January 2011

January for the “Greatest Generation”

We have been going through more of our Bee-Mail Letters, and thought we would publish some describing what PC soldiers were going through in January over sixty years ago. Here are a few selections from their letters.

Lykes Boykin

Lykes Boykin

Our group including fighters, torpedo bombers & dive bombers were making a simulated attack on one of our carriers. We were coming in at 12,000 ft. and my group was the first to attack. I pushed over in a rather steep dive and started down very fast. At about 3000 ft., when I started to pull out, the controls would not respond – I couldn’t move the stick. The water seemed to be coming up very fast and it looked like I was going straight in in spite of everything. I therefore raced my feet and using both my hands pulled back as hard as possible on the stick. Needless to say I blacked out completely and when I came to I was on my back about 500 ft. off the water. I then rolled the plane over and looking back saw that about half of the tail was gone and both wings had big ripples and wrinkles in them. As I still had very little control of the plane I knew it would be impossible to land aboard the carrier and our nearest friendly base was about a hundred – fifty miles. I was able to ease the plane up to 2000 ft. and then I got another plane to join on me & headed for land. To make it short, I got to the land and by making a very straight & high speed approach I lowered my wheels & landed without further mishap either to the plane or myself. The ship later told me I had done one quick loop over them and about half of another one. The Lord was certainly with me then because if I hadn’t come to when I did and had continued on this second loop I would have pulled through right into the water. – Lt. Lykes Boykin to President William P. Jacobs, Jan. 25, 1945.

I have sure seen a lot of new places & people & it might sound funny but so far the trip over has been almost like a sightseeing trip. Here in Africa I am seeing people (Arabs) & ways they live that I never knew existed. The poorest people back home are rich in comparison to the Arabs I’ve seen. They come on the post all day & will work themselves to death for a cigarette. Money & food do not interest them. They are fiends about cigarettes, though. They are very dirty people but they seem to be healthy enough. I guess the open country kills the germs off the food they eat…the weather is much like that Tampa weather – warm in the day time & cold at night. – Cpl. Thomas W. “Wat” Henderson to his mother, January 4, no year given

Mrs. “Bee”, before I close I must give you a funny story…about a Lt. friend of mine. He tented just opposite me. At first when the ‘alert’ would go off he would get out his ‘bunk’ rather slowly. Finally he didn’t bother to get up, but went back to sleep. A good many times nothing happened after the alert was given – the planes went elsewhere or were driven off. However, one night after the alert had sounded and this Lt. had gone back to sleep, planes were overhead buzzing around. He dashed up, tearing his mosquito bar, grabbed his clothes, helmet and shoes and ran to the fox hole. When he got there all he had was his helmet in his hands. And he was in the nude, without a stitch on. All of us have laughed over that lots of times. It is funnier when you know the boy. – Chaplain Freeman B. Parker, Jan. 20, 1945

Chaplain F. Parker with his men 1961

Chaplain F. Parker with his men 1961

This can either be judged a “tall tale” letter or just a letter…One of the strangest things has happened to me – it happened yesterday. I don’t suppose you remember XX very well, do you? If you do, you remember how she looked while there at P.C. Well, after 13 months we got to see each other yesterday. I’ve been writing to her off and on ever since she left college and this past week, she was in Alexandria Virginia visiting with her sister over the holidays. So she writes that she is coming to see me. She came yesterday. I was waiting there in the lounge…at the Reception Center for her and when she walked in, I almost swallowed my uppers!! You remember the clothes she used to wear, too, don’t you? Now that you have the old pictures in mind, I’ll tell you what the XX of 1945 looks like. First she’s, believe it or not, like an angel. Her hair is very long, she wears make-up, she’s changed her glasses from the horn-rimmed ugly type to that fancy style all girls are wearing now, and she shaved her legs! She had on the most beautiful set of clothes I have ever seen. And to top it all, she had on this long beautiful squirrel fur coat. No kidding, Mrs. “B”, you wouldn’t know her now. She’s changed 1000% and is now batting 1000. And this is strictly off the record….X is in love with me – little innocent me! Can you believe it? I couldn’t, but she has been ever since we met…Gee whiz. I don’t know what to do. I’ve told lots of girls that I love them, but never has a girl told me that she loved me – first! I’m also in love with another girl but gee, I’m up a stump now. Oh, well, that’s another story. – Anonymous, January 8, 1945

Lenthiel H. Downs

Lenthiel H. Downs

There is an amazing thing I can tell you. That is, how these Philippinos live through a “hell on earth” bombardment along the beaches, and then greet us on the beaches when we step out of our landing craft. I noticed very many with white flags. There was a tremendous American flag flying from a palm tree when we landed. – Lt. Joe Milam, Jan. 10, 1945

I’m engaged in writing history while it happens – or shortly thereafter – for the War Department…I have traveled much in the past six weeks (in one month, December – I slept in sixteen different cities, villages, or what have you). I have seen a wedding in the square before a cathedral in a bombed out town. Life goes on in spite of the war. People here build deep cellars. Birth, marriage, death may be accelerated somewhat, they may be confused – but they do continue. – Lt. Lenthiel H. Downs, “Somewhere in France”, Jan. 12, 1945

Cornelius Holcombe

Cornelius Holcombe

This is rather late to be writing you but just received Bee-Mail #42 and couldn’t let another week go by without expressing my thanks and sincere appreciation for the wonderful job you have done. You have endeared yourself to all the boys and when we visit P.C. will feel like we are saying hello not to Mrs. Bee, the wife of the President, but to you as the big sister who has done everything she could to make all her brothers as happy as possible while away from home. – Maj. Cornelius B. “Pete” Holcombe, India-Burma Theater, January 7, 1946