Reflections: Letter written from China in 1944

By Evelyn Long - Contributing Columnist

Many people who lived in Cardington in the 1940s to 1980 remember Wilbur McAlister. Wilbur came to Cardington in 1938 as a teacher; but when World War II escalated he was called to serve in the Armed Forces.

While he was in China he wrote a letter to Cardington students that was published in the December, 1944 school newspaper, The Searchlight. I want to share some of that letter because of the wisdom he passes on and also to show the difference in the living status of the Chinese with the U.S. at that time.

“Many of you know I am in the Far East in a section of Old Cathay that is as different as day and night when comparing to good old Uncle Sam. I have many opportunities to study the many traits and characteristics imbued in the racial problems that confront the world today. This section is very old fashion and everything is accomplished crudely but always done efficiently.

“The little Chinese kids will speak to all passersby by raising their right thumb high in the air and calling out “ding hao” meaning “Hi Ya what’s cookin? ha bao bao, how are you?” or something that carries with it a greeting and smile broadly from ear to ear. I want to tell you this really warms the cockles of my heart.”

He called the money system “the most peculiar and confusing thing in all China including the war itself. The amount of money one carries can run into bales. When I arrived last February, one American dollar would buy about 170 Chinese dollars. A year ago one American dollar would bring about 80 Chinese dollars, today one American dollar would buy 300 Chinese dollars.”

He listed the cost of some items: bar of Palmolive soap, $300 a bar Chinese dollars; Parker 51 set, $30,000 a set, Chinese dollars; 1936 Ford V-8 car, $10,000 American money.

“Mac” had some advice on education.

“Everyone should look yourself straight in the face and ask yourself if you are taking full advantage through the opportunities that the public school today offers. The beauty and refinement in life takes on an entirely new meaning. While traveling through and candidly observing the Indian and Chinese people, I’ve thought innumerable times whether too many Americans today fumble their education more than is necessary. Life is a challenge and to know and study what it is all about brings much satisfaction for social survival among friends and loved ones.”

Mac said he had run into Cardington grad Bill Snyder, also stationed in the Far East. “Bill looks fine and is doing a great job in his assignment.”

He added that he had received a letter from fellow Cardington teacher Heber Schellenger.

Mac was discharged in 1945 and returned to Cardington where he served as a high school teacher, Searchlight newspaper advisor and high school principal. Also serving as a Cardington teacher, was his wife, Mary, whom he had married in 1942.

Mac died in 1988.

Looking back

80 years ago: Cardington School students were each given a toxoid immunization against diphtheria. The week following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Harvey Connolly and George McClosky, both of Cardingtoin, were inducted into the U. S. Army.

40 years ago: Groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Cardington Municipal Building.

By Evelyn Long

Contributing Columnist