Here, Kurt Vonnegut writes George Strong, a veteran who was also imprisoned in Slaughterhouse Five, about their acquaintances from the war—living, dead, and in unknown states—as well as a passage in Vonnegut’s novel Bluebeard that contains imagery from their shared experience in Germany.
April 23, 1989
New York City
Dear George Strong—
I’m home again, to the extent that anybody’s really got a home anymore. Maybe my fundamental home is in Dresden, since that is where my great adventure took place, and where one hundred of us selected at random were bonded by tremendous violence into a brotherhood—and then dispersed to hell and gone. Your seeking me out and greeting me like a brother was a profoundly important event for me.
So I thank you for that.
You, it turns out, are our meticulous historian, so I enclose some documents which may be of interest to you. I thought when I published Slaughterhouse-Five so long ago that I would hear from everybody who had been there with us. I only heard from three: Bill Burns, who is in broadcasting in Cincinnati, “Frenchy” LeClaire, and admittedly alcoholic house painter in New Hampshire, who died mainly of booze about fifteen years ago, and Dick Coyle, a contented high school English teacher and football coach in Ohio, who had a bad cancer in remission. He still goes to work, and says, “You play the cards they deal you.” My closest buddy in I&R, 2nd Bn. Hq., 423rd Inf. Rgt., B.V. O’Hare, I never lost touch with. As I told you, he is a hot shot criminal lawyer, a former D.A., and can be reached at 1431 Easton Road, Heller-town, Pa. 18015. He smokes even worse than I do, and has had a throat operation, but is still in active practice. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have addresses for the rest. This is an intolerably sloppy office I run, with me as the only employee.
In the last chapter of what may be my last book, Bluebeard, I describe the valley we came to after we walked away from the schoolhouse at Hellendorf. Six of us appropriated a Wehrmacht horse and wagon, and traveled around for several days unimpeded by anyone. We made it back to the slaughterhouse, I’m not sure why, and were arrested by Russian, who locked us up in the barrack of what used to be a training camp for Army Engineers. That was outside Meissen, I think. Then we were taken in Model A trucks to the Elbe at Halle, and traded one-for-one for subjects of the U.S.S.R. held by the Americans on the other side. Many of these, including Gypsies and Ukrainian turncoats, I heard later, were shot or hanged almost immediately. What fun!
I enclose the original of a letter from Robert G. Allen, 1212 56th Street, Des Moines, Iowa, 50311, since it is hard enough to read without being a Xerox. The names he lists mean nothing to me, but may ring bells with you. Guys I wish I could see again: Bob Lehr, Bob Kelton, Jim Donnini, Richard E. Davis. They are a silent as the tomb. Mike Pallaia (spelling?) and Joe Crone (Billy Pilgrim) died in Dresden, of course. And the nice Italian kid I mentioned, whose name I’ve forgotten, was accidentally shot by an Italian who had just found a loaded Luger in a ditch. So what are we up to: maybe fifteen per cent now accounted for?
From Kurt Vonnegut: Letters. 1st ed. Vonnegut, Kurt, and Dan Wakefield. New York: Delacorte Press, 2012.