Red Toon (Pt. 5): Letters Home

Red Toon went to war in the Pacific as Assistant Boat Group Commander aboard the attack transport USS Leon APA 48. Together he and Boat Group Commander Joe McDevitt would lead their division of 140 sailors and officers through five amphibious assaults…and then they all came home.

The book All Came Home tells the story of Joe McDevitt and the crew of the Leon based on letters Joe wrote home. This blog post is the fifth installment of Red’s story. He wrote the letter below to his wife Norma as he trained with the Navy’s amphibious forces in 1943 prior to reporting for duty aboard the Leon in February 1944.

Amphibious Training Base

Little Creek, Virginia

Dearest,

I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to hear from my family. I received a very nice letter last night though & am much surprised at the way Janice is growing. Do babies usually gain that fast? Did that walk hurt you? We’ve really been SNAFU here this week. The organization here isn’t too good & sometimes ones sense of humor gets some pretty severe jolts.

The first thing I noticed was in our huts. I told you about the three moves. Well after we got all settled they decided to paint the place and simply tore everything to pieces three days in succession. We had quite a time finding our things after. We never know when we muster in the mornings what we’re going to do that day & will have our orders for the day changed two or three times before we start on anything. So far the work hasn’t been too hard but moving has been sort of tiring. We wonder if they are actually trying to teach us something or if they are just giving us busy work.

Our instructor is really a “swell egg” a chief Warrant Bosun, been in the navy for years. He has an enthusiasm for this work that is catching.

His favorite method of teaching is to get us in the boats & get us out on the water & it’s very effective. You can’t believe how some of these boats will toss around! They only draw about a foot of water & when the waves are running 8 ft. high or so we really get a ride. If you can imagine going up & down 8 ft. and going forward at the same time about 8 – 10 M.P.H. you get the idea. These boats will run right up on the beach & need only a few inches of water in order to move. They actually dig their way through sand bars. Be pretty good to run up & down the Sangamon in.

We go out at night and run all over the bay without lights etc. then try to find our way home. The boat I’m running now is 36′ long & is powered by a 250 H.P. Diesel. Lots of power and noise.

Today we’re being examined by the medical board to check for mental and physical fitness for this work. We just finished a very personal questionnaire, wanted to know how old we were when we first practiced masturbation, how old for first sexual intercourse, how old when you quit wetting the bed among others. We’ve been doing a lot of ribbing of each other about this.

Well its about time for my examination so will send this on.

Can your “ailment” be explained in a letter? I’ll destroy the letter.

What about color of eyes and hair? You still haven’t told me.

I told you our daughter had too good a judgment to take any of that old formula & I knew she wouldn’t have to.

                                                                                                  All my love

                                                                                                          Warren

That 36′ landing craft Red was training on was an LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel). Red’s ship, the Leon, would carry 24 LCVPs and two LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanical) which were 50′ landing craft.

A crew of four sailors could carry thirty-six marines/soldiers in an LCVP or more in an LCM (See below; click to enlarge.) Alternatively, the LCM could carry a medium Sherman tank plus soldiers. In either case, these were welcome reinforcements to men tied down on the beaches by enemy machine gun nests.

tarawa-debarkation

LCM loaded with assault troops

loaded-tank-angaur

Leon debarking tank and soldiers at Angaur

 


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Red Toon (Pt. 4): Letters Home

Amphibious Training Base

Little Creek, Virginia

July 1943

Dearest

Sunday P. M. here & still a madhouse. We are still in the process of getting settled. I’ve been “settled” three times so far & ended up right back where I started. As I told you we’re in Quonset huts, 16 to a hut. There is no place to put anything & its awfully dirty otherwise everything is fine. I’ve been reading the book off and on. Its good but “modern” I believe is the word that is used. Went out on a boat yesterday, only a 38 footer & it tossed around quite a lot. We all took turns running it & practiced some landings. We’ve a lot to learn. I went to a show here last night saw “China” it was pretty good. They have a very nice theater here.

Do you remember me talking about Schmidtt? Hard luck we call him. He among others is at N.O.B. Some of the fellows were over  there last night & said that these fellows there went out on a Destroyer yesterday & Schmidtt got caught between a railing and a gun when a turret started to swing was knocked off & fell to the deck below. Result one broken arm and three broken ribs. No damage to the destroyer.

How is Janice? Can you tell yet for sure about the color of her eyes and hair. What schedule is she on & does she still sleep all night.

It’s funny how hard it is to write a letter here. People are continuously running in & out & the floorboard bounces up & down like a boat. This might explain why my writing is so illegible.

