Sunday, December 23, 2012

Letter From Bob, December 1942

Dearest Rosie:

This time I hope I haven't let you down the way I did on your birthday. I made sure to send this package ahead of time, and the clerk told me it should get to Seattle by Christmas. So if it's late, you can blame him!

I'll get to the enclosed book in a minute but first I'll tell you about what's been happening here. I gather from all the newspapermen we see running around Port Moresby that you folks back home have already heard about the big battle going on at Buna up on the north side of the island. We've just about got the Japs licked, but at a price. I'll give you a strange example: Our boys took a beating from the snipers at first because their uniforms were the wrong color, if you can believe that! The brass got them died the proper shade of jungle green at a dry cleaner in Brisbane, Australia, but that made the fabric so impenetrable the fellows started getting skin rot.

Everyone on the ground on our side's been hungry, but not as hungry as the Japs, whose supplies have been almost completely cut off by the Navy. I wrote before that the troops of the Rising Sun have been resorting to cannibalism of their fallen comrades. Now it's come out that they were eating captured Allied soldiers as well, after first using them for bayonet practice.

We're hearing that another reason the Japs here on New Guinea aren't getting supplies or reinforcements is the thrashing the Marines are giving them on Guadalcanal. The Japs have been trying to retake an airfield there called Henderson Field ever since the Americans captured it in August, and in October they made a last-ditch effort. The fliers based at Henderson drove off Jap air assaults, shooting down eleven fighters and two bombers in one day. And some sergeant named John Basilone made quite an impression on the enemy. His unit was attacked by a big force during one of the assaults on Henderson. Basilone oversaw two sets of machine guns. He kept firing and kept the gunners supplied with ammunition for three days straight without sleep. Eventually it was just Basilone and two other soldiers fighting, and finally Basilone was just shooting his pistol. At the end of the battle 3,000 Japs were dead.

Well, I've gone on long enough with the battle stories, and I expect you've had your fill of them by now in the papers anyway. So I'll tell you about the book. It's not the most romantic present in the world, but I hope you'll find it interesting. As I've written before there's not much in New Guinea that a fellow can send to the most beautiful girl in any bomber factory, but I hope I can make up in possible historic interest what's lacking in the hearts-and-flowers department.

It's a pictorial yearbook of some kind put out by the Imperial Japanese government, celebrating their "achievements" in 1942. The book is partly in Japanese and partly in English, for the benefit of their subjects in "liberated" Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya and the Philippines. One of my buddies got it from a friend who got it off a dead Japanese officer in Buna. It's a pack of lies fresh off the press. Our C.O. gave me the go-ahead to send it to you; he said there were no secrets in it. Just, as he put it, "old news and old lies." He said you should show it to the girls at the plant so they can get a good look at what the enemy thinks of us.

As always, I would give anything to be in Seattle with you if I didn't have a job to do here. I'd throw away every coconut and every orchid for one hour under a plain old Douglas fir tree with my darling wife at my side.

Merry Christmas, and here's hoping the Japs don't get to make a yearbook like this one for 1943.

All my love,


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Letter From Bob, November 1942

Dearest Rosie:

I am sorry beyond words that it's been so long since I've written to you. All I can say is that it's a measure of the kind of hell we're seeing that I've been kept from the most important person in the world, even on her birthday.

This "Kokoda Track campaign" as the brass are now calling it, has been frightful on both sides. We're flying air support over the jungle and the mountains, threading the needle through narrow valleys carpeted with trees that seem like they're reaching up to grab you out of the sky even as you're roaring by at hundreds of miles an hour. All the while another fellow's chasing you in a plane with Rising Sun "meatballs" painted on its wings, trying to kill you while you try to kill him. It takes a lot out of a fellow.

But it's the Japs on the ground who are really taking it on the chin. The Aussie troops are telling us they've found hideous things as they advance toward the Japs' main base at Buna. It turns out our enemies are running short on supplies. The few who've been captured are clearly starving, all ribs and bones and hollow eyes. They've eaten their pack horses and now they're devouring the corpses of their dead comrades. The Aussies say the Japs call the latter "white pork."

It pains me to write these things to you, but I cannot be anything other than honest about how it is here. If any good comes of these tales, maybe it will be to inspire you and your friends to keep fighting as hard for victory on the home front as we do here in the jungle.

But I should stop being all gloom and doom! I can tell you I scratched my head for a good long time trying to figure out what to get you for your birthday. As you might imagine the shopping opportunities in Port Moresby leave a lot to be desired. No matter how hard I looked they were fresh out of Mainbocher dresses, every single time! And although we're surrounded by beautiful tropical flowers that make even the sorriest corrugated tin shack look like a Matisse painting when the sun's out, there's no way to send any of them to you. You'll have to wait as always for the rhododendrons and cherries to bloom in Seattle.

I finally hit on an idea: It turns out a few of the fellows here are pretty good artists. In their small bits of free time they've taken to painting what we see around us every day. I got a watercolor for you from a sailor. I call it "Landscape With Coconuts and PT Boats." I hope it survived the journey unscathed and that you like it. It's a pretty sure bet that you're the only gal on Tillicum Road SW who's got one!

Well, I've got to finish this letter and try to get as much shut-eye as I can in this furnace-like heat and drumming rain (the other fellows in the unit have been joking that since I'm from Seattle the rain shouldn't bother me, but these firehose downpours are nothing like the misty drizzle we're used to in the Northwest). I've got another mission early tomorrow and the Zeroes will be waiting. Just know that the Japs may slow me down from writing but they'll never stop me from thinking of you as long as I'm breathing.

Your loving husband,


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Letter from Joe, November 1942

Dearest Bess:

We did it! After eight months up here in this freezing, burning, mosquito- and grizzly-bear-infested wasteland, we've finished the Alaska Highway!

I should say, "sort of finished." We got slowed down plenty the last few weeks by something the engineer-types call "permafrost." Turns out that just underneath the ordinary-looking dirt there's big layers of ice that lasts all year round. And the craziest thing about it is that we have to insulate it and keep it frozen! If we don't, it melts and opens up giant sinkholes in our road.

So the boys with the pencils and transits scratched their heads for a while and finally decided that those "corduroy roads" we've been building out of logs would have to do. I guess what works for mud works for ice.

Things got a little tense in our camp. We got so far behind that the Army brass decided to bring in Negro engineering brigades to add to our manpower. Some of the fellows from the South took offense, and I heard one officer say that it was ridiculous to send blacks up here because they'd never stand the cold. But the Negro troops worked plenty hard and personally I was happy to see anything happen to make this wretched job go faster.

So we bulldozed and felled trees and built bridges, racing south toward the northbound crews. It started getting really cold again. A few of the fellows were going around with their down sleeping bags wrapped around themselves, leaving trails of feathers wherever they went. It was the usual circus of bulldozers breaking down and trucks tumbling into rivers or snapping axles that froze brittle if they sat still for too long. But night and day we kept at it, fixing whatever broke and pushing forward.

Finally at the end of September one of our advance clearing crews broke through to an advance party from the northbound unit, near the British Columbia/Yukon border.  We're calling that spot Contact Creek now, and a few days ago my brigade arrived there as well. You've never seen such jubilation! There were a heap of what the newspaper boys call "photo opportunities," and I got permission to send you a few pictures.

