Sunday, September 28, 2014

11. 'The navy gets the best of everything'


On his return to his outfit from convalescent camp, my dad expected to see the graves of some of his comrades. Of the war
he wrote: How I wish it were over.
This letter is the longest my parents left from the World War II years. My father, 1st Lt. Charlie Pride, wrote it at sea after his long convalescence in the military hospital and rest area at Hollandia, New Guinea, in 1944-45. The ship was headed for Manila. In a letter published in an earlier blog post, Dad mentioned his work as a motor pool officer at the convalescent camp. In Manila he was to become chief of General Douglas MacArthur’s motor pool.

The letter is six pages long, and the pages are full-sized U.S. Navy stationery with the naval emblem atop each one. The dateline reads “Sometime, Somewhere at sea.” My mother Bernadine and their daughter Bonnie, who was nearly 21 months old, were the addressees. They were still living with her parents at 147 Davis Road in Fairfield, Conn.

Mom wrote on the envelope “Started about June 5 Postmarked the 14th.” But because of Dad’s mention of going to church on Sunday, I think he started the letter on Saturday June 9. The war in Europe had been over for a month, but the Japanese were hanging on.

Here’s the letter:
                                                                                  Sometime,
                                                                                  Somewhere at sea

Darling Bern & Bonnie,

Can’t say much about anything except that I am feeling fine and comfortable. Instead of writing you everyday I will write more on this when I think of something new to say. It will save money on postage and we can’t send them anyway until we disembark.

This is the smoothest riding ship I have ever been on. We have been out quite a few days and I don’t even feel the least bit woozy. In fact my appetite is tremendous, but that must be on account of this navy food. We have steaks, chicken, pork, good pastries and ice cream. We can also buy ice cream and Coca Cola at the ship store, so you can imagine how fat I’ll be when we get there. Do you mind if I am a little fat?

No, there are no women aboard, darn the luck. I’ve yet to get on a ship other than that hospital ship where there was any female personnel aboard. I suppose that makes you happy. Well to tell the truth I don’t care myself. There is only one little girl for me and no one else could ever take your place. I love you with all my heart and hope and pray that it wont be long before we are together again.

There are four bunks to a cabin and one army cot. I am sleeping with four captains so you know who is sleeping on the cot. I don’t mind though. I have a nice mattress on it, and a pillow. Another wonderful advantage is the fact that I can pick up my cot and go up on deck to sleep, which I do. The heat in the cabins is terrific. I also enjoy the sound of the ocean and being able to think of you and Bonnie – the peace and quiet.

Here's a photo of Bonnie that Mom had sent to Dad . . . 
Black out regulations are very very strict. We can’t even have lights in our cabins with the port holes closed after sun down so you can imagine how we have to grope around. Most of the officers have a lot of enlisted men to take care of inspection of their hatches and stuff. I was lucky. I was O.D. [officer of the day] the first night out and have had a few jobs since but as a whole I am taking it easy. Not that that’s unusual for pappy, right?

. . . and here's what Mom wrote about "little Stinky" on the back of the photo.
The heat is terrific and we are running into rain. What luck. It is now rainy season in the P.I.’s [Philippine Islands] so you can imagine the fun we are going to have building a camp in the rain and mud. I guess everyone on board but me is looking forward to getting there. I’d rather have stayed where it was comfortable. I’ve never been on this particular island before but I think my old outfit is still there. I guess I’ll get to see Elliotts and a few other friends graves. I get sick when I think of it. How I wish it were over. I love you.

I hope to see Paul soon. That’s at least something to look forward to, someone we both know. That makes it nice, knowing you know him too. This navy stationary is pretty good compared to ours, but then the navy gets the best of everything. Now I’ll have to get some air mail stamps so I can use these nice envelopes.

Today is Sunday. I just got came from Church services on deck. It was a Lutheran service too. Surprised? [The Nordstroms were Lutheran. Dad was Presbyterian but seldom went to church.] The water is a beautiful blue, an unbelievable color, looks like blue ink. We see quite a few flying fish and some sharks too. They sure are sinister looking. I guess they follow the ships and eat the garbage. I’d hate to fall overboard. I wonder if they like dark meat?

