Veteran’s Testimony – Arthur G. Christensen73d Station Hospital
Arthur George Christensen, was born on 11 September 1918 in Derby, Connecticut. After receiving primary education (8 years of Grammar School and 4 years of High School), Art went to Dartmouth College, School of Business and Finance, where he followed another 4 years of classes. After having registered for Selective Service with the local Selective Service Board No. 17 B at New Haven County, Hartford, he decided to join the Army of the United States. He was inducted in New Haven County, Hartford, Connecticut on 23 September 1942, and entered into active Service on 7 October 1942 . It is to be noted that Arthur Christensen did not have any medical training prior to his serving with the US Armed Forces; his civilian occupation being classified as Accountant, Cost.
Aged 24, A. G. Christensen, ASN 31191288, joined the Medical Department at Cp. Barkeley, Texas. After arrival he was instructed to take courses at the MRTC Clerical School where he graduated in December 1942. Camp Barkeley was situated 11 miles southwest of Abilene in Taylor County. Originally planned as a temporary instruction camp for infantry and supply troops, it became one the state’s largest military installations in World War 2. Construction began in December 1940. The first unit to occupy the grounds was the 45th Infantry Division which moved in on 23 February 1941. In addition to the 45th Inf Div, other units trained at Cp. Barkeley, among them, the 90th Infantry, and the 11th and 12th Armored Divisions (the Camp was known to be an Armored Division Camp as well as a Medical Replacement Training Center). This Replacement and Training Center was the largest in the country, and comprised a total of 15 Training Battalions. In May 1942, the Medical Administrative Corps (MAC) Officer Candidate School was activated and graduated about 12,500 Officers. Military personnel were housed in huts and barracks, and camp facilities included a 2,300-bed hospital, 2 cold storage plants, 4 theaters, 15 chapels, 35 PX buildings, and 2 service clubs for EM. The grounds covered 69,879 acres and the installations had a troop capacity of 3,192 Officers and 54,493 Enlisted personnel. (Cp. Barkeley also served as an enclosure for German PWs, the 1846th Prisoner of War Unit under command of Lt. Colonel Harry Slaughter was activated on 1 February 1944 to guard them; at its peak in March 1945, the camp held 840 PWs).
After taking Basic Training as well as the special Technical Training, Private Christensen emerged as a Clerk, General, MOS 055. He was then assigned to the 73d Station Hospital, at Ft. Lewis, Pierce County, located approximately 13 miles south-southwest of Tacoma, Washington. Ft. Lewis, already constructed in 1917 as an Infantry Training Center, became again very active between 1939 and 1941, and with a new war looming, its installations were renovated and its grounds expanded. Before the end of WW2, it would train the 3d – 33d – 40th – 44th and 96th Infantry Divisions (a PW Camp was established in July 1943 housing approximately 4,000 Germans, it closed in 1946). It was there, that Art Christensen first glimpsed the beauty of the Pacific Northwest that he would later call home …
While stationed at Ft. Lewis (Army Ground Forces Training Center) in the Zone of Interior (continental US), Private Christensen started writing home on a regular basis. During this particular period, there were no specific plans to be sent on duty overseas, although some rumors were already widely circulating …
Pvt. Arthur G. Christensen wrote numerous letters to his Parents – although they do not cover a lot of medical-related matters, they nevertheless describe the local situation overseas, daily life, and some of the preoccupations and activities of a soldier stationed overseas.
Here follow excerpts of a few of these letters
Zone of Interior:
February 5, 1943 Fort Lewis Washington, 73rd Station Hospital
I have a few minutes to spare tonight at work, so I am taking this opportunity to write you a few lines and answer your letter that came the other day.
First of all I must tell you that something is in the wind. I don’t know just what it is but our outfit is certainly going to move in the near future. There is a very good possibility that we will move east, but then you never can tell. There are a lot of rumors as to where we will go but they aren’t at all reliable. I certainly hope that we are really going east and I shall be able to get home (Pvt. Christensen’s folks lived in New Haven, Connecticut -ed). But even if we do come east there is no promise of getting home, for first of all our outfit is very tight on furloughs and I would have to have at least 5 months of service before I could get one and secondly we may be going to a place where we will not be permitted to leave. There is a rumor that we will go overseas but I don’t believe that we will. But you cannot count on anything in the Army. You may go right away. In any case do not worry and as soon as anything definite happens I shall write again.
Aunt Tillie sure has been grand. I have had three letters from her since I came here and today I received a box of candy from her for Valentine’s Day. She said that she was sending some smokes and brownies too. She said that she had sent Gordon (Gordon A. Christensen was Pvt. A. G. Christensen’s brother who had enlisted on 23 Nov 42 –ed) some money as he had to have it. I have only had one letter from him since he joined the Army (in fact he was serving with the Army Air Forces –ed). I imagine that something was mixed up and I shall write him tonight and advise him what to do about the pay he has coming. I only hope the money shortage was not due to gambling. I have done a little (gambling –ed) in the Army, but I am back 15 dollars, and I have quit absolutely as you can’t win. The best you can do is come out even. Then, too there are professional gamblers in the Army. You would be surprised the people you have to associate with. So I think that I shall pass on to him a few tips that I have learned and some advice which Clerk School taught me.
Nature sure picked a good winter to go on a rampage especially when there is a shortage of fuel in the east. From what I hear in the letters from home, the best place to be these days is in the US Army. I went into Tacoma, Washington today. It is a fairly good sized city about as big as New Haven, but I didn’t care for it much, much as business is booming in the shipyards here, and big money. A soldier gets no break, on 50 dollars a month he pays just as much as the civilian.
(annual pay for a Private with less than 3 years’ service was $ 50.00 per month, over 3 and 5 years of service it was $ 52.50 per month, over 6 years’ service it increased to $ 55.00, and over 9 and 10 years of service it reached $ 57.60 per month – pay table effective 1 Jun 42, and readjusted 16 Jun 42 –ed)
I suppose things have been different and difficult for you with the family all broken up, but let us hope you can join Dad soon. Just what are your plans? Do you expect to go to Ohio? What did Dad do with his car? Meanwhile you may be able to get into Red Cross work or something to keep you busy. I’ll tell you what you could do, knit Gordon and I sleeveless sweaters as I have changed my mind and would like one very much since they are very handy.
I am glad that Gordon got to Denver as I believe that is where he wanted to go. I went through Denver on the way up here and the country around there is very nice. Colorado is a very nice State what we saw of it passing through. It sounds as if so far Gordon has not liked it too much and has been homesick. Unlike me, he never has been away from home at long intervals and this is his first experience of that sort so that is not surprising. Then too he has been at a Training Camp in Miami, and that is not easy. I think he will like things a lot better now. It certainly would be nice if you could take a trip out to see him and go on to California, but I can understand how you would like to go with Dad too. So it may be wise to wait until after the war. Traveling conditions are very bad and it wouldn’t be very wise to travel at this time. Gordon may be back east in one or two months. It was nice that Aunt Clara could stay with you. I am sorry to hear that you have to get up for oil and take care of the furnace. Couldn’t you have some High School boy come in and get that up for you after school? It would be worth it. You could stay with Dot and Fred (Dorothy is Art’s sister, Fred is her husband –ed) as it seems foolish to heat the house when you are there alone.
How has Mrs. Eckler taken Don’s (a friend of Art’s –ed) entrance into the Army? And is Jack Gibson going? (another friend in the neighborhood –ed) I am glad to hear that you received the Bond (War Bond –ed) and the Insurance (National Service Life Insurance for Enlisted Men serving in the Army on 20 Dec 41, was granted under a five-year level premium plan – beneficiaries could be wife, child, parent, brother, or sister –ed). I have taken out 5,000 dollars more giving me a total of $10,000.00 worth now (i.e. the maximum amount –ed) as I think it is the wise thing to do with the future uncertain as it is. I have been thinking about this insurance and while Army Regulations state that your parents must be the beneficiary (this is not entirely correct, please read above –ed), I would like to present the idea that if anything ever happened to me, you would turn over $ 5,000.00 of it to Freddie (Dorothy and Fred’s son, i.e. Art’s nephew –ed) for his education. This may seem a depressing subject but it is realistic. Nothing to worry about but I would like to know what you think of the idea?
