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Guide to the Halbreich Papers
1941-1946 (bulk 1944-1945)
 MS 2959

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Megan Dolan

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 14, 2014
Description is in English

Container List

Series I: Letters from Lester to Shirley, 1943 - 1945

Scope and Contents note

The following synopsis provides an overview of the correspondence and also highlights some of the more interesting letters.

July 1944 – August 1944 Lester’s letters begin with a description of his train journey to the Puget Sound Navy Yard Dispensary, Bremerton, Washington, where he was stationed for training from July-August 1944. He talks about making friends with other officers from Queens and Brooklyn, New York and describes his daily activities there, such as going to the ‘club’ for drinks, and seeing movies in the evenings with the other men. There is an underlying tone of loneliness and worry in these letters as Shirley was due to have their baby at any stage and he was unsure when he would be sent off to war. Much of these letters concern the pending birth of their baby and what the gender will be. In a letter dated July 31, 1944 he writes to Shirley after learning about the birth of their son, providing an insight into what many men went through while being away from their families. He talks about his living quarters and describes the type of training he is doing in his daily courses, most notably a class on chemical warfare. In a letter dated August 22, 1943 he mentions General Patton and the face-slapping incidents, evidently a highly discussed issue. He tells how the rest of his naval crew were stationed in Tacoma, Georgia while he was in Bremerton, WA. He talks about forming friendships with other soldiers and being invited to dinner at some of the officer’s homes. He refers to an argument he had with a woman over dinner about what he refers to as “the Negro” (letter dated August 31, 1944).

September 1944 In September 1944 he moved to Astoria, Oregon where his ship was “fitted out” and where he boarded it. He tells how he was anxious to get to sea as he felt the sooner he left the sooner he would return, and tells how he found the aspect of ‘waiting’ very frustrating. He tells how he was temporarily quartered at the Tongue Point Naval Air Station before moving to the Astoria Naval Station in Oregon. He describes attending a ceremony where their ship was handed over by the director of the port to Captain Crandall and describes getting organized and accustomed to their ship. He describes life on the ship and the politics on board between the medical officers; he particularly refers to ‘Dr. Dickey’ with whom he and other officers had issues with. He talks about Ralph Goldman, one of the junior medical officers on board whom he became good friends with. He outlines his daily activities for Shirley and gives her an account of how he spends his spare time. He describes his daily activities and a trip to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He talks about preparing himself for departure and asks Shirley to take the pregnancy clause off their hospitalization policy as they will not need it while he is away. He talks about how homesick he feels, how much he misses Shirley and refers to how the nickname ‘Churl’ came about while reminiscing about old times they had together.

October 1944 In October his ship set sail off the coast of California to prepare the ship and get used to functioning together as a crew. Lester describes the difficulties in writing an informative letter of his daily activities due to censorship regulations. As a result the nature of his letters largely focus on his daily activities on board the Oxford, such as cleaning and inspections, his dentistry work, the other officers on board, and liberty time; time off from their daily work routine. He describes how while he was at a bar during liberty a famous American film actor, Laird Cregor, was there also. He also recalls being ‘thrilled’ when someone at a bar bought him a drink for being in the service. He describes the various drills on board the ship, in particular the “General Headquarters” drill, where the loud speaker announces “General Headquarters” and everyone goes to their battle stations, which in his case is the after battle dressing station. He also mentions other drills such as gunnery practice, man overboard, collision, fire, and strafing attacks. He speaks extensively about how much he loves his wife and son and is very poetic about his love for Shirley and how happy he is in their marriage. He gives detailed descriptions of the movements of the ocean and the sunsets he witnesses from the top deck while he thinks of her in the evenings.

In a letter dated October 26, 1944 Lester wrote a goodbye letter to his wife before he went off to, in his phrase, the ‘wizard of oz’ and comforts her by saying that the mission “will be of such a nature as to be relatively safe”. He describes getting used to living on a ship and dealing with sea-sickness, the various moods of the sea, and provides his first impressions of the Pacific. He mentions they have troops on board and tells her how they have been told where they are going but cannot say due to censorship regulations. He describes the intense heat and humidity they are experiencing, the activities they get up to on the ship, the books he is reading, his dentistry work, games he plays with other officers, and the various inspections they have and how they prepare for them. He provides a detailed account of an incident where the General Quarters alarm went off for real rather than a drill and describes how people reacted.

