Over the Hill

Not all soldiers are decorated heros but are heros nonetheless

During World War II, the late Ted Dittmann of Atascadero wrote many letters to his wife, Frances. Ted Dittmann was a U.S. Army mail clerk in Burma, where America and its allies were fighting to expel the Japanese Army.

On Oct. 19, 1944, he wrote: “The other day we caught a snake in the building where we handle the mail (an ex-Jap ammunition dump.) He was sort of long so we decided that there wasn’t enough room for us all, so the snake went. Into the same hole that a couple of Japs repose in.”

I apologize for using that impolite term for Japanese persons. But changing it would make the quotation inauthentic. Almost everyone said it during the war — on radio, in newspapers, in movies. People feel compelled to insult each other when they fight. Or maybe they feel compelled to fight when they insult each other.

Ted Dittmann was a clerk in a Los Angeles post office. He met Frances in 1937. They married in January 1942 in Las Vegas. That November he was drafted. He’d applied to be a glider pilot, but the Army, with uncharacteristic common sense, made him a mail clerk.

After almost a year, he was shipped to North Africa and then India. Finally in September 1944 he went to Burma, where he organized four Army postal units while coping with jungle conditions.

In one letter to Frances, he explained why he was in Burma: “It was a volunteer assignment. I had heard that the Myitkyina airstrip had been taken, and a postal unit was due to go forward. I asked for it, arrived before the town fell, helped it fall in fact.”

Another letter recounted his success in Myitkyina: “We set a (China, Burma, India Theater) record I was handling (money orders) and took in more than $1 million in one month. All this and foxhole time too.”

In another letter: “I’ve moved again, right into the same kind of spot. The infantry does most of the fighting but I get them their mail.”

Another letter: “I’m in the hospital, I’m sick and I’m tired,” but he recovered, left the Army as a corporal in January 1946 and returned to Frances and the post office.

He retired from the Morro Bay post office in 1969. In 1975, he and Frances moved to Atascadero from Cambria. He died Dec. 23, 2005.

His wasn’t a glamorous hero, just one of the many ordinary GIs whose extraordinary dedication we will remember on Veterans Day, next Thursday.