Maxine Clamage

Letters to a Lost Soldier – Traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1947 on Route 66

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Dear Daddy,

(I originally wrote in August, 1947) We made it safely to Los Angeles. You wanted to see the United States by car. We loaded the trunk of our Chevy and climbed in for the trip to California. You and Mommy sat in the front seat and my sister and I were in the back until she complained I was too close to her. I wasn’t. Mommy and I had to change places so you wouldn’t get upset.
I liked sitting in front with you, being in charge of the maps and picking motels and restaurants. I was the navigator and felt very grown up when you relied on me to pick the right roads to take.

We visited President Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. The next stop was in in Arkansas to visit your wartime buddy. You talked on his porch and were not invited inside. Then you decided to find Route 66 and live in the present instead of the past. You no longer wanted to think about the war. It took two years for you to leave the war behind and enjoy the trip to California. You were back home in America and ready for a new adventure.

We traveled through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and sang the song, “Route 66: First you go through St. Louis, Joplin, Missouri, Oklahoma City is mighty pretty…” We visited the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, enjoying the sites, although you were very quiet.

Route 66 is a very American experience! This is our country! We love it. You paid your dues. You served our country during the war. We didn’t need permission to leave Chicago and move to Los Angeles. We are free people in a free country. We had fun sleeping in motels, eating in roadside diners and visiting national monuments together. My dreams came true.

I learned about stalactites and stalagmites when we toured the Caverns in Missouri. It was better than reading the Encyclopedia. We got our first bumper sticker there. I loved our adventure exploring America on Route 66.

We were a million miles from the Holocaust, World War II and Nazi Germany.

But in Los Angeles we learned that Aunt Miriam’s husband was tried, convicted, and sentenced to one year and one day in the Federal Correction Institute in Sandstone, Minnesota for draft evasion.

Will he have as much hardship as you had, Daddy, as POW in Nazi Germany? You said he will get three meals a day, sleep on clean sheets, and won’t be beaten by the guards. His rights are guaranteed by the Constitution you fought to protect. He will get ample calories to live, but he lost his pride. Or did he? Two sisters, Mommy and Aunt Miriam, have husbands who experienced World War II in different ways. Daddy, you fought, were captured and held as a Prisoner of War in Nazi Germany. “You suffered from the cold, lack of food, brutality of the guards, disintegration of clothing into rags, infestation of vermin and fleas, loneliness, fear, anxiety, diarrhea, lack of warmth and other abuses and deprivations.” You served our country so its citizens could retain their right to vote and not be forced to obey a tyrant. We live in a country ruled by law and you said it’s important to be law-abiding citizens.

Some day we may understand what has happened in our family. In the meantime, we have the opportunity to start a new life in Los Angeles. I will save this letter as I have saved other letters and hope we can sit down some day to talk about the events that changed our lives. I feel that my life has changed for the better and I hope you feel that way, too. You plan to open a flower shop and be a florist like you were when working for Uncles Eddie and Lester at C & C. Our lives will be filled with flowers and we can all be happy. God has answered all my prayers.

Love,

Maxine
 
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