the Home Front
But then the United States entered World War II, and Vernon was inducted into the Army in April 1943. After four months of basic training in Indianapolis, he was sent to Camp Shenango, outside the western Pennsylvania city of Sharon.
No one knew how long he would be stationed there before being sent to his permanent assignment, which would probably be overseas. So my mother decided to temporarily give up her job with the phone company, where she had become a supervisor, and join him in Pennsylvania. She got a room in Sharon so they could spend as much as possible of their remaining time together.
On Saturday, August 21, 1943, she rode the crowded rails north from Cambridge to Akron and then east to Sharon. That night, from 120 White Avenue, she sent a penny postcard to her parents back in Cambridge.
Dearest Mother & Dad:
I arrived here about 11:30 AM. No rooms were available, but Mrs. Sigler was nice enough to let me have her daughter's room until tomorrow night. Then her spare room will be vacated, and I will move in there. It's a lovely, clean place, and they are very kind and friendly.
Vernon got in about 7:00 PM, and we ate and took a walk. We are ready for bed now. He thinks he will be able to get a pass often, so I'll probably stay awhile.
I did not have to stand on the train, but a lot of folks did, from Akron on in.
Ralph sent us $5.00 and we ate a nice steak dinner on it.
Below: two pictures of the house at 120 White Avenue, taken on Thanksgiving 1943 and again in 2010.
Vernon and Ann's second night in Sharon didn't turn out as well, as she wrote in another postcard on Monday morning.
Vernon volunteered for detail yesterday (when they asked them to) and got done at 4:00 PM. He got a pass for 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, and sneaked out early and was here by 5:20 PM last night.
He didn't have the alarm set this morning. When he finally got up and looked to see what time it was, it was 5:40 AM! I called a cab, and he left here at 5:50 AM. He would be at least 10 minutes late, so they may put him in the guardhouse and I won't get to see him for a while.
We were just sick about it, for he has been working so hard on detail in order to get passes. The taxi is $4.00. Ha, ha.
The other roomer left yesterday, and I am in a swell room now. They insist that I live all over the house; but of course, I don't.
This is expensive "carrying on." But money won't mean a thing when he is gone.
As a soldier, Vernon could send letters for free. He offered to mail one of his wife's letters to her parents that way she was out of stamps but she didn't want him to abuse the franking privilege. So on Tuesday night, September 21, Ann made Vernon do the writing himself.
Vernon M. Thomas, U.S. Army
You will sure get a kick out of this. It took the lack of a 3¢ stamp to get me at this job of letter writing. As you know, I can write letters free and Ann cannot, and as we are law-abiding citizens she couldn't write the letter and let me address it and write "Free" on the outside.
I got in this evening at about 6:30, and Mr. and Mrs. Sigler had us eat with them again. We had a roast with appropriate trimmings and enjoyed it very much.
They are sure shipping a lot of men out of this camp, and I expect to be on shipment any day as my original limit of 30 days, set when we arrived here, has long since passed. However, I have talked to fellows who have been here more than six months.
The name of the camp was changed today; also, the purpose has been changed a little. It was formerly a replacement depot for all Army personnel but now is to be a replacement depot for the Army Service Forces only, which doesn't mean much as far as I can see it.
Ann wrote to my brother who is in the Marines and also to my oldest brother who is in the state of Washington, and I added some to each of the two letters. Ann says that I am like an old Ford: "Hard to get started, but once I do start, am hard to stop."
Am enclosing a check for $50.00 which wish you would cash and send Ann a money order. Remember to have it made out "Ann Margaret Thomas," as that is the way her driver's license reads and may have to be used in order to get the M.O. cashed.
Well, I hope this finds you both well and not working too hard.
Don't seem to be able to think of anything more to write, so guess I am stopping here.
The next letter that I have was written by Ann on Friday afternoon, October 15, a couple of weeks before Vernon's 34th birthday. Another supervisor at the phone company was named Miss Thomas (no relation), and one of her brothers had just been killed in action.
Dearest Mother & Dad:
I am so upset over Miss Thomas's bad news, I don't know whether I'll be able to write a decent letter or not.
