Friday, August 14, 2015

Letter From Bob, August 1945

July, 1945

My dearest Rosie:

Your picture has faded to near invisibility, and I fear it will soon be gone forever. I take it out again, hold it, then tuck it away once more.

The photo tells the whole story of my time apart from you. It is torn and faded from tropical sun and rain, stained from the sweat of malarial fevers and creased from a thousand folds and unfolds to hide it from the Japanese.

There's a hole near your shoulder from the twig that pierced my parachute harness when I bailed out of my spinning P-38 into a carpet of jungle, and a speck of dried blood from the Jap bayonet that hacked off half my foot when they cut me out of the tree. At least I think it's my blood. There was so much from the other poor fellows in the so-called "medical" tent where the Japs left me to work in a POW camp in the Philippines. I suppose I should have been grateful the Japs found a cripple like me useful enough not to waste a bullet on, but I confess there were moments I envied the dead I was burying.

I don't remember much about being rescued. The Japs just disappeared one day, but most of us who were still alive were too weak to do anything about it.

Next thing I knew I was sitting at our kitchen table in Seattle, drinking coffee and complaining about the rain until Stormy ran by with a ball of yarn and made us both laugh.

But of course I wasn't in Seattle at all. It was makeshift hospital in a remote corner of the Philippines.

And Stormy's a grown cat now.

And you have likely found another fellow and moved on.

They tell me I was declared dead. My dog tags were long gone by the time the Americans liberated our camp a few weeks ago, and I wasn't in any shape to identify myself for most of my time in this hospital. I imagine they tried to send some sort of update to you but I don't have much faith in the speed or efficiency of the Army's communications. Given what I've seen in the newspapers they've left on the nightstand I understand MacArthur's had a few other things to attend to besides paperwork on a gimpy flyer.

I tried calling a few times but there was no answer. Perhaps you have moved. Anyway by the time you get this I'll be on my way.

They tell me my ship's supposed to dock in San Francisco in time for the train that arrives in Seattle on the afternoon of August 14.

If this war's taught us anything it's that hope is a luxury few can afford. But yet I do hope.

If you're not there I'll know you've made someone happy and found the life you should have. I'll climb back on board and move on. I will keep the picture next to my heart until it dissolves into memories. But those memories are more sublime than any picture could ever be. And they will sustain me forever.

Your loving husband


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Hold With Those Who Favor Fire

The package was so small I hadn't noticed it at first. Stuck between bills and the Saturday Evening Post, it had fallen unseen onto the carpet.

I knew the handwriting the minute I opened it.


Tad's neat cursive appeared only on the address and on a short note on the top of the stack of my letters to him.

I had to scrape around in the kitchen drawers for matches, but the paper kindled quickly in the dry July heat. As sparks whirled up the chimney the edges of Tad's note curled in glowing golden lines that quickly ate their way to the center of the paper, leaving fine, black ash.

"Rosie - I can understand but I can never forget. You are the love of my life and always will be.

I'm just a scientist, without elegant words for my feelings, so I'll turn to my favorite poet, Robert Frost:

"Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire."

Our times will end in a kind of fire. What the world will be like afterward I do not know. But I can only hope that you'll think fondly of our time together when you look back from whatever your future holds, which I dearly hope is great joy.

All my love,


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Letter to Tad, July 1945

Dear Tad:

I may regret this letter for the rest of my life, but I would rather live with sorrow than falsehood.

When Bob and I married we made a vow to be faithful to each other "til death do us part." We are now parted by death, and nothing stands between you and me. You are a kind, honest and thoughtful man, and knowing you has made me immensely happy.

For the last four years I have fought the war. I don't mean by working in the bomber factory, though I hope I've done some tiny part. I mean I've fought against the war and what it's done to my life. There's nowhere, from the train station to the grocery store, from my empty bed to my empty ring finger and the empty space on the shelf where Bob's picture used to sit, that hasn't been fouled by this conflict.

It seemed nothing was ever up to me, that circumstances beyond my control must dictate my every action.