Well, it may be that I shall see you soon. I hope so and keep writing often to me here. You had better send them airmail as it takes quite a while to reach me from Connecticut.
I understand that Al and Isabel are in New Orleans. Somehow it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, that in times like these, any American can afford to go running around on vacations and contribute nothing to the war effort. At the same time they are taking up train accommodation that keeps some soldier or sailor from getting home. I hope they are having a good time. They are fortunate in being able to do so.
(Meanwhile, Private Arthur G. Christensen (one of the 275 EM assigned to the Hospital) had left for overseas, traveling with his unit, the 500-bed 73d Station Hospital, leaving New York P/E on 5 March 1943, with destination Casablanca, French Morocco. The troopship he boarded was the S/S John Ericsson, part of a large convoy (USG-6) which arrived in the North African Theater of Operations (NATO) on 19 March 1943. The 73d Station Hospital was officially activated for overseas service in the North African Theater on 20 March 1943. While in North Africa, the Hospital treated wounded from the Tunisian, and subsequent Sicilian campaigns).
Overseas Service – North Africa:
March 21, 1943
Your wandering son is now writing you from a point in North Africa which must remain a secret (due to military censorship, units and place names could not be mentioned –ed). These last five months have been amazing ones and I wonder what new surprises are in store.
We had a fine trip across. I can imagine how wonderful peacetime cruises must be for in spite of our crowded conditions life at sea is pleasant. Our ship was a good one with a fine sundeck where we sat in the sunshine during the day and read or listened to records over the loudspeaker. In the evenings we sat on the deck and sang or just watched the stars and the moon on the water.
As I expected I was violently seasick the first day out as was practically everyone. However, I turned out to be a better sailor than I expected and was fine during the rest of the trip. It seems your body must become adjusted to the motion of the waves.
Every day a ship newspaper was distributed giving the local and international news. As I said, living and eating conditions were very crowded. However the food was plentiful and good. Our outfit led KP (kitchen police, i.e. performing routine kitchen duties, such as cleaning vegetables and washing dishes –ed) on the ship so we managed to get a little extra fruit, etc.
There is so much to tell but it shall have to wait until after the war as the censor would only delete it if I did write anything that looked like military information.
It is quite all like a dream to look out of my tent as I sit here writing and see Africa. It is quite unlike what you would expect. Very beautiful and from what the Californians in our outfit say much like California. A very rich land from the standpoint of nature.
The Arabs are a very interesting people. They come out to our camp begging and selling fruit and we chase them away as they are a nuisance, have no code of ethics or morality and in general are a dirty thieving crowd who never can be trusted. They are usually carriers of lice and a good majority are diseased with syphilis. They are indescribably poor and wretched but are nevertheless strange and fascinatingly picturesque with their bright (the brighter the better) rags and turbans. Their women are all veiled with only one eye showing. It is strange to see such filth, poverty and disease in such a beautiful and rich country.
Our present location is of a temporary nature and we haven’t as yet got our kitchens set up so we live out of cans (canned rations –ed). Each meal, each man gets one can containing biscuits, coffee, cocoa, or lemonade, sugar, candy, and another can containing either meat and vegetables stew or hash, or meat and beans. These are the three types of food we get and it is very tasty but you get tired of eating the same thing every day. I hope our kitchens will be set up soon and we will be getting our regular food. We live two men to a small pup tent (consisting of 2 halves, one of which is carried by each man individually –ed) and it is surprisingly comfortable. It is much like camping out, only this is not for fun. We are all in the best of health however.
I am hoping to be able to use a little of my school French but find I have forgotten much of it. I suppose it will come back to me. This French money is strange too. This letter may take quite a while to reach you but probably not as long as yours will to reach me so write every few days. Show this letter to Dot and send it on to Dad. How are you Mother and Dad? I hope Mother you have been able to join Dad in Ohio. I imagine spring is coming out there now and that it is nicer. I hope you will follow up on that College ring. If you get it, I will tell you where to send it. I shall write again soon. All my love, Art.
April 1, 1943 – North Africa
It probably seems a long time since you have heard from me but things have moved so fast it has been hard to write. I wanted to call you from New Jersey when I was there but Mother didn’t know where I could call and get you. As of yet I have received no mail from anyone here in North Africa but write every week by airmail and I should get it all right.
We had quite a trip over in convoy. Our ship was a fairly new one and therefore we had a pleasant enough voyage. Sleeping conditions were crowded but I never went down in the hold except to sleep. I spent most of my time on deck when the weather permitted. I was very seasick the first day out but the next day I felt fine and remained that way for the rest of the trip. Ocean travel must be wonderful in peace time but it got a little tiresome for us toward the end in as much as recreational activity was limited. I sat on deck reading or watching the water. In the evening we had movies. We saw some very beautiful sunsets and at night the moon and stars were very clean and bright. We often sat on deck in the evening and had informal singing.
North Africa is a very beautiful country much like from what the fellows say like southern California, beautiful rolling hills mountains and farmland. From where I am sitting you can look for miles in each direction and see beautiful fertile country with small stucco villages in the valleys. You wouldn’t know you were in Africa if it weren’t for the Arabs. They are a picturesque people to see with their turbans and cloaks with hoods but they are poor, diseased and a thieving lot. It seems hard to realize that people could be so low in such a seemingly wealthy land. Disease is a constant danger here – typhoid, malaria, etc. especially syphilis which most of these Arabs have. They have no knowledge of sanitary control and we do our best to keep them away from camp but they are skilled in the art of begging and pestering. Their women are veiled and only show one eye. They wear any rags they can get and you see them in some hot looking outfits.
Of course even the French here have very little as they imported everything before the war and what they did have I understand the Germans took. They raise wine mainly and you see vineyard after vineyard. The wine here is very strong and some of it that the Arabs sell is downright poisonous in its effects. The wine isn’t as good as imported French wine that we get in the States.
Our life here is rather primitive as we are located only temporarily. We are living in pup tents sleeping on the ground and when it rains we are sure a miserable crew. But thank God, the rainy season is just about over now. It is very beautiful when the sun shines as it does today. However no matter what the weather, the nights remain cold and damp. In the morning our tents are wet. Food is excellent and we are being fed well. The first few days here until our kitchen was set up, we lived out of tin cans what the Army calls “C” Rations. There are only 3 kinds – meat and beans, meat and vegetable stew, and meat and vegetable hash. Then there are cans with coffee, lemonade or cocoa powder, sugar and candy and biscuits. You get one can of meat and one can containing the other ingredients. It is very good but you get tired of it 3 times a day.
I am getting along fine with my French. I was surprised to find how much I have retained. I can talk fairly well with the French locals.
About yourself – I am anxious to hear how things are going and how you like your work now. When you write send me Gordon’s (Arthur’s brother –ed) address as I have lost it again.
I hope everything is all right and please write as often as you can.
April 2, 1943
This letter is a close follow-up of my last but they may not arrive very closely together as I imagine the mail from here is still sporadic and uncertain. We are becoming more settled here now although we are still camping out (living in tents –ed). However when it doesn’t rain life is pretty pleasant and that African sun is warm and makes every day a June day. It is hard to understand why it gets so cold the minute the sun goes down. It doesn’t seem to bother our health so far. We all are fine and healthy.
