New York City

 

    1961 January 27: In Temple, just before noon, a powerful engine pulled past and, with three others going my way, I boarded a fast, modern train. Right away we were served lunch; the journey had already begun. The farther north we went, more signs of winter marked the land, frozen streams and streaks of snow. It had been quite cold at Fort Hood. As we rode north I began to think how cold the week must have been for you.

    The compartment I share has good beds. All afternoon I napped and read a new paperback I bought for the trip, Elizabeth the Great. We are due in Chicago sometime tomorrow morning. It is after supper now; we have passed through Gainesville and Ardmore. I am becoming acquainted with the other three. They think we have received a favorable assignment. I hope so. Having New York City so near will give an element of excitement beyond the ordinary. In the dining car tonight, passing an Oklahoma farmhouse surrounded and covered with snow, I focused on smoke rising from the chimney and wondered if the people inside are happy, and I thought of you, hoping you are happy and well....

    Remembering that small house between white folds of earth, covered: no other colors, only light and dark, but a more intense light in one window. From the chimney, a strong plume of smoke rose, was caught and bent over by the wind, which I knew was blowing from the way the snow hurled past the train. Suddenly, I felt a deep longing for that warmth, but not the usual sad longing because I was on my way to great adventure, and glad. The little house, with its bright window and silent smoke, moved back of the train. No reason to mention it to traveling companions. But years later when I came to the following passage by the Orthodox priest, Alexander Schmemann, in For the Life of the World, I could say at last,

“I understand....”:


    “Somewhere, even if it is only in a single room, every man at some point in his life has his own small kingdom. It may be hell, and a place of betrayal, or it may not. Behind each window there is a little world going on. How evident this becomes when one is riding on a train at night and passing innumerable lighted windows: behind each one of them the fullness of life is a ‘given possibility,’ a promise, a vision. This is what the marriage crowns express: that here is the beginning of a small kingdom which can be something like the true Kingdom. The chance will be lost, perhaps even in one night; but at this moment it is still an open possibility.”


    ...share this adventure. We will enjoy it for whatever opportunities it offers. The first night was like being rocked to sleep in a great cradle. Just before dark a near-tragic accident happened somewhere in Oklahoma. A driver on icy streets ran through the crossing bar and plowed directly into the side of the train; we were forced to an emergency stop. The car was completely demolished, but fortunately the driver jumped to safety. After that, I settled down with my book.... I have managed to read President Kennedy’s inaugural speech and agree that it was truly inspiring....

    On waking we were in Missouri...eight degrees below zero and three hours late...the Mississippi, frozen solid.... The sun changed the whole landscape to gold... the faster the train seemed to go...only the backs of the great country houses are seen, always the full front of poor houses where the unlanded live. Entering Chicago by train, even in the brightest winter sun, is to experience the most dismal impression of ugliness....

    One thing I’ll say, “The army takes care of its own.” They dress us in smart uniforms and put us on first class trains. I have even felt a kind of pride because I feel now that I will have some part in the whole picture, and a part I can play.... As I understand it, this Air Force place we’re going to is part of the air defense program....

    We had missed our train...a 24 hour layover...USO...separate ways...free movie ticket... Marshall Field...public library...the Loop...walked down well-lighted State Street to the YMCA...the shops had become more questionable, lighting nearly non-existent...pawn shops became bars and burlesque houses. I would have appreciated this view of “how the other half lives” had I not been alone....

    Places are mentioned in this book which I have seen myself: The Tower. “I was at this spot, walked that very path.” How much it means! Reading will go on and on. How conscious I am of all I owe you...wish I could repay...bring you the joy that you have made for me...ashamed to be always receiving.


    1961 January 28:  (Gladys) You can imagine our reaction to the card we got today. I halfway expected it, yet just this morning I began to realize that the time was near for you to be carried far away, and I had a desperate feeling....


    January 30:  Highlands Air Force Base in New Jersey is a small outpost on the top of a hill fifty-two miles from the heart of New York City. It looks out over the Atlantic Ocean. I say the place is small, but in one day I have seem more top “brass,” high ranking officers, than I saw during all my time at Fort Hood. Everyone must have a security clearance.... Giant radar antennas top an adjoining hill, the “holy of holies,” and the men who work there are called “missile masters”...no barracks here, but a room with only one roommate. Each has a closet and chest of drawers, table and chair. We wear dress uniform all the time, no boots. Relaxed dining area with a server who volunteers, “Any more?” Bus direct to New York. Fine view of the sea. I work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with the rest of the time off. I will soon be asking you to send a box of my civilian clothes....

    The biggest difference...everyone works in an atmosphere of mutual respect.... I will have a Top Secret clearance which is almost frightening...and all because I can type...don’t pretend to know anything about this place from what I’ve told. You understand?

    February 4: Saturday morning. Unless I am put on a snow-shoveling detail, I’m off until Monday morning...but not settled permanently. I may be stationed, that is, sleep at a small fort called Hancock seven miles away, and go back and forth on a bus.... I hope I don’t have to do that, but because of a shortage of space here on “the hill,” it is almost certain. Fort Hancock was a prisoner of war camp. I’m sure it was suitable...depressing...at the end of a narrow strip of land extending out into the ocean...called “the Hook.” A sea wall provides some protection for five miles of road that leads out to the end. It has a lighthouse.... Right now we’re having a snowstorm. All night it came down thick, and across this hill I never heard such a howling of the wind. Poor Fool, the good impressions seem less certain now.

    It will be necessary to buy my own books.... A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman...attempts to put down the experiences of a young man on an English farm. In simple lines Housman comes near to real life, describing friendships, love, nature, death, leaving home, strange places, war.


            And since to look at things in bloom

        Fifty springs are little room,

        About the woodlands I will go,

        To see the cherry hung with snow.


    Yes, I left Fort Hood when everyone else left.... We had no farewell. I said nothing to Sergeant Eggers. I too have a feeling for the poor boys moving into the barracks. On the day I left, they were standing in line cold, waiting to go out to the firing range...a never-ending line. Maybe when we stand our turn it is to atone somehow.


              Others, I am not the first,

                Have willed more mischief than they durst:

                If in the breathless night I too

                Shiver now, ‘tis nothing new.