Just so you can follow my travels on the map, I can tell you the different places I’ve been, since it’s not against censorship regulations as long as your outfit is no longer there. My first stop over a year ago was New Caledonia, then Milne Bay, and then Oro Bay and Buna where I spent a month or so, then Finchhaven, the Admiralty’s (Los Negros, Mauna & Howie Islands), New Britain, Leyte and Samar, and then I was evacuated you know where, and here I am on my way again, so you can see I’ll really have been around, and believe it or not I’d much rather have stayed at home with my honey.

I am very blue and lonely for you darling. You are constantly in my mind and I feel it in my heart that we’ll soon be together again. That is all I ask of life. We have about the best understanding of anyone I know and I have the sweetest and best wife in the world.

We officers have it quite nice on board. We eat in an air cooled dining hall with colored stewards to serve us. We eat at tables family style. Each state room has a tile bath and shower. Of course fresh water is only on certain hours of the day, but we do very nicely. They also have a laundry service for officers and believe it or not our khakis are pressed and stacked. I can’t get over it. It sure feels good to put on a nice clean crisp uniform. We must wear khakis at all times. They also have a barber shop with a real chair. I know. I tried it yesterday. All they need is a barber. My head looks like I forgot to take my helmet off but the chair was worth it. It sure felt good. The pay-off is all of these services are free. Yes, all of them. We aren’t even allowed to tip the stewards. Oh, boy, the navy.

In October 1944, Dad had landed with the First Cavalry at Leyte just south of Tacloban. He was wounded
on the island of Samar. Although this letter doesn't say so because of censorship rules, I believe the ship
delivered Dad to Manila, the capital, on the west coast of Luzon. It landed around June 14, 1945. 
We have a movie in the dark mess hall nights. They are real old and class “B” pictures but we go anyway. The heat is unbearable. We have a lot of fun singing “old favorites” before the show. I think it’s against navy decorum. I guess they frown on us, but who cares. We have to stand at attention when the captain comes in. They blow a whistle. We also have to be in the dining room five minutes early and then we can’t sit down till the captain takes his seat and if anyone comes in late they have to apologize to the captain and ask permission to eat. Some fun! I laugh to myself. I guess I’m just a civilian.

Col. Solomon is in charge of all troops aboard. He is alright too. Maybe that’s why I can take it easy. We play quite a bit of pinochle. No money involved either. I’ve only got about four bucks to my name anyway. They sure have some hot poker games going on. Makes my mouth water to watch. My room mate, our adj., Capt. Darkow, won $700.00 yesterday. I’d faint if I ever won that much. I am glad I am cured cause I would have lost my shirt, I could see from watching all the hands, so I guess you never have to worry about pappy becoming a habitual gambler. [Later in life Dad gambled almost daily at gin rummy.]

I do like our small games at home, though, don’t you? Remember how sore the Cowperthwaites got when they lost 50 pennies? I don’t seem anxious to see or to like any of our friends anymore, just you and Bonnie. I love you with all my heart. I can’t figure out why I feel that way about the Fogarty’s and others, but I wouldn’t care if we never saw them again. In fact, how do you feel about Vermont or the West Coast? I think we’d like either, don’t you. I love you.

Nothing much new. Land is constantly in view. We should pull in either tonight or tomorrow, so I guess I’d better taper this epistle off so I can mail it quickly. Had a funny incident happen yesterday. I had three bottles of beer in my pack and of course hot beer doesn’t taste so good. Capt. Darkow and I decided we’d like a cold one, so I went up and asked the steward if he thought he could get us some ice. “I don’t know I’ll try,” he replied. I told him I had three beers and I’d give him one. He said, “I know I can get it now.”

I hope to have a whole flock of mail waiting for me. I am always anxious to hear from you and to hear of Bonnie’s antics. We are running into quite a few tropical storms. I guess we’ve really hit the rain belt again. You really wont mind if I come home with web feet, will you darling? I love you oh so.

Well I now have over 13 months, only five more to go. I hope it flies. I long to feel those nice arms of yours around me. Just think, we’ll have a new and better honey-moon, lets make believe it’s our first, O.K.? We’ll really do things up brown. Maybe we’ll go to Miami beach if it’s winter. We’ll shoot the works, formal and all. What do you think my sweet wife? Gee, I sure do love you.

