Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Josephine Downey: "What a day!"

Josephine ("Jo") Downey joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II and served as a cryptographer stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines. When the war ended, Jo wrote a letter to her family back in Minnesota to share how she and her friends celebrated V-J Day - early - and how she was looking forward to her discharge and coming home.

Letter Transcript

August 14

Dearest Family,

Essay: How I spent V-J Day (and later discovered it wasn't V-J Day at all.)

There were several V-J Days; some people celebrated them all; some people haven't recovered yet; wonder what they'll be like after the real V-J Day. Probably won't fully recover for years. The V-J I celebrated was Sunday, August 12, only because that was the day we went on the all day party. The 204th Ordnance rented for the day a country club with a very fine outdoor swimming pool. They took along sandwiches, Cokes, ice, and beer and stronger stuff. Each one to his own taste. It wouldn't have been so bad if all the fellows had started fresh with their liquids, but some had been celebrating since Friday nite and had a head start. We swam, we ate sandwiches, we danced (so help me I accidentally did some jitterbugging - very badly to be sure, but the fellows were all feeling like stepping up the music). Batesie and I dreaded going all morning, in fact from the first time we heard about it, but the 204th is the outfit that Gene and Tom belong to. There were only about a dozen girls and about eighty fellows. So we had to play the gay, flippant part to everyone. They were all friends as the unit has been together for over two years; and we had seen many of the fellows before (or at least they had seen us). So we were extremely popular, which always makes me feel like someone out of a book (The Ugly Duckling or something). By the time I got home I was a complete and total wreck. Batesie, Gene, Tom, and I and about two other fellows were sober; some were just feeling good; some never knew the next morning what they did the nite before. But they swam and dived and walked into the water; some who would have been scared pink to go off the high dive almost literally fell off. The water helped to sober the boys up. If it hadn't been one of the V-J Days, I might have been a little disgusted or annoyed; as it was I let myself enjoy it and laughed with the rest of them when they dunked every person who was fully dressed, officers and enlisted men, wallets and all. Then they took their shoes off in the water. Came time to go home one fellow had to go without shoes; no doubt they were in the bottom of the pool. I'd hate to live a life of such activity, but it was good for me to finally discover why people enjoy drinking; most of them get very silly, happy, and love everybody. The little liquor they poured into my Coke only made me sort of drowsy, so you don't need to worry about my ever becoming addicted to it. What a day! What a party! I hope we only have one more real V-J Day. The end.

As for coming home, who knows? If it's points I'll be one of the last. If they should lower the age to thirty-five, I might make it a little sooner. Or they might send WACs ahead of men, tho I don't know why they should. At worst, it shouldn't be for more than six months. It will be too late to start the school year anyway, and the thought of breaking in in the middle gives me cold chills; it would leave me with a deal like I had the fall I joined the WAC. So, I'm not much worried about rushing home, tho I'll be mighty thrilled to be there and shall indeed enjoy a few home grown tomatoes. You might have some dill pickles ready for me too. Oh, for a prune puff pudding. Have been breaking out with a rash on my face, apparently from pineapple, tho I don't know why it should affect me now as it never did before. Probably a combination of acids that doesn't get balanced by our daily diet which is completely out of whack with all laws of nutrition. So, we'll see about the pineapple upside down cake; maybe you can't get pineapple anyway. Do you suppose, being an overseas veteran (one year overseas the 20th of August), I'll get first chance to get a car? I suppose until I start earning, a car will be sort of out of the question, but we'll have one certainly by next summer so we can take a trip, or at least go to the lake.

Better tell Pearl to be patching up the old clothes; if they are as hard to buy as I imagine they are, I probably won't be able to get many, so maybe I can wear some of hers, or my old ones if they're still around. Looks as if I had shoes and a fur coat. It'll be fun shopping, but I keep wondering if there is anything in the stores to buy. Are the styles any different? I'm not sure about my suit. Having worn nothing else but for two years, I don't relish wearing a suit very much, tho it will, certainly fill a big gap in my clothing situation. And it won't be khaki colored which will help some. The only thing I'll have left from the Army are two white jersey slips. They took away all our skirts and unders when we first hit New Guinea and have been doling them back very slowly.

No the yard goods never arrived, nor the nail polish from D. Watz. If I stay long enough I expect it to arrive, but I don't imagine you'd better send any more packages unless there is something very urgent I need. A film sent registered First Class would be the only thing, but if my present film is any good, it will be at least a sample. The one I had in New Guinea is perhaps spoiled by light. I have never used it, but I shall run it off here before I leave just in case the middle is still OK.

The inclosed picture is of a typical street in Manila today. That street had two and three story buildings, a sidewalk, and many balconies and much grill work, but all that melted in the great fires and crumbled with the bombs. When I get my pension I shall come back this way to see how they have cleaned up the place and reconstructed its beauty.

Back to work. how did you celebrate the peace?

All my love,



Downey, Josephine, Josephine Downey Papers, 1929-1947. Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts Collection.