Our C. O. says there's still a few weeks' work left to do before the highway officially opens, but I've saved the best news for last: I'm coming home on furlough! Should be home just in time for Thanksgiving, though probably not long enough for Christmas as well. I don't know whether they're rationing turkeys these days but I wouldn't care if we had nothing but cold beans and water as long as I was kissing you and holding you in my arms again. Till then, take care and keep 'em flying!

Your loving husband,


(Images from National World War II Museum)

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Camp Minidoka:

It sounds like a place where kids tie lanyards, swim in an icy lake and sing silly songs around a roaring fire. Well, in our case it isn't.

We arrived here in southern Idaho after a two-day bus trip from Puyallup. Everyone's tired, irritable and homesick (in that respect I suppose, it is like summer camp), but prepared to make the best of it. The landscape is a stark, wind-whipped desert surrounded by jagged mountains and irrigated fields of sugar beets. The camp itself consists of rows of tarpaper bunkhouses lined up as far as the eye can see like ranks of soldiers at attention. We're surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers that we're doing our best to ignore.

Aunt Michiko's especially bothered by the weather. The air's so sharp and dry, she says that every time she steps out of the bunkhouse she feels like she's been slapped in the face. We have no running water and will have to fetch coal by hand when it gets cold, which I gather will be soon.

But Jack's more upset about privacy. The three of us are in one room, with no furniture except Army cots and a pot-bellied stove. I'm getting together with some of the other fellows to try to build tables and chairs out of scrap lumber, but it will be a while before we're even slightly comfortable. Worse, we have communal showers and toilets, used by our entire block of twelve barracks. And of course there's a dining hall, just as we had in Puyallup.

We're trying to stay useful. The men are setting about farming, though these conditions are strange to most of us. All the internees in Camp Minidoka are from Oregon and Washington, where we're blessed with abundant rain and gentle temperatures. None of us has ever tried to grow anything in a place like this. But I believe we're up to the challenge.

I try to remind Jack that we're contributing to the war effort in our own way, by freeing up the Army from policing the risk of sabotage. "But we're all loyal," he retorts. "Yes," I say, "but if people were worrying about us all the time, that would be a big distraction."

But no matter how many times we have this argument Jack's never convinced. I think nothing will satisfy him until he can join the Army.

I hope all remains well with you and your friends at the Boeing factory. I wish I could see you, but I'm sure now that won't happen until the war's over. Do your best to make sure it's soon.

Love, Uncle Orren.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Letter from Bob, September 1942

Dearest Rosie:

I don't know what the Seattle papers are saying about our fight here in New Guinea. Not much, I suspect. News about the big doings in Stalingrad has reached even our steamy little corner of the Pacific, and of course Guadalcanal's right next door.

But I can tell you that whether the world's watching or not it's a vicious fight here and the mud's soaked with Aussie and Jap blood.
The Japs have been pushing south toward our headquarters in Port Moresby for weeks. If they take it, they've got a base for bombing Queensland and invading northern Australia. They seem to think Port Moresby's going the way of Singapore: They'll stab a port city in the back, where it's supposedly less stoutly defended.

Well, this time they didn't rekon with the Allies. The Aussies have been fighting them night and day on the passes over the Owen Stanley Mountains, on a narrow trail called the Kokoda Track.

Kokoda wouldn't even qualify as a hiking trail in the Cascade Mountains back home. It's narrow, steep and filled with glue-y mud. I've sent you a couple of pictures so you'll get the idea:

Here are the "Golden Stairs," made out of tree trunks stuck into the mud.

Australian War Museum PO2423009

Imagine climbing these in hundred-degree heat and humidity, carrying a full backpack, weapons and ammunition, fighting off malaria mosquitoes. Or maybe you don't care about the mosquitoes because you've already got malaria but you're fighting anyway.

And, Rosie, the fighting's awful. My fellow pilots and I are flying air support over the mountains, but it's the boys on the ground who are taking the brunt of it. I know you may not want to hear such things, but the Japs truly are savages. They kill their own wounded and leave snipers among their dead, waiting to spring up and shoot our fellows when they pass by. Other Jap snipers tie themselves into coconut trees and take potshots at the Australians. When the Aussies kill them, they just leave them dangling from their ropes.

At a place called Isurava the Aussies dug themselves into the mud using their steel helmets and bayonets.The Japs came at them with flamethrowers.

Everyone's grateful for the help and support of the New Guinea natives. Seems they don't like the Japs any better than we do. I have a couple of photos of the locals helping our boys out:

Australian War Museum PO2424.020

Australian War Museum 13600

The Aussies call the natives who've been assisting them "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels!"

Some of the wounded have been evacuated by air:

Australian War Museum PO2424.082

No one gets much rest, but when they do it's under pretty primitive conditions:

Australian War Museum O26727

One of those fellows might be reading one of the anti-American leaflets the Japs have dropped. I saved one for you. They're about the only reason to laugh around here, and I can tell you they make good toilet paper:

"So what's my husband doing in all of this," you're probably asking. Well, my buddies and I attacked the Jap fighters at their base on Buna on the north side of the island. And a good thing, too. The Jap high command apparently decided things weren't going well enough for them on the Kokoda Track, so they decided to attack closer to Port Moresby. In late August they landed a force at a place called Milne Bay, 40 miles from here. They must have figured they'd take the airfield there and get us by the throat. Big mistake. They pushed the Aussies back at first, but the boys from Down Under came roaring back with reinforcements the Japs must not have known they had. They pushed the Japs right back into the sea, with a little help from yours truly and the other fighter pilots. Our commanding officer says that as far as he knows it's the first outright victory against the Japs in a land battle. May it be the first of many!

And Rosie, you didn't know it but you were right there in the fight alongside me. There are B-17s stationed here at Port Moresby, and they gave the Japs a serious pounding. Every time a Flying Fortress went by I thought of how you and the others at Boeing riveted those planes together, and knew that they would be stronger than anything the Japs could ever throw at us.

Not a day goes by when I don't miss the cool gray of Seattle, the sound of your voice and our little house under the cedar tree. But when I look at those big planes you and your friends built for us and sent halfway around the world, I'm comforted that a little bit of home's here with me.

Love and kisses,


Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Every day we're loudly told to be quiet. "The Enemy's Listening," howls one poster. "Loose lips Sink Ships," shouts another.

They say silence is golden and I suppose that's mostly true. I confess that after months of Jane's domestic drama, Betty's catty grousing and Susan's mooning over first Grant and then Frank, I'm craving quiet. The rattle of the rivet guns is almost preferable to my co-workers' babbling.

But these days I find silence to be made of baser metal. Weeks crawl by with no news from Bob. Every day the paper's front page heralds the heroics and savagery in Guadalcanal and Stalingrad. Then the Times exhales, regains its composure and moves on to New Guinea on page two or three.

Of course I know those enormous battles in the Solomons and the Soviet Union are crucial to the generals. But here in one small bungalow under a towering old cedar tree in West Seattle, the most important fight's on a sultry island that exists for most Americans only on the pages of National Geographic. Somewhere over New Guinea my husband's hurling his plane around in dogfights while Japanese troops slash at the American and Australian forces below.

