I’m saving my pennies up now so when I hit the States I can buy an Army uniform and have two wives. I received a letter from Jeanne today and she told me all about your wedding and how successful it was. I don’t see how it could be, especially when it meant getting married to a lug like my twin brother. Did I ever tell you how much better I was than he? That’s not all, he and I are going for a couple of rounds when we meet. Yeah, up in Longs.
Well Reilly – Schwerdt – you old pot, congratulations and I wish you the best of everything. Don’t forget the kiss you owe me.
P.S. I thought we were having another air raid while all the time they were celebrating your wedding.
Love and Kisses,
Loretta had a good laugh over Artie’s letter. He was always going to be the funnier of the two. She never regretted her decision to marry Harold – the heart wants what it wants – but boy did she love seeing his handwriting. Receiving his letters took what felt like forever; the Pacific was a strange place. Artie obviously wasn’t permitted to discuss the toils of war on the other side of the world, but from what Loretta read in the papers and heard on the radio, it seemed just awful. There were internment camps for Japanese citizens in the United States – President Roosevelt deemed them necessary – so she could only imagine the type of treatment American soldiers received if captured in the Pacific. She hoped Artie would stay safe.
Summer in New York seemed a little emptier. There was a bittersweet feeling of being newly married to a man who was now halfway across the world. Loretta sat over a pot of coffee with Jeanne, admiring her delicate gold band.
“I wonder if Harold looks at this often – and as fondly.” Jeanne poked a little fun at Loretta. Loretta looked up shyly and laughed, blushing. Jeanne smiled after she realized she got the desired effect out of her new sister.
“So,” she began, “Mrs. Harold Schwerdt. Don’t ya just love it? Married to a Schwerdt man?” Jeanne and Artie were already married, and she was just as in love with her redhead as Loretta was with her own.
“It’s a dream come true. No matter how quick it was – that doesn’t matter. None of that does. I just want him to come home safe to me.”
“He will,” Jeanne said as she sipped again. “They both will.”
Loretta felt at ease at hearing Jeanne’s words of reassurance. Her new sister’s confidence in the safe return of their husbands helped her to truly believe everything was going to be alright. It was a warm night and the coffee was cooling off the longer they sat in Jeanne’s kitchen in Hollis. She began to think about a nice warm night at their future cottage, little ones running around and animals chirping. She listened fondly in her imagination for water lapping the shore and the creak of a rocking chair next to her. The cars and people bustling around outside the window distracted Loretta from her daydream for a moment, and she returned to Jeanne’s kitchen. Someday, she thought.
On her way back to her house that evening, she checked to see if any more letters came in. Unfortunately, the only parcel on the table was the note from Artie that she opened up earlier that afternoon. Loretta picked it up and carefully put it back in its envelope. She put the letter in her old shoe box full of other war letters from the likes of Harold, Jack, and Ned, and put it away again until the next message would come.
I am mailing this note for your husband. He is here now at our flying field, and I work in one of the tool cribs in the big hanger. I waited on him and I offered to help him and he asked me to write you.
I have three boys of my own and I would want some other mother to help them. I wish I could do for all the boys and I do try as I see so many of them as they take off for some distant land.
He told me something of himself and I liked him. I hope you can get a message to his mother –
He takes off early in the morning for the far place – I guess you can guess.
I shall always think of you both, and God Bless you.
(Mrs.) Laura P. Bell
Odlin Rd. R.7.D.2.
P.S. He would like to have written more, but just ended it.
Just as soon as he arrived in Maine, Harold got the call. On an early June morning, he was mustered from his sleep and ordered to pack his things and prepare to head out to the far lands. He, along with his buddies Jack and Ned, his pilot Frank Kelley, and the rest of his crew, was set to take up camp in England where the 8th Air Force impatiently waited. With the help of a woman working in the hanger, Harold dictated a note home to Loretta and boarded a plane. He was going to war.
The plane that transported the soldiers was loud and hollow. Harold sat along one side and looked around him at the other men, all dressed alike – all with the same grievous look on their faces. A couple of soldiers bantered and laughed, but it was so loud on the plane that Harold didn’t bother to try and make conversation with anyone around him; Jack wasn’t seated next to him and he didn’t feel like raising his voice. He couldn’t see, but wondered what the Atlantic Ocean looked like from their altitude. When he was a boy, Harold dreamed of flying. And when he was in training, he longed for better scenery than the plains of Oklahoma. Now that it was finally happening, he regretted not having a window to look out of.
