Sept 16, 1943 – Star Spangled Banner & “How much do you weigh, Mom?”

“It gives a guy a funny feeling inside him, when the Band is playing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and the Flag slowly is lowered on the sinking sunshine on the Stars and Stripes. It makes him forget his grudges against the Army, for the time being.”

This is from the 41st letter our young uncle P.f.c. Lester LaVerne Zornes wrote home during his one year and one week of service in WWII. Is he being patriotic? Or poking a friendly elbow into the side of the military? Or maybe a little of both? You decide.

I can’t imagine jabbing at my parents over their weight the way he does in this and other letters. Actually, this was just one volley in a teasing game they played back and forth over the months.

He was learning Morse Code in the Radio Operations and Mechanics program at Sioux Falls. He would go on to serve as Radio Operator on board C-47 # 43-15143 with the 306th Troop Carrier Squadron.

I spent more than 25 years learning everything I could about the life and death of this young man, who passed away 16 years and six days before I was born. This letter, along with 66 other letters, one post card and the one Government Issued Mother’s Day card that he mailed home during his one year and one week of service, have really helped our family. Not only did we get to know and, in some cases, remember him, we were also able — 70 years after his death — to celebrate his life, and honor his service and sacrifice, and the sacrifice of those who loved and lost him.

Our book, “Not Forgotten: A Pacific Northwest Family Brings Their Soldier Home,” which includes the story of my adventures getting to know my uncle, along with the text of all of his letters home, is available now through our website (No. not Amazon)

[Envelope postmarked Sept 16, 1943 6:30 PM; Sioux Falls, S.D.]

P.f.c. L.L. Zornes
804 T.S.S Bks. 1235
Army Technical School
A. A. F. T. T. C.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Mrs. L.O. Zornes
R.F.D. # 1
Spokane, Washington

Dear Mom, Dad and kids,

Just a line for now as still no news or nothing of interest from these here parts. Received your letter today. Also one from Jim [neighbor] and Harold [buddy].

You know, Mom, strange as it seems, the time seems to fly by. It seems as though the days just drag by, but when I look back a month or two, I can’t imagine where the time has gone to. It’s hard to realize I’ve only got a few more weeks till graduation (unless I ‘wash back’, which can happen, though I’m not worried about it.) This is my 15th week of school. I have 5 more weeks to go before I graduate for good, but this is my last week of Theory. The next couple weeks we have maintenance of Radio Sets and etc. In my second week of maintenance I get the “Quiz Kids”, then I’ll know if I ‘wash back” or not. Although, I’m not worried (not much anyway). I’m still working on 20 words per [minute] in code. In code class we are getting Tach. Pro (Tactical Procedures).

So we have only about 20 minutes a day to work on code. Oh, yes, we also take code by “blinkers” (lights).

Say, Mom, I was just thinking about the insurance on the Cadillac. Is a payment due yet on it? As long as we have it we may just as well keep it up, huh?

Well, my watch tells its time for lights to be out, so will finish this in the morn before school or tomorrow night.

Friday P.M.

Here I am again. Well, I missed my 20 word per minute check by 1 character. We are allowed 7 errors and I had 8.

We had a big Retreat Parade today for a 2 star General. It was rather nice. It was awful hot standing out there at attention while the Flag was coming down and the Band playing “Star Spangled Banner”. (It gives a guy a funny feeling inside him, when the Band is playing “Star Spangled Banner”, and the Flag slowly is lowered on the sinking sunshine on the Stars and Stripes. It makes him forget his grudges against the Army, for the time being.)

I’ve been going over to the shows at one of our Post Theaters quite often lately. 15¢ for a full length show is cheap entertainment. We get the Modern or new films out here at camp. Then the big expensive theaters in town get them. Good Deal, huh? I’ve seen “Sahara” with Humphrey Bogart, and “Claudia” (that was a real good show) and “My Kingdom for a Cook” starring Charley Colburn, and oodles of others. When I go to a show, it takes up all my spare time for the day. So if I have anything to do, I can’t go to a show.

How’s the old Cad? Does the fog lights still work? Good gosh, we’ll have to put ‘over-load’ springs on it to carry Dad around if he keep gaining more weight. (How much do you weigh?) I weigh 159 lbs now. Gosh, my waist line is awful. Can Dad still wiggle into his suit? Are you guys fixing the Cad up for winter? Have you made any more plans about selling the Buick?

(Gary Moore is just now on over the radio, with Jimmy Durante) I’ll send some money home soon.

Tell Rich [brother] to take good care of the Ford for me. Got to keep it in good shape, you know. How is the gas situation now since the last gas cut? Does it still allow you plenty of gas? I hope you don’t have to ‘diet’ the Cad.

Well, Mom, I’d better sign off for now. Write soon and next time I write I’ll tell you about passing my 20 wpm check (I hope).

Bye for now.
Oodles of Love to every one,
P.f.c. (Radio-operator and mechanic and future gunnery and ex-foreman and hill billy and mechanic and ‘Cad’ skinner and Ford herder – whew) Les

P.S. Am looking forward for them pictures.

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July 14, 1943, Sioux Falls, SD — Aviation Cadet School sales talk

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.

Scroll down to see the original images of this letter

[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)
Bks. 1212
Army Technical School
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Mrs. L.O. Zornes
R.F.D. # 1
Spokane, Washington

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.f.c. Les.

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?

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