From Tarzana, California
Memories from the
. . . AND NOW. . . IN THE VERY WORDS
OF MR. BURROUGHS. . .
Excerpts from the Wartime Letters of
the Oldest Correspondent in the WWII Pacific
Edgar Rice Burroughs
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu T H
Collated by Bill Hillman
The letters are to
daughter Joan Burroughs unless otherwise stated
January 10, 1942
As far as I can gather, I, at least, shall be here for the duration,
as they are making no provisions for the evacuation of able bodied men.
If Hulbert enlists here, he also may be here for the duration.
The work that I am doing here is inconsequential
in the extreme. There already are two other alleged humorists writing for
the same page of the paper. One of us would be one too many.
Furthermore, writing against an editor and a military censor leaves one
practically nothing to say, with an excellent chance that that will be
The civilian morale here has been fine,
but I look for it to crack one of these days if some of the restrictions
placed upon civilian life are not lessened. Coop people up in their
homes from 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. daily, day in and day out, week in and week
out, with the assurance that it will probably be for the duration is going
to play hell with morale. The civilians here have responded splendidly
in the emergency, and they can't understand why they shouldn't now be trusted
as much as Londoners are trusted over there.
This tennis has helped to bring our weights
down. This morning, Hulbert weighed 174 and I 175.
We are well and far from downhearted.
We find a great deal to laugh about. Wish something would happen.
Had four earthquake shocks at 4:45 the other morning, and they helped a
little. Perhaps the Japs will come back and break the monotony.
They'll get a wonderful reception this time if they do.
January 28, 1942
We feel terribly isolated here, in addition to feeling like rats in
a trap! . . . And I doubt very much that I could get home, even if
I tried to; which I am not. I don't want to leave as long as Hulbert is
I have quit writing my silly column and
am going to work with Jack Halliday and others on a radio program for KGMB,
which they hope will prove good enough for the network; so you may hear
the sweet strains of my voice some day when you tune in on CBS. As this
will require much of my time, I cannot conduct a column too. It has been
sort of fun; but bucking a newspaper editor, a military censor, and, apparently,
the WCTU and the Epworth League, and probably the PTA and the advertisers
has rather cramped my well known style. Even a little "damn" was cut out
of one story I told - and the damn was the whole point of the story.
I hope that Jack does not enlist and is
not drafted. Under present circumstances he should not serve. I know that
he will be anxious to, but he should not. With Hulbert it was different:
he has no wife and he isn't going to have a baby - I hope. He makes a swell
looking soldier, and he'll make a swell soldier. You would be very proud
Thanks for the Mainland prices. There is
not much difference between these and the tops set here by the military
governor. Without the military governor, some of these highbinders
here would rob us right and left. In many ways martial law is an
improvement on that furnished by politicians.
Went all through Hickam Field and Wheeler
Field and saw many interesting things. It was a highly instructive
and reassuring trip. The morale is high. ... The highest hope of
officers and men is that the Japs will come back.
Yesterday, Headquarters phoned me that
authorization for a flight in a Flying Fortress had been obtained for me.
. . . hoping my Fortress spots a Jap sub. Wouldn't that be a thrill?
A Pathe Newsreel man dropped in to see
me yesterday. He told me that he and Hulbert are working on a motion
picture of army life, Hulbert having been loaned to him by the Air Force.
. . .he is considered the top photographer of HAF.
Tomorrow I go to the pistol range to try
to qualify with a .45 Colt for a permit to carry a gun - necessary for
all members of the new BMTC.
March 9, 1942
[Letter to Jim Pierce] I think Hollywood gives one a wrong slant on
human nature. There are a lot of damn swell people there, but there
are also more heels to the square inch than any other place I have ever
Am looking forward with keen interest to the success of your venture
in Nogales. When I was there 45 years ago, we didn't have no friends south
of the Rio Grande. I suppose the old place has changed. As I recall
it, it was then an aggregation of saloons separated by an International
You are not such a very long way from where
I once chased Apaches and, fortunately, did not catch up with them.
It was on the Gila near Duncan. I helped load a trainload of
Mexican cattle at Nogalews for Sweetzer & Burroughs of Yale, Idaho.
Lew Sweetzer had gone down into Mexico and bought an entire brand. What
they delivered at Nogales were about the size of jackrabbits; but by that
time Lew was up in Montana, and Harry had to accept what was delivered.
He [Hully] is now a Private First Class,
and should be addressed Pfc Hulbert Burroughs! He was, and is, immensely
popular at the hotel.