The base was busy and filled with men who were ready for what seemed to be anything. Harold whirled around with his crew of nine others to prepare for what would be their first assignment. There was no room to rest, no room to write home immediately, just preparation for flight over Germany. He knew this was his time to prove himself to his country – and of course – his new wife back home; he hoped she got the letter from the secretary in Maine.
The air base itself was massive, with one large runway that ran from East to West, with two smaller runways – one Southwest to Northeast, the other Northwest to Southeast. To the north of the airfield was the bomb dump, and Harold was set to do technical work on the southern point.
Their first B-17 was named “The Shack Up.” Led by the pilot Frank Kelley, Harold – along with Topin, Carl Alexander, DB Adams, Carlton Jones, Marchinski, Ryals, Joe Maschke, and Alex Milligan – prepared themselves for what would be the first of hopefully many successful bombing missions on the Jerry’s. They were a family; Harold was very close with Jack and Ned, two other Flying Fortress crewmen. At night, they’d sing songs and tell stories about their girls back home, just waiting for the order to go up in the sky.
“Write Loretta home a kiss for me!” Jack winked at Harold and he laughed.
“Hey, Schwerdt! Heard you’re pretty decent at engine repair.” Harold looked up and saw someone approaching him with a tool kit. He’d been at the camp for about a week, tinkering and training along with the rest of the new arrivals.
“Sure, what can I help you with?” The fellow technical sergeant led Harold over to a plane he hadn’t worked on before and explained some issues that, although familiar-sounding, he was lost on.
“So d’ya think you can help me out?”
He hesitated. Then, grabbing the tool kit, Harold nodded and walked over to where the trouble was. After tinkering about for a while and going on a little faith, Harold closed everything up. “Should be good,” he said as he wiped some summer sweat off his brow. England was supposed to be cold and cloudy, he thought.
The other tech sergeant looked pleased. “Great! Let’s put her in the air!” He wiped his hands on his jumpsuit, threw up his arms and signaled the pilot. Harold panicked inside. What if he was wrong? He hadn’t seen an engine like that before – but most plane engines were similar, right? What if he did something improperly? He couldn’t tell them now.
The engine, to his pleasant surprise, kicked on almost immediately and turned, nose towards the end of the runway. The pilot gave a thumbs up and Harold nervously watched as the plane picked up speed and grew smaller and smaller before his eyes. He felt his insides dancing while he hoped for the wheels to just lift off the ground – even a little bit. Then, effortlessly, the plane took off! The pilot kept low and did some circles over the base. The technical sergeant clapped Harold on the back, “Hey would ya look at that! Swell job, Red. I think you’ll get on just fine here.” A tension lifted off Harold’s shoulders that he hadn’t noticed before that moment; he truly felt a part of a family in the 388th.
That night, the men gathered to play cards before it was time to turn in and go to bed. They were going to start running missions in a couple of days. Tensions were high but they all seemed to do a good job of keeping it under wraps with songs and games. Ned, Jack, and Harold reminisced about the ice cream shops on their block, the busy sounds of New York, and their gals. It was unfortunate for them to be so far from loved ones, but at least they had each other.
The men were called in for a briefing at one of the Nissen Huts to discuss their next missions.
“Daytime raids, boys,” the commanding officer began, “are going to be frightening for some of you. I know a lot of you fellas are still getting settled into the 388th station here – I get that. But, we have no time to waste. Everyday we spend on the ground is another day those Jerry’s advance around Europe.”
He went on to explain the importance of the daytime raids. Before them on a table lay an aviation map, complete with a key and writing. The navigators all huddled around in one group and looked over the terrain. The pilots, in their own circle, went over the flying formation and what steps to take in order to look after each other. Harold, along with other technical sergeants and gunners, left the Nissen Hut to finish up some last minute maintenance on their fortresses.
Received your letter of the 17th and must answer it immediately. I can’t call you up cause I don’t have any time – I’ve too much to say, so I won’t send you a telegram. Here’s the set-up – I’ll write and tell my mom about it today – I know she won’t want me to get married, but she’ll approve and we’ll get her blessings. How about your mom? I believe she’ll approve and hope to get her blessings.
