At the Albert Gore Research Center, we have finished the semester and are looking forward to a break before starting new projects in 2016. It is a quiet rainy day here, similar to Christmas Day, 1943, the day Adeline King started writing a letter to a friend serving in the war and ended up being the center of a global social network.
From the Adeline King Papers, in her own words:
The idea began on Christmas Day, 1943, when Miss King was one of those retained on duty at Smyrna Army Air Field in a stand-by assignment. It was cold, slushy, and all aircraft activity was closed for the day. She decided to use her unemployed time in writing to some of her cousins and friends overseas. Having finished six letters, she discovered she had practically the same news from home to tell them all. So, she wrote a group letter, using carbon paper to make as many copies as she wished. The idea interested her, and the next time the number of recipients had increased to 10 or 12. In a few weeks, parents were asking that their sons be included, and so Miss King found her list growing until, at the end of the project, it included approximately 125 names.
Miss King did not just share news from home, though she would relate what was happening in Smyrna. She was also able to share information from the service men and their families in these newsletters so that those not stationed together might know how their friends and family fared. Sometimes, she delivered a funny story or told of a promotion or award someone received, but she never shirked her duty to report those who had died or were missing in action in her newsletters.
As we finish out the year, we wanted to share that first letter with you. Although seventy-two years have passed, some things seem familiar, for better or worse. If we may paraphrase Miss King, we at the AGRC wish for all of you “calm and peace in your thoughts” in the holiday season and in the new year to come.
Christmas Day, 1943
This letter isn’t just to you, although everything I am saying is directed right at you. The pressure of too little time and too many inconsequential details to record in ones daily work will not allow me this day to take my pen and let go in a long conversation to you alone. That I hope you can understand and will not take as an unaware American civilian’s selfishness.
As the heading says, this is Christmas Day, 1943, and it finds me in a big, lonely, vacant office on the Air Field here in the Main Hangar. It is a steel-gray day, cold and entirely closed in by a heavy sky. Rain has been falling in icy slivers since early last evening, and the ground is slippery with a surface of ice and a gummy slush to make the footing uneasy. There are some civilians busy on the big bombers on the floor of the Hangar, but outside on the ramp everything is still and quiet. Some of the motors have finished their daily warm-up and are idly waiting to take off tomorrow when the curtain of space unthickens around them. As I knew there would be very little to do in the office today, and as the Command excused all those who could be spared, I suggested that all the other office workers be at home today with their families and that I will take another day. You know, and I hope sincerely this will not sound like mushy, philosophical platitudes of a would-be noble creature, I am sort o’ glad to be here. It makes me feel less useless and less of a gold-brick in this business you are about all over the world. Secretly, I think to myself, I don’t imagine they are declaring a truce in Arawe or Kiska or Italy or over the Channel so the boys can go to an eggnog party or a turkey dinner in a foxhole, and I’d feel more shoulder to shoulder with what they’re doing and doing without if I just stuck around this big Hangar today. If I just stood by, just in case. There is a great deal of talk about 4-F’s, and I regret to say there are some men who are glad to be found in that classification, but there are too many men and women who are still 4-F in their minds, and they don’t know a war is going on.
I don’t know what you had to eat for dinner today, but this was my box lunch that Mother, always thoughtful, packed for me as we knew the P. X. would be closed: A sandwich of country, baked ham, a big cucumber pickle, a stalk (I mean a piece or two) or celery, a slab of coconut cake (the first cake we’ve had at our house in a very long time). That is all, but it was good. Now that I’ve stuffed myself on that and a handful of pecans Lt. Webber left over from some he had yesterday, I am listening to a “Christmas Reunion” program, a world round-out, you know what NBC does every year (only this year it is different, because the strange names of faraway places that I have just recently found on the map and do not yet know how to spell have become almost like the names of places in other States of the Union). The round-out has already been to London (I wonder if any of you were there), and to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (there are many Americans there, too, it was said), and we have just arrived this moment at a White Christmas in Alaska.
To the boys who call Smyrna home, the season has been almost eventless. There are many cases of influenza and many people very tired thereafter but having to do all the Christmas jobs just the same. Opal Millard (Lavergne) and Pfc. Walter Fergus were married at the Church of Christ at 5 yesterday afternoon; Sara White Neely Quinn and her husband, Captain Jim Quinn, are with the Neelys for Christmas. Mrs. Neely has shown herself to be endowed with the grace of God since Bill’s star on the service flag was turned to gold, but it has left her very quiet and still and more patient than ever. Santa Claus had to come a week early at the house of George and Elizabeth Hughey for little Jerry and Betty, as their Daddy had to report at his induction center on December 24. The same was true at the house of Roy and Marie King, who have two little girls. Aunt Ethel said she was “mighty mad at the Government because it didn’t let the fathers stay home until December 26”.