    February 12: Since letters are our only way to be in touch, I want to make each one enjoyable, exciting and happy, like those you enjoy. With no trip to describe, but with many thoughts, I start here. Nothing makes me happier than to know that, as your son, I have caused you some happiness with all the worry. Nothing makes me determine more steadfastly to be brave than the prospect of causing you worry if I were not. Sometime I live as with held breath, waiting for time to pass, and it does pass quickly now.... I continue to ask questions about New York, read the New York Times, and follow with a more lively interest what plays are being acted in the theaters. This week I had good letters from both Marvin and John Cunningham. Sometime I wonder how I manage to retain the friendship of people I have known.

    Most of my work is typing. I should get an intermediate clearance in about a week. I work with four other people. The Signal Officer is a Major Guthrie from Houston. He is intelligent and a true gentleman; we get along well. Second in rank is a first lieutenant, quite and hard working, just the type to appreciate my diligent and careful habits.

    February 18: This will be my last weekend on “the Hook” at Fort Hancock. Monday I move back to Highlands and “the hill” where I will be able to unpack....

    English history as told by Mr. Churchill: Endless battles. I’m impressed how often lives were cast away for a prize to be squandered tomorrow.... Even millions in our own century have known more than I will know. But in my situation, where all the play of basic training is past, we are engaged in something real. Talk supposing this and that, what would happen in case of enemy attack...on guard every day so that the majority can live in whatever peace is possible. We are ready every minute.... Last night my attention was drawn to a siren somewhere on post. I didn’t know what it meant, probably nothing important, but my mind went off down a path...what I would do...what if the “librarian” had to rush out and become someone else. These thoughts came naturally till there was nothing to do but turn out of my chair...to pray.

    Fog is so thick tonight one can hardly see. From one side of New York harbor to the other, the horns call each other. Our ancient lighthouse looks out with its one bright eye that turns.... Ships have radar to steer them safely now, but men will always be the same. Shakespeare wrote, “See how far that little candle throws its light? So shines each good deed in a naughty world.” I’m fascinated by the naughty world, what men have suffered...learning not that they have been happy, but that understanding may give meaning....

    Sunday afternoon. With eyes tired from reading, I took a walk around Hancock after lunch. So much has fallen into disuse. It was good to watch the waves come in. Far in the distance, New York’s tall buildings can just be seen. Sea gulls are the strangest birds! They’re strong and larger than crows. I watched a cluster on ice blocks in the river. They pick up clams from the beach and fly high over the roadway, let them fall, crack, swoop down and eat....

    February 26: Last night we had the usual fog with rain and wind. It made a good background for the sea story I’m reading. My roommate goes to New York every weekend, so I almost have a private room. I still have not got the courage to go myself...will wait for spring and longer days...go by myself, for the things that interest me are different.

    March 4: The world, my world, has expanded or closed in on me. I hardly feel like the same person...know what I can expect each day: sleep, work, but not hard, and read. In following a life so unvaried, nothing is a pleasure, and the days stretches out, monotonous. These were the feelings I had last Wednesday...a feeling of hopelessness, and so fell into my prayers to wrap myself round with patience and calm. Then I began to think, “How foolish, silly, and ridiculous! New York City lies just across the harbor; on clear days I can even see it.” But on Friday I still had no definite plan. At noon I casually mentioned I might go. Someone suggested “this very night”. He hardly knew me, of course. Anyone who did could have told how backward and timid I would be. The arrangements were quickly made...that night by private car. I was afraid of being dragged into something a little too fast, but when faced with going to New York alone, I wanted company.

    Sergeant Jordan let me off at 4:15 to get ready. About 5:30 seven of us were packed into the big black car. To everyone but me this was just one more short trip. They pointed out things along the many-laned turnpike, but I was left for the most part to follow my own thoughts....

    Although the days are beginning to get longer, we would not be approaching the City in daylight. As the traffic thickened, we came nearer and nearer until at last lights on the horizon were as far to the left and right as one could see. I felt like a June Bug approaching a bed of live coals...excited, yes, and on the radio loud music with a heavy beat, growing faster as we went, like the pulse of the City quickening. Looking at the sky, it seemed someone had beat the coal bed to made the sparks fly up. Gradually the shapes of huge blocks and slender spires—New York skyscrapers— took shape out of the darkness.

    We moved into a great tube—the Lincoln Tunnel—an artery it might have been, under a river, and on coming out the other end were in the heart of the City. I had not noticed but the music stopped.... New York was not screaming and racing, but calm, its mass of traffic moving slowly. I lowered the window for air and was struck immediately by a hot breath of garlic...a place on Lexington Avenue called the Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Club, an old place, but clean...one dollar to spend the night.... Across the street the hotel where Castro’s bunch stayed during UN meetings until he got mad and moved up to “Nigger town”. Cardinal Spillman’s Service Club...TV, ping-pong, pool, magazines, free snack bar, everything free, girls from the local parishes down to dance...boys from other branches of the service, and other army units...stuck together...touched how thoughtful everyone was...explain the subway lay-out...walked in the direction of Broadway... almost midnight...no sign the City would sleep...colorful signs, and at its brightest spot, they call it Times Square. What a mob! The theater district was letting out.... Shake one’s head...all vanity...fascinating...arrogant, pushing...to a movie off Broadway where tickets are cheaper...3:00 in the morning...a long walk back to our place, past the Empire State Building dark against the sky.... Fifth Avenue, that broad street of fine shops...two huge lions...pigeons flutter. New York seemed so tame, yet stately and calm...both stately and vulgar, calm and frantic, it seemed good...stopped a long while in a big book store...diamond necklaces and rings beyond any price...Steuben crystal... Central Park...trees, pond, zoo, a long, winding walk...skaters on ice...gay organ music...Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. People came, knelt, prayed, went away. I sat quietly and thought. In whatever men seek to do there are always defeats mixed with triumph and success.... Must let them know how much I appreciated...don’t see how I could have landed in a more favorable situation. Those men over me, captain, first sergeant, major, all such decent people—none overbearing. The major is watchful for my good...took charge of a small matter I was having trouble with and straightened it out.... Everyone tells me how fortunate...thankful.... Many a strange bed I will know, two years of separation...no whole victory...try to remember.

    I had located Christ Church on Park Avenue and fully intended to stay till Sunday morning...tired from walking...United Nations headquarters...millions in famine-stricken or poor countries...enough, so returned to Highlands well content... anxious to begin this letter....


