Selections From the Journal of Private First Class Christensen
September 9, 1931 Today is my birthday. And for my birthday, I got this journal. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but for the past few years, money has been a little scarce. Ever since that one October, back when I was just six, (I’m eight now), when Dad sat us all down and told us (us being my family; there were six of us then: My mom, my dad, my two brothers Ben and John, my sister Anna, and me. We had another baby this February, little David, so now there are seven of us) that we had lost all our money, we haven’t really gotten anything nice. I remember that when my dad told me, I didn’t really understand. I still don’t understand very well. But what I do know is that my family never did anything wrong. My dad worked hard all his life as a farmer here in Missouri, and I guess he just put his trust in the wrong people. The banks, that is. I guess one day he just went to the bank, and they just told him they didn’t have any money to give him. It was as simple as that. Luckily, we’ve been able to survive these past two years by eating the crops Dad grows. But in terms of nice things, we just don’t have any. That is why I was so excited to get this journal for my birthday. Just to have something that isn’t used to farm or cook or clean or anything, something that is just for me, something that allows me to be me, to express what I really think instead of pushing it into the back of my mind so I can focus more on my farm work, gives me a chance to better myself by being able to step back and look at what my thoughts, and trying to fit them into a bigger picture of something that really matters. That is why I am excited for this journal. May 16, 1934 Today we start our move. The dust storms lately have just been getting too big. All of our crops are just blowing away, and we are starting to run out of the food we had stored up for an emergency. So, as many like us, we are moving out of Missouri down to the great golden state of California, where Dad says he can get a good job, and we can start living like a normal family. But I don’t think that’s true. Maybe he can get a job, but we won’t be normal. We won’t be accepted as “normal” people into California. We’ll just be another bunch of Okies, even though we’re not even from Oklahoma! Everyone will look at us like we are some poor poverty stricken family, and either patronize us with their charity, or just straight out laugh at us. Maybe we’ll have more money, but that doesn’t really matter. I’d rather stay here and die with the respect of perseverance than live with the shame of not being able to provide for myself. And besides, getting there is going to be a pain! With eight of us now, including little baby Nathan, who is not even a full year old yet, driving the three days to California in our 1929 model A Ford is going to be plain unpleasant! May 20, 1934 We’re finally in California. The golden state… It certainly doesn’t seem golden to me. The only place for us to live is in a tent by the ditches on the road. But at least we’re not alone; dozens of families just like us are living right beside us in their own tents. It’s kind of like a little village, sitting on the outskirts of the San Joaquin Valley. Tomorrow, Dad and Ben and I are going to go look for work down in the valley. There were some flyers we saw advertising good jobs with good pay down there, but the other tent-dwellers told us the work was terrible, and the pay worse. Oh well, whatever gets us through. May 21, 1934 We found work. Dad, Ben and I will be picking cotton down in the valley and try to make ends meet. It’s kind of like living back at home… Except instead of doing useful work and being a respected member of the community, we’re doing the things almost no one else wanted to do, and all the golden Californians hate us for it. July 28, 1939 My father was killed today. Killed by the man who gave him his pitiful life. The man who owned the farm on which Dad had spent the last five years picking cotton. I guess it was a distinct possibility. After all, Dad had recently started to organize a labor strike. All he wanted was what he deserved. He worked himself so hard to provide for our family, and was paid starvation wages for his efforts. He certainly worked harder than some Californians who had lives five times as good as us! I guess someone told the farm owner of Dad’s intentions and the farm owner thought another strike was just too risky to have… So he killed my father. I can’t blame the one who told; more than likely, the farm owner rewarded him for his actions, possibly saving a member of the teller’s family. But I don’t understand! Why must my father die, just for standing up for what he believes in? Is this so terrible a crime that one must die for it? Well, I have decided that for such a steep price, something must come of this. I’ve decided to take another shot at bettering our family’s life. I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I do know that I won’t stop trying until I have seen something changed.
December 8, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed yesterday. The Japanese decided America was just too much of a threat, I guess. It reminds of when my father was killed two years ago… Neither America nor my father harmed the attacking party, and yet both received intense blows, in my father’s case killing him. But in the wake of the attack, I saw something that brought me hope. It was no longer just me who had been wronged. At this point in time, all of America agreed on what actions needed to be taken. Today marks America’s entrance into war against Japan. It also marks my entrance into the military. I enlisted this morning, and intend to spend however much time it takes, the rest of my life possibly, to fight for this country. But it isn’t so much avenging the wrongs committed… Right after yesterday’s attack, I saw myself as a true American, and I was just as American as the golden Californians, and they saw me as such. We were all united for the same goal and we were all willing to cast aside differences that had been ruling our lives, at least my life, for the past seven years. That is the kind of America I am going to go fight for. An America where a person can achieve anything they so desire, without being tied down by where they were born, or what color they are, or by anything else. I am willing to die for this dream, and will go fight all those who oppose it. My life is now for the restoration and defense of the American dream.
June 5, 1944 Tomorrow is the day. Armageddon. Tomorrow the 90th infantry division will land near La Madeleine along the codenamed Utah Beach. Tomorrow is the day that will turn the war in favor of the Allied forces, and bring us one step closer to taking out some of the largest threats to the American Dream. It has certainly been a long journey since the day I started truly defending what I believed in. And it has been worth every moment. Sometimes I question what my true motives for being here are. Is it to avenge my father? To show that even an Okie from Missouri can help change the fate of the world? I think I am here for a bigger reason. I am here to give hope. To let people know that the things they believe in, I believe in, and that I am willing to die to defend those beliefs. To dedicate my entire life to fighting to win the day, in order to build a better tomorrow. This, I have decided, is my true purpose in life. I am willing to forget everything about the past, both the good and bad, to look for a brighter future. Even if I’m not there to enjoy that future. I can only hope my life has not been spent in vain. This may constitute my finally entry into the journal I received so many years ago, on the plains of Missouri. If that is the case, then I would hope that this journal could be recovered, and delivered back to my family, still living in California, with the message that Private First Class Christensen expresses his wishes for his death to have the same effect that he strove for his life to have.
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