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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Letter from Lee to Catherine Katopes and Georgie, 24 June 1945

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Object ID: WV0122.4.014

Description: Katopes' friend Lee describes her transfer to The Phillipines from Australia, including baggage weight limitations, stops in New Guinea, and Biak, Palaw, and Leyte, and enjoying the flights. Lee describes the rubble in Manila, lacking permanent quarters. and living in tents. She enclosed a piece of Japanese invasion money, and mentions the inflated prices.


Biographical Info:

Collection: Catherine G. Katopes Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Dear Kay and Georgie,

First mail at my new station and letters from both of you! Like a welcoming committee. And now, so I'll receive some more nice letters from both of you, note my new address: 5225th WAC Det, xy Section APO 75, c/o PM San Francisco, Calif.

So much has happened in the past couple of weeks, guess I'll just start at the beginning and give you a travelogue.

As you must have guessed, we flew up from Brisbane! Oh happy day! We'd packed our footlockers and turned them in for crating - keeping out plenty of clothing for a long boat ride. All of a sudden, "You'll travel by plane. Each girl may carrying 50lbs of baggage with her." I swear, that duffle bag and musette bag weigh 25lbs empty. We packed stuff in with the office supplies, we packed stuff in with the mess hall equipment, we turned in boxes to be shipped with unit supply - and we still came out overweight. And the most annoying part to me - I have a lovely, large steel footlocker and it was shipped almost a quarter empty. We left camp on the installment plan. The last installment hasn't arrived yet. I'm anxious to hear how they managed to dispose of all the stuff left behind by those who went before.

To continue with out trials and tribulations, it rained for at least a week before we left and a number of the girls were suddenly taken ill with a mysterious malady that put six of them in the hospital and filled the beds in the dispensary. That meant re-arranging the shipping lists. Girls planning on two or three days in which to do last minute details suddenly found themselves with a lot of wet laundry and only a few hours to time for departure. The engineering department took that week to clean the boilers and for the first time since we landed we were without hot water. The only source of heat in the whole camp was the messhall range. You should have seen that kitchen - lines strung in all directions and all so loaded, it's a wonder anything dried. It sure was a hectic time, but there wasn't much complaining because we were all so excited about the prospects of flying.

We left at night. The rain had finally stopped and the stars were so beautiful. Brisbane is not a particularly well-lighted city. From the air, it didn't make a brilliant splash on the ground. Just millions of tiny diamonds clustered around that crazy, twisting river. We stopped at Townsville, Australia, but just long enough for a trip to the "comfort station" and a cup of coffee and a doughnut at the Red Cross canteen. Next stop was a Finschhafen for the same purpose. A crew of New Guinea natives was putting a roof on a shed (I give up. This machine just won't work.) (This is better.) As I was saying, the natives were putting up a roof (sheet iron) on a shed. They looked like monkies [sic] climbing all over the beams. Their hair was bleached a hideous red yellow and their only garment was a length of dirty cloth wrapped sarong fashion. It hung down around the ankles but we understand that was because ladies were around. Normally, the skirt is knee length. You can imagine the din as they hammered on that sheet iron. Suddenly it was very quiet. The Aussie corporal in charge of the detail stopped flirting with us Wacs and jabbered at the boys. They jabbered back and continued to perch quietly in various positions on the rafters. Seems they had run out of nails, so they just stopped work. Nice system.

Seemed like an awfully forsaken spot. I'm glad I was never stationed on New Guinea – or on Layte, either, for that matter, but that's getting ahead of my story.

We laid over on Biak for several days and what a holiday! The boys were so glad to have us around, they treated us like queens. Jeep rides, steak fry, swimming, drinking, movies, dancing - they'd come to the gate of the compound in droves. No matter what you wanted to do, there was someone there with the facilities. I had me a most interesting jeep ride one morning - the site of the native village that was in the way at the time, the white scars left in the hills by the shelling, the sad looking palm tree trunks with no tops. Stopped the jeep at one point to examine a native boat. We were surrounded immediately by a crowd of native youngsters, each with a can of shells, wanting to trade for gum, cigarettes, lipstick, perfume, One little girl was bound she was going to have my gold identification bracelet that the gang gave me when I left Kennedy. "Friend?" she'd ask, then indicate that the bracelet was "good" and that she wanted it. Finally she was convinced that I wouldn't part with it and she wandered away muttering "No friend." Guess I'm not a very good ambassador of good will to send among our allies.