I keep silent, however. This war's given everyone a hard story to tell, and most are harder than mine. Millions can't tell stories at all because they're among the growing heaps of dead.

Tucked into my lunch kit is my copy of Beryl Markham's new book "West With the Night." I'm sitting out on the flightline on a break right now, under the last blue skies of summer, reading in the shade of a B-17's wing. I came across this passage today:

"There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstances, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo."

Whistle blows. Back to work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Home Front

A short, silent walk brought us to Ina's doorstep. Jane rang the bell, then pushed inside, dragging her suitcases. "Mother," she yelled, "I'm back! And I'm not leaving."

"Go away," said a thin, whispery voice from the parlor. "I have no daughter."

"Yes, you do!" said Jane, dropping the suitcases with a dust-stirring "whump."
"And like it or not, it's me."

I looked around. The house had grown shabbier in the servantless months since Pearl Harbor. The clock longer ticked, laundry was heaped on the fading mahogany furniture, and the houseplants were mummified into dry, brown stalks.

Jane stormed  into the parlor, her shoes raising little puffs of dust like the mortar shells in the newsreels. "Mother, you've got to face facts. Dad's gone, David's gone, and the money's gone. We both know that Tad's no help, so like it or not I'm all you've got." Ina's face crumpled. Tears of anguish or rage or both flooded into the lines creasing her cheeks.

Jane's voice softened. "You raised me to be proud of my family and I am. These are harsh times, but we're still Sullivans. We were here in Seattle long before those upstarts like the Boeings and we'll be here long after. I'm fighting to end the war for David's memory, and I won't rest until it's over. Every Flying Fortress dropping every bomb on every Jap and every Nazi had Sullivan hands on it, and I'm making damned sure those planes are worthy of the name."

A long silence. I notice a few leaves on the Japanese maple outside the window have the faintest hint of red.

Then Ina sobs. "Come here, I'm so sorry!" She hugs Jane tightly. I can't say for sure, but I thought something glistened on Jane's cheek.

I let myself out and walked back home though the warm, still evening.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Material Things

Ever since I went shopping with Susan downtown last week I've been feeling sort of blue. Even with the war on there are still plenty of temptations in places like Nordstrom's, Frederick & Nelson's and the Bon Marche. August is the usual time to buy furniture at the big sales, and I've got heaps of money from my job at Boeing. I heard one of the girls at the plant announce with amazement that she's earning more than her enlisted-man husband, and I suppose that's true for a lot of us.

But my heart's just not in it for shopping. All the coats, shoes and bedroom sets in the world aren't going to bring Bob home any quicker, and I don't seem to have room in my mind at the moment for much else.

What little attention I do have remaining is taken up by Jane, my unanticipated roommate. She's a diversion, no question about that. But whether she knows it or not my sympathy for her plight is in a race with my impatience, and the latter is gaining with every stride. She may have failed as a Hollywood starlet but her life has enough drama for three movies, and it's taking up more space than my bungalow can accommodate.

I'm going to have to figure out a way to "encourage" Jane to straighten out her situation with her mother before I go completely batty. My furniture may be old, but I'd rather be the only one using it until Bob returns.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Letter from Bob, July 1942

Dear Rosie -
You'll never guess where I am! Someplace I hadn't in my wildest imagination expected to see - Port Moresby, New Guinea!

I don't know what the papers back home are printing, and of course there's only so much the censors will let me say. I can't tell you a lot about the military situation except to say that we and our fellow Aussie pilots are doing our damnedest to keep the Japs out of Australia. My C.O. says it's all right to tell you that they've landed in a place called Buna on the north coast of this island, and that they've got their sights set on us here on the south coast. If they make it it could be curtains for Australia as it's only a short flight for their bombers across the Torres Strait to Queensland.

But standing between them and us are the Owen Stanley Mountains. Did you know that there are peaks taller than Mount Rainier? 16,000 feet and covered with glaciers, even though we're nearly on the equator! I try to imagine all that ice while I'm soaked with sweat and slapping mosquitoes down here in the jungle.

But we and the Aussies are going to be an even tougher barrier to the armies of the Rising Sun. Our P-38's are already pretty well-seasoned from dogfighting Zeroes when we were based in Australia. We've got just about the longest range of any fighter (can't tell you exactly because it's a military secret, but trust me, we can stay in the air long enough to get pretty tired!), but it still feels good to be bringing the fight closer to the enemy. And we're finding it pretty good sport once we get into a scrap. We can't turn as tight as some, but with guns mounted in the nose instead of on the wings our fellows are proving deadly accurate shooters. A couple of guys in my squadron have already chalked up kills, though I'm still waiting for my first official victory.

I can't say that any of us think much of Port Moresby itself. It's a depressing jumble of rusting shacks shimmering in constant, nearly unbearable heat and humidity. A couple of the fellas haven't been as careful as they should about their malaria pills and have already come down with the fever and shakes.

I've thrown in a couple of photos; you can see it's no paradise. Guys have been joking that they've been cheated out of the beach bars and hula girls they were promised when they enlisted!

Well, even if we had hula girls I'd trade the lot of them away to see your face, if only for a moment.

I got your letter about your mom and I'm so sorry. Folks talk like the war is the source of all our troubles, but it seems life's "civilian" miseries don't stop just because we're fighting. But keep being as brave as I know you are, and think, as I do, of the time when we'll be together again.

All my love, Bob.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Greetings From the Alaska Highway!

"Dearest Bess:
I've sent you some photos of our life up here on the Alaska Highway project, or as I'm now calling it, 'The Dust Cloud of the North!' A lot of the fellows are horsing around on the very little free time we have; getting a good laugh about how far we are from civilization.

We're making fast progress toward the crew that's working up from the south in British Columbia. Our CO says we should link up by fall. After that I don't know what will happen, but I pray that I can come home to visit you. I've told all the guys about your war work at Boeing, and we're all mighty proud. I only hope your paymaster's a more civilized-looking fellow than ours:

Colonel Hoge's got us working nonstop now, which is probably just as well since we can hardly sleep with the sun up nearly all the time. And the heat! I never would have guessed that that it could get to nearly 100 degrees this far north! Makes the mosquito netting that much more miserable, but if a fellow takes it off his hide will look like hamburger quicker than you can say 'Bob's Your Uncle.' But it is beautiful up here, in a strange and desolate sort of way. The mountains are taller than ours near Seattle, but the trees look spindly compared to our big Douglas firs, cedars and spruces.

Exactly how fast we're working is supposed to be a secret, but one of the surveyors let slip that we were advancing as much as eight miles per day. Whatever the real figure, I just know that every mile south is a mile closer to you.

All my love,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Letter From Camp Harmony

"Dear Norma -
Life here's starting to improve a little, particularly the food. We've still got an awful lot of bread, potatoes, canned stewed tomatoes and Vienna sausages, but at least now there are a few fresh vegetables and a little rice. The local grocers have caught on to our plight pretty quick; every day there are lines of folks at the barbed wire buying extra food and snacks from the merchants.

Our camp newsletter's been full of speculation about our "real" home for the duration of the war. Most folks seem to think we're going to a place called Tulelake in northern California. But now we hear the Army's saying that camp is getting full, so it might be somewhere else. But no one knows for certain.

