Letters Home From The War: Part 4November 9, 2013
Compiled by Martha Rasche
When Dennis “Denny” Bell left his home on East Ninth Street in Jasper for the Navy on April 3, 1944, he was 32 and established in a career as a pharmacist.
He and the former Genevieve “Jenny” Schuetter had been married just shy of five years, and he wrote to her nearly every day. “Good evening Darling,” his letters routinely began.
He wondered whether his daughter, Judy, 3, and son, Kenny, who was 2, would even remember him when he returned home. When Judy called him “Father” in a phone call some months into his tour of duty, “that made it sound almost like I was a perfect stranger,” he wrote to his wife. “Of course, I guess to them I am. I like ”˜Daddy’ much better.”
In September 1944, he referenced additional pay he was making outside of the Navy; he had a part-time job as a pharmacist at a Rexall drug store in San Francisco.
Like the letters of thousands of other soldiers, some of his were sent via V-mail, a process used by the U.S. War Department to save letters to microfilm before sending them by air between the theaters of war and the USA. That saved untold tons of shipping space, going both ways. Upon the letters’ arrival, they were printed back to paper and sent on to their destination.
It wasn’t until October 1945, after censorship was lifted, that Denny wrote his wife about some events of the previous March. Copying from a journal he kept throughout his service, he described how massive the “powerhouse” U.S. Navy fleet was and shared his reaction to experiencing his first casualties of war.
He returned to Jasper in early December 1945. He and Jenny went on to be part-owners and operators of what was then Flick’s Drug Store in Jasper.
Daughter Judy is now Sister Judith Ann Bell, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in St. Louis.
She is 73.
Kenny went on to marry Jane Sermersheim and have three children: Tim, Tom and Mike. Tim, 49, of Jasper, shared his grandfather’s letters with The Herald.
Denny died in 2004 at age 92; Kenny died of melanoma in 2005 at age 64; and Jenny died in May of last year at age 97.
April 6, 1944
Company 736 - U.S. Navy Training Station
Great Lakes, Ill.
I guess I am now a seaman cause we took our physical exam this afternoon and it was an exam. They are if anything stiffer up here than at Evansville and I did not see anything wrong down there. All in all today’s exam was our third — Evansville, Indianapolis and here.
... We left Jasper at 8 and of all things about 28 miles from Indianapolis the bus ran out of gas. I hope I see the day yet that a post office runs out of stamps. We got to Indianapolis to (get) fingerprinted, fixed up allotment papers, had our physical, were off from 4 to 5, had a beer and went back ... to get sworn in at 5.
... I am at Great Lakes. Our ... training started Friday and is to last five weeks. That would be swell if after (training) we could go home for good but God knows how long we are in for. It’s not a bad life, lots of red tape and such but good food and plenty of it but it’s no place for a man with a family.
... Saturday morning we stood inspection. Boy, you sure have to keep these places clean. You even steel-wool the floors and stairs. After dinner we had our seabags stenciled and then we were free to wash clothes. (Before I go any further we are wearing long underwear. I think we get to change to shorts April 15th, I hope.) I washed my bed sack (sheet) and pillowcase and white hats. The white hats I washed to shrink them. You ought to see that washroom with all the guys scrubbing and not a one including myself knows where to begin or how. Is it better to turn the stuff inside out when you wash? We have no machine, of course, just a flat, slanted, metal top on which we can lay our stuff and use the scrub brush they dished out to us.
Did you get your first check yet? If not, you may get it in the next few days; but if you don’t, you will get it soon. The guys that run this outfit (Navy training station) are about as much at sea as we are. It’s really laughable to think the bosses are as much muddled as us poor rookies. They are taking them in apparently so fast they can’t keep up with them.
About your check — we got our first pay Wednesday, $5. The Flying Five, they call it, and here’s the answer:
You line up in your company street, march over to the canteen, file in alphabetically, receive your pay receipt; move along a few paces, are fingerprinted; next stop you are handed a $5 bill; next stop you hand it to another guy; next stop you receive a quarter; next stop you receive a $2 bill; next stop you receive a cash register slip; next stop you receive a sack for your register slip containing: 1 Blue Jackets Manual $1.25, 2 packages stationery in portfolio = 50 cents. 2 bars P&G soap = 20 cents, 1 bar Lux Soap = 10 cents, 1 soap dish = 25 cents, 1 razor = $1, 1 tube shave cream = 50 cents, 2 toothbrushes = 50 cents, 1 pair shoestrings, 5 cents, 1 tube toothpaste, 25 cents. In other words, they give you $5 but take it right back and give you $2.25 + a sack of the above merchandise. I think we get our money’s worth, don’t you?
... They all think I ought to make the grade. Hope they are right and that my test Thursday morning at 8 will hit me just right. I think while I’m on guard tonight I’ll say a couple of rosaries. Will you say a special prayer for me Wednesday night?
As for swimming, we swim in an indoor pool. Its the nicest and cleanest pool you ever saw but you’ll never see it. Neither will any other female. All swimming is done in the nude. Don’t know why they issue trunks.
