Saturday, November 11, 2006

Letter from the War Correspondent

Since Bea is sleeping soundly, I again dip into her well of correspondence. What foresight to keep all these letters! This time the pump brings up the aftermath of World War II, described by a friend at Time-Life, William Walton, also born in 1909:

Bad Wildungen, Germany, May 18, 1945

Dear Beatrice,

Only a bad conscience would make me hark, at this late date, back to that March day in Washington when I failed to show for cocktails. As you probably divined, I finished my business quicker than expected and took off for New York, without the slightest idea where to reach you. So do forgive.

Since then things have moved so swiftly my head is giddy – statesmen dying, nations collapsing, wars whimpering to a lose and chaos on every hand. The transition from magnolia blossoming Washington to the stinking, death-filled concentration camps was incredible in the span of three days. And to walk into such places as Leipzig city hall and find the mayor, treasurer and SA chief, each with his wife and children, all suicides sitting cozily around like figures at Mme. Tussaud’s. It will be years, I suppose, before I can digest what I’ve seen and experiences. The stench is one that lingers weeks after the last bodies have been removed, forever maybe.

Then there was the Red Army linkup, for us more exciting than the end of the wear itself. The Russians turned out to be all we had hoped, a wild, hard-drinking, laughing crew who seem to have no discipline but manage to get things done. And how they wine and dine their friends – bowls of caviar, heaps of sausages, smoked sturgeon and salmon, eggs floating in sour cream, weird wonderful salads, vodka, wines, chicken, ham, veal and god knows what else all for one lunch.

Now comes the harder part, trying to poke among these terrible ruins and find some foundation on which to build a new nation or nations. There are few encouraging signs, but perhaps it is too early yet. Germany, more than anyone else, is in profound shock, unrealizing yet just what defeat means. When she comes out of the shock, maybe there’ll be underground resistance, maybe just gloom, or maybe some help for us. Anyway, that’s what I’m looking for now and heading into Bavaria to see what’s there. By fall, I expect to be home again and to see you. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re up to and what goes on in the land of Truman, V-E Day, fried eggs, and Eunice Jessup.

Love to you both,

Bill

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