State Auditors Go to War: Letters from Servicemen

Newsletters Feed Coworkers Hungry for Information

Drawing of soldier holding American flag & UK flag in victory. Statue of Liberty in back. French flag & stone winged soldier.
Bill DeCew sent this heroic Christmas card from Paris to the Audits Division in 1944. (Bill DeCew Letters, Audit Division Records, OSA) Enlarge image
Cards and letters to and from relatives, neighbors and workmates provided Americans in the armed forces with a vital morale boost while giving those at home a valued insight into military life, travels and adventures during World War II. Newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts and movie newsreels contributed to the understanding of events, but they couldn't offer the same perspective as a handwritten letter from a husband, son, or trusted friend. Combined, the two types of information gave those on the home front a deeper understanding of the war. And to the homesick Americans scattered around the globe, news about the neighborhood, church activities, or office gossip was as good as gold.

An Office Information Hub

Stamp with airplane and "Air mail 8 cents" on front.
Letters from coworkers stationed around the world flowed into the Audits Division office during the war. (R.C. Irwin Letters, Audit Division Records, OSA)
Numerous informal methods developed to spread news about loved ones and friends serving in the military. Letters were often read aloud at gatherings or passed on from one neighbor or relative to the next. Simple newsletters were popular too, frequently based on local connections such as labor unions, churches, fraternity houses, or offices. The State Audits Division of the Oregon Secretary of State's Office distributed a newsletter titled C.P.A. News, puckishly subtitled "Certified Partly Accurate." Over the course of the war, the newsletter became the authoritative clearinghouse for information about the two dozen or so Audits Division employees serving in the armed forces. Members of the office's "stenographic force" transcribed letters from coworkers in the military to produce the newsletter, which was distributed to the office, family members and others. The keenest readers of the newsletters were those coworkers serving in the armed forces. Their letters nearly always made mention of their great joy in receiving the newsletter and learning where their coworkers were stationed and what they were doing. A missed issue was often the cause of considerable disappointment. The letters and subsequent newsletters covered a range of topics but did not include news about troop movements, specific locations, or other information subject to censorship.

Life in the Military

Man in pith hat, shorts, t-shirt sits on a boat. He has binoculars around his neck.
Navy Lieutenant Theodore Thompsen relaxes shipboard somewhere in the South Pacific. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
The correspondents rarely failed to mention various aspects of life in the military. For example, Don Griffith, a newly minted Army private based at Camp Barkeley in West Texas, described his early experiences: "The training is rugged and thorough. By that I mean, the marches are long, the sand burrs and cacti sharp, and the full pack plenty heavy." Griffith also received an introduction to the language differences between Oregon and Texas: "Most of the officers speak little english but they speak profanity with marvelous fluency and a southern drawl. This means of expression is a little hard to understand at first, but after a couple of private sessions (with one of these officers) a fellow soon understands what is wanted."Footnote 1

Shirtless man in pith helment holding gun.
Army Private Jim Jefferson stands ready to fight on an island in the South Pacific. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
That feeling of not understanding what was happening, why a task was being done, or where a person would be assigned the next became a regular companion for many correspondents. Men would sometimes wait weeks for assignments. Doug DeCew joined the famed "Seabees" Navy construction battalions and quickly found himself bunking with 1,500 others awaiting assignment. He complained that "they keep us busy from 5: AM to dinner time about 6: PM every day on the fine wood pile, hauling logs out of the woods, general clean up jobs, and various other work details. They seem to have little trouble finding work to do." A relative in the Army, Bill DeCew, was similarly in the dark about his fate: "Have no idea where we're headed but am sure it won't be England. My guess is that we'll end up in Burma." He was soon assigned to England. The guessing game only seemed to intensify at the end of the war when the men were extremely anxious to return to their homes and families. Laments about not having the needed amount of service points to qualify for a discharge peppered their letters along with rumors about possible changes in the number of points required.Footnote 2

Few men complained about the food, although their aversion to KP or kitchen patrol duty was clear, with several reveling in assignments that got them out of the hated duty. The meals varied greatly depending on where the person was stationed. Those serving at bases in the United States usually got standard meat and potatoes fare, and plenty of it, even if the quality was sometimes suspect. Others made do with what was available. For instance, Private Jim Jefferson, based on an island somewhere in the South Pacific, made the best of it, saying that "things aren't too bad. We get a ration of beer (1 case) and coke (8 bottles) each month and we have ice cream about once a week. When we are lucky enough to have fresh eggs the boys stand in the chow line without a complaint." Meanwhile, Navy Ensign Wilson Siegmund couldn't complain about his assignment in Australia. He was lucky enough to be stationed in a "large and quite fashionable hotel with breakfast in bed, if desired (an old Australian custom)." As an ensign, Siegmund also had access to the officers mess, where he noted that the "food is very good, quite like the food in the states and not the steaks and fried potatoes three times per day as is the custom here. Plenty of meat, potatoes, some vegetables, ice cream occasionally."Footnote 3