Since I last wrote I had a pass to one of the larger cities and it was quite an adventure. You can’t beat a foreign city for teeming life and colorful activity. The stores over here are pretty exhausted as far as stock is concerned so there is little to buy. We bought a handmade leather wallet for $2.50 which was a reasonable buy. Our first trip into the city was mainly one for sightseeing. We sat in an outside café on the sidewalk drinking wine and watching. When in the city we eat at the Red Cross Club where we pay $.20 in American money for a meal.
I got to talking in French with a Frenchman in that outside café and he was very interesting. He had one leg only and lost the other in the last war and he has a son in this one. If you can speak French you are much more fortunate and can see and do a lot of things you couldn’t do otherwise. The other night we took a walk into a nearby village in the evening, and I spoke for the group with a Frenchman. He was a charming old man about 60 years old. He took us through the little Catholic Church in the village and he was quite proud of it. Very religious. It is a pretty Church, very small and typically Catholic with its side altars. It had a few modern touches such as electric candles. You know they were prouder of their electric candles than of anything else, and yet to us they seemed out of place and ugly. Regular candles would have been much more appropriate. But the electric candles made their Church look modern and that was what was important.
The villager took us through the casino where they have dancing and movies on Sunday. It seemed funny at first to hear of Sunday as the day for recreation but these people are agrarian and that is their day of rest and recreation. We were shown the school and the Arab section of the village. He wanted to show us the Arab mosque but the Arab priest was away so we couldn’t get in. We were at first skeptical about going anyway as we had been told not to go near them. I asked the old Frenchman about it and he said that as long as we were with him, it was all right. It turned out he was quite an important person in the village. He took us then to the Arab cemetery. The Arabs bury their dead facing toward Mecca. They bury them without coffin and no marker is put on the grave which is built up into a mound of dirt. The French cemetery is much like one of ours. These cemeteries were outside of the village and when we returned to the village he invited us into his home for awhile. He introduced us to his wife and niece who brought in some wine. The old man is a veteran of World War 1 and he had his 7 medals framed on the wall. He has traveled a good deal: England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. It was one of the most interesting and enjoyable evenings I have ever spent!
I hope Mother that everything is fine at home. As yet, I have received no mail from home. Write often and soon and remember me to everyone.
April 10, 1943
As yet I haven’t received any mail from you. I have received only one letter and that was from Dot and dated March 15. It is possible your letters will arrive later. If you write on this type of stationary and send it air mail I will get it a lot faster. I wish you would try and write at least twice a week.
I am sending in a regular letter a snapshot a group of us had taken over here. As soon as I can I will have another one taken. Let me wish you a happy Mother’s Day, Mother, in this letter, as I imagine it will reach you just about then. I wish there was something to send you besides my best and sincere love but it isn’t possible now.
The days have been beautiful here in North Africa and nature is in full bloom now and you see some beautiful fields, sometimes a mass of solid blue or gold and others a riot of color with blood red poppies, painted daisies etc. We still get a kick out of visiting the little villages and cities. When you can speak a little French, they certainly make you feel welcome. In the evening we go into the villages to drink wine and talk or visit with them. You can spend more money here than we at first thought possible. We have a Post Exchange (aka PX –ed) where we can buy a pack of cigarettes a day and a bar of candy a week plus soap and other necessities. Their souvenirs cost money. There isn’t much to buy but I have bought a silver ring.
I think I am going to like the work I will be doing when we are operating as a Hospital (the 73d Sta Hosp started operating in the Constantine area, Algeria, on 23 April 1943 –ed). It will be of a statistical nature. I am now a Private First Class (Art was now getting paid $ 54.00 a month by Uncle Sam –ed) and hope for another rating soon.
Remember me to everyone and have them write! I wish I could answer one of yours. I suppose you will see Dad soon if you haven’t already.
All my love, Art.
April 11, 1943
I wrote you yesterday, but as I have an opportunity to use a typewriter today I am writing again.
You seem to be able to say so much more when you can type.
Last night we went into the village again. I brought my laundry to a French woman who is doing it for some of us. When we got there we found some of the boys were there eating supper, so nothing doing but we had to finish the meal with them. Americans have a lot to learn from the French about the art of eating. We eat too fast and consider it a necessity rather than something that is an integral part of the day’s activities. The meal was simple, but served with much grace. They had three different wines during the meal. We came in when they were finishing up with coffee demi-tasse and muscatel. We stayed there all evening and listened to the radio and talked. Actually life here in North Africa has been interesting and a lot of fun. Tent life is all right when you get accustomed to it. Of course, we are still temporarily located and we won’t have it as easy as we have it now. A lot of work lies ahead for us. But it is all proving a great adventure and making life a lot fuller than it could ever be working in an office all our lives.
Today being Sunday I think we shall take a walk to one of the other villages which we haven’t as yet visited. They are all interesting, full of people, mules, horses, and Arab children. The latter are the most accomplished little beggars you have ever seen and they have picked up quite a few English words. They are a good deal like the Italian quarter I was in when I was in Boston. Every one seems to be in business for himself, even if it is a hole in the wall and only a few pieces of junk to sell.
I haven’t said much about one of the larger cities we visited. As we can’t disclose our location it makes it rather difficult to ascertain just how much you can write and describe. When we go in we check in at the Red Cross where we can find out what is going on there during the day. We also eat at the Red Cross restaurants where each meal consists of government food as the civilians here haven’t much and are rationed. Each meal costs only $.20. The other day we had bread, butter, jam, tuna fish salad, cold boiled ham, vegetable salad, pears, and coffee. Not bad. The fist tuna I have had in months. Incidentally the Red Cross is doing a fine job over here for the boys. They have American movies, recreation rooms, etc. Every evening they serve ice cream which is a rare treat over here as I guess it is becoming in the States. It is fun to sit in one of those sidewalk cafés and drink wine and watch the crowd go by.
This is all for now but I shall write again soon. I hope everything is going well at home and I am still anxiously waiting for word from you. I suppose Freddie is getting to be quite a big boy. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to get home when I was in the east but it proved impossible.
All my Love, Art.
April 21, 1943
Time seems to go so rapidly it is hard to realize that April is here already. Although they will reach you late I send my very best wishes for a happy Birthday. I wish I could be there with you and celebrate it. As yet I have not had any mail from either you or Mother, but I suppose that you have written and it has not yet caught up with me.
We have moved again and this time I think it will be a more permanent location as we are setting up our Hospital (the 73d Station Hospital officially opened on 23 Apr 43 –ed). We arrived here by French railroad and it was one more interesting experience to add to the many we have had already. The train went very slow. It seemed we would go about five miles at the rate of 15 miles per hour and then stop at a village for an hour. But while this method of travel was hard as far as eating and sleeping were concerned it was wonderful from the standpoint of sightseeing. We traveled in coaches. The foreign coach which you probably have seen in the movies is divided into compartments with one large window with a seating capacity of 6 to 8 people. I wish I were able to describe the country here in detail as it is both interesting and beautiful, many mountains, scenery on a large scale, much like the western part of the United States. At each village we stopped at, Arab children would run along and beg for candy, biscuits, chewing gum and even the little packages of coffee we got with our rations. We got sick of the cans of cold rations we got after the first day so at these villages we bought dates, French bread, oranges and hard-boiled eggs. From the Mess department we obtained jam, peanut butter, fruit cocktail and tomato juice. So we managed to live very well. We even had a bottle of champagne, the last night on the train. At one station we lost a Lieutenant and a Private when the train started up faster than it had previously. They met a British soldier with a motorcycle and beat us to the next village! The new city (Constantine –ed) we are near is very beautiful although there is not much you can buy or do.
We are setting up our Hospital in a former private school (three separate buildings –ed) which is a very beautiful building in Arabian style architecture with tile floors with mosaic designs, courtyards full of flowers and date palms. We will be as big as Griffin and much better equipped. We are staying here at the Hospital for the time being and are living in comparative luxury with tile baths and showers. Soon we will move under tentage again.