    1961 March 9: (Gladys) Even letter writing is a worthy gift. I just can’t say any more. We devour your letters, then remain speechless.  I had supposed that you would go into N.Y. when you got your clothes, and now you have already done it.


    March 11: I have been watching the development of Mr. Kennedy’s Peace Corps. How can I tell you what thoughts I had on hearing these young people may be exempted from the draft?

    I would offer Gary some advice, if I dared. I would say he should do his very best now, even deny himself some things now, and get the most out of high school.... You said you wouldn’t lift a finger to persuade him to do this or that for fear of dispersing his happiness.... Most of all, I hope it lasts.... I don’t say that education is the way to happiness. Far from it, for the educated person becomes aware of little complexities in life that gradually cloud large portions of it. Little problems and insights...that pull slowly at first, then hard at deep roots.... This depends on the sensitivity of the individual person. Education brings experience and age to the young, before their time.

    I don’t blame you or anyone else for the way I lived in Dallas, but I do think I understand and even hinted at it once to you. Life seemed such a selfish, meaningless existence there that I had nothing to tie myself into...and this becomes life. The idea of the Peace Corps sounds worthy, the old missionary spirit rising...help

underdeveloped nations build a better life. I know it will take many hands working...at long, monotonous tasks, but having a part would give meaning (if that is what I need) that working in Dallas would not.... From Mulberry to the Congo, there is a world between, but actually they are close. They both offer meaning to life.... Your love has followed me and my work, even if nothing but planting trees...the reward and purpose that sustains me. The Congo or any place where there’s a genuine service to be rendered—there, too, is purpose.... I am looking, have worn myself out looking, and found nothing but loneliness. It makes me fear some bad streak in myself. Am I sincere? My time in the army may change a lot, though I hardly know what to hope. If I had to say, it would be that when I get out and find something to give myself to, I will have the courage and enough command over myself to carry through, wherever it takes me, or whatever it means. I don’t expect suddenly that everything will be easy. No, I will always be myself and carry the same hurt.

    I can see everything blooming as you write: daffodils and the peach at the first of March. I am keeping a record of when things bloom in order to plan and plant for the best effect. So tell me....

    March 27: It looked so wintry still that my heart was heavy before I arrived, but on getting out on the street, I felt again the thrill of being in The City...straight to the Soldiers, Sailors and Airman's Club and paid my dollar. Then I went up to find Charlie. He was in a hurry to get out because he’d heard three fire alarms and expected to find a spectacle. With me trailing my camera, we chased the trucks, but the fire was little more than a smolder.... Little boys with toy helmets like the big firemen’s were out, too, and made us smile. Soon we were walking again and took a subway (my first time) to Greenwich Village, an old section surrounding New York University with quaint, narrow streets inhabited mostly by students, artists and the beatniks. I don’t have a clear idea what a beatnik is, or whether real or fake. They profess to be disillusioned with modern life and seek to set themselves apart by outlandish dress, long hair, and what outsiders consider to be loose morals. Many cafes are their hangouts, which they haunt by night with poetry reading and classical music.... We walked on toward Manhattan Bridge which goes over to Brooklyn.... Then by myself to the USO for a ticket to Toys in the Attic...during intermission I overheard....

    May 24: ... I have been asked to take the typing job in the General’s office, and after a day of KP tomorrow may be anxious to do it. Major Guthrie got word. Friday before I had time to say anything, he made remarks to the effect that they couldn’t get along without me, but when I let him know I was interested, he set out to learn...came back after lunch and said I will start on Monday. There are two ways to view this news. First, that I will be the Commanding General’s private secretary, or that I will be doing some typing over there, have little to do with “him” personally and survive no longer than I please. A risk, but also a change.

    July 1: Two nights, one day, and a seventh crossing of the Mississippi have brought me back to this hill where I keep a watch out over the ocean—for the enemy.

    In New York, I arrived in time to catch the 10:00 o’clock bus to Highlands. Everything on wheels was being used to get people out for the long weekend. Coming from the peace of Mulberry into the madness of New York is again a shock. The man sitting next to me may have observed my stunned appearance. He said working class families look forward all year to the 4th. I couldn’t help noticing a mother and father, two boys and two girls, on the seats opposite. They spoke among themselves entirely in Italian. Watching the difference between the parents and children was amusing. The parents: still in the “old country,” their excitement showed in every gesture and tone. In a flutter, large mama made the sign of the cross as the bus started to move. The father placed his arm around mama and with another hand patted each child on the head. The children, calm and dignified with their books, covered any excitement with indifference, and ignored all exclamations.

    July 4: Lucky as we are, the war clouds hovering around Berlin worry me. While many don’t seem to think much about it, the fear we live under is constant and must have deep effects. I read in an editorial recently that the U.S. must be prepared to fight more Koreas, and spend far more on defense. No relief in sight, no end, a rat’s race to nowhere. Under this we must live our lives. There are so many things I hope to do and see, and at the same time so many shadows. We take whatever happiness is possible, and at the same time stay prepared for anything. I know of nothing that can take the place of faith in God, however we express it; it means that after the worst is done, the good in us will still live on.

    July 9: Since my return, I have had more success in writing. I’m not talking about letters.... Seriously, ideas do keep coming. I’m having fun and feel close to Mulberry.

    Last week the general told the sergeant major (highest ranking enlisted man in our brigade) to get in his office “on the double.” The poor sergeant went in breathless and had a heart attack. I hope Jack felt bad about that. He must have, because he rode to the hospital in the ambulance.

    July 16: Yesterday I went to New York again and though it rained and I got wet, the trip was different. I.had run out of reading material and felt an expectation of something good. New York is so full of such a variety of characters.... Different, too, because I did not expect to spend the night.... In one bookstore the assistant manager was friendly and talkative, a drama major and theatre enthusiast, but I cannot help being suspicious when someone is like that.... Ingrid Bergman’s latest film where the idea is that we live through unhappiness; the little happiness we can know is all that matters. Maybe we can say that about our own lives, but I don’t think we can for others, say that 99% doesn’t matter. We have no right to dismiss anyone’s life so easily, though for ourselves we may settle and feel lucky.

    Next week will bring more news of Berlin when Kennedy delivers his message to the Russians, and when the Defense Department makes their recommendations to meet the threat. I feel so tiny, like one little straw swept along in a flood. Don’t think I’m always gloomy about this....

