John K. Miller Papers, 1942-1943
| Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Front Page 2009 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2009
One hundred twenty manuscripts, 18 November 1942Ė17 July 1943, World War II letters of Dr. John K. Miller, a major attached to the Thirty-third General Hospital, Fort Jackson (Columbia, S.C.) were sent to his wife, Lenore M. Sportsman-Miller, in Albany, New York, and reflect not only his daily activities but also the frustrations he experienced living apart from his spouse of only a few years.| Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
The earliest of the letters indicates that Dr. Miller had only recently arrived at Fort Jackson, apparently after having stayed for an unspecified time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The newcomer describes Columbia, S.C., as a "very lovely Southern town" with a "very large business section" and good "eating places." Yet before the run of letters concludes, Miller was eagerly awaiting transfer. The correspondence yields no clue as to the medical personnelís final destination, however, apart from the suggestion that the summertime weather in South Carolina would prove useful in acclimatizing them for work in the tropics.
Professing his eternal love for Lenore, a registered nurse who was pursuing medical school studies, in each of his letters, Dr. Miller confided on 24 January 1943 - "Sometimes I have to put your picture away for your loveliness not only blinds me but drives me almost insane." Again on 14 March 1943, he wrote that "the very thought of your sweetness and loveliness makes me dizzy and I am so proud of my brilliant medical student who is withal the most beautiful and femininely attractive girl Iíve ever known."
Millerís letters capture a different vision of military life at Fort Jackson than that typically conveyed in the correspondence of enlisted men undergoing basic training there. Rather, they picture relative freedom in moving between military camp and town, with frequent references to parties, steak dinners, and interaction with members of the opposite sex. They also provide a snapshot of an abundant variety of entertainment available around the town. On 3 February 1943 he wrote of having been to hear "the American Symphony Orchestra of about 30 pieces directed by a Hungarian who conducts the St. Louis Opera Co. - they were excellent," the letter notes, and the concert had featured "songs by a...mezzo-soprano from the Met[ropolitan Opera]."
Two days later Dr. Miller and fellow officers took in a Town Theatre production of The Philadelphia Story in which a dentist with the Thirty-third General Hospital had a leading role. Later on that month, 27 February 1943, he wrote of having attended "a U.S.O. show of very good Negro vaudeville." Among other amusement opportunities of the time were local appearances by magician and illusionist Harry Blackstone (1885-1965) and comedian and motion picture star Bob Hope (1903-2003) - Miller opted not to attend the 1 June broadcast, claiming that he would rather listen to the show over the radio - as well as a 20 March 1943 "stage production of The Women by Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce - it was quite risque, sharp and caustic and deprecating to both sex[es]." Whoever wrote the dialogue, he suggested, must have "walked the streets."
Most of Millerís duty hours seem to have been spent in the hospital lab. In particular, he saw lots of cases of venereal disease and some mononucleosis. His 28 February 1943 letter notes, with some reluctance, that he was "developing character (thoí I really canít say I care about doing it)" and goes on to say that "the Army certainly teaches you patience, calm, equanimity and adaptability - all very honorable traits if you like them - I donít." He and others longed to know where they might end up and whether they would see action in field hospitals closer to the war front. The longer they waited, he wrote on 2 March 1943, the lower the menís morale sank - "There are frequent brawls among the enlisted men and sharp words among the officers are more frequent."
Dr. Millerís own patience was stretched to the breaking point when he was confronted by periodic challenges while trying to maintain contact with his wife, which he did regularly and often both by mail and telephone. On 13 March 1943 he told of the difficulty he had experienced in placing long-distance calls to Lenore, a problem only exacerbated in his mind by his interaction with Southern telephone operators. "Down here," he snapped, "they are so damned stupid - in fact the stinking southerners have made stupidity a grace."
The letters contain little bearing on military training; however, that of 13 April 1943 refers to a practice evacuation of wounded from the field that featured a live gas attack, and a lengthy undated letter, the cover to which bears a 29 May 1943 postmark, gives details of training exercises on machine gun infiltration. Filed with the letters of John K. Miller are two responses from Lenore Sportsman-Miller, both dating from June 1943.