This will probably be only a note. I’m tired as the devil and also have only one-half hour to get this in. I wrote you before, I believe, that you have to write at least one letter home per week. Now that one letter must be registered with the clerk each Sunday or else you get a going over and an extra duty hour. Well, I didn’t register the one I wrote last Sunday so I don’t know if I’m on the limb or not and right now don’t much care but I’m going to register this (even) if I don’t have anything in it.
I wish I were in better shape to finish up this boot training. As it is I’m somewhat of a cripple. My ankle bone of my left foot is so sore I can hardly use my left foot and the knee of my right leg is so sore (I) probably wrenched it. I can hardly use my right leg so I’m just hobbling along. I’m afraid to go to sick bay for fear they might keep me a couple of days and throw me back into another company and I sure don’t want that. I’ll stick it out or die. If I don’t get all right at home I’ll go to sick bay when I come back as it won’t matter then. Nothing will, much.
U.S. Naval Hospital Staff
Great Lakes, Ill.
Boy, one guy up here sure got his __ in a trap. Kind of a smart guy, too. Serves him right. He’s married and has been writing to some other girl and this time he wrote a letter to his wife and one to this girl and got the letters mixed and sent the one he wrote to the girl to his wife and his wife’s to the girl. Wow, is he in the grease.
U.S. Naval Hospital Staff sounds big but here’s what it is — Getting the meals and dishing them out to the patients in your ward. Washing and drying the dishes, cleaning up sweeping, mopping, giving back rubs, taking temperatures, pulse, respiration and blood pressure and possibly 18 million other things. Worst of all it’s a Waves ward.
This is D-Day, Darling. Where have you been today, outside or by the radio? I went on duty this morning at 6:15 and the Night Corps Wave told me about it. It just left me kinda numb without much to say. This day marks one step closer to my personal liberation and my demotion to the rank of civilian. This will surely mark the end that much closer because I can’t see Germany holding out too long now and once Germany is out of the way Japan will not be able to hold out against the combined fleets. Tell Judy Ann her daddy will be home soon. Anyway, you can tell her that maybe it will help. Of course, we don’t know anything.
... I’ve changed my mind about sending you the money. I’ll send it as a $30 money order. It will cost you a few cents to get it cashed, but it will be worth it to ensure you getting it. What made me change my mind was the fact that I got paid in a $50 bill and a $10 bill so I’ll change that $50 into a $30 money order and change.
About your trip, which is first and foremost. If you leave Vincennes at 1:30 Saturday morning you will get into Chicago about 7:10 at Dearborn Station. You will then have to go to the North Shore Station and catch the Skokie Valley interurban, which runs from Chicago to Milwaukee. This train or trolley runs practically every hour and most times on the hour. It will take about 11â„2 hours at the most to get out here. My liberty doesn’t start until 12 noon Saturday and I would be ready anytime to meet you at the station after that cause all I’d have to do was eat chow (and I wouldn’t have to do that) and dress. I’ll find out this week sometime what procedure I have to go through to get passes and where I can take you and such. It sure is funny nobody seems to know what to do and where to go but I’ll find out somehow.
Treasure Island, Calif.
I have something important to write about this evening. I was transferred from my other job today and guess where? Wake me up, I must be dreaming — but the Navy finally seems to have placed a man in his true occupation or profession. Yep, Darling, I was transferred to the pharmacy today. Hooray, hooray. I still can’t believe it. You know when we landed here they assigned me to the Duty List job. ... When they assigned us I asked if there wasn’t any chance of getting into the pharmacy. The answer as I expected was “Not right now,” so I figured we’d just have been pushed from pillar to post again and that us old guys were getting the good old runaround, but I didn’t say anything to you because I figured what you didn’t know wouldn’t hurt you.
... On this job I’ll have to work more hours and will have to be on duty, that is sleep here two or three nights a week, but on my short days I’ll be off anytime after 3 o’clock and at any rate I’ve landed in something I’m fitted for. I’m so tickled I’m almost happy.
I brought our family picture over here to the pharmacy today so I can have you near me always.
Well, well, well, I had quite a thrill this afternoon. Yes, sir, Bing Crosby was here in person. He went to several of the wards and sang a few songs. I almost missed him and only got in one song, “You can be better than you are.”
Well, things are really beginning to happen in Europe. Paris has fallen, Romania quit and everything is going so good I wouldn’t be surprised if it were all over with by the time you get this. It just can’t last much longer. Germany can’t possibly have many men or materials left.
I got my official election war ballot yesterday. Plenty early, don’t you think? Guess I’ll vote it and send it back next week and get that over with.
Boy, oh, boy, how I wish I could see you in this slack suit I bought yesterday. It is absolutely the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen and I just couldn’t resist buying it. I just can’t get over how lovely it is. I’m sure you’ll like it, but I do want you to be perfectly frank with me about it. I’d like to know if I have a taste you like. I honestly can’t see how anyone can help but like it — but if you don’t just save it till I get home and damn if I don’t wear it myself. I spent about an hour at different times looking longingly at it when they had it in the show window on a dummy about 10 days ago and it looked like a perfect fit and I believe it will be now that you’ve sent me your measurements. I just couldn’t resist buying a blouse to go with it, either. If you aren’t a million-dollar baby in that outfit I’ll sure miss my guess, but if you have no place to wear it, it will make a nice lounging suit to wear around the house for my special benefit when I get home, and in the meantime if you like it please have a picture taken in it so I can see you at least that way. I could rave about it all night.