She won't get half the sympathy she needs from some people, but she has talked to me about both the boys. She feels more like a mother to them than a sister, for they have always looked to her for help and advice instead of their parents. If they ever needed any money, it was her they asked for it, and so forth.
I just have to go downtown this afternoon to get a pair of hose, and I am going to send her a telegram. Words won't help much; but if I wait and write a letter, she won't get it until the first of the week.
If it were anyone but her, I suppose they would have sent for me to come home and take over; but she is so considerate she wouldn't ask me to leave Vernon.
Mother, if it isn't too big a task, could you call her some evening and talk to her for me? She has been so kind to me, when my going was rough, that I feel indebted to her. I'm afraid she will break down completely, for she was so near it when I left; and I don't know whether she ever took her vacation or not, and I feel sort of responsible for that.
You are still working too hard, Mother. I sure feel like a heel, sitting here not helping anyone. And then, when I see the smile on Vernon's face when he is coming down the street in the evenings, I think it is worth it to at least make his day bright.
This is the street down which Vernon would have walked on his way home. From camp, he probably took a bus to a stop on State Street, in the background.
Now, Mother, don't even think of buying Vernon a birthday present, for he gave me my orders not to buy him anything since he doesn't know whether he will be here or on his way overseas, and there isn't anything he can use. If we are here, I might ask Mrs. Sigler to cook him a good meal, but we may not even be here. So remember now, don't buy anything!
I have been looking for a telephone call again today, but I guess he doesn't know anything again today. Guess I'll have to go job hunting Monday. Pray for me that I'll do the right thing and carry my end of this terrible experience.
Well, Mother, there is no news so I'll ring off and go downstreet before it starts raining.
Take care of yourself now, and write often.
Loads of Love,
I got ready to start out at 1:45 and it started pouring. It's still at it, so guess I'll have to go down on the bus at 2:30. Hope you get some of this rain.
Four weeks later, Mr. Thomas still had not heard anything about when or where he was going. But Mrs. Thomas got a Saturday-afternoon phone call from Miss Thomas on November 13, 1943.
Well, I suppose Miss Thomas called and told you we are OK and no news. I think we talked almost an hour. I didn't get up until about 12:30 and was just making my bed, and Mrs. Sigler was upstairs cleaning and didn't hear the telephone, so I ran down and answered it. Miss Thomas was quite surprised.
She told me all the news of the office. She has coaxed Mrs. Peters to stay every week since I have been gone, and she wants to quit so bad. The company sent Miss Thomas down to Portsmouth for some instructions this week, and when she got back last night, three more had walked out. Some homecoming, eh what? She has Iona Morgan back now; you remember the girl whose stepfather was the butcher Tarleton; she is married.
I told Miss Thomas that I heard she was going to get married (and I had written you that if she did, I was going to work somewhere else). She said she knew who would tell that, but she wasn't any more decided than she was when she last saw me. She said that at times like this, when the office was so bad and Mrs. Boss so awful, she was tempted. But she always remembered then what I told her once, that she should be careful for she might be jumping into something just as bad or worse.
I feel so sorry for her. She talked about her brother, too. She said that before they heard about her brother, her Dad had come to the place where he could do a few little things around the house, but since then, the doctor says he is three times worse now than he was when he first started doctoring him. She said her mother was losing weight too.
She said the paper from the President said he died of wounds which he received while in battle, so maybe he was at least taken to a first aid station. Of course, anyone in the infantry is lucky if he gets out alive, as they are like the Marines: they do the dirty work. She mentioned that the other brother is in it too.
So I guess I'll be able to go back for 48 hours day turn and make my $26.00. She said not to worry about it, and she would still be there when I got home.
By the way, she said she heard Mrs. Beatty and her husband had separated. She said not to say anything about it, for maybe it wasn't true, so I'm depending on you not to tell it until you hear it otherwise.
No, I didn't know about Mr. Dilly. Vernon says the son really isn't well, for when the sub-depot started up, he tried to get in and couldn't pass the examination physically.
How is Vera's baby? Is it cute? I'll bet she worries a lot about Jack.
Yes, we know we have been very fortunate so far. I think Vernon would go bugs with happiness if he got stationed in the States. It bothers him a lot about not having any rating yet. I don't care, but I hate to see him feel that way.
