APRIL 6, 1944
WASHINGTON, Wednesday—I look back on my visit to the Canal Zone as the time when Miss Thompson and myself were most steadily on the go. We had our headquarters at the home of Governor and Mrs. Glen Edgerton, but I think we must have been most unsatisfactory guests. We left the house so early each morning that our hosts did not say "Good morning" to us until the afternoon, and when we came in at night, we were so weary that we would say "Good night" and go to bed at once.
On our first morning, we went by plane to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus, where we visited Army and Navy hospitals, took an interesting drive to see various military activities, and lunched with some enlisted men who were going through a course in jungle warfare. Then, we flew back to the Pacific side and went to the Gorgas Hospital. This is for Canal Zone civilian workers and their families, but it also has quite a large number of military patients. We had supper with some of the soldiers.
In the evening, we drove out to a jungle base for a USO dance. Chaperones escort groups of girls out to the dances at these posts in the jungle, and the men take a great deal of trouble in their preparations for the dances. That evening, the room was decorated with palms and a good military orchestra was playing.
Quite a number of the soldiers are from Puerto Rico, and so, when I drew the numbers for the door prizes out of a helmet, I had to announce the numbers in Spanish as well as in English. First, the hostess said the Spanish numbers for me, but then I gathered up my courage and began to say them myself, receiving wild applause the first time, because the boys could tell I was a novice at the language.
We then drove back to town to attend a concert at the Teatro Nacional for the benefit of the Navy Relief Society. The solo artist was a sailor from Panama named Samuel Matlowsky. He's really an artist and plays so well that I hope nothing happens to him in the Navy to prevent him from going on with his profession.
While in the Canal Zone, I saw a pamphlet describing the program of orientation classes for the Panama Mobile Force, and was impressed by it. Officially, the object is to give the soldiers an insight into the causes of war, the problems of peace, and so on. Unofficially, the classes are free-for-all discussions of all kinds of topics.
Officers who started the program with crossed fingers have found that these round-table discussions, with all soldiers taking part on an equal footing, have aroused keen interest. The best criterion of the success of the program is that the classes often run through chow time. If a soldier would rather talk than eat, he really likes round tables!
It seems to me that something of this kind should be done much more widely in the Caribbean area, particularly at the lonelier outposts, where there is very little entertainment. In places like Galapagos, for instance, the men have discussions among themselves but with little direction or information, and as one of them remarked to me, "Most of our discussions are about when we will get home."
We are missing a chance to have the men informed on the problems they will face when they return. If they were given an opportunity to think about these problems and to discuss them in their own way, it would be forming a habit which would give us better citizens in the future.