World War II was finally over in September, 1945, but it would take three or four more months before I would be shipped home from my station in the newly-reconquered Philippines. As December approached, I was happy that the shooting and bombing were over, and wasn’t thinking much about celebrating any holidays, Jewish or otherwise.
Members of our unit lived in tents close by the Fleet Landing along Manila’s Pasig River. Our boring daily duties were to help load and unload supplies on boats to be taken to Navy ships docked in the harbor. For us, the only thing resembling a holiday was when some kind-hearted coxswain occasionally brought us some fresh food or a gallon of ice cream from one of the ships.
We had a mess tent, and usually dined on what nearby Army units ate, K Rations, including Spam, and other canned and dried almost-edible food products. For water, we had 50-gallon khaki containers delivered to us with our food by Army trucks. We hung them from trees outside our tents, and got fresh water from their spigots.
Our shower was four standing boards nailed together as a box just outside our tents, with one of the water containers mounted above it. Our head (toilet) was an outside trench with a two-foot by 12 foot wooden box above, with four butt-sized holes conveniently cut into the top board. For those of us who had previously served aboard nice, clean Navy ships, this was quite a come-down.
There was a bit of a relief when Christmas season approached, and knowing we’d soon be sailing for home. Some of the guys from the ships brought us plastic Christmas trees, ornaments and holiday decorations, and our tents looked a bit less drab. We even got strings of small red and white signal lights that lit up our tent area at night.
The Christian guys were getting Christmas packages from home in early December. I was surprised when a carton of Hanukkah goodies from my Aunt Flossie arrived. She had mailed it in October, and although the war had ended in September, it still took a month to get to me.
As I opened the box, I could see the typical Hanukkah edibles, honey cake, macaroons, jelly candies, chocolate-covered matzohs, cans of gefilte fish and other stuff that would make for a tasty holiday treat. Aunt Flossie also wanted to make it a sort of Care package, so she had also stuffed perfumed soaps, shampoo and lotions in the box.
What Aunt Flossie didn’t realize was that everything in the box, during the month of travel and delays, had absorbed the heavy odors of the toiletries. It all tasted strongly of soap, even the canned food, and was totally inedible.
I sent a nice letter of thanks to Aunt Flossie without mentioning the problem, telling her how much I enjoyed her Hanukkah present. My holiday wasn’t a total loss, because the other guys shared their Christmas goodies with me.