My Dad Claude Foster’s V-Mails To My Mom Shirley Hopkins, 1944-1945
Two days before Thanksgiving, 24 November 2015, my wife Jo opened the drawer in my bedside stand.
There was a battered Metamora Pharmacy paper sack with about 25 V-mails from my dad to his fiancée, my mom, dating from July 13, 1944, to May 19, 1945.
She was living at 230 W. Armstrong at first.
Later he wrote her at 1010 E. Forrest Hill, where we later lived until moving to 2636 N. Prospect Road in the summer of 1952.
Included are five unsent but annotated postcards from Paris.
I read some of these on my first visit to Paris with Jo in 1997.
Because of the fragile nature of the V-mail and the minuscule script, I am handling them with extreme care and just-washed hands.
There’s also a small box of miscellany, military and otherwise, including the arrowhead he’d found as a boy that I dropped and broke when I was about 8.
I confessed it to him promptly and he never got angry with me.
There’s also an unsigned membership card to “Mac’s Dance Club” in Piccadilly, London, his insignias and sergeant’s stripes, and quite a few two- or three-franc GI drink tickets.
I will read these letters in order and completed them well before what would be his 108th birthday on Dec. 24, 2015.
[HISTORICAL NOTE: During World War Two, mail and morale were one and the same, and early in 1942 the military devised a simple method to deliver millions of pieces of very important news from home to the servicemen serving in the ETO. It was called V-Mail, and, of course, the V meant Victory.
It was a simple photographic system. The letter writer wrote the letter on a V-Mail form, a one-sided, regular-sized piece of paper with a box on the top for the receiver’s address. The letter was sent in, and after it was cleared by the censor, the mailroom photographed the page onto 16-mm black and white camera film. The reel of V-Mail film was then flown or shipped to a processing center in the addressee’s general location where a copy of the letter was printed onto a piece of 5″ by 4″ black and white photographic paper.
This was folded, slipped into an envelope and dropped into a mailbag for delivery. The V-Mail system was necessary because mail had to vie with food, fuel, ammunition and supplies for precious overseas cargo space, and V-Mail allowed thousands of letters to fly from America to France in the place of only a few hundred bits of regular mail. During the war over 1.5 billion, V-Mail letters were processed.]
My not-yet dad in a V-mail letter to my not-yet mom, Nov. 12, 1944, from London:
“The weather is so bad here that even the birds are walking until it gets better.”
My dad in a V-mail to my mom, Jan. 29, 1945:
“You think of the damnedest combinations, popcorn and sloe gin fizzes! I’ll take beer with mine.”
My dad in a V-mail to his fiancée my mom, Feb. 17, 1945:
“My darling–Saturday night again and I heartily agree that they’re no good this way. I think I’ll go to the show after a while. “Rhapsody In Blue” is over at the post theater. It should be good (life of Gershwin, you know)…I hope you’re right about me being there next year…all my love, Claude.”
Feb. 21, 1945, V-mail from my dad to his fiancée who would become my mom on Dec. 28, 1946:
“My Darling—Now I know Spring is here. We’ve moved into barracks! But I think I like tents better, although, honey, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble getting me to live in a hose, but since I’ve learned the bit of living so if the rent gets too high, we’ll pitch one…Good night, honey, all my love. Claude.”
My dad-to-be to my mom-to-be by V-mail, March 31, 1945:
“My Darling…Tomorrow is Easter. I’m sweating out a trip to Paris. Think I’ll wear my brown suit, As it is newer, it will look good. There still hasn’t been any mail. Guess I’ll have to write my Congressman. I read that Dirksen was going to visit the ETO. I guess he’s the only one who hasn’t been here…Good night, honey. All my love as always. Claude.”
April 6, 1945:
“My Darling—Well, the mail caught up with me yesterday and yours truly did okay for himself when it was all over with. I had forty-one or –two letters dated Jan. 25 to March 25. Twenty of them came from you…”
“I heard from Jan…[she] said the curfew was raising hell with show biz, music, operations afraid to book acts in in 4 o’clock cities like Chicago, Peoria…I got a most interesting letter from a fellow I used to play with. He got a medical discharge, is still studying music at Normal & playing in a band in Bloomington. Enlightened me to the whereabouts of some of the fellows I used to play with ‘way back when…”
April 8, 1945:
“I forgot to congratulate you on your about to-be-aunt status? When? Give my congratulations to [younger sister] Jean, George [Hummels, parents-to-be of my cousin Dave, who turned 70 this fall].
“I got an Easter card & letter from the folks yesterday from Knoxville so I presume you didn’t get out home for Easter [April 1 in 1945]…Gee, honey, if I accept all the drinks that I’ve been promised when I get there, I’ll be loop-legged for a month…Good night, honey, from your loving Claude.”