I am going to miss these meals. We even had fresh turkey yesterday. It sure was good too. By the way, I got weighed yesterday, 175 stripped. That’s about right for my height. Still wear a 32 waist too. I guess I’ll lose a lot more when we start to build a camp. That sure is a job, and everyone works too!! Even me.

Guess I’ll sign off for now till I get the time and place to write again. I hope it’s soon. I love you very dearly. Bonnie too, Kisses

                                                                          Your very own
                                                                           Pappy

Next: Glory be to the atomic bomb.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

10. A day at the beach

Hollandia, where Dad recuperated from his wound, was on the north-central coast of New Guinea. Dad had been elsewhere
on the island during his service and also spent time in New Britain and the Admiralty Islands in the Bismarck Sea. 
On Feb. 25, 1945, my father, Charles M. Pride, lay on Imbi Beach on a bay near the large U.S. military installation at Hollandia, Dad was a lieutenant in the First Cavalry Division, and he had been wounded five months earlier during the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. He was in Hollandia for treatment of the wound at the military hospital and for convalescence from what was then called “battle fatigue.”. He had no idea that this day on the beach would win him a medal.

Gen. MacArthur's headquarters at Hollandia.
Before the war, Hollandia had been a small port settlement  in what was then known as Dutch New Guinea. Air raids before the Americans landed there in 1944 destroyed every house in town. The Americans secured the area and built a sprawling base to replace the one at Finchhafen, where my father had also been during his tour of several Pacific islands.

The new base included a tactical center, an oil depot, a recreation center for officers, two hospital with a total of 2,000 beds, an ice plant, dry docks to repair destroyers and General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters and radio station. MacArthur had been based in Brisbane, Australia, but intended to return to the Philippines. Hollandia was a step in the right direction.

It was an unpleasant place. Because of the mosquitoes, the Americans had to take the anti-malarial drug atabrine, which made their skin turn yellow. When it wasn’t raining, it was hot and humid and hard to sleep at night. In one letter to my mother Bernadine, my father wrote: “All it does is rain here. We sit out in the movies in it and everything else. We are used to it. I check my feet every once in awhile to see if they are webbed.” He was there during the rainy season, December through March, when monsoons affect the climate of the northern coast of the island.

But Dad did get to the beach. He was a good swimmer. The army had recognized this and trained him as a swimming instructor  at Camp Adair, Ore.  As his letters often mentioned, he also liked to loaf and lounge around.

Thus, he was lying on the beach on Feb. 25, 1945, when he heard that two soldiers were in danger of drowning 150 yards from shore. The men were flailing and hollering for help. The lifeguard, a Texas private named Allen C. Gibbs, swam to them but could not haul them in. He left them his life belt and swam toward shore.

The citation with Dad’s Soldier’s Medal, an award given for “heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy,” tells what happened next:

“Laboring under a severe physical strain, [Private Gibbs] was unable to reach the shore and was brought in by Lieutenant Pride who, despite a strong undertow and heavy breakers, was already swimming out to aid the two imperiled soldiers. Although his strength was spent, Lieutenant Pride secured a rubber boat and, with another soldier, rowed out through the reefs to save the drowning men. Returning to shore, the boat capsized several times, but Lieutenant Pride managed to bring both men to safety.”

Thus did Dad go to Imbi Beach one hot and humid day and come home with a medal for heroism.

Next: Naval envy.
The first wave of U.S, infantrymen move beyond the beach near Hollandia, New Guinea, on April 22, 1944.

Monday, September 22, 2014

9. 'I never dreamed it could be so horrible'

If my father, Lt. Charles M. Pride, wrote  home while leading his First Cavalry Division infantry platoon in the Pacific during late 1944, none of his letters survived in the papers he left. But his letters of 1945 tell some things about this period.

The first of these three letters discloses that his wound in October 1944 after the landing at Leyte in the Philippines was worse than he had told his wife, Bernadine. He was blown into the air by a mortar shell. The shrapnel wounded him severely in the thigh.