I hope that the job is going all right and that you like it. It is hard to know what to say about home as I haven’t heard from you for so long. When you write, be sure and send me all the news from the home front. This is about all for now.
June 1, 1943
I received your letter last week and was glad to hear from you. I hope that my picture reaches you safely.
I was glad to hear that you are going to have a little more time to yourself under the new management. Production doesn’t necessarily increase with longer hours. There always comes the point of diminishing returns.
The weather here is becoming very warm but the evenings are cool. The sun makes it very warm during day. I imagine that the next two months will really be hot.
I had an illuminating and revealing conversation this week. I had learned it was possible to receive a Commission (for Officer –ed) directly over here, so I looked into the details and spoke to the Company Commander. He informed me that he had talked with the Commanding Officer and that they were of the opinion that there wasn’t a man in our organization worthy or outstanding enough to become an Officer! Did I see red! There are at least 10 or 15 men in this outfit with College degrees, high IQs and who have excellent administrative ability and who had responsible positions in civilian life, and then to hear a categorical statement like that! Especially when we hear of the type of men at home and those with whom we have come in contact in the Army who have gone to OCS and got through, it seems all the more incredible. Of course, it is certainly no disgrace to any of us to be Enlisted Men, but people at home find it difficult to understand and I fear it will make some difference after the war. On one hand we hear the cry for experienced qualified men to become Officers and on the other hand we receive encouragement like this. All of us have just about given up hope of getting any break in this matter. But if you wonder still just understand that it takes all kinds of people to make an Army.
To turn to a more pleasant subject, I imagine that you are enjoying life at the Country Club. Being near the water and the opportunity to play some golf should give you something to do in your spare time.
From what Dorothy writes, Freddie must certainly be growing up. I probably will hardly recognize him when I return. Just when is she expecting the next one to be born?
I hope that you will like Port Clinton (Ohio –ed) enough to stay there after the war. I would like to become located in the midwest. Aunt Tillie seems to think Gordon and I should go to California.
We had a pleasant visit with a French family at their home the other evening. They have quite a few refugees staying with them from the city of [censored] (Algiers or Oran ? –ed) which has been heavily bombed. Their brother-in-law is a Lieutenant with the Free French Forces and he was very interesting to talk with.
Well, this is about all for now but I shall write again soon and please do the same.
August 30, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I have decided to break down and write you a real good old fashioned letter. You remember, one of those you write on plain, ordinary paper and mail in plain ordinary envelopes. You can write using those V-Mails for just so long and then you have to revolt. Of course, they are nice for without appearing brief, you can write nice short “notes” when there isn’t too much to write about. But I have come to the conclusion that there is a lot of self deception in such reasoning, for it takes you as long to write the required 3 addresses on them as it would to write a few more paragraphs (V-Mail provided the most expeditious dispatch and drastically reduced the weight of mail to and from Army personnel stationed outside the continental US – a miniature photographic negative was made of the letter while the original was destroyed, it was indeed a ‘limited’ space letter –ed).
Of course it isn’t only revolt that has caused this switch, but also the potent reason that I have something to write about. It is a funny thing the way you can go for sometimes a week at a time and there will be little if anything new to write about. Then all of a sudden in the space of as little as a couple of days, events will come in an avalanche. That is what happened this past weekend.
I guess the first thing I might as well tell you about, is my contact with some Italian prisoners. With the aid of some of the boys in the outfit who speak Italian well, we have had an opportunity this past week to talk with some of the Italians who were captured on Sicily. These particular Italians had been stationed in the important Sicilian city of Palermo and have been removed here to North Africa for safe-keeping. They range in age from young kids of twenty to men in their late forties, much the same as in the American Army. Hardly any two of them are wearing the same type of uniform and for that reason they all look pretty nondescript.
Two of these prisoners came to us here at the Hospital and we transferred them to another one. Some of us went along in the ambulance. The ambulance driver could speak Italian very fluently and he was our interpreter. One of them was a young sergeant, about 22 years of age, and the other one was an older fellow who had been a concert pianist back in civilian life. The former had been in the Army for three years, but the latter had only been in for a short time, being included in one of the last groups of reserves recalled to active service. They had both been captured at Palermo by American forces. The terrible futility and absurdity of men fighting and killing one another in a ‘game’ called war came home to us all during that 30 or 40-mile ambulance ride. We had no guards with us and it was just six fellows riding and talking together. It was hard to realize that two of the group represented the enemy. We showed each other pictures of family and friends at home, smoked and compared notes. There was no fear of them trying to escape. They told us they were happier and better off now. It is surprising to find the scorn and contempt which they hold for Mussolini. They said when the people in Italy and Sicily received word of his downfall they all got drunk on wine in celebration. Now, they feel sure that when Italy is freed she will take up arms against her erstwhile allies, but Italy today is to all intents and purposes an occupied country, another Nazi satellite, waiting for deliverance.
The Italian Lire is, according to current exchange, equivalent to one cent in American money. The Italian private receives 5 cents a day. If he is married his wife receives an allotment of 8 cents a day and 2 cents for each child. Yet, when they left Italy, the cost of a loaf of bread had risen to 40 lire and a pound of rice was 38 lire! You wonder how they could live, and the answer is probably that they aren’t living but merely existing. The clothes that these two soldiers were wearing, represented all the clothing they had been issued for a year. They also were receiving an extra half cent a day because the Army couldn’t supply them with bread.
One of the fellows comes from Turin in northern Italy, a city important for manufacturing which the RAF has visited many times. We asked him about the damage from bombing and he said that it would take years to rebuild some sections of the city. The damage there has been terrible. He admitted however, that the sections hardest hit were those containing military objectives. He said that the Italian press and radio claimed that in one of the raids on Turin a Hospital had been hit and intimated that much damage had been done. But he was there in this particular case and said all that had been hit was a small wing housing the Hospital kitchen, and there was little damage.
Both of them were amazed when they heard that prisoners of war in the States were now being paid $.80 a day if they were willing to work. This is in addition to their Army pay. It seems strange to us that this should be considered extraordinary wages, yet the American Corporal receives the pay of an Italian Colonel. The States to them is wonderland, and they seem to know quite a bit about it. We were always reading during the campaign of soldiers meeting relatives or someone who had once lived in Brooklyn, New York.
I don’t think that too much more time will elapse before the invasion of Italy. The Air Force has been busy destroying the airfields and communications in southern Italy and from the latest news they have been doing a fine job. We have a pool here at the Hospital on the dates of the invasion. Of course it is all guesswork but we each pick a date and the time and contribute a package of cigarettes. Someone is going to win close to 200 packages which should keep him well supplied for some time to come. We had a pool on the other invasion and the fellow who won was 2 days off which wasn’t bad. I have chosen September 11 which is a reasonable date because it happens to be my Birthday.
Well, our social life has picked up lately. Saturday was a banner day. We had a GI show here at the Hospital during the afternoon. It was an all-soldier cast and an original production. Parts of it were excellent and it was, on the whole, two hours of better than average entertainment. Saturday night I went to another stage show in the city. A British show put on by the British organization ENSA (Entertainment National Services Association set up in 1939, providing entertainment for British and Allied troops, and which operated as part of the NAAFI, Navy Army Air Force Institutes –ed) which is similar to the USO (United Service Organizations for National Defense, established 4 Feb 41 –ed). There is hardly a week that passes that ENSA doesn’t present one show here. Yet we have been here just short of 6 months and we have yet to see a single American show. It appears to be too much trouble for them to come over. Bob Hope was in North Africa and was scheduled to come here too, but at the last minute was rerouted. The British show last night was excellent especially the part which featured 7 Chinese musicians playing popular music. It was an odd experience to see a Chinaman in native costume with dark horn-rimmed glasses singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” in flawless English and with a voice that would have done credit to any popular band singer in the States. Of course, there was the inevitable British comedian who put the British troops in the audience practically in the aisles, but left the Americans looking at one another wondering what was so funny.