In the meantime, we're making do here in Puyallup. There are 7,000 of us in the camp. It's divided into four areas - you need a pass to go from one part of Camp Harmony to another. Each area has its own barracks and mess halls. Of course we all remember going to the Puyallup Fair here in summers past; it's funny now to see the barracks wedged in under the roller coaster.
Each barrack is 20 by 100 feet, made of wood. The flooring's laid directly on the ground, and the roofs are tarpaper. Every family gets a room, with thin wood dividing walls.

We're making the best of things, of course. Some wag named one of our mess halls "Blanc's Cafe" after that fancy Maison Blanc French restaurant in Seattle. We've also had a dance. No orchestra, but everybody brought their radios and turned the music up to full volume!

Aunt Michiko is still pretty glum. She wouldn't dance even though I tried to get her out on the floor. Jack's as angry and restless as ever, he gets really sore whenever he reads about the military action in the paper. I can imagine how frustrating it must be for a 20-year-old right now to be missing out on a chance to lick the Axis, but Michiko and I have told him over and over again that rules are rules. If the services won't take Japanese (or in his case, half-Japanese) men, he just has to respect that decision. But it's so hard for him.

Of course I'll let you know as soon as we find out where we're going. For now, as always, keep your chin up and keep 'em flying!

Love, Uncle Orren.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Than Meets the Eye

I've certainly learned over the last few weeks that war makes people hide a lot of things you'd think couldn't be hidden. It also makes them reveal things you never would have guessed. A bomber factory can be turn into a neighborhood, an aircraft carrier can disappear, and people's feelings about each other can come out under the influence of unaccustomed sugar and Champagne.

We're all terribly impressed by the camouflage job on the Boeing factory. If the Japanese bombers really do come to Seattle as our new mayor assures us they will, their pilots will see nothing but a modern neighborhood on the banks of the Duwamish. Never mind that the houses and trees on our plant roof are nothing but paint, burlap and scrap lumber. The illusion serves its purpose.

The Navy's having less success in hiding things. My co-worker Mary's been on the verge of tears every day since the Battle of Midway. Sure, the papers say it's a huge American victory, maybe even a turning point in the war. But there's almost no mention of any losses on our side. Mary's boyfriend wrote to her weeks ago that his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, was safe in Pearl Harbor getting repairs after the Battle of the Coral Sea. But not a peep since. One newspaper article's said that an unnamed American aircraft carrier was "damaged" at Midway. But the only pictures we've seen of the battle are Life Magazine's re-creations using models. "I don't want pictures of bathtub toys," says Mary, "I want to know what's happened to my Tom!"

Meanwhile, a smaller mystery's swirling around my co-workers Susan and Frank. For months they've seemed indifferent to each other (though I did notice Frank's glances lingering a little longer at her than at the other girls.) Betty gave a party last week to celebrate the Midway victory, using up my sugar ration as well as hers to bake a cake. Jane brought Champagne she'd filched from her mother's cellar (nice to come from old money), and everyone including me had a bit too much. Before I left I saw Susan and Frank dancing pretty close. Now they're keeping their distance and won't tell anyone why. Well, at least in this instance I think the truth will come out sooner rather than later!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Letter to Bob - June 5, 1942

Dearest Bob:

I know your location's a secret, but I'm hoping the Army will find a way to get this letter to you. I'm guessing you are still somewhere in Australia, and am trying to imagine my scratchy handwriting journeying halfway around the Earth into your hands.

I have sad news to report. After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, my mother died in the hospital in Portland. The doctor says he did everything he could to save her, but by the time he opened her up on the operating table her lungs were bloody tatters. Needless to say my father and I are devastated, but he's insisted I return to Seattle to resume my war work, so here I am.

Factory life is at least a distraction; it's hard to ruminate when you're surrounded by clattering air guns and roaring engines. We're working like fiends; Boeing's rolling out Flying Fortresses twenty-four hours a day, and the delivery pilots are rushing them into our soggy skies to do battle in Europe and the Pacific as fast as we can push them through the hangar door. I asked our foreman Tom how many B-17s we had built, but he told me our production figures are classified.

You'd hardly recognize me now! Gone are my flowered dresses and white gloves and jaunty little hats. Every day I'm in old slacks that are starting to get patched and oil-stained, and a ratty wool shirt and a headscarf. I tote a steel thermos and lunchbox just like the men, and I can't recall the last time I wore makeup.

Everything seems unreal now, with our normal life receding just a tiny bit further into the distance every day. Your suits hang in the closet, your briefcase lies on the shelf and the car sits in the garage, while events seem to rush past, hurrying toward some unknowable destiny. My fondest wish would be to push all this war back into the hellish depths from which it sprang. But since I can't do that I plan to fight just as hard in my own small way to end it as quickly as possible so that you can come home to me.

Your Loving Wife


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A World of Hurt

Never in my life have I felt so sad and lonely. Even when I watched Bob's train pull away last January (which seems like years ago now), I knew I still had my parents nearby in Portland.

It's true my mother and I fought. She thought a "lady" doesn't work in a factory no matter how dire the world's circumstances. And she made only the barest effort to mask her disappointment in my marrying Bob, who is "only" an architect, not someone "important" like a doctor.

Well, an architect would have done no worse for her than the doctor did. Tuberculosis is of course a terrible scourge here in the Northwest, with our cold, damp climate. I've seen the sanitariums scattered around Seattle and Portland since I was little. People seem mostly to go in rather than come out, but there's little else to do for the "white plague."

By the time Mother was diagnosed, the doctor said her lungs were full of holes, and there would have been no point in sending her to a sanitarium. He told my dad that surgery to cut the diseased tissue out of the patient's lungs sometimes works, but Mother's condition proved too advanced even for that measure.

So now another person's gone. At least Bob has some prospect of returning, though I try not to dwell in the perils he's facing. I was so distraught when Mother died, and so worried about Dad, that I considered quitting my job at Boeing. What difference did it really make whether I, among the millions of women and men with war jobs, spent my days riveting aluminum? I could be more useful at home in Portland.

But in the ensuing weeks I've thought things through more carefully. As miserable as I am, if I want to keep my family from shrinking further the best choice is to stay the course. I can't lose Bob, and the only way I know to prevent that from happening is to keep building Flying Fortresses faster than the Japanese can shoot them down.

I try to avoid thinking too often that I'll be lucky to have more success than Mother's doctor did.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


A week of highs and lows. First, I discover that my car won't start because rats have built nests in the engine compartment and eaten the wiring. I persuaded that strange, nearly silent electrical engineer Dwight Gray from the Boeing factory to come over to help me fix it. I'd like to drive to Portland to visit my mother - she doesn't sound well on the phone. Our gasoline supplies are due to be cut in half here in Seattle in a week; the merchants say it'll work out to about 25 gallons per driver per month. So if I want to get behind the wheel for any distance it's now or never.

