I came across this letter early on while reading my grandfather’s letters home as a WWII bomber pilot stationed in the Pacific and abridging selections of them for Letters Home. I copied it out but it was already a maybe in my mind. I copied out everything I thought I might use on my first pass through the letters. I recall specifically mentioning this exchange, where one of the fellows pretends to be Jewish and gets a laugh out of the Catholic Chaplain, to someone who knew about the project:
I’ve changed my mind about the Catholic Chaplain. I don’t like him anymore. The other night during chow they announced that Jewish services would be held in 15 minutes and a fellow eating with the Chaplain (a catholic) started shoveling food in his mouth and exclaimed that he’d have to hurry or he would be late. Just acting the fool of course. Anyway the Chaplain just laughed and laughed so we ain’t friends no more. I would like to have punched them both in the nose. Father or no Father he was ridiculing God by ridiculing another religion for it is the same God regardless of how he is worshipped. There I go again.
– Excerpt of the July 27, 1945 letter, from Letters Home
He seemed interested and pointed out the relevancy of anti-Semitism, particularly at that time. I don’t know what others’ thoughts were when they read this letter, but I don’t know that Judaism was being ridiculed. Context is everything and I wasn’t there, but couldn’t the joke have been as harmless as that the guy was pretending to be a member of a different religion in front of the Chaplain of his actual religion? It happened to be a Jewish service, but that detail might not have been relevant to the joke. We’ll never know. That’s just one of many questions the book leaves us with that can either frustrate you or leave you intrigued.
Another clue, though, comes in a later letter when he writes about two letters he wrote when he was feeling so down that he shouldn’t have written at all. The July 27th letter was one of them. So I wonder if his stress level resulted in taking the joke as more mean-spirited than it was intended, but again, we’ll never know. Whichever the case, his reason for being upset is admirable. Another reason for including it that occurred to me is that his oldest grandson, years after my grandfather’s passing, married a Jewish woman, converted to Judaism, and raised four of Rex’s great grandchildren in the Jewish faith. I thought they might appreciate coming across that passage.
The written word is special, particularly a book like Letters Home that so directly brings the consciousness of a person no longer living into readers’ minds, but it’s not as special as a life. Sadly my cousin’s wife passed. My grandfather’s great grandchildren are all college-age and older but nevertheless lost their mother far too soon. When I mailed copies of the book to the family, Deena was the first to start reading. I met her a few times many years ago, so hearing that she was interested in Letters Home is my strongest connection to her, and so I wanted to share this post in her memory.