Observations of Other Places

Most correspondents enjoyed describing the far off places they visited during their service and sending post cards as illustrations. Bill DeCew spent a couple of glorious days in Paris in November, 1944, not long after its liberation from the grip of Nazi occupation. He marveled at the sights, saying that "you can believe everything you've read about that city for it's all true. I went to operas, concerts, stage shows, the French Embassy, etc. Took a trip along the Siene [Seine River]. And spent one night at Le Lido, the night spot. It was really something. They had a swell floor show...the girls had beautiful costumes, those that wore them. Most of them didn't even wear gloves."Footnote 4

Photo of Ensign Wilson in military formal dress.
Navy Ensign Wilson Siegmund had a nice setup while stationed in Australia. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
Private C.E. Ruddell was so impressed with San Francisco, a key gateway for servicemen shipping out to Pacific Ocean assignments, that he recommended it to a friend back at the Audits Division office. Complimenting the "many places of amusement for service men," Ruddell singled out one in particular: "The San Francisco Stage Door Canteen is probably the best as they get the Lion's share of the business. The Canteen has all the leading lights of Radio Stage and Screen that come to town. Saw Gertrude Lawrence there the other night and many others have been there which I have missed seeing." He jokingly gave advice to a young woman who presumably worked as a stenographer in the Audits Division office: "You might pass along to Lucille that this might be the spot for her [to] spend her vacation. The town is full of strapping young innocent appearing sailor boys who seem to have a decided weakness for the buxom type of gal and [I] feel sure Lucille as I remember her could easily qualify. Just passing this information along for her consideration if she is still on the man hunt."Footnote 5

Japanese money with "Fifty Centavos" printed on it.
Wilson Siegmund sent his coworkers at the Audits Division this souvenir Japanese occupation money from the Philippines. (Wilson Siegmund Letters, Audit Division Records, OSA)
Others were less impressed with what they saw during their travels. Jim Jefferson, after stints on Guadalcanal and New Caledonia, among other places in the South Pacific, saw little to recommend the region. In a letter to the Audits Division office, he admitted he had no excuse for not writing sooner, "except that I didn't have much to write about. One day is much like another, - heat and rain, rain and heat. I tell you, these south sea islands have none of the glamour given them by the movies and the nearest thing to Dorothy Lamour I have seen were a few very 'sun burned' females with rings through their noses." Jefferson continued with complaints about the weather: "After being on Guadalcanal I can appreciate what they mean by a sea of mud. When it rains there the mud is knee deep and it rains most of the time.Footnote 6

Sidney Hoffman, a captain in the Army, offered a number of choice words in November 1943 about his assignment in another rainy place: "Somewhere in England":

Despite mixed reviews of the correspondents, most were excited about their experiences, especially the occasional brushes with celebrities. Clive Courter was in an unlikely spot to see a movie star since he was stationed at Fort Riley right in the middle of Kansas, an area not known for glamour sightings. Yet he relayed to his fellow auditors that "you might be interested to know that Gene Tierney, movie star, is here visiting her husband Count 'something' [fashion designer Oleg Cassini] who is a 2nd Lt. [Lieutenant]. Gene stays close to Whiteside hospital as she is expecting." While on the subject of beautiful women, Courter couldn't resist getting in a dig at the Women's Army Corps (WACS), an Army female auxiliary that suffered considerable sexist ridicule during the war: "We also have scads of beautiful (?) WACS here and one verse of a song we sing goes--The WACS that we have here, Are really very fine, They say they are twenty, But look forty-nine."Footnote 8
Photo of Clive Courter in formal military attire.
Clive Courter saw celebrities while stationed in Kansas. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
Courter gleefully conveyed there were other verses that were "not exactly good material for a letter." Jim Jefferson also focused on the women while appreciating blockbuster USO shows where he was stationed in the South Pacific: "We have had several good USO shows here during the last month. The most important were the Bob Hope and the Jack Benny shows. They both had some gals with them which are the most appreciated over here. Jack Benny and his crowd, Carol Landis, Martha Tilton, and Larry Adlar [Adler] the harmonica king, had lunch in the enlisted men's mess hall on noon and almost caused a stampede."Footnote 9 ( Listen to part of a Bob Hope show from the South Pacific - via

Into the Line of Fire

The men from the Audits Division performed a wide range of duties around the world. A few moved directly into audit work with the military and described some of the differences in practices compared to their old office. One started in the artillery but after a physical found he had tumors he was assigned as an auditor. One was a combat engineer. Most served in the Army, several were in the Navy, but none appeared to be in the Marines. Their ranks ranged from lieutenant colonel to buck private. A number of the men never left the states, even if they were moved around the country extensively. Several went to Europe where one was part of the D-Day invasion. Several went to the South Pacific, Philippines, and eventually Japan. At least one went to Alaska and one served in China. Apparently, none of the correspondents was seriously injured or killed during the war.Footnote 10

