Pt. 11: Last Letter From Ensign Red Toon, Little Creek, Virginia, 1943

The postmark on this envelope is so faded that we cannot determine the date it was mailed. But the letter was written on a Saturday and Sunday, probably some time in October or November of 1943. This is our last letter written by Red before he completed his amphibious training at Little Creek, Virginia. Then on to duty in the Pacific.

Amphibious Training Base

Little Creek, Virginia

Dearest,

Has seemed like Sunday here for some reason. Had inspections this morning and not too much to do all day except stand-by. Scuttle-butt has it that the big papers tomorrow will carry articles about this force and this base. You might look if you get a chance.

Tomorrow a large force of reporters etc. from magazines such as Life are to be on hand along with newsreel photographers to further advertise amphibious. Our Flotilla is supposed to put on some sort of exhibition for them. We got an Excellent on both our Personnel, officers and men, and barracks on this morning’s inspection so our Flot. Comm. Mr. Miller is in great spirits. Have an engineering class tonight & there’s a show on here at the base that I’d like to see. Maybe it can be worked or worked out.

Listen you dope, you know I don’t care how much you spend for clothes, in fact it pleases me to know that you are giving yourself something for yourself.

Sun.

What a day! It’s now about 11 P. M. & I’ve really been on the go for a change. Got up at six with a slight cold and a very sore throat. The press it seems was here in force. Life magazine took pictures in color for some sort of big show & we had to march for them, run the obstacle course (enlisted only) & also run a ship to shore.

At noon we were given the glad tidings that we had finally officially taken over our boats & it was the duty of the engineering department to see that they were ready to go to sea in the morning! It also was the duty of the Duty Officer to see that this was done. I’m the Duty Officer!! What a life. I’ve been running all over everywhere ever since. I had finished checking my boats at about eight tonight & left the docks for my watch here at H – 3 when I received the news that the dock watch was to refuel all  the boats. The dock watch is made up of three officers and twelve men. The twelve men had never had a foot in a boat before. Well to cut a long story short we’ve finally managed to scrape up enough fellows to run the “shuttle” from our pier to the refueling pier, about a half-mile away, so we will get it done – maybe. Am I ever P. O.’d though.

I wondered this afternoon how in the world the engineering officers of the other two groups could get their work done so soon & get out of here…& now tonight I find that a good half of our boats won’t run. I’ve been down on the docks most of the night trying to get them going and finally decided to get another boat & tow them over. At least they’ll be fueled. I expect to be up all night but don’t have to go to sea tomorrow with the rest of the outfit so I can catch up then. There are sure a lot of simple details that make this a sort of a pain, but it’s also kinda exciting and therefore fun.

Isn’t it a beautiful night! I was wondering a while ago if maybe you weren’t somewhere looking at the same moon.

Pay day tomorrow.

Got a letter from H. holen (sp?), he expects to be a private in the Army any day now. He may be at that.

Won’t have room in this for Loratta’s letter so I’ll just have to tease you a little and hang on to it—besides it was addressed to me—three typewritten pages too. She says if that baby isn’t red headed I should do some checking on you. How is she now? How much does she weigh & does she laugh much? Did she laugh or yell the other night when we were talking?

Gee Honey it’s swell to hear you & her. I love you both so very very much.

                                                                                                                          All my love,

                                                                                                                             Warren

                                                                                                                     Dad?? (Loretta says)

This is the second letter in which Red complains about fellow officers who aren’t meeting his expectations. He doesn’t cut them much slack, does he? What is it he told Norma in the previous letter…”A fellow told me today that in some of the other groups the Assistants got quite a lot of liberty. I don’t see how they do it unless they just fail to take care of their job which is I’m afraid what happens too often. That always makes me hot. We’ve got too dam many people that can’t yet realize there’s such a thing as one’s duty to his country and fellow man…”

The buck always stops somewhere, and—on that particular day back in 1943—if the dock crew didn’t know how to refuel the boats, then Engineering Assistant, Duty Officer, and former high school science teacher Red Toon would darn well make sure the boats were refueled, even if he had to stay up all night.

Whose boat group would you choose?


 

 

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Letters From Red Toon (Pt. 10): Becoming A Warrior

Red Toon was finishing up his last days of amphibious training at Little Creek when he wrote this letter; it wasn’t dated but the contents suggest September – October of 1943. He sounds  like a junior officer learning the ropes in a program where the pace and intensity of training were picking up, and with good reason. The war strategy in the Central Pacific envisioned amphibious conquests of a string of Japanese strongholds in the Solomon islands, the Carolines, the Marshalls, the Marianas, and the Palaus. Speed was essential, as were overwhelming force and two new offensive capabilities.

The first capability was the fast attack aircraft carriers (think mobile airfields) that were now available in sufficient numbers to provide their own air defense while decimating virtually any enemy air power. The second was the Navy’s growing amphibious forces, soon capable of landing marines and soldiers in overwhelming numbers…any beach, any time.