Speaking of rats, it turns out we've got one in human form working right here in Boeing! That suave riveter Grant Wilson was courting my friend Susan Johnson for the last several weeks. My former tormentor Frank Lomax, of all people, got concerned. He took me, Betty and Jane to an old, nondescript apartment building across the street from the plant. Turns out those Lester Apartments used to be an infamous whorehouse! when They were built 30 years ago by a corrupt Seattle police chief, who actually got a percentage of the girls' earnings if you can imagine such a thing! Frank says that's all in the past now, but evidently a couple of "working girls" were still using the place. Who should pop out of their door at lunch but our very own Mr. "I'm named after two presidents" Wilson! Caught red-handed (to put it politely), Grant agreed to break things off with Susan, though evidently he told her some cockamamie story about needing to marry within his church. Some church that is!

I just remembered something Grant said when we first met: Jane asked him why he wasn't in the service. His answer: "Heart trouble." Indeed.

On the happier side, Betty got another letter from her husband Joe in Alaska. He's contending with mud and an unbelievable profusion of mosquitoes. I was jealous at first, but then on Sunday, my first wedding anniversary, I was astonished and thrilled to get a radiotelephone call from Bob, all the way from Australia! He was only able to talk for a few minutes and I could only hear about every other word, but it meant so much to me to hear his voice for the first time in four months.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I had the strangest dream last night.

Most mornings my clanging alarm clock crashes through visions of fighter planes roaring and circling over forests of coconuts. I don't really know what Bob's world looks like, but my restless mind does its best to fill in the gaps.

But today is different. For weeks now we've faced growing shortages and restrictions here in the Northwest. I read the Seattle Daily Times every evening and I know that our "hardships" are nothing compared with the suffering in Europe. We have sturdy roofs over our heads, clothes on our backs and more than enough to eat. But it's a strange feeling to have money in my pocket and little to buy. My job at Boeing pays 60 cents an hour, which is a great wage, but sugar, gasoline, cars, tires and clothes are all rationed or restricted in one way or another. The paper says there's talk in Washington, DC of creating a system of stamps and ration cards. For now the shops are simply forbidden to sell more than certain amounts to a customer. For cars, washing machines, refrigerators, bicycles and most other large metal items its even simpler: They're not being manufactured any more.

Last night all the missing luxuries flooded back into my mind. There were sleek new automobiles and gleaming washers. Three-layer chocolate cakes with deep swirls of buttery icing. A thick, soft wool coat swept out of the closet to envelop me, and boxes of new sweaters and skirts in the latest styles were stacked on the sofa.

Then as quickly as they appeared, all the forbidden fruits drained away and transformed themselves. Into bombers and guns and explosives and uniforms and soldiers' rations; the things the posters and magazine ads constantly remind us we need to win the war. It seemed every material thing in the Northwest was snatched away by a tornado like Dorothy's house in "The Wizard of Oz" and dropped on distant shores. Salmon and lumber and ships were all scattered from Scotland to the South Pacific.

Then my dream turned to my own house. Our car rolled out of the garage driverless, sprouted wings, and turned into Bob's P-38, flashing and diving over New Guinea just as it did in all my usual dreams.

By the time Stormy's hungry meows woke me, the alarm had been ringing for so long that the clock was almost completely unwound. I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on my chenille robe, poured a cup of cold coffee and got ready for another day in the bomber factory.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

United We Stand?

It's been a heck of a rough week.

First I learn that my "friend" and co-worker Jane Sullivan was once a member of an organization called the Silver Legion, whose founder admired Hitler. Jane claims that she only joined out of love for a handsome young actor who happened to be one of Hollywood's "Silvershirts," but can I believe her? Here's a woman who's not only hiding the fact that she's working in a bomber factory from her family but enlisting me to help cover for her!

And there's the small matter of the FBI. Without telling me, Jane gave the secretaries in Boeing's employment office MY phone number, apparently knowing full well the feds might be looking for her.

I stopped by the library the other day after work and asked if they had any information about the Silver Legion. The librarian wrinkled her nose at the name, but she brought me a few newspaper articles from California. It seems that the organization's founder, William Dudley Pelley, is wanted for high treason and sedition for claiming in his magazine "Roll Call" that the losses from the Pearl Harbor attacks were far greater than the figures released by the government. The Silver Legion was disbanded right after the attacks, and Pelley is in hiding.

One of Pelley's brochures, written in 1937, contains the following statement:

"Suddenly in Italy appeared Mussolini, and he put a halt to Communism. He introduced one-man Fascism because Yiddisher "democracy" doesn't serve in such a turmoil. Out of Mussolini's success grew Hitler's.
Hitler knew the crowd that had wrecked the Fatherland, and he started a one-man war in Germany to best it -- and drive it forth.
We know that he did drive it forth. He even went so far as to clap the sacrosanct person of one omnipotent Rothschild in a common hoosegow.
Over here into the United States swarmed the mob of mischief-making scoundrels, to use the Democratic Party, the American press and radio, the American movie screen, to work up a wild hysteria to have Hitler kicked to limbo."

It goes on and on for several densely-packed pages, about how a cabal of Jews started World War I and how the Fascists were right to try to rid the world of them. I read as much as I could stomach, then gave the whole mess back to the librarian.

On top of all of this appalling Silver Legion business, I've had to deal with a tense situation at work. I managed to put Frank Lomax in his place after enduring all of his ridiculous horseplay, but it made for a strained atmosphere. Between Frank not speaking to me and me not speaking to Jane we were the quietest team at Boeing!

The city's in an uproar because the Japanese on nearby Bainbridge Island have just been ordered to evacuate to inland communities being built to house them for the duration. Most are glad to see them go, but it tugs at my heart to see the pictures in the paper of women and children hastily packing up their belongings. Every day my bus passes Japanese businesses hurriedly put up for sale. There's no word yet as to whether Seattle's Japanese will be ordered away, but everyone suspects they will be so most of the Japanese here are preparing as best they can for what seems inevitable.

And all of this turmoil is right in my own backyard. There's an entire world at war beyond the horizon.

Betty and Susan are pestering me to put aside my grudge against Jane. Easy for them to say, they don't know the reason. But I am beginning to wonder if I should talk to her after all. I've got little enough that I can rely on, and even a friend as difficult as Jane may still be worth keeping. But can I trust her?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Plant Life

I continue to be amazed at life in a bomber factory. Turns out there's a lot more to it than just working hard every day and pouring our hearts and souls into ending the war. Some of the fellows who've been here a long time have in the past devoted their attention to other things, like figuring out how to cheat the time clock or get paid overtime for less than a week's work.

The war's put a crimp on a lot of those shenanigans, but there's still no denying that there's more going on here than just building B-17s. Maybe it's because people spend so much of their lives in the plant. Everyone's personalities, problems and dreams are here for all to see, like it or not.

And now we're in the public eye as well. The local papers have taken notice of the sudden surge of defense workers and how Seattle's changing because of it.

An article in today's Seattle Daily Times paints a perfect picture of life at Boeing:

"Guards Snift for Snifters; Coffee (Oft Cold) Permitted

Seattle is undergoing the greatest lunch box era in history, but, because of precautions against sabotage in defense plants, many workers are complaining that it is also a 'cold coffee' era. Guards at vital plants inspect the lunch kits as the men report for work. One bit of inspection is the opening of thermos bottles. So many thermos bottles are opened that the dull 'ploop...ploop...ploop' of popping corks sounds like a distant but steady artillery fire. But all this makes the coffee cold, the workers say.

