The Muhlenberg Memories Project

Cultural Experiences

Ensigns Denny Beattie '43 (l) and James Hemstreet '44 in Naples.
Wilmer Cressman yearbook photograph.
Wilmer Cressman ‘42
John Kern yearbook photograph
Lt. John R. Kern, Jr. ‘42
James Brown yearbook photograph.
James F. Brown, Jr. ‘41
Feeding active duty men was serious business, whether they were training for an assignment, on the frontlines, or surviving in a fox hole. Food and drink, especially alcohol, fueled their bodies and, as the letters revealed, occupied their minds. While men wrote about alcohol, they also describe many foods, dishes and holiday meals they enjoyed. Ice cream was one such favorite.
A Streetscene - Photograph by James A. Hemstreet, ‘44
On March 6, 1946, Hemstreet writes again, this time from Kwagalein, Marshall Islands, about the pleasant climate and about food, again, in a post script, “In case you think we’re starving, we are eating steaks and hams with plenty of butter, an abundant supply of fresh apples, oranges, potatoes, carrots, etc. and about every kind of canned goods that we could possibly need” (6 March 1946).
Warren Himmelberger yearbook photograph
Warren Himmelberger ‘43
While it was common for men to acknowledge their gratitude for food and drink, they also revealed their love interests with marriage proposals and weddings as well as events where they could meet or dance with women. For example, in writing about women and cabarets in Fukuoha, Japan, “Ray” Nies ‘45, wrote “There are some Army nurses and WACs in town but all we can do is look at them. They sure are good to look at though” (18 February 1946). 
Raphael “Ray” Nies, ‘45
Nathan Kline, at the tender age of 18, took leave to visit Paris. “Uh, we weren’t allowed to go to Paris because the snipers were still there. So, we– I snuck into Paris, took my insignia off. And the first place I went was the Folies Bergere. Where else would I go? So, anyway, I got to know the bartender and he spoke German and so we became pretty friendly. And what he did is he– he sent me back into the dressing room. Here these– I’m 18 years old, here are these gals, six foot tall, and very, not dressed very much that had–they were sitting on my lap. I’m going crazy” (Oral history, 24 August 2015).
Paul Fritsch ‘40, writing from the Philippines, found the local women quite attractive. “We have a swell set up here. Have been to a few social functions here at the local colony. Some very very nice looking women too, however according to their customs you have to be introduced first and then you have to take the old man and other along with the girl” (20 May 1945).
Paul Fritsch ‘40
Some men chose to marry early in their military service. Wilmer Cressman ‘42 found one young woman in Indiana, announcing, “So in the Engagement column– the startling news– Wilmer H. Cressman, of Allentown, PA., to Mildred M. Farney of South Bend, Indiana” (10 January 1943).
A few men found women troublesome in different ways. Woodrow Guth  ’41 complained about nurses, “A nurse, like any other women, are too unreasonable and impractical. Also get commissioned wages for a six hour WORKLESS day” (6 June 1944). 
Woodrow Guth ’41
As the men experienced cultures far beyond their ken, their provincialism was sometimes revealed in their descriptions of  foreign locales and people.
Stationed in Iran, Bruce H. Kuntz ‘40, wrote, “So far haven’t seen a lot of the country so I can’t say much about it. However it certainly isn’t anything like the picture ‘Arabian Nights’ would have you believe” (4 April 1943). The next month, he wrote about being disappointed with Iran, complaining that all he saw was, “desert, dirty natives, jackals and mosquitoes. The jackals were the worst. Every night when everything was quiet, they’d start the most infernal howling human ears ever heard. And there wasn’t a thing to do about it either but get accustomed to it so that’s what we did” (25 May 1943).
Bruce H. Kuntz ‘40
Harry Becker ‘47 understood Hollywood’s version of glamour compared to what he saw in India. “This business of war is not a series of glamorous adventures as the movies paint it to be. It is a darn tough job. The first week or so we spent sleeping on the ground. Anyone who has been in India a week or more certainly realizes America is worth fighting for. I used to pay money at the fairs back home to see the freaks of nature; but now, I am seeing them for nothing. Believe me, one really sees some pitiful sights. Personally, I can’t see how it could be possible to live in such filth and poverty as these poor natives do here in India” (25 May 1943).
An Indian Snake Charmer - Photograph by Harry Becker '47
Also stationed “somewhere” in India, Eugene G. Schneck ‘36 shared his views of the native people. “ . . . I’ve gathered from the natives that almost anyone who is in possession of more than one shirt and one pair of pants, wears socks and shoes, and has a few more rupees than a native ever has, automatically becomes a ‘rajah.’ So naturally, all Americans are rajahs even though, at times, we may be ‘rupee-less'”(18 April 1944). 
Eugene G. Schneck ‘36
*In the original letters from WWII correspondence between Muhlenberg College and Muhlenberg active duty men, there are cultural references that, while considered problematic today, reflect 1940s terminology, attitudes, and biases. Neither Muhlenberg College nor the Muhlenberg Memories Project condones this language, but include it in the interests of historical accuracy.