All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writingsby George H.W. Bush
Though reticent in public, George Bush openly shared his private thoughts in correspondence throughout his life. This collection of letters, diary entries, and memos is the closest we’ll ever get to an autobiography.
Organized chronologically, the volume begins with eighteen-year-old George’s letters to his parents during World War II, when, at the time… See more details below
Though reticent in public, George Bush openly shared his private thoughts in correspondence throughout his life. This collection of letters, diary entries, and memos is the closest we’ll ever get to an autobiography.
Organized chronologically, the volume begins with eighteen-year-old George’s letters to his parents during World War II, when, at the time he was commissioned, he was the youngest pilot in the Navy. Readers will gain insights into Bush’s career highlights—the oil business, his two terms in Congress, his ambassadorship to the U.N., his service as an envoy to China, his tenure with the Central Intelligence Agency, and of course, the vice presidency, the presidency, and the post-presidency. They will also observe a devoted husband, father, and American. Ranging from a love letter to Barbara and a letter to his mother about missing his daughter, Robin, after her death from leukemia to a letter to his children two weeks before Nixon’s resignation to one written to them just before the beginning of Desert Storm, the writings are remarkable for their candor, humor, and poignancy.
This new edition includes new letters and photographs that cover the last fifteen years, highlighting the Bush family’s enduring influence on history and including letters that cover topics such as George W. Bush’s presidency, 9/11, Bush senior’s work with President Clinton to help the victims of natural disasters, and the meaning of friendship and family.
All the Best, George Bush provides a memorable, surprisingly intimate, and insightful portrayal of the forty-first president of the United States.
“The travelogue of an observant man with much mettle and an open heart…. His writings cover affairs of state and affairs of spaniels on equal footing. He is modest and gracious. But these short takes on a long life reveal an underlying, consistent sense of duty to office, family and mortality."
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All the Best, George Bush
UNITED STATES NAVY
Love and War
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior at Phillips Academy, Andover. I could hardly wait to get out of school and enlist. Six months later, Secretary of War Henry Stimson delivered our commencement address and advised my class to go to college. He predicted it would be a long war, and there would be plenty of time for us to serve. My dad, Prescott Bush, with whom it was not easy to disagree, hoped I would listen to Secretary Stimson and go on to Yale. After the ceremony, Dad asked me if I had changed my mind. I told him no, I was “joining up.” Dad simply nodded his okay. On my eighteenth birthday, June 12, 1942, I enlisted in the Navy’s flight training program as a seaman second class.
My mother kept all the letters I wrote to her and Dad during World War II, so most of these come from her collection. You will find only one letter to a Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York. Barbara lost her “love” letters during one of our many moves after we got married.
This first group of letters was written from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was enrolled in Naval Aviation Pre-Flight School. For some reason I did not date these letters, but I was stationed there from August to October of 1942.
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . Today I felt better than I have since I’ve been here. It was hot but not unbearable. One fellow fainted at drill just to remind us that it was still hot. It is amazing how our moods change here. So many little things affect us. A cold Coke after drill can do more for one than you can imagine. I have never appreciated little things before. Ice cream, movies, a 15 minute rest, a letter, a compliment to our platoon. All these little things amount to so much in your mind and it is fun. Spirits go way up and way down, but when they’re up you feel so wonderful . . .
I have gotten to know most of the fellows in the platoon. They are a darn good-hearted bunch . . . There are so many different types here. We have a pretty friendly platoon—also good spirit . . .
On our 5 hr. hike tomorrow my heart’ll be with you in the “docks.”1 So drink a sip of water for me. It is our greatest luxury—a swallow of cold water. I think I’m really going to get a lot out of this place. Already we have learned a lot about people & discipline and tired muscles.
This is a letter to my sister, Nancy, who was two years my junior. I was one of five children: Prescott (whom we called Pres or Pressy), myself, Nancy, Jonathan, and William (nicknamed Bucky), who was only four years old when I joined the Navy.
. . . There is not much “news” here. We live by the day—a wholesome life, at times seemingly futile, but looking at it philosophically I wouldn’t change positions with any fellow in civilian life. The Navy itself is great, but what we are here for is even greater, and if at all times I can keep my objective in view I am hopeful of a successful conclusion to this one year course. After having been here just one month my desire to win my wings and become an officer is tremendous. I’m afraid if I fail for any reason my disappointment will be very deep. I am proud to be here, Nance, and as I said before wouldn’t change for the world.
. . . I have to write Bobsie3 now. I miss her more than she knows, Nance. I don’t know why but she seems so perfect a girl—beautiful, gentle, a wonderful sense of humor, so much fun etc. I think of her all the time and would love to see her.
Give her my love especially—
Much love to you and write if you get another minute—so long,
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . The only thing wrong with this place is, they don’t realize the average intelligence. They hand out so much crude propaganda here. It is really sickening—Many of the men here realize it—also the intelligent officers. Stuff like “Kill the Japs—hate—murder” and a lot of stuff like “you are the cream of American youth.” Some fellows swallow it all. These are the fellows many whom are below average intelligence, 2 of my roommates, for example, get a big kick out of hearing it. Maybe it is good. All the well educated fellows know what they are fighting for—why they are here and don’t need to be “brainwashed” into anything . . .
Well the war strikes home, as it were, doesn’t it—c.c. with the very sad news of George Mead.4 I didn’t know him very well, but from all sides all you could hear was praise. He died the way all of us would like to die when our time comes—Mum, it’s a very funny thing. I have no fear of death now. Maybe it’s because I am here safely on the ground that I say this. I do not think I will change. All heroics aside, I feel, and every fellow here I’m sure feels, that the only part of the whole thing of any worry would be the sorrow it might cause to our families. I cannot express myself as clearly as I see it in my own mind. Once in the air death may strike at any time, but I shall not fear it. Perhaps with this fleet it will be different—God grant it won’t! . . .
Much, much love,
Well today sure was wonderful.
. . . I met Barbara at the Inn at 12. She took a cab over from Raleigh. She looked too cute for words—really beautiful. We had a sandwich in town and then walked. I showed her the plant and then we walked over to Keenan Stadium. When we started it was clear, but once there it poured—just buckets. We got some protection from the canvas covered press box, but couldn’t leave there. . . . Not thrilling but such fun just seeing her. We laughed at everything. I had formation at six so we went back to the Inn. She took a bus for Raleigh where she is staying overnight with a girl from school. She was so swell to come way over here. I sure am glad you said “grand idea” to Mrs. Pierce.5 . . .
Much love to all,
This next group of letters was written from Wold-Chamberlain Naval Air Station, Minneapolis, where I was based from November 1942 to February 1943. It was here that I finally began to learn how to fly.
Well today was the big day—in fact one of the biggest thrills of my life, I imagine. We marched down to the #1 hanger and they read out the names for the first hop. I was in. I went down, got my gear, and then consulted the board. Plane P-18 1st hop—2nd hop Plane P-18 check pilot Boyle. I immediately went around trying to find out what kind of a check Boyle is. All I got was “pretty tough”. This was quite disheartening. I then went out and warmed up the ship waiting for Ens. Crume (CRUME pronounced croom)6 to arrive. . . . The fog was pretty thick but they let us go up. Crume came and we were off. I did it all myself and everything went O.K. However, I was so nervous, that in the beginning my legs were shivering around. Once in the air I was completely cool much to my surprise. We did some emergencies and landings and then came in. I gave him one poor landing so I wasn’t sure about my “up”, but when we got out he told me “O.K.” Then for the real check. Ens. Boyle came out. Once in the plane we didn’t say a word. I taxied out, revved up the engine, locked the tailwheel, adjusted my goggles & seat, checked the instruments & the tower, swung into the wind and we were off. For about one turn of the field I was pretty nervous. First he signaled (wouldn’t talk) to make 2 landings (When I speak of landings I mean “touch and go” except for this final one before the plane stops rolling, gun her and take off again.) The first landing was swell—the 2nd rather rough. We then dove into the fog and went off and did 2 1,000-foot emergencies. (That is he cuts the gas, and I have to establish a glide, get going into the wind to land on a field which I select—we don’t actually land, just go down to about 75 feet) Once I picked out a good field but the other time I’m afraid it’d have been a pretty rough procedure if I had had to land. He then indicated to head back to the field—For a minute I was lost—couldn’t see the field through the mist, but luckily I located it. I did 2 more landings and taxied in. My nervousness, which had subsided after the first takeoff, came on again. As he climbed out I looked for the verdict. “Did you get an up from your instructor,” he said. “O.K.—then take it up yourself,” and off he walked. There I was alone in the plane: I gave the “thumbs up” to the plane captain, he removed the chocks and I was off. I wasn’t shaky on the controls, and was completely confident for some reason. I had to taxi way down between rows of army bombers to get to my take off point. My solo was just “2 landings”—that’s your first solo assignment. Off I zoomed—climbed to 300 ft at 65 knots; level off—pass under the traffic circle. Nobody was there saying all this, this time yet I did it—The needle seemed to stay right at 500—whereas with the instructors I’d drop or gain. Everything seemed so free and easy and really wonderful. My landings weren’t good—I bounced and didn’t cut quite soon enough, but I didn’t worry as I have before. This was the thing that made it so much fun. I turned back in and it was over—just as quickly as it had come. I felt good though—Mum, It was the first time I have climbed out of the plane without worrying or having a touch of discouragement. Yes, tonight I am very happy.