25 June. This sure is being written on the installment plan. Next stop was Pelelieu on Palaw Is. I though of Lt. Varley. I remember she said her husband was in that invasion. The Marines were funny. They'd wave and holler when we went by in a truck - if they were in some vehicle; but close up in the Red Cross canteen (more coffee and doughnuts) and in their mess hall, they were tongue-tied. Just big bashful boys. We had to sit around the plane out on the air strip for about and [sic] hour waiting for a member of the crew. You should have seen the stream of traffic on the road that ran along side the strip - jeeps, trucks, ambulances, even garbage trucks - the boys would holler and wave and we'd wave back. One boy got three of his buddies for moral support and actually came and spoke to us. He wanted a WAC insignia. His wife is a Wac and he wanted to make her a bracelet. Now Pallas Athene's are practically unobtainable over here, but one of the girls had two and was willing to part with one.

On to Dulag on Leyte - that really is a forsaken spot. They had no accommodations for females. We waited around in the sun for a couple of hours, had supper in the dirtiest mess hall I've ever seen and, after much telephoning, we were put onto another plane and flown across the island to Tacloban. (If people don't stop chasing me from one machine to another!) Spent some more time waiting around on the air strip and then onto another truck for a long ride out into the country through palm grooves and past native villages. We had to pick our way over a very muddy field to get to the compound, but the clean tents and cots and, best of all, showers, sure looked good to us poor tired wanderers. I was piping made [sic] because ever since landing on Leyte, we'd been treated as a troublesome nuisence [sic], as though we had no business being there. I felt like the wellknown [sic] "buck" being passed from pillar to post. However, there was a GI in charge of that women transients compound and he was a honey. He seemed really glad to have some business. Got us all bunks, found out what time we had to be on the air strip in the morning and woke us in time and arranged for transportation. God bless that boy - he made us feel at home.

That plane ride was one of those things that generally fit in the category of descriptions prefaced with "One of the things I'll never forget---" I'm not usually the raving type (am I?) but how can I help it? To sit back in that comfortable seat and watch magic performed before your eyes. Kay, you've flown. You know what I mean. Don't know whether you have ever bee up, Georgie, but don't miss the opportunity if it ever comes your way. When you take off, you see tall trees, high mountains, people, huge planes scattered here and there. Within a few minutes all these change. Mountains that towered in full majesty are now ant hills; trees are now shrubs; people become insignificant dots around toy planes; and the face of the earth looks like a bas relief map - only in beautiful color.

But best of all were the sunrise and the clouds. Big, soft, billowy clouds. They, like snowflakes, never repeat themselves. Some are shy and sit around looking beautiful waiting to be recognized. Others tower in sober majesty, forming deep canyons and valleys for the smaller, more playful members of the clan to explore.

I was very sorry to land and return to reality, in a way. And believe me, Manila is a sober reality. I know that when I read about the destruction of various European cities, I found it difficult to conjure up an accurate picture because I felt the tales were exaggerated. I know better now. Block after block looks like a sloppily managed stone quarry - gravel, boulders, bricks, stones, twisted sheet metal all over the place. In the heart of the city, some of the more common sights are staircases leading to nowhere; walls surrounding nothing, entrances to emptiness; a sign reading "Maternity Hospital" pointing to a huge pile of rubble; ghostly, bullet ridden spires marking the place where one stood a proud church. Hardly a building was spared some damaged and the famous ancient Spanish walled city -

not a building stands there.

The people and the army are working night and day - and some day, after much sweat and discouragement, Manila will be a beautiful city again. But, oh, it's going to be a long hard pull. In the meantime so many of the people seem to have so little - live in miserable hovels pulled together out of the rubble.

(As you may have surmised, I'm no longer in the office - I'm perched on the edge of my cot in the tent I call home - along with four other girls.) Our permanent quarters aren't built as yet and were living in tents with the grass for a floor. There's just no place to hang anything. Therefore, our clothes always look a mess. I have not yet mastered the art of pressing my HBTs and skirts by sleeping on them.

I forgot to mention, we're stationed with our unit at the Santa Ana race track. At the present, it doesn't look like much. All the buildings have been pretty badly shelled. But it is going to be one of the nicest spots in Manila pretty soon. There's a beautiful breeze blows through the office all day. And that's a blessing in this heat.

Haven't been able to get down to the other Wac installations yet, so haven’t run into any of the Kestters yet- but I will- soon I hope...

Kay, I really must stop and finish Georgie's letter. If I don't stop now I'll be another day getting this off to you. My best to all the gang. From the sound of your letters I think it would be fine if you and Penny and the rest move on to new fields - preferably here in Manila so I could see you all again.

Love, Lee

P.s. This is a piece of Jap invasion money. It’s scattered all over the streets downtown. The Japs did a thorough job of getting inflation slanted and prices are wicked.. I’ll have to do my souvenier [sic] shopping by bartering lipsticks and such.

A pair of straw sandals worth about $1.00- 10 Pesos ($5.00) A small dish of icecream- $1.00. A coke- 50¢.