During 1944 and 1945 my father, Private Max M. Ellison, almost daily wrote to my mother, Florence Norton Ellison. Just before mom’s death she gave these letters to my younger sister Maggie and asked that they be destroyed. Fortunately Maggie ignored the request and passed them on to me. I put them in the back of a closet and pretty much forgot about them for several years. I guess “spring cleaning” has its rewards because I found the dusty old box and I am now beginning the process of reading and recording. Since I am new to blogging be prepared for the unintended goofs and mistakes of a newbie.
I know very little about dad’s war years. He was in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, General Custer’s regiment. He trained on horses, and I doubt they were ever used in the Pacific Theater where he was stationed. He liked to say that in WWII the 7th Cavalry finally won back the colors that General Custer lost at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was wounded three times, awarded Purple Hearts, and I think he suffered from battle fatigue. As a kid I knew not to suddenly wake him from a deep sleep because he might wake up swinging himself out of a foxhole. The rest of his years at war are unknown to me. I was born in February 1944 and I don’t think he met me until I was about two years old. I knew my dad as a pig farmer, a writer of poems, and a teller of stories, but not as a warrior.
As I record these letters I will edit out those parts that are too personal. At a later date I will scan all the letters and pass them on to my family.
Date Unknown: This ship has its ups and downs. A fellow in my cabin is still sick and we have been on the water nearly four days.. I can tell you a little about the ship. She is 632 ft long and 82 ft wide. In peace times my cabin would cost $387.00 one way. I guess I wouldn’t have to share it with so many. It is pretty warm out on the deck and I would give a good deal to know our exact location. Last night I watched the moon come up and stayed on the deck until almost 10. I do not like v-mail but it is all I can find here.
Date Unknown: Shaving seems to be the major problem each day. For that we use salt water (there is a lot of it) and it’s impossible to make the soap lather. I always keep clean but my face is pretty salty now.
I have seen several birds, loads of flying fish, but no whales. There have been several birds that followed us for a while. A large Albatross followed us for a couple of days. At times there were even smaller birds that made me think we were close to islands. It has been a swell trip with nothing lacking, but I’ll tell you all about it when I come home.
March 10: It is very warm out tonight. It was so warm this afternoon that I managed a sun bath. I am enjoying this trip very much. I hate to see it end and for more reasons than one. I spend a lot of time looking out over the water in hopes I see a whale. It would be a thrill to see one and you bet that I would yell out “There she blows” or “Down goes flukes.” All this reminds me that I would like to buy you a riding whip with a whale bone handle.
March 12: I am going to sleep on the deck tonight. It is pretty hot down here in my room and it’s fairly warm on deck. At night we all go up on deck and sing. We can’t show a light and of course it’s very dark. Last night it was cloudy and you could hardly see.
March 13: I have so much to tell you. When I get home we will sure have a lot to tell each other. I am not home yet and I have a long way to go before then. I am not afraid-at least not too afraid.
March 14: I have been watching some birds. I do not know what kind they are but they are small and it makes me think that we might be close to some island. One day a huge bird followed the ship for several hours. What a large fellow he was and how he could fly. I have an idea that he was a Cormorant and I am anxious to find out for sure. I have not seen a whale and if I don’t see one I will be plenty mad.
By this time you will have an idea that I have left the states. I write every day and they go out as soon as the ship docks. I would send them air mail but can’t get any air mail stamps. It is a hell of a job to write on a ship. It has the smooth motion of a horse in a nice easy cantor.
They told us that we just crossed the equator. No wonder it has been hot around here.
March 15: Hot – we call a hard candy bar, one that we don’t have to lick out of its wrapper. This weather was made to suit your husband and I wish we had a home right here on the equator. I even have an idea that I will enjoy the islands, that is, if I am going there. I have no idea where I am going. Last night I looked for the North Star. It has gone and I will not see it again for some time. I can’t make out the Southern Cross as yet.
How is my little sweetheart Sandy today? Is she a good girl or does she cry all the time? It’s so funny that I am a father and have never seen my child. EDITOR’S NOTE: So far my father has received only a brief wire about my birth. The mail from home has not caught up with him and he is unaware that my mother named me Edith after her own mother and not Sandra, the girl’s name they had earlier decided upon.
