Somewhere in New Guinea
May 18, 1944
That certain day of a certain month which I mentioned in my last few letters is not the date that I landed overseas, but it is the day that I left the United States. All overseas service begins immediately upon leaving the shores of America. Has Daddy gotten his lower plate yet? You can use the money that I send home every month to pay for it if you want to. I don't have any use for it. I guess that Yvonne will be glad when school closes next month. The last letter and the only letter which I have received within two weeks from you was dated May first. The airplanes which usually fly the mail in are being at the present used for more important things, as are likewise the boats.
About three days ago, I and some of the boys "acquired" a jeep and drove about thirty miles up the New Guinea coast to a native village. [He uses “acquired” and “promoted” to mean borrowed or simply taken without authorization. This is similar to the use of the word “liberated” in the 1960s. - Ed.] I took several pictures with my camera. [See below. - Ed.] American soldiers are not usually allowed into these villages; but with the help of a few cigarettes, we got in. Wild pigs and a few chickens were running around loose. The huts had grass thatched roofs and bamboo poles for the main structure. We had to climb up and down almost vertical mountains with our vehicle and sometimes travel through swamps. At times where the roads along the coast were extra bad, we would turn off and drive along the beach with the ocean water just up to the hub caps. Sometimes the waves would splash in, but anyway the going was easier. The roads were extra dusty and in part were made up of logs laid side by side, corduroy or something I believe you call it. We passed several coconut groves and banana trees. Palm trees were plentiful. All of the way up and back, we never went faster than twenty miles per hour - roads too bad. At times when going downhill, we were practically in a standing position, lying flat on our backs in the seats with our feet braced against the dashboard. Our engine cut out at the bottom of one hill, and after a half of an hour in the hot sun, a truck finally came along and gave us a push. We later found out that the reason of the engine cutting out was due to the jeep being at such a steep angle in coming down that particular mountain (500 feet almost straight up), that the gasoline had stopped flowing to the carburetor. A liquid won't flow uphill, you know, and the fuel pump wasn't built to do that kind of work. We got back at about dark that night and consequently missed supper. But I guess it was worth the experience.
Yesterday, some other boys and myself "acquired" a rubber life raft (like the one that Rickenbacker was afloat on and about which he wrote a book). We rowed out about two miles off shore. One of the boys had with him a homemade "water glass." This water glass (not for drinking out of) is about twelve inches high and is shaped like a four-sided pyramid. The top is cut off and this is the eyepiece through which you look. The base of the pyramid is a piece of glass plate, transparent, and the sides are of wood. By holding this "water glass" with the transparent glass bottom just below the water surface and looking through the aperture at the top, it is possible to see down to about twenty-five to thirty feet down into the ocean, depending on the clearness of the water. We made use of it in our little voyage. Some of the coral was very pretty and queer looking. I saw some tropical fish about twelve to fifteen inches in length. The tails were very thin and their bellies were either yellow, green, purple, orange, or blue in color. Some of the shells in toward shore were odd looking too. Out of one snail shell which we picked up (at least it looked like a snail's shell), some marine animal of some sort would at intervals stick out two long yellow tentacles. Upon closer inspection, we found that on the end of each of these two feelers, or whatever you want to call them, were two small brown eyes about the size of pinheads. We didn't waste any time in throwing it back into the water. Three other pretty shells that we had picked out of the shallow water and placed on the beach, just sprouted feet and walked back into the water again. It was plenty queer watching it. Just as soon as I finish my motorboat, I and the boys are going deep sea fishing. I have two life preservers, so nothing to worry about.
In regards to rubber rafts, several days ago, two boys decided that it would be a lot of fun to "shoot the rapids" in one. As there was a swift turbulent mountain stream (or a river after a heavy rain - and at this time, it was just after such a rainstorm) nearby, it wasn't long before their plan for passing away their leisure time was put into effect. Down they went, round and round, tipping, now up on one side and then the other, as they hit rock and boulder, each threatening to rip the rubber bottom out as they swiftly rode toward the ocean into which the river emptied. As things were then, they would have been lucky to have made it safely as they had planned. But an unforeseen event was in store for them. Rounding a sharp bend (I was not an eyewitness) they got caught in a whirlpool. They tried desperately to row away, but all in vain. Still the rubber raft circled around and around, at each turn approaching the very center of the thing. Well, the raft eventually, needless to say, reached the center of the swirling water. Well, the raft didn't go down; but the whirlpool sucked the bottom completely out. The boys somehow escaped with only cuts and bruises; but now, two days later, one is still limping. All of the other boys are now real mad. After all, a raft and two good oars were lost in the little incident.
A little bit more about the trip to the native village: The road at times passed to within a few feet of almost vertical cliffs, about three hundred feet down to the bottom. It was kind of scary, especially at one time when the engine cut out and we started drifting backwards. But we had an emergency brake, even if the foot brake didn't work, and so we made out O.K. At one time, we heard a lot of shooting. As we didn't have our rifles with us, we were kind of scared. It wasn't exactly impossible for Japs to be there, you see. But we were relieved to find out that it was a firing range, which we presently came upon after arriving at the crest of the next mountain. Well, that's about all for just now. No, no packages yet.