By Catherine C. Brooks
Whenever a news broadcaster talks about any part of a fleet of military aircraft carriers and ships, loaded with service persons, leaving or returning to the home port, I often feel tears in my eyes for my heart goes out to them—I know how they and their families must feel after six or more months apart. I rejoice for those aboard, waving their hats or a flag, and doubly so with the loved ones waiting on shore because that would have been my place. My mind goes back to World War II when I said goodbye to my husband to-be, not knowing when I’d see him again. I never considered the fact that we may be saying goodbye for a lifetime because I believed that our Heavenly Father would protect him.
Likewise, I rejoice when I hear about the e-mails they exchange—up-to-date news. Then the videos aired during the end of the year holidays must make the loneliness more bearable. Those overseas see how their children have grown or even a new baby, and the ones on the home front can see how the one so far away has changed, if at all.
Today’s world barely resembles the one I knew in the 1940’s. When one of our men left home, we had no idea when he would return or in what condition. The new recruits could send mail regularly after they became settled in boot camp or training camp, and mail wasn’t censored in the states. After the initial training, each was given a nine-day leave, including travel time, before those last goodbyes. My fiancé, Kirby, knew soon after returning to camp in Bainbridge, Maryland, that he would go to the Pacific arena, but where the Navy would send him, no one knew.
After the leave that passed all too fast, he spent some time at the Naval Base that he referred to as Shoemaker in the San Francisco, California area. In fact he became bored and worked part time in a tomato cannery in Oakland during the days he didn’t have guard duty, waiting for orders to go to the battle front. Orders for the squadron to move to Pre-deportation Barracks, Treasure Island, meant that he’d soon be at sea. Then a letter came to say he doubted if he’d be able to mail another letter until he landed at an unknown destination. We could write to a Fleet Post Office (FPO) address, and he would receive the mail in time. Later letters show that he deposited envelopes at “mail buoys,” but our mail didn’t reach him until some weeks after they reached their first destination.
After he left the states, all of his letters had to be sent unsealed and
censored. Only one came with sentences hacked, and I wondered what it was
about because he seldom told me where he was until he had left the base,
or what his duties were other than guard duty. I learned later they were
looking for codes and clipped anything that may have been such even though
we neither were smart enough to write by code. Not only had the letters
been opened and read, they were written a month or more previous to my
The glad day finally arrived with several letters at once. Since they showed the same mailing date, I had to open all to put them in proper sequence. In the first I learned that all had been well, and he continued serving with the same unit but Motor Torpedo Boat PT Boat Squadron, having made friends among the men. Kirby spent little time as quartermaster of the PT Boats for which the Navy had trained him. They learned he did a better job in the carpentry field that he had learned from working with his dad, in shop classes (assisting the instructor his senior year) and working in Newport News Shipyard one summer. Therefore he repaired the boats when they retuned damaged, made packing crates and more. When he left the Philippines for home seven months after the Japanese surrendered, he had been promoted to Carpenter’s Mate 1st class, making $73.87 per month. At the time, he worked as foreman with from one to 14 men under him.
When Kirby arrived home 18 months after he had left, I barely knew who he was except no one else wearing a sailor’s uniform would be calling on me. His younger brother had screamed when he walked in the yard, afraid of the uniformed stranger. He had sent a few pictures when he was on Mindoro Island, and I knew he had lost some weight, yet he looked like himself. But when he arrived April 1946, some called him only skin and bones. I learned one of the things he couldn’t write home about: The Japanese had sunk many of the supply ships, leaving little to eat on the isolated islands. Coconuts supplemented the bread with bugs in the flour—some very large. They ate Spam and canned corn beef, if any canned meat was available. On his last Christmas in the Philippines, with the battles over, he had turkey, peas, cranberry sauce, potatoes and gravy. But he seldom had enough to satisfy the hunger.
Thin or not, I rejoiced each time Kirby drove in the yard. He received his discharge in June 1946, two years after his enlistment. We had little materially but our hearts flowed with love, and in September of that year, we became husband and wife—one dream that filled those many letters, come true.
© 2002 Catherine C.
Brooks All Rights Reserved
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