November 1944 In letters dated November 5-7, 1944 Lester describes the ceremony that took place concerning the crossing of the equator and explains how before this event he was referred to as a ‘pollywog’ but now that he has crossed the line he is a ‘shellback’. He tells how when they passed the ‘International Date Line’ they became members of the ‘Society of Golden Dragons’. Lester gives examples of the prevalence of anti-Semitism on board and tells how a chaplain told him that Dr. Dickey is rude to Ralph is because he ‘is a Jew’ and presumes that this is the reason why he is also unkind to Lester. In a letter dated November 10, 1944 he tells how he was upset by a piece of anti-Semitic literature circulating among the ships officers entitled “Our Day” dealing with the "supposed alliance between Roosevelt and the Jews."

December 1944 – January 1945 He describes landing in one of the South Sea Islands and going ashore after so many weeks at sea. He outlines various liberty trips ashore and activities such as items they purchased and going to the ‘club’ for drinks. He also mentions meeting members of the cast of Porgy and Bess. He gives descriptions of some of the men on board and gives an outline of a man referred to as ‘Chips’, describing him as the character of the ship and calls him a ‘real old sea dog’. He talks about the various drills that required them to get to their designated ‘battle stations’ throughout the day and describes ‘coding duty’ whereby they underwent the process of ‘breaking strip messages’. In letters dated December 23-26, 1944 he wondered what the war was all about and discusses himself and others sacrificing their lives and asked what it all was for. He describes Christmas aboard the ship.

In this period Lester's letters include many complaints about the mail.In December 1944 he tells how he had finally received mail from his wife for the first time in over a month and tells how bad this lack of mail made him feel. He explains his frustration at how, after checking the date of the post office stamp of the day they were sent out, the date was a month after much of the letters had been written and posted. He complains extensively about the Brooklyn Post-Office for not sending letters as they were posted and describes how after receiving no mail for over a month he had sleepless nights and was very worried. In a letter dated January 16, 1945 he explains how they were informed at dinner that they had been censoring mail too severely and that they could tell people where they had been up until the last 30 days. Thus he informed her of the places they had been for the past month and lists; New Guinea, Hollandia, New Caledonia, Noumea, Soloman Islands, Tulagi.

In a letter dated January 24, 1945 he tells how the Navy sent their first class mail to the port they had just left and how distressed he felt due to this lack of mail. He explained how the last letters he received described his son at two months old, whereas he was then six months old and had not heard anything about him in that four month period. The level of delay in mail is evident by the stamp dates on the envelopes which do not correspond to letter dates. This provides an interesting insight into the importance of regular mail for soldiers, the impact mail had on morale levels, and the extent to which it gave people a sense of connection to their loved ones at home. By March 1945 he had received only 25 letters from his wife since he left the US in July 1944 and explains how disgusted he was by this fact as he was aware she wrote to him every day.

He provides detailed descriptions of the evening sunsets on board the ship. He tells how he watched them nightly on the top deck, and how sometimes music was played on the victrola as he watched which made him feel homesick. He requested Shirley to get professional pictures taken of herself and Jeff and explains how much it means to him to have recent photographs of his family. He talks extensively about how much he loves Shirley and tells her how he loves her more than “cold beer and Swiss cheese”.

He discussed the progress of the allied war effort and what New York would be like when the war was over. He predicted a similar economical situation to WWI and an intensification of competition for jobs in NYC, thus he was trying to think ahead and have some plan for when he returned home. He tells how they were waiting for Germany to ‘crack’ and explains how he predicted that this will help with the subjugation of Japan. In a letter dated January 29, 1945 he discussed getting liberty at an island which was controlled by the Japanese up to nine months previously and conveys the level of damage done by the conflict and his surprise as to how much of it was still evident nine months later. He describes the Japanese ‘coconut log bunkers’ that still remained lined along the beach. He tells how they received daily news from Europe and was happy to learn that the Russians were 90 miles from Germany.