Then came Betty's wedding.

I was thrilled for her of course. But as her bouquet flew toward me, I suddenly understood what I think I'd known all along. I did not catch the flowers.

Betty's husband died in the icy wastes of the Aleutians. Bob's bones lie in the soft warm mud of tropical island. I imagine some beautiful tree has grown and blossomed over his remains, a living bouquet that I will never see but fills my heart with joy and always will.

Bob was an architect. So I can't help thinking of things in terms of houses. I now know that my path lies in rebuilding my life on its original foundations, not in moving to a new home. I will win the war by defying it and staying true to everything that mattered to be before that horrendous Sunday morning so long ago.

I cannot love anyone else. I cannot live anywhere but in the little white bungalow under the cedar tree, the place Bob and I chose to start our lives and where I intend to finish mine. Then we will be together, in a place without war.

I wish you all the love and happiness you deserve and will undoubtedly find. I thank you for your help and support. Know that I will always think of you with the greatest affection and gratitude. I have no doubt that your life will be filled with the love and joy you so deserve. Mine perhaps will not, but it is the fate I choose.

Your friend,


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Letter to Tad, July 1945

Dearest Tad:

I take your letter out and re-read it so often it's beginning to fray at the edges and tear in the creases. The world's full of change, and I feel you are one of the last remaining certainties.

If this war's proven nothing else, it's shown me that I can get used to almost anything. The daily rhythm of factory life, the rivets and bucking bars and lunches and breaks have become almost a comfort while the world beyond Seattle falls to pieces.

But now even that's changing. It's as though once the world (or at least part of it) begins to heal a bit things here start to dissolve.

Susan has quit the factory, and it's only a matter of time before the rest of us go. The pictures in Life Magazine of a lonely, empty Willow Run, only recently flowing with rivers of B-24s, were a sharp reminder that the world moves on.

Even though the fighting in the Pacific continues I'm sure my friends and I won't be needed at Boeing much longer. General Arnold wants to pulverize Japan, but a country the size of California will soon be as saturated with craters as the Moon, and there will be no need for as many Superfortresses as we're now churning out.

So I'm trying to take my mind away from the rivets and turn it to the future. Thinking of you makes me happy and hopeful. My vision of our life together isn't yet complete, but it grows daily in my mind and my heart.

Please write again soon before your last letter completely disintegrates.



Friday, June 19, 2015

Letter from Tad, June 1945

Dearest Rosie:

You've every right to toss this letter unopened into the scrap pile given how long it's taken to make its way from my heart and mind to your mailbox. Night after night, on mahogany desks in Washington, D.C. and steel tables in drafty prefabricated huts in the Hanford desert, I've scratched out the words on a sheet of gradually fraying paper. Sometimes just a sentence, or nothing at all, before the phone rings or someone knocks. It's always urgent and always secret. But never as important to me as you are.

Alas, the world doesn't see it that way. Of course you know I can't tell you much about my work, but I can say I've been traveling a great deal. Washington State, Washington, DC, and even New Mexico. You'd like it there - clean, beautiful desert with sharp mountains against a dark blue sky. I hope we'll see it together some day.

Wherever I go I read the same sickening stories you do in each day's newspaper.

Okinawa shows us that there is no hope of redemption for the Japanese. They will never stop fighting until every last one of them is dead, and they'll make sure to take as many of us with them as they can. This war cannot continue, for their sake as well as ours.

The project I'm working on, if it's successful, will put an end to this and every other war. I know everyone in Seattle's guessing: Could it be a new kind of radar? A secret code? I will say this - when it's revealed it will change the world, and for the better. After all the unimaginable pain and destruction this war has caused, we'll come out clean and bright as a sunrise over the New Mexico desert.

I slipped out of my hut this afternoon, determined to finish this letter. It's dusk now and I can barely see to write, but it's beautiful here. I'm sitting on a boulder still warm from the day's heat. Below me, the lights of the Hanford Works are just beginning to twinkle across the sagebrush. Above me, the deep violet band of the Earth's shadow is climbing above the eastern horizon, pulling a blanket of stars behind it.

