Airlifting Supplies to POW's in Japan
~and~ Thoughts of Home
|If you've arrived here from a search engine, please go to the Introduction
to learn more about this document. Nancy Brister
1st September 1945
Dear Lil and Hilliard,
This is, I sincerely hope, my last letter to you from here. Of course, you know how the Army is--anything can happen. But our crew is just waiting for orders. We should have them in a few days and I should be in the States some time this month. And for Pete's sake, please cross your fingers for me and wish real hard.
Our 35th mission was flown some days ago--I had about given up hope---and our job here is done. We flew our 38th mission the 28th to Tokyo to drop supplies to our men in the P/W camp there. We did not have to go, but we could not resist the temptation to bring a little relief to our guys up there. And I must confess that there lingered a secret desire to see what we had done up there, though this along was not worth the 15 hours time in the air and the risk of going in the drink.
I wish that I were not so weary of mind and sick of racking my mind over something to write for ten months so that I might give you an idea of what we saw and experienced on that supply mission. If you are not too fed up with war news, if war has not taken too much of a back page and my interest in it has returned, I'll tell you about it when I return in more detail than I can here.
But I don't think I'll ever forget the sensation of flying over Tokyo and Yokohama at 1500 and 700 feet of altitude in daylight and not being shot at. Nor will I forget the sight of those camps with their P/W signs painted on them and the antics of the men in them. The two cities themselves looked like something from a bad dream--something that could not be real but must be a painting. The destruction was utter and complete.
We approached the coast of Japan in the Tokyo area at 5000, and we all said, "Well, boys, we will know in a minute." You can't imagine the sensation. There wasn't a cloud in the sky; and as we crossed the land south of the city and entered Tokyo Bay, we saw a large part of the fleet at anchor and our Naval fighters flying low over the land; so we began to feel O.K. We found the mouth of the river by which we were to locate the camp and turned west over the city. We couldn't believe what we saw beneath us, and we were so engrossed with "looking" that we had passed to the outskirts of the city before anyone even thought of looking for the camp.
The camp wasn't too hard to find, for the Japanese had given us an accurate location of it and there were so few buildings standing. After I saw it, with its big P/W on the roof, we dropped down to 1500 and made a third run on it. Signs painted on the roofs of the four buildings forming a rectangle were PW, take us home, Australia, News?, Thanks, 64VF (a Navy fighter designation), and a big Air Corps Star insignia. Men were on the roofs, in the small compound, running in and out of the gate, and they all looked as though they were going mad. They waved their arms, clothing, and whatever they had madly. I don't know whether they were overjoyed, mad with relief, or afraid that we would go on and leave them. Anyway, we made another run at 700 feet and dropped the first bunch of supplies right next to the main building; and when we came back, the men were all over them. We dropped the last bunch of stuff a little further away, as I was afraid of hitting them. Some of the chutes didn't open, and that stuff is pretty heavy. We made another run and they had dragged all the stuff inside the compound and must have been going at it hot and heavy. Satisfied they had gotten everything, we flew over Tokyo and Yokohama, etc., for two and a half hours at 1500 feet. We felt so glad that we had found the camp and gotten the supplies to the men that we felt entitled to a look.
The picture of those places is very vividly stamped on my memory, but I don't have the power of description necessary to tell you much about it. Picture, if you can, a light brown stain on the ground that stretches for miles in all directions, with a dark spot here and there for what was once a factory or refinery and bits of broken glass glittering in the sunlight; an eight story building standing in the middle of nothing; a smokestack standing alone on a flat patch of brown; a whole string of street cars, end to end, on a downtown street, a mass of rusty steel beams and frames twisted out of shape; huge shipfitting cranes crumpled out of shape; the emperor's palace, a bright spot of green, untouched; very little traffic and hardly any sign of life--that's Tokyo and a mild description of it.
There must be some sort of moral to this for someone. It should be some kind of warning to mankind for the Japanese have said they were defeated and were trying for peace a good while before the Atomic Bomb was dropped. It's quite easy to understand that when you realize that all their large cities, to say nothing of the great number of smaller ones, are like Tokyo. With the weapons we have now, what must the next war be like? Or can we really hope that this is not just "Peace in our time?" I hope America can be worthy of the great blessing of the early ending of this part of the war, for with its early ending and the saving of the countless thousands of lives by not having to invade, it did cost a lot. I look at our squadron roster and records and see how many men just in my squadron alone went down, and I know how lucky I was and how good the Lord was to our crew. The figure of our losses is pretty grim. They haven't released them and probably won't for a while. I heard on the news tonight that we had released over 1500 men from the PW camp in Tokyo, and we are waiting to learn whether they found any of our guys.