April 14, 1945:
My darling—I’ve had to curtail my literary efforts the last few days. We’ve been working every night until 10 or 11 so I usually hit the sack when I get in…I got one from [erstwhile bandmate] Gene N[ease]…Had just returned from a very good deal in Belgium. The band had been working in a nite club, and it was just like a civilian job. They played from four til past midnight, played one floor show during the evening and really lived good in steam-heated buildings. Their meals were prepared and served by Belgians, so he was moaning because they had to come back. I don’t blame him…Goodnight, honey, all my love and more always. Claude.”
April 16, 1945:
“My darling—I had four letters from you today, two V-mails, March 29 to April 5…Gee, honey, the commentators and the Senators have the war over again, but I suggest that you don’t start meeting that Rocket for some time. Even when it’s over here, I don’t expect to grab the first plane home. You know I’d love to. Roosevelt’s death, coming when it did, was certainly a tragedy. We hope Truman has the ability etc. to carry on the same as F.D. would have. The French people feel that they have lost a friend. I notice the Tricolor at half-mast the other evening. They cancelled the dances in town Friday night, supposedly out of respect for him…Goodnight, honey. All my love as always. Claude.”
April 18, 1945:
“My sweetheart—the last two days have been the hottest I’ve experienced since the summer of ’43, but I like it. So far the nights have been cool…I had a letter from the folks saying they expected to go home the 5th so maybe you got out there the weekend after Easter…Tell Loava and Gene that I’d certainly appreciate hearing from them…”
April 21, 1945:
“My darling—Dirksen, like so many who pay a flying visit over here, has a distorted view of things. He was evidently taken on a quick tour of London for I know It isn’t all as he states it…”
April 23, 1945:
“My sweetheart—I believe I hit a new high for fast mail service from the States. The air mail you posted 15 April arrived here 22 April. Wish it would always come like that…I got my rations today and. Believe it or not, I got a whole carton of Camels. Been having to smoke “Chesters,” P.M.s, D.B.s, and Raleighs. Maybe better times are coming. But they won’t be good until I can tell you goodnight, honey—personally. All my love, Claude.”
April 30, 1945:
“My darling…Tell your dad [Herb Hopkins] that I really appreciate all those clippings. Also wish I could be there to tell him to help him out with beer. I’m sending the clippings on to [younger brother] Keith…I’m anxious to hear of you at Keystone etc. Gosh. It’ll take you half a day to get over there and back. Keith sent some snaps, he certainly looks good. Wish we could get together but it’s a problem…Don’t think I told you that we have a pool on the ending of the war (European). The winner gets 200 francs from each guy, making a little over 200 bucks. I have 28 of July.”
May 3, 1945:
“My darling…I had another from “Pop.” He lives on Linn now, was very enthused about his garden. He’s sure a good old guy. He says the corner needs Gene [Nease] and I, and I know that we need the corner. The news is good. Maybe I will soon be the end gate. Good night, honey. All my love, Claude.”
May 7, 1945:
“My darling—This has been a mighty hot day but fortunately we haven’t had to do anything…We’ve been hearing today that this phase of the war is over, that New York has already celebrated and England will tomorrow. Somehow I can’t feel much elation about it, for I’m afraid it is a long grind yet to complete victory…Keep your fingers crossed with news that some of these days “Goodnight, honey” will be in person. All my love, Claude.”
May 10, 1945:
“My darling—Believe me, these French have really been celebrating. I don’t blame them. I think I’ll throw one when to “France” for us, too. The boys who were in Paris the last couple of days say they were really going to town with them. I was in the town near our bases last night and they were still celebrating, but nothing like the night before, I was told. Every house in town has the flags of the Allied nations hung out. Everyone was dressed in his Sunday best. Promenading, singing at the tops of their voices, making merry in general. How did Peoria react to the announcement?…Good night again, honey. All my love and more always. Claude.”
May 17, 1945:
“My darling—The weather here has been just like the 4th of July at home, very hot…I haven’t found any bourbon in Paris yet. One of the boys found a bar that had some Canadian Club but when I got there, they were out. I’m going in tomorrow and then I’ll try again. Wouldn’t that be something—and made in Peoria, too…I want to catch the show at the Olympia, too. In France, customs that I like are sidewalk cafes. You can sit and siop and watch the world go by. Good night, honey. All my love. Claude.”
May 19, 1945:
“My darling–…I am going to Paris to church in the morning. Service are to be at some ‘civilian’ churches. I imagine they will be conducted by our Army Chaplain. It’s been ‘slowing’ today so nice and loud. Went to town for a bath today. That’s twice this week—boy, am I clean!…Caught a good show at the Olympia yesterday. A very fine little jazz combo at a club, but no Canadian Club. I’ll write more tomorrow or Monday. Good night, honey. All my love—always. Claude.”
This concludes the series.
Claude Swadley Foster (Dec. 24, 1907-Feb. 1, 1976) married Shirley Jane Hopkins (Aug. 5, 1919-April 17, 1993) in a chapel at St. Mary’s Cathedral on June 6, 1946.