Last week I showed the students of Room 24 some of the letters my dad, Edsel Colvin, wrote to his dad during World War II. The kids had questions for Dad after they looked at the letters. The questions ranged from the specific (“What was your sergeant’s name?” and “Were you in Operation Market Basket?”) to the general (“What was the process the letters had to go through?”).
This weekend I went over to Madras to visit my parents and had the chance to interview Dad, 91, while I was there. Here are the edited transcripts of the interview the student’s name in parentheses:
(Alexander) What was your sergeant’s name?
Francis Hudak. He was from Joliet, Illinois. He was just very, very fair and a great guy.
(Sevyn) Did you enjoy fighting in the war or would you have chosen something else if you had the chance?
I would have chosen something else if I’d had the chance. I don’t think anybody enjoys fighting in a war.
(Sandra) What was the name of your general?
My general was Anthony McAuliffe.
(Sandra) What was the process the letters had to go through?
Well, we wrote a letter, the letter was given to your platoon lieutenant who read it and anything he saw in there that might divulge where you were or any information that might help the enemy he would censor it out by using a black marker or maybe even cut it out with a razor blade. Then that would be sent on. The letters were called V-Mail. You would write a letter on regular stationery and then it was sent in to be photographed and reduced and sent so it didn’t take up so much space.
(Claire) How old were you when the war was over?
I was 22 when the war was over in 1945.
(Isaac) What was the name of your squad?
We didn’t actually have a name; we had numbers. We were in the second squad of the second platoon in Company L of the 410th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Division.
(Sean) Were you in Operation Market Basket?
No, that happened before I was in Europe.
(Isaac) What kind of gun did you use?
It was an M1 semi-automatic.
(Fred) Have you ever driven or been on a Sherman tank?
No, but it was a common tank. They didn’t let us ride in or on them.
(Miles) Did you ever ride on a jet during the war?
No, actually the Americans didn’t have jets during the war. The Germans had jets right near the end of the war.
(Mr. Colvin) How did you get over to Europe at the beginning of the war?
We went from Camp Howze in Texas by train to Boston, then took a ship to Marseilles, France. It took about 12 days and a bunch of guys got seasick on the way over. I was one of the few that didn’t.
(June) What was it like for you when you first got in to the army?
First I went to basic training at Camp Roberts in California. After that I was fortunate enough to pass the test and get into the Army Specialized Training Program at the University of Oklahoma.
(Joe) Did you read books at your campsite?
We actually didn’t have a campsite when we were over in Europe in France and Germany, no, we didn’t have time to read and if we did, the books were in French or German.
(Elliott) What kind of shelters did you and your team build?
You had a buddy; mine was Sergeant George Prohaska and the shelter we would build, we’d dig a hole about three feet deep called a foxhole. Then we’d line that hole with branches of trees, then we’d cover it over with branches so you couldn’t see it from above.
(Melanie) What convinced you to write a book about your letters?
My son. Your teacher. (We’ll listen to the recorded version of this answer in class.)