© 1945, George James Mayer
© 2015, 2021, Alan John Mayer
This holiday letter, accompanied by two dozen hand colored illustrations, is a recollection of my father’s war experiences, as recounted by him, in London, during the closing days of World War II.
Here he is, peacemaker of the (last) century.
The soldier in Verdun who never carried a gun.
My father was a pacifist, described by those who attended one of his performances in person as a talented story teller and artist, George James Mayer traveled widely, and spoke several languages with fluency. During both World Wars, he served as German and French interpreter in Europe, assisting Allied Forces to secure democracy, receiving decoration for the humanitarian manner in which he extracted information from prisoners of war.
In Europe again, during WWII, he served as Chief of Training for the United States Office of Military Information and Government Intelligence. After the war, under President Truman and General Marshall’s Marshall Plan, he set up language and culture programs on four continents, encouraging enlisted men, and their dependents, to learn the language and culture of the people in whose country they were living, and serving.
My father never laid claim to being an archaeologist, only a man of interest who frequently spoke as a layman over the then new medium of radio and television on the subject of lost civilizations. His award winning speech Lost Civilizations of the Americas, can be read on this blog, as soon as this editor manages to transfer it, along with his two award winning, illustrated, hand-colored poetry pieces,
My Marriage Determination, and Friendship Seven.
Sadly, none of George Mayer’s works were ever published on a large scale. Mother kept him much too busy for that.
Reviews from those who knew him a century ago had this to say: “a true humorist does not confine himself to humor alone, humor is but one of life’s bubbling springs. The true humorist lives the life of the common man in all its phases. George Mayer is just such a humorist. A deep student of psychology, a hypnotist, newspaper man, linguist of seven tongues, world traveler, soldier, artist, writer and educator, Mr. Mayer had a marvelous opportunity to study and understand human nature by observing people in many walks of life, in many countries.”
This poem, CONVOY, represents a time when the world seemed more innocent. For a (white) man like my father, of German immigrant parents, Uncle Sam was open, welcoming, and most generous in the benefits he bestowed upon my parents in the course of my father’s centenarian life. In many ways, George Mayer was the quintessential 20th century (white) American male, of the right heritage in the right century, but he left me in the ditch.
Growing up, I knew my father was a Veteran of ‘the Great War’, something that dated him. I was also aware he was my war-torn bombed-out mother’s Savior, but it was not until after his death I was privy to learning about the man he was. From the time he enlisted, until his death at one-hundred three, Uncle Sam stood behind him, and his dependents.
Long live Uncle Sam, my father’s sense of humor, and God.
The 20th century reviews continue: “A raconteur, a teller of tales–plain tales is the title befitting Mr. Mayer best.” At the time my father wrote this letter, a decade before I was born, he was one of two United States Department of Defense employees to have conferred upon him the U.S. Air Force’s Outstanding Performance Rating Award. Yet he makes no mention of it in this mimeographed letter.
He seldom shared his memories with me, his only son; sixty-one years his junior. I imagine he thought he would bore me. I wish he had let me decide. Seldom did I ever hear him speak of his accomplishments. He was a humble man who had much practice biting his lip, and spent much of his time in his study, reading or drawing. With my mother around, she did all the talking for him.
We are all an intertwined version of our mother and father. First, and foremost, I am spirit. Only now am I discovering my better half. This poem, CONVOY, puts a smile on the reader’s face, leaves the reader with a feeling things can be accomplished. Twenty-three years after my father’s death, seventy-five years after this letter, I continue to learn from my father’s works that have just surfaced, before mother could toss them in the trash.
With World War II drawing to a close, while stranded in Europe on Christmas Day 1945, he wrote this account, illustrated, mimeographed, colored, and mailed it across the Atlantic to friends, and family.
All but three of these illustrations, whited-out text and all, are George Mayer’s original drawings and coloring, not traced, or photo shopped. I traced three illustrations trapped in a fold, and brightened the faded colors. With the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day drawing near, (now passed,) it is my intention to have his work published. If his humor tickles your funny bone, please click “Like”, and “Share” with friends, family, and Veterans.
December 25, 1945
I am a rotten correspondent.
I hang my head in shame
at all the letters I’ve procrastinated writing
with no one but myself to blame.
But with one grand sweep I vow
to respond to all of your letters now.
