Letter Home: LIFE AS AN ENLSITEE

Gunfire from all sides. Skies full of tracer bullets. I ran out of our tent on Okinawa into my scariest moment since boot camp. But this wasn't Armageddon - just marines celebrating. It was V-J Day, 1945. A half century later, I have finally looked at the letters from those years that only parents would save. Tied bundles of envelopes with my scrawled ''Free'' instead of a postage stamp. Now in the letters, I meet myself as a young stranger who left the battles to the newspapers and assumed his folks wanted to hear mostly about him and their love for each other across the world. Okinawa Shima Jan. 15, 1946 Dear Mom and Dad, You ask again about Ie Shima [the island where wartime writer Ernie Pyle was lost]. Thought I had told all in previous letters. We left Guam April 26 [1945] and arrived in an Okinawa harbor in early May. We lay there at anchor for a few days, long enough to watch a landing party and a couple of kamikazes. We disembarked on Ie, May 13, and set up a camp area for operating an anti-sub patrol and occasional bomb and rocket strikes in the Ryukyus and as far as Kyushu. I didn't fly, but set up and, for a time, operated alone, dawn till dusk, the radio truck that monitored consistently the patrols and acted as a relay station in lost-plane cases, etc. Later, as the camp became better established, I taught others the operating routine and became responsible for the maintenance of the truck's radio equipment, and began work regularly in the shop on the radar bench. It was on Ie that the bullet narrowly missed me, and the bombs came the closest. Late in July we came over here. A few more bombers got through, but seemingly more dangerous was the peace demonstration in August [V-J Day]. From Awase Field I made the few flights that I did, mostly for the fun of it, ostensibly to test radar, and actually or incidentally to partially qualify for the couple of months of flight pay I received. That has now been canceled for ground personnel. Enough?