... As for me coming home when the time comes, just let them turn me loose and you can chain me in the basement if you want to, even that would be heaven just to be home.
... So you got the coal and also by now have paid the note and are broke again. Well, my $20 ought to help that out a little. There’s more where that came from. I’ll send you my Navy pay regularly and live on my store money.
Today I had my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. I went to the zoo, and the beach is adjoining to it, this afternoon. I was somewhat shocked at what they call a beach. To me it looked like a dumping place with all kinds of trash and wood and stuff. There weren’t many bathers, either, because it was pretty darn cool, if you ask me, and I didn’t stay there too long. I walked over to the zoo from there and enjoyed that pretty much, but I don’t get a kick out of bumming around by myself.
... One thing about this beach and zoo, it would be a nice place to wear your slack suit. How do you like it?
Good evening Darling,
And a very good, good evening to you and a happy day today for me because I got your letter saying you like your slack suit. Boy, I’m sure glad you like it and I really believe you mean it because, just like I said in my former letters, I don’t see how anyone could help liking it. When I first saw it in the window I fell in love with it but, like you, I was afraid it was going to be high because it looked it but after several days of arguing with myself I was determined you were going to have it regardless of price because I knew you (nor I if at home) would think of buying anything so high priced. I did not expect to have the price tag on it when you got it, either. However, since you like it, I think it cheap. And now I better quit talking about it or else you’ll think I’m nuts for sure in as much as I’ve been writing about it in my last eight or 10 letters — but I still think it’s the neatest thing I ever saw. And wear it NOW.
Well, Darling, I can hardly wait until I get that picture of you in your Jim-dandy slack suit. You’ll be my pin-up girl in slacks, eh?
Believe it or not I voted for Roosevelt. I hate to see him in so many terms, but I also want him and the rest of them that are in now to stay there until this war business is all over.
I got your letter and pictures while ago and all I can say is sing you the song “Stay As Sweet As You Are.” The pictures, while not perfectly clear, are just beautiful. Boy, Judy and Kenny sure are growing up and you, Darling, are just divine. ... The slacks look lovely too and like Milly said, it would be swell if the pictures were Kodachrome.
... This is my duty weekend and I’ve got Ward B again, two other fellows and myself. One guy is OK but the other one is no good. We started at 2 p.m. and just now (8:45 p.m.) is the first time I’ve had any free time what with dishing out medicines, spraying throats, changing dressings, taking temperatures and heaven knows what else.
How’s the election going? I believe I’d rather be in Jasper counting votes than where I am right now. Remember the time we had one election night? I sure wish there was a radio around someplace. I sure would like to listen to the returns.
USS Braxton Detail
San Pedro, Calif.
Darling, sounds like you have been doing some swell Christmas shopping and don’t worry about $6 or such. It’s worth much more to get something worthwhile and have something than to get something at half the price and have it break up the first day. You sure seem to have the kids’ Christmas in tiptop shape. You are going to get a tree and put up the fence and the village and all, aren’t you?
I got the blues while ago when I heard my first Christmas song. It was “Noel.” It seems a crime to waste songs like that way out here where it’s warm enough to go without coats.
... Latest scuttlebutt that came out today is that we will go on our training cruise Dec. 15 and come back on the 22nd and load up the Braxton and go aboard here on the 27th for a shakedown. There is some more of the good old Navy for you. From one hour to the next you hardly know your own name so we’ll take that with a grain of salt too. When we do go on our cruise I don’t know if we’ll be able to get mail off or not so don’t be alarmed if you don’t hear from me for a few days.
... Gee, Darling, I’ll bet our bedroom does look swell. From your description I can just picture it in my mind and what a lovely picture it makes. I think when I get home I’ll just sit around the house to drink it all in again.
I’ll also say you sure seem to have become Mrs. Fix-it. You are not only Mrs. Fix-it but looks like Mr. as well since you put me to shame fixing Judy’s buggy when I couldn’t even do it.
... This evening while sitting in the barracks I heard some guy say “Evansville” and immediately I popped up and asked, “Who’s from Evansville?” and then I said, “I’m from Jasper” and we talked a while. His name is Baumgartener. He also told me there’s a guy from Bloomington on our ship too. I’ll have to keep in touch with Baumgartener because he gets the Evansville Courier. By Golly, it’s still a small world.
Gee, but I’m glad I got through to you finally yesterday evening and I was tickled the way I held up during our talk. I just had to steel myself all the way through but I made it. But when Judy asked, “When are you coming home?” that just about finished me.
... I sure would have liked to have gotten my call through Christmas Eve, but when I didn’t I almost gave up the idea. Then when I couldn’t get through Christmas Day I got kind of burned up and determined to get that call through if it took all year.