And so dear friends, both near and far,
from Alaska to India to Zanzibar,
from the shores of New Guinea to Trinidad
may the holiday spirit light the path
to the happiest New Year you ever had.
And so folks, now it can be told,
how Sir George, so brave and bold,
felt a wanderlust; he must see the world or bust.
And so he shook the moths out his flannel underwear;
And jumped onto his lame and spavined mount–
the Old gray Mayre.
He kissed his loving friends good-bye, cinched a saddle ‘round his charger’s wooden belly.
Then he went and took a course on employing chopsticks to eat bird’s nest jelly,
(though they could not teach his horse).
“Ho ho ho,” cried Chiang Kai-shek. “We won’t have you here–no feck. Fighting enemy we have grief enough. Uncle Sam’s trainees must be sent away to show their stuff, where workers toil with buttoned lip, and folks don’t mind who helps save the ship.”
Thus George left the Golden Gate, and hit the trail for New York state.
For a final course in Administration, embarking there for “Secret Destination.”
Then with lips sealed, and the porter tipped,
off to Halifax he and his mare were shipped.
we come folks….
to the cruise of the M.V. Lowlander.
January’s calendar had nearly run its course,
When the Nova Scotia blizzard nearly spent its force.
The thermometer hovered around zero for days
Seldom for a moment did the sun break the haze.
For days the Lowlander lay berthed,
her baths and staterooms flooded.
Thick sheets of ice encased her decks;
her sides were like jewels studded.
Her passengers on shore leave,
scouted all the shops in town,
As they searched for boots, and clean shirts,
bottled water, and a pub to down a round.
The cargo of carbide fizzed, and stunk.
The crew turned faint and gray.
Out came the carbide, and in its place
quinine, headed for Calais.
The plank gang, or so they told us,
will load her while you slumber,”
It seemed the hold was much to wet
for anything but lumber.
The plumbing froze up tight, the furniture went swimming about.
Hip deep we stood in borrowed boots, bailing to toss the sewage out.
Old Fu Manchu, the cabin boy, explained the situation–-
“Ship built for Mussolini,” he said, “then captured by United Nation.
Uncle Sam, he see ship first, and say, “him be not much good”–
but it’s Uncle Sam’s Johnny B. Goode who’ll sail her, if anybody could.”
The ship’s cabin boy was Cantonese; as was her cook and crew;
Her Officers were British, the cadets were British too.
Her cabin steward, erect and trim, was smart as a whip, and wiry,
By megaphone, from atop the bridge, he barked with language fiery.
Five meals a day we put away, till ship’s Chief Steward Lofton
began to fear the bread and beer were served up much too often.
But one fine day the pipes did thaw,
and thanks were on our lips,
as the weather warmed, we sailed away, to join the other ships.
And then, the second night out–THE STORM!
The North wind roared, the waves rose high, great fists beat deep and dull;
as mad talons sleeved in angry froth clutched wildly at our ship’s hull.
Old Neptune fumed, he tossed and turned, his belly pitched, and rolled.
The Lowlander vessel did everything but sink, attempting to grasp firmer hold.
The Metesh girl, and Dottie Choy, were sick as sick could be,
And Anna Stooper, too, was sick, despite her twelve trips at sea.
Old Mal-de-Mer had laid them low; they dared not leave their cot.
The first two nights they thought they would die,
the next they feared they’d not.
And the depth charges!
Six miles away, a missile explodes, and pounds the hull like a hammer.
Closer inspection reveals the disturbance opened the seams,
“We have five hundred missiles in our forrard hold,” the cabin boy yammered.
Floating on a tin fish in the middle of the sea,
There’s little sense to reach for a life jacket.
When you hear the loud boom, just look for the glow
Trust your ears will hear all the racket.
We didn’t know it then, but we now can say,
When you’re blown up is when it’s too late to pray.
I don’t want to bore you with too much of my tale,
but the morning after, I thought Neptune could have forced everyone to bail.
The storm left us in a dangerous position, but today’s waves rest smooth, and serene.
After we prayed for a more peaceful ride, Oceania no longer showed her violent side.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of radar blips,
looked through the portal at a floating city of smoking stacks upon ships.
Eighty, ninety, a hundred and ten; spanning the horizon they appear.
For at least half a mile I could see them–every detail was clear.
I watched them move in as a unit, like a continent afloat,
as I gathered my thoughts, and went to pray in an open lifeboat.
