With time on my hands during the Covid-19 lockdown, I again began perusing letters my dad had written home as an 18-year-old seaman near the end of World War II.
It seems an appropriate time to share excerpts from some of his missives, most from the U.S. Navy’s Great Lakes Training Center.
A 1944 graduate of Pleasant Hope High School, Harold E. Hamilton entered the U.S. Navy on Oct. 18 of that same year, and remained on active duty until July 18, 1946.
In the first of his letters I found, dated Oct. 24, he began, “Today I received what is known as the ‘flying five.’ You get five dollars and end up with $2.05. But I got a razor and kit, soap, two toothbrushes, writing material, a haircut, money belt, serving kit and a manual. You should see me with my haircut. It sure is close.”
Later he continued, “I am not so homesick as I was. I was feeling pretty low for a while…. We have soup every day, and I sure do miss the home cooking. Oh, Dad, a funny thing, but I miss the cows, too.”
Then he added, “I sure miss Wayne a lot. Anyone here just isn’t like a brother.”
Even later in this early letter, he reflects the common emotions of an Ozarks boy far from his roots: “About mealtime, especially in the morning, is when I get most homesick. No place is like home. I don’t like this old barracks. They don’t treat you as well as the hills of old Mo. ... It seems awful to think that I won’t be home until after the war.”
In another undated letter, he again expresses his homesickness: “My view from the barracks looks out over a woods and the moon rises up bright and full. I get awful restless and I would like to be out walking the fields and hills like I used to do. I think the Missouri country is the best and the prettiest in the whole world.”
On Oct. 28, a week into boot camp he wrote, “I sure am beginning to get the hunting fever strong,” and forewarned his parents, “don't be surprised if I talk like a southerner when I get back, because about two-thirds of our company is from Georgia and Alabama.”
The next day, Dad wrote of a fellow recruit on his way home.
“One kid here is getting a discharge. He is only 13 years old. He went AWOL, and then the Navy checked up; he had been using his brother’s birth certificate.”
Following that bit of news, he again asked about his dog, Bugle Anne, and his horse. Then, before closing, confided: “I would like to see all of you again. Funny, but I remember Joan [his little sister] least of all. And I think of Wayne a lot. But, what I miss most is the hills and the hunting trips.”
A month later, on Feb. 28, Dad was apparently anticipating a visit home: “Well, I am sure anxious to get home. I wish I didn’t have to come back to the Navy at all. I am just dying to see everyone, and especially the dogs. They must be looking good. If I get back from sea I should have a nice little stack of dough, and if I don’t have anything else I am going to get a car and some more dogs. I am really ready to get out of this Navy. I am getting so tired of this I can’t hardly stand it.”
I don’t know if Dad got to come home as he anticipated.
On March 25, 1945, while riding the train to San Diego, Dad wrote of the scenery in Colorado and Utah: “Boy, the hills and plains out here are some sight to see. Lots of horses around, but I haven’t seen any I would swap mine for. I wouldn’t mind living in Colorado or Utah at all. ... I will be sorry to see this trip end. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The last letter I found was dated April 5, and recounted visiting an aunt and uncle in Oakland, but not a word about where he was headed from there.
I know from his discharge papers, though, he was assigned in San Diego to the USS Hyperion, a cargo ship that saw duty in the South Pacific, including the battle of Okinawa in May, and returned in August. The last ship Dad served on was the USS Rendova, an escort carrier he boarded in either Bremerton, Washington, or Portland, Oregon. I’m not sure which.
Dad made it safely home to his beloved Ozarks. True to his stated love for farm life, he studied agriculture at Southwest Missouri State College and spent a lifetime in various aspects of animal husbandry. He died quietly in his Dallas County farm home on Dec. 1, 2005.
His wartime letters are not tales of heroic exploits, but simply the sincere notes of a farm boy called into service for his country. The fears and worries expressed in his letters could be those of any number of young wartime recruits at any time in history.
It is fitting that we honor them all on Memorial Day, not as soldiers or sailors, but as sons and daughters sacrificing either years or their entire lives to preserve our freedoms.
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Contact him at email@example.com. Copyright James E. Hamilton, 2020.