Saturday, January 16, 2010

The first days in Japan, and some spousal advice

Once he had settled into his digs at the U.S. Army replacement depot at Zama, southwest of Tokyo, Maj. Gillham began sending letters on a regular basis, about one every two days.  He wrote them on sturdy 8" x 10" stationery, often with matching envelopes, and attached a 6-cent air mail stamp, pictured below:

These red-tinted (or carmine) stamps were by far the most popular air mail stamps of the 1940s, with over 4.7 billion printed.  Occasionally Maj. Gillham would post his letters in a pre-stamped air mail envelope with the familiar blue and red striped borders.

31 Oct 45

Dearest Darling,

I have written you several V-Mail and air mail letters so far.  I think I will send this one straight for an experiment.  I understand that all mail goes by air as far as S.F.  If that is true and with you so close to S.F., this should make as good time as any -- maybe better.  Let me know how long this one takes.

If you can, please send me a couple of 100 watt light bulbs, a couple of padlocks and some assorted Singer sewing machine needles.  I know that is a funny combination, but there seems to be a national shortage of light bulbs, and I didn't put any in my locker.  The padlock on my foot locker was broken off in shipment and I lost the key to the extra lock that I brought.  I imagine locks are unobtainable also.  The needles I understand are excellent trade goods, but don't go to too much trouble to get them, if they are scarce in the U.S. also.  Those are about the only things that I see I need so far.  Except for the lock on the trunk, all my things came in fine shape.

I haven't seen much of Japan yet, but the weather today could be Arkansas in the middle of winter.  It has rained all day long without a let up, and the black mud is everywhere.  We were very fortunate indeed that it was good weather the day we debarked.

One of the boys in the room with me has a radio, and we get the Armed Forces Radio station in Tokyo.  The programs are very good, much better than any I remember in the states.  There are no commercials except occasionally an announcement such as "VDMT VDMT" which upon decoding is translated as venereal disease means trouble.  We also can get a Japanese station.  I can get words and phrases of what they say but miss the context generally.  The accent and the pronunciation is exactly as we were taught.

A couple of officers who were substituted on our order at the last minute and couldn't bring any equipment were permitted to go into Tokyo to a Q.M. Depot today to get some.  One was going to try to send a cable to his wife, if such facilities were available.  I asked him to send you one if possible.  He hasn't come back yet so I don't know the answer.

As far as knowing what is going to happen to me, I am still in transit for all practical purposes.  However, they say they don't keep you here long and I should know something soon.

How are you?  And what you doing and planning to do?  I am very anxious to hear from you.  We may get some mail in a few days if we are still here.  Did you get the oil changed in the car?  Remember to keep the tires properly inflated.  If some of them are getting smooth before you start back to Georgia, get them retreaded.  It only costs about $7 and takes a couple of days.  If more than one tire is involved, you will have to leave them one at a time, so start working on it before the last minute.  Darling, you have plenty of time for anything you start to do, so don't go and work yourself down trying to get something over with in a hurry.  When you get tired, slow down -- don't fight the thing you are working on.  I have known you long enough to realize that that is one of the biggest dangers that you face now.  If you can keep yourself and the children well, you will have won half the battle.

Did you pay Becker Roofing?  If you haven't, drop them a note and explain the delay.  That is always a good policy if you can't handle a bill promptly.

Must stop now and go to chow.  They are feeding about 10,000 men here, under terrible conditions, and putting out good food.  All the cooking is on field ranges, and they have no refrigeration or other refinements.  We eat out of our mess kits and I am careful to wash them well in three waters, boiling hot.  We always have great quantities of butter.  I can see why it had to be rationed in the states.

They have an ingenious arrangement for keeping hot water here.  The Japs left a big "wash boiler" mounted over a fire box.  When you want hot water, you dip out a helmetful, replace the water and put a stick on the fire. Thus there is always hot water for everyone.

Tell Col. Post that I sprinkled some water from the Robles del Rio water works on the shores of Japan as soon as I landed.

Lots of love,



Zama is a town in the Kanagawa Prefecture, about 45 miles southwest of Tokyo.  The Imperial Japanese Army Academy was established there in 1937, and after the war the facilities were refashioned by the Allies into Camp Zama, where Maj. Gillham was quartered.  The U.S. Army camp is still in use today, primarily the base of operations of the U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (yes, the same I Corps that Radar O'Reilly was constantly trying to get on the phone in the TV series M*A*S*H).

The "Q.M. depot" mentioned in this letter refers to the Quartermaster Corps, which is a combat support service branch of the U.S. Army.  It is responsible for general supplies (except ammunition and medical), food service, petroleum and water, shower and laundry facilities, and also mortuary affairs.

The Armed Forces Radio Service mentioned above was part of the larger American Forces Network (AFN) which was established during the war, in May 1942.  It would broadcast popular American radio programs, as well as news and bulletins.

In September 1944, a nonfraternization order was imposed by the occupying Allied command in Europe, forbidding the mingling of Allied troops with the enemy "upon the terms of friendliness, familiarity or intimacy, individually or in groups, in official or unofficial dealings." This was part of an effort to limit the spread of venereal and other sexually-transmitted diseases among the troops.  This directive was later expanded to include the Pacific Theater after V-J Day.  The AFN mounted a PSA campaign to this end, broadcasting a simple spoken message, "VDMT," several times a day for weeks, until it was finally revealed to mean "venereal disease means trouble."  This was usually followed by the admonishment, "For a moment of play you may have to pay."

Throughout his correspondence, Maj. Gillham refers to the Japanese people as "Japs," which was common practice at the time, especially among American troops.  There is, of course, an implied hostility when referring to the enemy as "Japs" or "Krauts," but I think for the most part my grandfather's use of the word "Jap" is fairly neutral and simply explanatory.  In subsequent letters he will also use the term "Oriental," which has only recently been relegated to the non-PC bin.  Also, later he will use the term "Negro" when referring to African Americans, which was the accepted norm in the 1940s.