Please excuse me, but Jose Iturbi is beginning to play the piano, and I must hear that. That man is unexcelled at the keyboard.
A few traffic accidents (to be expected) and a fire in one of New York City’s hotels (whose name I do not know, Bob) which resulted in the word fire toll in sixty years, and the ugly murmurings of an impending railroad workers’ strike constitute most of the news at home. Congressmen have gone home to spend Christmas. Maybe they won’t fuss and fight so much when they get back. I think we’re going to have to call off the “big” war you’re busy on and concentrate on the petty ones we cling to so tenaciously over here.
Margaret and I were invited to a Christmas party on the Post last night. One of the squadrons had it, with all sorts of things to eat and many of them, beer, coca-colas. We had a very good time, and went home at the right time, just when the fellows were beginning to slosh things, to shake hands, etc. I’m always sorry if I don’t go home then or before, for it troubles me greatly to see men in their degraded states – when their lips droop into sullenness or vulgar laxness, when their eyes become expressionless and vacant, when they begin to get amorous and persistent, when they start spilling their drinks recklessly on themselves and ones surrounding, even as (this happened once when I realized I hadn’t gone home soon enough) they don’t make it to the bathroom in time and forget to button all the buttons when they do make it. I beg your pardon, that had to go in to make the picture of my reaction complete. When men get beery and bleary-minded and approach or reach a state of obscene degradation, I find myself wishing I hadn’t been a witness to it and summing it up: “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?”
As you can see, I am just making a rambling conversation of this letter. As I know you and think so much of you, I am pretty sure some of this would get into a conversation between us if we were talking together this afternoon.
The Christmas music has been fine this year, less jive and more quality and substance. Last winter’s popular and deserving-it “White Christmas” has been revived and is still beloved by the sentimental of us. This year “O, Holy Night” – maybe you know it as “Cantique Noel” – has been played or sung more than on any year. “Adeste Fideles” is still my favorite; and, because I learned it once that way, I still find myself recalling the Latin words of it when the music starts. Fred Waring’s choir has been the best on the carols this year. I listen his minutes every day at 6 p.m. Margaret likes that program, too, but she considers the full day a failure if she doesn’t hear the “sensational trumpet of Harry James” at 6:15 p.m. I’ve always felt so much music in me that it is like a frustrating contradiction not to be able to carry a tune successfully to its conclusion. I think, that no matter how lonely I may become as an individual I shall never be desperately so as long there are books to read and music to hear. I guess that is my ballast. Each of us must have something that carries us through and holds us steady when the boat is rocking. Do you ever lay out definitely before you, like lines on a white page, just what your something is. Of course, curiosity about the future is in it, and hope of things to come, and faith that that hope will be realized; perhaps it is a strong, sure reliance on God, unshaken by the unpredictable contradictions of life which confuse the less strong of us; for some it is the people who depend on them and the ones who need them; for others, the fine altar fire of tested mutual love and confidence; for too many, just escape, in drink, in sex, in radical pursuance of isms; possession of power; possession of things; substitution, as in my case, of the fine, rich experiences of others in their books and music for the mountain peak I do not reach.
Oh, I fear I’m going to cry — A mother in New York City has been talking to some of her children in the service all around the world; and now two servicemen are talking to each other across the stretches of sea and land – Algiers (are you there, Bob?) to Guadalcanal (are you there, Terry?). Why should I want to cry? No, not sorrow, for everything will be as it must be. Pride, perhaps, for your uncomplaining acceptance of a nasty, uncivilized job which the world did not have foresight enough to avoid, and the fervence of my prayer that next year may find you all where you belong in your rightful places at home. WE’VE GOTTA HAVE SOMEBODY TO KEEP OUR MORALE UP!
I appreciated your messages at Christmas. Most of you did better than I, because I almost didn’t get a day off to go anywhere to buy my cards. I’ve been working terribly hard for two months. 1944 will be here when this reaches you, and all I can say is that I hope its ending will be better than its beginning and I can say “Happy New Year” to many of you in person. I have enjoyed the afternoon, John, Terry, Joe, Bob, Charles, talking to you all — it was literally talking to, for as usual I took and kept the floor. I don’t hope that this has been a happy day for you. I do hope you have found it possible to adjust yourself to whatever place and duty (England, the Aleutians, North Africa, Bougainville) has been assigned to you and that this is calm and peace in your thoughts.