And a very, very Happy New Year to you. How different is tonight compared to a year ago tonight. Remember? We went to the New Year’s Eve Dance, the first dance we’d gone to since we were married. I sure had a wonderful time that night. Remember, you practically walked barefoot in the snow as there was about 2 or 3 inches of snow and you had on those sandals and no stockings. Now here I sit in the surgical dressing room in my dungarees writing to you instead of dancing, drinking and talking with you — but there’s consolation in the thought that the pendulum must swing back again. There’s also a lot of consolation in the fact that there is no snow, no cold weather, no blowing of whistles, no nothing, and consequently it’s just like another night and tomorrow also will be just another day.
According to the papers they are going to draft farm youths. They never did start back on fathers and over 30 anymore, did they? Well, the more youngsters they draft the quicker us oldsters will get out, I hope.
Tomorrow I’ll probably mail you my first censored letter as I’ll mail one from the ship.
Jan. 13, 1945
Good evening Darling and Hello, Hello.
Hold onto your hat, take a firm grip on something because I’ve got some news I’m sure you will be glad to hear. Nope, it’s not a leave, but it’s a pretty good break, I believe. Are you ready? Here comes: I have been transferred off the USS Braxton.
... Where I will go I do not know. I could still be sent across to some island base or the like or on a hospital ship or some noncombat ship or some station here in the USA.
If you haven’t guessed all along, I feel free to tell you now that an APA is an attack transport. The APA stands for American Personnel Attack. They are definitely combat ships and I’ve never heard the word “combat” so distinctly and thoroughly and frequently emphasized as it was by the captain from Roosevelt Base in his commissioning speech on Dec. 29.
... It’s a funny thing, but I don’t know whether to be glad or sad. Everyone tells me not to feel badly about it, that I’ve sure gotten a lucky break and for your sake, Darling, I think it is a good break. At least you won’t have to worry day after day after day about my ship being sunk. I’m sure going to miss the fellows and not trying to throw any roses at myself but I am really going to be missed by them. You should have seen their faces fall when they heard the news.
... I have my seabag all packed and in the morning I’ll roll up my bedding and lash it with my seabag and sometime tomorrow I’ll leave the Braxton for the last time. Anyway, I can say I was one of the original crew and now, Darling, let’s both try to keep close tabs on her.
Riff borrowed me the Herald, Jan. 19th, (that) he just got today. Boy, every week seems like there’s more and more killed and missing in action.
So you finally got my second war bond. Gosh, Darling, in 10 years from now we’ll be rich people, what with all those war bonds you’ve got tucked away in your sock. Don’t buy any more outright, Darling, cause you are doing too much pinching. We’ll build the rest of our million on the one we get every three months. How you went 25 days on $35 is more than I can tell.
... I sure hate to disappoint Judy in her prayer for daddy to come home, but tell her daddy thanks her and loves her and to keep on praying and maybe daddy will make it yet.
I leave here with three other pharmacist mates Wednesday, Jan. 31, to go to the receiving ship at San Francisco, which will probably mean on Treasure Island, and await the return of the USS Relief, a hospital ship, and then go aboard for duty.
...I can assure you I don’t feel at all happy about it cause I was hoping for duty in the States somewhere, but it seems they want me to have some sea duty by all means. The only consolation I can see is, of course, that it’s supposed to be the safest ship at sea and that I will be tending to boys that will really need tending to and not a bunch of gold bricks.
... The only big thing we’ve got to look forward to now is the end of the war and oh, what I wouldn’t give if that were to happen tomorrow. I’ll say one thing, though, and that is it’s much further along to an end than I thought it would be at this time. I sure didn’t think the Philippines would be invaded before the Germans were licked and now if everything keeps going smoothly they may finish off the Philippines before the Germans are licked. Russia sure seems to be taking them over the coals, though, and I hope they keep it up but then stop and don’t turn around and fight us yet before it’s all over, but I don’t think they will because they’ve probably had enough of war too.
... I’m hoping against hope I’ll be able to get a leave, however slim the thread is. I’ve never given up on my two rosaries and I think I’ll continue them at least for the duration.
... Oh, yes, this gives me a chance to make out an extra $25 allotment per month to you again. That’s something out of the deal, anyway, and too I’ll be a full-fledged sailor again.
At 9 that night I was put on a working party and had to help load stores aboard (quarters of veal and beef, liver and eggs). We loaded 138 cases of eggs. There are 30 dozens per case, making a total of 49,820 eggs. We worked from 9 to 12:30. Thursday morning I was put on a working detail loading field hospital equipment aboard down in the hold.
... They sure have class distinction aboard these ships. All officers, of course, have separate cabins, then the chiefs have their separate quarters, the first and second mates have separate quarters, the third mates have separate quarters and the hospital apprentices and seamen have separate quarters. We have rather nice quarters tho, nicer than on the (attack transport). In the compartment where I am there are just 33 bunks and men. We are up pretty near the bow of the ship. If we hit rough weather we’ll do quite a bit of rock-a-bye baby in the tree top.
Wow, just think, we’ve been going since Tuesday morning and haven’t seen anything but water since, and I understand it will be twice this long or better till we do. I know one thing: I’ll never want to go on a trip across the Atlantic or any other ocean once I get home. You’ll do good to drag me out to Calumet Lake.