They feed us good. I was surprised to find that we get such things as chicken, ice cream etc. You know how I love potatoes that have been boiled. We get them three times a day.
Writing this letter is a hell of a job. I have the paper on the deck and I must look like a dog with a bone. I am not lonesome. I miss you but I could never be lonesome while travelling. I’ll be plenty glad when it’s over and you and I can be together. For now I am off to reconnoiter the mess hall.
March 17: It is nice and cool here on the deck. We are going to have a rain pretty soon and I wish you could see the sky. It is so black and these tropical rains move in like a wall of water.
I know where I am going. Too bad I can’t tell you. Perhaps they will let me write it once I am there. If any one asks you where your husband is you can tell them he is in the southern hemisphere.
Last night I stood on the deck and saw the Big Dipper at the top of its swing around the North Star. It was just above the horizon and that was all. Of course the North Star has gone and it made me feel very lonesome. I thought of a lot of things – my childhood, you and Sandy and went to sleep with a smile.
I am having a tough time with my knife. It rusts right in my pocket. If I can ever get some oil I will keep it oiled. I am going to buy a larger knife to hang on my belt.
March 23: I suspect that we are nearly there. The whole trip has been very enjoyable and I wasn’t sick. Just between you and me there is a lot of ocean. While on the boat I have had the chance to do a lot of reading and writing letters. I am tired of both of them and plenty anxious to see land.
March 26: Here I am in New Guinea and the funny part of it is I seem to like it. Of course we have our share of mud, rain, and the heat is pretty bad. There are so many good points that I cannot kick. EDITOR’S NOTE: A note written in crayon by my mother states he is in Milne Bay New Guinea. A google search reveals that the Battle of Milne Bay, August 25-Sept 7, 1942 was the first defeat suffered by the Japanese land forces during the war in the Pacific and prevented them from establishing a base at the eastern tip of New Guinea.
The swimming alone is worth the trip over. The weather is smooth and clear and best of all it is warm. I am going to try to do more of it that I have done in the past. I have not been in the jungle yet. It’s all around and they tell me that there are pineapples and bananas back there. It looks pretty dense and for the time being I will stick to the coconuts that are much easier to get. In fact I have had the milk from two of them.
I have seen a few native men. They sure don’t go in for clothing. We are not allowed to touch the women and I for one wouldn’t want to. I am going to try to have my picture taken standing beside one and send it to your dad. The less clothes she has on the better picture it will be. EDITOR’S NOTE: The “dad” being referred to was my grandfather the Rev. P.Ray Norton, Methodist minister. My grandfather would have gotten a chuckle out of such a picture but my grandmother would have had the opposite reaction.
I have no doubts in my mind about what is ahead. It will be tough going, but it will be just as tough for you. We will both get lonesome, but I think both of us can take it.
I am going to be pretty busy. From now on I will have more hair to cut. I charge one Florin, that is 32 cents in American money. I will be able to send you money as I have no need of it here. There seems to be nothing to buy. The food is good, the bread is swell and just like home-made bread.
On the boat I ran into a man I used to know in Lexington. He was sure surprised to see me.
March 27: It is raining this afternoon. Another fellow and I were going back in the brush in search of a pineapple, but it’s too wet. I am anxious to have a look at a real jungle.
Here is some news – For my first time I went to a movie last night. I got a big laugh out of “My Kingdom for a Cook.” I didn’t want to read by candle light and it seemed so nice to sit on a log and watch the show. Now that I have started I will go plenty often.
I washed clothes for a fellow this morning. He gave me a Florin (32 cents). I have been thinking that I may make enough to pay on your college debt. I am anxious to get that out-of-the-way. As soon as I get paid I will send you a money order. Here is what you have to do to get the extra thirty dollars for baby Sandra. Send her birth certificate to the same address your checks come from. You had better give them my address. You will receive all the back pay. If you hurry you will get the money before you go to Bellaire. I want you to have a good time up there with plenty of money to spend. I want to be sure that the old home town suspects what I know; that I married the cream of the crop.
