Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July 1944

Dear Bob:

War has made us many things: Fighters, factory workers and experts at going through the day while disaster hides in the next ridge, the next island, or the postman's next bag of letters.

Now I'll have to add another item to that list: Assassins.

There's a strange new fellow at the factory. His name is Jim and he doesn't talk much. And when he does it's always abrupt, as though all the extraneous chatter that fattens ordinary conversation has been burned away from his thoughts.

Jim says he met you in New Guinea. That you were part of a secret mission to ambush Admiral Yamamoto. That your handpicked squadron of Lightnings flew for hours at wavetop height to arrive at the exact place and moment Jim's coastwatchers said the enemy's plane would appear. That the architect of Pearl Harbor was blown out of the sky and smashed to the jungle floor still strapped to his seat.

The papers have recently had news of that year-old event, but I never guessed you had a hand in it. I imagine we'll never talk about it, but I'll always know in a warm corner of my heart.

What a strange thought: I'm thrilled to learn my husband stalked a man across the vast Pacific and killed him.

Well, since secrets are coming out, I'll tell you mine: I murdered someone, too. Not exactly premeditated, and everyone at the plant says it was an accident. But the man's just as dead as Yamamoto. He was awful fellow who made it his business in life to torment me. I finally snapped back at him when were were both on a Fortress wing. He came at me. I raised my rivet gun, his foot caught in the air hose, and over the edge he went in the wink of an eye. He left the factory feet first, and I was horrified. But inside the horror was a tiny bright speck of gladness.

I pray this war won't go on much longer for fear of what we all might become.

I'm going to go burn this diary page now. I'll watch the ashes flare golden for an instant and wink out as they spiral up the chimney, carrying away our secrets away to the garden. Next year they'll be nothing but bright flowers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hurry Up and Wait

May, 1944

Dearest Bob:

It seems the world is holding its breath like an angry toddler. But General Eisenhower's a patient parent, impervious as to whether humanity turns blue.

Everything's slowed to a crawl, and the talk's of little else but invasion. Strange how time passes slower and slower the more you want something. But glacial as it must be for everyone else, I'm a boulder in a speeding rapid while I wait for your return.

A fellow I once met (never mind who he is, he's not important) said I reminded him of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. You remember, from the Trojan War. I had to climb on a chair and get my old college books off the high shelf to remind myself of the rest of the story.

It seems Penelope waited twenty years for Odysseus' return. She was thronged by a hundred suitors, each urging her to give her husband up for dead. But she wouldn't. Being only a woman she hadn't the brawn to fend off the would-be bridegrooms so she used her brains instead. She told her ardent admirers she'd marry when she finished weaving her father-in-law's burial shroud. Every day she wove, and every night she'd secretly undo most of the weaving. Being thickheaded lunks, the suitors never caught on to the trick until it was too late: Odysseus returned and shot all of them dead with arrows.

I hardly have a hundred suitors, but there have been a couple of pests lurking about. Don't you worry, I'll send them all packing, so there won't be any need for arrows when you return. I just need to figure out what to do. Taking my day's bomber-building apart each night isn't realistic, but if Penelope could hold off a hundred men I can take care of a wolf or two.

I just hope it's less than twenty years before you return.

Your loving wife


Saturday, April 26, 2014

On the Occasion of Our Third Anniversary

Dearest Bob:

I'm sitting at the edge of the Boeing plant airfield, bundled into one of your old Pendleton plaid wool shirts against a typical blustery Seattle spring day. You'd no doubt laugh watching me try to scribble in this diary with one hand while I tug at my flowered scarf (you remember, the one you gave me back in college) with the other. I fear both the scarf and I are the worse for wear these days, but it's all for the war effort.

As strange as it seems, writing as though I were actually sending you a letter keeps the hope that you are somehow still alive burning in my heart. It's just a tiny ember, like one of those specks of golden light that used to spiral up from the gray late-night ashes of our summer campfires.

Alas, most of the fire in my life now comes from the destruction that I have a tiny part in creating. Of course it's all meant to end the war as soon as possible, but it's painful to read each day of the hellish infernos our Flying Fortresses are making of Europe's ancient cities. In return, the bombers and their crews are tumbling from the sky at such a rate I often wonder as I'm working how many weeks each immense, complex machine I labor on will last once it rolls out the hangar door.

Goodness, this talk is hardly a fit subject for an anniversary letter! I should dwell on the more cheerful things you'd no doubt want to hear of wherever you are. The rhododendrons are blooming in huge balls of pink and white blossoms. The first swallows are back, bounding through the air on warm afternoons. Stormy is shedding her winter coat, much to my consternation on laundry day. She sends you a hearty meow!

