On the Art of Ironing


A charcoal-powered iron.

Dated Oct. 13, 1944; postmarked Oct. 17, 1944.

Dear Folks,

I am well, happy, and safe and I hope you all are the same.

I received a couple of packages the other day in which were contained a few boxes of cookies and jam and candy. I am still awaiting the birthday package you sent. I imagine it will be quite awhile before it arrives on account of the Christmas rush.

I also received a nice long letter from Dad and in it was Joe Acquista’s address. If I had known he was there, I think I would have seen him long ago. His outfit was bivouacked next to us a few times.

If my typewriter gets home at all it should be pretty soon because one of the fellows here sent home an accordion just before I sent the ‘writer and it arrived in Colorado about a month ago.

One of the Italians here is washing our clothes and I could write an essay on the art of ironing. The way they heat the iron is put hot charcoal in it. The iron is about 7 inches high and the bottom opens on a hinge. The charcoal is placed in the iron and the lid is closed. Then they start ironing and when the charcoal runs out, they refill. It is quite a contraption, but it works.

What this I hear about Vince transferring to another branch of the Navy? Why does he want to do a think like that?

I wanted that spaghetti you sent raw, with the tomato paste in cans. Every once in a while we feel like having a spaghetti dinner, which is why I asked for some.

That’s about all for now, so I’ll sign off. Lots of love & kisses to all.


PDF: On the Art of Ironing

A Sad End, But Perhaps Closure?

Luca Conte, circa 1945.

Luca Conte, circa 1945.

I may know a little more about the circumstances of Babe’s death.

Nearly 19 years ago, I first wrote about Babe. I wrote then that I knew the cause of Babe’s death. I knew it from a handful of official documents recovered from my grandmother’s collection, and from the few additional documents I could get from the federal government.

As I said then, the cause of his death is very different from the circumstances of his death. His vehicle went into a canal. He drowned. Those two facts are corroborated in two separate documents. One of those documents noted that the death was “non-combat.” But how it happened has eluded me.

On the afternoon of Jan. 25, I received a Facebook chat message from a woman named Pia Conte. Babe had grown up with a man named Luca Conte in their hometown of Mount Kisco, N.Y., and likely sailed to Europe on the same ship with him. About two years ago, I emailed the only Contes I knew in Mount Kisco: The owners of Conte’s fish market, where my family used to visit when I was kid.

One thing led to another and I was soon connected with Pia and her line of the Conte family. Pia’s father Luca was the brother of Benjamin, who started the fish market. I also corresponded with one of Pia’s brothers, also named Luca, who shared a great deal of information about their father’s time in the service. Eventually, our correspondence tailed off. Until Jan. 25.

“Hi, Kurt. My brother told me something about your uncle I did not know. It’s rather sad. Do you want to hear it?” Pia wrote in her Facebook chat. I did, of course. This news came from another one of Pia’s seven siblings, John Conte. It took several weeks, but we finally got a chance to speak on the phone on Feb. 28.

John recalled a conversation with his father Luca in the early 1990s, while he was visiting Mount Kisco to see his parents. For whatever reason, they had been talking about his father’s service in Italy in World War II. At some point, John said, they talked a bit about the Mauros, who had been close friends of the family. Luca mentioned that my grandmother, Florence, had lost a son in the war.

John asked about it. He had known my Uncle Bob, Babe’s younger brother. He knew Babe had a brother named Vince, and a baby sister (my mother). But John never knew about the son my grandmother lost at the end of World War II.

“What he said was the war had just ended and Babe was very jubilant,” John told me. “Somehow or other, he took a jeep out and they were taking something of a joy ride, celebrating. They lost control…”

“It’s a tragic story when you think he survived everything else,” John said.

And that was it.

It certainly could have happened that way. The Germans surrendered in Italy on April 29, 1945, at the Palace of Caserta. On May 2, the surrender officially went into effect. For Babe, for Luca, and for the rest of the Fifth Army, the war was over. There would have been reason to celebrate.

John, who lives now in Hellertown, Pa., and works for the insurance industry in New York City, said it was an off-hand, five-minute aside in a longer conversation from many years ago. I asked whether there was any more to it. John didn’t know how his father had come across the information; Luca and Babe were not stationed together. Luca died 10 days after 9/11.

Was Babe drunk? “He didn’t mention being drunk or anything,” John said. “He mentioned it as ‘jubilation.’”

That is the “rather sad” information surrounding the death of my Uncle Babe on May 4, 1945, four days before V-E Day. It may be the best information I’ll ever get on the subject. And yes, I wanted to hear it.

‘Next Time You Send a Package, Put Chicken Noodle Soup in It’

I don't have any idea what the typewriter Babe mailed looked like. This is just an illustration!

I don’t have any idea what the typewriter Babe mailed looked like. This is just an illustration!

This letter is undated; it is postmarked Sept. 6, 1944. Given the content, which mentions not having received any packages, it’s very likely this letter was written before the one that I last transcribed.

Dear Folks,

I am well, happy and safe and I hope you all are the same.

I’ve sent the typewriter on its merry way and to tell you the truth, I don’t think it will ever reach you. Someone along the way will think they want it more than I do.

It seems strange for me to be writing this letter out because I have become so unused to writing. My hand is tired already and you can see what little I’ve written.

I haven’t received any more packages yet, but I’m expecting them any day now. Next time you send a package, put some chicken noodle soup in it.

Love & Kisses,


PDF: ‘Next Time You Send a Package, Put Chicken Noodle Soup in It’

Attempting to Identify Babe’s Location from the Clues in His Letters

Babe latest letters help indicate he had recently been in this area.

Babe latest letters help indicate he had recently been in this area.