When we leave here we want to specify the type of flying we want to do. I have been considering the Marines (I’d be commissioned 2nd Lt. instead of Ensign) The reason is they fly a lot in attack bombers—fly low and strafe as well as bomb. They clear the way for advancing troops. This or long range bombing appeals to me more than anything else, and from all I can gather, the Marines do more of it than the Navy. I have 2 months before I choose anyway, and besides you don’t always get your choice. I’ll let you know what I decide as soon as I know more about flying and find out what I’d be best in . . .
Well, Mum, I better go back and get some sleep—Much love to all,
. . . Thanksgiving comes tomorrow. I guess that I will hardly notice it here—that is outwardly as we can’t leave the base and just get 1 hr. off, but it won’t just be a regular day Mum. We all do have something to be thankful for, even though the days are darker than when we could all be together. I guess I’m the most thanks-giving fellow here, because even though I’m a couple of thousand miles off I’m lucky, Mum—Lucky for you and Dad and all the family and so many other things. I thought when I was away at school I understood it all, but being away in the Navy for this long and with so many different types of fellows has made me see more clearly still how much I do have to be thankful for. . . .
Much love, Mum dear
Gosh it was wonderful hearing your voice today—It was swell of you to call. I got the message just after I came back from church. . . .
It was interesting to see a lot of these fellows, today. Some tough ones, some common, other grand fellows. We all are up to our beds for a few minutes after church, and most of the fellows were quiet—thinking of other Thanksgiving days. For many it was the first time away and it was a bit strange. It will always be strange to me, to be away on a day like this, at least until I have my own home. It’s days like this that makes me anxious to be out fighting—though I know I can never become a killer, I will never feel right until I have actually fought. Being physically able and young enough I belong out at the front and the sooner there, the better. The job seems so tremendous, yet it must end and when it does and we have won perhaps days like this will once again be symbolic of happiness and freedom and the ironic note added by a brutal war will be far removed. . . .
Dear Dad and Mum,
. . . Yesterday a friend of mine cracked up. His motor cut on him and all landing sites were poor. He managed to get it fairly well down but then he nosed over, flipped onto his back, and was hanging by his safety belt—about 1 ft. from the ground (his head). The tail was wiped right off the plane. Luckily he unhooked his belt and could slip out O.K. Poor Ed. He hasn’t been doing too well anyway and this may be just what he doesn’t need. The motors are apt to cut on cold days—Once I started looking for a field but the thing got going O.K. again . . .
Barbara knitted me a pair of socks which she claims don’t look at all like socks but she’s sending them anyway. Maybe I can make a neck protector out of ’em if they are too big. . . .
Dear Mum and Dad,
Well my first Xmas away is over and gone, but I don’t believe I’ll ever forget it. I missed you all very much, yet I wasn’t homesick. Your lovely presents are wonderful. I’ve got the bracelet on and it’ll never be taken off permanently until I’m back for good.7 It’s beautiful, Mum, and it means an awful lot to me. The goggles I wore today and they are wonderful. I’m surprised you could get such grand ones. They are just what I needed—good protection by that rubber and it holds my face mask firmly in place and also they don’t hurt across the nose. The bathrobe is swell, too. Thank you so much—oh yes, the stocking too—I only hope that we’ll never think we’re too old for them . . .
. . . My Xmas take was good. $25 from Gampy, and numerous socks and the like. Got a big box of food from the Pierces and Barbara is sending me soon what I asked for; namely a decent picture of her . . .
Occasionally in my letters home I would include diagrams to illustrate what I was learning. This is a typical example:
Well the sky is clear today and it looks like I’ll get my hop in . . .
My inverted spins were really pretty good fun. You are really thrown outward with terrific force and if it weren’t for the belt you’d fly through space. I also had immelman’s and falling leaf.8 An immelman’s starts off like a loop. Dive to pick up your 125 knots, pull back to upside down—now here’s the difference—instead of coming on around you do a slow roll from the upside down position and fly on out:
They are about the hardest but are also good fun. . . .
Please keep in mind as you read this letter that I was a very innocent eighteen-year-old, and it was 1942. Things were very different way back then. Having said that, I do not think it would be a bad thing if more eighteen-year-olds today were just as innocent. As to the reference to my sister, Nancy, I suspect Mum had caught her kissing a beau.
Now about your question, Mum. I do love to kid you and did this summer but I agree with you in part. I would hate to have Nancy a necker at heart. Nothing could be worse. Kissing is not an obligation a girl owes a boy regardless of how often he takes her out or how much money he spends . . . but I don’t think that it is entirely wrong for a girl to be kissed by a boy. Let us take this famous case Pierce vs. Bush summer ’42. I kissed Barbara and am glad of it. I don’t believe she will ever regret it or resent it, and I certainly am not ashamed of it. I’d tell you, Mrs. Pierce, or anybody but at the same time I might as well tell you I have never felt towards another girl as I do towards her. Whether the feeling is mutual I cannot say. To get back to my example, however, if Barbara sort of forgets me, which is not unlikely, as I have no chance to see her at all, I don’t believe she will ever dislike me more for having kissed her. She knows how I felt towards her and she must have shared some of the same feeling or she would not have allowed me to kiss her. I have never kissed another girl—this making myself just as much of an oddity as Nancy, since most of the boys do not stop with kissing—(how terribly true that is here, more than home, but then again most of these fellows are grown men—also men with different background.) It’s not because I have honestly disapproved of it, however. If I said it were I would be lying. In conclusion a Mrs. Simmons kiss, both sides willing, I believe harmless; to neck—entirely wrong—for a girl to be kissed by someone whom she loves (or thinks she love) and who—she is sure cares for her—O.K. This is a very uncoordinated piece of writing and unorganized but I’ve said about what I mean. For a kiss to mean engagement is a very beautiful idea, Mama, but it went out a while back I guess.
Now for me to continue and tell you the facts of life—of the life I’m living in 1940’s—Apparently Mum you seemed so terribly surprised when Pressy and I hinted around about the “things that went on?” Pressy and I share a view which few others, very few others even in Greenwich share. That’s regarding intercourse before marriage. I would hate to find that my wife had known some other man, and it seems to me only fair to her that she be able to expect the same standards from me. Pres agrees as I said before, but not many others our age will. Daddy has never discussed such things with us—of this I am very glad. But we have learned as the years went on by his character what is right and what is wrong. Most fellows here—true some are engaged and some believe as I do—but most fellows take sex as much they can get. This town in particular seems full of girls (working in offices etc.) rather attractive girls at that, who after a couple of drinks would just as soon go to bed with some cadet. They are partly uniform conscious I suppose, but the thing is they, as well as the cadet, have been brought up differently. They believe in satisfying any sexual urge by contact with men. They all say “I’m not that type of girl, but all-right—just for you!” Every single girl says this. These girls are not prostitutes, but just girls without any morals at all. Somehow it does seem a little worse for girls to me, I suppose it shouldn’t but it does. Leading the life we lead one cannot help but feel the desire for a woman. I would be most facetious were I to deny ever having experienced said feelings. The difference is entirely in what we have been taught; not only in “what” but in “how well” we have been taught it.
This pertains not only to the N.A.S. [Naval Air Station] Minneapolis, Minn., but to every town in the country, to college campuses—yes, even to Yale University. Boys you know—boys I like very much—and even boys I admire have had intercourse with women. . . .