The ring can be purchased when I get home, or, if you care to get it let me know and I’ll send you some dough I don’t know about an engagement ring; if you want one, we’ll get it when I get home. If not, we’ll get a very good wedding ring.
My furlough will begin in June, and I think about the middle of the month. I can’t give you an exact date now, but maybe later on I will. You can get ready in the meantime. You will have to get a blood test and I want you to do it soon. I’ll get my blood test here in camp. That way, we won’t have to waste time but I can get married right away. Where will we get married? I know in your church, so if you can pay the priest a visit and tell him about it, it would be appreciated. We can’t set a definite date yet. So everything will have to be taken care of at the last minute. Announcements will have to be sent (I think) and that will have to wait for the last minute. Sweetheart, as I’m writing, I’m getting more involved and things are getting complicated. I wish I could talk this over with you. I’m going to let you take care of everything. Not that I don’t have an interest or anything, but I think you will take care of everything perfectly. It would please me fine, and whatever you choose to do is approved by me.
Darling, I’m sorry, cause I wrote 2 pages and didn’t tell you I love you yet – I love you Loretta, I love you with all my heart and soul; and will love forever and a day. I’m crazy about you and the thought of marrying you next month is giving me chills and thrills, and already, it seems I’m living in a new world. Concerning Rock Hill, I’d love to go, but whether or not we will, it’s still to be seen. My dreams are going to come true next month. Honey I love you. I love you. Love you. Love you.
Harold told Loretta he’d marry her on a Tuesday if he had to, and he managed to take leave before heading to a base in Maine to wed her on a Tuesday – as promised. On June 1, 1943, Loretta officially gained the title of Mrs. Harold P. Schwerdt, and she couldn’t be happier about it. The ceremony was rather short notice, but beautiful, with Loretta picking a dress right off the rack and Harold donning his Army dress uniform. What a handsome couple, people would say about them.
Since Harold and Arthur enlisted in the military, and after they were called to war in April of 1942, tensions were growing more and more dire in Europe, and he knew that at any moment he would be sent off to fight the Axis powers. Artie was already in the Pacific, fulfilling his own dreams. Harold hoped to use his engineering and tinkering skills to remain on the ground while in the Air Force, but it was looking like he would be in the air in no time. He completed many of the required courses already, always eager to learn and improve in any field he found himself working – but a knot lingered in his stomach. If he was going to be in an airplane, he’d most certainly have to use a gun. And if he had to use his gun, he’d have to kill. B-17s were equipped with five, .30 caliber machine guns; guns for serious damage because he knew he’d be in the thick of things up in a plane like a Flying Fortress. Harold had an unwavering love of country and a great amount of pride in being in the Army, and he resolved with himself – without worrying Loretta – that he was prepared to do whatever he had to in order to come home to his girl when all this was over.
Loretta, with very little time to prepare, ran to the boutique three blocks over from her house with Eleanor and one of her sisters.
“It just has to be white, I really don’t care otherwise.” Loretta quickly thumbed through hanger after hanger of dresses, looking for her size.
“Oh, hush! You want something that’ll at least look good on ya, Loretta! I won’t allow you to marry my brother dressed in rags.” Eleanor had two dresses – one in each hand – and held them out in front of her for her future sister to inspect.
“I like that one,” Loretta said. She grabbed the gown and took another one of her own.
“I’m just here to judge,” Loretta’s sister said with a smirk. Loretta gave a huff and went into the fitting room. The clerk followed her in and after about ten minutes both ladies returned, Loretta in front with her choice.
“Wow,” Eleanor gasped. “You look beautiful!”
Loretta gave a twirl, “Not bad for a gal grabbing a dress off the rack, huh?”
“I have to admit,” Loretta’s sister said reluctantly, “you look elegant, Rette. Harold’s a lucky guy.” She smiled. She was proud of her sister.
On the other side of town, Harold was rushing into the court offices.
“Yes, hello sir how may I help you today?” A secretary looked up at the man in uniform and flashed a pleasant smile.
“I need to marry my gal! Tomorrow!” Harold was breathless and eager. His leave was only slotted for a few days and he was desperate to exchange vows.
The secretary looked in her ledger and frowned. “I’m sorry, sir. It doesn’t seem like we have any availability in the next couple of days.”