Love,

Rod Flashback to.... Miramar, Calif. Feb. 8, 1945 Dear Folks, I've been assigned to a detail scheduled to leave anytime on four hours' notice. Having passed the overseas physical, I'm restricted to the base, drawing overseas gear and checking out before boarding the boat. At sea Feb. 19, 1945 Dear Folks, The first leg is completed safely. Where to now I don't know. I wish you could see the workings of a United States troopship. This is the USS General Harry Taylor, an Army ship, operated by the Navy, transporting marines and Seabees. Yet it rivals a land station in efficiency. We're crowded in our four-deck bunks, but we're allowed on deck at practically all times. Ice cream and candy are available. The ship's band plays afternoon concerts, and a public-address system gives out with good records at other times. The Red Cross has furnished us with stationery, as you can see, and books and sundries, all in little drawstring bags. I'm actually reading ''Ellery Queen'' and enjoying it. Right now, though, I'm on ''A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.'' Amazingly, they feed us three good meals a day with neatness and dispatch. All activities are integrated by the PA system or ''squawk box,'' as they call it. This ship is completely blacked out early each evening. Peace and quiet then prevail on deck, with only the moon and stars and the phosphorescence in the water for illumination. The human organism seems close to the divine. Incidentally, even this human organism withstood the onslaughts of mal de mer and, in spite of all this and heaving too (there was many a dash to the rail), retained all of his cookies. At sea Feb. 23, 1945 Dear Folks, Still not at our destination. The other morning I arose to watch Hawaii come into view. Saw the well-known Diamond Head, Honolulu, and Pearl Harbor. Even caught a glimpse of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which, they say, now billets submarine men at 25 cents a night. I'm no submarine man, so I continue to sleep in the casual intimacy of compartment 8. Reveille awakens me, momentarily, at 0530. My day begins about 0630 when I crawl out of the sack, drop about seven feet to the deck, wend a tortuous series of ladders - Navy for stairways - and become part of the mess formation. I relax after the formation for about 45 minutes - unless I have guard duty (now every other day) - storing energy for the day's exertions of going on deck and moving as the sweepers come by. There I read weighty tomes like ''Lost Horizon'' and ''The Chinese Orange Mystery'', indulge in intellectual exercise (crossword puzzles and a game called ''Battleship''), and observe the skies and the scenery, which up until recently has been of an endless variety - big waves, little waves, etc. Okinawa Nov. 6, 1945 Dear Folks, Don't know how frequent my letters will be with this guard duty. The days now, I think, are less worthy of note than any so far. Many are just putting in time waiting for that point score [to qualify for discharge] to drop. Probably after the first cut to 40, overseas time rather than points will be the qualification for return. Since I have only 35 points, you'll see that I'm bidin' my time. Exactly two months after my first attendance, the interim occupied with flying trips to Japan et al., I went to the white Quonset hut chapel at the 36th CB's last Sunday. A nice little meeting was enjoyed, although hymns were acappella, as was a solo, good, by a young Army lieutenant. Afterward, we picnicked in a little open space near some sort of ruins. Franks, fresh eggs (fried to order on the open fire), fried potatoes, and onions were smacked over by all.... Such a surprise it was - and so good! Okinawa Dec. 12, 1945 Dear Folks, Thanks for the decorations and Christmas greetings! Yes, we open packages as they come - it's the only practical way. I'm writing tonight in a new Quonset hut, sitting on the edge of a new wooden double-decker bunk fitted with the canvas and frame sacks from a ship washed ashore by the typhoon. Up some coral steps and down the road are our new hot showers. Past them and to the left and up a steep bank is the mess hall. Beyond that is the theater where I am just about to see a Negro stage show called ''Flying Home.'' Okinawa Christmas Eve, 1945 Dear Folks, Not very snowy tonight. Still there is bright, cold-looking moonlight, and scattered in the night are loose strings of colored lights on squadron Christmas trees. The MERRY XMAS in neon glows from the top of a hill. Below is a little white chapel lighted warmly inside and out. The boys have been playing Monopoly today. Now, back from the movie, a few are struggling with carols, some are reading, a couple write letters. We have many presents to count, much to be thankful for. My thanks to you and for you. Okinawa Jan. 17, 1946 Dear Folks, We have just come from a rehearsal for the parade and review to be held Saturday. Medals are to be presented. I really have to laugh at the colonels, majors, etc., all grown men, who take the strutting and maneuvering so seriously. I guess it's even funnier that the superior mentalities bungle a little, but even were they perfect, the spectacle of their striding and shouting would be amusing. Two fat envelopes of yours came this noon, filled with clippings. Thanks! Last night I went to Awase Bowl again, this time for an authentic native show by professional Okinawan entertainers. Very interesting! The dances were sedate, graceful. Music was supplied by a small flute, two stringed instruments like ukuleles, a long stringed affair lying horizontal, and a tom-tom. Usually someone chanted in accompaniment. Evidently, they couldn't entirely resist the Western influence, for the final number featured the harmonica champion of Okinawa!... Our 45-pointers are starting to check out of the squadron. They're only 10 points away from me now. Think I can safely say I'll be in the States before I'm old enough to vote [21 in those days]. Okinawa Jan. 19, 1946 Dear Folks, At last I have something to write home about. Perhaps I scoffed too soon about that parade and review - it turned out to be partly in my honor. Yep, your son was the recipient this morning of a letter of commendation from the commanding general, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. It authorizes me to wear a little green and white ribbon. The commendation was for devotion to duty, etc., on Ie Shima when I operated that radio truck. When I get home you'll get the real story. The citation is almost what we call a ''snow job'' - an exaggeration, like a big-time operator's line. The military stuff still amuses me, but I found it easy to keep a serious mien today. San Diego March 3, 1946 Dear Folks, Our trip from Guam was slightly rougher than the previous travel. Large waves beat in a hangar deck door, and water sloshed around our feet at the movie that night. You know everything since our docking Thursday - waiting at Miramar for clothes, liberty cards, and the paper work that allows our move to El Toro, [Calif.]. Recent scuttlebutt hints even that word may be changed, so no telling when I'll come into view there. I would guess that I'll be eligible for discharge in April, if points continue to drop, so don't sell the rocking chair. Riding through Utah March 29, 1946 Dear Folks, See I really am on the way this time! We're scheduled to arrive in Chicago Sunday, and thence to the Great Lakes Separation Center for discharge.... According to the scuttlebutt, which says processing should take no more than 72 hours, I should be in Minneapolis before next Saturday. Now, as per my phone call, I'd very much like to have you two there for a week or as many days as you can get, Dad. You've written from time to time about ''things'' you've acquired, but how about getting something brand new, some ''vacation'' clothes? From what I can gather, my assets accrued are close to $1,500. That won't draw much interest lying idle, but just a fraction of it would put some spring colors in our closet. Mom, maybe you'd rather wait till you get to the big city and shop around a little. Draw enough extra to ''take the bus down.'' I'll have mustering-out pay, too. Don't say, ''Oh, we couldn't!'' Just plan to hop that bus about next Friday or Saturday when you get my wire.

Love,

Rod

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