Spitball Army

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Bev & Ande: 1942-1943

In the early ’70s, my father’s company got the call to demolish a house in Carlsbad, California, and grade the property for new construction.  The day before the job, we drove to the site and rummaged through the contents of the house, which appeared to have been abandoned as if the former occupants might be returning for them one day.  They weren’t, of course, and what happened to them remains a mystery to me.

That mystery fueled my vivid young imagination as I pored over my rescued treasures during the following months.  I had sequestered them in a wooden rain barrel in the back of my Dad’s secondary tool shed, which sat on the edge of the property behind our house in Oceanside, next to the pet burial ground.  Among the objects were two boxes of Duz laundry detergent flakes, a Polynesian grass skirt, a few necklaces made of cowry shells, a bowling shirt, a book of Hoyle’s Rules for card games, and a shoebox containing a jumble of letters and old photographs.  I envisioned a gregarious family of card-playing bowlers in hula gear, returning after a night of carousing to a quiet California cottage appointed with a noisy hand-cranked washing machine and cribbage boards.

With time, my attention migrated in other directions, and most of the treasures and the rain barrel disappeared.  But I maintained a grip on the collection of letters and photos.  I sorted the letters by date.  I matched the pictures with the negatives.  Occasionally, I would read through a string of three or four of the letters from these people about whom I knew nothing.

The letters were all written to one Hubert L. Anderson, while he was serving in the United States Navy during World War Two.  The great majority of the letters were written by his wife, Beverly, who was living in Minneapolis at the time.  Occasionally, there was a letter from one of a handful of other family members, about whom I also knew very little.

The letters from Beverly are emotional and, at times, can be extremely intimate.  The couple had been married nearly two years when he left for this stretch of service in the War.  Over the course of the correspondence, which spans the dates March 23rd to June 14, 1943, there is a palpable sense of longing, loss, devotion, playfulness, ingenuity, and a growing sense of independence in this young woman.  Beverly is a wonderful letter-writer, and through her words we learn many things about her personally, and about what life was like on the home front during that war.

The bundle of letters and photos travelled with me when I left California for college, and when I moved to Alabama nine years later.  In the back of my mind, I thought that one day I might pull them all together in a more presentable way and share them, and that sense of historical discovery I’d had, with others.  Recently, with a little more time on my hands (and about 35 years after I originally found them), I pulled them out of the plastic file box which had become their home after the demise of the old cardboard shoebox.

Glancing through the letters, most of them V-Mail letters, I began noticing that the dates on which they were written corresponded to the current dates of 2008, exactly 65 years later.  I started transcribing the letters and decided to include them as daily posts on this weblog.  It felt like I was reading these letters with new eyes.  With vast amounts of information at my disposal via the internet, I began researching references within the letters.  For instance, Beverly describes attending a recital by Paul Robeson in her first April 4th letter, and I was able to find an online resource about Robeson and approximate that period in his career.  Beverly writes about buying a new portable electric sewing machine – now a representative model from that era can be viewed by linking through those words in her letter.

There are other things I could tell you about these people: that two of Hubert’s nicknames were Ande and Babe; that he was a medical doctor; that the couple spent time in 1942 at a seaside cottage in Mission Beach, California; that Ande wrote poetry.  But to tell you too much about the Andersons here would ruin the slow reveal of discovery that you can experience first-hand by reading the letters as they arrive on this site.

Bev & Ande in Mission Beach, 1942
Bev & Ande outside their Mission Beach apartment in 1942.

So, I hope you will join me in reading them as I revisit these letters, 65 years to the day after each one was written.  Please feel free to leave commentary on this page or after a letter that has particular interest for you.

Here is a list of the letters, in order by date, with embedded links to the page on this site where the text and annotations are displayed (this list is updated as letters are added):

The letter-writers:

  • Beverly “Bev” (Mrs. Hubert L.) Anderson, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Beverly at her So. Xerxes home
    Beverly in front of the home at So. Xerxes where she wrote her first V-Mail letter.