Last night we visited the French we know and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The lady is a grand cook and served us a wonderful dinner. The French are certainly well versed in the art of eating. Things are always prepared and served so beautifully. You eat in courses starting with soup, then vegetables, then plates are removed and the meat course is served, followed by a salad and ending with fruit for dessert. During the meal, you manage to get rid of 4 bottles of wine. Dinner takes from 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Our visits with them have been the highlight of our stay here in Africa.
But you know the more you travel and see these other countries and Armies, the more you are glad that you live in the good old USA. The American Army lives like kings compared to the others, the British Army being no exception. The British are pretty superior toward other peoples, the only people who have the right to feel so if they so choose is the American people. Our country is so far ahead it isn’t funny. These statements are dogmatic and wave the flag a bit but they are nevertheless true. To be sure there is plenty of room for improvement in the States, but our worst is good compared to what we have seen over here. Some of the fellows visited the French civilian Hospital here and it is a large one. They said when they walked into it it was like going back 100 years. In some ways, it is very modern but the most shocking thing which seemed so incredible to them was the lack either of appreciation or knowledge of the need for sterilization and germ control, and this is from the country that gave the world Pasteur! The place was dirty, the operating room had the mess from previous operations still lying around. Sisters were dressing wounds and stumps without any attempt to sterilize their hands or dressings. They said the smell of gangrene in some of the wards was so strong you could hardly stand it. In our Hospitals now you see very little gangrene. Of course one of their problems has been the complete shortage of drugs and medical supplies, especially the miraculous sulfa drugs.
I have made a few copies of this letter to save repetition of the same stuff, so it may seem to be pretty impersonal. But I thought you might find it interesting and I shall write a personal letter later. Hope it hasn’t been too boring.
October 19, 1943
Out of the Hospital once more and I hope for good. It seems good to be able to get around once more. I have felt tired the last couple of days but this is due to having been confined for so long. The danger from dysentery should be decreasing from now on with winter coming and the end of the eternal fly which carries it.
I received a letter from you and also one from Dot the other day. I suppose, Mother that by the time you receive this you will have been east and back again. Did Gordon go with you? I received a Xmas present from Dot mailed Sept 11 which made excellent time. I am glad to hear that you have been finally able to get the ring. Oddly enough, I came across last year’s Xmas card from you on the back of which you said you were sending the ring later.
It seems I always seem to be asking for something, but I wish you would ask Gordon to buy me an OD hat size 7 1/8. I meant to buy one before I came over as the one the Army issues looks like something designed for a circus. He can get it in a clothing PX. And I wish you would try again and get me the films and the printing paper so I can take a few pictures over here (this was in fact against Amy Regulations –ed). It would be too bad not to have some pictures of Africa to take home for later years.
We had a nice evening with our French friends the other night. One of the Red Cross girls went along. Had a nice dinner danced a little, talked, and listened to the radio. The French girls here are very attractive and we have become acquainted with a few. The Red Cross organizes dances every week but here are usually only 5 girls to every 20 soldiers. The unit had a dance but I was in the Hospital at the time.
We are having an all-French stage show here at the Hospital this afternoon. From all reports, it should be good.
By the way Mother – hope you are sending those Xmas presents for our French friends Mr. and Mrs. Ehrlacher.
October 25, 1943
As yet no letter has arrived from you this week but then sometimes the mail gets held up. I suppose that by now Mother has returned from Connecticut and hope that she enjoyed herself there. Aunt Clara was probably especially glad to see her. I had a letter from Mrs. Kneen saying that she expected to see her when she came to Shelton.
I don’t know whether I said anything in my last letter, Dad, but the cigars which you sent me for my Birthday arrived in perfect condition and I am smoking them at the rate of one a day. They came just in time as we haven’t been able to get any at the PX for quite some time. I enjoy smoking one right after lunch. I wish that from time to time you would send some more and also some candy, bars and caramels (chocolate). The boys have been receiving caramels and they seem to come through as well as anything. We only get one bar of candy a week and a little extra candy once in a while is certainly welcome.
It is getting harder and harder to know what to write about. We work in the office all day and in the evening go back to area and read or sit and drink wine and talk. Two or three times a week we do have movies here at the Hospital and that is our chief entertainment. But it is good to be out of the Hospital again.
My Christmas cards arrived from the printer today and I shall have to get them sent soon now. They are in French and say “Best Wishes for a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year, North Africa, 1943”. I have two or three different kinds to send and they will serve as souvenirs. I hope that you will be able to get the films and printing paper soon and that you have sent the presents for the French people. I shall send you any money you have to spend for the presents. It is amusing what can happen when you mix up a few different languages. We had a lot of fun while dining at their home the other evening. For the meat course, she had veal steak and one of the fellows got a piece that had some gristle on it and he had a little trouble cutting it. The French are very sensitive about their cooking, being perfectionists, and he said to us in English trying to be polite, “Well, the onions are very tender.” We all got laughing when they wanted to know what he said. They joined in the laughing. Then the poor fellow said something about souvenir and she got only that word as it is the same in French and thought he meant the piece of meat. So with the help of the wine we had a lot of fun. It wasn’t as funny this weekend when they came to tell us that they wouldn’t be home this weekend and since we weren’t here they gave the message to one of the guys and he passed it on to us all wrong with the result that we made the trip to their home last night for nothing.
Well, this is about all for now but hope to hear from you again soon.
Love to you both, Art.
November 24, 1943
Well, I can finally say that I am a Battle Veteran. This afternoon we had an unusual opportunity to take part in one of those events that come along occasionally very unexpected and which turn out to be so good you can’t help but marvel after it is all over at your own good fortune. The two Chaplains here at the Hospital invited some of us to go along with them to witness what we supposed were going to be graduation exercises at an Allied Infantry Training School. It turned out that none was being graduated but rather a sham battle was being waged in connection with the training.
We arrived at the school about an hour early, but a British Major met us and said he was going out to the area where the “show” was going to be held and invited us to follow him and watch the preparations if we were interested. The area was back in the hills and after a rough ride over what might be described as a mule trail, we arrived at a spot back in the country far away from camp.
The site chosen for the “battle” was in hilly terrain barren of both trees and grass, country typical here in North Africa. I said that there were few signs of civilization around but I forgot the Arabs. They can be found anywhere and we found them and their chickens there too. We got out of the car and the Major told us to go up on a hill where we could see several British soldiers working. While we were climbing up towards them, WHAM, a shell went whizzing over our heads and onto another hillside across the way and exploded with a muffled roar. Not being used to this sort of thing being in the Medical Department we ducked to say the least. However we soon were assured that they weren’t aiming at us and went on up to where in a foxhole sat several Englishmen who were talking into field telephones directing the fire. Then another shell went whizzing over and we ducked a little less this time. The Major commented “lovely” as he saw the thing explode where, judging from his comment, he wanted it to land. You know the British are funny and we Yanks never fail to get a kick out of them. Everything is “lovely” when it comes out well.
The Major then proceeded to tell us what was going to take place. He pointed out that we were early and therefore were seeing part of the show that we shouldn’t be seeing yet. This was just range finding. The hill on which we were located was going to be considered as held by us. On the opposite hillside were the infantry supported by artillery, mortars, and machine guns. By now, we were getting used to hearing the “25 pounders” gong over our heads and already beginning to feel like Veterans!
Shortly afterwards truckloads of troops pulled up with ammunition, mortars, and Vickers machine guns and proceeded to set them up. The mortar is a simple looking weapon and is handled by a squad of about five men. Its projectile operates on the rocket principle and looks exactly like one. The men found their range and fired a few practice shots. You can follow the shell through the air until it lands and goes off in a cloud of smoke, flame, dust and noise. I was looking in another direction when the first mortar, set up next to me went off, and I thought for a moment that one of the artillery shells from the 105mm gun set up somewhere in the hills behind us, had fallen short of its target!
