The whole thing happened while I was on special duty in San Francisco and lived at a boarding house there. In that boarding house there was a young chap who worked in the shipyards. He had a girl at the other end of the state who worked for the telephone company and every other night, after 12, she’d ring up and he’d talk with her in the hallway.

A telephone in the middle of night—well, in the middle of anything—is rather disturbing.

So this is what he did: a little before midnight he’d come downstairs and sit by the phone. After a bit the phone would ring and he’d have the receiver off the hook before the bell could ring again.

WWII san francisco market street wwii phone

Crowds celebrate the end of WWII on Market Street in San Francisco.

I know what they used to say because my room was on the other side of the wall from the phone.

One night something happened. She didn’t call up. And he sat there waiting.

So did I. But no call came, not even a wrong number.

I felt sorry for this guy, but what could I do? He came down again the next night and the following four nights. But still no call. Then he gave up.

So I began figuring out what happened. She could have been fired for calling on company lines. She could have fallen in love with another fellow. She could have died.

One night a week later the doorbell rang. The young fellow ran downstairs and opened the door. It was his girlfriend from the other end of California. I knew because he talked to her just like he talked to the girl on the phone.

They went upstairs.

I began wondering what he was going to tell the landlady, but he must have fixed up a good story because she stayed on.

Things were going all right just like a honeymoon until midnight a couple of weeks later when the phone rang. I thought: “Is this going to start all over again?”

The girl answered. And by the way she talked I could tell she was talking to a young fellow.

It seems her husband (yes, they got married) had been put on the swing shift and wasn’t home any more at night, and she was lonely.

The old, old story.

This kept up for more than a week until one afternoon she called a taxi. She left for the depot and caught a train for Los Angeles.

I thought this would be the end of everything. The young husband just stayed around the house all day and didn’t go to work.

That night at midnight, damned if that phone didn’t ring again.

The young husband rushed downstairs. It wasn’t his wife. It was the other fellow. Seems that he didn’t know she had left for Los Angeles.

The husband played the other guy along until he got what he wanted. Then he hung up and rang the Southern Pacific and found out when the next train was leaving for Los Angeles.

I began reading the papers to see if they carried any stories of a two-way murder and suicide down in L.A.

But nothing ever happened. The young fellow never came back, the telephone never rang at midnight again, and a couple of days later, I got my orders to ship out.

—Pfc. George Kaufman


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Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific

Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain

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