The guards are prompt as they can be in recorking the thermos bottles aster they have sniffed for nitroglycerin, beer and whiskey.

There's no sly nipping of beer or stronger stuff in defense plants any more. Beer used to be smuggled (before December 7) in thermos bottles, to wash down cheese sandwiches, and sometimes there was a drap of stronger liquor.

But no more of that.

Any worker found attempting to pilot a noggin into a plant loses his job.
But, getting back to lunch kits - curbstone statisticians could do a pretty neat job of measuring the rising tide of Seattle's surging war industries simply by counting the number of lunch kits, nearly all of them a gleaming black, carried past almost any given corner early in the morning, or late in the evening.

A few generations ago, the cry of 'A full dinner pail' was a telling political slogan. Today, the rounded tin bucket grandfather carried has its modern successor in the neat lunch kit with its sturdy one-pint thermos bottle snugly inside its rounded hood.
Sales of lunch kits in Seattle are soaring at levels four or five times greater than those of a short year ago. Harassed buyers for hardware and drug stores, which make most lunch-kit sales, get a despairing look in their eyes when queried about the demand.

'We simply can't get enough of them from the manufacturers,' one retail executive admitted. 'They are one of the hardest items to try to keep in stock these days that I can think of.'

And sales agents for manufacturers look upon 1942 Seattle as the brightest lunch-kit market on the Pacific Coast, although their principal sales problem is soothing anxious buyers by assuring them that factories are doing their best to meet the rush of orders.

Like the buyers of 'flivvers' of hallowed memory, lunch-kit buyers can have 'any' color as long as it's black because manufacturers have felt the shortage of paint. But only a few months ago, lunch kits were available in brown, blue or green.

Lack of adequate restaurant facilities to serve swiftly built industries is a prime factor for lunch-kit popularity. Another is the rising cost of meals.

Feminine workers, in increasing number, also are carrying their lunches. Many, however, have been buying the smaller, flat lunch-kits, with half-pint bottles, which formerly were sold almost entirely to school children.

'It used to be that we sold these school kits only in the fall, but now we have a steady, year-round trade in them,' said another store official.
Many busy executives, too, are 'discovering' lunch kits, another retail man commented. He pointed out that half-hour lunch periods are increasingly in vogue these days."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


This week's seen a bounty of letters from the men. Our co-worker Mary has heard from her boyfriend Tom, who's seen action aboard his aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. A Japanese plane was shot down before his very eyes in the Gilbert Islands!

Meanwhile, Betty's heard from her husband Joe. He's arrived in Alaska to start building the new highway, which is supposed to link the territory to the 48 states by land for the first time. Joe says it's awful cold and the conditions are pretty primitive, but he's anxious to get started.

But I think Bob's situation is the most exotic. He's stationed for the time being in Brisbane, Australia of all places. Apparently American troops are gathering there to prepare to fight the Japanese in the South Pacific. The enemy's fearfully close to Australia, and the papers are full of dire predictions of an invasion. Bob's a pilot without a plane at the moment, but once his beloved P-38s arrive he'll be off to combat.

I'm thrilled of course to hear from Bob, but each letter reminds me painfully of the immense distance between us and the danger he's in, both things I'd rather not think about. I'm trying to concentrate as hard as I can on my factory work, though the men at the plant aren't making it easy.

We heard today that a couple of the fellows on the night shift were shot by one of the sentries when they were carpooling up to the plant. They'll be OK, and I imagine they'll never again forget about the guards posted around the completed B-17s.

Betty remarked to me that she wouldn't have minded if one of the wounded workers had been our chief tormentor Frank Lomax. I have a secret plan to deal with him, which I intend to put into action next week. If things go as I hope they will, Frank won't underestimate the ladies again!

Thursday, March 8, 2012


First week in the bomber factory. Even though I wasn't sure what to expect, somehow it still wasn't what I expected. I've never worked before, let alone with men, particularly machinists who aren't used to having women around and are none too happy about it.

Naively I anticipated that the men would be glad we were helping them with the war effort. But I suppose they miss their buddies who have enlisted, or wish that they could have signed up as well. I haven't heard yet why these fellows have remained at Boeing, but I imagine some are too old to join up or have physical problems of one sort or another keeping them out of the service.

Whatever the reason, they seem determined to take it out on us women. I don't mind the sour faces worn by my new colleagues so much as the outright hostile behavior. Our foreman Tom acts like we're about as welcome as ants at a picnic, but he's been fair so far about assigning and overseeing our work. As long as we're meeting his standards for speed and accuracy he pretty much leaves us alone.

I can't say the same for the other men on our shift. They're supposed to work with us but seem far more interested in playing pranks. A riveter named Frank Lomax has been really getting my goat; pinching my bottom and hiding Susan's tools. But Susan seems to have lost a little of her ire since handsome Grant Wilson came to her rescue and got her bucking bar back from Frank. She's been blushing like a schoolgirl every time Grant walks by!

I'm not so easily mollified. This war took my husband from me and sent him thousands of miles away to great danger. I've given up my normal life to spend six days a week in this huge, noisy building full of weird-looking airplane parts, working until I'm so tired I fall asleep on the bus home, just to help bring this thing to an end. I'll be damned (I can't believe I just wrote that word - factory life must already be rubbing off on me!) if I'm going to let a bunch of galoots in overalls get in my way!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Friends and Enemies

Well, it's official now. The President has signed an Executive Order authorizing the removal of all people of Japanese descent from Military Area Number One, which encompasses the Pacific Coast. It hasn't been decided yet exactly how or when it's going to happen, but everyone seems to have an opinion. There's testimony before the Tolan Committee in Congress, reported every day in the paper. Some leaders from the Pacific states are demanding all Japanese be removed immediately. Others say that's excessive, and worry that we'll lose the benefit of all the agricultural work the Japanese do.

Even my own circle of friends is divided. Susan feels it's wrong to treat all the American Japanese the same. Her opinion is colored by the experience of her son Jimmy. He's crippled by polio but able to go to school, where he's an honor student. "I don't know what his life will be like when he's grown," Susan told me once, "but to me every 'A' he brings home on his report card is a slap in the faces of the people who told me I should put him in an institution. You just can't judge everyone by appearances." Susan feels strongly that the local Japanese should be dealt with individually, with the FBI determining who should stay or leave.

Then there's Betty. Of all my friends she was the most upset by Pearl Harbor and the subsequent destruction of Seattle's provincial tranquility. She's always fervently hoped for a quiet domestic life, and that's all in jeopardy now that her husband Joe's on his way to Alaska to build the new military highway. She confided in me once that she often has nightmares that something bad will happen to Joe. That seems unlikely to me, and I've hidden my annoyance at her concerns as best I can, but honestly my Bob is in a lot more danger since he's actually off to the front in the South Pacific. But I try to remind myself that Betty can't help how she feels, and those feelings have made her rabidly anti-Japanese. She blames the local Japanese for everything from sugar and tire rationing ("I'm sure they've got warehouses full of stuff hidden away in those warrens in Japantown") to power outages ("Sabotage! Obviously!"). Betty would gladly take personal charge of loading every Japanese man, woman and child in Washington State into ships headed back to Tokyo if she could.