They are American back ups, thank God There is no reason to fear.
They are the ships we have been waiting for–
and I am thankful they are finally here.
Last night out was uneasy, and I spent it without my coat.
Twice the Chinese crew threatened to abandon ship;
while I spent the night shivering under a lifeboat.
I remembered the haunting sound of those blips,
as I pictured in my mind that continent of moving ships.
The torpedo that sank our left hand neighbor,
had it hit the Lowlander instead-–
“forrard,” as our cabin boy says,
Certainly everyone on board would now be dead.
It was the 17th of February when at Liverpool we finally docked.
We were glad to step on land, though the dry land heaved, and rocked.
We finally regained our land legs, and after eating blackbird pie,
took a train headed for London to watch the chimneys whizzing by.
Those smokestacks, my impression, there were chimneys by the score.
Even tiny cottage dwellings could own up to two, three or more.
Blackout time came early. I dared not raise a blind,
lest for breach of regulations, I’d be shot, jailed, or fined.
From a bomb scarred railway station, we saw London from beneath a veil.
Now for work; -we had a mission, and we knew we dare not fail.
It was my job to train Operations Personnel;
show them what the enemy was thinking.
I prayed my staff would learn the subject well,
with all the films, and refreshments I was bringing.
Many Nazi films I showed them.
“This is how, for twenty years,
has been nourished the German soul.
Listen now ye, if we are to succeed,
we must work together to reach our goal.”
These were films of conquest; murder, filth, and fire,
Nazi aims to rule the continent, by lauding loose desire.
Language classes too, were needed, from Beginner to Advanced,
We created conversation chat fests, where language was enhanced.
We sang, we danced, we all did our part.
The hours were long, but oh, how I loved it.
I was part of a mighty “V-Weapon” team
aimed directly at the Nazi heart.
That night I walked home to my quarters
in an almost stygian gloom
proud to be fighting with our servicemen,
sending Hitler to his doom.
In the street I caused amusement
to the night-eyed English folk,
for the flashlight I shone before me
seemed to strike them as a joke.
With the blackout partly lifted, starlight appeared overhead
which the British classed as beacons, after nights as black as lead.
To me the stars made no difference; I was blind as any bat,
as I stumbled over some sandbags when my batteries went flat.
Germans think the British crazy, never knowing when they are beat.
Crazy?–Sure, they drive their buses on the wrong side of the street.
It seems the British have not heard of Mrs. Emily Post.
Etiquette, as she defines it, here never concerns most.
In this land of Prince, and Marquis,
Duke, Baron, Earl, and Knight,
forks are used to spear, not shovel,
in the left hand–but never the right.
If you ever ask the English when summer comes, they say,
“Summer? Why Old Chap, we had it; it was the first weekend in May.”
Though Britain’s climate is like Seattle, (it’s Seattle at its worst)
and its restaurants are disconcerting, but only just at first.
The sun may shine in the morning,
raincoat, galoshes, and brolly* are a good bet,
if you wish to remain jolly and dry,
rather than arriving wet.
What with snow, and rain, and sunshine, by the middle of July,
I was laid up with pneumonia, feeling fit to die.
In the countryside of England, where I was my head to lie,
I trained to be a patient patient–
while the weeks passed slowly by.
Though our quarters were huts made by Nissan,
but the cot springs were not,
the company was exciting-–
combat chaps–a jolly lot.
Later I could go out walking on the grounds, and eat at mess,
see a flicker in the evening, play backgammon, cards, or chess.
Other huts in the compound were for nurses, Waves, and Wacs.
With our boys each day sunny mornings they sunbathed,
and rubbed oil onto each others’ backs.
And guess who kept the grounds in order–German prisoners of war.
They sure did make those floors shine, like they’d never shone before.
After convalescing fully, after a month I felt quite fine,
though the bus queue made me worry, as I started work at nine.
Insert Bus line illustration
Sadly, while I was absent, the war had moved on rather fast.
It seemed “Information” had no future–only just a past.
All that we had worked for-–how to educate the Hun–
schools, radio, and newspapers, were no longer to be done.
Came V-J Day, and finally rejoicing, while back in the USA,
a child was born to my daughter. Now I feel old and gray.
It’s tough to be a granddad, stuck in foreign climes.
Just the same, there’s work to be done,
though I often feel homesick, at times.
Though “Information” is no longer wanted,
there is still a load of work to do.
