20 February 2012

WWII Red Bull blog: 'Well, Happy, and Safe'

Journalist Kurt Greenbaum of Chesterfield, Mo., is using a blog to explore and archive a series of letters penned by his family during World War II. U.S. Army radio operator Frank D. "Babe" Mauro of Mount Kisco, N.Y., was eventually assigned to the Anti-Tank Company, 168th Infantry Regiment (168th Inf.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (34th Inf. Div.).

Babe would serve in both North Africa and Italy, and promote to the WWII-era rank of "technician fifth grade," a non-command rating also called a "tech corporal."

To read the "Well, Happy and Safe" blog, click here. The blog also appears under that "Love, Honor & Support" blog-roll in the right-hand column of the Red Bull Rising blog.

Greenbaum never met his uncle, who would have been age 70 when the journalist first began the personal preservation project in the late 1980s. As Greenbaum wrote in a 1995 magazine article:
When my maternal grandmother died in 1988, and my mother finished going through her belongings, she found an old train case stuffed with letters. They were letters from my grandmother’s son Babe, letters he had written from basic training and from Italy as he served in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II.

At one point, I think during a visit to my parents for Christmas, I made photocopies of all the letters, indexed them, and read them. In part, I was inspired because my grandmother had always stared at me, shaking her head at what she believed was the walking ghost of her son. I never saw the resemblance, but she did.
The blog takes its name from a recurring phrase in Babe's letters. Greenbaum muses:
From [the] 45th letter on, nearly every letter [Babe] writes will begin with those words. 'I am well, happy and safe.' He has landed in Italy. He is in the Infantry. He is now in combat as a radio operator for an anti-tank company. He is well, happy and safe. [...]

I wonder if it’s a technique that he uses, just to get his pen on the paper and start writing something. Does he dash off that first line just to get the juices flowing, hoping that something else will follow?

Or is he really just that upbeat about his situation? Does he love being in the army so much that he really does feel well, happy and safe?

Is he just trying to set his parents’ minds at ease? Babe wrote that letter four days before his 19th birthday. Relax, Mom and Pop. I’m thousands of miles away on foreign soil wearing a uniform and carrying a firearm. You haven’t seen me in eight months, since I shipped out for basic training. Yes, I’m still only a teenager.
In World War I, the U.S. 34th Inf. Div.—then nicknamed the "Sandstorm" division—comprised U.S. National Guard troops from North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. The Midwestern connection continues to the present. The division headquarters is now part of the Minnesota National Guard, and is located Rosemount, Minn. Present-day units that notably continue to wear the "Red Bull" sleeve insignia include Minnesota's 1st Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Inf. Div. (1-34th BCT), and the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Inf. Div. (2-34th BCT).

The 168th Infantry Regiment's lineage is currently maintained by the Iowa National Guard's 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.), headquartered in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a subordinate unit to the 2-34th BCT.

In his letters, Babe took great pride in the 168th Infantry's connection to the 42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division, a headquarters that still exists within today's New York National Guard. The division was named by Gen. Douglas McArthur in World War I, who noted the National Guard division would stretch like a rainbow across soldiers from 26 different home states. (See comments section here for more information about the origins of the Rainbow division.)

On Aug. 7, 1943, Babe wrote from North Africa: "The same old story; I changed my address again. At least, though, I finally got assigned to a regular outfit, and boy, what an outfit. It’s the best on this side and I don’t mean maybe. It’s got a history that dates way back to the Rainbow Division of the last struggle."

The distinctive unit insignia (D.U.I.) of the 1-168th Inf. incorporates a rainbow element to this day.


  1. Happy well and safe.... fascinating letters!

    Thank you for sharing


  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to recognize my project and for your fascinating additional information. I might have to incorporate some of that into my own blog, so be on the lookout for that! And I'll be linking back here from my blogroll. Thanks again!


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