February 1945 In a letter dated February 12, 1945 he explains that the censorship regulation has been lifted in relation to their previous operation and tells how they landed in the Philippines at the Linguyen Gulf on the island of Luzon and gives a detailed account of this. He describes a number of liberty experiences he had in February, in particular a very drunken boat ride back to the ship and talks about play fighting that verged on real altercations and how one of the men fell overboard. Another example of his experience of anti-Semitism is his account of overhearing a conversation in which one of the men referred to him as a ‘Jew’ in a very derogatory way.

April 1945 Throughout his letters in April 1945 he refers to Eisenhower crossing the Rhine and the possible end of the war, how he feels about the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, hearing that the Russians had entered the outskirts of Berlin, and how he heard on the radio that Mussolini had been killed and gives his views on this. He also requests that Shirley be careful around men and to be not in the least bit encouraging towards them as he feels this could be taken the wrong way. He comments on the volume of married women who have taken up with other men while their husbands are away at war.

May 1945: Throughout the month of April he wrote an ongoing letter (dated April 5 – May 2) to Shirley detailing his experience of the invasion of Okinawa. He mailed the letter in early May and explains how he was waiting to send it when the censorship regulations were lifted in relation to recent operations. He tells how in previous letters when he was describing various bridge games that they were in fact traveling from Guinea to Luzon and then on to invade and capture Okinawa. He explains how nervous they all were at this prospect due to the knowledge of what happened at Iwo Shima fresh in their minds. He was in the original landings at Luzon and Okinawa and also took part in the reinforcing operation at Luzon. He recounts what he experienced during this invasion. He tells how he saw a destroyer ship very close to their ship destroy a floating mine and how multiple destroyers then began the same process. He recalls the night before the invasion and how he watched various people on board prepare themselves for what was to come. He gives an account of his experience of their landing at Okinawa and the battle that ensued over the next few days from his viewpoint. He attributes his cranky letters complaining about the lack of mail during this time to be as a result of this pending invasion and explains how he had really needed to hear from his family. This is another example of the impact mail delays had on soldiers during the war.

July 1945: By July 1945 Lester had been away at war for one year. His letters encompass much details of how sad he has been to miss his son growing up and be away from his wife and family. He writes to Shirley requesting she organize a trip to San Francisco at the beginning of August as his ship will be stationed there for two weeks and talks about how much he is looking forward to seeing her.

September 1945 In a letter dated September 7, 1945 he explains how they received an ALNAV, a message directed to all Navy units and Marine Corps, that removed blackout restrictions and what it was like going above deck and seeing the lights of all the ships surrounding them. He describes how during the night there was a death of one of their patients and that he was buried at sea the following day. He discusses the new revised point system where the minimum requirements for discharge are 49 points and tells how he currently has 42 points. He wonders when he will have enough points to finish his overseas duty and has requested that his next duty be in the Brooklyn Shipping Yard.

He informs Shirley that they have arrived in Manila and describes a variety of experiences he had during his liberty time there. He then reports how they have left Manila and are travelling to Linguyen for the third time. He tells how they are going to Japan next and are stopping at Nagoya on the way but are delayed due to an oncoming typhoon, which is causing big delays on oncoming mail, thus putting a downer on the ship. He philosophically debates the future of the post war world providing an interesting insight into the attitudes and perspectives of some of the men on the ship.

