As Americans continue to remember the 75thanniversaries of the United States’ involvement in World War II, I thought it might be appropriate to share a letter from 1943. LaVerne Green, who was in the U.S. Navy at that time, wrote the letter and sent it home to La Farge to his father, Lester Green. The letter was written on October 22, 1943 and had an FPO military address in New York City. For much of that year, LaVerne Green was stationed in Panama and did not return to the United States until November of 1943. I am guessing that the letter sent home to his Dad was written in the Panama Canal Zone.
LaVerne Green’s letter is remarkable in several respects. First of all the written penmanship of the letter is superb. Written in longhand script with a pencil, the letter reminded me of my own father’s excellent cursive writing, common from that generation. Cursive writing was a required skill taught in school back then and those who did it well, like LaVerne, leave an easily readable text for the reader to follow.
Another aspect of LaVerne Green’s letter that is unique is that it is almost entirely about music. The Green family was very musically inclined, talents that carried on to La Verne’s children and perhaps to later generations even to this day. From the contents of the letter, it is evident that Lester Green probably played in a band of some sort in 1943 and that LaVerne is musically active in the service as well.
Much of that letter from late October in 1943 tells about LaVerne Green’s effort to copy some music for his father. I will use La Verne’s words as he related them to his Dad in the letter:
Just finished the music today. I had to hurry a lot on two of the tunes. Who & Marie. They were set but I had to copy them and it is slow work. I don’t have a writing pen and the ink I used on them is too thin. The ones written in pencil are quite neat but I spent more time on them. Marie was a rush job. I set it last night and took it to my friend to play this afternoon and there wasn’t a mistake in it. Fast work. Tonight I copied it for you. I will send them thru in the morning along with this letter.
I do not know what songs that LaVerne is writing about. I “Googled” the top songs of the 1940’s, but nothing with those titles came up. Irving Berlin had written a tune titled, “Marie” several decades before then, so perhaps that is the tune that was being worked on and mentioned in the letter.
LaVerne Green continued with his letter to his Dad:
My friend here plays violin beautifully and he likes the choruses very much. He can really take off on them. You will find them very hard for the most part. Tea For Two is a beautiful job and the last measures are really swingy.
Now here is a song that I could find! “Tea For Two” was a song from the Broadway musical, “No, No, Nanette” originally written in 1925. Doris Day sang the song in the 1940’s and made it a big hit, probably because as LaVerne wrote, it was “really swingy”. He continues to tell his Dad about other hit songs that he is working on:
Whispering is a bit easier. Who is a terrific thing to play, especially the last 16 bars. It’s catchy as can be. Marie is a little bit on a hot tenor side. I believe a tenor sax could take most of the choruses except 32 bars of that stuff is too long and the way it is written there are no breathing spots for a horn. Marie runs pretty smooth if not tried too fast. I think you will agree with me they are quite difficult. For a small outfit the whole chorus would be fine. 8 bars or so doesn’t make much of a fill. I hope you find them all to your liking.
“Whispering”, another song that LaVerne Green had written out for his Dad was a hit song first recorded by Frank Sinatra in the 1940s. Later, it was also recorded by Louis Armstrong and The Ink Spots. LaVerne continues in the letter to tell his father about his work on writing out the music and possibly some future work that he may send home. Apparently, LaVerne thinks his renditions may have some financial value when he wrote:
If you see Alf Modahl, ask him what he thinks of the commercial value of this type of arrangement, will you? Or anyone else you happen to see who knows something about it. Whatever you do, don’t give them away or let anyone copy them. Keep them to yourself. I think quite a lot of that work I put in them.
In the last paragraph of his letter, LaVerne wrote to his father about some correspondence with LaVerne’s brother, Willard, who is referred to as “Ping” in the letter. Willard Green, who was thirteen years younger than LaVerne and a 1942 LHS graduate, had entered the Army earlier in 1943.
Got the photo of Ping today. I like it very much and thanks a lot. Had a letter from him dated Sept 20. Just before he went to Sam Houston I guess. He wasn’t so happy about the Army. Hope he likes the new place.
LaVerne wrote about Willard going to the Army base, Ft. Sam Houston located in San Antonio, Texas. That was where Willard went after basic training and before being deployed to Europe where he was wounded severely in the Italian Campaign. After spending several months in an Army hospital in Iowa, Willard was discharged in late 1944.
LaVerne ended up being based in Washington D.C. for the rest of the war. Ironic, since he had worked for the federal government in the nation’s capital for two years prior to joining the Navy. While there, he met a young lady from Pittsburgh working for the war department. LaVerne and Stella Green were married in 1942 and after the war they made their home in La Farge. LaVerne was a mail carrier in La Farge, like his father and brother Willard. LaVerne and Stella were also Cub Scout leaders in town for many years. That’s when I first met LaVerne – when I was a member of the Cub Scout Pack – I remember how the couple was devoted to starting young boys on the skills of scouting. LaVerne was also a master at tuning and restoring pianos – a skill that he practiced the rest of his life.
I will close this column with LaVerne’s closing words to his father in that letter from 1943:
I’m fixing to send you my radio, player and a bunch of records, just to keep for me in case I get a place to put them. All my love to you and mother. Keep well – keep trying on those tunes too! Your Son, LaVerne
(Joe Persons gave me the letter that LaVerne Green had written in 1943. Joe wasn’t sure how he had received the letter, but it’s apt that Joe, a man of music would have had it. If there are family members of LaVerne Green’s who would like the letter, I would love to get it to them. It might make a memorable Christmas gift. Otherwise, I will pass it on to the Vernon County Historical Museum for their WW II collection.)