Humor helps see readers through the war

June 04, 1994

Thanks for the memories, Sun readers. We received almost 50 responses on the Sundial telephone information service when we asked for anecdotes from those who lived during World War II and found bright spots of humor that helped pull them through the bad times.

Even taking into account that the fish grows larger each time the story is told, this selection of remembrances represents the tales we heard from men who fought and women who tended the home front.

One shoe waylaid amid hugs and kisses

I was working for the war department in downtown San Francisco on VJ-Day. When the announcement came through that the war was over with Japan, we were given several days of free leave.

My intention was to get back to the Mission District and prepare a gourmet meal with whatever food rationing stamps I had. My husband was stationed across the bay at the Naval Air Station in Alameda.

But I hadn't counted on the incredible chaos in the streets of San Francisco. It was almost impossible to move. Military men of every branch of service and civilians were expressing their joys in many ways, including hugging and kissing strangers. Today it would be considered sexual harassment. On that wonderful day in 1945, it was just well-deserved fun.

Three hours later, missing one shoe, I finally arrived in the Mission District.

Florence Waters, Baltimore

An American airman in Paris meets a star

After the liberation of Paris in 1944, those of us with the North Atlantic Division of the Air Transport Command based in New Castle, Del., were assigned to fly our wounded back to the United States.

When a fellow airman went to see his wife in a play in Washington, he was approached backstage by another actress who asked him to take a letter to her mother when he returned to Paris. He became ill, so he passed the letter on to me. Surprisingly, the envelope was addressed to Marlene Dietrich, The Ritz Hotel, Paris.

When I got to Paris, I called her and we arranged to meet for cocktails at the American Bar at the Ritz. We were talking when two Baltimore chaps working in the American Field Service, Bobby Fenwick (he later became master of hounds at Greenspring Valley Hunt Club) and C. B. Alexander (who was shot at the front the next day) came in. It gave me great pleasure to call out to them in a very casual tone, "Hey, Bobby and C. B. I

want you to meet Marlene Dietrich."

Cooper Walker, Ruxton

Clothes make the men look just like 'Daddy'

My husband, a young physician with an armored infantry outfit, went overseas in 1944 when our little girl was 7-months old. We kept the picture of her father in her room and as she got older, she learned to say "Daddy" to this man in uniform.

One day when she was under 2, I took her for her first bus ride. This was in Baltimore and when we got on the bus, of course, there were many soldiers. Peggy looked around with her beautiful brown eyes, started pointing to each one and said "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." As you can imagine, I was quite


Margery Zierler, Baltimore

War makes a good cup of coffee hard to find

My brother, Charles Fountain Willis Jr., was wounded at Kaneohe Field on Oahu before [the Japanese] hit Pearl Harbor.

After recovering, he flew many missions in slow-moving Navy patrol planes, volunteered for dangerous assignments, was shot down in the Pacific Ocean, and received two flying crosses for gallantry in action. Finally, a three-week voyage returned him to San Diego.

He and a friend, Maj. Joe Foss, a much-decorated Marine pilot, went into a diner there and ordered a cup of heavenly coffee, the first decent coffee they had had in two years. It was so good they requested a second cup.

"What's the matter," snarled the waitress as she eyed these two aces in their uniforms. "Don't you know there's a war on?"

Margaret Willis Sparrow,

Baltimore County

'Crazy American' POW puckers up to pay off a bet

FTC I was a 2nd lieutenant in the 8th Air Force and a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany, during the winter.

In a heated discussion about the Battle of the Bulge, one prisoner declared to another that the war would soon be over and we'd be out of there by March. "I'll kiss your fanny if we're not," he said.

Of course, he didn't say fanny.

March came and we were still there. So on the morning of April 1, 1945, after the guards finished their roll call count, our colonels kept us at attention instead of dismissing us. From the far side of the compound, marched one soldier with another behind him carrying a basin of water, soap and towels. From the near side came another party.

The two groups gave very dignified military salutes to the staff officers, then went on to pay off the bet.

That done, everyone saluted again, did a precise about-face and marched off. No one in rank made a sound or a movement until we had been properly dismissed.

Our guards and their officers were plainly dumbfounded. They never did understand those crazy Americans.

Bob Outman, Baltimore

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