I had a dream last night that was a heller. You, Sandy, and I were on a troop ship and guess who had charge of the ship? It was none other than Stalin. We just kept going back and forth over the ocean.
I pray this war will soon end. In the meantime we will have to work hard and look towards the future. I will come home and we will have our own home and our life ahead of us. It’s going to be pretty swell darling, so when things go bad just smile and wait for me.
March 28: Yesterday I went into the jungle or brush as it is called here. It was beautiful. In fact I have never seen such beauty. I found a flower that would look nice on your purple dress. It was shaped like this (EDITOR’S NOTE: the small flower drawing was censored and cut out of the page) – the upper part was white and looked as though it had been made of wax. The tiny flower at the bottom was yellow. For a long time we followed a trail that led straight into the clouds. It was hot climbing and the brush and vines seemed to press in on you. We reached a peak that gave us a grand view. From there we started down the other side. It was straight down and we had to go down by hanging on vines and trees. At the bottom we found a tiny stream of clear water that fell over rocks and slid into deep pools. We had a swim in one of the pools. The water was neck-deep and the walls and bottom of the pool were solid rock. Can you imagine the fun of swimming under water in such a place? We followed the stream and had great fun watching the fish, lizards, and a flock of white birds. An old-timer at camp told us that we walked through some great snake country and should never have gone without a knife.
You would love our service club. It is rustic to the last degree. It has a thatched roof and open on all sides and ends. It’s cool and nice.
There are lots of varmints here, bugs, spiders, scorpions, and I have seen only one mosquito. I sleep under a net each night because it only takes one to give you malaria. When you get up in the morning you knock your shoes out in case some varmint spent the night in them.
March 30: Yesterday was one of those days when I was on guard and very busy. The fellows go for cavalry boots. I honestly think I could get $22.40 for one pair of mine. Don’t be too surprised if I should let them go. The less clothes you have the better off you are. They get in the way. The best is to have little and keep it clean. You would be surprised to know how my wardrobe has shrunk; two pair of fatigues and a dress uniform.
It’s fun to watch them yank a coconut palm out of the ground. They simply put a chain around it and fasten the chain to a trunk. I find that the best way to get coconuts. However, the other night I saw them pull down a tree and I made a run for the spoils. I was so anxious I jumped right into the fronds and for the next two hours I was busy picking varmints off my body.
Each palm seems to be the home of a certain kind of bird. They sing at sundown and sun up and what a song they have. It sounds like a cross between a bull frog and a dove. I have seen only one bird that I knew for sure what it was – a crow. We have a rooster here who is either going to mend his ways or I’ll give him a hot foot. He sounds his clarion call outside my tent about five each morning. There also is a pig that wanders around here at times. He is lame in one foot and looks the part of inbreeding. I imagine some native owns him. They tell us that if you pay a native too much he gets a pig and a wife and heads for the bush. If I should ever want to plot the poor pigs downfall I’ll simply give some native a couple of pounds.
I sometimes wonder what the natives think of us. I’ll bet they think we are a bunch of fools. We will fight and work and when it’s all over we will go home and the natives will live on in terms of pigs and a wife or two.
March 31: It is sometimes hard to think of something to tell you. There are lots of things that would be interesting to you, but they might be equally interesting to the enemy and so will have to go untold.
We have had a lot of rain. It is pretty muddy around here. My tent is standing. It is pretty good even if I did have a small stream flowing beneath my cot last night. Even though it rains the weather is still warm and you never mind it even if the clothes are damp.
Remember the Bible you gave me? What a mess that is. The man in charge of the binding must have been drunk. The pages are all mixed up and the books start and end any place. I got a big laugh out of it when I found just how bad it was. I have a Bible here that I bought at the PX for 49 cents.
Ever since I nave been here I have heard the sounds of little hammers. It seemed that every tent I passed had someone hammering away. I wondered what they were doing, but didn’t want to show my ignorance by asking. I found out this morning they are making rings. They take a Florin coin and hammer out a ring. They look pretty nice and I may try my luck at it.
I manage to keep up with the news. The other night I listened to a broadcast from Sidney. They were talking about a certain race and what horse was expected to win. Tell me what horse is the favorite for the Derby this year, that is if you should happen to read it in the paper.