Each operation began with relentless air attacks by bombers and fighters from  the carriers against Japanese strongholds with airfields.  When control of the air was achieved, the fleet arrived and amphibious forces landed marines and soldiers in overwhelming numbers. The Japanese fought to the last man, but once they had lost control of the air and surrounding seas they were inevitably overwhelmed. Next construction battalions rebuilt the airfield—even before the fighting was over—for land-based allied aircraft. Finally, those land-based and the sea-based aviators organized for the next attack on a Japanese airfield 300 miles deeper into the Central Pacific.

But the Navy was still short of amphibious ships and forces in 1943. So training at Little Creek and Ft. Pierce, FL, was fast and furious. The fleet was waiting…

Of course, even with all the hard training, there were sometimes other things on those young mens’ minds.

Amphibious Training Base

Little Creek, Virginia

Dearest,

Your voice tonight has made me very restless, all the old longings are very strong tonight. I love you so very, very much. I was afraid you wouldn’t be home tonight, just a sort of feeling & to hear you were & to hear you and Janice too made me feel terribly lucky and terribly important too.

She sounded almost as if she were fussing or was she playing? Either way I got a tremendous kick out of hearing her. Your voice made me better able to sympathize with fellows who get so homesick they go over the hill. I’ve got a touch of the blues tonight, guess hard work will cure it though.

I seem to be a sort of middle man here. I sure see more people “blow their top.” Interesting today to act as a go-between between our Flotilla Commander & the base maintenance staff. I think I told you before that most of the men here who hold down the top training jobs are “Mustangs” i.e. old time chiefs of long periods of service in the navy. They were commissioned full Lt. and placed in charge here in general then formerly a reserve officer was in command of the base. The ensuing friction was largely responsible for the SNAFU here. Well the new boss here seems to satisfy their leathery blustery souls, he’s an Annapolis man of a family that’s been navy for years so things are smoothing out. There is still a lot of swearing at situations and each other. Of late I’m catching it from both ends of the stick.

Flotilla Commander swears at me & tells me to go tell that so & so off over in base maintenance. I listen dutifully enough, go traipse over where I’m sent & deliver my spiel. It invariably causes a storm. The person involved swears quite fluently & viciously at me & ends usually by telling me to go back & tell that _  _ _ where to get off.

It gets a little wearing sometimes but I have to admit some of these fellows here can beat my Dad even & that’s going some. You should hear me go to town when I catch it for something my division officers or men have done. The officers then in turn spread it over pretty thick with the men and the men – well, nearly every barracks has a dog. See why I go to church?

I’m glad Jack likes his watch. As far as I know he won’t have to wind it normally, just the motion of his arm should keep it wound but it can be wound if necessary.

I’m glad you’ve been able to stay at Betty & Jack’s as long as you have. I hope they know how much I appreciated the way they helped us out of our troubles. I get quite a bang out of their liking Janice so much & do think they should definitely do something about a new girl of their own.

I think you are doing the sensible thing regarding the credit due at Boyds. Frankly I’d forgotten it. Please don’t hesitate to spend whatever you please of whatever you have. It certainly won’t do us any good if it isn’t used.

Cold enough to snow here but none has fallen yet. Sure glad this watch is inside & feel sorry for those outside tonight. I have the bad watch tonight 12 – 4, didn’t get to hit the bed till 10 last night & won’t get in till 4:30 then up at 6. Bet I just make one broad trail today.

Oh yes, I seem to have fallen heir to this job of mustering the men & marching them from their barracks area to the field. It seems that when I bark out something like “pick up that step” or eyes off the deck” or “stand steady there” I sound very ornery. In fact I’m known as a very definite hard-nosed son of a _ _ _ so I’m the guy who acts as drill sergeant or whatever. Whoaie what a noise I make!!

When the powers that be say that that’s the kind of leadership they want then that’s what they’ll get. I’m still safe though as I don’t take myself seriously even if the men do.

I received a very nice complement tonight from Mr. Schwartz. He said I was the only man in the outfit who could get away with it & he’s getting so that he jumps when I yell. He told me also that the group had decided I was logical man for the job & there was no griping. Quite a relief to me. I don’t intend to sound conceited above but let me explain that by logical he meant because of age, minding my own business, staying out of petty squabbles, etc.

About liberty I don’t know. So far for our group we’ve had liberty two nights since we got the men & I had work to do both nights. A fellow told me today that in some of the other groups the Assistants got quite a lot of liberty. I don’t see how they do it unless they just fail to take care of their job which is I’m afraid what happens too often. That always makes me hot. We’ve got too many damn people that can’t yet realize there’s such a thing as ones duty to his country & fellow man that’s got to come first then he can take care of his own pleasures. I think people like that are the ones that are dragging this war out & indirectly causing men to die every day.

