Spokane Chronicle  
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Letters home
Excerpts of letters written home by area servicemen, in the midst of history.

From Ronald H. Eaton

Written from somewhere

in the Pacific Theatre, July 15, 1944

I was over on the island (Manus Island, near New Guinea) in the mud and rain, hunting, and not four-legged animals either. I had some luck to (get) revenge, you know, for the little hole they put in my shoulder. I borrowed a few things from a Jap officer the other day, in fact, this pen I am writing with, a pistol and a Jap flag of the Rising Sun. But the sun went down. For him, the last time.

(A second letter from Eaton, from a hospital, Jan. 30, 1945)

I was not hit bad this time. The scars on my face will never be seen very easy and of course the one that hit me in the back this time is still there. I used to think one could not stop one (a bullet), but I did, and it does not bother me at all. I have lost quite a bit of weight but feel real good.

(Eaton was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, among other medals. He died in 1996 in Miles City, Mont.).

From George W. Alexander

Of Wellpinit, written from somewhere

in Germany, Dec. 1, 1944

One of the boys was killed by another artillery shell which hit our old tank and cut his head off. I been pretty lucky, though for a while I was so nervous, pal, no kidding, shell-shocked, I guess. But I'm still driving the old tank, which I call the Purple Heart wagon. It holds the record of three killed and three wounded, nothing to laugh at. I used to laugh at boys when they took cover and now I beat them, taking off for shelter.

(Alexander was killed a week after this letter was written, while driving his tank).

From Harry Goedde

Of Spokane, from Luxembourg,

Feb. 25, 1945

Mom, I was cited this morning for bravery in action and they gave me the Bronze Star.

On the citation papers they read like this: "Pvt. Goedde showed extreme bravery during a river crossing of the Sauer River when under enemy fire and at great danger to himself he pulled another American soldier from the river after his boat had capsized."

Don't let this worry you, mom, as it is all done and passed and I am safe now.

(Goedde is retired and living in Spokane.)

From Jack Zappone

Of Spokane, from a Navy ship transporting troops

near Okinawa, April 1945

We steamed into the Rette in a blaze of glory! It was a great show and we were getting to see it and getting paid for it too!

The Japs had planes out to meet us and the anti-aircraft fire went up to meet them … Plane after plane went blazing into the sea; three being knocked down right around us. Suicide-pilots missing and hitting and when they hit flames would shoot up hundreds of yards. It was still a great show.

(Five days later, describing a kamikaze attack on his ship) I lowered my binoculars and it was right in front of us – clearing the No. 1 davit – I was so scared I couldn't move! She hit the big 30-ton boom and after-crows nest, exploding her TNT and taking off a wing – one of my men was hit by the explosion, but kept on firing. The bomb went off right above us and the plane went over the port fan-tail. My men were caught in their slings – strapped to their guns. I was blown down between the boats in a small hole and woke up with diesel oil and water spraying on my face. Somebody helped me out and I ran around the boats counting five dead men.

Numb with fear, I didn't realize I was hurt – blood had squirted from my thumb on my face and chest and I had some shrapnel hits in my left leg. I was OK.

… One of my men called for stretchers. Two were dying and the rest were bad off. The 30-ton boom had smashed across the boats. … Men had their heads, arms and legs blown off, were disemboweled and cut in half.

We had seven doctors aboard, the army had three. We needed every one of them. When a concentrated target gets hit, it's really a problem to take care of the injured. The ones who were dead were left where they fell, the others brought down and sorted. I saw two men without a mark on them walk to sick bay and die in half an hour. Shock! It is bad! They used 150 pints of blood and plasma.

I slipped and fell going into the operating room – we had sheets on the deck to soak up the blood so you could stand up. … The stretchers were coming down fast and I had my hands full giving morphine, putting on compresses, etc., and then the GQ (general quarters) bell sounded again. For the first time, I was really scared – your heart stops and starts again and your stomach rams your pelvis. It isn't nice.

… We went back to the Rette; into the harbor, discharged 50 casualties that night and 30 early the next morning. We gathered together the rest of the boys, cut the fellow out of the crow's nest with a torch and put them in canvas – just as they were – and buried them in a newly established cemetery on Zamami. Casualties – 145, 26 dead and more to die later.

…And the papers lied! All they said was no naval units lost – not a word about personnel, but Zamami kept filling up.

(Jack Zappone graduated from Gonzaga University and died in Spokane in 2004).

From John Hill

Of Spokane, from an air base in China,

July 5, 1945

Well, I'm back on the job again and well. I stayed in the hospital 10 days and really rested. As you know, we had to bail out coming back from a mission. I hit the ground at 1:30 in the morning and as I was on the side of a mountain I decided not to move until the sun came up.

