Seventy-two manuscripts, 3 August-14 December 1945, World War II letters written by Marine private Donald L. Poinessa from Parris Island to his wife, Jo, in Lancaster, N.Y., speak pointedly to the frustrations married couples sometimes face during times of war when separated by long distances. While Poinessa’s letters also address more mundane issues, such as the sweltering Beaufort County heat, the haircuts he and fellow recruits got every two weeks, and his hope that he would not be deployed to Japan or Manchuria as part of an army of occupation, many others voice his frustration and anger over his wife’s movements that he did not understand as well as his jealousy over the thoughts of her seeing former boyfriends or male friends of his.
Shortly after he arrived at boot camp, Poinessa assured Jo that he and his fellow recruits would be granted no liberty or leave while in basic training—“So you can see that I will be very true to you” (5 August 1945). He was quickly assigned extra duties as both a squad and hut leader, which, he explained, meant that he would have to “behave or I’ll lose both the jobs” (6 August 1945). While these responsibilities, he joked, “are making me turn grey,” Poinessa confessed that his fellow soldiers were “ a swell bunch of fellows”—“They have to scrub the hut so I supervise of course. If they don’t want to do it I go to the sarge and he has methods of persuading them. The second day I was here I see a guy running from the water faucet to a hut. I was wondering what he was doing. I was later told he did something and he had to fill a bucket with a teaspoon” (11 August 1945).
For Poinessa, Japan’s capitulation was an occasion for both celebration and reflection. The war was ending, yet he was just entering military service. “I suppose every body was rock eyed drunk last night,” he wrote at the time of the surrender. “For some boys the war ended a long time ago. They found peace, some it just ended for others won’t forget it. Me I don’t know when the end will come. I only hope it is real soon. I suppose most of the rationing will be ending. That should make lot of people happy. The poor civilians what they had to go through” (15 August 1945).
At Parris Island, however, the training regimen went on without interruption. “You know what Walter Winchell says,” Poinessa quipped, “‘If your son is over seas send a letter, If he is at Parris Island say a prayer.’ There is a lot of truth to it also” (17 August 1945). By late August the recruits were out in the field at the rifle range, and Poinessa jokingly responded to Jo’s questions about the training—“When & If I go to hell and I tell the devil I was at Parris Island I know he will send me to heaven because I have seen enough hell” (26 August 1945). Poinessa weathered the storm, however, scoring 240 points out of a possible 275 with the carbine and making sharpshooter.
Life for young Marines in training was not without its moments of adventure though. Braving hords of mosquitoes and risking punishment if caught, Poinessa and friends indulged in black market ice cream—“We ate it down by the creek and the mosquetoes ate us up. We hid behind some bushes so we wouldn’t get caught” (12 September 1945). The mosquitoes were a particular problem at the rifle range campsite. “Right now we have a old oil rag burning in our tent to keep the skitoes out,” Poinessa reported. “I never seen such big ones in all my life and thats no lie. Last night I felt some thing roll me over. I woke & theres two skitoes looking at my dog tag to see what type blood I had. Boy will I be glad to get the hell out of these swamps....We just have a few more day[s] at the range. Back at the main base they aren’t so bad. But there we have bed bugs & cock ro[a]ches to contend with.” (19 September 1945).
Their rifle range training completed, Poinessa’s unit was assigned to mess hall duty. Letters dating from early October indicate that basic training was complete and that Poinessa was waiting to learn when he was to leave and where he was to go. The boredom of waiting around with nothing to do, the letters indicate, led to problems for some soldiers—“This morning some of the boys got caught gambling. No I wasn’t one of them but we all suffered for it. First they took our emblems away from us. That didn’t mean much but then they drilled us in the sand. Boy did that tire me out” (13 October 1945). Donald Poinessa’s final letter from Parris Island is dated 20 October 1945, and there are no more letters except two written in December 1945 from Quantico, Va.