    July 21: Wednesday I sewed a button on the general’s shirt and learned, without surprise, that the simple courtesy, “Thank you,” is not in his vocabulary. Word has come that a stenographer knowing shorthand will be taking my place. I can’t say I care, although I might if I didn’t have another good offer. Major Worth, who is one of the right-hand men around here, for whom I have great respect, told me he already has the place that will suit me well. It is a kind of librarian’s job in the classified documents section which keeps a strict account of all the Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret documents connected with the defense. It will mean a great deal more responsibility than I have had before, and a good place to get hanged if anything is lost.... I hope to hear Kennedy’s address Tuesday night for the real situation. All sorts of rumors have been circulating, the most demoralizing being that we who are “in” for two years may suddenly have our time extended to three.

    July 30: Yesterday the rain came in torrents, from the south and north, from the ocean and straight down.... I decided not to get wet again in New York. Mr. Hopper moved me into the air conditioned suite of offices while Lt. Maxwell is away for two weeks, a thoughtful suggestion, but I prefer my own cubby hole to the chaos of the front office. Friday was especially bad. The night before there’d been a practice recall at one of the battalions, and it was announced at Yankee Stadium that all men of the 3rd Missile Battalion were to return to duty at once. Well, there wasn’t as much excitement during the whole game as then. Coming so soon after Kennedy’s speech, it touched off a big commotion and appeared in all the newspapers. Who could tell it was only a drill? Nobody was pleased; the telephones rang all morning. It gave me satisfaction to know that a general can get “chewed out” too, just like a lowly private.

    Tuesday began our period of unrest and near despair.... In the twenty-five years of my life, I don’t believe I’ve heard anything more grim, and the danger has not receded. Anything worse would be an outright declaration of war. You said you felt terrible. Strangely, the dread of being held up an extra year was more immediate than fear of war itself. I had allowed myself to hope again for something good, planned, thought to plant this and that kind of tree.... “No hope can have no fear,” so I tried to bring myself back that night to the point of “no fear.”

    Wednesday should have been called the “Day of Rumors,” and before it was over I had believed no less than five.... My friend Botsie from Louisiana the day before said that if he never lived another day, he could say he’d had a good life, and I was glad to hear it; on Wednesday he just wished he’d been able to marry sooner. I listened to everybody and tried not to say much myself, but I’m writing you....

    The purpose? Now that I look back I think I see something important for me. Not “the best of worlds” is not a new idea; I remember facing it just as squarely on other occasions. It is the realization that through the greatest part of my life I will be alone. I don’t think I fear another year in the army, or war or even death itself, more than this loneliness, and yet I have already recognized it as a fact. I can face these present prospects too, but first it is necessary to throw off the burden of hopes built so high. I’m learning to lay it aside; this has been the whole lesson of my experience, and again last week.... “Don’t worry. I’ll be alright?” That’s what I am saying, but I have tried to explain how.... Perhaps I shall be able to make something out of Mulberry’s story. I don’t know, but a story based on the theme of this letter is one I could write from my heart....

    Daddy should write about prospects for the farm. I guess it looks bad for cotton. Thank you for PaPa’s letter; I will value it. In such few words it shows the old farmer worn down by drought, and without hope that things will be better. Short, but such a long story, too.

    August 6: This weekend I went into New York City again. A Catholic friend who lives there had asked me long ago to spend a Saturday night at his parents’ place. And too, my friend from Louisiana asked me to help select an anniversary present for his wife...then Botsie went straight back. Gordon and I continued by subway to the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the medieval things are located. I’m reading about the Middle Ages now.

    We got to Gordon’s home and I wondered why he asked me. I hadn’t realized what tiny apartments whole families have to live in. No wonder children grow up in the streets. It makes me feel bad....

    Sunday morning I left Gordon on his way to mass at 8:00 a.m. and went to Christ Church, walking through almost deserted streets...had two delicious poached eggs across the street on Park Avenue, then went inside. I was disappointed to find that Dr. Sockman will not be back to preach till September 24. The associate pastor’s sermon was built around a text I could well be reminded of, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content”.... To the Port Authority and a bus for Highlands at l:00 p.m. A Catholic priest sat beside me...all the way we had an interesting discussion...horrified expression on a woman’s face opposite who overheard the word “faith”....

    And this I must not forget: out of a clear sky, the general smiled.... Two of the boys who came with me from Fort Hood will be sent to Korea in October. We hadn’t expected this; only Botsie and I are left.

    August 13: I note again your remarks on the “size of the yard”. If it were “just for you,” I wouldn't care about planting trees and taking in more yard, because I know these things don’t mean anything to you. So we can be honest. I do it “for myself”. I’ve tried to make the most of this time through reading and thinking. When I get out and return to Texas, I don’t want to return to Dallas. It would be more natural then to go out into the world and seek my fortune. I’m twenty-five, but without any desire to do that. Whatever I do in the coming years, I don’t want to be a hindrance to your happiness, but I can’t think of any place except Mulberry as home. So I will plant still more trees, and if I have made things too big now, it is in the hope that one day I will be there to cut the grass and drag the water hose myself.... I am so thankful for the farm...it will fill out certain needs I have. It makes the need to be a financial success less urgent. At least, I hope so. You could smile at the stories I’ve told about my hopes. Probably I shouldn’t tell anyone, but at least it shows I’m searching...what the priest said I must always do. I feel like I’m searching for my soul’s salvation... cannot be satisfied with the normal, easy life...alone, it would be too empty. I need to serve.... After that, then we can think what to do.

    September 3: I had looked forward to going into New York all week... caught the bus at Highlands and there my adventure began. A few miles down the road a little lady in an old fashioned light blue dress took the seat beside me and mentioned the tragic plane crash in Chicago.... She informed me that she’d studied astrology all her life and that the warlike planet Mars was nearer earth now than it had been in a long time, that two days this month will bring us closer to disaster. I didn’t think this an original conclusion but acted interested, and she talked on.... She had also made a study of “numerology,” the ancient Greek science, and asked about my birthday. From July 28, running numbers up and down, she finally came out with “two one’s and a nine”. She said this means that I must act as a leader, but carefully because the nine is a “high-powered number” which many “gangsters” have, that can work for as much evil as good. Then she discovered I have a seven which points to a “spiritual side” which is the most important, meaning it is necessary for me to spend some time alone. She advised me to pray often if I hadn’t thought about it. All my life I will have to have “many avenues of expression,” and she wondered if I’m not involved in newspaper work. By then I’ve wiped the inner smile from my face, merely listening. I will always be trying to do things that people will frustrate, but since I have two one’s (leadership) it won’t take me long to make a decision, and I won’t let people in on my plans, but will go straight ahead. Without taking a breath, she went on to say that home life has always been important and that I must never be without it. According to the “universal number” for this year, it will be a time of decision, but more things will become clear next year. We arrived in New York and parted. She said, “God bless you and send you home safely.” I was thoughtful going on....