Later in life he liked to tell what he remembered of his evacuation. He was unconscious after being wounded, either from a concussion or from morphine. He awoke in the darkness, reached up and touched a hard surface just above his head. He turned onto his side and felt metal right in front of his nose. In his addled mind this could mean only one thing: He must be in a coffin. He began to scream. A commotion ensued, and to his relief Dad learned he was on a hospital ship.

The ship took him from Leyte to a military hospital and convalescent center at Hollandia, New Guinea, a distance of more than 2,000 miles.

Each of the three letters here was written to the same household in Fairfield, Conn. The first was to Dad’s in-laws, Evert and Frieda Nordstrom, and Frieda’s sister, Lenny Johnson. The second, four months later, was a Mothers Day greeting to Frieda. The third he wrote to his wife Bern and daughter Bonnie.

The letter to his wife and daughter, written on V-E Day, contains two references to popular culture. Dad, who went to many outdoor movies while recuperating at Hollandia, mentions having seen a piffling film called Frisco Sal. The movie told the story of a New England woman who goes to the Barbary coast to seek her husband’s murder. The title character was played by Susanna Foster.

Dad also advises my mother to avoid books like Forever Amber, although from the context it appears she has already read it. Published in 1944, the book was a 942-page romance novel. Massachusetts, 13 other states and Australia banned it for its sex scenes, abortions and children born out of wedlock. Nevertheless, it sold 100,000 copies in the first week after its publication and was the best-selling novel of the 1940s.

The final subject of the letter is Dad's pique with his brother Bob, whom he chides for spending money on the house he is building in Easton, Conn., rather than on an operation on the upper lip of Don, one of his twin sons. Don did get the operation during his grammar school years..

Here are the letters:
                                                                                    January 9, 1945
Dear Mom & Pop & Lenny,

I suppose you folks think I’ve forgotten you. Well, I haven’t. I think of you often and I am so happy to know Bern & Bonnie are in such good care. I have no excuse for not writing and I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. I guess I never was much of a letter writer so you will have to forgive me, and I want you to know that all your letters are received with utmost gladness. It does my heart good to hear from you about our babies. I love them both so.

As you probably know I was evacuated from the Philippines. I was blown off the ground by a Jap mortar. I suffered shock and what is called “combat fatigue” but I am perfectly alright now, better than ever. I only wish that was the only damage the shell caused. I did not let Bern know of this because I knew everyone would worry. I talked them out of notifying her through the war department too, because I am perfectly fine after gold bricking in the hospital for so long.

Along with everything else I did manage at last to get a promotion in the field. It will be some time before I collect for it though, Washington red tape – I guess I’ll be what it called a “base commando” (non-combatant) for awhile. I guess they will examine me in six months to see if I am back in fighting trim. If you ever hear anyone say they wish they were fighting in this war, you have my permission to smack em down. I never dreamed it could be so horrible, the things that happen to boys you meet, it’s beyond me. I don’t and can’t understand what makes men want to do these things. I pray every night that it will end soon. It’s got to –

Carl and Joe (Dodie) Nordstrom with my dad, Charles  M. Pride, after their homecoming.
Please forgive me for saying things like that. I realize what you must be going through with all of your boys in it and I know you feel badly enough without me making things worse.

I haven’t received any mail in over three months and I am frantic with worry. I’m so glad you two met and got married, cause if you hadn’t and there were no Bern I would be worth a damn. I know when I first started to go with Bern how disappointed you were and I can’t say I blame you a bit but she has changed my whole view of life and I have found peace and happiness I never dreamed of., and I am a rich man. She is all that I could ask for and more. I’ll tell you a secret: As you probably know and have observed, my family was never close like yours. I wish it were. I tried to make it that way, but I guess some things just have to be. I guess I’ve always been a little jealous of the fact, but one thing I’ve learned, Bern and I will always be as close to each other as you are. I think it is wonderful to see you two together. I guess I had better change the subject or I’ll be down in the dumps again –

I hope you don’t mind me sort of unburdening my soul, but I really want to be one of you.

Well, Len, I suppose Bonnie keeps you hopping too. I appreciate all you are doing, and thanks ever so much for your letters. I only wish I were a better correspondent, but I guess we must face the facts – I’m not.