Honey you and I are in many ways too simple & everyday to realize that there are actually educated people in this world who actually don’t give a damn what happens to their neighbor or his son & yet have a clear conscience & are perfectly care free about shirking their jobs or doing them in a half – _ _ _ manner. Well that’s off my chest. See why I go to church?

Tell Jack the watches still exist, even oftener than before but I don’t have to stand outside down at the docks… & also about the spot promotion. I don’t get the jg as I understand it till I leave Norfolk after having been through Ft. Pierce. You see, we go there and come back here then leave from here. One more thing, an officer never has furlough, he has leave. What a joke!!

Well I certainly have been windy tonight. I love you.

                                                                                                      Your husband

                                                                                                          Warren

 These letters tell us the kind of man young Red Toon was. Recall that as a high school science teacher he was a stern task master who nevertheless respected his students and was himself respected by them. As a junior reserve officer his personal skills showed again at Little Creek where he was the logical choice for drilling young sailors hard; he could get away with it because he respected them. And he also earned the respect of his fellow officers. When he was selected for promotion, there was “No griping.”

We have one last letter from training camp, and then we’ll tell you some stories about Red’s feats in the Pacific.


 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter From A Patriot: Red Toon Letters (Pt. 9)

Nov. 5

Dearest Wife,

I am afraid I haven’t been too good about writing lately but maybe you will find it in your heart to forgive me when you hear my side of the story. Honestly I haven’t had time to write at all & probably won’t have much time for another week. We’ve been going to sea early in the morning and staying all day then attending classes at night. By the time class is over I’d get shot if I turned on a light as everyone sort of falls in bed & dies til reveille.

Being an A. B. G. C. does have some advantages. I won’t have to stand any more watches on the docks. I have three officers in my staff, i.e., Engineering & I don’t know for sure how many men – 36 I hear. Thank God two of my Engineer officers are engineers! I can’t yet figure out how I got the job, I hope the fellows don’t wonder too much too.

I’m glad you got to go to a ball game & I want you to go all you want. Now about the drinking you thought Jack might be making inferences…I’m innocent believe me. I haven’t been “blotto” or whatever you call it since a certain New Year’s night you remember.

We had liberty tonight is the reason I have time to write. I didn’t leave the base, went to a show here—first I’ve seen for quite a while—& am getting ready to go to bed. Guess I’m getting old but I noticed that of the seventeen men in our group that had  liberty seven of us stayed in so I’m not the only one who was somewhat pooped out.

Incidentally I’m not as tired as I might have inferred in a previous letter—I had quite a dream about you the other night.  

Norma, I’m very glad you feel about this business as your last letter showed, it means a lot to me. I’m proud of the part I’m playing in this war & am willing to make any personal sacrifice necessary to help preserve the kind of life we once knew.

That kind of living I want again & believe that the only way to have it is to fight for it. Fighting for it I realize can be done in many ways but I do feel that the way I’m doing it is the way I’d be of the most use. I never did feel that as a “specialist” I would ever know enough to develop enough skill at some one job to rate being considered indispensable & therefore kept away from the battle areas. I do know that thousands of young men have tried to develop themselves along certain lines merely to have something to hide behind but I don’t feel bitter about those  fellows only sorry for them.

Sometimes I will admit the business of strikes etc. sorta gripes me but we can’t all let our feelings get the better of our heads. Pardon me my sermon but I had to “blow it off” to you. Maybe all our troubles will be ironed out some day.

Gee I wish I could see you, I’m kinda lonely tonight. It’s the first time I’ve had time to think in a week. It’s funny about running these boats, they take a lot of concentration especially when we are running at about twenty knots in a column no more than one boat length apart. After an hour or so of that one’s nerves gets a little frazzled. They have no brakes.

Was up about half the night last night getting one repaired. Get all new ones Monday and our crews so my worst days should be over for a while.

                                                                                                             All my love,

                                                                                                                   Warren

I didn’t ask a thing about Janice but please keep writing about her. She’s second only to you. Incidentally, I didn’t even know it was November till today.

[We had to do a little research to clarify Red’s A. B. G. C. rating. It stands for Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (gasoline handler), signifying (we guess) completion of special training for handling gasoline or boat fuel.]

This is a mighty important letter. Red bares his soul to Norma here,  expressing as best he can his motivation and sense of patriotism. I am reluctant to share such private thoughts between a man and his soul mate, but I believe Red Would approve:

“I’m proud of the part I’m playing in this war & am willing to make any personal sacrifice necessary to help preserve the kind of life we once knew…That kind of living I want again & believe that the only way to have it is to fight for it.”

I knew I’d heard another American hero express a similar sentiment. I needed a while to find it…but I did. It is the last two sentences written by E. B. Sledge in his classic, With The Old Breed:

As the troops used to say, “If the country is good enough to live in, it’s good enough to fight for.” With privilege goes responsibility.