Some guys, you know one perfect example in New Haven, because they love a girl believe in relationships before marriage. This seems to me more excusable than just plain sex—sex to satisfy physical biological emotions—yet I know it is not right.
Most of this you have probably known, but this is how I feel. I hope that this letter does not seem presumptuous. To think all this was brought on by your asking me what I thought about kissing.
professor “sexology” Ph.D.
Last night I really had quite a scare in night flying. I finished all my night flying last night. I just had one solo yesterday. The wind was almost from south—a little southwest, but they had the runway laid out west. This meant we were landing somewhat crosswind to start with—an undesirable setup. Furthermore they had the runway much narrower than usual. It was like landing on a pin. All the instructors were griping about how narrow the runway was. You see with the crosswind there was considerable drift. In other words you’d have your plane pointing one way, and you’d be making true a different course over the ground. It was quite tough, but I surprised myself and really made some nice landings (Night flying is much easier alone as you can see all the signals more clearly and command a better view of the runway.) Well, I was coming in for my last landing. I got all “squared away” and even got a green light from the truck. Suddenly I heard this scraping noise—I had hit a tree—Well you can imagine my feelings. I didn’t know whether the next second I’d hit one with my prop instead of my wheels. I gave full throttle and climbed up—flew across the field and came in again. It turned out later that two instructors also hit this tree. The runway was too close to the woods on the east side of the field. I just thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t 2 or 3 feet lower or I’d have hit the prop and then, well I don’t really know. It’s a funny thing—you don’t ever get scared till afterwards. Same with a dangerous landing or something. . . .
So long for now, Mum
Much much love,
Yesterday was one of the—if not the—most unpleasant days of my life—at least 1 1/4 hours of it. I had my “D” check with Ensign Warren. He was very nice on the ground, but no sooner did we get in the plane than he started yelling. In no time in my life have I ever felt so uncomfortable. According to him I just couldn’t do a thing right. Frankly, before my check I was confident but once in that plane I was lost. Taxing, climbing—even on fundamentals like that—he bellowed. I was so flustered I couldn’t think. (How I pity guys with instructors like that) Well we got on the ground and I was beat. But after it was over he gave me a very weak “up” nevertheless it’s an “up.” It was an experience I’ll probably have to undergo again. But I sure hope not. That must be the philosophy of some pilots to make you fly under tough conditions. The fact remains however, that I got an up. . . .
. . . The realization came upon me yesterday that I’m 2/3 on the way to my commission and wings almost. It is a wonderful feeling and I just hope that in 3 months more I’ll actually get through . . .
Much love to all,
This next series of letters was written from the U.S. Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, where I was stationed from February to June 1943.
. . . Today I went to church here. There were only about 12 cadets and 8 others there but it was very nice. The Chaplain was an awfully young fellow with a most appealing nature. It was held in ground school. I was very poor about churching in Mpls. . . .
I got a letter from F. Von Stade.9 He was on a 14 day furlough at Aiken [S.C.] recovering from pneumonia—what a break. Anyway he called up Barbara . . . He claims Barbara said she was glad I was in Texas where the girls are lousy so maybe I still am in. I sure so hope so. If she “fluffed me off” without warning I would be absolutely sick no kidding. Every day practically guys are getting “fluffed off” from girls they’ve left. . . . All the time it happens. You know Mum it’s funny being thrown in with a bunch of guys so much older—They don’t seem older, but here they are, all thinking and talking about getting married etc. Everyone asks me, after looking at Barbara’s picture, when I’m going to marry her. Good heaven’s! To think that last year at this time I was thinking along lines of prep school proms and stuff seems unbelievable. That’s the hard part. Being around guys averaging 22 about it’s only natural to think as they do on general things, and yet my 18 years keep coming up. I wish I were 20 or 21. It’s not that I feel younger or anything, but I just wish I were. The fellows whose lives may be better for this thing are those who graduated last fall or Xmas from college. They have a degree and can probably get a decent job after the war and still will profit from having had military experience. Say the war ends in 2 years and I go to college. I’ll feel like the old man . . . all my friends’ll be through. That’ll all straighten out though, and if you think I’d change with any of those fellows at Yale, you’re sadly mistaken. I still would like to be 21—have a million dollars, and a beautiful wife. I can remember how I once said I wasn’t going to get married.
. . . I do still love (I honestly feel sure of it) Barbara, Mum, yet I know that there is such a chance of her meeting some other guy. She is so very young and so darn attractive and I could hardly expect her to keep caring about me for years. ENOUGH OF THIS!!!!!!!! You both must think I’m crazy! . . .
Dear Mum and Dad,
Today was the big day and after a great deal of confusion it seems that your loving son is a torpedo bomber selectee. Yes I got my first choice and tomorrow morning, unless some unforeseen circumstances arise, I pack my belongings and move out to nearby (3 miles) Waldron Field, new home of the Torpedo squadron. I really am delighted with my lot and provided all goes well I should be home with you all in less than 6 weeks.
. . . John Buckby, one of my roommates now, 19 years old (the only other fellow I’ve met that young) is going to get married when he graduates. Naturally we all talk about these things, and he is convinced that he should—however, he has no money aside from the $250 he’ll be making and then his future is a bit of a “?” I don’t quite see how these guys get married when they know that they have no means of support and probably will be out of this country in a short time. . . .
. . . Barbara knit me another pair of socks. The last ones, except for the shape, were really swell. These, she says, are too heavy and miles too big. At the last minute she always gets embarrassed and won’t send them until I persuade her.
. . . Mum, I don’t know why, but I can hardly believe that I’ll be an officer soon. It just is something I’ve really wanted and now that it looks like I’m going to get it, I find it hard to believe. From what I can gather I will be the youngest flying officer (maybe officers) in the Navy. I’m not proud of being young—but it’s a fact so I’ve been told. The youngest in the Army is 19. . . .
Much much love,
. . . Mum, I’m really worried. I hope it’s one of her lapses which she falls in occasionally either because she’s busy or just to keep me anxious and interested; but I haven’t gotten but 1 letter in 3 1/2 weeks. Before there were a couple of 2 week famines but never this. I don’t know, hope it’s not the “fluff.” Being away from all nice girls I worry more than usual over Barb. It’s silly but that’s how its been. As I’ve said before Barb is really a smart girl in that she can be sweet and all that without committing herself to any great degree—Oh well, not much I can do now. . . .
I received my wings on June 9, 1943, in Corpus Christi, three days before my nineteenth birthday. After a short leave at home, I reported to the U.S. naval air station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I would learn how to fly torpedo bombers.
First of all and mainly is the matter of a glorious 5 days. Never in the world could any son ever have been given such a welcome. You and Dad just did too much for me. Not much else I can say about it, except that those short 5 days have made all my time away from home seem worthwhile. Trite though it may be, it’s a short stay with those you love which re-clarifies in one’s mind exactly what you’re fighting for. From now on it will be no picnic. Two months here (no more). A week or so at Chicago and then as quickly as one squadron can form at either San Diego or Norfolk or Oklahoma, we head overseas. That takes perhaps a week, perhaps 2 months, depending on the men available. Being here and seeing these monstrous ships in their battle paint brings home the point that it won’t be long now. I cannot wait—not because of the glamour or of the thrills—for heaven’s knows I love my home like few others—but because it is my job, clearly defined and it must be done. . . .
One last thing, sweet Mama! The way you and Dad both were so wonderful about Barbara probably meant more to me than anything. After all you hadn’t seen me in ages and yet you didn’t object to my running off. I needn’t bother to tell you how much Barbara means to me—pretty evident I guess—knowing this you must know how happy you made me by being so marvelous about having her up etc.
Goodnight and much, much love,
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . I saw a Henry Aldrich movie here at the base tonight. Also heard Fred10 & am now back listening to Marian Anderson. I have used this radio almost incessantly. . . .
I sent Barbara an alligator; he ate Mrs. Pierce’s frog in her pool, and finally beat an escape into the woods. If you would like a ‘gator’ at home—give me the word and he’s as good as yours.
I finished my training in Fort Lauderdale in August 1943 and then headed for the huge naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. For the next few months, as I entered my final stage of training, I bounced around quite a bit—to the naval air station at Chincoteague, Virginia; back to Norfolk; up to Hyannis, Massachusetts; to Charlestown, Rhode Island; then back to Norfolk. During this period my squadron was formed, VT-51. (For some reason, I also started dating my letters about this time.)
