Reflecting on Army Camp Life on Guadalcanal #WWII #research #history #amwriting #amreading #American #histfic #historical #fiction #books

When my dad died about 10 years ago, I inherited his papers and photographs and other items important to him. He kept them in two metal trunks, one black and one green, plus a couple smaller plastic file/tote boxes. I treasure each one and have shared some of his things with other family members who also value them. One of the most interesting collections I came across recently is a set of Coconotes newsletters of life and activities in the army camp, the 20th Station Hospital, where he was stationed on Guadalcanal.

Front page of an issue of Coconotes camp newsletter

These newsletters are important and interesting to me because not only do they describe the concerns, events, USO performances, sports, etc., happening on the island but many of them actually list my dad as first the associate editor and then as editor of the publication. In reading through the contents, I could see how he put his mark on the contents as well. He served as associate editor June-July 1944, then as editor until the middle of November 1944. At that point, he was due to receive a direct commission so he was sent to Hawaii to receive it. (Only, the promotion fell through because they lost the paperwork. A story for another time, perhaps.)

Several of the papers include articles he wrote and sketches he drew to illustrate them. His signature is on the cartoons, too. I have always known my dad was also a writer. I’ve read many of his short stories, poems, limericks, and even a song he wrote and had put to music. If I knew he edited these newsletters, then I had totally forgotten until I rediscovered them in his trunks.

This article called “SNAFU” is not about what that term typically refers to, but is about the need to save money for the future rather than spending it now. Specifically, SNAFU means Spending Now Averts Future Use. I can well imagine he made that up, knowing his penchant for humor and for saving money. I also found a small notebook he carried while on the island that has a list of the money he sent home to his mother to save for him. So I know this topic was dear to him.

I mentioned that the contents changed under his leadership. The earlier newsletters included on the back page a list of jokes and cartoons. The later ones included a summary of the news at the various front lines of the war. Of particular note is the fact that a new copyright notification appears on the masthead and there is a note from the official censer that the soldiers could not mail the newsletter home. Having said that, it’s rather ironic that I found the set of newsletters in a large envelope my dad mailed home to his mother…

Mailing envelope from my dad to his mother

Are you curious about the kinds of things they did during the war? Well, the two or three Red Cross nurses hosted events throughout the week, including bingo, craft lessons, donut day, dances, and holiday dinners. In the October 17, 1944 issue, there is an announcement that the “20th to Celebrate Two Years Overseas” with a supper party including grilled steak with all the fixings and beer. This was a very special dinner, from all appearances. The nurses also provided mending services for the soldiers. To keep fit, the soldiers played baseball, including having tournaments with other island teams. Volleyball and swimming were also favorite activities, as well as hiking and fishing.

I am amazed at the number of jokes included in each issue. Some of which are no longer funny, but most of them have stood the test of time, in my opinion. I wonder where they culled them from. Or did they make them up?

Another surprise was the number of poems about life on the island and in the army that are included throughout the issues in my possession. One man in particular wrote many poems for the newsletter. I did a quick online search to see if he continued a career in poetry but his name didn’t yield any results. I may see if I can poke around more to find out what became of him. He had quite a talent!

I’m in the process of documenting their contents and my husband is scanning them into pdf files for archival purposes. Once their digitized, then I can share them with the rest of my family, too. I intend to offer the collection of newsletters and a few other specific items that I think have historical value to the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans. They already have an oral history interview with my father from 2009, and he’s listed in their Honor Roll registry. But the contents of these newsletters provides a different view of life during a world war, so I think they should have them for safe keeping.

Hoppy Easter and thanks for reading!


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Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.

Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.

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