My Best Correspondent

Mail to a hungry GI was on a par with C-ration’s only mouth watering premium delight – Franks and Beans. Elaine was one of the contacts I had with the homefront. After a sniper killed Lapich and Rutledge near their bunkers, her mail broke the drudgery of cautiously blending in with my surroundings. Although I looked forward to her mail that was as exciting as Peter and Peggy, my third grade reader, her letters brought sanity from the home front to this insanity

She was attractive. I met her at a party, but after a few dates I knew that the glue was very thin. On a stroll, her elbow was the monitor that prevented contact between my arm and her budding breasts. She was a reliable pen pal, but neither of us conveyed any attempt at intimacy. Yes, she sent photos and perfumed letters. I looked forward to them, but there was no surge of hormones at the thought, or at the sight of her photograph. Upon returning from a raid or patrol with my body intact, I could have written a love letter to my janitor’s acned wife.

Did I waste Elaine’s time and mine? It could have been selfish on my part, but her letters inspired me to reply about the humor and life of an infantry company in the trenches of Korea. Did she save them? Maybe they’re in a box somewhere to be discovered by a person for whom they have no meaning. Perhaps they meant nothing to her.

She was twenty and I was twenty-two. I was no bargain. Before I was drafted, I worked as a busboy at the Central Hotel in the Catskills, a switchtender/brakeman for the New York Central Railroad. What kind of future was that? I could see myself at the age of 65 climbing up the ladder of a freight car with creaky knees, falling off, and lying in traction for the rest of my life. I continued to work for a few months until I was called to Whitehall St. for a physical on September 27, 1950.

Back to Elaine. The men in my platoon envied her three-letters-a-week schedule. At mail call, very few envelopes passed into their hands. Why didn’t their wives or girlfriends write? Were they able to write?.

What will I do when I return stateside? Call her and tell her the letter writing was fun, but to get on with her life? Cruel. On the other hand, maybe she felt as I did, or maybe she felt that she did her job on the home front; letter writing to one of the boys.  It was a time waster.

My friends arranged a welcome-home party in celebration of my return. I hadn’t called Elaine, but there she was looking as pretty as she did in her pictures. I felt stupid. It seemed to me that everything that had to be said was said in my letters. At the end of the evening she knew. My best correspondent’s ballpoint pen and paper turned out to be our most intimate relationship.