I am quite busy. As Public Relations Officer
of BMTC, the guard regiment composed of some 1200 Caucasian citizens, I
write publicity for the local papers. I have a BMTC sergeant photographer
detailed to take pictures for me. I have also been detailed to drill all
regimental recruits - a job I like. I instruct them two afternoons a week
and on Sunday morning on this side of the Island, and this morning my C.C.
phoned me and said that Kailua had asked that I come over there and drill
them Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Kailua is on the Windward side of
Oahu. However, I can't do that if I have to use my own car, on account
of gasoline rationing; but the C.C. said he would try to get me a squad
car - I suppose he meant a police squad car - to drive me over and back.
I like it here; and beside that, I want
to be near Hulbert. There is just enough excitement to keep one keyed up.
If you give up your home in the Valley,
I don't see why Emma doesn't take it; as I understand that she finds the
Bellagio place much too large and consequently an unnecessary burden.
Some day I hope to build me a shack on
the tract at Tarzana. At present my plans consist of a tennis court and
not much else. I try to play several sets a day here.
A story could be written around our hotel.
There are defense workers, G-Men, Army and Navy officers and their wives,
school teachers, business, bankers, and what-have-you.
April 15, 1942
The object of my present affections - BMTC - is commencing to take
splendid shape. I cannot write you the details, as those contain many military
secrets. But I can give you a laugh: I am now a major. I have
been for more than a week, but the inmates of the Niumalu Hotel only learned
of it yesterday evening, with the result that they threw an impromptu party
Hulbert has taken pictures of me, and I
of him in our uniforms. . . . You can just see my correspondents brassard
(green with a red C).
We have had our typhoid and small pox immunization.
. . . I guess the only other shots I am likely to get during my few remaining
years on this interesting planet may be administered by Adolph's little
yellow brothers. I'll have some of the same for them - if I'm
not too damned scared. They say that everyone is scared in a blitz - soldiers
and all. I just hope I don't run and hide under a sofa.
May 1, 1942
I landed here just two years before - on May 1st 1940. I expected
to be here only a few months. Our lives and the lives of the rest
of the 150,000,000 have been completely changed. Mine, certainly,
has been radically changed; and it finds me happy and contented, in good
physical condition, and still with three of the finest children any man
Major Steer, the regular army officer detailed
assist in the training of the BMTC, took me on a reconnaissance tour of
ridge. . . We drove in his command car up a military road to about 1600
feet elevation and then hiked down over a steep and rough terrain of lava
rock, cacti, high lantana, and slippery wet grass, much of the time. I
fell three times and learned that my bones are no more brittle now than
they were a hundred years ago, I fell once across a rock with all my weight
on my lower leg. and nothing broke. Steer fell twice and nearly made
it a third time on the edge of a four foot excavation. Then yesterday the
entire regiment hiked up and down. They didn't all get to the top.
I stopped at about 1400 feet because the spikes of my golf shoes had made
about a dozen sore spots on each foot. They weren't intended for
walking on lava rock. There's life in the old carcass yet.
I am Plans & Training Officer for the
regiment. I have a staff of three BMTC officers - a captain, a 1st
Lieut., and a 2nd Lieut. I plan all regimental exercises and drills.
We are in charge of the target range and responsible for the instruction
of all recruits. This work takes up all of my time. I try to
get in a little tennis every day to keep me physically fit, but many days
I have to miss. I enjoy it all immensely. I feel that I am
doing something, however minor it may be, in the war effort that the nation
is putting forth.
May 20, 1942
Cecile Burnside is the wife of a submarine commander. She hasn't
seen him since October or November. She has had a couple of cables
from him filed at "Sansorigine". The first one had everybody in the
hotel searching atlases to locate Sansorigine. . . . Finally, some one
realized that it was French for "without origin". The location of
his sub is, of course, a military secret.
One meets many interesting people at this
"Crossroads of the Pacific". They make me feel like a life-long shut-in.
Many of the people at the hotel are as familiar with the Orient or Germany
or France as you are with Van Nuys. Now that I might travel, I can't
get off this little island; and , if I could, there is no place to go.
I wonder what life will be like after the
war is over. A city lighted at night will be a strange sight to me,
as will the freedom of the streets after dark. I feel that I shall
always be gasolene and rubber conscious when I drive. I shall wonder
if tomorrow I shall have butter or bacon. If I can buy nails or thumb
tacks or rubber bands. If I can go about without running into barbed
wire or sentries. If I can mention the weather or the name of a ship.