They don't teach physicists poetry, so my silly words don't do justice to my feelings. But I'll say I take enormous comfort in knowing the same stars are shining on you, even though they're hidden by Seattle's clouds. No matter how much work clamors for my attention there's always a hidden corner of my heart that's untouched by it. It's a place like this lonely ridge: Safe from the world's cares, needing only you by my side. I imagine us standing here together arm in arm, gray-haired and wrinkled, looking over the ruin that peace will have made of this place, and I smile.

All my love,


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Letter to Tad, May 1945

Dear Tad

I apologize for taking so long to write.

Since the war came I haven't started a letter with anything but "Dear Bob." Each time I've scraped a chair up to the desk to try, my pen seemed to trace the lines that were etched ever deeper into the blotter over the last four years.

But time runs only forward. The magazines promise a fresh, shining world after victory, gleaming like new cars and kitchens. I'm sure it's true, though I haven't been able to make myself care until now. You've helped me to see that life will go on, that there are good, kind people with loving hearts no matter what is happening in the world.

I miss you and wish your work wasn't on the far side of the state. I know you can't talk about Hanford and of course I'd never ask you to. You'd probably get a good laugh, or at least one of your quiet chuckles, over the things people speculate about it: Some kind of improved radar. A big bomb like the ones they dropped on bunkers in Occupied Europe. Or my favorite story, a Buck Rogers death ray.

Whatever it is you're really doing no doubt it's for a speedy end to the war and the betterment of mankind.

Life here on Tillicum Drive is outwardly the same, but changes are seeping in. My neighbor Susan's husband is one of the lucky few coming home to a white-picket life instead of transferring to the Pacific. My other neighbor Betty still dreams of personally roasting every Japanese alive in revenge for Joe's death on Attu, but she's distracted now by a mysterious new man in the factory. And of course you know about your sister Jane. By the way, she hasn't said much about newlywed life recently; I do hope all is well.

So that leaves me. And I don't want to be left. I want a world of peace and a man to share it with. I am grateful to you for your patience.

Since you can't write about your work, tell me about your dreams. You've seen so much more of the world than I have, being a college professor and living on the East Coast and hobnobbing with the grandees in Washington, DC. How do you think we'll live once victory is won? Helicopters in every garage like the papers promise? I'd settle for a new washing machine but perhaps I'm thinking too small.

I hope you will respond more quickly than I wrote to you. I can't tell you how much it means to me to look forward to something.

Very truly yours,


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentines Day

Of course Valentines Day is nothing.

No holiday matters when girls like me come home each night to empty bungalows with the murder of millions tossed onto their doorsteps.

How morbid. I look at what I've just written and realize I'm feeling sorry for myself even when I'm trying to pretend I'm not. I'd better snap out of it before break's over or I'll catch heck from the foreman.

So I might as well be honest. After all, it's not as though anyone but me is ever going to read this.

It's my fourth Valentines Day alone. How many more will there be? Should there be? I love Bob desperately and always will. But the Army says he's never coming back and I can't possibly know what General MacArthur and all his Lieutenant Generals and sub-generals and whatever else they're called don't. My heart thinks it does, but my head knows better.

Tad is a good man, who says he loves me. Whatever that mysterious war work he's in charge of across the mountains in Hanford is, he takes it seriously.

If I spurn him, what am I to do? The war's ending. Oh, sure, the posters tells us to "Keep at it, this war's not won by a darned sight," but everyone can tell. My cousin Nick at home in Portland wrote that old man Henry Kaiser's already planning to scale back employment at the shipyards. "Back to the auto shop," he said, "assuming there will be cars after the war."

I remember hearing Prime Minister Churchill say on the radio two years ago that it was "the end of the beginning." Now, it's the beginning of the end. And it's up to me to decide what happens next.

Drat, there's the whistle. Back to the bombers.