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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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

 


Introducing Red Toon

February 1944

On February 8, 1944, Lt. (jg) Joseph B. (Joe) McDevitt received a long-awaited set of personnel orders from the US Navy. An untested boat group commander, McDevitt had helped lead a battalion of sailors and junior officers through the Navy’s Introductory  and Advanced Amphibious Training programs at Little Creek VA and Ft. Pierce FL, respectively. By early 1944 there was a big operation brewing in the Pacific. The Navy needed more ships and amphibious forces; they needed them NOW.

McDevitt’s orders were to proceed immediately with 125 sailors and 15 ensigns to the naval shipyard in New York harbor and to report for duty aboard a brand new attack transport, the USS Leon APA 48.

The Navy’s official file photo below was taken on the day Leon was commissioned, February 15, 1944.

USS Leon Commissioning Day

The first two officers on McDevitt’s roster were his assistant boat group commanders, Ensigns Orville W. Terry and Francis W. (Red) Toon. The Navy soon learned that Terry was a gifted navigator, so he was reassigned full-time as Leon’s Assistant Navigator. Thus when Leon put to sea for Pearl Harbor, Joe and Red began working together to finalize preparations for the island hopping campaign ramping up in the Pacific theater.

They had some amazing experiences in the next few years. They trained aboard Leon and qualified as Deck Officer (Joe) and Assistant Deck Officer (Red). They spent countless hours out on the ocean in small boats (LCVPs) with their men. The goal: To prepare them to put the boots on the beaches—any beach, any time. And they shared a small sea cabin from which they wrote leters home to their wives, Kathleen (McDevitt) and Norma (Toon).

Present Day

Now, let’s scroll forward to today. I recently spent five years researching and writing All Came Home, a story about my Dad’s (Joe McDevitt’s) wartime record. One of my priorities when I finished was to continue my (so-far) unsuccessful search for Red Toon’s family. I had found only one small (group picture) of Red Toon to include in All Came Home, but I always sensed that there were more stories and shared experiences there.

In March 2017 my wife Barb and I discovered that Red’s daughter, Betty Toon Collins (and husband, Frank) were living and practicing law in Jackson MS.  After a two-day visit we returned home with copies of pictures, letters, and documents as well as an oral history that Red had recorded for his family. We have labelled these historical treasures the Toon Family Collection.

We needed some time to research these materials and to relate them to our other sources; that work continues today. But we wish to begin today to introduce you to Red Toon through a series of blog posts  based on our findings. We begin with a favorite picture of Red Toon, one of the many young heroes who served aboard the Leon. From his shoulder boards, we believe this picture was taken late in the war after he earned a prmotion to Lt. (jg).

Red Toon 2

Lt. (jg) Red Toon USNR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we tell Red Toon’s stories in future posts, we hope that you will contact us if some of the pictures and/or stories are familiar!