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.