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WWII Soldier’s Grandson Finds Diary Full Of Illegible Markings, Asks Internet To Crack The Code
By Matthew Russell
When Imgur user mynameisbetterthanyours420x69 uncovered the diary their grandfather kept during World War II, the anticipation must have been intense.
What incredible stories must be documented within? The bloody horrors of war? Romantic longings? Tales of peerless courage and bravery?
How about unintelligible squiggles?
Thanks to the cryptographers at r/shorthand, a subreddit dedicated to keeping a seemingly efficient-yet-inefficient-because-who-can-read-shorthand language alive, the amateur historian was able to crack the code.
Left […] 5:30 AM rode […] street car to armory. Arrived 8:00. Stripped all clothing except shoes and coat. Walked through at least 20 rooms for various examinations. Completed examinations at about 10:00 AM. […] to walk to an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor. [He had to … papers and most … in alcohol and … in cotton]. Some should have been rejected for various ailments but the doctor asked them if they wanted to go in the army. If they said yes he would pass them. Some would be passed for poor sight as long as they could read with their own glasses. One fellow I know was passed [who] was 38 pounds overweight. Walked from 10 to 4 with [… our lunch]. [I had] my choice for [dinner …] others only had pork chops. Ate by myself I had supper [ate the bunch]. Out of 620 men about 10 of us […] because we passed”
“our examinations first. My number was 27. Left for Camp Grant at 8:30 on IC. We had the whole train to ourselves with a lot of room left over. 13 hours standing, […ing] and walking really tired me out. [V-u-k-s-e-n-e-k] is with our [bunch] and he had his picture in the […] paper.
4/10/41 – Thurs”
“Arrived Camp Grant about 11:00 PM. Had […] lunch of beef stew and and our plates were filled to the brim. Assigned to barracks B-204 cot 22. Very comfortable. Could not sleep till 2:00 AM. Awake at 6:00 AM. [Received company … … future]. Rated class #2 on […] test 119 right out of 150. Took typing test for [rating] in army. Passed by score of 45. Received shot for [typhoid … always] vaccinated. Had turkey”
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“for dinner with all trimming. Was allowed leave until 11:00 PM but stayed in to write letters. Arm is getting a little sore from the shot. Most of the gang went to town to celebrate but they had to wait for bus or walk.
4/11/41 – Fri
Went to church today and stood [… over …]. Worked all day long washing, sweeping, and scrubbing. Most of the fellows have been [transferred] to different barracks. There are only 5 of us left out of 24. They went to another barracks for medical corps. Had eggs and toast for breakfast. Didn’t eat any dinner because my bowels were not working right. Took a laxative.
4/12/41 – Sat
New men came into our barracks from Detroit. Cleaned up barracks. Did a little marching. In the afternoon we went to Rockford and had a few beers went to show and ate supper. Saw Gypsy Rose Lee do her strip act. […] in town then […]. Came in at”
4/13/41 – Sun
Easter Sunday. Rained all day. Stayed in the barracks. Played cards and won $4. Mailed 10 postal cards and one letter.
4/14/41 – Mon
Left Camp Grant for Camp Shelby 10:10. Arrived […] 5:00 PM due to taking on freight […]. Came in to St. Louis at 8:00 PM. Slept in upper bunk. Passed through Kentucky and [Missouri] during the night. Awoke while in Tennessee. Very hilly. Mississippi very wooded many lumber mills. Many [checks] along rail road. Arrived Camp Shelby 3:15 PM.
4/15/51 – Tues
Took total 29 hours. Food on train very bad due to some mistake. Canned corn, beef, jam, beers and [coffee]. All we did there on (the) train was watch scenery. Real inspection at Camp Shelby. Band played and trucks took us to our company. Put in Company I a clearing company.
“Our company composed mostly of Wisconsin and Michigan men. Very few from Illinois. Had supper of beef stew. [Moved] into tents. 16′ square 5 beds
4/16/41 – Wed
Pancakes for breakfast beef for dinner ham bone for supper. Shown marching tactics and took a short walk. Dug sod in the afternoon. Was good little exercise. Rode from one end to the other of camp in army truck.
4/17/41 – Thurs
Usual march and exercise. Oatmeal for breakfast beef for dinner [beers] for supper. Dig dirt all afternoon.
4/18/41 – Fri
Taught military courtesy. Saluting [instruction]. Eggs and bacon for breakfast. Inspection of feet. […] for dinner and fish for supper. Did quite a lot of shoveling in the afternoon. Drank 3 cans of beer. […]
4/19/41 – Sat
[…] in the morning. Inspection by Major in the […]. Did very little work in the afternoon. All our clothing displayed for inspection. Scrambled eggs breakfast. Ham for dinner and ate raw celery for first time. Ham bone for supper. Drank 2 cans beer. [… and paper].”
Who knows how many more diaries are still out there that haven’t been decrypted. Stories of flavorful stews and sod patches to be dug may yet be waiting in the attics of Redditors around the Allied world.
If you find one, now you know where to go!
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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