Jane is enigmatic as always. She's the only one of us who's actually known a Japanese person well - her family employed Mr. Murakami as a gardener for many years. Ever since he quit his job and returned to his family in Japantown immediately after Pear Harbor, Jane's had little to say on the subject. I suspect she is opposed to the evacuation but for some reason doesn't want to draw attention to her opinions.

For my own part I don't see things as clearly as either Betty or Susan. Every issue of the paper is filled with gut-wrenching descriptions of atrocities committed by the Japanese in the Pacific. I'm half thrilled and half terrified that Bob has gone there to take them on and help try to stop their unbelievable wickedness. But Seattle's Japanese community has been here for decades, and from everything I can see they seem peaceful and hard-working. Night after night I read news accounts of allegations that Japanese all up and down the coast are spying for their brethren across the Pacific, but I've noticed that none of these articles seem to include a lot of concrete evidence. But who knows for sure? I do know that my heart is uneasy about the evacuation, particularly the wholesale nature of it. It seems hasty and uncharitable, and not something I am proud of.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gearing Up for Battle

Over the last week I've begun to feel more of a sense of purpose. I still catch myself in odd moments of fear and self-pity, and I secretly hate, hate, hate the sugar and rubber rationing that have put an end to both baking and driving. But I find concentrating on my war work pushes those thoughts aside. So concentrate I do.

Thanks to endless practice at the trade school my rows of rivets are now clean and perfectly-sunk. My arms are strong enough to hold the pneumatic gun all day without tiring, and the woodpecker-noise headaches have receded enough that I can drown them out with Benny Goodman when I get home.

Our instructor, the dull bald fellow we all call "Mr. Cueball" behind his back, says we're as ready as we'll ever be for the Boeing factory. Always thrifty with compliments, his most encouraging remark has been, "The odds are fairly good that the wings won't fall off any B-17s you riveted."

Betty and I have both been hugely cheered by letters from our husbands. We find it a strange coincidence that they're going to opposite ends of the world. Betty's jealous that my Bob is off to the South Seas while Joe is headed to Alaska to build that new highway that FDR just announced. But I keep reading about sightings of Japanese ships near the Aleutians, so I think Joe may be protecting us from a more immediate threat.

Speaking of the Japanese, there have been reports in the paper over the last few days that some of the Japanese-Americans, both foreign- and native-born, may be made to leave Seattle and other places on the West Coast. I feel uneasy about such draconian action if it really happens, but I trust the President and the Army must have our best interests at heart.

Monday, February 13, 2012


We finally got our hands on real tools this week. Betty, Susan and I are out of the classroom and onto the trade school's shop floor. I've been learning how to use a pneumatic gun to drive rivets through pieces of metal into a "bucking bar" to create a secure fastener. By repeating this process hundreds of times we can stitch huge slabs of metal into a bomber. Susan likens it to sewing.

But it's hardly a genteel afternoon of quilting. The gun, while only about the size of a pistol, is heavy and I have to hold it in awkward positions. At the end of every day my arms ache as though I've been lifting weights, and I fear I'll develop a physique like Charles Atlas. Betty misses no opportunity to remind former starlet Jane of the same thing, suggesting she can audition for the role of Tarzan after the war if Johnny Weissmuller retires. Jane replies that there might be a role for Betty if Cheetah retires.

Bickering aside, we're making a lot of progress and we'll soon be ready for the Boeing factory floor. As I ride the bus home every evening, with the hammering sound of the air gun still ringing in my ears, I think of the brave Brits and their desperate last stand in Singapore. Their airmen fly outdated biplanes that are no match for the Zeroes. The sooner we can ramp up aircraft production the better off we and all our allies will be.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Willing to Learn

Seems I'm always in the dark now. Dark when the clanging alarm clock wakes me in the morning, dark when the bus drops me off in the evening. And dark when I sit through endless instructional films in my riveting class at the vocational school.

Our instructor acts as though he drew the short straw when it came time to decide which faculty member got stuck teaching a bunch of women how to do factory work. He's happiest with his back to us, scratching away at the chalkboard while we watch his glistening bald head. Betty passed me a note once: "It's like having a cue ball for a teacher." At the desk on my other side, Jane occupies her time doodling fashion designs. Only Susan, who sits behind me, seems reasonably studious.

It's not as though we're not motivated. Betty and I are desperate to keep at bay the loneliness and worry that come from having husbands in the service. Susan and Jane need the money. And all four of us are determined to do everything in our power to help win this nightmare of a war that's upended all of our lives.

But we're all impatient to get out of the classroom and onto the Boeing factory floor. Mr. Cue Ball may be unavoidable, but he seems more like a barrier than a bridge. We're as anxious to be done with him as he with us.

Despite the long, dark days, the cold coffee (I've taken to brewing it the night before because I don't have time to make it in the morning) and the dull classes, I find myself filled with a strange restless energy. World events are so catastrophic as to defy comprehension. I lie awake at night listening to the ticking clock and imagining air raids, burning ships and armadas of aircraft droning through the skies. When I finally fall asleep I dream, unsurprisingly, of rivets. Rivers of rivets, rushing by in rows faster and faster until they blur together.

Rumor has it that next week we'll finally start practicing with real tools. Can't happen soon enough.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Taking our Lumps

Sometimes it's easier to grapple with the little things in life when the big ones are beyond you. The world is destroying itself all around me and what am I complaining about? Sugar.

After Pearl Harbor Hawaii is in no position to harvest anything like the usual amount of sugarcane, and we've lost all of the Philippines except the tiny specks of the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. MacArthur's forces are putting up a valiant fight, but there's no real likelihood we'll regain the islands any time soon. Thankfully the federal government was able to buy all of Cuba's sugar crop, but there's still not nearly enough to go around.

So we're learning to make do with less. Betty found some sugarless recipes in a magazine. We're both experienced bakers and pretty skeptical, but game to try. It's not as though we have a choice, anyway.

I made "Danish Apple Dessert":

1and1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 cups Post's Corn Toasties
2 cups of applesauce

Brown the Toasties in the butter. Pour alternating layers of applesauce and browned Toasties into dessert cups. Serve warm.

All I can say is that Bob's lucky he's in the Army, as he has to be eating far better than that gooey mess. I tried feeding it to Stormy but she just looked at me reproachfully as only a cat can.

I've decided that I can do more for the war effort by giving up baking entirely rather than making phony recipes. I'll save my famous blueberry pie for happier times. When Bob comes home I promise the house will be the sweetest place on earth.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I blame my mother.

Any lingering doubts I'd had about going to work in the Boeing factory were squashed last week like a cigarette butt under the heel of one of her peep-toed shoes.

I'd been feeling at loose ends for weeks, rattling around the bungalow waiting for a letter from Bob and wringing my hands over the bad news that seems to fall endlessly on our heads like January rain. I tried to fill up my time reading (I'm halfway through Raymond Chandler's "The High Window," which is wonderful), civil-defense classes and housework. But I don't have much of a head for enemy-aircraft identification - it's a good thing I'm not running the Army or we'd be accidentally shooting down our own planes faster than the Japanese ever could. And there are only so many times you can wax the floor.