This has sure been a disconnected sort of epic but I guess it’s just that I say what I am thinking when I think of it – result = this.

Give Bonnie and Bern a big smooch for me and all of my love –

                                                                                           Charlie

*
                                                                                          [Undated but May 1945]
Dear Mom [Frieda Nordstrom, his mother-in-law],

I am writing a few lines to thank you again for all you’ve done for Bern and Bonnie. I can’t begin to tell you how happy it makes me feel to know they are safe and sound and get such loving care.

This mother’s day card is not the type I would pick out if I had any choice. It has too sticky a verse but I do want you to know I’ll be thinking of my three mothers on mother’s day and wishing I were there to celebrate with them. A fellow is lucky to have three such swell moms.

I think with Mussolini dead and Italy fallen and Germany just about finished that the whole mess will soon be over and we’ll all be home again, ready to forget this awful mess. It looks like I’ll be back in it again before it’s over but I am feeling fine and fit as a fiddle. In fact I am putting on a little weight again. I am up to 175 pounds again. The only trouble with me is they are giving me too many shots. I really hate them too.

I hope Carl gets home soon. It seems funny we all left about the same time. I hope we all get home the same time too. I have a hunch Dodie will be home soon. The navy really takes care of their men. Maybe I’ll see Dodie soon. I hope so. If he’s where I think he is I will.

All it does is rain here. We sit out in the movies in it and everything else. We are used to it. I check my feet every once in awhile to see if they are webbed.

Thanks for writing so often and happy mothers day.

                                                                               Charlie
*
                                                                               May 8, 1945

Darling Bern and Bonnie,

We just heard the wonderful news we are have been waiting for. Germany surrendered. The boys are really cheering around here. I’d sure like to be in the states for the celebration. What a time they’ll have. I guess they’ll forget about us being over here, right? I don’t think you will though, darling. I can feel your love way over here, darling, and I love you so.

Received a letter from my Mark Magnus written in Feb and one from my Dad written in Mar, a little late but then – they both had the wrong address on them. Also received a letter from my best girl. Mark sent a few small snaps of you holding Karen. They sure weren’t good of you. Do you have a copy of them? Do you want them? Mark seems about as dull as ever. I guess they have no idea of what war is. He’s a good kid though. I’ll answer today. I love you.

I give these stinking Japs eight months from today, no more, no less, and I aim to kill a few more of the bastards personally. Look for me by Christmas cause I’ll be home with bells on. Boy won’t that be a happy day. I get goose flesh just thinking of it.

Saw “Frisco Sal” with someone, I don’t know who, but it stank. I am feeling real jubilant today though. I can really look forward and visualize coming home. It will look good. The boys are all smiles and very happy. Played volley ball yesterday with the officers. Earlier in the day I played football with my boys in the motor pool. I feel my age now. I’m about as stiff as a poker. You shouldn’t read books like “Forever Amber.” You sure are enjoying your freedom from your old tyrant husband, right? The boys are sure good looking in those pictures, but so is our daughter, and how. When I see Donnie’s lip, I really burn. Damn that Bob – all he cares about is that damned house. I love you. Bonnie, too.

                                                                                            Your very own Pappy

Next: Life-saver.

Friday, September 19, 2014

8. 'I hope to go up in the hills on patrol soon'

Dad's V-Mail: 28 bottles of beer per officer per month, "so we have to be stingy with it."
The letter above (and transcribed below) is from my father, Lt. Charles M. Pride, to his sister-in-law, Jean Pride. It was sent via V-Mail, short for Victory Mail. Soldiers wrote on special forms which were microfilmed, shipped home, blown up and delivered. This process reduced the weight of  mailbags from overseas.

I’m pretty sure Dad wrote his V-Mail from New Caledonia, a French possession in the Coral Sea 2,000 miles east of Australia. His eagerness to lead a jungle patrol and his bravado are sure signs that he had not yet been in combat.

Hard as it is to fathom, considering the fate of George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn,  Dad was always proud of having been in Custer’s regiment. The 1st Cavalry Division, including the 7th regiment, was fighting the New Guinea campaign when Dad arrived in the Pacific Theater. He joined it as the leader of an infantry platoon.

