Letter from U.S. Marine to Friend Back Home in New York
Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Feb. 19, 1952
It’s been so long since either of us has written that I decided to break the ice. I guess you know I was home over Christmas and are probably wondering why I didn’t come to see you. Well you see when I first got in Buffalo I was so anxious to get home that I didn’t waste much time getting a bus for Westfield. After I got home I got what you might call a slight nervous breakdown. I couldn’t keep still. I forgot things and couldn’t remember things. In short I was fairly well shaken up. I saw Parks and he & I had double dates a couple of nights. He went with Phil of course and I went with Nancy Wilson. We went to a movie in Mayville one night and I thought I’d never sit through it. The next night we went to a basketball game and I couldn’t sit through it. I kept going to the toilet (head) all the time to get away from it all. Afterwards Bob, Phillis S., Nancy & I went to Strattons house to dance. There I got disgusted and took Nancy home. Then I went home and got a pint of whiskey & got drunk. The next night Bob Parks said I had a date with Nancy. (We were supposed to double date again.) I didn’t even remember it and I was shaking something awful that night so I broke the date. I decided if I couldn’t even remember anything and I got the shakes that I’d better go to see Dr. Herb Laughlin. He gave me some stuff to take to calm down my nerves but it didn’t do any good. So the rest of my leave I just stayed home. I even left home a day early. When I got to Buffalo I was still feeling lousy so I went to the Recruiting station to see the Navy Doctor. I had another guy with me. (We came home together with 3 other guys. 5 in all) The Doc told that guy to stay with me all the way down here. When I got home I went to see another Doctor and he put me in the hospital for treatments. Now I’m back on duty and am well again. I’m telling you all this cause I didn’t want you to think I snubbed you.
I had a date with Sally and now I know she loves me. The only trouble is I almost fainted when I was with her, I was so bad, but she didn’t know it. I couldn’t go out with Sally too much cause she worked all the time it seems. I saw Bob Badley when I was home. We went out drinking a couple of nights. Everything was so dead when I was home. Really I was disgusted. There wasn’t anything to do and it was colder than hell. I’ll tell you one thing I’m not going home again till I get discharged. Even then if I can find someplace else to go I may not even go home. I hate Westfield so much I never want to hear about the place again.
Well how is school coming? Still in R.O.T.C.? Are you still going with Jenny or is that old meat? Say, by the way, I heard you went out with Sally a couple times last summer. I don’t mind especially but some people could give me the dope on it and not keep me in the dark.
I’ve got a 3 1/2 day pass this weekend and I’m going down to Florida to see Chuck Bohn and Mrs. Shelby Jones. Jones lives in St. Petersburg so I hope to see the Yankees work out. I may even get a few autographs.
Well Mac, I have to take a shower and shave etc. so I’ll close. Keep hoping you can write soon and let me in on the scoop on everything in General.
P.S. When I was home I tried to call you up twice but nobody was home I guess. I’m real sorry I couldn’t see you cause God only knows when I’ll see you again. Say hello to your folks for me.
Mac’s Reply to Bob (Never Finished, Never Posted)
March 28, 1952
The Christmas vacation was quite a holiday for misunderstanding. You see I was working at the Ford Stamping Plant during the holidays. I worked the weekend you were in town so I didn’t get a chance to get to Wfd. I came the next weekend & I heard you had left. I was down there over New Year’s weekend. I dated Donna Lawrence the night before New Years but she had to babysit New Year’s Eve. She’s a nice kid. I, of course, was disappointed in not seeing you but when I heard you were sick I understood what happened. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t have a good time in Wfd. but you must realize a couple of years change a place. I’ve noticed it myself. None of the old gang is around anymore. I guess we just have to readjust ourselves to changing times. I saw Parks over the weekend but not to speak to. I heard that Parks is in Japan now. I guess he’ll marry when he gets out.
As far as you feeling that there was nothing to do down in Wfd. I feel the same way when I go down but it’s not that there is nothing to do but I just like to think what I did when I used to live there. Remember the nights we used to sit in Welch Field and just sit & talk. There was nothing to do then–just play ball & talk. I think now I did better talking. Remember when we went over to Jamestown to try out for the Tigers.
I don’t think drinking will help you feel better. It may for a little while but it will wear off and then you’ll feel worse than before. I know I tried but it didn’t do me any good. I actually felt disgusted with myself so I can speak with experience. I think if you just go off by yourself and sit & think it out by yourself.
Find something stable a goal and stick to it. Occupy yourself with something. Just don’t let yourself start to feel sorry for yourself. You know a prayer here & there doesn’t hurt.
Now there is something I’ve been thinking about. I was thinking of coming down to Lejeune during the Easter vacation. I don’t know when I’ll come during the vacation or if I’ll be able to come for sure but I’ll try to make it. I’ll hitchhike down. If you are not going to be in Camp please drop me a line as soon as you can & let me know. I hope it warms up.
This letter, and its unposted reply, were in a lot of letters I purchased from a seller in Maine on eBay. One of the interesting things about the letters in this lot is that they all bear singe marks. Maybe someone meant to light them on fire, but decided at the last minute to save them from the flame.
From what I gather in reading the other letters, John McEvoy was a young man of maybe 20 to 25 years old at the time of the letters. The town of Westfield (“Wfd.” in the letters) is a village on Lake Erie. It looks to be a very small place, the kind of town it’s good to be from instead of live in. The nearest big city is Buffalo, NY, where Mac worked at the Ford Stamping Plant.
Bob’s confession to his friend is honest and raw. I wonder how common it was in that era to discuss one’s “nervous breakdown,” as Bob referred to it in his letter. What did one risk by disclosing this type of information about himself? Even today, most folks would rather not discuss their own mental health.
Any of us who moved from their hometown only to return after some type of meaningful, life-changing event (like enlisting in the Marines, for instance) will have the same kind of reaction Bob did–being “disgusted” by his hometown. Your perspective changes once you see what the rest of the world is like. You are exposed to new ideas and new ways to live. Your tastes in entertainment, music, literature, food, and fellowship change. The negative aspects of life in your hometown become magnified against your new life: you marry someone with whom you went to all 12 grades of school, you work at the same plant or hospital or school or store or bank your dad worked at, you join the same social and civic clubs that your parents belong to. You’re stuck in a world of the same two- or three- or four thousand people. (This would be especially apparent to a Yankee who moves to the South. I like to think Bob tried fried green tomatoes and sweet tea for the first time at Camp Lejeune and decided that the South was heaven on Earth.)
I wonder if Mac ever had an opportunity to speak in person with Bob and give him the heartfelt advice that he wrote in his reply, but never sent.