For the two years my husband was in Army flight school, we dated long-distance. Then, cell phones had slide-out keyboards, Taylor Swift was a pubescent country artist, and the quest to post the coolest AOL instant messenger “away message” often occupied a corner of my thoughts. I sometimes wrote him letters, even though such a thing was, by then, terribly old fashioned for people our age. I remember occasionally writing to him while trying to stave off boredom in my Strategic Management class, as I worked toward finishing my senior year in college. Much of my correspondence is tucked away in storage somewhere, but a few months ago, I came across one letter with a large jittery squiggle snaking across the page.
The caption I had written for the doodle explained the jagged line to be evidence of turbulence. I had been writing while on a commercial flight (one I was probably on after a weekend visiting my favorite young pilot), and held the tip of my pen to the paper as the plane bounced about.
It seems military facilities popped up in every hamlet and metropolis in the entire U.S. during the early 1940’s, and resort towns were certainly not spared. Cities like Atlantic City, New Jersey provided unique assets suited to housing the glut of new trainees. The federal government leased a whopping 45 hotels to accommodate service members assigned to the Atlantic City Training Center, as well as took over the Atlantic City Convention Hall, the largest structure of its kind in the world at the time. The military presence in Atlantic City became known informally as “Camp Boardwalk.”
For recruits, indoctrination included all of the aspects of basic training one would expect: drill, weapons use, military conduct, etc.. For trainees who were, upon arrival, unable to competently read and write, instructors taught them the rudiments of literacy to a 4th grade skill level. Such men would have obtained a sufficient education to send a postcard before being transferred to their next duty station. However, in October 1942, Private Antone “Tony” Blahnik did not need to be taught to write. He needed only a stable surface on which to steady his pen, a circumstance which seemed to be in unfortunately short supply.
Because Pvt. Blahnik mentions traveling in an eastward direction, included no assigned unit under his name, and mailed the card from Atlantic City, I would guess he mailed this little note shortly after arriving there for training. Tony explains to Bee Schaltz that he attempted to write her a letter the previous evening while en route, but the motion of the train rendered his words illegible. And, he barely scratches out this postcard before his lurching transportation thwarts him again. You can see the crude squiggles his neat cursive was reduced to has he signed his name.
Though most of us now enjoy the absurd luxury of real-time two-way video communication, I think none of it quite compares to the intimacy of capturing motion and emotion on scraps of paper. I mailed my thoughts and turbulent pen marks to my sweetheart when I arrived home. And upon his arrival, Tony sent this message marked with the tumult of the train and of the times which he would continue to endure.
[Read more about Atlantic City during World War II below.]
I started a letter last night when the train was moving, its so bad I don’t think I’ll send it. We are moving east, we passed through Pittsburgh (some hilly country). Got a letter from home, they had a party for Edward [?] Sun. afternoon. Train is moving again.
To: Miss Bernice M. Schaltz | 8811 W. Grant St. | West Allis, Wisconsin
From: Pvt. Antone T. Blahnik, U.S. Army Air Corps
Postmark: Atlantic City, New Jersey – October 21, 1942
Image: “KEEP ‘EM FLYING, featuring U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Army Air Force World War II aircraft. Printed by Curt Teich & Co.
The Atlantic City Training Center
Interestingly, researching this particular initial training hub, “Army Air Forces Basic Training Center No. 7“, is difficult. The Wikipedia page for this installation states that its official military records were destroyed within two decades of the close of the war because the location was not associated with any particular fighting unit. The local newspapers have retained some photos of the wartime activities, but the training center reverted back to civilian use immediately following the war. Virtually no trace of its existence is still evident in Atlantic City, except that the convention hall, once used for military drills, remains as an official historic landmark now known as Boardwalk Hall.
Hospital on the Beach: Thomas England General Hospital
Beginning in September of 1942, the U.S. Army Air Force took over multiple resort hotel properties in Atlantic City, New Jersey for use as a military hospital facility. The newly commandeered complex boasted space for 2,800 patients for surgeries, rehabilitation, and prosthetic fitting, as well as housing nursing staff.
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Check out these other vintage “Lost Greetings” postcards.
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