Machine Records Units in the War

Researching the 39th Machine Records Unit has been a somewhat frustrating task as there is not much information to be found. On top of this, my grandfather’s letters don’t say much of what they were doing in Europe.  All he ever told us was that they logged soldiers’ deaths.

I read a book yesterday called General Patton’s Punch Cards (I highly recommend this book if you’d like to know more about M.R.U.s. It’s a very short read, yet incredibly informative) and was relieved to find that the author of the book had experienced the same frustration. It turns out that everything about Machine Records Units was top secret.

In Province’s own words: “The soldiers were told not to report, write in their letters home, or take pictures of the trucks, machines, or anything having to do with the operation of the units. By the time the top secret clearances were lifted—decades later—most of the historical material had been either destroyed or lost.” (33)

It wasn’t that my grandfather didn’t want to talk about his time in the war. He couldn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if he died without ever knowing the top secret clearances had been lifted. Just before I left Texas I found an envelope with photo negatives from my grandfather’s time in Normandy and Germany. I wonder what we will find once they are developed. Stay tuned…

The Beginning…

I don’t know what triggered the memory. I was visiting my parents’ house in Texas, wallowing in a heap of self-pity and pining for my children who were on the beaches of South Carolina with their father, hunting for seashells, giggling as the waves tickled their toes.

Everywhere I turned I was reminded of my three (I have a boy and two girls). I’d see a picture of M (my youngest daughter) as a toddler-pigtails and smocked dress, her dark brown eyes round with innocence-or pass my son’s favorite hamburger joint on the way to the bookstore he loved to visit and then I’d collapse into tears.  Even the song of the mourning doves perched up in the oak trees outside my parents’ home sent me longing for L (my middle daughter) who had just discovered before I left that they were mourning doves and not morning doves. “It’s because they sound like they’re crying!” she squealed, delighted with herself for having solved one of the world’s great mysteries. Each time I stepped outside I’d hear the mourning doves and tear up.

I went to sleep that night with the words of one of my favorite authors, Dorothy L. Sayers, pulsing through my mind. “A human being must have occupation if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.” I knew that something needed to change if I was not to become a nuisance to the world.  I needed occupation-something to take my mind off of my divorce and my grief and missing my children.  I needed something to get lost in.

The next morning I was in the living room, sipping coffee, when the memory popped into my mind.  I must have seen a picture or heard something that awakened it, but for the life of me I don’t know what it was. I remembered as a young girl crawling into my grandparents’ closet and discovering a box of letters and other memorabilia. I couldn’t remember what the letters were or anything I’d found that day, I just remembered spending an entire rainy afternoon, hidden away, perusing the treasure and fantasizing about what life must have been like back then, what my grandparents were like back then.

I mentioned the memory to my father and then said apathetically, as though it was only a pipe dream, “I wish we still had that box.”

“I have the box.” he said matter-of-factly, and before I knew it he handed me the old box with its tattered letters-dozens and dozens of letters from my grandfather to my grandmother during the Second World War.  Letters from Normandy, Luxembourg, Nuremberg. Letters of love and of hope.  Letters to get lost in.

It didn’t take me long to realize how very little I knew about my grandparents or The Second World War or the daily lives of civilians during that time.  I feel as though I’ve landed in a different world, it’s all so foreign to the life I live, and I want to understand and recreate as much of that world as I can.

I’ll post the letters here along with anything else I discover (I’ve already been collecting books and magazines referenced in some of the letters) for those who’d like to follow along. I hope you will.