  • Judith E. Anderson (sister of Hubert L. Anderson), Staples, Minnesota
  • Ted E. Anderson (brother of Hubert L. Anderson), Lake Benton, Minnesota
  • Oliph M. Anderson (uncle of Hubert L. Anderson), St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Lester T. “Les” Anderson (possibly brother of Hubert L. Anderson), West Fargo, North Dakota
  • J.W. “Tex” Tidwell (friend), Brawley, California

The recipient:

  • Lt. (MC) Hubert L. Anderson, M.D., 4th Battalion, 12th Marines, H & S Battery
  • portrait of Lt. Hubert L. Anderson
    The Dayton picture

Here are some other posts on this site that are related to these letters:


13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Brentski // Apr 17, 2008 at 1:04 PM

    This is just magical, Fred.
    Bev’s letters are transportive, and have had me hooked from the first scanned piece…

  • 2 Vince // Apr 17, 2008 at 3:33 PM

    Hi Fred
    This is remarkable! Sadly I don’t have enough time to sit through and enjoy these all in one sitting, so I will come back (often). Perhaps reading one in bed each night before turning out the light will give me an even closer connection to Bev and Ande. It would be great if you could track Bev and Ande’s descendants down so we can learn about their later years. And I can’t wait to see the movie!
    I’ve already begun forwarding the link on to others to enjoy.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • 3 TommyT // Apr 18, 2008 at 8:03 AM

    You should mention to your readers the “soundtrack” that you created . I still enjoy listening to it and imagining what life was like during that era.

  • 4 spitballarmy // Apr 18, 2008 at 5:25 PM

    Brentski – Glad you’re enjoying them…there’s lots more to come.

    Vince – They’re better s t r e t c h e d out over time – as you’re reading them, that is. Thanks for sharing the link with others – that’s probably why traffic has been so ridiculously high the last two days!! By the way, I saw your company mentioned in the New York Times this morning…very nice!

    Hey, Tommy – Glad you like that music. Maybe it’ll make it into the film (Vince wants to see a movie!).

  • 5 Elisa M // Apr 18, 2008 at 9:58 PM

    This is effing cool. That is the most eloquent thing I can come up with to describe what I think about your project. I dig it.

  • 6 Hope // Apr 26, 2008 at 12:03 PM

    Discovered your website from reading about it in the B’ham News on Friday, April 25. I am in the process of printing the letters in order to read them leisurely. The few I have perused are fascinating. For you to have kept them all these years is a good thing. Hope

  • 7 Vince // Apr 28, 2008 at 5:24 PM

    finished. sure would be great if you had more. and i hope you’re trying to find the whereabouts of Bev and Hubert.
    thanks for sharing

  • 8 Pat Momenee // Apr 29, 2008 at 8:32 AM

    For a baby boomer who grew up listening to my parents’ old 78’s, these are majical…please send me music link so I can read & listen. In my head I can already hear Glenn Miller. Thanks for taking the time to share your creativity.

  • 9 spitballarmy // Apr 29, 2008 at 2:22 PM

    Elisa M – Thanks a whole effing lot!

    Hope – Thank you very much for your comments. And also thank you for obviously purchasing the local newspaper…purveyors of the written word need as much support as we can give them!

    Vince – Don’t get hasty, buddy. These letters continue through June 14th…keep your reading glasses on!

    Pat – I appreciate your kind words. There is no music link per se, but I may prepare a post or two with some relative music from this period before the letters end in mid-June. Glenn Miller was most definitely a big part of the popular music scene at this time. It seems that practically every popular musical artist had something topical to contribute during the War, from Fats Waller to Dinah Shore to Gene Autry. Stay tuned!

  • 10 Brian T. Murphy // May 8, 2008 at 8:56 AM

    I’ve been wondering where these letters were coming from. very cool.

  • 11 Cuz // May 29, 2008 at 9:30 PM

    Wow…I love it…thanks! xoxo M

  • 12 JohnF // Jul 4, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    Fred, these letters are remarkable, interesting to the point of being fascinating. Thanks for putting me on to them.

  • 13 Wendy // Jan 3, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    Fred, you’re awesome for doing this project! I have a post about this page that will be showing up on my site on Jan 11, 2009. (Just FYI.)

    Also, I’d like to pass on our Message in a Bottle Award to you. It’s awarded to people or groups who have made significant efforts to promote letter writing or have made change-for-good in the world through the act of letter writing. You can find more about the award and pick up your badge at: http://www.passionforletters.com/message-in-a-bottle-site-award/

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