Lucky for me, nobody could find a wig today, so I just wore lipstick and almost nobody saw it. I got a look or two, but not nearly so much jeering as I got from the guys in the barracks as we left. I got a funny look from Petty Officer Henschel, but see if I care. It was her latrines that got me in this mess.
We came across a tavern with some good, rich beer and hearty stew late in the evening. It was surprisingly warm for a late winter night and they had so many candles it nearly looked like electric light. It was as though the crisis didn’t exist in there, people just drinking and having fun and all those pretty ladies watching us with coy smiles. Most of the guys tried hard to not smile back, seeing as they already have a girl back home or at least a girl they’d like to have. The Little Miss has a wife. Explains why he’s so spoiled, I guess.
The Lischke brother asked if I had a girl and I replied—Just Emilie. When I said who she was, he snorted and said sisters don’t count. Well, what makes her less important, that’s what I ask. He just shook his head and ordered another round of beers.
It has been one of those terribly cold nights and we forgot the restock the candles in our barracks. I’m writing on the last of the evening’s sunset light.
I got another letter from Emilie. She is well, and that makes me happy. She included some photos in the letter. I hadn’t even thought to take photos with me, but as I look at the pictures of my home town and my family, I wonder how I could have forgotten them.
Markus sends his best too. With his father ill and his mother needing help to look after the children, he cannot leave for Rostock and I don’t fault him for it. But in this bitter cold and growing darkness, I cannot help but envy him.
The order is made. We ship out in early May for the petroleum refinery in Corpus Christi, just off the Mexican Gulf. We’re joining a small fleet with the United Kingdom to take the oil and ship it back home. Our vessels are ready, but we are not. Once the minimum three-month training is complete, we will be thrown into active duty on the front lines where bullets and fire and the crouching force of the full American military await.
The twins are drinking the last of their homemade pigswill, cleverly hidden behind a loose section of the barracks walls. I think I will join them.
Seeing that it was Sunday and I hadn’t been to the chapel in nearly a month, I decided to go. It was a simple, basic service, but there was something oddly soothing about it all. It was so much like home, the closest thing to normal I’ve had in months. I mentioned it to Radnitz and he said I’m just homesick. All of us are, except maybe Henschel, who grew up here. I think it’s more than homesickness that brings me to the chapel, though.
The sermon nearly makes me forget for a while what’s coming. The third of May comes a little closer with each hour. I still cannot bear to send word back home about me leaving. What will my family think of it? Will anything I have done here matter if I end up dead with a bullet through me on the first day of the invasion?
During training, Petty Officer Henschel gave us all some information on the Corpus Christi invasion plan. She says we’ll be joining with an outfit from Mexico as well as the UK. Word is they’re struggling to secure the refinery alone and most of South America has its own troubles to attend, so no help comes from the southern countries. They aren’t helped by the unrest within their own borders, forcing them to divide their forces to keep their citizens safe even as their oil supply grows thin.
And so, Mexico has sent word across the sea for help. We’ll split the resources after we take the refinery and the surrounding oil fields. In return for our help in the invasion, Mexico will keep the area occupied and keep the trade open between them and Europe. In this troubled time, their willingness to share their resources with us has been a godsend, so it’s to the benefit of all that we band together to take the gulf.
At last, hope that the crisis will end.
I cannot tell anyone about the invasion. Radnitz saved me from a lot of trouble, it seems. He saw me writing to Emilie about how the crisis will end soon and took the letter from me and burned it over the candle.
I guess he’d just overheard of someone getting in trouble, accused of being a spy, for sending word to his family just as I meant to. I’m lucky he didn’t just let me get in trouble after how I reacted when he destroyed my letter. He’s still nursing a bloody nose as I write and my shoulder feels like it got caught in a vice.
Why haven’t I heard of this secrecy before? And anyway, don’t they realize nobody in Birkenhain would dream of telling the US about the invasion plans? Radnitz says just writing this stuff down at all could get me in trouble, but this journal and the letters from home are the only things that help me keep track of my thoughts. I’ll just have to be careful not to let any of my superiors see it.
My dreams are haunted by the sound of gunfire and the image of legions of faceless soldiers before me. In the dreams, I don’t even know who the enemy is. They simply are, and I’m alone with no weapons, surrounded by soldiers ready to open fire. They never do, though. Even though the sound of guns shatters through my ears and smoke fills the air, they aren’t firing at all. They just watch closely, staring at me forever until I wake up with a dull headache and a dry throat. What does it all mean?
Every day, my aim with a rifle gets better. Machine guns, those are another story, but Petty Officer Henschel says I might have the makings of a sniper if only I wasn’t so jumpy around the sound of gunfire. I can’t help it—nothing from home was ever this loud.
Unbelievable. The Little Miss doesn’t know how to swim—or so he says. He lost a bet with Radnitz and the loser had to skinny-dip in the bay at midnight, but when it came time for him to take the plunge, he swore he never learned how to stay afloat. We all think he’s trying to pull one over on us—if he couldn’t swim, why didn’t he say so before the bet? Radnitz said he’d let him off this time, but little does he know what we’ve put in his boots after he fell asleep.
Markus sent me a letter today with a newspaper clipping from home. It speaks of plans to rebuild the Autobahn’s broken sections. He asks me if I’ve learned to drive in the Navy, though of course I haven’t. If I were an infantryman, we might have learned to drive tanks.
I’m actually glad of it, to be honest. With the required lights-out still in effect, I want to waste as little as possible. At least we have a fresh stock of candles now.
Bauer set the record for our group in running drills today, just barely beating out the Lischke brother. Those two have been unspoken rivals since the first day. Between the two of them competing, the rest of us can barely keep up. Petty Officer Henschel keeps pushing the rest of us to work at their pace. I admit, she’s not just saying without doing. She could run the drills in her sleep, but with the intensity she puts out, I wonder if she competes with herself at everything. Radnitz and I joke when she’s not around that she keeps a clipboard in the latrine to track her ‘speed and consistency’. When the Lischke sister overheard, she showed us some tally marks she discovered last month hidden behind a tissue roll, but I think maybe she put those there herself just to mess with us.
I saw some kids playing hide and seek out near the shipyard today. Younger than Emilie, most of them. The guards were quick to shuffle them out before one of them could get hurt. They didn’t even seem fazed by it. If I were accosted by Navy guards at that age, I would have run home screaming. Don’t those kids realize what kind of trouble they could get in?
But then, all of them are younger than the crisis. Maybe this is normal life to them, this scarcity and tension and wartime. That thought disturbs me so much more than anything else.
– The author of the Journal paints a fairly clear picture of the standard of living in Europe in the months leading up to the War. The limited historical records we have of the time period confirm the author’s statements about European life, and as we shall see in future segments, the state of affairs in the US.