“You don’t understand, ma’am. I have to marry my girl.” Harold pleaded with her to check again, but she was correct. There were so many soldiers and civilians coming through that court office to marry that they were positively booked.
“Excuse me, soldier. If I heard you correctly, you’re looking to get hitched?” An older gentleman in a tailored suit was walking out of the offices when he noticed the exchange between Harold and the secretary. He was a lawyer in the courts.
“Yes, sir. I really need to. She’s even buying her dress right now.”
“Hmm,” the lawyer began, “could you get married today?”
“Well gee, I think so. I have to go get her. You’re able to do that? Yes. Yes I’ll marry her today.” Harold was resolved. Loretta wouldn’t mind the expedited arrangement; she wanted to marry him just as much.
“Alright then! Come with me.” The lawyer gestured for Harold to follow him back into the courts. “You! Don’t leave for the day yet. This soldier needs to get married!” He turned to Harold, “Now, son, you got all your papers? Got your blood work and tests done? You’re clean?”
Harold nodded. He got all his medical exams done the week prior on base.
“Perfect! Go get your gal!”
When he looked at Loretta on their wedding day – the woman he was in love with since he was 17 years old – all he could think about was being home with her, starting a family, living in a cottage and enjoying life. There wouldn’t be a life to enjoy, though, he understood, if Hitler and his followers turned out to be victorious in this global War. This sacrifice to be away from his love would be worth it in the end, he thought, to have a guaranteed peace and to serve his country at the same time. He just had to make it home again.
“I got the telegram to go to Bangor, Maine.” Harold sat at the kitchen table, his wife before him. He swirled a cup of coffee around in small, nervous circles.
“When?” Loretta knew this was an inevitable call. She just didn’t think it would be two days after she married Harold.
“Tomorrow, Doll.” Harold looked down, almost ashamed. He wanted nothing more than a few extra days with Loretta. He sat still and waited for her to react, or be mad.
“Well,” she began, “you better come home to me, Harold Schwerdt.” She smiled when he looked up at her.
“I love you. Do you love me?” Harold stopped swirling his coffee.
Your letter today truly was swell and was enjoyed a lot. You know honey I love you too, only I love you more. I love you all I possibly can.
Today was payday, and I got my regular pay but not my flying pay. I’ll get that some time next month (I hope). I intend to send $50 to my mother so I’ll have some dough for my furlough. Honey when I get home we’ll do the town. Maybe you think I’m silly, but every day and every night I dream of going home. I’m still wondering what I’m going to say when I first see you. Even if I say nothing, I know what I’m going to do. Loretta, you are going to be kissed; and I do mean kissed with a capital (hug too). Gee I love you. I’m still hoping for that happy day in June. I love you more honey.
Your brother Joe is a good man and he’ll make a darn good sailor. An indication is how well he took it when he left. He is a man, for I could see that when I was home a year ago. I hope he manages to get home when I do. I love to see him in his uniform.
Honey, it’s nice of you to go and see Ed. If you bring him just 1% of the happiness you brought me, he’s very happy. You’re just swell (my swell girl). I love you sweet heart, I love you lots.
I’m glad you liked the box of candy. I hope to fatten you up so I can have more to hug when I see you. Loretta, you are going to be hugged. I love you.
Honey, when you go over to my house again and they have some good cake, ask mom for my piece. Say, “Mrs. Schwerdt, I want Ha’s piece.”
I know how much much Abie wanted to get in the service. I feel sorry for him, please give him my regards. My regards to everybody, OK? Mom, Pop, the family, Johnna, Bena, the girls.
Honey, remember the pictures I said I had taken? Well, I’m sending them home. I only have one set, so I wish you would show them to my mother. I hope to get some more, but that’s going to take a couple more weeks.
I think the pictures are pretty good, I hope you like them. The one picture that is faded is Jack in a summer flying suit, and me in a winter flying jacket and helmet and goggles. I’ve mentioned the name of “Ned” in my previous letters; he’s Jack’s radio man. He’s in one of these pictures, and you can recognize him cause he’s wearing a summer flying suit. The guy on the other side of me, is the 1st sergeant and a very nice guy. He’s a dummer, and really can beat it out. Yes sir, a nice guy. The close up picture of me was taken by Jack. He had the camera so I went up to him and said heil Hitler; he took the picture too. I think it came out well, don’t you?