We saw a sight yesterday that I’d sure like to write about but it can’t be done. I only mentioned the date we left in my V-mails to George Parker and Elmer Steffen and got them both back today and had to rewrite them.
I’m sorry I passed you up like a dirty shirt last night, Darling, but writing is getting pretty tough again, what with no more letters of yours to answer and nothing I can tell you, so I may miss you a couple of nights a week and even the nights I do write won’t amount to much as far as letters go.
It’s a funny world, but at home I used to think how strange it sort of seemed that I never had written you a letter before we were married or after but it looks like it took a war to have us write letters to each other.
The other day a notice appeared on the bulletin board saying we could tell in our letters where we had been 30 days after we were there. According to that, I guess I can tell you that I was in Frisco and Treasure Island and so forth. What news, eh? At that, though. remember I told you we would probably hit Pearl (Harbor) on our way out but we didn’t and that’s why my letters were so long getting to you. We passed the Hawaiian Islands, however, but at some distance.
Well, well, Friday the 13th sure brought some bad news when they announced this morning about 10 o’clock that President Roosevelt died. Gee, what a blow to the country. I just hope it doesn’t build too much morale up for the Germans and Japs. As far as the Yanks are concerned, while it is a terrible blow what with the peace conference in Frisco just coming up and all, we’ll pull through all right even though this is quite a setback. I’d sure like to have seen him in office at least until this mess is all over. Let’s hope that Harry Truman will stand on his own feet and carry out the good work and not let himself be hoodwinked, which could easily happen. I really believe, though I do not like the way (Henry) Wallace was counted out of the vice presidency, that he would not have been as good a man for the job as Truman will be. Here’s good luck for Truman.
I am herewith sending you my first money order for $75 and hope to send you one just like it every two months. I want you to spend all or at least the greater part of this one on yourself and Judy and Kenny. Be sure and buy them something nice (clothes, games, trinkets or whatever they might like) and tell them daddy sent it. I didn’t get a chance to send you anything for Easter and it looks like Mother’s Day will be the same, so fix yourself up and the kiddies. What a great day it will be when I can again take you in my arms. Oh, how I miss you.
I suppose the censor won’t scratch out the “At Sea” even though he did scratch out the “S.W. Pacific.” For all anyone in general would know I might be in the Red Sea or anywhere else.
... I can’t understand that one airmail letter being all ruined like that, though, because since I had to rewrite those V-mails to George and Elmer three times I haven’t been saying anything at all. Sometimes I don’t get the idea of the censor aboard being so strict.
... As far as logs go, I don’t think they keep logs for us aboard this ship. You see, a hospital ship is not a glory ship out to see how many adventures and victories it can score. You might call it rather a sad ship or something like that, wishing it wouldn’t find what it knows it’s going to find, namely, boys all shot up or burned up or suffering from psychoneurosis and so forth.
Did you hear about Ernie Pyle getting killed? I imagine the papers back home had big write-ups about him. It’s a shame but that’s the way things go. Life is the cheapest item out here, believe you me. Some guys may pay as high as $7 for a can of beer but life — poof!
I see you donated blood to the blood bank again. Boy, that’s just swell. Out here you can really realize what a big part you people that donate blood are really playing in this war.
Well, today was Sunday all day but the only way you can really distinguish the day from any other day is by the tough chicken we have for supper. Honestly, I have never seen such tough stuff. I just pass it up cold lately. I don’t want to aggravate myself with it. I do believe they have a boot camp or basic training period for these chickens before we get them to toughen them up. ... Poor Judy, she just can’t understand why other people’s daddy can come home and hers can’t.
Dubois County sure did go over big again at the blood bank. 1,033 pints is a lot of blood, and I’ll sure say it’s being put to very good use.
... So Judy likes to sing, does she? Wish I could be there for one of your sessions, but maybe one of these days I will. Can she sing several songs? And Kenny just wants to sing “God Bless America.” I’ll bet that’s a sight to see.
How’s the excitement in Jasper today, or tonight or last night or whenever you heard about the complete surrender of Germany? We learned of it the first thing this (morning) as it was picked up by our ship’s radio about midnight last night. ... I wonder what the German people themselves are thinking and doing. Firstly, they are as glad if not more so than we are that it’s over, but as an afterthought they must surely think of the tremendous sacrifices they made over long years to ready themselves for this war and now must realize how futile it all was. All their sacrifices for naught. ... I wonder how many of the boys from Europe will get to come home for good. Personally, I think they all deserve it, especially those who have been through battle, but I guess quite a lot of them will be sent out here. Well, I guess the more that come the quicker the whole works will be over.
... Nick sat down this evening to write his folks and finally gave up in disgust after I balled him out for writing “Dear Mom and Dad, I received your most welcome letters quite some time ago and wish to thank you very much. I am well and hope you are the same. Your loving son, Joseph.”
Wouldn’t that be a shame to write something like that? Regardless of how little you know to write you can always write a little something. I suppose he’ll wait another month or so before making another attempt.
... I can say now that we have been to Ulithi, Guam, Saipan, Okinawa more than a month ago.