As it was snowing, Mrs. Sigler insisted she hunt me up something to eat so I wouldn't have to go out; so after she did, I ironed for her a couple of hours. She wants us to eat with them tonight; we're going to have hot cakes and sausage. Then tomorrow she said we could cook. I told her I did not want to use my ration points and she said she would give me some meat, and since she used my quarter pound of butter, this week I could use some of hers. So I'll get some eggs to go with the meat and fruit and bread.
Well, I have about run down so I guess I'll ring off and add a note later. Maybe I won't get this mailed until tomorrow, as we won't have to go out tonight.
Sunday 5:30 PM
Well, here goes again. Vernon got in about 6:00 PM and we had a very nice supper for a wintry evening, real good sausage and hotcakes and coffee. The Siglers seemed to enjoy having us as much as we enjoyed it.
Then about 8:00 we bundled up and went out a couple of blocks to get some groceries. You should have seen the weather! The ground was white with snow, and it was still snowing very hard and had frozen. The cars were sliding all over the place and the streets were just like a mirror. It was like that about all night; then by noon it had warmed up, and by now it's almost all gone but is very cloudy, so I guess it is getting colder and going to snow more.
We didn't come downstairs until 2:00 PM. The Siglers had to go to Youngstown about 3:00 to a funeral, so we had our meal about that time. She gave us some sausage, so we had it and half a dozen scrambled eggs, toast, onions and sliced tomatoes, coffee and milk. We have been listening to the radio and reading since, and Vernon is writing to Sipe. We will go to church at 7:30 if it doesn't start snowing too hard.
The daughter invited me to go to Youngstown tomorrow just to look around. Vernon thinks I should, to get my mind on something else; and since our weekend has been so much cheaper, maybe I will. Eighty-five cents round trip, I think.
A mile to the west of White Avenue is downtown Sharon. Just down the street on the right, near the bridge over the Shenango River, was the department store called The Sharon Store.
That was where Ann found herself at 2:00 on a lonely Monday afternoon five days before Christmas. She sat down in the Ladies' Lounge to write this letter, using materials provided by the store: stationery and a splattering pen.
Just a note, as I am downtown trying to put in time.
[Last night] we went up and waited on the 7:00 pm bus, and some lady came along and took us downtown. We went to church and ate and went home. Vernon went back out at 10:30.
I got up today at noon, and since Mrs. Sigler is in Pittsburgh today, I came downtown to see somebody.
We had some more snow last night. It is melting now, but the wind is real cold. Waited for the bus, and another lady brought me down. Kindness sure is appreciated when one is in trouble.
The churches are all making a big effort to see that all the soldiers are invited into a home for Xmas. Are you doing that there? No matter if you were only having a roast or something, you should have a couple, for it means so much to them.
This pen has part of the point broken off.
I received a Xmas card from Ralph with $5.00 in it. It sure hurts to receive and not give.
Just a note, as I am going over to the mailbox to mail Vernon a letter.
Had another one from him, written January 2nd evening. Said he had been to the show, and all he was allowed to tell where he was is that he is on the east coast but not at New York. He sure can't write much when it is censored.
Received your letter, too. Trying to pull something, eh? Yes, we paid that on Saturday after Xmas. Thanks anyway. That's all a call to Sharon costs if you don't talk overtime.
Had a letter from Mrs. Thomas. Phillip arrived in San Diego December 22nd and called them; they talked at 3:00 AM. He said he was able to be up and around but had lost the sight of his left eye. Said he was lucky to be alive as he was in the battle of Tarawa. Said in the 3½ months he was only on land 17 days at different times.
Fred and family drove home at Xmas time, and they had started back to the state of Washington. He was going to try to stop off and see Phil.
Fred and Hubert, who both have two children, are expecting to have to go. So her letter was pretty blue. So I didn't send it on to Vernon, just wrote him what she said.
Loads of Love,
Ann didn't know it, but Vernon was in Norfolk, Virginia, where on January 11 he would board a ship that would take him to India. Vernon didn't know it, but Ann came down with a fever. When he called her from Norfolk, she pretended she wasn't sick, because she didn't want him to worry about her all the way across the ocean. But she did write her parents on Wednesday night, January 12.