Monday, Nov. 1
I’ve thought this over and I wasn’t quite sure whether I should write or not, but I wanted to tell someone about it, and I think it wiser to tell you, cause Mum might do some unnecessary worrying. I hope you won’t worry about me after hearing it. I wanted to tell you all about it though.
Today on my last flight I was coming in for my final landing when I hit a vicious slipstream from 2 recently landed TBF’s.11 I was ready to land but I shoved on full throttle to go around again—by that time, however, the slipstream had one wing down on the runway. I swerved to that (the left side) going off the runway. As I went off—my wheels hit and one gave way—This sent me careening sort of half sideway on one wing and the belly over the ground. Everything happened so quickly that I can’t exactly remember it all. The prop hit and stopped. I was scared we’d tip over, but luckily we didn’t. As soon as she stopped—I snapped off the switch, gas, and battery and leapt out and to the stern. My crewmen were scurrying out as I opened the back door. Luckily none of the 3 of us was injured at all. The plane is a total loss. Both wings smashed, fuselage slightly buckled etc.-etc. It gave me quite a feeling. While careening speedily and recklessly across the runway a feeling of helplessness not fear seized me. Then there flashed thru my mind the question “will we go over?”—then she stopped and I leapt. Funny I never really was scared. After it was over I had that excited feeling in the pit of my stomach. We were terribly lucky that the ship didn’t burn.
The skipper was very understanding & nice about the whole thing. Nothing will happen to me, I’ll just sign a report. It really was something—one of the things that make flying dangerous is the slipstream, and I really got hit bad.
I feel perfectly now and am anxious to get back in the air tomorrow, so don’t give it another thought. I just wanted to let you know about it.
It was really great seeing you all again this weekend, and I’m now looking forward to the next one—
. . . Now, Mum, I may have quite a secret to tell you in a few days—are you wiser at all? Maybe you can guess—maybe not.
It was such fun seeing you, Mum. It really wasn’t for long—I feel badly about it after; came home and then see you so little. Must be love Mum—No longer am I confused though—I’m just so convinced that Barbara is the girl for me. The only thing that bothers me is the future. I feel certain that right now I could hold down a job as well as men with an educational advantage over me. I have associated for the most part with college fellows since I’ve been in the Navy and in my own heart I know I could do a job as well—The question is what—I wouldn’t want to fly all my life for a living—any job where I could make enough money to have the few basic things I desire would be most welcome. I often think and worry about it—I now know exactly what I want. No college, I’ll have to do without, just a job anywhere with a fairly decent salary. The war will probably last at least 2 years more so my problem is not as imminent as it might be, but it worries me a little. Why this outburst I don’t know—anyway lots of people will need a good butler when this is over. . . .
This letter was written after I had been home on leave, during which I told my mother that Barbara and I were “secretly” engaged.
. . . I’m glad I told you all about Bar & me. You probably knew already; but do tell Dad! I found two letters from Barbara here today. I think she has told her family. She said she was going to and she told me to tell all my family—Poor child doesn’t quite know what “all” means in this case I’m afraid. I do think I’ll write Ganny & Flash12 sometime soon about it. I don’t quite know how to go about it all. As things stand now I’ll probably wait about a year to announce it, but things do so change—I think Barbara is partial to the present—I’ll have to see her soon again and talk it all over. She agreed to my suggestion of waiting till after the fleet, but I can’t be sure her heart feels that way until I see her. As for me, the present would be fine, but somehow the other seems wiser . . .
Incidentally if you see any shiny rocks on our driveway collect them—Seriously though, Mum just for interests sake what does a fairly decent looking ring cost? . . .
As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, Barbara lost all my letters to her during the war—except for this one, which she kept in her engagement scrapbook.
Dec. 12, 1943
My darling Bar,
This should be a very easy letter to write—words should come easily and in short it should be simple for me to tell you how desperately happy I was to open the paper and see the announcement of our engagement, but somehow I can’t possibly say all in a letter I should like to.
I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you—
As the days go by the time of our departure draws nearer. For a long time I had anxiously looked forward to the day when we would go aboard and set to sea. It seemed that obtaining that goal would be all I could desire for some time, but, Bar, you have changed all that. I cannot say that I do not want to go—for that would be a lie. We have been working for a long time with a single purpose in mind, to be so equipped that we could meet and defeat our enemy. I do want to go because it is my part, but now leaving presents itself not as an adventure but as a job which I hope will be over before long. Even now, with a good while between us and the sea, I am thinking of getting back. This may sound melodramatic, but if it does it is only my inadequacy to say what I mean. Bar, you have made my life full of everything I could ever dream of—my complete happiness should be a token of my love for you.
Wednesday is definitely the commissioning and I do hope you’ll be there. I’ll call Mum tomorrow about my plan. A lot of fellows put down their parents or wives and they aren’t going so you could pass as a Mrs.—Just say you lost the invite and give your name. They’ll check the list and you’ll be in. How proud I’ll be if you can come.13
I’ll tell you all about the latest flying developments later. We have so much to do and so little time to do it in. It is frightening at times. The seriousness of this thing is beginning to strike home. I have been made asst. gunnery officer and when Lt. Houle leaves I will be gunnery officer. I’m afraid I know very little about it but I am excited at having such a job. I’ll tell you all about this later too.
The wind of late has been blowing like mad and our flying has been cut to a minimum. My plane, #2 now, is up at Quonset, having a camera installed.14 It is Bar #2 but purely in spirit since the Atlantic fleet won’t let us have names on our planes.
Goodnite, my beautiful. Everytime I say beautiful you about kill me but you’ll have to accept it—
I hope I get Thursday off—there’s still a chance. All my love darling—
public fiancé as of 12/12/43
. . . I changed my allotment check, so starting either at the end of January or the end of February the check for 143 dollars will come to you every month. The reason for this is because if I left it made out to the bank and I should become lost the payments would immediately be stopped. If it is made out to you and I am lost the checks will continue to come in until it is definitely established that I am safely in heaven. . . .
. . . I miss Bar something terrific but I suppose it’s only natural. It’s really agony—so close and yet so far away. I think of her every minute and know that I will be completely happy only when I am with her again. I will be so pleased when she is mine for keeps. When that will be it is hard to guess. I certainly hope we can get married before she finishes Smith. As far as her wanting to, that’s settled. We both want to be married, but it’s so clear to see that our wants are not the determining factor in this case. What do you both think I should have to offer Bar before we can get married? She does not expect us to have a thing, but I wonder if it would be fair to her to get married with what I have saved, say in a year after I get back I will have well over $2,000 by then.
Perhaps I’d be sent back out again a few months after we were married. There are so many considerations. The one thing I really want is to have Barbara for my wife and naturally I want that as soon as possible. . . . I have talked to Bar a good deal about it and we both want to get married when I come back from the fleet next year. Please tell me what you think. Mr. Pierce would like Barbara to finish Smith, but I don’t think he’d disapprove of our getting married next year—I don’t know for sure. Mrs. Pierce probably would hate to lose her daughter but she does want her to be happy so that’s the way that stands. Perhaps I should have a talk with Mr. P after shakedown.15
Much love to all,
Yesterday we went and landed aboard the San [Jac] for the first time . . . We, the TBF’s, landed first. The ship looked really swell steaming along in her battle camouflage. We made a few practice passes down wind and then she swung around into the wind and we came aboard. She was moving at a good clip and the air was nice and smooth, facilitating landings. We each made 3 landings and then cut our motors on the deck. We taxied into position before cutting the motors. On Carriers it is necessary to utilize every inch of deck space. The result is that the line-men taxi you right up to the very edge of the deck. They put me right on the starboard bow and I thought I was going to fall over any minute. With the water rushing by over the side etc. it is quite scary. This putting the planes where they want them is called spotting and it’s very important. The loudspeakers announced that the pilots had 7 minutes so then 3 of us went below for coffee. Everyone aboard welcomed us and was swell to us. These are the first landings a lot of the crew had seen so they were quite excited. Soon the loudspeaker boomed and we manned our planes, started the engines etc. We were catapulted off. In fact I made the first catapult shot ever made from the USS San Jacinto—I was mighty glad the machine worked. I think I’d rather be catapulted than make a full deck take off. . . .
After a two-week shakedown cruise to Trinidad, British West Indies, the San Jac set sail March 25, 1944, heading for San Diego first, then to the South Pacific. The next group of letters was written from the ship.