After nearly six months of this life I have become so accustomed to it
that any other will seem strange and unreal. I hope that I
live to see it.
June 12, 1942
A few outstanding thrills come to each of us during a lifetime. An
hour ago I experienced one of my greatest. It was when I ran into Hulbert
on the Niumalu Hotel grounds and saw that he was wearing an officer's overseas
cap and the gold bars of a 2nd Lieutenant. I damn near cried. . . . He
has achieved what nearly all or my life I wanted to achieve. It is just
as though I had won a commission in the army. Only more so. I am prouder
and happier than I ever could have been had it been I.
Hulbert says that every one at the post
is terrifically elated over the Midway victory. Hulbert tried to get permission
to go along on a bomber, but was refused.
You say you get lonesome for Jim. The navy
wife I play tennis with hasn't seen her husband since last October or November,
nor has she had one letter from him. Just a few cables. He commands a sub.
He [Hully] used to be something of a pacifist.
That was a long time ago. Now he would like to go out and shoot Japs before
breakfast every morning. I rather hope that when the war is over he stays
in the army. I think it would be fine for him. . . . It would be an excellent
career for him in which he could enjoy and develop his civilian profession
without financial worries (unless he gets married).
We had some tense days here until our boys
knocked 'em for a loop at Midway. We thought they were headed for Hawaii,
as they may have been. The BMTC stood guard every night. I got off easy
on account of my exalted rank.
June 24, 1942
[Letter from Jack and Jane] I like the name, which proves that I am
not an orthodox grandparent. Not even running true to form as a relative,
all of whom are usually disgusted with any name selected by parents.
John Ralston Burroughs will make a swell monacker for publicity purposes.
Did you read Selznik's article in a recent Satevepost? He attributed
my success largely to my name. On the other hand, Michael Arlen stated
that no first class writer had three names. I never have had any
confidence in starving Armenians since we had one cooking for us.
I saw a new Tarzan picture advertised in
this morning's paper. I think it is called Tarzan Finds a Treasure,
or something. I got down to the first show at 9:30 A.M. and found a line
over a block long on one side of the street and the sidewalk on the other
side jammed with people waiting. Several policemen were on duty regulating
the wild-eyed crowd. So I didn't see the picture.
July 18, 1942
If you don't get anything but weeds, exercise, and fresh air out of
your Victory Garden, you will still be ahead of the game. Then you
can go to the market and buy radishes for half what they cost you to raise
them, but with nothing like the fun and excitement. You will doubtless
recall some of my futile efforts to make Tarzana Ranch self-supporting.
Then there were the Angora goats we inherited from General Otis, that required
two full-time guardians with Winchesters and dogs to protect them from
mountain lions. And after all that and more, they left all their expensive
Angora fleece on the sage brush and chaparral in the hills. And the
pure bred Guernsey cows which gave birth to nothing but bull calves - worth
about $2. But we got exercise, fresh air, fun, and excitement.
If you take out War Risk Insurance, as
you should, you don't stand to lose if your house is bombed. And I should
not be at all surprised if the West Coast got it before the war is over.
The Japs have taken about everything they've gone after except Midway,
and Yamamoto has boasted that he will invade America and make peace in
the White House.
You will enjoy the dude ranch. Especially
the riding. That will be fun. When I was down in that part of the country
forty-five years ago there was a lot of country to ride in, and I presume
there still is. I don't know what else it could be good for.
I still give all my time to BMTC. The five
battalions and the recruits drill three times a week at different locations
comprising an area of some fifteen square miles, not to mention rifle ranges
ten miles apart. I am supposed to cover all of this. In between times I
have enough paper work to keep me fairly busy. I also have to study manuals
to brush up on a lot of stuff I hadn't given a thought for twenty-four
years, as well as to learn the modern training methods.
August 5, 1942
I had lunch and spent all afternoon yesterday with officers of an Anti
Aircraft artillery regiment. Gave a talk to twenty-five or thirty
officers at an officers' school after lunch relative to possible co-ordination
of BMTC and AA units in event of an emergency. The idea was theirs,
not mine. I felt that the BMTC had been highly honored. I met the
commanding AA general and innumerable other officers, and was taken to
some very interesting and one very secret place. Met two negro AA
majors. I saw no distinction shown between white and black.
White officers told me that these men were tops. Two of the interesting
places I was taken were officers quarters where highballs were served.
Sunday, I was guest speaker at a dinner
given by the Schofield Barracks Quarterbacks Club at the Chun Hoon residence.