I saw a plane crack up Fri P.M. here, wasn’t pretty to watch carried five men down with it. That same afternoon a plane towing a target had the tow cable part when the target hit a tree & the cable whipped around and knocked a hole in one of the huts two removed from mine. No one hurt this time.

Well its about muster time again hope I hear from you soon.

                                                                                           All my love

                                                                                                     Warren

Mail call was mighty important to these men. This letter reminded me of my Dad’s letters when Warren mentions the absence of mail from home. Whenever the men were transferred to a new posting, rerouting of mail from the old to the new destination was SLOW. It would become worse, of course, when they put to sea. Sailors aboard ship frequently complained about receiving no mail for weeks at a time and then receiving 15 letters in a mail sack when it finally caught up with them.

About the time Red wrote this letter, a Japanese submarine in the Pacific sunk the Australian hospital ship CENTAUR resulting in 299 dead. Shortly thereafter the U.S. began submarine warfare against Japanese shipping.


The History Place World war Two in the Pacific (http://www.history place.com/unitedstates/pacificwar/timeline.htm

Red Toon (Pt. 3): Red Enlists in Navy’s College Graduates’ Officers Training Program

After resigning from the Army’s radar training program (Pt. 1), Red did his homework. He learned about the Navy’s V-7, College Graduates’ Naval Reserve Officers Training Program. It was designed to prepare large numbers of junior deck officers for action with the rapidly growing Pacific Fleet. Perhaps Red saw the poster below, which was widely posted at recruiting sites nationwide.

College Graduates'Naval Reserve Officers Training Program

McClelland Barclay, National History and Heritage Command

 

Red reported for duty in early 1943 at Cornell University in Ithaca New York. After 90 days he graduated a proverbial “Ninety Day Wonder.”  Next he reported to the introductory amphibious training program at Little Creek VA and later to the advanced training program at Ft. Pierce FL. Those programs were focused, deadly-serious efforts to make warriors of Red Toon, high school science teacher from Pleasant Plains IL,  and all his buddies. When he finally went to sea in March, 1944, he was Assistant Boat Group Commander under one Joseph B. McDevitt.

I believe the best way to understand the training those men received is to read letters they wrote home. Fortunately the Toon collection has a set of those letters. We have selected and will share a few of them here. They are especially informative, though we feel a bit intrusive reading Red’s correspondence with Norma Kathleen, the sweetheart of his life. But the letters tell us about the kind of man he was and about the work that young amphibians put in before going to war.

Early 1943 Ithaca NY

Mom

I hardly know how and what to write to my sweetheart. I got the telegram last night about eleven o’clock & I could hardly sleep all night. I know I didn’t drop off to sleep until nearly time to get up this morning. In spite of that I walked on air all day & am not tired yet. I had quite a time last night after I got the telegram, most of the fellows were in bed but I woke everyone on the deck & we really raised the roof here until about twelve. You would really be surprised to know how interested everyone here was in the great event!

Several fellows here have babies of their own well part theirs anyway & I wish I could remember all the advice and tales I heard last night. Needless to say I’ve been “Pop” Toon ever since. I like it. Have sure taken a lot of kidding about the big grin I’ve been carrying all day. Even the instructors noticed it!

Had two exams today, weren’t bad at all, have two tomorrow. I started packing up today.

The funniest thing I’ve seen happen around here was pulled this morning at first formation at six o’clock. The company commander had called us all to attention & was receiving reports from the section. The section leader in each case steps forward & says “Section ___ is formed, Sir” as he salutes. The last section had just reported & Ensign “Happy” Azaragian stepped forward saluted very smartly & said “There’s been a new addition to the Toon clan Sir.” Everyone froze for a minute then roared with laughter & “hurrahs”. The O.O.W. smiled and let it go. A month ago we’d all have landed in the guardhouse. You just don’t laugh while in formation at attention.

Everyone here is quite pleased with the name though I’ll admit most of the favor is for Kathleen & when I told them that was her mother’s name also they are doubly pleased. The Irish definitely have the upper hand here.

I know this sounds silly but they really are a swell bunch of guys and are serious I know in what they say.

Janice Kathleen must be a pretty big girl! Aren’t you awfully proud of yourself?

There are of course a million questions I’d like to ask you but you couldn’t answer them now & we’ll have time to talk this over soon.

                                                                                                 All My Love

                                                                                                           Warren

After my first reading of this letter, I was struck with the clear respect the men in his unit displayed for Red. If the Navy was looking for leaders, they’d found one in Ithaca NY.

Not long after writing this letter, Red realized his dream. He graduated from the College Graduates’ Naval Reserve Officers Training Program and was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve. We believe he received a short leave and travelled home to see his wife and first child, Janice Kathleen Toon.

Next stop: Little Creek VA.


Toon Family Collection

Naval History and Heritage Command