In early May 1943, our uncle Private Lester LaVerne Zornes mailed home to Spokane this beautiful (apparently government-issue) Mother’s Day Card. He was going through basic training at Sheppard Field near Wichita Falls, Texas. The card revealed one mystery to which we have no certain answer: Up until he went into the service, he always went by “Verne.” He signed “Les” to more than 100 letters he sent home while in the Amy Air Force. But, why did he sign this one card to his mother “Private Lester (Verne) Zornes”?
The following letter is included in the book “Not Forgotten: A Pacific Northwest Family Brings Their Soldier Home“.
Our uncle Pfc Lester L. Zornes mailed it home on July 14, 1943. He was in the U.S. Army Air Forces for four months and in Radio Operations and Mechanics School for about three weeks. In this letter, he tries to sell his parents on his plan to join Aviation Cadet school to become a pilot.
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[Postmarked July 14, 1943, 1:30 p.m.; Sioux Falls, S. Dak.; Postage free; letter not dated]
P.f.c. L.L. Zornes
804 TSS (Technical School Squadron)
Army Technical School
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Mrs. L.O. Zornes
R.F.D. # 1
Dear Mom, Dad and kids,
Well here it is. My day off and no pass to go to town. Next week, I hope the barracks pass inspection and we’ll all get our passes again.
Saturday was pay day, and immediately this barracks was one big gambling joint. Craps, poker, Blackjack, and everything that pertained to gambling. Some of the boys played craps at a dollar a throw. Some of the boys don’t like that I won’t even play for 5¢ a hand Blackjack. Some of the boys were ‘out’ about $20 in one night. A few boys came in drunk. Everybody is getting broke now, so it’s quieting down a little.
Here comes the mailman with the mail. Hope I get one. “Zornes”. “Right here”, and I got a letter. Ahah! Just guess where (Spokane) and who it’s from (Mrs. L.O. Zornes). Just a shake while I read it.
You know, I’ve got that same feeling, too, that South Dakota isn’t very far from home, just on the east side of Montana, but it is a long way.
Yep, we get lots of rain, too, in fact it’s raining now, or trying to. But the last few days has been very hot.
Gosh, would I love to see the garden. Doggone. I’d love to eat a good vegetable dinner right now. Once in a while we get some lettuce, onions or radishes, but they are usually wilted and old.
Say, Dad, do you still like your job? Do you still have your passengers? If you do, how do they like the Cadillac? (I’m always thing about the “Cad”, all the time. I just can’t help it, I guess).
Did you guys go bowling Sat. night? I hope so. If you did, tell me about it.
I’ve got my stripes sewed on almost all my clothes now. I wish you pin some “bars” on my shoulders instead of stripes on my sleeves, which reminds me, Mom. I have been thinking rather serious about trying out for “Cadets”. “Aviation Cadets”! That is one of the toughest “fights” in the army, to make Cadets and graduate. That also is one reason I’d like to try out for it. Only about 10 % or less have been making the ‘grade’ out of all the ones that tried. I’d like to challenge myself. It’s a long hard, tiring grind. Fifteen long months of it. If I’d put in my application for Cadets in a month or two, I’d be called about the time I graduate from here (I’m taking 8 words per minute in code). I’d have to take my physical over again, because as they say, the Aviation Cadets are carefully picked and examined, and are the “Cream of the Crop”. It would be an honor to just be picked for Cadet Training.
Here’s what would happen to me if I could go straight through. I would appear before Aviation Cadet Board and interviewed. Then sent to, possibly, Sheppard Field, to be shipped to College from there. Five months college then to Primary training, then Basic. Graduate from basic as a “Flight Officer” or 3rd Lt., and then to Advanced Training. By that time, 15 months have gone by, and the war would possible be over. I’d have my ‘silver wings’ and gold, and maybe ‘silver’ bars.
From the “washed out” Cadets I’ve talked to they’ve all told me to try it. I’ll quote some of them, Quote: “From the time you start College you are treated like a man instead of a soldier. You are ‘mister’ and ‘sir’, instead of ‘Hey soldier’ or ‘Hey you, yes I mean you, you ignoran.”
“The uniforms are the same as worn by officers and soldiers respect you very highly, and some times salute you”.
“That $75 a month comes in mighty handy.”
“Oh, there is no life in the Army compared to it. Hotel rooms with 4 in a room, restaurant meals, expensive silverware. Lots of free time, with no passes required.”
“It’s tough. Very tough. They’ll ‘gig’ you for the slightest little thing, shave once a day, a clean suit of clothes a day, etc. But I’d go through it again if my eyes would let me.”
One of my classmates here served 9 months in Cadets during the old 9 to 12 month Cadet course. Seven weeks before he was to have received his commission, he was “washed out” because of a slight defect in his eyes. He’s told me time and time again that the most foolish thing for me to do is to stick it out here when I could be going to Cadets. He says I’d kick myself for not going as soon as possible. The two main reasons for “wash outs” is Horseplay, which will not be tolerated, and physical defects, which wouldn’t hold me back, I don’t think. Even the slightest detection of nerves be jittery or anything like that will “wash you out”. He says if a man goes in there determined and with everything he’s got, he can usually make it. He says also that it is very tough, tougher than can be told, but he says you don’t mind it, because you’re working for something, getting ahead.
Well I’d better quit this sales talk, but I’d like to have your advice on it. I’ve painted the sunny side of it, but you can get some idea of what it’s like. I’d sure like to fly and wear my silver wing and bars. It’s something to fight for, huh?
Well, say, I’d better close for now as it’s getting pretty late. Write soon.
With Love to all.
Your loving son
P.S. Will send some money home as soon as I can get to a post office where I can get a money order. Okay?