Page 1 of Thomas’ letter
First Infantry Division
Fort Riley, Kansas
10 December 1961
You’re not going to believe this, I hardly believe it myself, but I just talked to President Kennedy! It was very hush-hush, and I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but I just have to. He called for General Ruggles, the base commander. I guess they didn’t believe it was really him, but I did, I thought everybody would recognize that funny Boston accent. Anyway, once I figured out it was him on the horn I said I know it’s you Mr. President, and he said for me to keep up the good work, and I said thank you Mr. President and switched him to Lt. Dinius over at the 896th Engineer Floating Bridge Company. The lieutenant didn’t believe it, either. I stayed on the line to be sure the call went through, and I heard the President say this is President Kennedy and I’m calling on behalf of Paul Hornung. And the lieutenant said, and I’m Donald Duck. I thought I’d die, Grampie, I just about choked to keep from laughing. But the President was okay, he straightened the lieutenant out.
So here’s the deal. You know who Paul Hornung is, right? Well, he and a couple other Packer players are in the 896th. It’s a Guard unit that got called up last month because of the Berlin Wall, but the football players are nonessential personnel, and the brass have been letting them play football on Sundays. Hornung even got a private plane to fly him to Detroit for Thanksgiving. According to the camp wire he just sits on his butt in the sauna the rest of the time, supposedly taking treatments for his injured shoulder. He’s actually supposed to be Lt. Dinius’s driver, but nobody has ever seen him even get into a jeep, let alone drive one.
Anyway, year-end furloughs are divided so the guys from A to L have the week before Christmas and M to Z have the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Apparently somebody wanted Hornung to switch weeks so he can play in the championship game against New York on the 31st. Somebody wanted it bad enough to pull strings all the way up to the White House, and that’s what the President was calling about. I figure it must have been Vince Lombardi himself, but how in God’s green earth does a football coach get the President’s ear? Anyway, If I were you, I’d lay some bets on Green Bay because they brought over the papers in a big hurry, and Hornung is going to play.
How are you enjoying your retirement? You never said anything about it, I didn’t even know you'd retired until Mom sent me the pictures of your going-away party last month. That’s some cake you got there, all frosted with olive drab icing like a streetside mailbox! How did they make it stand up that way? Mom said your co-workers got together and bought you a Zombie. Now you’ll have to learn how to do it. If you’re going down to Al’s Magic Shop any time soon, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop into that bargain record shop on H Street and pick up a couple of Vox Boxes for me. I’d really like to have a copy of Mahler’s ninth symphony, and there’s a 3-record box that has it with the second. With Horenstein conducting, no less! At $2.00 a disc, maybe that and some Baroque trumpets. It’s your fault, you know, you’re the one who taught me to like classical music. And then you went and introduced me to the Rothmans. Mr. Rothman was really nice, and we both enjoyed playing chess with him, but do you have any idea how many of my allowances Larry soaked up selling me his used records before they moved to Greenbelt?
Speaking of retirement, so far I still think re-upping was the right thing to do, if I can get in 20 years I can retire on a nice comfortable pension and still not be 40 yet. On the other hand, I’d keep an eye on Kevin if I were you. I think he’s looking around and seeing the Russians in Europe and the Chinese in Vietnam, and I don’t think he’s going to be any too happy about signing up or getting drafted. And to be honest, I don’t think he’d make that good a soldier, either. I mean, he’s my brother and all, but he’s really not cut out to wear a uniform. If you can get him into a decent college where he can get a deferment, that’ll hold him until he’s out of school, and maybe then he’ll find a job that’ll get him deferred permanently. I’d hate to see him get shipped off to Leavenworth to make little ones out of big ones.
And speaking of music, I think I’m going to trade my hi-fi in on a stereo. On an Army paycheck I can’t afford anything like McIntosh, but I was talking with Major McDonald, and he has a setup with Dynakits that he built. He says it sounds surprisingly good, and he says even a fumblefingers like me ought to be able to put the kits together. If you’d like my current amplifier after I get my new stuff, I’ll ship it to you, I know you like mono just fine, with your right ear and all. I just put a whole new set of tubes into my amp, I swapped out the gassy EL84’s and replaced them with RCA 6BQ5’s, and it does sound sharper. I can’t give you my speaker, it’s new and I can buy a mate for it, but your Sweet Sixteen still sounds pretty good to me, and if you got Kevin to drag the corner horn down from the attic and hooked it in, you’d have enough sound to do E. Power Biggs proud. If Mom complains about the bare plywood on the corner horn, you can threaten to take a couple of leaves from the dining table to make it a top and bottom.
You know, I have to thank you again for the pen you sent me just after I got here. I’m still using it every day, the only thing I don’t do with it is fill out forms with carbons. Major McDonald said I ought to be using a ballpoint like everybody else these days, but there’s no reg that says I have to, so he just made me start using black ink because the blue mostly disappears when you make copies of it on the Xerox machine. I get laughed at when I show up someplace with ink on my fingers, but I just tell them it’s a family heirloom, the ink that is, and they laugh at the joke.
Oh, one other thing. I wrote to Mom last Sunday to ask if she’d find a book called Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and send it to me. I thought I couldn’t get it here, but it turned up in the PX, so would you tell Mom I don’t need her to send me a copy after all.