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Monday, December 23, 2013

Bill Allen's Christmas Eve Letter

Christmas Card sent by William Allen
to his little brother Ben. 
The following is a letter written by Bill Allen to his Aunt Mabel on Christmas Eve, 1944. This would be Bill Allen's last Christmas, and it was to be spent in Germany away from his family. Bill Allen was my wife's uncle.     

                                                                                    Christmas Eve, 1944

Dear Mabel,

   I should be writing home tonight, but my mood is not conducive to uplifting homefront morale.  Maybe you’ll understand; so I’ll spend the evening answering the several letters which I’ve received from you lately.

  I’m thinking of all the Christmases of the past and what the day has always meant to our family.  Partly because I’m sentimental and it’s such a hard time of the year to be so far away from all those I love and the prospects of ever returning seem so remote and partly because I needed the emotional release after living under so much tension of late; I took advantage of the opportunity a while ago and sneaked off by myself and shed a great many tears.  I’m good for another year now and do realize that I’ve been one of God’s favored.  To be alive and whole is all one can ask for these days, and that is my blessing.

   I’ve received a lot of mail the past few day’s and a number of my packages have been delivered (yours is still on the way.).  Among my gifts was a copy of Wolcott’s letters.  I’ll probably have to leave it behind next time we move up, but I certainly have enjoyed snatches from it today.  I was particularly impressed with a letter from Captain Thornton Wilder and a statement to the effect that nothing makes a soldier so happy as a letter from home or so depresses him as reading it.  That sums it all up very well, but I don’t believe that a great many of us would be able to endure these days if it weren’t for the 
regular visits of the mailman.

   I have been so afraid that we night have to spend The Day fighting (yes, I’m a front line soldier again), but all indications now are that we’ll be one of the favored outfits to observe tomorrow in comparative quiet and safety.

   I came back to the Company C.P. yesterday with my lieutenant and am helping him to maintain contact between here and our gun positions.  I make trips out to the men during the day with supplies, mail, information, etc. but have some time to myself.   I’m sleeping in the bomb-proof cellar of what was once a German beer garden – a fine place before the shelling and as comfortable a haven as we have found in Germany.  Yesterday we brought in a fine Christmas tree and decorated it by looting decorations from the various houses around.  Fixing it up was a lot of fun but now it is only serving to increase the gloomy atmosphere.  I don’t believe that any of us ever hated the Germans quite so much as we do tonight.

   However, some holiday spirit has been added with the help of several bottles of fine wine and liquor which some of the boys unearthed.  The owner had them hidden well enough so that the German soldiers who recently occupied this place couldn’t find them, but not so for the Americans.  We have some boys in our outfit who can smell wine if there is any within a radius of five miles.

   The fact that the place was hastily evacuated is further evidenced by the amount of food left behind in the house.  Our dinner today was some fine cured ham found in the basement.  Yesterday we decreased the flock of chickens in the backyard.  And the really convenient thing about keeping house over here is that one never has to wash any dishes.  We just dirty them all in one house and then move our C.P. over into another house.

   There were also three cows and some little pigs in the barn which opens off the kitchen in European fashion.  One of our medics, a farmer from Iowa, has taken upon himself the duty of feeding the pigs and milking the cows.  They’ll probably be turned out to run wild when we leave but he’s getting a great deal of satisfaction out of caring for them these few days.  Tags in the cows ears indicate that they have been T.B. tested and we’re breaking stringent army rules by drinking the milk.  It’s the first fresh milk any of us have had since we left the states and the drinking of it is certainly the least of the risks we’re taking these days.

   Don’t think however, that this situation is typical of army life.  It is only the favored few who sleep under cover and this is one of the few times that I’ve had a roof over my head since I came through the dragons teeth which announced that I had arrived at the back door of the “Fatherland”.  You may be interested in a few frank facts about life as the Infantry is living it and leaving it these days.  Without any complaints or regrets, here is a little concerning “My Days”. 

   For two weeks after we started our offensive, I lived in trenches and foxholes.  During that time few of us were ever completely dry or warm.  The fact that I came through it in such good shape gives me a great deal of satisfaction concerning my ability to “take it” and much confidence in my physical stamina to endure the months ahead.

   Living such a life teaches one new means of self preservation:  Socks can be dried by wearing them around the waist, gloves by sleeping with them next to your body (If one can sleep); steel helmets must be worn twenty-four hours a day; one is relatively safe as long as he stays below the ground.  It then takes a direct hit to get him.  In that case that particular shell had your number on it and there was nothing you could do about it anyway.  Sometimes it is wise to urinate in your helmet or a “K” ration box and throw it over the edge rather than getting out of your hole.  If a dead “G.I.” has a pair of overshoes and you have none, those overshoes had best be used to continue winning the war.  And it’s true that at all times “The dead must wait on the living”.

   The latest issue of the “Stars and Stripes” carried a story headlined “America Sobered by War News”.  Me thinks it’s about time.  I have felt for a long time that the final victory was not as near as the folks at home were led to believe.  In fact, when I received my latest Newsweek, three months old, and read the comments therein concerning reconversion, plans for the boys returning, prophesies concerning victory by Christmas, etc. I would have stuck my head out of my hole and puked had I had anything but another “D” ration chocolate bar to replenish my stomach.  Many of us who have faced him at close range have a great deal of respect for the German as a soldier and know that he still believes that he has a cause for which to fight the same as we.  We’re a long ways from Berlin as the infantry digs and crawls.  However, there’s not a doubt in anyone’s mind but that eventually the infantry will get there.  The big prayer with  each of us is, “Will I be with them when they arrive?”

   I have been fortunate in being associated with a group of men whom, for the most part, I enjoy.  I admire our platoon lieutenant not only for his intelligence and courage as a soldier but also for the gentleman which he always is.  Army life in the field comes much nearer the democratic ideal than it does in garrison.   That’s probably due to the fact that the best officers get here.  An officer only has to prove himself in one engagement and he never has to worry about maintaining the respect of his men.

   I am now technically a machine gun squad leader, but I do a little bit of everything in our platoon.  I shall never forget the night I spent leading our boys from their front line guard positions a few at a time back through a barrage area to a cellar where there was a stove and they could spend an hour drying  their clothes and I almost got lost.  We’re now thankful that the shortest day of the year has passed.  Fifteen hours of darkness make for a lot of guard duty and too much lonely thinking.

   The candles around our Christmas tree are burning low.  A few minutes ago someone began to plan Christmas carols on his harmonica.  We started to sing those but it was pretty hard on the hearts so he switched to “Beer Barrel Polka” and “You Are My Sunshine”.  Then we were shushed because “The enemy is listening”.

   This bit of philosophy I just heard expressed over in the corner, “Boy, you just be thankful for what you got and quit bitchin off about what your  gonna git!”  I’m also thankful for what I’ve had.


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