The last three 1944 letters I’ve transcribed from Babe have relatively large gaps between them — July 22, Aug. 6 and Aug. 31 — and they seem to give a little hint about where he might be. Clearly, based on the Aug. 6 letter, he’s close to the Mediterranean Sea, since he goes on at some length about the beauty of the water and the day he would spend swimming in it.

That makes sense, from what I think I’ve been able to understand from the literature.

I’m still struggling to understand what I’m reading about troop movements in various military campaigns during World War II. I’m probably making it harder than it should be. But I can’t get my head around a simple arrow a map that shows where something as gigantic as the Fifth Army — with potentially 50,000 men and their materiel — moved between one date and the next.

That said, a summary of  what is now called the “Rome-Arno Campaign” published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History outlines the strategies and movements during that campaign between Jan. 22 and Sept. 9, 1944.

During the period of this latest round of letters, on July 1, the publication notes that town of Cecina fell to 34th Infantry Division, Babe’s unit, as it was marching with the Fifth Army northward up the Italian boot. Cecina is a western coastal village about 33 miles north of Follonica — also on the western coastline.

I mention Follonica because the “Numerical Listing of APO’s (Army Post Offices)” that I talked about here indicates that the 34th established its APO at Follonica on Aug. 1, 1944 — which must mean it lagged about a month behind the forward units of the division that took that territory in Italy.

In any case, it seems to suggest that during July, Babe’s unit was well entrenched along the western coastline of Italy. The Rome-Arno publication goes on to say “the 34th and 88th Infantry Divisions and the U.S. Japanese-American 442d Regimental Combat Team (helped) capture the port of Leghorn on 19 July before reaching the banks of the Arno with the rest of the Fifth Army on 23 July.”

“Leghorn” was the English-language translation for Livorno, another western coastal city 25 miles north of Cecina. The Arno River is perhaps another 15 or 20 miles north of Livorno.

All that, of course, came scant weeks after the June 4, 1944, capturing of Rome, the first Axis capital city to fall to the allies. The Rome-Arno campaign literature notes that “elements of the 1st Special Service Force, 1st Armored Division, and the 3d, 34th, 36th, 85th, and 88th Infantry Divisions” took the city that day.

I wonder, of course, whether Babe was among those “elements” to be involved in the capture of Rome. Just two days later, the Allies unleashed the Normandy “D-Day” Invasion.

‘Send Cigarettes in Your Next Package and Each Christmas’


I saw the picture “Cover Girl” the other night, and I thought it was pretty good.

Dear Folks,

I am well, happy, and safe and I hope you all are the same.

I received three packages today and a letter which fully compensates for the little relapse I didn’t enjoy for the past few days. The packages contained the candy, all kinds of cookies and olives and jam. You don’t have to send any more peanut butter because it doesn’t agree with the hot weather.

You tell me that Aunt Mary says I owe her a letter, but I sent her one quite a while ago. I guess she hasn’t received it yet.

So Gene has a slight case of the whooping cough, eh? I don’t remember when such a catastrophe overtook me, but if you say it happened, I guess it did.

You asked if there was anything special I would request for the coming Christmas rush. Well, do you remember that pen and pencil set you sent me last year? It just wasn’t built to take a beating, I guess, because it is in bad shape right now. I lost the top of the pencil coming across from the States to Africa, found the same top the next day, lost it again the next day, bought another whole pencil the next day, the top of the second pencil wouldn’t fit the first, and today both pencils are broke. The pen fared a little better — it still writes, although it is a little scratchy yet. And send me a “substantial” amount of razor blades, all Gillette. Do not accept a substitute. Also, send me some Conti Shampoo, a metal soap dish, and some other things that I want to be a surprise — besides foodstuffs.

I think that I owe Vince a letter besides a number of other people. I must start writing to some of that chosen few before they all decide that I have forgotten about them. The funny part about that is that I have forgotten some of them.

I saw the picture “Cover Girl” the other night, and I thought it was pretty good. I also saw “Bathing Beauty,” which also was a fair picture. That was quite unusual, two technicolor pictures in such a short time.

How is everything back there these days? Is Pop still working in the same place and is the financial condition concerning the house still going smoothly?

Things are pretty much the same here, although there are a few minor changes in the weather. It is a little cooler at night, although the days remain about the same. As a matter of fact, the candy you sent in those packages was melted into one piece in each box.

It’s almost chow time, so I will have to hurry this letter a bit if I want to get done in time for something to eat. However, I’m not worried too much about eating with all the cookies and stuff I got today. It will carry me for quite awhile should I miss chow for quite awhile.

While I still think of it, send me some cigarettes in your next package and each succeeding Christmas package. And again, while I think of it, it is very incorrect to write or say Xmas. If you will look at the word, you will see what you are leaving out every time you write that X.

About all I do all day now is play Pinochle, Rummy and Hearts. Every once is awhile, we play a little cribbage, but Pinochle is about the most prominent. The fellows here all play it different than I do, but we manage to come to a compromise whereby all understand the now-standard procedure.

I think I mentioned before that you don’t have to send any air-mail letters because regular mail will get here just as fast. Air-mail only pertains to the States and over here it goes anywhere they have room, even if it’s only a rowboat.

I guess my mental writing capacity is just about finished because I may have to close this letter short yet.

While I think of it it, make that pen you send one with a fine point. I don’t like those large point pens at all.

Are you still getting any more War Bonds from me through the Army and how much are you getting each months by allotment? You should get $25.75 allotment and no Bonds. Let know if you that is the case and if it is how long has it been.

Well, I hear that we are having steak for supper, so I will have to move along if I want to get some. I guess that’s all for now, so I’ll sign off.

Love & Kisses,


PDF: ‘Send Cigarettes in Your Next Package and Each Christmas’