WWII Snapshots by Ashley Duryea - 2008

Victor Roper, Army, and Alice Roper, Home Front

Victor Roper's life began like so many in the rural Midwest. He grew up on a small farm near Barnes, Kan. When he was a junior in high school, his family moved into the small town. Throughout high school, he worked at a local grocery store to earn a little extra money. After high school, he went to college at Kansas State College of Agricultural and Applied Sciences (KSAC), now Kansas State University.

And like most of the young men enrolled at the college, he joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). It was during that time that he met Alice Marie Roelfs, another student at KSAC and the woman who would become his wife.

But in 1943, Uncle Sam had his own plans for Vic. He was 21 years old and in his junior year in college when he was sent to Anniston, Ala. for training to enter active service as a soldier. Vic passed away on March 1, 1997, but Alice shared what she knew of his service experiences during World War II.

Alice said Vic told her while he was in training he walked and walked and walked, and "even for a farm boy, that was hard." She said it was rough and very strenuous.

According to Alice, when Vic was a boy, hunting was important in supplementing the family food supply. He frequently hunted rabbits and squirrels and became an excellent marksman � a skill that was helpful when he joined the military.

After being stationed at Anniston Ala., he was sent to Fort Benning, Ga. In the summer of 1944, with his training completed, Victor and Alice married. Alice went to Hattiesburg, Miss. with Vic before he was shipped overseas. They celebrated Christmas in Hattiesburg because they weren't able to go home.

"I had three girlfriends there and we would walk to see each other and eat one meal a day," she said. "It was a real culture shock down South. The segregation and discrimination was something Midwesterners weren't used to. I had only seen one colored person in my life.�

She also said that she and her friends slept "three-in-a-bed" for two nights while in New York before Vic was sent overseas. They were in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

The men who were being shipped to the front were able to take only a couple of personal items with them. One that Vic chose was the New Testament he had brought from home. The other he acquired in New York City � a nice new pair of boots.

An excerpt from a letter he wrote to Alice on Jan. 15, 1945 says:

My dearest wife - Darling this is the first letter I have written to you in an awful long time, so I don�t know how good it will be. I must again get in practice. I hope you got to read the letter I wrote the folks last Tuesday. I thought you would probably be there, so I didn't write you one individually.

I got the wonderful letter you wrote me before leaving New York and sure was happy to receive it, but it made me kind of blue. Gee, we had a wonderful time in New York, didn't we? I'll never forget all the good times we have had together.

In a letter written just four days later, he expressed his homesickness.

Gee, darling, I miss you so much and it is just like you say, especially at night. [I] have other things to occupy my time during the day, but at night is when I'm so lonely, going to bed all by myself."

About life in the service, Alice recalled Vic saying, "It was always activity, then boredom."

He ate hot meals every once in a while, perhaps every three weeks if he was lucky. In combat situations, he ate powdered eggs and C rations. But boredom didn't come with just having little to do at times. The C-rations Vic ate were prepackaged meals designed to supply 3,700 calories per day. Each contained a package of biscuits, a package of graham crackers and a package of sugar tablets.

For breakfast, there was a small can of ham, a fruit bar and powdered coffee. Dinner was a can of chicken, bouillon and some caramels. For supper there was a can of turkey, a dried lemon and a chocolate bar. A piece of chewing gum, four cigarettes, a package of toilet tissue, a small wooden spoon and matches completed the kit.

Having the same thing to eat day after day was made even worse by the fact that when a mess tent was available, it frequently served the same foods.

Communication was also very difficult for Vic and Alice during the war.

"Sometimes we would write every day, and other times it would be six weeks," she said. "No news was good news at that time."

With letters sent home being censored and with conditions at the front difficult, it is not surprising that Vic's letters frequently spoke of the good times they had shared before he left. During their time at KSAC, Vic and Alice became good friends with fellow-student Fred Kohl and his wife Doris. In a letter written to Alice from Vic on Feb. 24, 1945, he talked about the good times they had with their friends.

"I remember how we used to celebrate our anniversary with Fred and Doris and what good times we had. Gee, if it wasn't for memories of the wonderful past, I don't know how I would live. Just think, in another week or so, we will have been married eight months. It's wonderful, but it would be more wonderful if we could only be together."

Life on the home front wasn't so good either. Rationing was in effect and stamps were needed to buy many things. The number issued depended on the number of people in the family. Along with coffee, fruits and vegetables, Alice said that shoes were a big problem because the soles wore through easily.

"You had to put up with what's available," she said. Before he left for overseas, "Victor had to have his uniforms washed on post because I couldn't do it," she added. This is what life on the home front was like.

But it was an even worse time for others. "In our community, we had four boys killed in the service," she said. "It was not a good time."

While Vic was overseas, Alice said little was in the news about the war, so they knew nothing.

"All we ever saw was what was in the news reel [in the movie theaters]. The radio was severely censored," she said. "We always listened to President Roosevelt. He told us what he thought we needed to know and that's it."

Alice said she did a lot to help the war effort. Her folks had a big garden with potatoes, cabbage, onions, parsnips and many other root vegetables.

"We had to sneak the onions into our food, because my dad claimed he didn't like them," she said, chuckling.