    Last night a special alert resulted in the recall of all officers and a secret conference. All I know is that the “rapidly deteriorating situation in Berlin” means we are on some kind of alert, in some special state of readiness. Sabotage guards have been posted all around....

    September 22: I looked forward a little nervously to seeing a full-scale hurricane. Then suddenly more news came that took all minds off Esther. Thursday a notice appeared on the bulletin board that the 52nd Brigade had been alerted a large portion of us will be levied for Europe, departing September 28, and that all should settle any personal problems they may have in the States.... It looks now as though it may all have been a false alarm, but I will never feel safe again.... The hurricane missed us, but it was windy....

    September 25: I went into the City on Saturday morning with my roommate Greenstreet. We met Charlie Baymiller who has always been good to help me find my way around. He’s partial to Brooklyn and has wanted to take me there, particularly to Frank’s Bar where some of our Brigade people hang out. He’d promised to bring over a real Texan.... Greenstreet said my “act” was successful.

    October 8: I decided not to go into the City...had plenty to read.... Then I remembered that next weekend the Sky Shield Mission over the whole United States will be taking place. All commercial aircraft...grounded, and an all-out air attack will be simulated with military planes. I’ll probably be guarding the coal pile as I did the last time....

    October 11: Tomorrow...to my new job.... All these documents are kept in a strong vault about as big as our bathroom. They are issued to other sections of headquarters as needed.... Major Worth called me in and explained how important it is to have someone methodical and dependable in charge...leave my friends and go to the vault, isolated again, but how could I tell the Major I’d rather not.... At present one other person helps in the vault, and although he is one rank above me, Major Worth said he intends me to be the one “in charge”.

    October 15: My first view...surprised documents aren’t lost right there, forever... nightmare for a librarian...just shake their heads.... Top Secret clearance...I could live without....

    October 22: Rain and blustery wind in the city.... At the bookstore the assistant manager with whom I usually exchange a word invited me to his apartment for supper with his friends, and talk. The irony is that, great as I might desire knowing someone like him, when the invitation comes, I’m distrustful so that friendship has less of a chance. I’m amazed at my capacity for loneliness. Wouldn’t it be easier to break down completely? But I’m no where near that...and the stronger I become. I’ve always expected to look at life for what it is, but it’s more a matter of not thinking. Years ago I would have a terrifying dream, beyond any expression of hopelessness, so that I’d sit up in bed with the lights turned on, to hold it at bay. When it returned...lost in cosmic, swirling masses, tearing and doing unspeakable damage, on a fearful brink, unable to stop. Sometime I wonder if the dream isn’t coming true, creeping up behind all my thoughts every day, so that I pray for “meaning,” and that by no neglect or yielding on my part will I spoil my life.

    The possibility of promotion came to nothing. So I have greater responsibility and a hearty disgust.... They are still arranging a Top Secret clearance for me, so don’t be surprised if you learn that CIC people are conducting a Background Investigation. I had determined to tell Major Worth that I want nothing to do with a conflict involving rank. He assured me I can organize the work as I want and that he will stand behind me. We have made some progress since then. I am in touch with the feelings and disappointments of other people, too, and it seems I’m not alone. When I get everything straightened out, I’ll tack that card up in the vault: “I’m nervous about your business.”

    November 12: Because of Armistice...three-day week-end...cold in the City...glad to have my overcoat.... Stuart, the dentist’s son from California, said he would go and we planned to meet Charlie at the Soldier’s Club. But there’s Gordon.... No one encouraged him. To make it worse, he was in uniform...for a military escort...played out the sad comedy...teased about the uniform, he said, “I started to go on home, but the others insisted that I come too.”

     We walked through Chinatown
and explored some dreary pawn shops. The weather was fine so when we got to the end of Manhattan we decided to cross on the Manhattan Bridge....quite long, and at the point where it rises highest over the river, there is a wonderful view of the great City. Finally, in Brooklyn at Frank’s Bar....


Now I must tell you about Charlie...


from California...six years of college, nice looking and intelligent...curious to me because of his special preference for this particular bar...has fallen in love with New York. I had been here once before and again found it to be a quiet place.... In an apartment overhead lives Ron...the bar as much home to him as his mother’s kitchen...everybody friendly to their friends...some kind of bowling game on a machine, and the loser buys the beer. When I first met him, Charlie must have weighed twenty pounds more than now...even beer can be bad for a person. Then there’s Betty. We can’t imagine a lady in a bar, of course; she isn’t a lady by our standards. They sleep together, not “our kind of people,” yet aren’t “bad” either.... I sat at the end of the bar and watched the people come in: an Irish cop off duty, a man on his way home, a large woman with a coarse, sullen face, her arms folded on the bar, a man half drunk, his eight year old son, waiting to go on to whatever place they call home.

    Stuart said he didn’t mind not being at home for Christmas because it never meant anything in his family. He said it was the drinking parties that made their holiday “spirit”, also that the  bar people weren’t trying to impress anybody....no illusions...their faces show a “resignation”. So I was not sorry to sit a couple of hours. Stuart was having one sixty cent drink after another and I started to feel uneasy. But he was ready to go, so we left Charlie at 7 o’clock and took the subway back to Manhattan, and Gordon, too, went home. On the way, Stuart described a $500 camera he wants more than anything, yet says he knows if his father gave it to him as a gift it would immediately cease to mean anything. He hopes to purchase it over a period of time from his army pay. This way it will be more than just a camera, a breaking away. I encouraged him, saying it will require some sacrifices.

    So Stuart returned to Highlands Friday night. I stayed on and was alone on Saturday to begin my Christmas shopping...at one of the finest stores on Fifth Avenue...on to a Broadway theater to buy an advance ticket to see Sir Michael Redgrave in “A Man for All Seasons”...too tired to stay a third day...returning, thought about everything I’d seen and learned, especially the people I work with every day.