I had thought I would write you tomorrow and do a little explaining, but Ralph just told me that if he didn't take the letter to work with him until Friday morning, you wouldn't get it. So I guess I'd better do it tonight. Don't expect any fancy writing as I am in bed.
To begin with, I don't know how much Ralph told you, but not much, I know, for I had told him not to tell you I was sick at all but Esther said No! I guess she was afraid I might die. Ha ha. She said you'd better know it, and then if I got worse it wouldn't be such a shock.
Saturday all day I was chilly, but I always am and didn't think much about it. My back ached so much, but I blamed that on my nerves. Esther and I went downtown on the bus in the afternoon, and after we came back I just shook, I was so cold. I didn't eat much, and when I finished the dishes, my face was burning up. They took my temperature and it was 102.3°.
The Crouches were coming over, so Ralph doctored me up and I lay in the big chair all evening. Then I went to bed, and I haven't been up since. Ralph had to bowl Sunday afternoon, and I told Esther about 2:30 PM to take it again, for I sure felt punk and had just gone through another chill. She did and it was 104°, so she called the doctor. He came at 6:00 PM and started me on sulfa and said the chills would stop, but I kept on having them. They lasted about 2½ hours each time, and I shook so much I felt like I had been pounded when they were over. Then in the midst of them I'd get sick at my stomach and vomit. Then when they were over, my fever would shoot up again and I would perspire for hours. The last one I had was from 2:00 to 4:30 AM this morning.
I have slept most of the day, for I haven't had much sleep and I don't have any fever. I ate some buttered beets and mashed potatoes and steak gravy and toast for supper, and then Ralph fixed the heater in the bathroom and fixed me a warm bath and I took it, and now I feel more like myself. Of course I'm weak, but I won't be as soon as I eat more.
I'm going downstairs tomorrow. I am still taking a little sulfa, as you have to ease off it or your fever goes back up. We had the doctor Sunday evening and Monday noon both, so you can see where I am blowing my money. Ha ha. I'm not complaining though, for it could have been worse. Esther is an A-1 nurse, and Ralph takes over evenings and nights.
Now if you folks get the flu, have some doctor other than Patton, for it's nothing to be fooled with. I have been greased with camphorated oil and kept three flannel diapers on my back, chest and hips all the time. I had to use three wool blankets, a comfort heating pad and a hot water bottle when the chills came; but finally I decided they just had to run their course of 2½ hours. I'm sure glad it's over and didn't happen in Sharon.
I had another letter from Vernon today, written Saturday. I'll probably get one written Sunday tomorrow, and that will be the last for a while.
I was so sick when I talked to him, I hardly knew what I was saying and was so afraid he would catch on. He hadn't heard a word from me and I didn't tell him a bit of news, not even about Philip. We could have talked a long time as he reversed the charges, but that is just one of those things. I haven't told him yet about being sick; I will when I get downstairs tomorrow. The main thing was for him not to leave worrying about me, and I put that over. I had just vomited 15 minutes before he called.
Esther and Ralph both insist I stay here till nice weather, so I may help her. Vernon has been writing it too. I'll come home in the spring, though, for I want to keep the apartment. Don't say anything about my plans one way or another; just be dumb.
Don't work so hard, please, 'cause the dirt will be there when you are gone.
Now don't worry, for I'm OK now, I even feel hungry, and I'll write again soon.
By the time she wrote this letter, Vernon had already sailed. He didn't find out about her illness for more than a month. It was on February 26, 1944, in Calcutta, India, that he received his first mail after leaving the States. In his long letter to Ann the next day, he wrote:
Then my notes call for a severe reprimand to you for failing to tell me that you were so sick when I last talked to you. But I suppose you did what was best, as I didn't worry about you and as you are again OK. That is just so much worrying saved, so I won't make it too severe. I will only say that I am thankful that you are OK again and that you had such good care. If you can find out what the doctor bill was, send Ralph a check by all means, as he surely doesn't owe us that much.
You can read the full story of Vernon's World War II experiences, with links to other letters, photos and articles, in "A Methodist Accountant in India." Click here.