So you enjoyed your evening on the front porch, did you? Wish I could have enjoyed it with you. My front porch is the forecastle, my glider is the deck and my front yard is just oceans and oceans of ocean. Every now and then I do have you beat on the moon situation. Honestly, Darling, I wish you could see it sometimes. There are, of course, no trees, hills, telephone poles or houses to hinder your view and sometimes it is just like you hear and read and dream about a tropic moon being.
By golly, if the censors don’t quit returning my letters pretty soon there’ll probably be several days when you won’t get any. Yesterday they returned my letter to you of the 20th because I had forgotten to sign my full name on the bottom and today of all things they returned my July 22nd letter because I had mentioned the name of my old ship and also the name of the Relief. It was rejected, quote, “Do not mention other ships in the same letter as you mention the Relief.” That beats me.
Well, we really had good news this morning when they announced that Russia had finally declared war on Japan. Boy, that’s the big news everyone everywhere except, of course, in Japan, had been waiting for and that coming on top of the heels of the news of the sensational new bomb ought to bring a head to things in a hurry, I think, and so, I guess, does everyone else. ... I wouldn’t be surprised to see Japan give up in a few weeks, really. We also learned this afternoon that the city of Hiroshima, the victim of the first bomb, was almost completely wiped out and that they have now dropped another on Nagasaki. A few more of those and there won’t be any Japan left to surrender. Golly, that must sure be something awful if it’s really as bad as they say. This better be the war to end all wars or next time the whole earth will be destroyed.
Don’t tell me where you’ve been all day because I know. I saw you there at the radio. If you’d have gotten any closer you’d have been inside. Sorry you didn’t hear what you and I and millions of others would like to hear. By the time you get this we may have peace or some more war. If the Allies reject Japan’s conditional surrender, which I’m afraid they will as, if allowed to keep their Emperor is a condition, and a mighty big one, we may still see quite a lot of fighting or they may capitulate anyway even if they don’t win their point because the atomic bomb may have put the fear of the Lord into them anyway. If they decide to continue fighting I look for the dropping of an atomic bomb daily until they do say “uncle.”
So far as we and this area as a whole is concerned, last night’s electrifying news has been accepted as the end of the war. Individually, however, every one has his own opinion. Last night there wasn’t a single person in the area who had any doubts as to peace being declared. Today, however, with no confirmation from Washington, London, Moscow or Chunking, practically everyone is certain the surrender of last night will not be accepted.
Last night at novena services Father Joyce told us that it was entirely possible that Wednesday Aug. 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, we might be celebrating peace. Then at 9:10, as if to make a prophet of him, the news came over the radio. The entire harbor, as is the rule, was completely blacked out but five minutes later I sure wish you’d have seen it and heard it. You could hear the yells of the sailors of all the ships as though you were sitting in some huge football bowl, and talk about fireworks, wow. Never in my wildest dreams have I ever dreamed up such a display. Oh, golly, just that it was not for naught. All the ships turned on all their searchlights and played them around and around, up and down, and side to side in the black sky and talk about your brilliant array of rockets, star shells, spider shells and what not. Oh, my. Oh, my, it was just indescribable — red and green and yellow and blue and purple and orange and white flares, rockets bursting on high and floating lazily downward. And this was not just a sudden flare up but lasted from approximately 9:15 to 11 p.m. Everyone was whooping and hollering and jumping up and down and slapping backs and singing and talking of going home. No, last night I will not forget for a long, long time to come.
... I suppose Judy will be expecting me in a few days after peace is declared, but you must tell her that daddy has to help bring the sick and wounded back and he’ll be home as soon as he can. Home — God bless it, always.
... Just now at 6 p.m. the radio is saying that “The war is not yet over.” No statement has come from any of the allied governments.
Good evening Darling,
And a Happy, Happy PEACE to you. Yes, Darling, the great day is now here. Our celebration last Friday night was little premature but at least it was not for naught. We heard the news on our ship’s radio from the Japanese ... broadcast about 3:05 this afternoon. Outside of some whoops and yells and a little scurrying about the deck and some handshaking and everybody grinning from ear to ear, no celebration has so far taken place. However, tonight, if the official word from President Truman comes over the radio, we may be in for some more of last Friday night’s fine show.
... They are not letting any medical corps (members) out at all as yet but I hope they start as soon as they get most or all of the wounded and sick boys home.
Good evening Darling,
Hello, Darling, Hello. And you don’t know how glad I am to be able to say “Hello” again. My yesterday’s letter is just simply this: Aug. 31, Friday — time: all day; subject TYPHOON!!!!
And now to go on with today’s letter, a letter I didn’t think I’d be alive to write, but boy, you don’t know how glad I was to see today.
Twice before I wrote about just missing a couple of typhoons or getting in on the tail end of it but this time — wow! Nobody aboard wants any more. It was so terrible I can’t describe it. We didn’t know if one minute we were going to capsize or the next be broken and twisted in two.