Wed. April 12, 1944
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . I wish I could tell you where we are, what we’re doing etc. I can’t of course mainly because we aren’t allowed to, secondly because I really can’t be sure I know.
I finished the 4 books you gave me Mum and loved them all. I’m going to pick up a couple of more. I am trying to read a few on Russia, because I have become pretty much interested in that end of our diplomatic relations. Then, too, I know so little about it all that a couple of books wouldn’t hurt anyway. . . .
Well, so long for now and much, much love to all,
April 27, 1944
Dearest Mum and Dad,
I haven’t written for several days but still there is little to write about—at least little which I am allowed to write. I wish I could tell all because it is interesting and will be plenty exciting no doubt.
Have piled up quite a few hours lately and have boosted my total landings aboard up to about 47. One of them (my second to last to be exact) really was a scary devil. I came in high and a little fast—I got the cut & nosed once but not enough—I then hauled back and made a real hard landing, blowing out my right tire and stopping precariously near the catwalk. How I hate to make a terrible landing—I get to worrying about it and also it’s not good for the crewmen. Everyday someone at least gets a tire or 2; so it’s not serious, but I don’t like it.
. . . From now on it’s going to be plenty rugged duty—in a way I’m glad, cause I probably need the experience—maybe you should have been a little bit mean so I would relish the thought of killing etc. When my time is up all I ask for is to get married and be able to be with my wife for some sort of a decent amount of time. How I miss my Barbara—It’s such fun at nite after the hectic turmoil of carrier flight operations is over to lie in my upper and let my mind relax, think of you both, all at home, and of Bar—our wedding.
May 24, 1944
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . I can say that I have been in battle against the enemy. It is quite a feeling, Mum to be shot at I assure you. The nervousness which is with you before a game of some kind, was extremely noticeable but no great fear thank heavens. I wish I could tell you more about it. Probably will be able to later. Must stop now—
Much much love,
May 26, 1944
Dear Mum and Dad,
Here is some distressing news which I hate to report. Jim Wykes is officially missing. It has affected those of us who knew him very deeply as he was a fellow whom everyone liked. I personally, have far from given up hope, and as I write this can’t help but feel that he will turn up. He may fall into enemy hands, but at least he’ll still have his life. All we can do is hope. His family has been notified, so it’s O.K. to mention it now. He disappeared on a search mission—good men [his crew], one of whom had just become a father shortly before leaving the states. News like this is unpleasant, but I guess I’ll just have to learn to take it. Jim was my closest friend on the ship—a fellow whom I was very fond of. There is a definite hope—perhaps he will even turn up soon.
Well, I must stop for now and get up on security watch. With much love to all the family I am—
June 4, 1944
My Dear Mrs. Wykes,
For the past year your son, Jim, and I have been very close friends. We have been together at all our various stations, joined the squadron together, and have roomed together for a year now, even aboard this ship. I know your son well and have long considered myself fortunate to be one of his intimate friends. His kindly nature and all around goodness have won for him the friendship and respect of every officer and enlisted man in the squadron.
I realize that the news of his being missing has undoubtedly brought into your home a good deal of grief and sorrow—but however difficult it may be, you must never give up hope. All of us out here firmly believe that there is an excellent chance that Jim and his 2 crewmen are still alive. I am not saying this merely to console you, for I would not want to give you false hope. You have lost a loving son, we have lost a beloved friend; so let us be brave—let us keep faith and hope in our hearts and may our prayers be answered.
God bless you and your family
Dear Mum and Dad,
I suppose this is the first letter you’ve received from me in a long time, but in my last I told you it would be a while between so I hope you haven’t worried at all.
. . . We have received flashes on the invasion of Europe and eagerly await any further news. Every day our ship puts out a sort of newspaper. The news in it is gathered for the most part from aboard ship, but there are a few short wave radioed messages. I am eager to receive your letters telling about how the news was received at home, but I will have to wait a while more for any letters I’m afraid.
. . . As much as I hate to admit it, and though I’d never tell Bar for fear she’d misconstrue what I said, I really think we did the right thing in not getting married. A couple of fellows’ wives in our outfit are having babies now. The guys worry a lot and I imagine it must be hell on the poor girls. No it wouldn’t have been fair to Bar to have gotten married. When I return I certainly hope we can, however. I will have saved $3000 by next fall. I have learned a good deal out here—lots that’s not practical by a long shot, but it all goes to making a man out of one. As far as elapsed time making a difference in my feeling toward Bar I was sure when I left I’d never change, and now as each day passes I am never more sure. . . .
Your ever devoted son,
June 22, 1944
Dear Mum and Dad,
Things have been happening so fast that I have forgotten when I wrote you last. 3 days ago I had to make a forced landing in the water.16 It was my first water landing and when my engine acted up I was a bit nervous. It went off o.k. however. All three of us got out safely and into our raft. We were rescued by a destroyer. I’m afraid I can tell you no more details than that.
As I write this I have not gotten back to my own ship. Yesterday I was transferred from the destroyer by “breeches buoy”17 to this ship. When I will get back I do not know. I am getting a rest here so I don’t care too much, though I would rather be back with my own squadron.
The transfer on the breeches buoy was quite a thrill. I really enjoyed my stay aboard the destroyer. They all treated me and my crewmen like kings. I slept a good deal read a lot and generally enjoyed myself. When they picked us out of the water the Doc administered us some brandy. The crewmen were always surrounded by an attentive group of listeners and they would have liked to stay there. . . .
Some of the experiences that fellows out here have had lately would really amaze you. The “braid”18 will go thru almost anything to rescue pilots and crews, and believe me, it’s a real comforting feeling. Well that’s about all for now—with much love to all—
Mon. June 26th
Dear Mum and Dad,
Once more back aboard my own ship and really glad to be back. Before actually getting back I was transferred from 3 different ships, 2 destroyers and one carrier. (I am assuming you got my letter telling you about my crash landing in the water.) It was certainly nice to get the clean clothes back on and get in my own sack. Two new pilots joined our squadron and came aboard with me. By then I was an old hand at being transferred by breeches buoy.
The high point of my return was 4 letters—2 Bar, 1 Mum, 1 Aunt Nance . . .
Bar’s two letters (and yours of course) were a Godsend. I miss her so desperately and love to think of getting home to her. She is so marvelous to me, and now she is the object of prime importance in my life. After these hectic, often frightening days, it is indeed a comfort to lie in my upper and think of those marvelous days ahead with Barbara. If only I could see her—look into those lovely eyes, hear her laugh, and watch her playing with Bucky. Enough of that for now.
. . . Have you read this gov’t education Bill? Looks to me like it might be a nice 2 or 3 year rest at college. I’ll have saved some money and then they pay you, too, it seems. It’s just a passing fancy—probably because right now the lazy routine of college would appeal to me. We could live in some swell apartment and I could study—Bar too if she wanted—Well, it’s just something to think about. My mind grasps onto any and every possibility since it’s so much fun planning and wondering. Barbara’s letters are so wonderful. I do hope she is happy at Smith. I’m afraid she misses out on some fun by being engaged, but she’s always been cute about it. . . .
We’ve been flying a good deal midst lots of excitement. The initial shakiness has left me before the battles, but the intensity of fire over the objectives will always scare me—of that I’m sure. Keeps you a good Christian anyway.
. . . For the most part I am relatively happy. The time has seemed endless since we parted. However when all’s said, I’ll have to admit I’m glad I am here—though I do wish this phase of it were behind me and I was home again, having been through it. At last I feel that I am at least doing my part and when I get back I’ll have no feeling of guilt about being in the States.
Oh Mum I hope John and Buck and my own children never have to fight a war. Friends disappearing, lives being extinguished. It’s just not right. The glory of being a carrier pilot has certainly worn off. True it’s always a thrill to land successfully aboard, to return and see your ship steaming along, there’s lots of thrills; but I mean it’s mostly work.
I have mumbled on pages and have said very little I’m afraid—I love you all very much—
Your ever devoted son,
P.S. While I remember—don’t ever send me any packages. They take ages and always get crushed.