October – November 1945 In October 1945 he describes the journey on the seas through the Luzon Straits towards Japan via Formosa and Okinawa. He tells how they received a change of orders and instead of going straight to Nagoya as planned they were redirected to the small city of Wakiyama. He recounts a trip to a local officers club and describes the conditions of the premises. He describes passing unarmed Japanese soldiers and how there was no animosity between them and provides a detailed account of Wakiyama. When discussing their options for the future he broaches the option of going to South America after the war to gain further education funded by the army and work as a dentist. He informs her that he is learning Spanish from a book called ‘Hugo’s Spanish Grammar’. In a letter dated October 16, 1945 he describes how he “broke the monotony of boredom” by going ashore at Wakiyama and describes his day there. He provides a very humorous account of the men interacting with the female Japanese workers in the officers club and an experience he had with one of the women working in the club. He recounts another liberty where the men got into a raucous singing competition at the club and mentions how he got the last boat to the ship but that other men went to the Geisha house.

He explains that a new ALNAV has clarified the situation regarding the number of points needed for discharge and states how he will have 44.5 points in December, enough to be decommissioned. He explains how they are at San Pedro on the island of Samar to bring between 16 and 17 hundred enlisted men back to the states. He tells how they are on the way back to San Francisco and reveals that he feels sad because he worries that his son’s image of ‘daddy’ will be of Shirley’s father and not him. He puts plans in motion to meet Shirley first in a hotel and spend a few days with just her alone, then to return to Brooklyn and meet his son, Jeff, just the three of them, and then see the rest of their family.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Letters, October 1943
1943 October 6-15
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Letters, October 1943
1943 October 16-26
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Letters, July 1944
1944 July 16-22
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Letters, July 1944

Scope and Contents note

Writes after learning about the birth of their son and describes how he received the news.

1944 July 22-31
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Letters, August 1944
1944 August 2-17
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Letters, August 1944
1944 August 18-31
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Letters, September 1944
1944 September 1-17
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Letters, September 1944
1944 September 18-29
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Letters, October 1944
1944 October 1-9
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Letters, October 1944
1944 October 11-21
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Letters, October 1944
1944 October 24-31
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Letters, November 1944

Scope and Contents note

Includes a letter describing a ceremony that took place on the ship when they were passing the equator, whereby people who had not crossed the line before were referred to as 'shellbacks' and became 'pollywogs' once they had passed the equator.

1944 November 1-16
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Letters, November 1944
1944 November 16-30
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Letters, December 1944
1944 December 3-18
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Letters, December 1944
1944 December 19-31
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Letters, January 1945
1945 January 2-12
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Letters, January 1945
1945 January 14-24
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Letters, January 1945
1945 January 25-31
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Letters, February 1945
1945 February 2-15
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Letters, February 1945
1945 February 16-28
Box: 2 Folder : 8 Letters, March 1945
1945 March 1-9
Box: 2 Folder : 9 Letters, March 1945
1945 March 11-19
Box: 2 Folder : 10 Letters, March 1945
1945 March 19-30
Box: 2 Folder : 11 Letters, April 1945
1945 April 1-17
Box: 2 Folder : 12 Letters, April 1945
1945 April 18-30
Box: 2 Folder : 13 Letters, May 1945

Scope and Contents note

Includes a letter dated April 5th – May 2nd detailing Lester's experience of the invasion of Okinawa.

1945 May 1-12
Box: 2 Folder : 14 Letters, May 1945
1945 May 14-31
Box: 2 Folder : 15 Letters, June 1945
1945 June 2-11
Box: 3 Folder : 1 Letters, June 1945
1945 June 13-21
Box: 3 Folder : 2 Letters, June 1945
1945 June 22-30
Box: 3 Folder : 3 Letters, July 1945
1945 July 1-10
Box: 3 Folder : 4 Letters, July 1945
1945 July 10-31
Box: 3 Folder : 5 Letters, August 1945
1945 August 20-30
Box: 3 Folder : 6 Letters, September 1945
1945 September 3-14
Box: 3 Folder : 7 Letters, September 1945
1945 September 15-30
Box: 3 Folder : 8 Letters, October 1945
1945 October 1-15
Box: 3 Folder : 9 Letters, October 1945

Scope and Contents note

Lester provides a humorous account of going to an officer's club during liberty time and an interaction he had with a Japanese female worker at the club (letter dated October 16th).

1945 October 16-26
Box: 3 Folder : 10 Letters, November 1945
1945 November 4-8

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