... We had 5-gallon bottles of chlorine solution similar to Clorox, 1 gallon lime water and 1â„2 gallon paraldehyde sitting on the deck underneath the sink. I had our big heavy Johnson bar in front of it braced longwise and I had my foot on it for extra bracing when a real big (wave) caught us and knocked me back in the corner and out slid the bottles and crashed together. We then had 3 gallons of chlorine solution and 1 gallon of lime water all over the deck and all the glass and with the ship going like a teeter-totter sideways we didn’t know if we were up or down.
... I believe I said at least 20 rosaries. I’ve never been so scared in my life. ... This condition lasted from about 9:30 a.m. to about 12 p.m.
... I sure don’t ever want to see a day like that again. If your ship ever turns over or breaks in two you have no chance whatsoever. With waves 60 and 70 feet high and wind at 80 or 90 miles per hour you would have no chance (despite) life jacket, life boat or life raft. Thank God for a good ship, a good captain and a good crew and, above all, thank God for his protection.
Today we are still in very rough seas but compared to yesterday it’s calm. We celebrated Victory in Japan Day today by having a nice steak dinner with cigars, cigarettes and all the trimmings and a holiday this afternoon.
Effective one-half hour ago censorship on all mail has been lifted.
Golly, but it’s a nice feeling to sit down and know that I can tell you exactly what I want to. You just feel like you’re so much free-er somehow and yet today I’m not going to be telling you very much, not because I couldn’t but because I’m a little pressed for time.
... Hold your thumbs and say an extra prayer, Darling, because although the war is over it looks like we are tackling our toughest assignment. ... We are going to Dairen, which on the map is just above Port Arthur and is on the peninsula of Manchuria (Manchukuo) in the Yellow Sea. ... These waters are the most heavily mined waters in the world. They’ve been mined almost daily by B-29 (planes). We are the only hospital ship making the trip and are being escorted by two destroyer mine sweepers.
We pulled out of Okinawa at 6 yesterday evening and now two escort mine sweepers are out there in front of us about a mile searching for mines for us. They are supposed to have the best mine-detecting and -destroying equipment available and so far so good. At this particular time of day we are almost due east of Shanghai northward bound and we’ve picked up several more mine sweepers. I suppose since negotiations were first started the mine sweepers have been steadily busy and these that we saw a few minutes ago off our starboard beams are patrolling continuously all up and down along here and I suppose once we get up in the Korea area and in the Yellow Sea there will be many more sweepers working.
... According to schedule we are to pull into Dairen late Friday afternoon or evening. We are making about 325 miles per day. They don’t know exactly what we will evacuate but chances are it will be practically all nationalities and men, women and children. In some of the wards the boys are making makeshift diapers out of several folds of gauze and cotton and I suppose we’ll be doing a land office business in vitamins, cod liver oil, cough syrups, ointments, cold tablets and what have you.
Today all day we’ve really gotten into the mine fields. Since 9:30 this morning we’ve stopped about 10 or 12 different times while our escorts scouted for mines they had either seen or picked up on their radar and then exploded them with gunfire. Boy, do they ever make a noise and shake the ship when they explode and they send a spray of water 100 to 150 feet into the air. Tonight will be our most dangerous night as we will be right up in there where the mines are the thickest.
... Just a few minutes ago one of the escorts exploded another mine, and a piece of shrapnel from the mine went through one of the boys on the escort’s helmet and struck him in the back of the head and came out through the front side. They pulled alongside and sent him over here to us by breeches buoy and they worked on him in (an) operating room but just about two minutes ago Merren came and told me he died. It’s sure a pity to think of getting it after the war is all over, but it looks like this is about as tough a spot as we’ve been in. Here’s hoping our Guardian Angel guides us safely through.
Evidently we are scheduled to make several runs up here because instead of evacuating to Manila as was the original idea we received orders today to evacuate to Okinawa instead. This is one time when I think the Navy is finally doing the right thing, because this is a much shorter haul than all the way down to Manila, as you can see on the map.
We had a sad thing to do this morning. A few days ago we received a Marine aboard from one of the (attack transports) with strep throat but the poor boy was too far gone when we got him and he died this morning and we had to inventory all his gear and among it was a picture of a young girl (about 22) and a small boy about 2. I sure hope it wasn’t his wife.
... We got underway at 4 p.m. yesterday and you ought to see this convoy. It’s just like you see in news reels and pictures. There are three columns of 11 ships each and they are all just so far apart. We are the (tail) end of the righthand column and it’s really pushing us to keep up. Our convoy speed is 13 knots, which is right at 15 miles per hour, but that’s about our top speed.
On March 5 at 6 a.m. we sighted the small islands of Ulithi. At the time they were just tiny specks dead ahead but by 7 we could see them some plainer, and masts of several ships which, as we continued in, developed into quite a fleet and boy, oh, boy, when we finally really got in I thought surely all the ships of the whole U.S. Navy was there. This was my first eyeful of the Navy except the occasional ships at Frisco and at San Pedro.
Boy, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was a powerhouse fleet consisting of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, destroyer escorts, carriers, carrier escorts, tank landing ships, medium landing ships, landing crafts infantry and just everything imaginable and by the hundreds.