In front of the mortars, were set up the Vickers machine guns. These were the first machine guns I think I had ever seen outside of the movies. You know I always thought that machine guns were a relatively close fire armament, but was amazed to learn that the range is up to around 4,000 yards which is about three quarters of a mile! These guns are capable of shooting 700 cartridges per minute. They shot a few rounds of these too for the purposes of range adjustment and the bullets as they go through the air make a whistling sound.
Just about at this time, the class attending the school arrived to witness the affair. They were mostly British and French Officers. We were the only Americans present and from the way they gave us the once over I guess they were wondering what the hell two Chaplains and 4 Medical Technicians (Corporals, i.e. Technicians 5th Grade –ed) were doing there. It might have impressed them in as much as accidents do happen and the British had stretchers and their own medics available just in case. The two Chaplains especially probably struck a sober note.
The Major told us that the plan was as follows: the enemy held the opposite hill and consisted of snipers, about one platoon in the brush and other units. It was to be a left flank attack by infantry supported by the formidable array of fireworks behind us. He shot a flare into the air and the show began. Out of a wadi (which is a term used to denote a North African ravine) came the infantry and from in back of us all hell broke loose. The machine guns began their incessant chatter and you could see the bullets they fired throwing up dust on the far hill. Then the mortars started up and burst in orange flame and large clouds of smoke in the center part of the hill. It was here that the greatest part of enemy resistance was supposed to be. Finally, the 105mm way in the rear opened up and made the loudest racket of all. No matter how you looked at it we all felt covered in white smoke, dust and fire. The infantry continued their advance and set up machine gun posts of their own. Finally as the line of fire advanced they spread out over the hillside. The show lasted for about one half hour and when it was over the Major, in typical British understatement, remarked that he thought that “one could safely say that they would have taken the hill.” We were in thorough agreement. It was quite a show as long as one could merely watch and never be on the receiving end as our boys were on the beaches at Salerno when the Nazis set up their artillery in the hills and threw everything they had down onto those landing beaches. The noise alone is impressive to say the least. We all felt rather glad we were in the Medical Department!
The British soldier who had invited the Chaplains suggested that we return to camp and he would see about arranging for a ride in a Churchill tank. When we arrived back at the camp we parked next to an Italian ambulance and got out and looked that over. Three Italians were nonchalantly sitting in it and one of the Italians immediately informed us that he had parents and a brother living in the United States. I would like to meet an Italian over here some time who hasn’t a relative living in America. This ambulance had only a small Red Cross symbol painted on each side and the Englishman who was in charge of it said he was told by the Italians that at times this type was used for carrying ammunition which is of course contrary to the Geneva Convention and International Rules of Law. The British now use the vehicle for hauling wood. It was pretty well shot up in front. We waited a while but as it was getting late, we had to leave.
We all feel like real Veterans now.
November 27, 1943
This is the second part of this letter. The first part I wrote the other evening after we returned from the “battle”, and while the details were still fresh in my mind.
Since then, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I am glad to tell you that we had a wonderful day. It was a surprise to all of us. The Mess hall was arranged so that everyone could sit down and eat together. Long tables were set up covered in white sheets with white candles burning at intervals. At each place was a mimeographed menu of colored paper. The color of these menus varied from orange to purple, thereby giving the table a very festive appearance. On the tables were large baskets of oranges which are plentiful here now, dates, pickles, hard candy, cranberry sauce and fresh-made salad with frozen lettuce from the States. But the thing that made the big hit was the fresh butter. None of us had had any since we left the boat and I have never tasted anything so wonderful. At each place was set a glass of good wine. This was the sight that we saw when we entered.
After grace had been said and one of the fellows sang a song, they brought on the dinner and as you can see by the menu there was little missing from what we know as the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey was done to a turn, tender and moist, the dressing was good but not as good as yours. For vegetables we had sweet potatoes, peas, I almost forgot the fruit cup at the beginning of the meal. For desert we had spice cake, pumpkin pie, and ice cream. Believe it or not, but when we got up there was still cake, pie, and ice cream left on the table. It seemed good to get up from the table feeling uncomfortable because of overeating and leave food like that. Yes we couldn’t have had a better meal and I really believe it was better than the one we had in Texas last year.
The package for the Erhlachers (French family –ed) arrived today and I was certainly glad to get them in time. I can’t thank you enough for the walnut tobacco which was just what I was hoping to get. I have been longing for some good pipe tobacco and don’t think I have had the pipe out of my mouth since it arrived. Am also looking forward to receiving the pipe from Mrs. Kneen, especially now that I have good tobacco.
Well, folks this is all for now, but I shall write a V-Mail in a few days. All my Love, Art.
P.S. Am enclosing a picture of our friends, the Erhlachers, a fine picture of them, so now you will know what they look like.
December 10, 1943
I have received two letters from Mother since I last wrote. The reason my correspondence has fallen off a bit is that I am working on a Christmas show to be given at the Red Cross in town on Christmas Eve. Incidentally, I hope you will no longer feel obligated to support the Red Cross. The Enlisted Men overseas are fed up pretty much with the deal they have given the Enlisted Men and they have certainly failed to do a good job of their assignment. There is plenty to back up this statement and I shall tell you later what they are. If you want to give anything to a worthy organization without any tinge of being a big salary racket, give it to the Salvation Army!
Tell Dad that I received his last letter all right and I thought I had mentioned receiving it in a previous writing. I hope when he gets a chance that he will send me a box of cigars. We used to have one issued each week, but even that ration has been done away with lately. I hope, Dad that you will write and tell me how you enjoyed your hunting trip in Michigan and whether you shot any deer. It was good to hear that you had finally been able to get a vacation.
The Christmas packages have all been coming through. I think that I have received about all of them with the exception of the pipe from the Kneens which you said might be late. I doubt the ring will arrive before Christmas but am glad to hear that it is finally on its way and I am certainly looking forward to receiving it. Everything has arrived in excellent condition, including the things for the Erhlachers. We now have quite a collection of presents for them and they should have a fine Xmas. The other night we met a friend of theirs who has a wine exporting business in Algiers and he is going to bring some good wine for Christmas. I wish you would describe the gift from the Company in more detail. It is unfortunate that it can’t be sent, but probably just as well as I am getting quite a lot of extra stuff and if we ever move again, it will create quite a problem.
Let me tell you what I have received so far. From Aunt Tillie, who has sent so much I hardly know how to thank her. I have received an Old Spice set, pajamas, traveling collapsible slippers, and a wonderful combination game set. Uncle Art and Aunt Mary sent a subscription to Reader’s Digest and a pair of pajamas. Aunt Olive sent a package of miscellaneous foods, candy, etc. done with her usual good taste. Dot sent cookies, and a large set of Old Spice. I also received a nice package from Stewart and Virginia containing books, candy, cigarettes, etc. So you can readily see I have had quite a Christmas already. The sweater came just in time and I have worn it every day since it arrived. I never dreamt that it would come in so handy. I am enjoying the walnut tobacco too. I wouldn’t remember whether I had asked for any and was sure happy when it arrived.
I wish that there had been more that I could have sent home for all of you, but there is little to be purchased here that would be worthwhile and for a decent price. However, I am keeping my eyes open and whenever I see anything I shall send it home from time to time.
In my last letter I told you what a fine Thanksgiving we had and I imagine that our dinner on Christmas day will be every bit as nice. It is hard to realize that we are already one week into the month of December. The weather for the past three or four weeks has been beautiful: clear, warm, sunny days with just a touch of Autumn in the air. The nights too have been bright with moonlight and I never get tired of remarking on the beauty of night in North Africa with its large full moon, bright starlight and clear white clouds.