In one of the pictures I look like a tough guy; I had that taken specifically for you. Are you afraid of me? Better do like I say or else I’ll get tough with you (I may even lop you!).
Honey, I wish you could feel my eyes on you and hear me saying, Sweetheart. I love you, more love to you, sweets. I was supposed to leave Wendover Field Sunday May 2, but orders have been changed, so I’m good here for at least another week. Darn it.
So my doll, your letter made me very happy. I hope these pictures make you happy.
Good evening or shall I say good morning. The reason I am writing so late is due to the fact that I was gabbing over the coffee pot. Mrs. Aub and Virginia were here. Both of them are looking very well. They both were asking for you and wishing you well.
As usual, I was two to ten tonight. They are giving out furloughs so I got tomorrow off, pretty good eh! Perhaps I might stop up and say hello to Bob and Irene. Irene has been pestering me to come up but I never got the chance.
I got your card from Seattle today. Tell Jack I said thanks for the kiss he put on the card. “Your Baby” is beautiful. That plane certainly looks enormous. You must certainly feel proud to actually learn what makes it run, etc.
Tomorrow is confession again. The priest must know me by now. Every other week I say the same words. I enjoy going to church especially for the October devotions. John Harrington was given a Rosary by the priest at the Great Lakes. He’s so proud of them.
You seem to be making out very well with the course you have taken. You certainly deserve a lot of credit for having no complaint after being at Mississippi. Jerry wanted to know if you were out of there yet.
Did you visit your Uncle John’s sister yet? That should be interesting to meet a person like that.
Well, my sweets, be good and remember that you will be forever my only love.
Your very loving,
P.S. Good night dear! I love you.
P.P.S. My regards to Jack and may the two of you keep up your good work.
What’s cookin? Tell your boyfriend in the dirty brown uniform I was asking for him. (huh huh!)
The Mississippiheat slapped Harold clear across the face. He and the rest of the men squinted as they hopped off the bus and out into the open air. It was surprisingly refreshing to exit the bus and feel whatever excuse of a fresh breeze came in off the water. Harold quite enjoyed being near water again, even if he was all the way in Biloxi. The salt smelled different than back home, but the sounds of the bay were welcome. Harold grabbed his pack along with the rest of the group and headed for the barracks.
As he walked, Harold gazed in wonder at the planes scattered around the airfield. He saw a couple of P-51 Mustangs – with their sleek, thin bodies and almost centrally located cockpits. The guys who flew those must have had a lot of fun tearing up the skies, he thought. Mustangs had incredible fire power and speed – it was no wonder the Royal Air Force purchased so many of them from the United States the year before. He saw a Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk make its way down the tarmac into holding for maintenance. They looked mean, meaner than the Mustang, despite their name. Harold had an appreciation for the artistic craft that went into painting the noses of these planes to look like angry mouths with giant, sharp teeth; he was glad he was fighting for their side.
Ahead of him, in a large open hangar, there she was – the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. She was a massive ship, with four engines, turret guns, a bomb bay, and a beautiful, ten-panel plexiglass nose. Other than Loretta, Harold felt love at first sight when he walked past this machine. As a member of the Air Force, he hoped the B-17 would be his assignment. Harold could think of nothing better than working on these machines. His feet kept him forward towards his barracks, while his eyes stayed fixed on the Fortress.
“Red!” Harold was pulled from his daydream by the call of an old nickname. He turned his gaze ahead and was met with the sight of a familiar face coming towards him.
“Red! I knew it was you! I’ll be damned, come here!” Jack Thompson, Harold’s long-time friend from Jamaica, was stationed at Keesler. Of course he was, Harold thought – he couldn’t believe he didn’t connect the dots on the train ride down.
The two shook hands and gave a brotherly embrace. Harold placed his pack down at his feet for a moment while Jack took a step back, his arms extended in front of him, holding Harold’s arms.
“Boy is it just swell to see a familiar face! Couldn’t miss that mop of hair though! I didn’t think I’d find you so soon on day one. How was the ride down?” Jack was giddy at the sight of his long lost brother from Jamaica. The Thompson boys – Jack and Ned – were both enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Harold figured eventually he’d cross paths with one of them and was glad that it happened sooner than later.
