is about like walking with a brick on each foot. I see no immediate danger for me and doubt if I will see any active duty, but will not know until I have been assigned to a regular outfit, so there is no need for worrying in advance.

My mail just isn't coming through worth a darn, but expect a lot when it does come through. When you keep on the move it is hard to keep up. I haven't had a line in four weeks. I haven't heard that Mary has my notice of safe arrival but know she must have known long ago as I sent her a cablegram when I arrived. We still sleep on the ground over here.

I am sure Norma and Tommy would enjoy a trip to the Ozarks and if we possibly can we want to drive back for a vacation when I get back. I have 60 or 90 days before I have to report back to work. The corn here is only waist high and as soon as the ears set on they go through and cut the stalks off just above the ears. It looks more like sweet corn. The women do all the work while the men take it easy. A man carries his coat while the women carry big loads on their heads. The gals would be mighty popular in the Ozarks. The other night the chaplain was going through the chow line and splashed some hot water on his hands. He turned to the soldiers and said, "Won't some layman say a few words." You know the chaplain does not swear. Thanks again for the letter. I have read it five times. In fact, we trade letters around here at camp so we get very well acquainted.
Must get ready to go on a hike.
Love to all,
James P.



LETTER #3

Sept. 22, 1944
Italy

Dear Dad,
We have had such a nice sun-shiny day after a downpour of a couple of days that got us plenty wet. We got wet, blankets wet, clothes wet, and had to stand in mud while our bread and food got wet while we ate. I can see now life in Italy will not be so good if we spend the winter here. Our good weather may last so why worry.

Mary and the kids are fine and had just been to the beach and the kids had been on all the rides at the Pike so they were happy. The had some pictures taken that I have enjoyed so much. The most of my bunch have moved out so I will have to get acquainted with a new bunch. I was glad to miss this trip. They kept all the men here over 35 so I don't know what to make of it. Every day I spend here just helps that much. They tell you nothing so all I can do is enjoy the good meals, exercise some, sleep a lot and dream of the day I can be home. The way it looks Germany is folding up fast now. Wouldn't be surprised to be put in the Army of occupation for a while, but don't expect to be over here many months once it is over.

I am so glad Ray can stay in the States. Another bunch of my old buddies are in Italy some place now. There are so darn many soldiers it is just impossible to find anyone.

It rained our show out the last two nights. All we see are movies older than the hills, but it gives us something to do. My stove-cleaning detail is over, so if you ever need any stoves cleaned, I am an expert. It is so nice to be able to learn a trade in the Army. Ha!

Had a nice letter from John Radle yesterday and they are fine. Have bought a home in Kansas City. Mrs. Radle (Mary's mother) has been visiting Mary the past month and they seem to enjoy having meals ready when Mary comes from work. I hope she can stay on. Mary has a lot to do.

We have three men in our big tent now so I have plenty of room. I got a cot so it is nice to be off the ground. Mail call and no mail today. We enjoy mail more than anything else.
Time to go eat, so must go.
Love to all,
James P.



LAST LETTER WRITTEN BEFORE BEING CAPTURED

October 2, 1944
Italy

Dear Dad,
Just received a nice letter from Agnes written the middle of July; and a nice letter from wife Mary and the kids so this has been a good day. I have moved to another camp so was glad to see my mail was coming through OK. This seems to be much more beautiful than where I was. I like it much better. It is always a lot of fun to see new country and visit new cities for the first time. That is about the only part of the Army I like. The people all seem glad to see us as we go through the country.

I often wonder if they are really glad to see us or are just afraid not to be. They have been pushed around so much they change their ways easily. They know the Yanks spend their money freely so that is a big help whey they are so short on food and etc. Mary said the kids were back in school again. Sue is in 8th; Tom 7th this year. They write me such cute letters, or at least they seem nice to me.

I wish you could have been here to go to breakfast with me today. Have you ever taken your plate out in a driving rain when the rain runs off your hat into your cereal, your bread gets soggy and your scrambled eggs are full of water? You should try it sometime for then you realize how nice it would be to be back home. Hot toast and coffee would make you realize what how nice life really is.

My position or situation remains the same as it has been so I see no immediate danger in sight. We haven't had any war news for a few days so we are anxious to hear. It would be wonderful to hear the war had been over two days and we just hadn't heard it.

The way it looks we will have a cold, damp winter here in Italy if the rain doesn't stop in the next few weeks. This morning it was raining and we had nothing to do so we just went to bed to keep warm. Some of the boys were in town the other day and ordered a rabbit dinner. They later found they had eaten cat so we a good laugh at them. They said it seemed to taste a little different and the bones didn't look the same. I just can't stand to eat away from camp.

As you no doubt notice, because of censorship, we are unable to write about places we have visited any places north of Rome so that cuts down on my news items. Some day I can tell you about all of my travels and will try not to exaggerate my stories too much. Why they may even top some of your Panama stories I have heard. Ha!

Most of the fruit is all gone over here now. Just a few tomatoes yet. We get excellent canned fruit about once a day. Lots of pineapple, peaches, fruit salad and etc. No pie and very little cake. Coffee is weak but hot. We get quite a bit of hard tack in place of bread. Bacon is salty. We get some kind of meat one meal a day. Lots of beans. A few hot cakes. I am anxious to get a pass and see some new country. One has to keep any eye open for mines and booby traps. They have the mine fields marked and have taken most of them out. So there is very little danger. That's another part of the Army I don't care about.

Last night I took a shower right out in the rain. Was rather cold. Had a nice letter from Lorraine the other day. It was two months old. We see lots of Allied planes but no German. The boys say it was just the other way in Africa. It gives you a good feeling when our own big bombers roar overhead headed for the enemy. I would hate to be in their shoes. About out of news so will have to take a break.
Love to all,
James P.

Submitted by son, Tom McClelland