The city is the same as ever. There are always unusual sights to see. The Arabs now sell their oranges on practically every corner and it must be the time of the year when they trade and sell their sheep as almost everyone of them has a ram or ewe in town with him. If the sheep refuse to walk, they just pick up their hind legs and steer them ahead wheelbarrow style. The French troops have been issued identical uniforms with ours and it is hard to tell a GI from a French soldier on the street now.
The city is beautiful coming into it from a distance and you are especially aware of that fact when you walk down from the camp to the Hospital in the morning when the sun has just come up and caught the modern buildings in the sunlight. The universal color for buildings over here seems to be a creamy white. On the way down you pass an Arab school and you can hear all the children talking at the same time which I understand is the way they conduct their classes.
The special Christmas card I sent had one 5 Francs note on the cover which is worth $.10 in American money. The small coin is worth $.02. Glad to hear that you enjoyed them. I got the idea when I was in the Hospital.
I wish that the both of you would write a regular letter as a supplement to the V-Mails as you can’t get very much on one V-Mail (very true indeed –ed). I am enclosing the picture that we had taken at the Erhlachers’ home. Please save them for me. Well this is all for now, but I shall write again soon. Love, Art.
Once again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
March 1944 – Port Clinton Ohio, Newspaper Article extract
“Mount Vesuvius Eruption” told in Letters to Parents Here …
Sherman was right – War is hell. But a good many of our fighting men overseas particularly those who are stationed in Italy, are finding themselves right on the spot of historical places they studied in history back in their kid days – and they’re making good use of their time there.
Writing from his base in Italy, Cpl. Arthur G. Christensen, serving with the Medical Department (73d Station Hospital –ed), son of Mr. and Mrs. August Christensen, 222 East Second Street, Port Clinton, Ottawa, Ohio, gives a graphic word picture of the eruption of “Mount Vesuvius”. The Christensens have another son, Cpl. Gordon A. Christensen serving with the ground staff of a (B-17) Bomber Group in England (542d Bombardment Group (H) stationed at Deopham Green Airbase, Norfolk, England -ed). Mr. Christensen is Assistant Manager at the Standard Products Company.
In referring to the Mt. Vesuvius eruption (this took place on 18 Mar 44 -ed), Cpl. Christensen writes that “We first became aware of what was happening Saturday night. When some of the boys saw the violent red glow to the south they thought they were seeing things, but it really was high over Naples.”
“We made the trip down to Naples a week later and by that time Vesuvius had exhausted her lava supply. Now only a continuous cloud of smoke escaped from the crater. But we could see what had happened as our truck drove along through the artificial night of fog and soot. The road was covered with volcanic dust which swirled in eddies about the vehicles.”
“We hiked through a pinewood. The entire sides of Vesuvius were covered with the small sand-like embers that had rained down so many thousands of years. The soft, yielding floor made it hard climbing and more than once I stopped to ease the weariness. Here and there in the woods were foxholes, mute testimony of the fighting that had taken place earlier. But these would soon be gone, for the cinders had already filled many of them. On the way up we passed two farm houses, empty and deserted. The vineyards and gardens were half buried and branches, trees and vines were covered with a fine dust.”
He told in his letter of walking on the lava flow which had cooled enough so they could stand on it. “It was a cold day,” he wrote. “But the heat that came up from the bottom of the flow made it seem like summer”.
Cpl. Christensen told how some of his buddies went out to see the actual flow. They described the huge clouds of smoke billowing up thousands of feet, followed by great tongues of fire that leapt like lightning along the edges of the black cloud. “The earth trembled. Lava, red-hot, was pouring out, streaming down the slopes, crushing and burying everything in its path, and showering down for miles around, the cinders and soot.”
(The 73d Station Hospital left its location in Algeria closing down on 20 January 1944. It then moved to the Italian mainland, opening at Caserta, Italy, where it would operate from 24 February to 15 June 1944. After its stay in Caserta, the Hospital traveled once more, now setting up in Rome (liberated on 4 Jun 44), where it was to set up in a former Italian Army Hospital from 5 July 1944 to 18 June 1945). It was in Rome, that Art and some of his buddies rented an apartment to escape the monotony of military life. It was in this apartment building on the Via Flaminia that he was to meet his future wife, Franca Zecchi –ed).
Overseas Service – Italy:
July 14, 1944
Dear Dot and Fred,
Your letter of June 30 arrived yesterday and I was glad to hear from you again. Can’t remember exactly when it was that I last wrote you so I may repeat some things in this letter.
I now have a new job managing the Hospital Post Exchange (Corporal Arthur G. Christensen was a Clerk in the Army –ed) which sells rations of cigarettes, candy, other items and goodies, etc. to the Hospital’s personnel and patients, and I think I shall like it very much. There is plenty of responsibility connected with it with regard to money and keeping the accounts but it will give me a chance to do a little accounting work. The new Rations period starts tomorrow which means I shall be kept good and busy for a while.
Our new Hospital is almost ideal and life now is more like civilian life as we are fortunate enough to have all modern facilities and comforts. Our Enlisted Men’s Club is provided with modern furniture and large easy chairs, etc. so that it looks like a lounge in Radio City.
Socially, we are all more active now too and have met some fine people. You can’t imagine how different the people are where we are now. Very cultured, dress beautifully – just like being in the States. We had tea with a Baroness no less the other day. Have also met several other families who have beautiful apartments. All in all, I hope that we will stay.
September 17, 1944
Dear Dot and Fred (Art’s sister and brother-in-law),
It has been so long since I have done any typing that I hate to think of how this letter is going to look when I am finished. I think that is one reason why my letter writing has fallen off. I do not like to write letters longhand for some reason. Your letter of 3 September arrived today and for a change I am sending a prompt reply. It is Sunday and I have the day off and little time to myself before going to the horse races. This will be the first time that I have gone to them but the fellows say they are pretty good.
Well I got out of the Hospital yesterday having gone in on my Birthday (11 September –ed) with food poisoning. This was my second Birthday in the Army and I have spent both of them in Hospital. Consistent if nothing else. I was pretty sick for a couple of days but feel fine again.
Enjoyed your letter and the one Winnie sent her Mother. I received one from her and answered it but so far I have not received a reply. Who is this Mary? I think I met her at that dance I attended at Mt. Holyoke but can’t be sure. Winnie is a funny kid can’t entirely make her out.
Thanks for offering to send the picture of Linda and I would like to have it but if it is large perhaps it would be better to keep it for me. I suppose the kids are getting big and I won’t know them when I get home.
Life here is still pleasant as is possible in the Army. We have more free time now in the evenings and there are plenty of things to do. As I predicted, they stopped our passes for the 4-days leave, so I still haven’t been away from the Army overnight in about two years. Seems like a good many of us will break some sort of record. But still we can’t complain much as our living conditions are excellent and we don’t have to put up with things as the boys at the front do. But still, regardless of your job you do need a change of surroundings and that is especially true in the Army where you are with the same people 24 hours a day.
That housing development that is being planned sounds like an excellent idea and there is no reason that I can see why you should be too pessimistic about it. Let me know how it progresses. Of course there is a real danger in a thing like that because it necessarily requires careful planning and blueprinting before it is ever started and should require some professional advice. Any amateur undertaking could be disastrous.
Saw an excellent show last night: “His Butler’s Sister” with Deanna Durbin. You have probably already seen it. We have been getting plenty of American canned beer over here and it is wonderful to have it to drink again especially in this hot weather. I bought Mother some antique Wedgewood China over here and hope I can get it home without breaking. You would certainly enjoy the wonderful antique shops here far above any in the States.
Had a wonderful dinner last week with an Italian family we know. The table was fixed very beautifully and their maid served. After dinner we danced and had a fine evening.