On March 6th, the day after we got there, we were ready for business and business was apparently ready for us as the boys started to come over from other ships in droves. Some for examination for glasses, some for X-rays, some for dental work, some for ear, eye, nose and throat, some to (obtain) medicines and preparations, some were sent over for operations and just everything and anything. This is called “servicing the fleet.” In other words, we were a hospital just like any city hospital and the sailors on all these various ships were our patients.
Well, let’s go back to Ulithi again. On March 11th (Sunday) I had my first stretcher watch from 4 p.m. to 12 midnight. And it was at 8 p.m. that the two Jap planes came over. They were in and had accomplished their mission before even an alarm was sounded. Somebody must have been sleeping to let them get in undetected. Anyway, one plane dove into the new carrier Randolph and the other into one of the small islands. We did not hear an explosion, only the flames, and when the general alarm sounded I thought it was just another practice and that they had set off an oil fire at two different places to make it more realistic. Right away they figured probably more planes were coming so all ships were ordered to be ready to pull out in a moment’s notice. The Randolph sent a boat over to ask for some doctors and corpsmen, but since we had orders to be ready to leave no help was sent. The fire on the Randolph raged for several hours before they were finally checked. The plane had crashed into the hangar deck and set off bombs and ammunition and quite a lot of damage was done and about 35 or 40 were killed outright. About 2 a.m. they started to bring over the more seriously wounded, most of them badly burned, and we lost about seven or eight of the 40 or so brought over. This was my first war experience, and after I realized what was going on I was plenty scared up.
By the way, the scuttlebutt about the points dropping became official last night so now on Dec. 1st I’ll be eligible for discharge. It’s, of course, hard telling just when I’ll get out because it depends on where we are at that time.
Yes, Darling, it looks as if our big break which we have been waiting for so long has finally come. WE ARE COMING HOME. Wow! Wow! Wow! What news, what news.
...... Anyway, Babe, it looks as if our dream boat is finally coming home. Have your arms ready. I’m coming into them.
Just heard we got orders to go from here to Tsingtao, China, which is just around the bend and from there over to Jinsin, Korea, for our load, etc.
Between Okinawa and Guam
At present we are loaded down to the gun whales, whatever that is, but anyway, we have a load. We have 707 passengers aboard and 101 patients, which is the most this old baby ever carried. There are guys sleeping almost in the smokestack. Honestly, the main deck is at all times so jam-packed with guys sitting around, standing around, walking, etc., a guy can hardly forge his way through. The old ship is at present a troop ship and it looks a sight. Honestly, to see the wards now is a shame. Guys laying in bunks with their dirty clothes on, sitting on the deck, lying on the deck with seabags and packs and handbags hanging everywhere and stacked in piles here and there. It’s sure a far cry from the spick-and-span A-1 hospital it had been up to Wednesday.
324 miles closer to Guam
Today was the first of my GREAT DAYS. All those eligible for discharge Dec. 1 had to put in their discharge request. Then this afternoon we had to go to the general office and sign our new addresses, which for me was 330 E. 9th St., Jasper, Ind. Now the first step has been taken. I just hope we don’t get held up too long at Guam. If you were on this ship at present you’d have to say it must be automatic. Honestly, nobody does anything anymore, including me. I went up to take a shower about 2:30 this afternoon and nearly everybody was in their racks. Tough life but I guess everybody is just set on going home — if not for good for some, then for a leave at least. Then, too, there is nothing for many people to do outside of cooks, bakers, yeomen, storekeepers, engine room gang and so forth.
Yes, sir, according to the dope sheet tomorrow at 1 p.m. we will start for the good old USA.
The captain is expecting to make it in 18 days whereas it usually takes this ship about 20 to 22 days. Therefore, we now have only 17 days to go.
In today’s plan of the day we were notified that we are privileged to wear the Philippine Liberation Ribbon in as much as we were in there the required 30 days prior to their complete liberation. ... So far we rate the American Theatre Campaign Ribbon, the Asiatic Pacific with one star (Okinawa) and the Philippine Liberation.
650 miles from Frisco
Closer and closer and closer we are coming. Day by day, slowly but surely, we are coming nearer and nearer that grand Golden Gate Bridge. It wouldn’t surprise me too much if, say, 15 days from today I will be sitting and enjoying so very, very much talking to you with all my letter writing behind me.
postcard from North Platte, Neb.
Every hour we are getting a little closer.
About this series: A few months ago, The Herald asked readers for letters written by their loved ones from World War II. We received more than a dozen responses, including from a couple of people who had letters from World War I. Some readers had fewer than a handful of letters to share, while others had dozens, even hundreds. From now through Veterans Day, we are publishing excerpts from the letters received. The words are original to the writers, though some spelling and some punctuation have been altered.
Part 1: In shared company — Soldiers and sailors wrote of new experiences and of missing the old routines.
Part 2: Pigeoneer Marty Gosman — This soldier followed the birth of his firstborn from a distance.
Part 3: Two who never came home — The sisters of Calvin Voelkel and Lowell Gray always have wondered what might have been.
Part 4: Pharmacist Denny Bell — This sailor — the father of two — wrote his wife almost daily.
Part 5: From World War I — A soldier missed the farm he grew up on, and several servicemen were pen pals with a Jasper girl.
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