Ships must secure starving Europe,
and we must return our boys home, too.
We were still kept plenty busy,
and I was asked to take charge of Personnel; just my cup of tea.
At last before my transfer, I could take a holiday.
I was given a week of leisure, saw the sights-–no work–just play.
Brighton–playground of regents, a crowded hilly little town,
you can walk along the boardwalk, now that they’ve taken the barbed wire down.
A terrific gale was blowing,
the waves were mountain high,
as I walked along the seashore,
beneath a gray autumnal sky.
The beach was strewn with wreckage,
rotting life jackets by the score.
They could tell a tale of courage,
and the suffering caused by war.
There are posters on the billboards,
“Anything unfamiliar DO NOT TOUCH,
for a mine it just might be–
Remember just that much.”
What’s that the waves are tossing? Surely not a motorbike?
Yes, it is, but what condition; I had never seen the like.
Rotted tires, wood-encrusted, the petrol tank filled with stones,
must have lain for years on the seabed,
until discovered by Davy Jones.
Cardinal Wolsey, Tudor villain, was King Henry’s fair-haired boy.
At his moated court in Hampton, I spent one more day of joy.
Close to Windsor Castle, and Eaton’s famous school,
stands this lovely Hampton palace,
surrounded by gardens green, and cool.
Building such palace and gardens, “Cardinal Wolsey did too well,” the king said.
King Henry broke the 10th commandment*-–and Wolsey lost his head.
* “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.”
All too soon my job was over, and the busy U.S.A.
welcomed me to its portals, to begin a new working day.
Now I’m head of my own section: “Personnel” is up to me-–
Record, leave, promotion, placement, benefits, ratings of efficiency.
Then there is welfare, training, travel, finding people a position,
our work is vital, it’s urgent,
and we may never complete our mission.
The language of our sun dogs, our typists say is not pure,
the many resignations I receive make my job more secure.
Thanksgiving dinner at the American Embassy, oh my!
Though the turkey was a chicken, we were treated with pumpkin pie.
It was nice to get some candies, and peanuts for dessert
for to find a nut in England these days, one really must keep alert.
Now I play Father Christmas to the war-torn kiddies here,
there’s a homesick twinge within me for the land I hold so dear.
So my dear friends, during the holidays,
don’t forget the empty chair,
and the bloke who’d like to fill it
George James Mayer
Here are a few comments from those who attended Mr. Mayer’s lectures:
MEN’S BROTHERHOOD CLASS: “We were much pleased (the ladies especially) with your impersonations last night. We want you back soon.”
CHANCELLOR BUCHTEL of the University of Denver: “Mr. Mayer’s entertainments are humorous yet refined, engaging, side-splitting, profitable, leaving one with the impression of some good having been accomplished.”
SUPERINTENDENT BALDWIN, Oak Creek School District: “We are superlatively pleased with Mr. Mayer’s impersonations and chalk drawings. We have heard Mr. Mayer a number of times, and each time he is better than before. Last night’s program cleared over one hundred dollars* to buy books for our library.” *1918 dollars
I was never privy to experience the man described above. My father seldom spoke of himself. After taking care of my mother’s needs, he had little time left over. When I was eleven, I heard him tell my sister of a stage experience in which he hypnotized a man into lifting a piano, and suggested it was so hot in the auditorium, he had a female audience volunteer remove her clothing. Knowing my father, he stopped at just the right time, and with humor, had the audience laughing.
I was mesmerized, as I listened through my eleven year-old ears to his tale. I now know, after a lifetime living around the world, it was returning to his roots in Colorado that sparked these memories of his youth. Over and again, my sister and I begged him to hypnotize us. He refused, and continued to tell of the Greek and Roman gods I imagine he worshiped, along with the fertility goddess Isis, and A Course in Miracles–yet to be written.
For an interesting slice of his life with wife Christina, search “My Mother’s Golden Locks.”
* 1918 dollars, when the cost of Dad’s new Tin Lizzy was $350.00.
In 1966, Mr. Mayer took mandatory retirement at the age of 70, and taught school in Aurora, Colorado for ten more years. In 1998, just sixteen months short of reaching his goal of becoming among the first to step two feet into three centuries, George Mayer was sent early into the Great Unknown, to meet his Maker.
May he rest in peace.
If you found value in this, link: Treatment for “A Boy Alone.”