Well, I must return to the factory. The next round of Fortresses is warming up on the tarmac. Soon they'll be off into the big white clouds that punch like fists into the blue April sky. I remind myself that you are somewhere under the same sky, looking at the same sun and the same moon that shine down on Seattle. I believe with all my heart that we'll someday be looking at them together.

Your loving wife, Rosie.

Monday, April 7, 2014


I suppose I should be grateful things aren't worse. The pain's receding, the nurses are decent and my bed's near the window. Sometimes little formations of B-17s pass across my square of sky, reminding me that Boeing is quite capable of sustaining Flying Fortress production with one less girl.

Time's on my hands and on my mind. The doctor says I'd likely recover faster if he had that new "Penicillin" drug, but like everything else desirable from milk chocolate to men, it's at the front, so I'll be recovering as nature intends.

I've pulled out that diary, after tucking it into a drawer as soon Betty and the rest of the girls disappeared in a laughing burst of hats & gloves. I need something to do besides brood about Bob and watch the bouquet from that loathesome cad Carl slowly wilt. I have no doubt it's from him. Every glance at it brings back his words about getting on with my life and facing the truth that Bob will never come back. What makes me angriest is the realization that Carl's words hurt me so because I fear he may be right.

I look out the window again. A flock of bombers passes, metal geese against a white sky. What have I got to say that anyone, including my future self, would want to read? I guess that's not the point. Nurse says I should just write because it will make me feel better, and not to worry about tomorrow. It will come soon enough in its own way no matter what I do.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Letter from Wichita, February 1944

Dear Betty and Susan:

It's been a strange adventure indeed building B-29s here in Kansas. I understand why Dwight sent us here, but it's awfully hard to get used to this place.

My days are a blur of flat, white landscapes and towering silver mountains of Superfortresses. To compare our B-17s to these mammoth new bombers would be to liken the Smith Tower to the Chrysler Building. And I'm afraid I'm turning out to be more of a Smith Tower kind of girl. These behemoths have an alien, and I must say, sinister quality, almost soulless. Perhaps the engineers who designed them meant it that way, since their single purpose is the defeat of a sinister and soulless enemy who sits at an unimaginable distance.

But a rivet's a rivet, so I'm just tying to concentrate on my work. And a lot of it there is. Dwight warned us we'd be busy, but Jane and I had no idea of the scale of the project. The Wichita factory's so far behind that girls are flooding in from all over the country to help out. It seems the B-29's complexity has been an endless headache, with defective planes rolling off the assembly line and redesigned parts arriving too late for factory installation. We're sometimes working out on the tarmac in daggers of cold wind and whirling snow. Never did I imagine I'd long for the damp gray of Seattle!

Speaking of icy, we Northwest girls got a less-than-warm reception when we arrived. I suppose the locals resented interlopers, and I admit we lacked appreciation at first for the difficulties of our undertaking. Things are better now and we've made a few friends.

I imagine you've seen the installments of Dyess's story in the Seattle Times just as we have here. Needless to say I find it hideously difficult to read about what happened in Bataan two years ago in light of where Bob may be now, but I refuse to give it up, though Jane thinks I should. If nothing else it's given me fresh strength of purpose for the job here in Kansas. Every rivet is one tiny step toward launching these wicked-looking weapons at an enemy who surely deserves them.

Well, enough with the morbid philosophy! I hope all remains well on Tillicum Drive and that Stormy is not being too much of a pest. I'm told that the workforce here is expected to be large enough by early March to allow our return to Seattle. By then the skies will be lighter and the first rhododendrons should be blooming. Never will anyone be as happy to see rain, moss and a Flying Fortress factory! Til then, take care.

Your friend,


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dear Mrs. Sinclair

Dear Mrs. Sinclair. I regret to inform you that your husband Robert is missing in action as of December 30, 1943.

Lieutenant Sinclair was last seen piloting his P-38 in the Southwest Pacific. Unfortunately military secrecy prevents me from disclosing the exact nature or location of his mission. I can report that, according to others in his squadron Lieutenant Sinclair's unarmed plane was attacked by several Japanese Zero fighters. Your husband took evasive measures, but fire was seen in one engine and his plane descended rapidly. One member of the squadron reports seeing a parachute but others say there was none.

It grieves me to deliver this news, but I trust your strong heart and steadfast nature will see you through the difficult times ahead. Bob spoke of you often, and while I cannot say I know you I feel confident you are someone who can face adversity with the same firmness of purpose your husband showed every day.

If there is further word you of course be notified. For now, please accept my sympathies. Lieutenant Sinclair was an outstanding pilot and served his country with distinction. Your husband was immensely proud of you, and you would honor him by carrying on with the war work that is as essential to our victory as the missions he flew.

Sincerely, William Howard, Commanding Officer