July 12, 1944
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . First while I remember I am enclosing a copy of a letter from Jim Wykes’ mother, Mrs. Anna Wykes (don’t know husband’s name). Please save it for me, Mum. It is to me a beautiful letter, perhaps not eloquent or verbose, but one written from the depths of a loving mother’s heart. How my heart aches for them. Jim has 2 brothers, both in service, and then his Mother and Father. Still no word of him and though I have not given up all hope, it is a bit discouraging. Today Bush Daniels, Lou Grab & I were standing at the small boat landing when a dark-skinned fellow jumped out of a little landing boat. He looked an awful lot like Jim and the 3 of us just stared. Unfortunately it wasn’t he at all. I told you that Bob Whalen, Wykes’ gunner, is married and his wife is with child. That, too, is terribly sad. I didn’t mean to dwell on this subject for so long, but Jim was very close to me, and I feel his loss more each day. He has not been the only fellow I know that has been lost—not by a long shot—but I knew him so well. . . .
Lots of love,
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . During these last few hectic days, I have had little time for reading or the like—most fun when you get the chance is to stretch out on the sack or in a ready room chair and think. I also try to figure out what I’ll do after the war.
One thing which appeals to me, is a job like Pressy’s—go to S. America for a year (not much more).19 It would be fun provided, of course, Bar were with me. The whole fun of it would lie in our being together—laughing and stumbling along in Portuguese, Espanol or what have you. . . . Barbara with her Northampton Spanish, me with none at all—live in some small cottage. The only thing I’d be scared of would be that she’d be lonely—miles away from her family and friends. I wouldn’t care what kind of work I did.
So far I haven’t been able to make up my mind on what I want to do. . . . Further education isn’t out of my mind by a long shot. If I went to college I’d definitely find plenty to interest me—of that I am sure now. Before, I couldn’t see that. It took the war, and the Navy to show me how advantageous a good education can be. I say advantageous and not necessary, for I do feel that I would get along with a bit of initiative and honest endeavor provided I could get some employer to give me a chance. I am prepared and fully cognizant of the fact that my salary will not be near what it is now. Barbara, too knows what to expect. When I return next fall I’ll have saved $3000—we can make that last awhile anyway. Besides the S. Amer. and college plans—there is a third—a regular job in the U.S. . . . It would be nice to know I could get a job for sure—a job which would not require me to dig a ditch—merely because I don’t have a “college education.” . . .
Much love to all,
My Dear Mrs. Wykes,
I received your letter one week ago. We had been at sea for a long time—that accounts for the delay. I was very touched by your kind words.
I wish I could tell you exactly what happened to Jim, but I do not know—nor does anyone, I’m afraid. He just never returned from a search flight. We all felt certain that when we returned to port he would be there; However, when we did get back there was no trace of him. A search had been launched by another carrier, and everyone around that area was notified. It is entirely possible that at this very minute he is on some island. I know how hard it must be for you to keep your spirits up, but all of us must keep saying to ourselves that Jim is still alive. At times, I feel “oh what’s the use”, but then I check myself. As long as there is a thread of hope I think we should cling to it. Some of islands in the vicinity were enemy held, as there is always that possibility to consider. Others were practically uninhabited!
. . . I wish this letter could give you some new hope, some evidence that your loving son is all right, but I’m afraid I don’t have such tidings. Lets just keep that ray of hope in our hearts and in our prayers, and perhaps our faith will be rewarded.
My sincerest affection to you and your family—
[Jim Wykes was never found.]
Sunday July 30th
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . I wrote the Pierces a few days ago asking them how they felt about a wedding when I get back. I have been thinking about it so much and wondering how they felt that I just had to write. I don’t ever like to think how it will be if they say “No”. I have counted on it so much, even thought imaginary plans so often, and in fact just based my whole future around it, that I shall be very disappointed if they choose to make us wait.
. . . Incidentally, Dad, I would appreciate it, if you would let me know what you feel I should do after the war. As I have said before I do think I can get a job—a modest one at first of course, irregardless of my lack of college education. I wonder if you agree with me on this point. . . .
Much love to one and all,
[My father definitely did not agree with my plan of not going to college.]
Aug. 13th Sunday
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . People are talking a good deal about the election. It’s hard to say what the consensus of opinion is—I think most feel FDR will win, but then most of the people I know around here seem to be Dewey voters. The southern boys will support Roosevelt. The ones I’ve talked with seem to think he’s some sort of a god—I don’t believe they look too closely at what the New Deal administration has done or has not done. . . .
Much love to all,
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . Got a letter from Mr. Pierce telling me that they did approve of our plans. I felt sure they would, but now that I have that definite ‘yes’ I feel terribly glad. From what he said, Bar is going to leave Smith since she wouldn’t have time to complete the term. It will be nice for her to be with her family for a while anyway. I hope she comes up to Maine with you. If only I could snap my fingers and have these next months shoot swiftly by—I have so much to look forward to now—so very much!
. . . Mrs. GHWB—long but very nice! We are going to be the happiest Mr. & Mrs. going—or shall I say the happiest young Mr. & Mrs. going?
. . . Will stop now as it is almost time for dinner. Steak tonite I think. Usually the steaks have a great deal in common with an old sneaker sole, but occasionally a good one slips past the cook and the mess boys and gets as far as one of the tables.
Of course you heard about the muscular fellow who got himself a job at the zoo. He applied to be a trainer but when they told him they only needed an ape (since theirs had died) he volunteered to act as an ape. They gave him a costume and for several days he thrilled the customers with his ape-like antics. One day he did a terrific somersault, but unfortunately he landed in the lions cage. As the ferocious lion began to draw near him, the fellow started to holler and yell and run for the door. Suddenly the lion spoke up and said, “Take it easy, buddy, do you want to get us both fired?!
Much love to all the family,
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . Gosh I’d like to see you all now—I miss you so much. Give all the family my love. John’ll be going back for his 8th and last year soon I imagine and William should be about ready to battle his way into grade 1. I get such a kick out of Buck—I picture him so clearly at all times—He is sort of a symbol to me in a way. I remember how Bar & I used to play with him. We’d pretend he was our little boy. I don’t know why, but little old Buck so often is brought to my mind—even when I’m up flying I’ll burst out laughing at times. . . . Perhaps it’s because he’s so young and innocent. . . .
Today Rumania quit the war, according to a press release we received. That is indeed a good sign that that phase of this war should be over before too long. I hope the guilty receive treatment they deserve. I feel so strongly that the Nazis, fascist, or whatever moniker they use, should all be dealt with severely. The leaders—those responsible for murder, famine, treachery, etc. must be killed. I hope our government and our allies act boldly and powerfully and mete out severe but just penalties. If this is not done with all leaders who have collaborated with the Nazis, whether they be recognized heads of government or quislings ruling in conquered countries, I fear these 4 years of bloodshed will have been for naught. . . .
September 3, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
This will be the first letter you have gotten from me in a good long while. I wish I could tell you that as I write this I am feeling well and happy. Physically I am O.K., but I am troubled inside and with good cause. Here is the whole story at least as much of it as I am allowed to relate right now.
Yesterday was a day which will long stand in my memory. I was on a bombing hop with Delaney as my radioman20 and Lt. (j.g.) Ted White as my gunner. He did not usually fly, but I asked him if he would like to go with me and he wanted to. We had the usual joking around in the ready room about having to bail out etc.—at that time it all seemed so friendly and innocent but now it seems awful and sinister.
I will have to skip all the details of the attack as they would not pass the censorship, but the fact remains that we got hit. The cockpit filled with smoke and I told the boys in back to get their parachutes on. They didn’t answer at all, but I looked around and couldn’t see Ted in the turret so I assumed he had gone below to get his chute fastened on. I headed the plane out to sea and put on the throttle so as we could get away from the land as much as possible. I am not too clear about the next parts. I told them to bail out, and then I called up the skipper and told him I was bailing out. My crewmen never acknowledged either transmission, and yet the radio gear was working—at least mine was and unless they had been hit back there theirs should have been, as we had talked not long before. I heard the skipper say something but things were happening so fast that I don’t quite remember what it was. I turned the plane up in an attitude so as to take pressure off the back hatch so the boys could get out. After that I straightened up and started to get out myself. At that time I felt certain that they had bailed out. The cockpit was full of smoke and I was choking from it. I glanced at the wings and noticed that they were on fire. I still do not know where we got hit and never will. I am now beginning to think that perhaps some of the fragments may have either killed the two in back, or possibly knocked out their communications.
