1941 Poetic WW2 Diary of a Burgeoning California Writer Deployed to Kodiak, Alaska Who Would Die Before the War’s End

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On offer is the manuscript diary of a writer named William M. Bordman (1920-1944) who was drafted into the US Army during WWII. His dairy explores the life of a soldier forced to give up everything he holds dear to sail to Kodiak, Alaska in 1941. His entries are thoughtful, lengthy and describe the physical realities of the war, the experience of living in Kodiak, and the emotional and psychological toll of the job.

It is heartbreaking to learn that, after surviving his treacherous service in Alaska as a member of the 250 Coast Artillery Regiment, William died in the line of duty at only 24 years old, before he had the chance to share his writing with the world. 

Some excerpts give a flavour of William’s writing style, which weaves the facts of his experiences and his observations in his distinct voice. He writes of leaving California, traveling to Alaska, the hard life in Kodiak, his views on the government and the war, and touching insights about the emotional toll of war on the boys who were made to fight. 

First, he gets on board the USAT Saint Mihiel to sail to Alaska:

“I saw the [USAT] Saint Mihiel. A dull gray, battle scarred Transport, the remnant of what was once a proud number of an antiquated navy., stull proudly puffs challenging clouds of smoke to the sky in a forceful attempt to show that she is still among the first. We salute you, St Mihiel. We salute your courage through four score years of faithful service. But we cannot but feel disappointed that we haven’t better accommodations or a faster ship. All of her is clean but ancient. 1400 of us are stowed on two decks in the hold, each large enough for about 500. She sways and rattles and her joints are weakened. All of which warns of a lengthy, boring and trifle hazardous trip” [Sept 12, 1941]. 

He describes Kodiak a few times, beginning with this first observation: 

“The town of Kodiak finally came into view, comprising a sprinkling of houses, starting by the shore and spreading high on a steep hill; probably because there isn’t enough flat land anywhere…It is very difficult to describe the terrain of the island. It is all so different and yet so much the same. The mountains might easily be part of those stretching along the peninsula from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Then again they look entirely different than anything I’ve ever seen…” [Sept 16, 1941]. 

He eloquently describes the feelings of a soldier separated from all he knows and loves: 

“Finally in Kodiak! Away from all the things we treasure in life; a young girl’s laughter, an intriguing smile; the intrigue that follows, the understanding goodbyes, a press of a smooth white hand, and the warm pulsing thrill of a woman’s lips; a cocktail at 8, a hamburger with onions, the long intimate walks in the Marina, one of the gang; the loges at the Fox, the Fly Trap, the Sky Room, China Town. These, all these, we will miss. Simple things, inexpensive things, yet what a place the small things of life can fill. But there are things we haven’t lost. The sun, the sky, the star, the feel of rain on a new raincoat and the smell of wet rubber that follows. We will always have our memories. They are important too” [Sept 16, 1941]. 

Through his words we come to understand the experience of the men deployed: 

“The conversations that ensued in the tents that night showed morale to be at the lowest pitch that could exist. Sitting on rocks on the floor of a dark tent, men cursed and cursed again. Not the swearing of a soldier whose every third word has a touch of filth, but the swearing of angry men who are stressed to desperation. I won’t try to retell how we felt. I couldn’t. Emotions were too deep and minds too low for anyone to interpret them and put them on paper. Starting with the President and ending with the lowest member of congress, each person voting for our being held another eighteen months, had the curse of hundreds of soldiers on his head. (a soldier just pointed his pistol at his head and said “I might as well get it over with”)” [Sept 17, 1941]. 

“My new tent assignments are working very well. Bendahan, La Chasse, Woods, Gardiner, and myself stay awake hours after the lights go out indulging in bull sessions, the most famous army pass time. We have an excellent plan! On the next pay day we are starting a mess fund. With a nucleus of $2.00 per man we are purchasing an electric stove, coffee pot and many kinds of food. Every evening we will have coffee, sandwiches, crackers and cheese, and other delicacies to fill in the vacant spot left by the stringent supervision of every bean and potato at mess. I originated the idea and Bendahan has been unanimously appointed purchasing agent” [Sept 27, 1941].

William’s regular diary entries end on Sept 29 and he comes back on Oct 13 with one final, lengthy catch-up entry, which includes the story of a soldier who attempted to scale an Alaskan mountain in poor weather and slipped, requiring a search party of army men to look for his body. 

While this journal only covers a short span of time, Bordman’s knack for the written word and long, patient entries provide the reader with more textured insight into the emotion, psychology, terrain, and work life of the US soldier than many longer soldier’s diaries. This diary is also a glimpse into the author, William M. Bordman, who never was. This would be a sensational addition to the collection of a lover of unpublished writers, or one who is interested in the depth of experience of Americans in Alaska during WWII.

BIO NOTES: William M. Bordman was the second child born to Myron Bordman and Annette Annie Goldstein. He had an older sister named Dorothy. William grew up in San Francisco, California where he attended Galileo High School. He planned to be a writer. He served in the US Army during World War Two in the 2nd Battalion of the 250th Coast Artillery Regiment, training at Camp McQuaide in Watsonville, California, and then sailing to Kodiak Alaska. In Alaska he worked as a typist and a mess orderly. His regiment was withdrawn from Alaska in March of 1943 and assigned elsewhere. He died in the line of duty after an injury on December 29, 1944, which was nine days after his 24th birthday. His Military ID number was 20916990. At the time of his death, William was ranked Technical Sergeant. 

The diary contains 118 pages of content on 59 double-sided pages. The diary measures 6”x4” and is in good condition. The softcover shows obvious signs of folds and wear. The writing is in pencil and is very legible. Normal age toning and bends/folds due to age are present on the pages. The spine is intact. Overall Good. 

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