This letter was written in the summer of 1942 before the Battle of Midway and was written by a U.S. naval flier who served aboard one of the carriers that took part in that battle. After the battle, he wrote no more and is assumed to have lost his life in that engagement. This letter was written to a friend at home and that is all that is known of the author. Since these magnificent words cannot be attributed to any one person, those with ties to any who served the Nation at that time and in that combat area should be able to take comfort and pride that perhaps it was their hero who wrote the letter.
The Letter Home
The fates have been kind to me. In war, where any semblance of pleasure is, to say the least, bad taste, I find many things that please me as I know they would please you. When you hear others saying harsh things about American youth, you will know how wrong they all are. So many times that now they have become commonplace, I've seen incidents that make me know that we were not soft, nor bitter, perhaps stupid at first, but never weak.
Many of my friends are now dead. To a man, each died with a nonchalance that each would have denied was courage but simply called a lack of fear and forgot the triumph. If anything great or good has been born of this war, it should not be valued in the colonies we may win, nor in the pages that historians will attempt to write, but rather in the youth of our country who were never trained for war, and who almost never believed in war, but who have, from some hidden source, brought forth a gallantry which is homespun, it is so real.
I say these things because I know you liked and understood boys, and because I wanted you to know that they have not let you down -- that out here, between the spaceless sea and sky, American' youth has found itself, and given of itself, so that at home a spark may catch, burst into flame, and burn high. If our country takes these sacrifices with indifference, it will be the cruelest ingratitude the world has ever known.
There is much I cannot say which should be said before it is too late. It is my fear that national inertia will cancel the gains won at such a price. You will, I know, do all in your power to help others to keep the faith... Remembering the countless happy hours I spent with all of you has been a constant source of contentment.... My luck can't last much longer. But the flame goes on and only that is important.
The Essence of War
Reprinted in the National News-Letter of Toronto, Canada in the summer of 1942
Ever since the Battle of Midway the writer of this letter, who was so grateful to the fates, has been missing. He is almost certainly lost. Who can doubt that he meant what he said?
There is a happiness to be found in war -- but only in real war. It is a happiness of a strange exalted kind, which cannot easily be found in time of peace, is rarely expressed in words, is never soft. This happiness springs from a sense of mastery -- the mastery of teamwork, of skills, of bodily fatigue arid pain, of fear -- the mastery of one's self under any circumstances. And the fallacy of a phony war, or of a happy war, aside from the obvious fact that they never win victories, lies in the deeper fact that they offer the sense of mastery to no one. Consequently, they must inevitably end in frustration, misery and degradation, such as the peoples of Europe areenduring before our eyes. Seeking to avoid real war, those peoples discovered real hell.
The essence or war is to face whatever there is to face at whatever personal sacrifice. It is a new doctrine to most Americans of our day. It is a hard doctrine for a care free people to learn. But the boys at the front, preaching it in their homely -- and often beautiful words, know that in mastering any challenge, however hard, or however terrifying, the fulfillment transcends the sacrifice every time.
Only on the Internet can you publish an article one day and receive important information pertaining to it on the next. I thank Eileen (moozbah) for her wonderful response and very interesting conclusion to the "Letter Home" story. Eileen has identified the letter writer as Ensign William R. Evans Jr. of Torpedo Squadron 8 of the USS HORNET. This was the squadron identified and shown in the movie "Tora Tora Tora" as the squadron was annihilated while attacking the Japanese in the Midway battle.
Only one pilot survived the attack and he was identified as Ensign Gay. Therefore, Ensign Evans was one of those who was shown as shot down during the attack. The American Dive Bombers arrived just after the American Torpedo Bombers finished their run and therefore had no opposition from the Japanese fighter squadrons that were far below them. This enabled the American bombers to sink three of the Japanese carriers along with another a short time later. The loss of four Japanese carriers was a turning point in the war.
Subject: The real letter, I think, Eileen
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2000 21:30:48 -0400
From: "moozbah" <email@example.com>
To: "ernieh" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I got the author of your letter. In a used book sale I luckily came across: "The Navy Reader", Edited by William Harrison Fetridge Lieutenant USNR with foreword by Admiral John Downs, The Bobbs-Merrill Company 1943, which my own moron city library had discarded. On page 36-7 there is
"Letter from a Navy Pilot " by Ensign William R. Evans Jr. , Torpedo squadron 8, USN USS HORNET April 1942,
I know you know the significance of torpedo squadron 8. ( Your readers might need a reminder.)