In his V-Mail Dad continued to grouse about his brother Bob’s failure to write to him. Here’s the letter:

Mr. & Mrs. R.H. Pride
Cold Springs Rd
Easton, Conn
                                                                        Lt. C.M. Pride 0-1031938
                                                                       APO 201 Wpns. Tr. 7th Cav
                                                                       c/o P/M. San Fran, Calif.
                                                                       3 August 44
Dear Jean,

Don and Ron with Uncle Charlie in Connecticut, probably in
1943. Dad hoped to bring them a souvenir.
Your letter just caught up to me. Sure was a pleasant surprise. You notice I addressed just you in my salutation. I cut Bob out because he’s too lazy to write me. Well, you know I am with the 1st Cavalry Division, an outfit really to be proud of. I am in the 7th Regt – General Custer’s own.

Glad to hear you are keeping Bern busy. I really appreciate it. A man doesn’t realize how much he loves his wife until he’s this far away; then it’s too late to do anything about it.

This island is beautiful white sands, palm trees, and beautiful blue water. My tent is right on the beach. We are more or less resting, waiting for bigger and better things. I hope to go up in the hills on patrol soon. Maybe I can put a few notches in the stock of my gun.

We have a nice little officers’ club. We even have beer, 28 bottles a month per man, so we have to be stingy with it. Saw a good movie tonight, “We’ve never been licked.”

Say hello to Don and Ron [Bob and Jane’s 10-year-old twins] for me, and thank them for their letter and picture. They sure are clever kids. I’ll get them a souvenir yet.

                                                                           Charlie

Next: 'I never dreamed it could be so horrible.'

Taken 10 years after the war, this photo shows three generations of Prides in the Elks Club in Clearwater, Fla. My dad and
his older brother Bob flank the formation. Bob's twin sons, my cousins Don and   Ron, flank the man in the middle, their grandfather (and mine) Royal D. Pride. Don and Ron both became excellent journalists (though not excellent Elks) and helped me start my career in newspapers beginning when I was 14 years old. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

7. To war in the Pacific

The Combat Infantryman's Badge was sacred to my dad, Charles M. Pride, who earned his fighting in the Pacific islands.
At this point in the publication of the family letters from World War II and beyond, it might be useful to share some of what I know about Charles M. Pride’s service overseas. The sources are stories my dad told me about his service and papers he left behind, including an official record of his service dated Dec. 15, 1945. I’ve also used letters Dad wrote from Pacific beaches, jungles and hospitals.

*

In the last years of his working life, my father managed cemeteries. He thus considered with care the details of his own funeral and grave-site. His remains lie beside my mother’s. On the brass plaque above them, the symbol my father chose for himself, more than 60 years after World War II, was the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

He scoffed at his Purple Heart and never spoke of why he won the Bronze Star. He liked to tell the story of his rescue of three drowning men off the beach in Hollandia, New Guinea, which won him the Soldier’s Medal for heroism. But the Combat Infantryman’s Badge was sacred to him.

I knew little of the medal’s origins until I looked it up. Omar Bradley, “the soldier’s general,” proposed the medal as a reward for any officer or soldier who faced infantry combat. Its recipients wear it above all other medals on their uniforms, including the Medal of Honor. Here is what Bradley wrote about it:

“The rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river there’s another hill – and behind that hill, another river. After weeks or months in the line only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter, and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes this chase must end on the litter or in the grave.”

How did a lieutenant trained in tank maintenance and then assigned to guard the beaches of Oregon win the Combat Infantryman’s Badge? The answer is simple: In the late spring of 1944, Dad’s orders swept him into the First Cavalry as an infantry platoon leader.

As described by the military historian Hugh Foster, a World War II rifle platoon had an authorized strength of 41 men. The lieutenant who commanded the platoon “for as long as he survived” had two sergeants and two privates, who served as messengers. The rest of the riflemen formed three squads, and machine guns, bazookas and mortars might augment the platoon’s operation.

Dad spent time on Manus and  Los Negros in the Admiralties,
which are north of New Guinea. 
Lt. Pride joined the First Cav in the southwest Pacific islands in early May of 1944, shortly after the division helped take the Admiralty Islands from the Japanese. His first posting, New Caledonia, was a French territory where he pitched his tent on a white sandy beach and, with the swagger of many a green officer, expressed his eagerness to patrol the jungle, kill “Japs” and carve notches in his rifle.