I then followed a small stream until I came to a small village. Gene and Wally were there and had been waiting for three hours. We got a guide and started out of the mountains. We walked until night and then slept at a small hut. The next morning, I couldn't walk so two coolies carried me on a bamboo stretcher until noon. I was able to get a mule then and rode it that afternoon and all the next day.

At night time we came to a fairly large town, where we were met by a small Chinese garrison. They had signs reading, "Welcome to Our Brave Allied Pilots," "Fall Down, Japs," etc. The soldiers formed a guard of honor and escorted us to their headquarters. We rode through the town and almost the entire population lined up in the streets, shouting, clapping their hands and shooting off ten-foot strings of firecrackers.

They gave us a hot bath and then the fun started. We had a banquet in our honor with all of the dignitaries from miles around. We ate for about two hours and then the Chinese gave speeches in Chinese and then they sang songs. The Chinese major asked us to sing so we sang the "Air Corps Song." After that we retired.

The next morning we embarked on a sampan. We rode all that day and half the next one. About noon we came to a very large town where they had an immense banquet pre-prepared. We finished the meal and rode a truck to an American air base.

It was more fun than work even if I did lose my airplane. I have another one now.

(John Hill died on April 11 this year in Spokane.)

From Jack Halling

Written from the USS Norman Scott,

Sept. 2, 1945

We are still in the outer bay of Tokyo Bay, patrolling. We've met four Jap fishing boats (two at night). Yesterday, one of our pilots went down and we went out to try to find him.

It was storming and was foggy and we never found him. It's a shame to lose men after the war is over.

… You asked me if there was anything I needed when you send your box and package. Well, the thing I need most of all, I think, is combs. It seems like they are almost impossible to get, for some reason or another.

(Jack Halling died in Idaho 1991).

From Cecil Cunningham

Of Deep Creek, Wash., from a hospital ship

somewhere in the Pacific, Sept. 6, 1945

I have been paralyzed in my right leg since March of 1945. I have the use of my leg now, but unable to bear any weight on it. Feel very good otherwise. Have gained weight. March, I weighed 120. August, 125. Now about 140. The American chow sure does wonders. I think I will be walking very shortly. So don't worry.

The Good Lord must have been looking after our camp (the Yokkaichi prison camp in Japan) and the Allies must of known we were there. Bombs fell all around our compound and yet no one was hit.

We were strafed two times on the 30th of July. … wounded one of our men and killed one Dutch boy.

They had to amputate one left foot. They wasn't able to sterilize any of the instruments and they were Japanese so they weren't worth a damn. It was the doctor's first amputation and he arrived in our camp two days before. They just had two cans of ether and one course of sulfa drugs to give him. Which no doubt saved his life.

The (Japanese) men quit work August 15 and we were sure glad to have that much proof that the war was over. But wasn't sure until the 19th of August. We were visited by a British dive bomber from H.M.S. Indefatigable. The next day they came back and dropped us 12 big packages. They consisted of food, cigarettes, pipe tobacco and newspapers. We started reading, eating and smoking.

The next day, they came back and dropped about the same thing and we notified them that we needed sulfa drugs. They made a return trip but the plane with the drugs couldn't raise the landing gear and had to return. They notified us and was putting on an air show to give us a thrill, which they did on all their trips. They hadn't finished when one plane dropped the medicine.

… We left Yokkaichi prison camp at 5:30 a.m., with eight hours notice to go to a port near Yokohama. Saw my first U.S. soldier. I was speechless. You can't imagine how much of a thrill it was to see a Marine running up and shaking my hand. I thought he never would quit shaking it. I guess he was as glad to see us as we was him. I have been aboard for four days and still get a big thrill looking at the stars and stripes flying on the ship.

… Saw my first American woman since I was taken prisoner. She sure looked good to me.

… I hope you can read what I have written. This is already more writing than I have been able to do since May 10, 1942 (when he was taken prisoner in the Philippines).

It has been a long sweat with many hardships, but that is in the past. I sure am looking forward to be with you all.

(Cecil Cunningham died in Spokane in 2002).

From Helmer Haagenson

Of Spokane, Sept. 13, 1945, from Inchon, Korea,

after it was liberated from the Japanese

I rode on the water for an hour and then hit the beach. I was in the third wave. We landed at Inchon and walked about a mile to the outskirts of town into the woods and put up tents for the night. In the evening we went into the homes of the Koreans and talked with them by pointing at things. … They are very smart and pick up our English language very fast. The kids cut the grass for us to get our guy's tents up. …

In the morning we broke camp and went into Inchon and got on the train (their train is just like our coal trains). As we went along the way to the capital people by the thousands stood all along the tracks and yelled and waved American flags. They had signs up that said "Welcome U.S. Army, we have long waited for you to set us free. Listen to our cries of Joy."