“Ride could’ve been better, but it wasn’t bad. Plenty of cards, plenty of windows to stare out of.” Jack laughed and clapped Harold on the shoulder.
“How’s your old lady?”
“Loretta is doing well. In fact, I have a letter to send off to her. Would you show me to the mailroom?” Harold patted his shirt pocket where the letter sat, and smiled at the thought of his love back home. Jack obliged.
My Dearest Doll,
I’m at the USO in New Orleans now wishing you were with me. I love you lots dear, and miss you very much. There’s a dance going on now, but I’m not dancing and I won’t, I’d rather write to you. I’d like to tell you “I love you” the remaining lines of this letter but maybe you’d think I was silly; so I’m going to tell you about my trip here.
I typed out mine and my buddy’s passes and got the Sarg’s signature. It felt good to use the typewriter, and it brought back memories of me typing over your house. We took a bus to Gulfport and from there got on route 90 where we waited for a lift. I could have taken a train, but I thought I’d save the 2.50 bucks. We were at the corner at 3 o’clock PM. Our first ride was gotten at 3:20 by a colored chauffeur in a 1941 Pontiac. We had the radio going and I listened to some music for 1 hour. The stations were from New York, and the songs were swell. One tune was “I want my Mommer,” and there was a song I don’t believe I’ve heard before; it was “I love you” or something. Naturally I was thinking of you.
After an hour of riding, he turned off route 90, so we got out. About 10 minutes later we were picked up by a salesman who brought us all the way into New Orleans. All toll, we covered 92 miles. We arrived home about 5:30.
I took a walk to the dock, and looked at the muddy Mississippi River. (I spit in it) ain’t I awful? Can I tell that to our children? It was swell first sitting there and watching the water run and the ferries coming and going. After that I came here to the USO and met some of my friends from camp. It is sort of a meeting place; like Nachlin’s used to be.
After that, we all went down to the block and ate. I enjoyed my supper. Now I’m back again at the USO.
The folks down here are nice to us boys in the service. There are a lot of sailors here too.
Well Doll, now can I tell you? I love you. I will. My sweetheart I love you with all my life.
As would the sky miss the stars, so I miss you. You’re the star in my blue heaven. You’re my heaven. You’re everything to me. I love you sweetheart.
Well sweets, good nite. Your loving honey. Love, Ha xxxxxx P.S. I love you
I love love letters, but I especially love old post cards. Oftentimes the innuendos are a little harder to find, and you’ll see what I mean as I post more. They’re clever and cute, and a good amount of them praise women with thick legs (yay!). My nan signing so many letters as “Chubby” makes me laugh. Growing up, she and my grandpa would switch every other day between hot and cold breakfasts. Either a bowl of cereal, then the next day they’d have eggs, etc. Her cereal choice was always Wheaties, “Because they’re good for you.” When she was done with her good-for-you cereal, Nan would finish off with either two Oreo cookies or two Mallomars. And I wonder where I get my sweet tooth from…
Excuse [my] writing because I’m riding [on] a train. My destination is [Keesler] Field Miss; where Gerry used to be. I think I’ll be in the ground crew of the Air Force. I’ll like that. I left Camp Upton at 11:00 AM Friday. We don’t expect to leave the train till Sunday 1 PM. I’m playing cards and having fun with the fellows; no girls and no beer since Sunday. I miss you very much and wish you could be here with me.
I was really homesick. The Army keeps me pretty busy and I don’t have much time to think about things. Of course I don’t forget you, I never will. You occupy my mind every night, and my heart all the time. It must be that I love you. How could anyone help it, you’re so swell and nice and even beautiful. I love you doll.
I would like you to thank the family for me for the presents I received. [They’re] swell. Give them my regards and wish them health. I’m sorry I couldn’t call you last night, but I only received your message at 8:30. I called up home and told them I was leaving; I had hopes that Herb would look up the train and tell you when I would arrive at Jamaica. Got to Jamaica about noon and I was looking for someone to be at the station. I wasn’t disappointed altogether, though, because I saw my home and the vicinity I used to reside in. That was the only time.
The Pullman will be around soon to make my bed so I’ll see, kiss, and hold you in my dreams. Good night Doll and dream of me.
I’ll remain your Honey Sweets.
P.S. I love you with all my life.