I've never had a job in my life. I know nothing about airplanes (see above) and haven't the faintest idea how riveting is done. Our flyboys might be a whole lot safer going up in ships built by people other than me. But I just can't take sitting around waiting for events to happen. The Japanese took away my husband and all my plans for our future, so it's time I made new ones.

When I told my mother about my intention to sign up at the new vocational school here, she completely blew up. She carried on and on about how I'd disappointed her no end by dropping out of college to marry a lowly architect. How she raised me to be a "lady." How dirtying my hands in some noisy, smelly factory alongside noisy, smelly factory workers would destroy my (or is it "her?") reputation forever.

Well, that's it. The Japanese may be dictating what I do, but not Mother. I'm going to do my bit for the war effort no matter what anyone says. If Bob can put his life on the line for freedom, I can put myself on the factory line for him and the rest of our brave men.

It helps tremendously that my friends from the neighborhood are with me. We're enrolling in the trade school together for company and moral support. I never would have guessed two months ago that four girls as different from one another as we are would become friends, but I'm sure glad of it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uncivil Defense

With Seattle now fully on a war footing, everyone here is expected to contribute to the effort. Easier said than done. Of course we're united in our commitment to victory. But it isn't obvious how best to help out.

Certainly sacrifice is going to be part of it. Most of us will have to quit driving whether we want to or not due tire rationing. I see exhortations in the paper every day reminding Seattleites not to waste food or electricity, and I've heard of plans for scrap metal drives to collect raw material for armaments.

But then things get murkier. Should we housewives go to work or just tend the home fires? Should we buy war bonds? Should we be keeping an eye on the Japanese on their suburban farms and little shops downtown, or the Italians in Rainier Avenue's "Garlic Gulch?" (No one here seems very concerned about German Americans. We have a large Scandinavian community over in the Ballard neighborhood, known to all as "Snoose Hollow." As one of my neighbors said, "How do you tell all those Krauts and Scandahoovians apart?")

Some people seem to see their duties much more clearly than others do. Our neighborhood, like most in Seattle and around the country, has volunteer civil-defense wardens whose job is to assist the Army. They've been trained to teach us first aid, evacuation routes, and how to spot enemy aircraft and saboteurs. But as with any activity in which some people have authority over others, the temptation to boss the neighbors about and settle old scores can be hard to resist. We've got one little fellow from a few streets away who's turned into an absolute martinet. He seems to take particular delight in loudly barking criticism over poorly-fitting gas masks or incorrectly wrapped bandages.

At one training session Susan and I attended, I thought she was going to slap the warden in front of everyone! It seems Susan's son, eight-year-old Jimmy, wants to learn to be a plane-spotter. He's got all his diagrams of Zeroes and Nakajimas and is keen to help. But the warden had the gall to say in front of everyone that a crippled child couldn't possibly be given such responsibilities. I saw Jimmy's lip tremble a bit but like the good little man he is he held back his tears. Susan, on the other hand, felt no need to exercise such restraint. "How dare you!" she shouted at the warden. "He's a second-grader in leg braces, but he's already twice the man you'll ever be!" The warden turned bright red and sputtered, but didn't dare answer back due to the glares he got from the rest of us through our gas masks.

So a plane-spotter Jimmy will be, though I fear we haven't heard the last from the warden.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Men's Work?

Seattle is fast becoming a city of children, old and infirm men, and women.  Our able-bodied fellows in their twenties and thirties are disappearing by train and troopship to distant battlefields, leaving the rest of us to carry on at home.  It seems especially strange given our city's whole history was built on rough-and-tumble masculine occupations like fishing, logging and manufacturing, but war changes everything.

I see my neighbor Susan Johnson heading off to her new job at the Boeing factory every day and am anxious to hear how it's going, though she seems to have little time free to talk.  A teenaged girl from down the street is looking after her son Jimmy and even doing some of their cooking and cleaning, since Susan can afford it now and doesn't have time herself.  In an odd reversal, our socialite acquaintance Jane Sullivan has taken to doing housework herself in their big old place since their Japanese gardener/handyman left. 

Betty and I have talked about taking Boeing jobs ourselves, but she's dead set against doing such a thing.  For my part I still can't imagine myself in a factory.

I was over the moon to get a letter from Bob last week.  It was short but I treasure every word in his architect's angular handwriting.  I hope I'll hear from him at least once more before he ships out.

Monday, January 2, 2012


January 2, 1942

No matter how often the newspaper and radio remind me otherwise, I feel like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." Events seem to have snatched up my little bungalow, whirled it through space and dropped it in a strange country where nothing makes any sense.  Even the newsreels show fleets of airplanes surging menacingly through the sky like the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys. At least Stormy the kitten makes a worthy Toto.

But Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini are horrifyingly real, committing atrocities everywhere in the world beyond the most fevered dream of any cartoon villian. 

On a frigid, clear New Year's Day I went for a walk along the Alki Beach promenade near my home. I was bundled into so many layers of wool sweaters, stockings, overcoat and scarves that I fear I must have looked like the Michelin Tire and Rubber logo I used to see at filling stations.  But it was good to get outside for some air, however cold and salty.

On my walk I noticed a series of freshly-applied posters on the telephone poles.  They appear to be a sort of "Field Guide to Our Allies," like a birdwatcher's book.  I'm most impressed with the "Wide-Hatted Smiling Australian," though I expect sightings of that creature will be rare in Seattle.

Nearer at hand are my friends.  We're looking to each other now that the men are gone. Socialite Jane Sullivan's warming up to us "commoners." I suspect her old-guard club pals are giving her the cold shoulder due to whatever mysterious Hollywood event sent her slinking back here after her attempt at film stardom.  It's a pity; she needs all help she can get now that her baby brother's dead, her mother's withdrawn, and even their Japanese gardener/handyman has disappeared back to his family in Japantown.

Susan Johnson mentioned something at my New Year's party about going to work for Boeing in the B-17 factory, but I haven't had time to ask her more about it. Jane's mother Ina knew Bill Boeing himself a decade or so ago when he was still closely involved with the company. She says he was a millionaire timber baron who founded the company more or less on a lark twenty-five years ago because he took a fancy to airplanes. Jane told me her mother remembers women working in the Boeing factory from the earliest days; Bill needed seamstresses to sew fabric onto biplane wings.  But of course a modern factory is a completely different place.  I have heard that the company is desperate for workers because the men, including Betty Wilkins' husband, are joining up. But I can't for the life of me picture quiet little Susan out on that giant factory floor with all those clanging machines!

Speaking of Betty, I'm worried about her.  I was jealous at first when she got a letter from Joe, as I haven't heard from Bob yet.  But Joe's news was alarming.  He hears that when he's done with basic training at Fort Lewis he'll be sent to the Alaska Territory of all places!  He's upset to be so far from the action, and Betty hates to think of him in such a godforsaken place.  Rumor is that the military is going to build a highway between northern British Columbia and Alaska because of concerns about a possible Japanese invasion of the West Coast.  There have been reports of sightings of Japanese ships in the Aleutian Islands, so that is one rumor that seems disturbingly possible.  I told Betty that if Joe building that road stops the Japanese from invading our country, he'll have done as great a service with a bulldozer as any man with a rifle.  I'm not sure Betty sees it that way, though.