|Title||Men I Have Met in Bed|
|Author||Lila Oliver Asher|
Men I Have Met in Bed
By Lila Oliver Asher
Heritage Books, Inc
Lila Oliver Asher, a Chevy Chase resident, was a portrait artist during WWII. She traveled from hospital to hospital drawing portraits of the injured and servicemen to break the boredom for them. She would stay one week in each hospital and travel on Sunday to the next. She called herself "A One-Woman USO Show."
This isn't just my story. I haven't written a "Diary" since I turned fifteen. I never thought my comings and goings were important enough to record in a journal either, so this is a tale of the service men I met in hospital beds. But I can't help including little anecdotes about my meeting them and what I thought as I wrote to my friends who saved these letters.
The war had become a big thing. Sure, I went in 1942 to help at the canteen for servicemen. From its opening I had gone, in response to a request to my art school from the Stage Door Canteen, to find a student who could make good aesses and sketch portraits of the service men. There, sitting in the corner on the same evenings every week, I 3ed much. That it is indeed work; it is harder to draw ires to music than to dance to it. A waltz is not so bad, but n a jam session starts or a boogie, it does get difficult.
Later, I went on Sundays with two older artists to start sketching program in nearby military hospitals. We did wits of GIs first in the recreation room, and later sitting i on their beds in the wards. But that did not seem very h. especially from the point of view of what I had now i in the hospitals. I wanted to do more than pay regular visits to the blood bank. So one day I took off to New York i photostats of my work and letters about my local experience and in 1944 persuaded the USO's newly formed volunteer Artists Sketching Unit to accept my services.
I was booked to travel to military hospitals and work a week in each, traveling on Sunday to the next. They told me I would usually live in the hospital nurses' quarters and "mess" with the officers, ("mess" in the military or civilian sense?) and that all transportation and reservations would be arranged. I was to sketch mostly bed patients; those not able to attend regular USO shows. I would receive an honorarium to pay for any food, lodging or expenses that might be incurred if not provided, and for costs of the art supplies, materials. Drawings, they said, have an entertainment and therapeutic value for those GIs who stay in the wards and can't see the shows, as well as for those who are too sick to have noisy or exciting diversion.
I was "in" and I was terribly excited. I breezed down Fifth Avenue and bought my father a tie by way of celebration and looked for a gift for my mother to ease the apprehension that I knew would come. At home in Philadelphia, the mailman brought forms, endless ones in quintuplicate. I had to trot upstairs in city hall to have the whorls of my fingerprints recorded; I was faced with the problem of whether being class treasurer in tenth grade should be mentioned under "participation in organizations"; and worried after having mailed the forms about neglecting to mention my activities as a Girl Scout selling cookies. Perhaps, too, I should have noted the small scar on the bottom of my right foot as an identifying mark. Would these things be considered withholding of information?
In a few days people whom I had given as references for my sterling character, allegiance to my country, and emotional stability, telephoned full of curiosity about the questionnaires they had received. One wanted to know if I were joining the FBI. Then directions, a USO Camp Show pin, and an itinerary for my first trip arrived and I hurried down to the railroad station to claim the tickets reserved for me. Afterward I stocked up on charcoal and drawing paper, decided which of my clothes would travel well, bought a little hat that would take crushing -- all kinds, and even ch I was to spend only a week each in Pittsburgh and !and, was given farewell luncheons by several friends.
Now I must also mention that at this time there was no nylon for pantyhose and no wash and wear for civilian clothing. That is why I was obliged to carry a small traveling pm and do my own laundry at night. No one had a traveling dim dryer or that marvelous invention, a suitcase with wheels. Many good things were "swell." The Pullman car on a train emoted of pairs of built in facing seats which were made up m e evening by the porter into "bunk beds" called berths.
one was curtained off from the center aisle with heavy ik green material that could be fastened from the inside forcy. The drapery did muffle the noise a bit, but their flow aI movement often revealed the activities of the occupant. The upper berths (a second story bed to which one had access by a ladder supplied by the porter) had a lower Id ceiling. This made them a rather tight squeeze for lthtg up when dressing or undressing. Each berth was fitted h its own light and a little mesh hammock for holding small eta articles or clothing. There was a restroom for men at one rd, and one marked "women" at the other. I had the advantage much of the time as there were considerably fewer on traveling than men during this period, and on one trip I as the only female in the car. The men must have been thbly crowded in theirs, because I had the entire ladies' room to myself!
I continued with the USO until late in 1946. I never meted an overseas assignment since "my favorite armed force" who was to become my husband was due to be returned. However, it was a long time before he was actually released.
The letters refer to several friends. Terry was the Fr herneck", I met her in the advertising office where Ied briefly. She was a girl Friday and copywriter. She be a good friend and volunteered to keep my diary during cr service as a lady Marine. Her husband, Allan, was was in the service.
Donated by Julie Rude Thomas.