Harold was called to train for the second World War on April 20. His brother, Arthur, was called to the Pacific on March 16. Both brothers were caught with feelings of excitement and fear. It was the longest they would ever be apart in their 22 years. They each had their girls at home, they had jobs; they were now going to go defend those jobs, defend their loved ones back in Queens. Loretta waited until her love was beyond her sight before she turned away back into the doorway of the now-empty home and wept. Her tears were mostly those of pride, but also of uncertainty. She never wanted to think the worst – but it was war. She hoped and prayed with all she had that Harold would return home safe from wherever he was called to, but a small flame – a small pin prick in the back on her mind kept asking, what if he doesn’t?
Newly engaged and with dreams of a cottage on the water, Loretta’s mind swirled at the idea of Harold risking his life – of her not having him to share the rest of her life with. She couldn’t imagine it. Even in a place like New York, with all the people and new faces to be seen each day, she couldn’t envision anyone else by her side other than Harold. She knew she wouldn’t go on without him, so she decided that he would have no other choice but to return home to her. Eventually, she rose from her chair, wiped her tears, and smoothed out the front of her dress. This was no way to think, she thought. Besides, she took comfort in knowing that Harold was in the company of familiar faces, like Jack and Ned.
There were the Schwerdt boys – and then there were Jack and Ned. They all grew up around each other, through the Depression, school, holidays; the boys were simply one large extended family. The brothers were many, even with their different last names. Harold, Arthur, Jack, and Ned were determined from their boyhood to be men in uniform – not just for the discipline and the looks, but because throughout their lives the military was something that seemed to always be constant regardless of the economics. Born in the 1920s, one of the most prosperous times for the United States, these young men experienced an absolutely tragic economic downfall before any of them reached double digits. Harold and Arthur had to watch their family of eleven struggle and work to keep a roof over their heads; their father going from milkman to brewer, musical performer to handyman – anything to put food on the table. They helped, sure, but as children they were wary of what their lives would entail when they were their father’s age. So – at least for the twins – a life in the military would guarantee steady pay; they could honor their country, and also take care of their loved ones.
Harold sat in his train car as it pulled away from Jamaica Station. He was leaving the haze of New York for the unknown. As men hung out the traincar windows and kissed their girls goodbye, he sat quietly, staring out into the crowd. Deep down, Harold wished his gal would be on the platform, waiting anxiously to see him off one last time, but he knew there was a good chance that his brother wouldn’t receive his message in time. The train jerked forward and as it did he rubbed his hands along the tops of his thighs. This is really it, he thought. Soon, Harold would be somewhere in the south. Then, the midwest. Then Maine. Then – the far reaches of the world, fighting the Axis Powers, killing the enemy, ending the war (he hoped). What a strange time, he thought, to go from the little block in Jamaica to being away from his family, Loretta – Artie – with no real end in sight. The only certainty Harold had was of his train’s destination.
He realized he’d been gripping his knees for quite some time. Calmly, he picked up a hand and smoothed back his hair. Harold watched as the buildings became smaller and took out a pencil and paper to write Loretta. Sending her parcels always brought him comfort because he knew the enthusiasm she had when reading his notes. She really was swell, he thought, and he knew he’d have to make it home to her once all this was over.
That evening Harold found himself unable to sleep. The train rocked in a way that was similar to his summers on the boat, but it was more jarring than anything. He tried to persuade himself to sleep on the memories of water lapping against the hull of the old boat, and would soon drift off into a light slumber until the train rocked too much in one direction and he was again jolted awake by the sound of metal on metal.
“Damn it all,” he said to himself as he rolled over, trying to sleep and failing again. Only a couple of days left of this, he thought. Harold knew eventually he’d have to adjust to the methodical cranking and panging of machinery now that he was officially off to the call of duty. He had to sleep with the busy sounds of Jamaica outside his bedroom window night after night as a boy, but this was different. Too loud a bang, too bright a flash, and it could mean death. He thought fondly of the summer before at the rental home. Loretta and Jeanne visited him, Arthur, and the rest of the boys for some fishing and barbeque. He loved watching Loretta work on a tan that was fruitless, for she was entirely Irish and could manage no more than a pink hue. Pink, like her favorite strawberry ice cream. He smiled. He missed her and their ice cream dates. It made his stomach queasy, thinking about how much uncertainty surrounded the war; the train jerking around didn’t help, either.