General Green and I drove over together in his car. The club is composed
of officers and enlisted men interested in athletics. It is run much
along the lines of civilian service clubs, with a lot of hooey and joshing.
Although there were gnerals, colonels, and what not present, there was
no deference to rank. A sergeant was mc, and he kidded brass hats
and non-coms quite impartially. Fortified by numerous highballs,
I got through my speech without being thrown out on my ear.
Saturday, I am to spend the day with a
Lieutenant Colonel and his Tank Group. I shall probably be a hospital
case before night. From what I hear, the sensations are much like
those experienced by a die in a dice box. However, I am looking forward
to the experience.
September 11, 1942
Hully is a lucky boy to get this wonderful assignment. I wish
that I night tell you something about it. Chuck said that it is so
important that they had to send their best man. . . . Fortunately
for Hulbert, his assignments often throw him into immediate contact with
the brass hats.
It was cute of Mike to buy Victory Stamps.
I don't know where he gets that trait. Certainly not from the Burroughs
side. . . . I had a sweet letter from Joanne. She has probably received
my reply by this time. I am delighted that she liked the little lei.
I thought it was cute.
About once a month I go to my doctor for
a sort of check up. I went this morning. I have been suffering
from insomnia. Can't seem to sleep more than eight to ten hours a night.
Last night I slept only eleven hours, with the result that the dining room
was closed when I awoke. Had to go down town for breakfast.
The doctor says he is afraid that I shall live not being able to find anything
wrong with me. I told him that I was worried because I felt so well. I
have no business to feel so well at my age. I think he agreed with
Yesterday, I resigned from the BUTC.
I have been contemplating it for months. I found it increasingly
impossible to work efficiently under my immediate superior. The regimental
commander said that he didn't blame me for feeling the way I do, but that
he wouldn't accept my resignation. . . . Since February I have worked
continuously and conscientiously for BMTC. I have given it a lot of thought
and study and worked long hours. Now, I feel like a schoolboy at
the beginning of long vacation. I think I shall try writing a story.
He [Captain Phil Bird] takes me all
sorts of places to see all sorts of things. With him, I have inspected
many anti-aircraft batteries, had the intricate details of their aiming
and firing explained to me, have fired one, have lunched with colonels,
majors, and captains. I have been shown all over the great Naval
Air Base at Keneohe, inspected a PBY, spent a forenoon on Ford Island (in
Pearl Harbor), been entertained by the officers of a tank company and invited
to drive one whenever I wished. I have been out by day and at night
to watch anti-aircraft firing at a target towed by a plane. I have
had a series of most interesting experiences. . . . Why he wants to drag
an antiquity around with him, I wouldn't know. Perhaps because we
both like to laugh.
October 31, 1942
You have probably heard all about Hulbert's exciting experiences at
Guadalcanal. Sent copies of a Honolulu paper, recounting part of
them, to Jack. The plane he was in was under anti-aircraft
fire from land batteries over Buka and from thirty-eight Jap warships over
Shortland harbor. It had running fights with Zeros, two of them,
with a total of about twenty-five Zeros participating. The
plane was hit with machine guns and one shell which failed to explode,
but remained in the plane. After they got back to Guadalcanal,
they were bombed from the air, shelled by shore batteries, and by Jap warships
all the rest of the day and all night. The latter dropped 14" shells,
among others. They took off the next morning while the shore battery
was shelling the field. Some experience!
I am impatiently awaiting to be sent down
there "somewhere". My correspondent's credentials finally came through
from the War Department. and I am now fully accredited as a United Press
correspondent. The UP bureau chief here has received cabled instructions
from New York to send me out. He is only waiting for a spot to send
me and a place on a plane. If my lifetime experience runs true to
form, the war will be over when I arrive. I always get to a fire
after it is out.
Have been outfitting for the past week
or so. There were many things to get. Fortunately, the correspondent's
uniform is the same as an army officers. Same as I wore as a BMTCer.
So I have plenty.
Things are dull here. I shall be
glad to get away. Playing bridge or poker in a hot, stuffy, blacked
out room filled with cigarette smoke no longer charms me. Had it
not been for Cadmus or the Phoenicians, I should be bored stiff.
Just talked with the UP bureau chief on
the phone. He wants me to go out with him Monday to see Chuck Shelton
and Hully, to decide the best place to send me. It looks as though
I might shove off at last. Perhaps I can bring you back a Jap as
a memento. All my life I have wanted to be a war correspondent - to really
see things first hand and write about them. After all, I am a professional
writer; Not a professional soldier.
Source: The Danton Burroughs and ERB, Inc. Collection
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