Fortunately I had fastened all my straps before the dive and also I had left my hatch open, something I hadn’t been doing before. Just the day before I had asked the skipper and he advised leaving it open in a dive. The jump itself wasn’t too bad. I stuck my head out first and the old wind really blew me the rest of the way out. I do remember tugging at my radio cord which I had forgotten to unplug. As I left the plane my head struck the tail. I now have a cut head and bruised eye but it is far from serious. After jumping, I must have pulled the ripcord too soon for when I was floating down, I looked up at the canopy and several of the panels were all ripped out. Just as I got floating down, I saw the plane strike the water. In the meantime, I noticed there was a liferaft down in the water. Not until later did I discover that it was mine that was supposed to be attached to my lifejacket. I had forgotten to hook it on, and when I left the plane it had come loose and had fallen into the water. Fortunately, the wind didn’t carry me too far away from the raft. The entrance into the water was not too bad. I had unloosened several of my chute straps so that when it came to getting out of the harness I wouldn’t have too many buckles to undo under the water. I went fairly deep under when I hit, but not deep enough to notice any pressure or anything. I shook the harness and the wind carried the chute away on the water. The wind was blowing towards shore, so I made every effort to head the other way. The skipper saw me and he saw my raft, so he made a pass over it to point it out to me. I had inflated my mae west21 and then started swimming towards the raft. Fortunately, the fall hadn’t injured the boat, so it inflated easily and I struggled into it. I then realized that I had overexerted myself swimming, because suddenly I felt quite tired. I was still afraid that the wind would take me in closer so I began paddling. It was a hell of a job to keep the water out of the raft. In fact I never did get it bailed out completely. At first I was scared that perhaps a boat would put out from the shore which was very close by, but I guess our planes made them think twice about that. A few fighter planes stayed nearby the whole time until I was rescued and you can imagine how comfortable that was.22 One of them came right over me and dropped me some medical supplies which were most welcome, since I had no idea how badly cut up I was. It turned out to be slight, but did use the iodine anyway. I had some dye marker attached to my life jacket and also there was some in the raft so I sprinkled a bit of that on the water so the planes could see me easily. I took inventory of my supplies and discovered that I had no water. The water had broken open when the raft fell from the plane I imagine. I had a mirror and some other equipment, and also was wearing my own gun and knife.
There was no sign of Del or Ted anywhere around. I looked as I floated down and afterwards kept my eye open from the raft, but to no avail. The fact that our planes didn’t seem to be searching anymore showed me pretty clearly that they had not gotten out. I’m afraid I was pretty much of a sissy about it cause I sat in my raft and sobbed for awhile. It bothers me so very much. I did tell them and when I bailed out I felt that they must have gone, and yet now I feel so terribly responsible for their fate, Oh so much right now. Perhaps as the days go by it will all change and I will be able to look upon it in a different light.
I floated around for a couple of hours during which time I was violently sick to my stomach. and then the planes started zooming me, pointing out my position to my rescuers. You can imagine how happy I was when I saw this submarine hove into view. They pulled me out of the raft and took me below where they fixed me up in grand style. As I write this I am aboard the sub—don’t know how long I will be here, or when I will get back to the squadron.
As I said physically I am o.k. The food aboard here is unequaled anywhere I have ever seen. I am getting plenty of sleep and am even standing watches so that I will get the air occasionally. My back ached as did my leg last nite, and also my seat was a bit sore from the chute straps, but the pharmacist mate rubbed me down and today I feel much better. Last nite I rolled and tossed. I kept reliving the whole experience. My heart aches for the families of those two boys with me. Delaney had always been a fine loyal crewman. His devotion to duty was at all times highly commendable and his personality most pleasing. I shall most certainly write to his family after I am sure they have been notified by the Bureau.
As for Ted White, I have spoken of him several times in my letters before. He was the fellow from Yale, one class ahead of Stu Clement.23 He comes from St. Paul Minn. White Bear Lake to be exact. Perhaps Dad, you know the family. If so do not write them until you get the word from me or elsewhere that the family has been officially notified. There is a possibility that they parachuted and I didn’t see them, but I am afraid it is quite remote as we received a message aboard here last nite saying that only one chute opened.24 All in all it is terribly discouraging and frankly it bothers me a good deal.
As time goes by I shall add bits to this letter and will mail it at my earliest possible convenience. I shall do the same by Bar, but shall not go into detail like this over my experience so please read her the parts of this letter which might interest her. It’s a funny thing how much I thought about Bar during the whole experience. What I wouldn’t give to be with her right now. Just to see that lovely face and those beautiful eyes and to know she was by my side. Right now I long to be with you so much. To be with you both and to be with Bar is my main desire—at least it won’t be too long, the time is going by quite rapidly.
Please excuse all my misspellings—they are caused not from ignorance but from carelessness in operating this machine.
much much love to you all,
your ever devoted and loving son,
[I was shot down off the island of Chichi Jima, in the Bonins, and rescued by the USS Finback. I am still humbled by how lucky and blessed I was that an American submarine was patrolling the area and picked me up before the Japanese. I will also always be grateful to fellow pilot Doug West, who stuck with me as long as he could, strafing the Japanese boats and pointing his wing at my life raft so the Finback could find me. Years later we learned from the Japanese report of the incident that two parachutes were seen leaving the plane. That means a great deal to me—that at least one of my crewmates made it out of the plane—although he was never found. Right after the war, the Japanese commander in charge of Chichi Jima was tried and executed for eating the livers of captured American pilots. I like to tease Barbara that I almost ended up becoming an hors d’oeuvre.]
Dear Mum and Dad,
I have just finished writing Bar a long letter so I will add a bit more to this one for you. I did tell Bar all about what happened, so disregard the part I wrote in the first part of this.
I am now standing Junior officer of the Deck watches and I really love them. I am not in any way a qualified submariner as you can well imagine, but armed with a pair of binoculars and dark glasses if I need them I can sweep the sea and skies pretty well. After my griping about the security watches aboard the ship it may seem funny my enjoying any watches, but here it is different. These watches afford me a good chance to get up topside and grab some of that fresh air. When we are submerged, I am utterly useless to them, but when on the surface I stand two watches a day—6-8PM and 4-6AM. just a nice length.
The food continues to be excellent, with steaks, ice cream, chicken etc. in abundance. You actually can’t believe how good the chow is. Of course they have a much smaller complement of officers to prepare for, but still the food is so much better that there is no comparison. As for sleep, I have been “claiming more than my fair share”.25 I usually sleep all morning and also all nite until my watch comes up. The sacks are comfortable and so darn inviting. I’d love to see ‘The Big One’ trying to get in and out of some of them. Dad, you just couldn’t do it. All the beds are fine once you get in—that is until you have to get out. I sort of get half way in and then have to pull the rest of me in like a worm. The boat is now overcrowded, having three extra officers aboard. But since two men are on watch all the time there is always a bed for everyone. The fellow coming off watch just crawls into the bed which his relief had been sleeping in. . . .
So far diving and submerging haven’t hurt my ears at all, and everything about this life agrees with me. I think I would still prefer flying, since you are out in the open so much more, but this would be my second choice.
All the officers, and crew too, are just as nice as they can be. The Captain is a peach.26 He eats his meals with us in the wardroom and is just as good a guy as you’d want to meet. Yesterday I got a hunk of liferaft and stamped the name of the ship and the date on it and then all the officers signed it. They also took some pictures the day they brought me aboard which I will try to get hold of to bring.27 Will quit now.
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . Haven’t been doing a great deal out of the ordinary—just daydreaming the time away. It is such fun to think about getting home, the wedding and all that. I find myself bursting forth into song up on the bridge. I am not sure the others up there appreciate my efforts too much, but if they ever complain I am going to tell them that my mother feels I am potentially a second Caruso—and I don’t mean Frank Caruso28 either. . . .
One thing I do miss aboard here is my daily shower which I loved aboard the ship. Water cannot be produced as abundantly aboard this boat, so naturally we have to conserve whenever and wherever possible. One shower per week is the ration. Tomorrow I can take mine—wow do I need it (unattractive). . . . The clothes situation is far from serious since all we wear is sandals, undies and pants—no shirts, just undershirts for meals.
I hope you have not been worrying up till the time you received these letters. This may be the first you have heard of my experience, I don’t know. I try to think about it as little as possible, yet I cannot get the thought of those two boys out of my mind. It is so different, reading about people getting killed etc. Even when Jim and Dick Houle were lost, though I did feel it deeply, it did not affect me as this has. Oh, I am O.K.—I do want to fly again and I shall not be scared of it, but I know I shall never be able to shake the memory of this incident, and I don’t believe I want to completely. They were both such fine people. . . .