Harold got up from the bed and opened his car door. A Pullman was walking down the hallway towards him.
“Can’t sleep, sir?” He flashed a smile and tipped his porter’s cap. Harold returned the smile. “Can’t seem to, no. I have my sea legs but I am yet to find my train legs.” The porter laughed and patted Harold on the shoulder.
“Well, sir, I sometimes find myself working near-on four hundred hours a month on these trains and I have to tell you, there are times when I don’t think I have my train legs!” They shared a laugh and Harold felt at ease to be in decent company.
“The name’s Harold. What do they call you?” He extended a hand and shook the porter’s. The porter returned with a firm grip.
“My name is Charles. Pleasure to meet you Harold. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to make rounds up and down this train. Better keep the momentum up before I lose my train legs.” Charles flashed another smile to Harold. “You get some sleep now, sir. Try counting sheep.”
Harold took the advice and excused himself back into his car. His bunkmate lay silent and peacefully asleep – how Harold wished he could do the same. He lay on his back and pulled the blankets up to his chin; scratchy but warm. Then he began to count sheep in his head like Charles suggested – one, two, three…
After receiving your swell letter I sort of feel ashamed of myself for not writing sooner. I know you will understand when I say it’s not because I didn’t want to write but because I don’t have enough time to write, so I’ll just let it got here. O.K. Now you will have to excuse the pencil because I can’t get any ink at the present, and then you’ll have to excuse the penmanship because I’m sitting on the deck and writing on my knee. There’s a dam lot of apologies doing on, isn’t there? I know they’re not necessary kid, but if I feel like apologizing, let me. Dot all.
I just wrote a letter to Mom about my rifle practice today and instead of repeating it to you kid, do me a favor and read her letter when you go over to the house. I won’t have enough time to repeat it now. The first thing I want to tell you is that I graduate May 26th and that will be a day I’ll never forget. I’ve been here for more than a month already. This Sunday I go on liberty again and I’m going to have a good time in Milwaukee because the company started to break up today. All men going to cooks school left tonight on about an hour’s notice. I made signalman school but I don’t know where it is or when I go. That is whether I get a leave or not before I go. My buddy, and he’s a damn good guy, made gunners mate school and that’s the reason for a good time Sunday. I like it here and I feel swell. I must admit I’m a little homesick. Nobody could have a better reason than Butch, Ha, or myself.
As Loretta waded her way through Arthur’s misspellings and scratchy pencil handwriting, she smiled. She remembered fondly the letter she wrote him earlier and was relieved that it was received well and that Arthur was simply too busy to respond. Even though it never worked between them, and she was now Harold’s girl, Loretta always loved the other twin. How could she not? He was her beau in every way – except his handwriting… and maybe personality, as she thought on it more. Arthur, always the funny man, could have been seen as younger than his twin by years, even younger than Loretta, with his personality. She always admired that about him, but she admired Harold’s seriousness more. She gently folded the letter and placed it in the old envelope box that she kept in a drawer in her bedroom for days where she felt like revisiting memories. Loretta threw on a pair of shoes, found a hat, and stepped out for the short, warm walk to Harold’s mother’s house to read about Artie’s day at rifle practice; Mrs. Schwerdt was probably very proud of her youngest.
Harold wasn’t away training for the Army just yet. He was working in the city as a sales clerk. He thought it was responsible to try and take a couple of classes of night school and work during the day in order to set up funds for him and Loretta. Although she was only 18, Harold was 20 – and a man by his own eyes – and that meant he needed to have a plan for a future with the woman he knew he was going to spend his life with. The war certainly wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down; the United States seemed closer and closer to declaring war themselves, and even though Harold always wanted to be an Army man, he didn’t want to have to fight anyone. “Not very Christian,” his mother said one day. But he would, to protect his home.
Loretta made it to Harold’s home and sat with Jeanne – Arthur’s love – and Eleanor, of course. They read over again his experiences in rifle practice. Loretta beamed when she saw the way Jeanne’s eyes lit up when she spoke of Artie – for all his jokes, he certainly took love seriously, just like his brother. They were going to be together for a long time, Loretta thought to herself. And she thought to the dreams of a small cottage like she and Harold talked about – filled with loved ones and warm summers, fires and cookouts. She couldn’t wait for the rest of her life to begin.