6 men in military uniforms stand in front of a bomber aircraft with "L" and the number 14 printed on side.
Sergeant Bill DeCew (3rd from right) stands with his flight crew by their bomber. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
One man, Bill DeCew, had his share of adventures and harrowing experiences during his service in the Army Air Corps. After entering the Army in 1942, he trained to become a flight engineer, which he enjoyed, but he wistfully revealed his real dream: "Only wish I was a few years younger so I could be a pilot." While anxious to get into action, he spent 1943 and the first part of 1944 assigned to bases, mostly in the southeast United States. His job was to train the student engineers preparing for duty on bombers. DeCew described his work in a letter: "When a new class comes in, two student engineers are assigned to me. I fly with them each day, explaining to them the hydraulic system, electrical system and engines. They are shown what to do in case of hydraulic failure, generator trouble, run-away propeller, etc."Footnote 11

His job in training was dangerous since he had "sweated out a lot of take-offs and landings with student pilots but all have gotten me back safely. I've been in one crash landing (the plane was finally scrapped) but everyone got out safely. There have been a good many fellows killed here but so far our squadron has had only one casualty." Perhaps in recognition of the dangers, his normal work day was short, at least most of the time: "They did increase my working day from four to eight hours a day and that didn't make me a bit happy. It is rumored around here that we'll go back to four hours a day next week. If that's not true I'm going to put in for a trip to Lake Lure for a rest cure. I don't mind the hours so much but it increases the take-offs and landings that I have to sweat out each day. Some of them are pretty damn rough." Apparently, he and his friends adapted to the stress of the job and heat of the Southeast, as he wrote: "We sit around in the evening drinking Tom Collins and that helps a little."Footnote 12

By fall 1944 DeCew got his wish to get into the thick of the war, joining the waves of bombers flying day and night missions over Germany. An October 1944 letter to his workmates in Salem described the dangerous work:

Photo of Bill DeCew in military uniform. He's wearing glasses & has arms crossed in front.
After a number of dangerous bombing runs over Germany, Bill DeCew was "reeling" from the flak and crackups. He was later shot down and became a POW. (Scrapbook, Audit Division Records, OSA)
DeCew's attitude about his dangerous job seemed to change over a period of about two months in late 1944 and early 1945. He noted in a Dec. 4, 1944 letter that he always felt "pretty bad when they come around to wake the crews and [I] find that our crew isn't flying, yet when we do fly I start shaking the moment I crawl into the plane. Guess I'm hard to please but I still like to fly even if it does scare me." By the time he wrote a letter on Jan. 26, 1945 there was no doubt about his wishes: "Now [I have] definitely changed my mind about flying. As soon as I complete this tour I'm going to stay on the ground. Between the flak and the crackups I've been in it's really got me reeling. Been lucky so far. Hope my luck continues."Footnote 14

But his luck didn't hold. Just over a month after writing about his apprehensions, DeCew's plane was shot down over Germany. There was no word on his fate for about two months. Then, four days after Germany surrendered, DeCew's wife got a letter from the government telling her his plane had been shot down over Griessen, Germany and that "the last anyone saw of the plane it was still under control." Mrs. DeCew relayed that "I also received a letter from one of the Mothers of the crew and someone had written her that they had seen some chutes leave the plane before it dove into the clouds but whose they were or what happened they do not know. No one they say saw the plane crash."Footnote 15

Some time later, probably late May, Mrs. DeCew came by the Audits Division office with the good news that her husband had been found in a cellar in Germany and was safe. A few days later, they received a V-Mail letter that DeCew had sent from Germany on May 4, 1945 saying he was anxious to catch up with the CPA newsletters he had missed:


  1. Letter from Don Griffith to Audits Division Employees, Oct. 4, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  2. Letter from Doug DeCew to Audits Division Employees, Nov. 22, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA; Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, June 6, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  3. Letter from Jim Jefferson to Audits Division Employees, Sept. 25, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA; Letter from Wilson Siegmund to Audits Division Employees, Sept. 16, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  4. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, Nov. 4, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  5. Letter from C.E. Ruddell to Audits Division Employees, June 9, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  6. Letter from Jim Jefferson to Audits Division Employees, July 26, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  7. Letter from Sidney Hoffman to Audits Division Employees, Nov. 7, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  8. Letter from Clive Courter to Audits Division Employees, Sept. 27, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  9. Ibid., Letter from Jim Jefferson to Audits Division Employees, Aug. 24, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  10. Various Letters From Coworkers in the Military to Audits Division Employees, 1943-1946. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  11. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, June 19, 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  12. Ibid., Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, Nov. 1943. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  13. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, Oct. 14, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  14. Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, Dec. 4, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA; Letter from Bill DeCew to Audits Division Employees, Jan. 26, 1945. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  15. Letter from Thirza DeCew to Mr. Starr, Audits Division Supervisor, May 12, 1945. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  16. "C.P.A. News," Volume 3, Number 9 and 10, May and June, 1945. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.
  17. Letter from Don Griffith to Audits Division Employees, Dec. 23, 1944. World War II Correspondence, Audits Division Records, OSA.