Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cpl Arthur O'Donnell's WWII Furlough Fun

Brothers Harry (left) and Artie giving a salute in 1918

The Geary County Historical Society is gearing up to celebrate our Year of the Solider in 2017 with new exhibits and programming honoring our local military families, past and present. In preparation, we have been reading a number of old letters and memoirs. This letter comes from Arthur O’Donnell, son of Dr. Art O’Donnell. He sent it to his brother, Dr. Harry O’Donnell via V-Mail during World War II and it gives us a look at what furlough might have been like for a deployed soldier in the 1940s.

Dr. and Mrs. H. E. O’Donnell
c/o Atlantic City General Hospital
 Atlantic City, New Jersey U.S.
CPL Arthur O’Connell
APO 922 C/o Postmaster
San Francisco, Calif.,
May 5, 1943
Dear Harry and Margaret:

It seems quite a time since I last wrote you altho sometimes I get mixed up and write to some in close succession and others I forget entirely, so if I have written you all this before pray forgive me and remember that I haven’t any set book keeping system for who I owe letters and such, most of the time I just sit down to this rather odd typewriter and start writing to whom ever comes into my mind

I think that since I last wrote you, I was granted a furlough and also got this elevation in rank, so maybe I’ll be able to fill this letter out with news about that, Lord knows that with censorship and all that we have to go thru, its darn hard to think of anything worthwhile to write about.

Arthur O'Donnell before the war in 1935
But to go on. The first part of this month, I was granted a seven day furlough, the first I’ve had since I came into the army which incidentally was a year ago April the first. I had to borrow money to go on it since it started on the sixth of the month and we were still sweating out our pay, but managed to scare up the sum, of 15 pounds or 45 dollars to you, and took off for a metropolis about a hundred miles down the line. It was a town about the size of Junction City, big for these parts but rather small compared some of our cities back home.

After traveling all day at least it seemed like it was the greatest part of the day since I left at six o’clock in the morning and didn’t get there until about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I arrived and was told by the M.P. that greeted me with a request for my furlough papers that I’d better get me a room first of all. So that is precisely what I did. The hotel I first favored with a request for a room was full so I put up for the night in one acrossed the street that went by the name of the White Horse Inn, not any relation to the famous white horse that makes the whiskey I’m afraid. After being quartered with a fellow from up my way- an artillery man- he and I went out to see if perchance there wasn’t a bar open where we could get a couple of beers—there was. Ran into another fellow that was in my outfit who was being shipped out and pared up with him for the rest of the afternoon. He left the next day, so I was left alone to entertain myself which consisted of reading, walking around, going to the movies and buying a few beers and Tom Collins now and then. The last day of my stay, I was drinking Tom Collins and mixing them with crème dementh, because the gin over here is terrible. The drink had a nice green color and one of the natives came up and asked me what it was—I told him it was an old Irish drink called a Mickey Finn, where up one he called to the barmaid to fix him a mickey finn. I finally persuaded him that I was only kidding him and told him what to ask for. It gave me quite a laugh, but I don’t believe the barmaid knew what a mickey was anyway. Although I talk in my letters as tho I ‘m practically living in the pubs over here, don’t get the deal that I'm rapidly becoming a confirmed drunkard. The fact is that the pubs are only open about an hour a day and it’s rather an occasion when one can get a few beers leave along anything stronger. So don't get up in arms and think the wrong thing. I still like beers but still don’t make too much of a habit of them. It isn’t like the states where you can go in at 8 in the morning and come out at 12 at night. Besides the only thing that’s halfway decent to drink is beer and tho it’s stronger over here it’s still fairly mild and takes a hell of a lot to make one drunk. So don’t worry about that angle.

Sunday of my furlough was spent reading all day. One of the fellows at my station had received a couple of books and I borrowed one for just such emergencies. The name of the book was "look to the mountain” and I understand that it was one of the best sellers back in the states, It was about 500 pages long, so took me most of the day to read. Found out that night that there was no Sunday shows so sat around most of the evening doing nothing. Finally went to bed at ten o’clock since I was starting back to my camp the next day and knew that I would need the rest for the long train ride back. It isn’t the distance over here that counts, the trains are so damn slow that it takes them all day to get anywhere. Went down to the station the next day and found out the train was about two hours late so sat around until a freight came along. Some of the soldiers on it asked me if I wanted to go along with them and I accepted. Of course I got kicked off at the first stop since I wasn’t suppose to be on and I had a two hour wait there, but it was fun while it lasted anyway.

Came back to find that I had been promoted to corporal. It was expected but still none the less welcomed since it will mean an increase in pay. Now I’m looking forward to bigger things. Am still a little peeved that I didn’t get to stay in the states long enough to try for officers candidate school, but I guess that is just as big doing my part over here.

Siblings Artie, Doris and Harry O'Donnell- 1936

Suppose that it won’t be long until you finish the internship and then probably it will be the army med corps for you. Wish you all the luck in the world in it. Have always kinda regretted that they didn’t put me in the med corps for I figured that I’d had more of a start in that than I had in this, but anyway am learning something new. If I can work up in work, it might mean a good job after the war, but as I am now it wouldn’t be much and id be better off in the newspaper work, besides I’m still in love with working on a newspaper and was happier in that, so I’ll probably end up after the war as a two bit reporter on some daily. I’m not ambitious to make a lot of money as some are, all I want is a good job and a fair enough income to live on. As to whether that income will be big enough to support a wife doesn’t seem to matter for right now my lovelife is very unencouraging . No prospects back home and I’d think twice before marrying over here and chances are that I’d never for I just don’t like the idea of bringing a girl into a strange country so far from her home where she might be constantly homesick. So with all that and the fact that I’ll probably be too old to get married when I do get home all Ill require is a steady job for one.
Looks like I’m nearly the end of my second sheet so had better close. My best luck and love to you both,
                        Your loving brother,   

If you are interested in having your own story told as part of the Year of the Soldier event, come to the museum and talk to the staff. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 1-4pm, or call 785-238-1666.