We are hoping that we get to fly a 29 home, since our tour has been so prolonged, but I suppose we will return by boat. I'd like the boat very much except that I'm so terribly anxious to get home and when you go by boat you are sent to a pool where you sit for two or three weeks and have all sorts of daily details to do. Once your usefulness to the Army is over, they give you a boot in the pants. I wouldn't stay in the Army if I starved and rotted on the outside. I have about twice the required points for a discharge and I'll probably get one when I hit the States, and will that make me mad! I haven't the slightest idea what I'm going to do when I get out; but once I see my family and get some food under my belt, I'll be able to think more clearly about it.
Alice writes that she and the children are all fine and well but that Robert is becoming impossible and for me to hurry home to take him in hand. I suppose both of them are pretty well spoiled. I'm very happy over the fact that this one was a girl. Alice wanted one and I suppose I really did too. But we have a nicely balanced family now, and the construction work is finished. Don't laugh; we are both very serious. Besides, families have to eat, you know. I can hardly wait to see them. This wasting of precious time is one of the hardest tings to bear.
I sincerely hope this finds you both feeling well and things in general all right. I trust that business is good and there will be no slump during the period of war to peace. I think of you people a lot and am looking forward so very much to seeing you again. I hope it isn't too long from now, but in the meantime my very best to you.
3rd March 1945
Dear Mary and Jane,
I am very ashamed that I have not written to you in such a long time. I seem to have contented myself with asking Lillian and Hilliard to give you my regards when they saw you. This and procrastination are my only excuses but I assure you my lack of writing was not because I didn't think of you.
Letter writing over here for me has become a very complicated matter for there is so little I can find to write of unless it be about our work or philosophize about our reactions about our part in this mess. The former I have tried to refrain from writing and I am not capable of the latter. Writing about our work involves censorship and we feel that the average person at home could not understand our feelings or reactions. This leaves us only to chatter and besides all our thoughts are at home and about people we left there. In my letters I'm very prone to ask questions about all the things at home and write very little about myself and I'm sure my letters aren't very interesting.
I'm like thousands of others, a civilian at heart and want to find things just as we left them. All the good things that is.
I wrote you a short note when we first got here telling you the name of the Island and a little about it. Things are just about the same now, except this place is a lot more civilized now and not at all interesting. It probably was a very beautiful island at one time, but it's known as the "Rock" now and everyone wants to get off it. However, there are several good friends here from Gulfport and one from Greenville and we enjoy getting together every now and then.
I can't tell you how many missions I have over Japan, but will say that they have been keeping us very busy. No goal has been set up for us and we don't know how many missions we will have to fly before getting home. For me, there is no glory in them. We have some terrific discussions as to whether it's in the realm of possibility to prevent wars or must they always be fought and whether evil can be prevented or must be killed.
We do a lot of reading, because when we are not flying we are on the bed and reading comes easy that way, taking your mind off things. Alice sends me books, new and old, fiction and otherwise. Sometimes I think she must be trying to educate me for her latest gift was the two volumes of "An American Dilemma."
Our mail is being held up probably due to the latest Pacific Invasion and I've not heard from Alice or anyone in a couple of weeks. However, in her last letter, she wrote that she and the boys were fine and Robert is now quite a man. Thomas is doing fine and is trying to follow in his brother's footsteps. As you probably know, we are to have another son in July. Everyone is probably disgusted with us, but Alice wants a daughter and a big family. Frankly, I think the gods must be against me, but I can think of nothing more wonderful than a good ole time family. The question of support is the big one to me, but so far we have been able to cross all rivers and I suppose will find a bridge over that one, too. To tell you how much I miss them would be impossible.
I sincerely hope you people are well and everything with you all right. I suppose New Orleans is about the same with people still buying salt and engaging attorneys. How is Robert? I haven't heard anything about him in a long while. His daughter must be grown, isn't she? My girlfriend Gertrude writes that she and Harry plan to return there when the war is over. ___ wrote me that he had been up to see him.
There isn't much else I can tell you about us. Our luck has been good. God has been with us. Our life here was in a groove with little or no diversion. It isn't too bad tho and we could be a lot worse off. The climate is very comfortable, very much like an April and May at home, and we have no diseases. The food could be a great deal better, but that's part of war I guess. I've only lost some eight pounds, which isn't bad, under the circumstances. I just hope that when the opportunity presents itself, I can do something to prevent my sons from having to do this same thing.
I'll try not to wait so long before I write again and will attempt to be a little more interesting and cheerful. I would enjoy a few lines from you when you have the time to write and the spirit moves you to do so.
My very best to you both,
Back to Introduction