    November 19: Followed the news as closely as I could. Thursday we heard of Mr. Sam’s death. Then we heard that President Kennedy would go to Bonham, Texas, for the funeral. I have mailed you articles from the New York Times. It will be a long time till the first column on page one bears again the dateline of Bonham, Texas. As the editor wrote, “It seems as though a part of the Capitol has fallen down.” I met Mr. Sam at his home on one occasion after I was valedictorian in high school and he sent the book as a gift. Bonham looked bleak and cold. As the coffin was taken from the church, past the throng of “humble” people Mr. Sam represented so long, a hand at first hesitated and then hastily remove a battered hat...it was like a wave passing on the surface of the crowd, and not an empty tribute. I wondered where you were.

       

    1962 January 14: I had everything to do, so Friday I took the last step and told Lt. Chojnacki I would have to have a replacement for Jones. To my surprise, he walked to the other end of the building and asked one of my best friends to come work in the vault. Basil is intelligent, the young executive-type, a typical New Yorker, but a good and dependable worker. When word got round, the other people in his section were a little indignant, but we had “brass” on our side so there was nothing to be done. The only difficulty may be in getting Basil the proper clearance; he is a naturalized citizen, born in Paris.

    I rode into New York with my roommate Jim. Gary will be interested to know that he drives a flashy, white MG sports car. Jim is a good driver so I didn’t feel uneasy. He took me to his friend’s apartment right across from the UN building and I met Don. Of course, I was prepared. His apartment is in good taste, though obviously expensive. On first meetings like this, I don't say much. At 7:20 Charlie came and Don took the three of us to a delicious sea food dinner in Manhattan. Charlie had made a reservation for me at the Soldiers Club, and by 10:15 we were at Frank’s...seemed to think he’d drink less and get away earlier if I came along...the invited “party pooper”. We left at 2:00 in pretty good shape and later in the morning rode out to Conie Island on the train...before another stop at Frank’s...what I enjoyed was a nice Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. Basil brought his girl Flo. She is French also, a perfect lady. Basil had resisted Brooklyn but finally agreed, uneasy, solely to please Charlie. I entertained three teen-agers with stories about Texas and assured them that airplanes and jeeps will never replace horses.

    Sunday morning I went to Christ Church. The old bishop was concerned about the perils of our age when men try to live in bomb shelters.... I went straight to the Port Authority. We saw two accidents on the way...a woman being treated for shock. The second was  more serious.... As we passed close I looked down at the crumpled bodies of a man and a woman on the pavement. Blood was gushing from her ear, creating a large puddle already. She looked dead, and I was startled to think that I could look even briefly and with with calmness, as if not realizing...tragedy brought home to someone.... After payday we are going to Basil’s part of the city, Queens, for another dinner as civilians.

    Thank you for your faithful letters. If you get the opportunity, look at Time magazine for January 12, 1962. It has a good article on NORAD and will give you a better understanding of what we do.

    January 28: ...all the work of the vault...missed a day of KP because there was no one to fill my place.... Capt. Steffanson, the battery commander, has done away with the promotion board.... Now he will make the decisions himself....

    Charlie went to Frank’s. I don’t enjoy having a drunken heroin addict put his arm round my shoulder, calling me “ole pal, ole buddy,” so I stayed in the room and read. If I didn’t have faith in some friendship that exists between us, I’d think my only purpose was to pay the hotel bill, which I did. I frequently loan Charlie money, which he scrupulously pays back. He didn’t come in until 4:30. At noon we met Basil and Flo at the public library, walked around fairly bored, couldn’t think of anything to do that didn’t cost money.... To Basil and Flo, life is cocktails at the Roosevelt; to Charlie, another beer...pointing up the artificial situation we’re thrown into...but I have tried “nobody”.

    Later I went to a clever movie with a free ticket from the Soldiers Club and was back at the hotel by 11:00. Charlie came in at 5:00, not drunk. I was hearing his report when the telephone rang and the hotel clerk was passing on that certain ladies were entertaining gentlemen in room 408. Charlie went to investigated and decided it would be too expensive. We talked a while longer.... I continued to think about my innocent enjoyment of the City. Flo had said, “Charlie’s handsome and fun to be with”. About me (Basil reported), her words were several: “cultured, refined, intellectual, too good to be real”. If I had a choice I would trade church for friends. You’re shocked. I’m worn out. Charlie and Basil want me to stay in New York after the Army...impossible, of course.

    After church we were having a blizzard, but I didn’t feel like returning to Highlands so went back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I want to write Mrs. Walmsley, my art history teacher at SMU, the one I met in Rome, to tell her what I’m seeing.

    March 4: I went into the City feeling good.... “The Aspern Papers” with two famous actors.... We met Basil and Flo and walked again to the piers to see the ocean liner “United States”...connected to all my dreams of Europe...to supper and talked long...as friends on such a ship...to dream. Charlie gets out of the Army on the 26th. One by one we will all leave.... Another poem by Housman says it best:


The street sounds to the soldier’s tread,

And out we troop to see:

A single redcoat turns his head,

He turns and looks at me.

My man, from sky to sky’s so far,

We never crossed before;

Such leagues apart the world’s ends are,

We’re like to meet no more;

What thoughts at heart have you and I

We cannot stop to tell;

But dead or living, drunk or dry,

Soldier, I wish you well.


   

    March 7: [John Cunningham] Dear Greg, Your letters are always so warm and humane that they elicit from me what letters from no other friends do: a reply, but I yearn to see you and spend time talking with you. I always am so appalled by the inept nature of my letters that I am moved to only a brief response—still with the hope of seeing you before too very long....


    March 11: This week...full of many thoughts and a variety of experiences which I shall remember long after.... First, if you remember my remarks about promotion... assured it will be “next month”. I care nothing for the promotion as such, but feel bound by the responsibility....