Well, the war news is wonderful and it shouldn’t last long now. But there is little hope of us getting home before another 6 to 8 months at least. Have to worry about the Pacific Theater now. Write soon. Art.
January 1, 1945
The first day of the New Year and it is only appropriate that I start off by putting into effect one of the resolutions that I have made and that is to try and write you more often. It has been quite some time since I last sat down and wrote you a real long letter.
I hope that you have had a nice time during the holidays and while the family was spread all over the world again this year I am sure that you enjoyed yourself as much as possible. We here had a good time with plenty of good food and social activities. Saturday before Xmas we had a party in the apartment for the gang and had plenty of beer to drink and the food you sent went well. We had anchovies, tuna salad, cheese, olives, fruit cake, etc. and a fine Italian family in the house sent down a wonderful bottle of wine that Mr. Savio had brought back from Sicily. He is connected with the Banca di Roma and has been there on business. He also brought us some perfume from there which I will send you, Mother. The day before Christmas we went to the races and then to a party at the home of some other people in the apartment house. We had tea there at 4 p.m. and they distributed gifts from the Xmas tree which they had made for us – little handmade painted leather folders for photographs. The Italians are very clever at doing that sort of thing. I have been going with the daughter (Miss Franca Zecchi would later become Art Christensen’s wife –ed) of these people who are really grand. She is really a very beautiful girl – speaks only a little English and some French but I can speak a little Italian and understand more so we all get along. Her uncle is a professor of music and was in England for many years so he speaks excellent English. Franca’s Mother is a Countess (this all happened in Rome –ed). Their name is Zecchi. The niece of Marshal Pietro Bagdolio (who signed Italy’s surrender on 29 Sep 43 and organized a coalition Government which received co-belligerent status from the Allies –ed) was at the party as well as an Italian Colonel, so it was quite an affair. We danced there and also had a fine dinner with them (we brought the lobster and mayonnaise) and they made a spaghetti with anchovies and mushrooms. You should try that some time. We left there about 11 p.m. and returned to the Hospital. I also visited St. Peters’ (Vatican State –ed) at midnight while visiting Rome but the crowds were so terrific that you couldn’t get in. It was the first time the Pope (Pius XII –ed) had celebrated midnight mass on Xmas eve. There were about 50,000 in the Church and many times that number out in front so that will give you an idea of the size of St. Peters’. The Pope is certainly very pro-Allied. When the Germans were here they weren’t allowed into the Vatican, but we are welcome at any time and he has broken a lot of precedent in granting many privileges to us. He seems to be quite a wise and intelligent man who knows a good deal about the world, more than any previous Pope.
I took some candy along for all the little children in the apartment and some came in to thank us. They were all pretty cute and we got a kick out of it. Wasn’t much for us to do but meant a lot to all of them.
This past Saturday I went to another party at Franca’s and we sat around the fireplace and talked and later had a wonderful dinner. Last night the other boys had a New Year’s party in their place and we had a lot of fun. Considering the fact that I drank beer, brandy, cognac, and champagne in that order and woke up this morning without a hangover, I feel quite pleased. We opened the champagne at exactly midnight and toasted the New Year and had a lot of fun in general. Today, we have another turkey dinner here at the Hospital.
All the gifts you sent arrived well and thank you again so much for everything. The radio is still playing fine and yesterday I received the camera from Gordon so I think all of the packages I was expecting have now arrived. Aunt Olive sent a nice box as did Dot and Fred. Aunt Tillie sent me a lot of nice gifts, a sweater, Old Spice, and candy. Uncle Art sent a box of cigars and a subscription to Reader’s Digest. Didn’t even get a card from the Kneens this year.
Dot seems to like their new home very much and I should think that it would be nicer. She sent a picture of herself and one of Linda. I sent her a box and hope that it will arrive alright. I hope yours will too. Later I want to get the folks out in California something too. I received a nice letter from our French friends the Erhlachers in Constantine. They said that they wished they could spend Xmas with us again this year.
We are all glad that the news from France is good once more and while it was a shock it might do some good on the home front and curb the newspapers in their predictions as to when this thing will be over. I certainly hope that his year will see the end and we have every right to believe that it will.
This about exhausts me right now but I will write again soon. All my love, Art.
(In August 1944, the War Department prepared plans for Redeployment, since there was a reasonable prospect of an end to hostilities in Europe. In broad lines it called either for return of troops to the Zone of Interior or for redeployment to the Pacific. Medical units were thus divided into 2 categories: those required to care for troops in the Theater during the demobilization period, and those available for other uses (such as those to be transferred to another Theater, those to be used in support of garrison troops stationed in the MTOUSA or in the ZI, and those to be returned to the United States for inactivation. It was for the local Theater Commander to assign each unit to one of the 4 following categories:
Category I > Units to occupy certain areas of the European Theater
Category II > Units to be used in the War against Japan
Category III > Units to be inactivated within the Theater
Category IV > Units to be returned to Zone of Interior
Since the occupation of Austria had already been assigned and discussed among the Allies, and the occupation of co-belligerent Italy was not contemplated, no MTOUSA medical units fell into Category I.
Each Officer and each Enlisted Man was given an Adjusted Service Rating Score (ASRS) as of 12 May 1945, based on 1 point for each month of service (since 16 Sep 40), 1 point for each month served overseas, 12 points for each child (under 18 years, and limited to 3), 5 points for each combat decoration and battle participation award, with the critical score for Enlisted personnel set at 85 points. As a preliminary measure to Redeployment, high-score men were usually transferred to Category III and IV units, while units placed in Category II were to be staffed with personnel with an ASRS score below the critical level –ed).
(In Rome, Italy, the 500-bed 73d Station Hospital was reassigned to the PBS (Peninsular Base Section) from the Rome Area on 25 May 1945, in preparation of its official closure. Later in June readjustment and redeployment were accelerated leading to the closing of a number of US Military Hospitals in Italy. In Rome, the 73d Sta Hosp closed on 18 June 1945. July-August were the months for redeployment of PBS Hospitals, such as the 34th Fld Hosp – 52d Sta Hosp – and 262d Sta Hosp. The 114th Sta Hosp left for the US on 20 July, shortly followed by the 73d Sta Hosp which sailed for the US and ultimate transfer to the Pacific on 27 July 1945. Another 7 500-bed Station Hospitals sailed for the Southwest Pacific between 11 and 21 August (60th Sta Hosp – 74th Sta Hosp – 81st Sta Hosp – 103d Sta Hosp – 105th Sta Hosp – 182d Sta Hosp – 225th Sta Hosp). They were all diverted to the United States while at sea because of the Japanese surrender (14 Aug 45) ending the war in the Pacific.
It should be further noted that owing to the large number of medical personnel with a high score and the enormous demand for shipping capacity to move men and equipment to the Pacific, it became difficult to transport the numerous medical units to the US for disbandment and inactivation. It was therefore decided in August 1945 to inactivate Category IV units in the Theater, as such all transfers to the Pacific were abruptly halted after the Japanese surrender (14 Aug 45), and personnel were returned to the ZI as rapidly as possible on the basis of point scores alone –ed).
Technician 4th Grade, Arthur G. Christensen, finally returned to the United States on 27 July 1945, arriving back in the Zone of Interior 7 August 1945. His personal ASR Score, dated 2 September, was 74. After arrival, he was transported to Cp. Sibert Separation Point, Attalia, Alabama (CWSRTC), where he was Honorably Discharged two months later, on 7 October 1945.
Above Testimony and the majority of the pictures were kindly provided to us by Mark Christensen, son of Tec 4 Arthur G. Christensen (ASN:31191288), who served with the 73d Station Hospital in North Africa and Italy during WW2. We are truly grateful to the Veteran’s Family for sharing their Father’s personal reminiscences with the MRC staff.