She took a correspondence class in Educational Administration in the summer of 1945. She then taught school in Victor's hometown of Barnes.

"I taught high school World History, American Government, an English and Literature course, and I was a class sponsor," she said.

Vic fought in many battles, including ones along the Danube River and Saarlautern. But Alice recalled his saying the battle for Stuttgart was his biggest challenge of the war.

"The one lieutenant with him got shot in the legs, and then another got injured, too, so he was leading three platoons of men by himself," she said. Alice also remembers Vic talking about chasing the Germans across Austria and Germany. In a letter to Alice he wrote March 22, 1945, he said:

I have seen quite a lot of Germany and the people and how they live and to tell you the truth, I like Germany better than France. But I'll take the good old U.S.A. tomorrow if I could get there.

Darling, it is going to be one wonderful day when I get back there and get you in my arms. Gee it will be grand when we can be together again and enjoy our life together.

Darling, I�m now permitted to tell you that I have been in combat and I crossed the Saar River at Saarlautern, Germany, but that is about all I can say. I had some pretty rough and dangerous moments, but everything is okay now and I think it will be for some time and I hope forever.

Everyday living, even when there was no fighting, was difficult. Sometimes the men got to take showers, but other times they would go weeks without. Alice recalled that one of the reasons Vic missed home was because he liked to be clean. �He didn�t like to get his hands dirty," she said.

He also liked the comfort of sleeping in his own bed with Alice. But while overseas, he had to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder with the other soldiers.

On May 4, 1945, after Victor crossed the Danube River and fought in the Danube valley under enemy fire, he wrote:

The letter I wrote you last Saturday was written in Regensburg, Germany, which was originally a city with a population of 81,000, so it was a pretty big place. Of course, now it is pretty well wrecked due to bombing and shelling by big guns before it surrendered to us just a week ago today. Darling, you have heard of the blue Danube River haven't you? Well, I was in the first wave of Allied soldiers to cross it in assault boats. It was a pretty wide river and had a shift current, but we got across okay with very little opposition on the other side, which was a lucky break for us. It was our outfit that made the beachhead across the river and came into Regensburg from the rear."

The war ended in Europe in May 1945, but the soldiers didn't get to go home immediately. Money, or a lack of it, was a problem. Vic wrote to his mom and dad on Oct. 3, 1945 while he was in Tille, France:

I guess I would be better off in the Army because I'm drawing $300 a month now with the extra $17 the French government pays us and my increase of 10 percent for being in the Army three years, which will be this month the 14th when I enlisted at Manhattan in ROTC. Anyway, I want to get out of the Army as soon as I can, regardless of the money. I hope I can go to school next fall and finish in the spring.

Victor came back to the United States, for good, in the summer of 1946, ending his time in the Army as a first lieutenant. When he got back, Vic and Alice went on a honeymoon to Colorado. Even though he was back, he was still under orders through August. Alice recalls living in a two-bedroom basement apartment.

"We drove a '36 Lafayette," she said. "It was a great traveling car, but it was like a tank. No one could hurt us in it."

Victor and Alice moved back to Manhattan and resumed their schooling, with both graduating in 1947.

"We knew we didn't want children while Vic was gone, so we waited," she said. "I could barely support myself, let alone children."

But with his schooling done, things began to change for the better.

"Victor got a job in accounting, which was his degree, at First National Bank, where he worked for 38 years, and we started having children," she said. "The two girls are the oldest, and the two boys are the youngest."

According to Alice, Victor didn't like his memories of the war. They had the chance to return to some of the places where he fought with the 65th Infantry Division, but they never did because he said World War II wasted four years of his life, and he didn't want to relive it. He didn't talk much about the war after it was over. He chose to not join any veterans� organizations. Alice remembers him saying he was "through with it."

"He didn't even like to go to the Boy Scout Camps with the boys (their two sons)," she said. "It brought back too many memories."

Vic had several personal friendships with fellow servicemen. They went to two reunions after the war ended. They also subscribed to the "Halbert" magazine that had everyone's names and addresses who had been in the 65th Infantry Division.

Of all the people they knew from World War II, Alice said there are only about four left. Although Victor is no longer here, she says she still has some personal friendships with military people she met through him.

"I still have two good friends," she said. "One is now a widow and the other (Doris Kohl) lives in Shawnee, [Kan]."

Fred Kohl said, "Vic and I both made it through the war without getting killed. � We would go to Manhattan to visit them, and they would come to Kansas City, Kan. when we lived there to visit us. It's been a friendship with a lot of hardships and losing friends . . . we have known each other for a long time, and held onto a personal friendship until Vic died."

Alice, now 85 and living in Manhattan, said she saw Victor as a caring and charming young man when she met him and will never forget the difficult times during World War II and the conversations she had with him.

Her four children have given her five grandchildren.

"One is in Wichita, Kan., two are here in Manhattan, one is in Mesa, Ariz., and the other is in Jakarta, Indonesia," she said. "I also have one great grand-daughter now, too."

In 2005, Alice donated to the K-State Library the letters that Victor wrote to her, their parents, and other family and friends while he was overseas. The letters, the Victor and Alice Roper Papers, are located in the Morse Department of Special Collections.

Left: Valentine sent to Victor during his time in the service; right: Alice (above) and Victor while students at KSAC.

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