Just when you think you know all the stories of World War II, here’s something else you never thought about. A young man, a baker who is exempt from the draft, reads about D-Day and feels he needs to be a part of this fight. Bill Waldron leaves his bride, Marge, to keep the bakery in operation while he heads off to basic training in August 1944. Many wives followed their husbands while they were stationed in the U.S. but Marge had her own duty to fulfill, delivering the bread to the people of Waukon, Iowa. There were no industrial bakers in the 1940s; no Wonder Bread in the grocery stores.
Duty, Honor and A Loaf of Bread authors Jan and Ed Votroubek did yeoman’s labor transcribing and sorting her parents’ correspondence. It was three years’ work but a labor of love supported by their (fairly enormous) family. Marge and Bill’s carefully preserved letters show us their struggle to support the war effort while desperately “still loving and missing” each other. When Bill was sent to Europe, he was immediately thrust into the Battle of the Bulge and spent the rest of the war in constant danger. Even though he was listed as a cook and baker, he volunteered to be a rifleman and advance scout for his Company. Instead of a safe cushy job in the rear, Bill was in the most dangerous position possible.
It was after the end of hostilities that the untold story begins. Churchill and Patton, among others, assumed the war would go on, but against Russia. Marge’s letters didn’t survive but Bill’s letters show the plight of the three million soldiers left in Europe with nothing to do. Not only that but there really wasn’t anything for anyone to eat, civilians or soldiers. Bill and his Company played cards, met with the local ladies for comfort and occasionally had an hour or two of work. They were all suffering the worst wounds of war: boredom, depression, and frustration. Many succumbed to breakdowns; suicides were common and they grew to hate the people they had saved. The desperation in Bill’s letters shows all of this so clearly, you feel as if it were yesterday.
You can see in Bill’s letters the frustration he felt, knowing that there just weren’t enough ships to get everyone home and worrying that they might all be sent to the Pacific. No one mentioned the Russian threat. They just wanted to go home.