Remember when: Vet’s comforting words to mom, ‘I’m safe as a silver dollar in Commercial Bank’

Published 12:15 am Saturday, May 27, 2017

A collection of World War II letters was shared with me a few years ago. These letters written by an Andalusia High School graduate who left for the war in the spring of 1943 during his senior year at the University of Alabama, the final year of his advanced engineering and R.O.T.C. training, span from 1943 through 1946. Lt. William W. Avant’s mother through her determination preserved the original letters as she received them. In the late 1990s, Bill and his family members had them all typed and computerized so that part of their family history including the love and devotion he and his mother shared for each other might be remembered.

In the letters, Avant often mentions his brothers, Max, a gun corporal in the 9th Infantry division, 60th Infantry Regiment, who landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and Bubba who reached the rank of Master Sergeant in the Air Corp who served in the South Pacific.

Other local friends he writes home about include Barbara Brooks, Jean Darling, Marge Brunson, Rebecca Darling, Wesley Courson, and best friend growing up, Randolph Kyzar. In addition to his two brothers, he also includes greetings to his oldest sister, Sister, his older sister, Celeste, his nephews, Buck and Bob, as well as some cousins and aunts.

Here are excerpts which I will share with the readers. I was taken back when an upcoming high school senior, age 17, told me recently, “My friends and I don’t have to worry about which college we are going to after high school. We were all talking about the present national and world situation and decided that next May we will more than likely be drafted, because by then we will be in World War III!”

So maybe not only the older folks will enjoy this look back in time at these words in letters home from a young Andalusia boy who became a part of a war growing up in the process, but also some teenagers who, God forbid, may find themselves in the midst of a conflict that we don’t even want to imagine.

     August 1943 – “Dear Mother, Well, here I am in the Army at Ft. Mc. I got out here at 3:00 and the first thing they did was give us a bath with G. I. soap and gave us bed clothing. I’m writing this on my bunk, so I know it will be hard to read. I just had my first army meal. It was fine but too much soup.”

“These G. I. uniforms are something. It really is hard to get these shoes broken in. I wear a 10-B army shoes. They really treat us good except for washing walls and cleaning latrines. Enclosed you’ll find a sheet that shows you are my beneficiary for my insurance. I took out $10,000. at $6.60 a month which is really cheap. You should see this G. I. hair cut with these fatigue clothes. Your bed has to be made up to army regulations. We drilled 4 hours today, and my feet are dead. Breaking in these G. I. shoes is really a rough job. I’ll probably have to get some money from you all until pay day. I’m getting adjusted to getting up at 5:45 and lights out at 10:00. Give my love to the boys and everybody. Tell them to write. Love, Billy

Dear Sis and Celeste, At the present time, I’ve never felt worse. We had 3 shots today, typhoid, small pox, and tetanus. The records they sent up from school wouldn’t do so they shot us again. On top of that, I have a cold and my legs are so sore I can hardly move. So just picture a Civil War soldier about 96 years old, and that’s the way I look now. Everyone in the barracks is in the same shape. We’ve got a dance coming up tomorrow nite. They are bringing 250 girls in from Washington. It should be some affair because I’ve just about forgotten how a girl looks.”

Dear Mother, There is also two double apron barb-wire fences you crawl under and to make it worse, it’s been raining for the past two days and not joking, I had an inch of mud on me when I drug over the last trench. There is a funny thing about it. You don’t hear the 3 machine guns unless you look up and see the white tracings. The only thing I noticed was the T.N.T. charges going off and throwing mud and rocks everywhere. I’m telling you, it’s the nearest thing to an actual combat I’ve ever seen.”

“There is something you can get for me when you have time. It’s a jack knife and 2 or 3 pairs of wool socks (white). The laundry loses about half of your socks. I also lost my little white handle knife that I got when I graduated from high school. I was really glad to hear about Wesley, and I know Mrs. Courson is one happy woman. From the way things are developing, the war should be over soon, I hope.”

Marge (Brunson) wrote me a long letter before you wrote me. The way she writes, she must be in love just some more of that bull women can shoot! Since my last letter, I’ve been to Washington and seen the sights. That Capitol is some building. Washington has all the beautiful women. You know they outnumber the men there 7 to 1. I know you all (at home there) are lonesome, but it can’t be helped and someday, we’ll all have that big reunion and a big dance in the house. I’ve been to church every Sunday so far except the last, because I was sick. P. S. Remember, I still like fruit cake.”

“I guess you all are really lost with all of us gone. I really would like to be down there during Christmas, but it’s going to be impossible. It’ll be my first Christmas away from home.”

Interesting, one of the 1943 hit songs was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (if only in my dreams)!

“From the looks of The Covington News, I think Jean Darling and Barbara Brooks are trying to make history. I’d like to get married but as times are, I wouldn’t think of such. 60 percent of the men in my company are married, and they really do go through a lot being away from their wives.”

November 1943 – “We also had a 15-mile hike last nite. So up to date, we’ve lost 22 boys to the hospital who will have to drop back a class. We really did have a feast last nite just before the hike – turkey and everything that goes with an ideal Thanksgiving dinner, but what ruined it was the 15 miles we had to go afterwards!”