I spent thirty days aboard the Finback while she completed her war patrol, getting off at Midway and flying to Pearl Harbor where I spent a couple of days on R&R. I could have rotated home, but I wanted to get back with my squadron. So eight weeks after being shot down, and after hitchhiking on various planes, I finally rejoined the San Jac at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands.
Dear Mum and Dad,
I have so much to write about that I hardly know where to start.
Yesterday I arrived back aboard, and it was one of the happiest moments of my life—I really mean that. The first guy I saw in the squadron was the skipper—He came down to the quarterdeck and greeted me. After that all the boys came around. I was so glad to see them—they are a good bunch alright. Lately (since I’ve been away) they have been thru hell. Almost everyone has been decorated for some deed or other and believe me they deserve it. They have had it tough and I am sorry I wasn’t here to do my part. . . .
The only sad part was to find that Tom Waters has been killed in action—a bombing attack. Tom roomed with Doug West, Jack,29 and I and we all liked him a lot. . . .
First of all about the accident. It seems that someone else did get out of the plane, but his chute didn’t open. I am sorry over that, but am glad that someone at least got out of the plane besides myself. I wrote Delaney’s sister (Mary J. Delaney 34 Somerset St. Providence R.I.) and also Ted White’s parents. I am afraid the letters weren’t very good but I do hope they know how I feel about the accident. Bush Daniels told me about how bravely the Whites received the news and I must say I do admire them, even though I don’t know them.
. . . I am a little anxious over my first flight off the ship. I have flown so little lately that I will probably be rusty as can be.
I’m afraid you are wrong about my not having to come out again, though I hope you are right. This war is so big and so damn hard that you can never realize it fully unless you have actually studied it or been out here a while.
Your ever loving,
Dear Mum and Dad,
Quite a few days have elapsed since my first letter written from here upon my return. Since that first letter I have gotten back into the swing of things pretty much, having had 2 hops so far. Both went off o.k., and it was a relief to me, as I had been a bit anxious about landing aboard again after such a long lay-off.
. . . Everyone talks of only one thing and that is getting home. We are supposed to be relieved soon, but no one knows when; and then after we are relieved it will take a few weeks to actually get home. . . . The vagueness must be hard on Bar. She has been so good about waiting and has never complained
. . . The election has come and gone and we now face 4 more years of FDR. There was hardly any talk of it on the 7th, probably cause most have felt that Dewey didn’t have much of a chance. I know how discouraged you must be about it, and I feel the same way. My knowledge of the campaign etc. is not extensive, but from all reports it was not a pleasant one.
Dean Spratlin was one of my crewmates aboard the USS Finback.
Friday, Nov. 17th
Just a note to let you know I finally did get back here to my original squadron and to thank you for everything you did for me aboard the Finback
Since my return I have been flying quite a bit—seems the boys want me to catch up with them.
We are heading home shortly—when exactly we don’t know, but we’re hoping it will be within the next couple of weeks at the most.
I still have a “SPRAT” undershirt and one mouldy “SPRAT” sock which you may receive thru the mail some day. Thanks again, Dean, for all you did for me. I really do appreciate it. Hope the new job is a good one and has gotten you back to the States—
Best of luck from a Goddamned zoomie—30
Dear Mum and Dad,
. . . This morning we had a combination Thanksgiving & Memorial service. The memorial part was for all the fellows who have lost their lives—They read off all their names, and had several prayers. It was a nice service and I am glad they had it before we leave.
. . . I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving day—I can picture each of you at the table now—John, Buck, and Nance. I hope Pres got home, but I have my doubts about this.
. . . This year Thanksgiving has more significance for me than ever; for heavens knows I have more to be thankful for than ever before—mainly all of you, my loving family and my own precious Bar and the happiness which will soon be ours; and then too my own life which has been guarded and protected during these last few months.
So long, Mum & Dad. I love you both so deeply and am ever thankful that God gave me two such wonderful parents.
Your ever loving and middle-sized,31
Dear Mum and Dad,
This is the letter I have wanted to write to you for a long long time. At last I can tell you that we’re coming home. I am all thru flying, combat complete, off the ship, and ready for a nice long leave. After you get this letter, it will still be quite a while before I reach the states and can call you up; but, nevertheless, I feel pretty damned happy. I wrote Bar this A.M., but in case her letter got waylaid, please call her and tell her.
Mum, when I do get back I shall call up both you & Bar. I’ll give her a safe date when I’ll definitely be in Greenwich, and she can set the wedding date . . .
Much, much love,
Barbara had wedding invitations printed for December 17, but she had to scratch out that date as I did not make it home until Christmas Eve. We were married January 6, 1945, and after a short honeymoon, I went back into training. We jumped from base to base, among them Grosse Ile Air Station in Michigan. You will notice that after I got married, my letters home became rather sparse.
. . . Bar probably told you we had one room . . . It is a nice room and we were lucky to get it the first day; but it costs $14 per week and we don’t get kitchen privileges, so now that we have time we are looking around for something else. Out at the base they help us find places. . . . It’s about 41/2 miles to the base and about 1/2 mile to the center of town. Bar walks in for lunch and then we walk in together for supper. They have one small-townish restaurant, but it’s not too bad. It is sort of a lonely existence for poor Bar, but she doesn’t complain at all, and I am just in heaven having her here.
. . . Bar has returned from the laundering and is now sitting at this table making a puzzle. Tomorrow she is going out to check on a new place to live.
. . . Our landlady has a electric massager which I love—I have had a sore shoulder for a week now, but it’s well on its way to recovery. Bar is in good health, and is a perfect wife. It is such fun to come home and find her here—She always is in a good humor and when worryin’ Pop appears on the scene she always cheers him up. . . .
Your ever loving,
. . . Our landlady is funny—nice and friendly and I feel fine having Bar with her all day, but she is so odd. She thinks she is being so patriotic having these 2 rooms for rent, when actually she is making a mint on us. She even thinks she’s making a huge sacrifice when she lets Bar use the laundry.
. . . Bar is quite the wife—launders, irons, cleans well etc. The only thing she hasn’t tried is cooking but perhaps she’ll get a chance at that soon. . . .
Dear Mum and Dad,
Time seems to be whipping right by, but still no orders. . . . There are rumors going around that a big nite Torpedo outfit is forming—may get stuck in that. I wouldn’t like it too much, since I find it enough work flying off a carrier during the day. Worse than the nite part though is the possibility that it may form way down in the Florida Keys where you can’t take wives. That would be too much to take. . . .
Yesterday was my day off. Bar and I stayed in the whole day—just rested and read the papers and Newsweek.
. . . Bar had a little cold a few days ago but she is now completely cured. She is really a good cook now. The other day we had fancy shirred eggs. She is good on vegetables, too. Yesterday we had sausage, beets, and mashed potatoes, a real good lunch. She always has the ice box full of milk. We drink about 31/2 quarts a day, and that counts my eating lunch out here. . . .
Your ever loving,
On that rather dramatic statement about Barbara’s cooking, the World War II letters end. My mother did not have any other letters in her collection.
Barbara and I bounced around the country for eight months, finally landing back at the Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. My squadron had received orders to ship back out to the South Pacific, to participate in the invasion of Japan, when Japan surrendered and World War II ended on August 14, 1945. (Germany had surrendered in May.) Suddenly, it was over, and along with it, my three-year Navy career. Because I had flown fifty-eight combat missions and won the Distinguished Flying Cross, I had enough “points” to get an early discharge from the Navy.
As I look back on these letters, I realize how protected my life had been until I joined the Navy. In addition, although my childhood was very happy, my upbringing was also strict—indeed, puritanical. As a result, my vision of the world was narrow, and I was a little judgmental at age eighteen. Like most young people, my horizon needed expanding.
Most troubling, of course, was what happened to me on September 2, 1944. Although I am confident that I followed all the procedures necessary for getting my crew and myself out of my burning plane, it still haunts me today that I lived and my two crewmen died. Both John’s and Ted’s sisters visited me in the White House nearly fifty years later and were very kind to me. Unfortunately, my letters written to their families in 1944 have been lost.
All in all these are letters written from the heart from a loving son to his parents—letters from a kid sometimes homesick, sometimes scared; and certainly from a kid who was madly in love with the woman who has now been his wife for nearly fifty-five years.
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