This was the beginning of a perilous life on the move. As Dad explained in a long letter written at sea near the war’s end, censorship prevented him from writing where he was in the Pacific but not where he had been. He wanted my mom back home in Connecticut to plot his course on a map. Here is the list of places he gave her: New Caledonia, Milne Bay, Oro Bay, Buna, Finchhaven, three islands in the Admiralties (Los Negros, Manus and “Howie”), New Britain, Leyte and Samar.

In the Admiralties and New Guinea he indeed led patrols. Later he laughed at movie scenes in which soldiers wielding machetes hacked new trails in the jungle. You’d never get anywhere that way, he'd say. You had to take the trails that were already there, and the enemy knew it.
   
Dad also described atrocities on both sides. He and his men were once led into a church to view the body of an American soldier. The man had been stripped, bound and tortured with lighted cigarettes before his throat was slit. His body was covered with burns. Such incidents confirmed the GIs’ belief that the Japanese were brutal, suicidal and sneaky.

Not long afterward Dad and his men saw the pilot bail out of a flaming Japanese Zero. As the pilot neared earth, scores of GIs used him as target practice. By the time his chute reached the ground, only bloody pulp remained on the parachute lines.

Dad participated in the X Corps landing indicated by the topmost blue arriw
on the map. He went 26 stormy days without changing his uniform.
Dad made at least two invasion landings. One was at Leyte in the Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944, the day General Douglas MacArthur famously returned. Dad hated heights. He had a mortal fear of climbing down the rigging of a troop ship. He felt such relief at reaching the landing craft safely that he broke out in a broad grin. His men mistook his demeanor, wondering how their lieutenant could be so brave and cool on the way to an invasion beach.

Dad was in the force that captured the airport near Tacloban, a regional capital in eastern Leyte. That force then crossed a narrow strait to capture the island of Samar. Dad told a newspaper reporter after his return home that this campaign was the worst he had fought in. While enduring constant drenching from torrential rains, he had no chance to change his uniform for 26 days.

He was wounded during this campaign – hit by a mortar shell and blown into the air. As you’ll see from his letters, he minimized his wound to my mother and omitted the details even when he told his in-laws it was more serious than he had let on. When I asked him about it years later, he made light of the wound. It was a shrapnel wound to the upper thigh that nearly castrated him. He was evacuated to a hospital and convalescent camp in Hollandia, a port on New Guinea’s northern coast. There he spent months recuperating from the wound and from battle fatigue.

Dad returned to duty in the spring of 1945 three months after the liberation of Manila.There he served out the war as motor pool officer for MacArthur, overseeing the operation and maintenance of 300 sedans and trucks used by the general and his staff. In letters that summer he welcomed the atom bomb – in part, no doubt, because the First Cavalry Division was staging for the invasion of Japan. Had he not been wounded, most likely he would have remained with the division as it led the Tokyo occupation force after the Japanese surrender.

Back home from the war, Dad poses with Mom and Bonnie. Above the battle ribbons on his left pocket is the
Combat Infantryman's Badge.
As it was, after 16 months in the Pacific, he came home – happily, joyfully – to his wife and 2-year-old daughter. The voyage home by luxury liner took 22 days. On arrival, Dad enjoyed 71 days of accrued leave before his discharge from active duty.

Back home in Connecticut, the Bridgeport Sunday Post reporter who interviewed him noted that he still walked with a limp from his wound. The Post story was accompanied by a picture of Mom and Dad holding the Japanese flag that once flew atop the Manila Hotel. One of Dad’s sergeants, a Texan named John Broder, had climbed up to retrieve it and given it to him.

Years later, after I was born and we moved to Florida, the flag – Dad’s most cherished souvenir of the war – disintegrated in our attic.

Next: A V-Mail from the front.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A family story, World War II and beyond

The series I am posting on my family’s experiences, photos and letters during World War II and beyond has attracted heavy traffic, for which I am grateful. It begins here and the posts run chronologically and are numbered sequentially. At this stage in the story, the spring of 1944, my father is about to arrive in the southwest Pacific islands as an infantry platoon leader. I'll post the next installment Wednesday.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll take a look at the series.