December 26, 1943 – “Dear Mother and Daddy, Well, I’ve just returned from church. It seemed mighty funny with all boys in uniform taking the Lord’s supper. I guess you all went to church at home. I hope Bubba and Max attended some church (wherever they are). Christmas wouldn’t be complete without it. Christmas here isn’t so bad after all. They’re having a dance tonight and 150 girls from Washington are coming. I have just finished Christmas dinner. Had turkey and all the trimmings. It was wonderful. Sang Christmas songs afterwards.”

January 1944 – “Dear Celeste, I’ve got two weeks to go and then I become 2nd Lt. Avant. We are getting so excited over graduation. I’ve already bought my uniform. I don’t have any idea where I’ll go from here. Read some of this letter to Mother. Tell her today was my birthday, and I really enjoyed it. Some of the boys at my table, no kidding, sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. I can’t realize I’m 22 now. Love, Billy

February 1944 – “Dear Mother, I guess I’ll break some bad news. This company has been alerted for overseas duty. This is strictly secret information.”

     May 1944 – “Dear Mother, I guess you think I had forgotten about you on Mother’s Day. I tried to send a telegram Saturday nite, and I tried to call all day yesterday. I think you are the world’s best Mother, and you know I’ll always love you.”

     May 1944 – “Dear Daddy, As soon as this war is over with, I plan to spend about 2 months fishing and hunting like we used to do. I never will forget those old days, and the trips we took.”

June 1944Dear Mother, I guess you all have really been beating your brains out over the news. I’m telling you, it was one of the most interesting nights and day that I have ever spent listening to the radio. That invasion was really something. I believe this thing won’t last much longer, I mean the European war….Saturday afternoon this telegram came to a boy from Colorado. The C. O. brought it to me. It was about the boy’s brother killed in action. No one else would tell the boy. So they gave it to me. I had to carry it to his hut and found him asleep on his bunk, had to wake the poor boy up and tell him. That was really hard work, and I just couldn’t do a thing for him. …I got my (fraternity) pin back from Peggy, and we just kind of said a casual good-bye. I never did want to get serious with anybody the way times are now.”

     August 1944 – “I don’t think I should tell you, but I am aboard a ship now eating two meals a day, Don’t worry, because I’m on the safest ship in the world. Getting adjusted to the two meals is kind of hard, but getting adjusted to this English style of cooking and serving is something else. They serve fish at every meal, and I never did care for fish, but I have no choice. It’s either eat it or else! The U.S.O. did put on a show for us yesterday. Most of us are ready to do some real work. Take a bath in something besides salt water!”

     September 1944 – “Well, here I am safe and sound in England. Had a wonderful trip over. England is a beautiful country. They really are war serious. I don’t know how long I will be here. I saw several engineers who were at Alabama with me. The only thing that gives me trouble is this English money and this cold weather. Cold weather and this southern boy just doesn’t mix! I’ve written Max 3 letters since I’ve been here and as yet hadn’t received the first from him. Boy! He’s done more actually fighting than any of us and yet he is the youngest. That doesn’t seem right.”

London is such a big place, you can hardly find your way around. Got to see lots of the results of the buzz bombs, block after block destroyed. Pretty soon, we’ll be headed to the really place of action. I enjoyed your letter with all the news about Max. Give my love to Celeste, Buck, Bob, and all. Remember, I love you.”

     October 1944 – “I know you’re worried about me, because this is my first letter in 2 ½ weeks. You need not worry a bit. I’m as safe as a silver dollar in The Commercial Bank. I’m now in France, in Paris at the present. From our station in England, we went to the coast and got on a LCT and came across the (English) channel. We hit the beach on this side, stayed in the field for a while, and came to Paris. That beach is another I’ll remember too, because it’s a sight to see where that great D-Day battle came off.”

     “Paris is just like a big city (New York) except this French language is plenty hard to learn. I’ve never seen so many beautiful girls in all my life as there are here. They have beautiful clothes and silk stockings and know how to dress. This place is the fashion center of the world. You’d really love this place, because these places are so old and historical – Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower. I’m going to send you, Celeste and Sister some Chanel No. 5 perfume. The small towns around Paris are bombed and shelled to the ground. When I first saw them, I just couldn’t believe my eyes.”

November 1944 – “You’ll never guess who I found over here in Paris. Remember Homer T. Hart, the manager of A & P, where I worked part-time in high school? He’s a S/Sgt. in a supply company. We talked over old times and compiled all of the news. Another person I ran into was 1st Lt. Sam Gunter. He was on leave the same time I was. The last time I saw him was in front of Walgreen’s drug store back home. So I’ve had a kind of homecoming this week.

How did you like the results of the election? I was wondering who you voted for. I don’t believe Roosevelt will live thru another term, because his health doesn’t look any too good if you ask me. Well, politics is one thing I’m staying out of because I hate the stuff. You can send all that extra fruit cake you can find!…I guess this is all for now except tell Daddy I’m bringing him a German booby-trap and a German P-38 pistol. I heard Glenn Miller’s orchestra the other night, and I really enjoyed that good ole’ American music. (Maybe a hit song of 1944 was played such as ‘I’ll Be Seeing You.’) Be sweet and remember, I love you all. Love, Billy


To commemorate Memorial Day 2017, these memories are preserved and shared with the readers who might not have another way of reflecting on these times in hopes that our country will “never forget” what Americans went through from the homes, from the schools, from the hometowns, from the states, from the country. Next week I will continue with the Avant letters home when we will again REMEMBER WHEN.