    Monday evening a strong wind was blowing from the ocean and on our hill we could see
the white caps. The wind blew all night and all the next day, becoming a major storm. Before dark Jim, Botsy, Charlie and I walked down to Highlands and across the bridge to the sea wall. Enormous waves were breaking over as the tide came in, spraying us...wind and rain so full of salt my lips were covered, neck stinging. Overhead we could hear large airplanes, and counted one after another trying for clearance to land at Newark. We returned to a warm room and enjoyed a game of cards....


    right: photo montage: “An Awesome Beauty”

     below: with Charlie on the Leonardo


    March 18: Friday brought an unexpected, unannounced inspection of the classified document business here at the headquarters. The CIC, military counterpart of the FBI, conducts these inspections. They went over all operations, found nothing amiss, noted “great improvement” for brigade, and rated my work “Excellent”.

    We’re pleased to learn, too, that Charlie will receive the Army’s commendation medal. Friday will be his last day....

    Aft
er watching a bit of the Saint Patrick’s day parade (remember I marched in it last year), we meet Basil and Flo...to the piers again.... The liner Leonardo da Vinci would sail for Italy at 5:00. In all the crowd of excited people we boarded to marvel at such beauty and luxury. I made a few pictures of my friends. Finally we had to get off, but waited to watch the faces looking back from the ship, some sad, happy, silly. A woman’s beautiful, unmoved face was framed by the window of her stateroom.... I received a card from Bill Logue, a friend from SMU student days, who always sends a Christmas greeting. I’d written a long letter in January. He and his wife are studying in Paris, “a city,” he wrote, “that makes you wish you could have all the friends you ever had here to enjoy it with you.”

    April 1: Memorable...at Union Theological Seminary I heard one of its most renowned professors, Dr. Paul Tillich.

    April 8: Four times I have left my reading to look out the window at the same gray clouds...nothing else to say.... Promotion time has passed again, but no names have been released. My immediate officer is still trying...he went last week to General Weld (promoted from Colonel) and presented my case.... I’m enclosing a copy of the letter Sergeant Brown wrote of his own accord:


    Pfc Hall has been in charge of the Brigade Classified Message Center since October 1961. In this capacity Pfc Hall has done an outstanding job. This is especially significant in view of the fact that he assumed this tremendous responsibility without any prior experience or knowledge of the intricacies of handling and processing classified material. The primary job of handling and processing classified material normally requires long standing experience and a very detailed knowledge of all security regulations usually found only in high ranking NCO’s and officers. Pfc Hall’s outstanding performance, devotion to duty and meticulous care has resulted in the brigade receiving a superior rating in an unannounced security inspection conducted on 20 March 1962. In addition to the above Pfc Hall has an outstanding reputation in all battery functions and always presents a neat well groomed appearance. He is respected by both his superiors and subordinates.


    April 15: ... In my address there’s a slight change indicating a higher rank, the Specialist class, pay grade E-4. As usual, Capt. Steffanson sent for approval to General Weld’s office a list of names for promotion, which didn’t include mine. When Mrs. McGuinness, the civilian secretary who took my place noticed this, she called Capt. Steffanson on the phone. He told her to send the list back....

...to a party for Charlie, given by
his friends, both here and in Brooklyn...at Frank’s,

of course. Botsy, Basil, Stuart, Jones and I. There was a table of food and a fine watch...

glad to have been among them...fortunate in the friends I’ve had.


    Friday night Basil, Ron and I saw Charlie off to California. So he is gone.... I bought a little leather album and sent slides to be made into prints. Probably it’s mother’s influence that I thought to “make a book.” Basil has volunteered to do the art work. I know it will be beautiful....

    Easter again. Someday I hope to have life and thoughts well enough in hand to approach this season with true understanding and a worshipful heart, but not this year....

    April 22: Thursday night Major Guthrie (for whom I worked in the Signal Office) asked me to his house for a steak supper. Both he and his wife are from Texas, and he seems always to have found our conversations interesting.

    Something else amused me: Lt. Maxwell, General Weld’s aide, who was also General Daly’s aide when I worked in that office, had a birthday. We are about the same age and had talked often about plays and current goings-on in New York. General Weld sent a cake to the office. Captain Steffanson was there when Lt. Maxwell called me in the vault to come.... The captain couldn’t have been nicer.

    May 6: My Florida roommate Jim, with the MG sports car and the friend in New York, has moved out to a room in the hotel off-post. Then Basil moved in with Ron and me. He has finished the printing and art work on the album....

    Into the City again...the first time in many months I’d been there quite alone.... The “United States” was to sail at noon.... I walked back in the direction of midtown on 46th Street and met a woman not three blocks from the ship. Her heavy bundle had no roses or champagne, and she was tired, although it was a beautiful spring day. Everyone was trying to get outside. It is a poor section called Hell’s Kitchen. The next person I met was a man pushing a baby carriage full of newspapers and old clothes. He stopped beside a trash can at the curb and started to dig out things. Children, many there were in groups, others alone, three little girls fishing a rubber ball from a puddle of dirty water, teenage boys playing catch across the sidewalk. They stopped when I came close. I felt like saying something friendly, but they had looked away. One tiny boy playing alone wore nothing but a dirty shirt. An old woman sat with her arms folded across an open window sill, facing the sun. Women were talking Italian in open doorways, a young woman leaning out an upstairs window flirted in French with a man across the street. All in the space of a few short blocks. It would have been terrible to walk by and notice nothing...a few more hours in the City...a few more books...and back to Highlands before dark.

    May 27: Michael Redgrave had the part of Sir Thomas More...my ticket far in advance.... I crawled to the other side of the sea wall last night and watched the waves come up...close enough to remember I was there.

    ...parade in Highlands on Memorial Day. I am a “sharp trooper,” so part of the honor guard.


    May 28: (Charlie Baymiller) To begin with, Johnny, I really want to thank you so much for the photo album. It will be such a nice reminder of all the good times we had in New York and the Army. I took it down and showed it to my folks last weekend so they could see how all my friends were and who they were and they really enjoyed it too. I’ve also showed it to all my co-workers here as they were interested in my New York post. None of them have ever been there.


    July 1: Back again...home was wonderful. I don’t know when I felt more free from worry and anxiety...the animals are prowling around, cursing, shrieking. Botsy informs me...only 58 more days.

    July 29: Still no word from Henriette in Paris? Monday night...with about 200 million others via Telstar...a live TV broadcast from cities all over Europe...at that very moment...the great hand of Big Ben in London moved up to exactly 11:00 o’clock...6:00 o’clock in New York, my watch showed. We saw Paris and Rome...an historic night in international communications. I will write to Henriette.