Readership of the blog during the last month has remained strong. Here are the top 25 posts, with hits ranging from 231 to 1,073. The numbers in parentheses are last month's rankings.








8. A Gettysburg journal (part 3) (8)








16 (tie). A gift from the heart (15)

              Gallery: Old soldiers (2), a New England brigade (17)









Sunday, September 14, 2014

6. 'Be sure to pose pretty'

My grandfather, Evert F. Nordstrom, was a card and a photo nut. Both qualities show up in this letter, which he addressed to his granddaughter. Being just 22 weeks old when he wrote, Bonnie couldn’t read, of course, although I’m sure my mom was working on it.

Evert also mentioned his desire to see more pictures of Bonnie and promised to send his movie camera to Oregon with instructions on how to use it.

                                                                         Bridgeport Sat. Feb. 26, 1944

Dear Bonnie:

I suppose you’ll have to let your ma and pa read this letter but it is just between you and me anyhow. I have been writing to them just about once a week now for a year or more so I think they can forgive me this time if I write to you instead of to them.

Bonnie in a satchel, 1944.
So you are a big girl now. Over eleven pounds. I imagine some people would think that is still pretty small but there are not many grown ups who could double their weight in five months. And even if they did they wouldn’t be happy about it and worse than that they sure would be awful masses of fat. But for you it is all right and I for one think you are doing all right.

And I guess you know who is the boss there. I have looked a long time at the pictures your mom has sent here and I can see by the look in your eyes that you know very well how to take care of yourself. And while that may be an accomplishment, I can see that you also know how to take care of your mom and pop. It may be a little hard on them at times but it won’t do them very much harm. And besides, I’ll guess they even have fun doing things for you. Of course, you could ease up on them once in a while. Let them have a little fun. You will enjoy giving it to them.

Your uncle Dodie [Joseph A. Nordstrom, Mom’s older brother, had joined the Navy] is getting acquainted with lots of people in San Francisco – object, Sunday Dinners. And from what he says he is achieving his object with reasonable frequency. Also, he is meeting some California beauties now and then but I think his heart his still in the east somewhere; Brooklyn at last reports.

My cousin Joy Nordstom, better known as Carla, tells me her father was the shortest GI in every picture ever made of him. Here Carl Nordstrom stands second from left in the first row among fellow members of the 722nd Tank Battalion. The picture was taken June 9, 1943, during the battalion's training at Fort Campbell, Ky. When Carl he and my Aunt Jane visited Lindsborn, Kans., as  mentioned in this letter, he was stationed at Fort Riley. 
A closer look at Carl Nordstrom
And your Aunt Janie and Uncle Carl have become real natives of Lindsborg Kansas even to the extent of having coffee every afternoon. [Jane and Carl Nordstrom. Carl was the middle child of the three Nordstroms; the Nordstroms were Swedish in origin, and Lindsborg was known as “Little Sweden.”] Janie says that the town quits work at 3:15 P.M. daily in order to drink coffee. And Janie has enrolled in a couple of classes at Bethany college, one of them being piano. She practices all day and Carl plays the piano every nite so with the racket they make and the racket you make in the state of Washington, I’d say that our descendants are being heard from.

And back at home here, we are getting along as usual. And I am going to send my movie camera out there so your folks can take some movies of you. You can tell them I’ll send the instruction book along too so they can find out how to run it. I won’t attempt to tell either you or them by means of a letter. I’ll get it under way probably Monday or Tuesday.

Be sure you pose pretty when they have it. I want to see some nice pictures of you and I know from the still pictures they have sent that it should be no trouble for you to look nice and pretty. In fact I have been showing those pictures of you sitting in the big chair to such an extent that everybody in our office would know you if you walked in there some day.

Your grandma wants to go to bed now so I guess I’ll have to relax from this for a while. It isn’t too late but just the same you know that us growing adults should have our rest.

We are having a little snow and sleet tonite but we have had spring like weather for a week or more so we really can’t complain – not that it would do any good if we did complain.

So . . . adios now. All OK here. Love from us.

                                                                            Grandpappy

Next: To War in the Pacific