His home city was Indianapolis and he went to college at Wesleyan in Connecticut. This is the full text as given in the book:
....the Fates have been kind to me. In a war where any semblance of pleasure is, to say the least, bad taste, I find many (things) that would please you. When you hear others saying harsh things about
American youth, know how wrong they all are. So many times now that it has become commonplace, I've seen incidents that make me know that we are not soft or bitter; perhaps stupid at first, but never weak. The boys who brought nothing but contempt and indifference in college - who showed an
apparent lack of responsibility - carry now the load with a pride no Spartan ever bettered.
Many of my friends are now dead. To a man, each died with a nonchalance that each would have denied was courage. They simply called it lack of fear, and forgot the triumph. If anything great or good is born of this war, it should not be valued in the colonies we may win or in the pages historians will attempt to write, but rather in the youth of our country, who never trained for war, rather almost never believed in war, but who have, from some hidden source, brought forth a gallantry which is homespun it is so real.
I say these things because I know you liked and understood boys, because I wanted you to know that they have not let you down. That out here, between a spaceless sea and sky, American youth has found itself and given itself so that at home the spark may catch, burst into flame and burn high. If the country takes these sacrifices with indifference it will be the cruelest ingratitude the world has ever known.
There is much that I can not say, which should be said before it is too late. It is my fear that national inertia will cancel the gains won at such a price.
You will , I know, do all in your power to help others keep faith - as I know you do - with those few who gave so much.
It was not my intention to wax patriotic or poetic. I hope you will see the sincerity intended. Remembering the countless happy hours spent with all of you has been a constant source of contentment. Thoughts of Connecticut laurel are perhaps incongruous as I become accustomed to the business of death, but they serve as a balance wheel.
My luck can't hold out much longer, but the flame goes on and on - that is important. Please give all my best wishes to all of the family, and may all of you find favor in God's grace."
You can imagine how much I cried when I found this. And I wondered, is this too good to be true? Or did some well intended person invent it? I don't know. I will try to find out. But I quoted it in my book, the sentence about gallantry. By scouring yard sales and book sales I know have 160 WWII books, most bought for a quarter or a dollar.
EIleen McN. USS CONKLIN DE 439.
And thank you again for your service to your country.
PS; Did I tell you I found George Conklin USM's sister? She was so happy somebody remembered her
Eileen McN. Thank you for this information but it does make me wonder why the original publishers of this story, Life Magazine and the National News-Letter of Toronto, Canada, did not have access to this information or did they just think that it made it more interesting to leave the author unidentified. I guess, after some sixty years, it is a little late to ask.
Question asked, question answered... Thanks Eileen
Hi Ernie. Did you forget that there was such a major news blackout in the war, especially in 1942,
and so much was censored? They would never, ever print where somebody was stationed. So
since they identified the Battle of Midway, they couldn't use Evan's name. I am sure that is what
happened. And see my other letter, I found Bill's friend captain Lew Andrews, who still grieves for
And here is a copy of that other letter from Eileen:
I had to forward this, and I hope Captain Andrews doesn't mind. I don't think he will. This is another of those striking coincidences that make me think that the strings are being pulled by the people upstairs, and not by we mortals down below. And I am not kidding.
A few months ago I was profoundly moved by a letter I stumbled across in a used book I bought. That was the letter I sent you yesterday, "From a Navy Pilot" William Evans who gave his life shortly thereafter in the Torpedo Squadron 8. I am sure most of you know the story of Midway, and that very literally if those men of Torpedo Squadron 8 had not given their lives the United States would have lost the war in the Pacific right them and there.
I sent a copy of the letter to Captain Lew Andrews, who wrote that book "Tempest Fire and Foe" that is so wonderful. Captain Andrews was captain on the DE USS Sims. Read his letter below. ( Because you might forward this letter I took his E Mail address out, but write me and I will give it too you. ) xxoooxx Eileen
From Captain Andrews:
Beautiful prose. Thanks.
As you know, I graduated from Connecticut Wesleyan, class of '39. Bob Evans, Squadron Eight, was a classmate and friend. His fraternity was Alpha Delta Phi, next door to my Chi Psi. I was there last week and gazed at days gone by. Everything is still in place. I stared at the bronze plaque listing our war dead. There was Sandy Carhart; his B-17 shot down over China, a friend since grammar school, an only child, how his parents must have wept!
There was Larry Gray, Battle of The Bulge, and others. I wondered what the current youthful occupants thought about it all. Probably not much.
There is a civil war cemetary behind the observatory. There are weeds and unruly grass about, unkempt. An epitaph reads:
Lance Corporal Hiram Jackson
1844 - 1863
We alone recall Dulce et decorum es pro patria mori.