    August 5: I said good-bye to Basil on Friday. He is going on a Caribbean cruise with his parents. We were not all able to meet in New York as planned....

    Botsy and I went into the City and for the second time I helped him select an anniversary present for his wife...she wanted some kind of bowl...something that they could keep...nothing more suitable than Steuben glass...on Fifth Avenue (that I discovered on my first morning)...found a small bowl for flowers...twenty-five dollars. Botsy was “going on” about that price for such a simple thing.... I pointed out the Steuben signature on the bottom...he just wished they’d written it bigger...happy, I think...then on to the East Side Airline Terminal to inquire about flights to Texas and Louisiana....

    I guess you heard Mr. Kennedy’s speech last night. I don’t know how it sounded to you but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more grim. The people I’ve heard seem to be giving him their whole confidence, and no one thinks he could have done anything else....

    It’s hard to tell what it will all mean when put into effect...nothing short of preparation for all-out war. I think of all those boys who will be drafted...interrupted lives and separations, and now the fear is greater.... I wouldn’t want to be safe when everyone else is exposed...extended at least a year...driving the whole situation down to me...hoped to be home by November, hoped to plant trees and flowers, to be with you again.... I watch the other boys coming to face the same reality. It sinks in slowly. If I feel a little ahead of them, I also have more sympathy...feel a lighter load already.... Please don’t be concerned just for me. I can make the best of any situation.


Basil's Letters


    1962 October 22:  Dear Johnny, I have just heard JFK’s televised message to the nation concerning the proposed quarantine of further Soviet military imports to Cuba. It is impossible, at this stage, to even attempt to guess the outcome of subsequent developments, but it appears evident that adamant determination on the part of the Reds to continue their aggressive military building in Cuba could lead to “the beginning of the end.” I need not be explicit with regard to my ensuing feelings of despondency. I am sure that you can appreciate my frustrations in the wake of the realization that an extension of my tour of active duty might become imminent. It has happened before. Even if I do obtain my separation, as slated, I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before we are all eventually dragged back into uniform and issued rifle and pack. It is an ugly world, Johnny, and I am convinced that our generation is jinxed and victim to ever-worsening circumstances. What is the use of hoping, planning, organizing? It seems best to go on living from day to day without bother for long-range planning.... Brigade is teeming with new faces. The warmth and compatibility afforded by old friends have vanished. I do not know any of the new faces. Their motives, conditioning and social origin apparently conflict with mine and we do not seem to be connected by any ties of outlook or interest. Therefore, I shun rather than seek acquaintances, and painfully count the remaining days till my hopeful departure. I am convinced that Bde. will never again prove to be as tolerable (however little) as it was in the years ‘61 + ‘62. There will never again be a Baymiller, Hall, or McClanahan. Well, you certainly took me for a loop with that bit of news about Charlie’s impending marriage. Neither Ron nor I knew anything about it. Of course, neither of us has heard from Charlie in ages. Maybe he is too busy being faithful to Cupid. I shall endeavor to write to him soon.


    1963 July 14: [Basil from San Juan] Dear John, ... a profusion of thoughts, a pot-pourri of words, a sincere desire to provide you with an unabridged account of my activities since my severance from the yoke of military life. As you may have guessed by now, I never did succeed in disciplining myself sufficiently to permit the completion of a decent letter.... I’ve read and re-read your last letter of April 21. The path of your life is not without interesting bends. It seems to wind along amid a landscape planned on the basis of purpose, culture, history. At times, I even allow myself the luxury of sinning by envying you. You always seem so sure of what you want.

    I’m rediscovering new friends in old books. It is always gratifying to be in the company of good authors. I’ve reread Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front; an author with feeling and skill, was he. I also attacked and finished Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. (Charlie gave me this book before departing Highlands.) My reaction to Miller is mixed. I do forgive him his copious obsceneness for one reason: he was in love with Paris. This feeling, I believe, can escape no mortal, lest he be without a soul. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables has been one of my more recent postpraudial companions. I cannot find adequate words to define Hugo’s genius. I can only conclude that Death proved to be sans compassion for humanity when It chose to call his number.



From a Greater Distance


    For the years of reading since, I will call them “happiness”. But friendships, like those from my Army life, I never knew again. Long, snowbound, winter nights, I “belonged” and was called to a game of cards in a place we were “required” to be. Which of us, left to his own choice, would have volunteered? We each were waiting for a date that would terminate something somehow good. “US means us,” we who were drafted said of our serial numbers. Vietnam was a name heard infrequently as an exotic posting. Guys with orders there (I remember one named Church) went right away into the City for a new wardrobe of civilian clothes. “Pretty nice, huh?”

    Cold days Charlie borrowed my fur-lined gloves and chased fire engines; I believe he knew the location of every station house in Manhattan. Back of head and shoulders, Charlie appears in a front-page tabloid picture from the day of our first walk across Manhattan Bridge, through depressed neighborhoods, to our destination. A girl named Betty, thin, pale girl with broken teeth, always at Frank’s, was Charlie’s girl.... When the bookstore assistant manager invited me to his place for a meal and talk, it was Charlie who warned, “Don’t do it, Johnny. Don’t go.” My chance it was.

    Nor would I have suspected that Jim was gay, for I knew nothing about gay people then. He was tall and slender, a weight-lifter, driving into the City every weekend in a white convertible MG to stay with a friend named Don in the beautiful apartment opposite the United Nations. I saw it briefly, before Charlie fetched me away, promising to leave Frank’s early that night if I would come. Don wore a large diamond ring and was older than Jim; they went everywhere together. During our card game, Jim said they were running on the sidewalk and began to “skip like school children. Anybody would have thought we were a couple of queers.” I thought nothing. Jim and I shared a room at Highlands. One evening reading there, I came to see him in a different pose, fresh from the shower (calling my attention), removing his towel to stand magnificently naked. I was not unaware, but turned back to my book, only later delineating alternatives. Yes, and set myself then on a new course in life, a “happier” way. Or instant regret: I held a responsible job in headquarters brigade, Major Worth had picked me for it, it required a Top Secret security clearance; I was doing a good job....

    Only now am I safe (1979) to “cultivate my garden”. “My idle happiness is now at length awakening,” I will know, as the Persian poet Hafez wrote. Read how Iranian girls “...weave daily their very lives into the patterns of carpets on which they work.” I will go see.