… We sit on the walls around the camp and watch the people and they sure crowd around us by the hundred. I never seen so many kids in one place before. They must grow on trees because they come out from every little hole when they see us. The kids like the soldiers good, as they give them candy and cigarettes. Wherever the soldiers go, the first words they (teach) the kids is "hubba-hubba" and now all the kids holler "hubba-hubba" whenever soldiers go by in a truck or jeep.

(Helmer Haagenson still lives in Spokane).

From Jack Lynch

From a ship at anchor in Hiro Wan, Japan,

Oct. 22, 1945

When we pulled up to the dock, Hiroshima didn't look so bad because there were a few houses left standing here and there, but after we walked a couple of blocks, there was just nothing but ruins. Not a living thing left standing, just junk. Over the whole place there was the odor of burnt flesh, about as bad a smell as you could possibly imagine. My stomach isn't that weak (but) I sure didn't feel like eating and I don't think there was anybody there that did. I could still smell that burnt flesh long after I got back to my ship.

There were a lot of small Jap kids running around all over the place and almost all of them were badly burned. Very few of them had any Mother or Father. Almost all of the people in town were burnt and it's a wonder they even lived. If I looked as horrible as some of them, I would rather be dead.

Their town was sure dead even if they were not. The few buildings that are left standing are demolished in the inside, with only the walls left standing. It would be just like an atomic bomb blowing up on Fifth and Broadway (in his home town of Los Angeles, Calif.) and no buildings left until you got out to Hollywood or south to Florence. It's kind of hard to imagine but that's how Hiroshima looked.

No matter how hard we try to not feel sorry for the Japs, it's almost impossible. Even if they did start the war, these kids and people at Hiroshima are sure paying through the nose for something they had nothing to do with.

It's too bad everyone couldn't see what is left of this town. There sure as hell wouldn't be another war.

(Jack Lynch was 20 when he wrote this letter. Several years later, Lynch died from the radiation exposure he suffered at Hiroshima).

From Robert Grater

Of Spokane, from Nagasaki, Japan,

Oct. 3, 1945

Honest, darling, it's a shame they weren't fibbing a bit when they said the atomic-bomb knocked everything flat. It really is flat and I don't mean maybe. One really cannot realize just how much power that bomb has until you actually see the damage it did. The sand is even melted together like one took wax and heated it. The bricks from the houses and factories are just pulverized like one took a big sledgehammer and broke them in a million pieces.

Here where we are staying is about five miles from the center of where the atomic-bomb hit and all the windows are broken and all of the plaster on the walls and ceiling have all fallen off.

… It was so hot it cremated the people.

(Robert Grater died in Spokane in 1999.)

From Jim Elsensohn

From a ship at anchor in a Japanese port,

Nov. 19, 1945

We go in to a little summer resort town which is very pretty to do our shopping. It is a suburb of and about two miles from the city of Wakayama, which used to have about as many people as Spokane before it was bombed. Only one B-29 raid was made on this city, but it practically wiped out the town. Acres and acres are completely flat and look like a junk heap. Several hundred B-29s dropped incendiary bombs here on July 9 for about two hours and that was the end of the city.

… The Japanese seem very friendly and seem happy but things are pretty tough for them. I was waiting for my boat a couple of weeks ago as it started to rain. An old man left his family and came over with an umbrella to hold over me.

(Jim Elsensohn died in Spokane in 2004).

From Bob Zappone

From Nuremberg, Germany,

sometime in 1945 or 1946:

I was very much impressed with the Nuremberg war crime trials. Naturally, I went to get a close-up look at Goering, Hess and the rest of the gang, but I also went to find out whether the trials were really accomplishing anything. I came away with a wonderful "glow on" and also a great amount of respect for Justice Jackson (Robert H. Jackson, chief American prosecutor).

I decided the most intelligent-looking one is – no, decidedly not Goering – but Speers (Albert Speer).

… Hess was the only one who paid no attention whatever. (Franz) Von Papen was very attentive while that jerk (Walther) Funk looked like he couldn't have gotten out of kindergarten. And he was the joker who was heading the economic branch of the German government until Speers took over.

… You can put this down for the record – the Nuremberg trials are no farce. They are really writing history there.

(Bob Zappone, Jack's brother, graduated from Gonzaga University and now lives in Seattle).

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