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
c/o G-2 First Island Command
Somewhere in South Pacific
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu T H
Collated by Bill Hillman
The letters are to
daughter Joan Burroughs unless otherwise stated
January 16, 1944
[To 1st Lieut. Michael Pierce, Bel-Air Rangers, Bel-Air, Los Angeles, California.]
As a Ranger, you would have enjoyed being with me the other day when I
visited a jungle training unit. . . . The training is certainly rugged.
The men engage in personal combat without weapons, learning all the dirty
fighting tricks that gangsters, muckers, Apaches (the French kind), and
hoodlums ever devised, to which have been added some super-duper atrocities
heretofore unknown, plus judo. While I was watching one class, the
men were tossing each other all over landscape - and hard. Another
class was being instructed in river crossing under fire. Some of the men,
wearing only their birthday suits, were swimming the river, pushing their
clothing and equipment ahead of them in little boats made of a shelter
half filled with brush. Others were crossing in similar but
larger boats made of truck tarpaulins -about seven men to a boat.
These men were fully clothed and equipped. Others were crossing on a rope
bridge which they had strung across the river between two trees. It was
about ten feet above the water. Another unit built a narrow foot bridge
that floated on the surface. All the time, TNT and dynamite were being
exploded on land and in the water to simulate bombs, shells, and grenades.
Water and mud flew a couple of hundred feet into the air, nearly swamping
the boats or almost knocking the men off the rope bridge, and deluging
the innocent bystanders, of whom I was one. Another unit was learning jungle
infiltration tactics. Two men at a time would sneak down a steep,
muddy jungle trail with fixed bay-onets ready for any emergency.
From behind a tree, a Jap would leap out and swing a mean haymaker at the
leading man. If he ducked in time, O.K. If he didn't,
he got a wallop that sat him down hard. At the bottom of the ravine, a
Jap sniper hid behind a tree. As a soldier bayoneted him, another
Jap swung, down from a tree on the side of the ravine and knocked him sprawling
into the mud. While I was watching, I saw a captain get it - and
how. These Japs were. of course, dummies. But the boys went after
them as though they were the real thing. The jungle is real jungle
- worse than anything I saw in the South Pacific. I was surprised
that we had such jungles here. So the training is most realistic,
and should save many lives by training our men how to meet Jap tactics
in a favorite Jap terrain. There was lots more that I saw, but these that
I have told you and the village fighting were the most interesting.
I hope, Mike, that you will never have
to fight in a war; but I also hope that you will get all the military training
you can and that your generation will insist on compulsory military training
for all young men. If we train our millions and maintain a large
Navy and Army in peace time, no nation will dare make war unless we are
on its side. So there won't be any war - I hope.
February 26, 1944
[To son Jack] It's swell in your declining years to have nice children
- as I so well know. Still, I am not declining everything.
The trouble is, people won't leave me alone. They even drag me out of bed
to contribute to my delinquency.
March 30, 1944
~ "From An Atoll in the Central Pacific"
I'm off again; and, as usual, having a grand time. I left Honolulu
on an LB 30 March 20, remained overnight on Johnston Island, and arrived
at an advanced base on an atoll the following day. Brig. Gen, Landon, Commanding
General of the 7th Array Air Force Bomber Command, took me right into his
quarters; and I have been living with him and Col. Clarence Hegy ever since.
Hully blew in to the same atoll on the 26th.
Landon moved his headquarters the morning
of the 27th, and Hully (now a Captain) was down at the plane with two of
his men, taking pictures. He took one of the general and me by the
general's plane.. . . I flew up to this advanced base with
the general in his plane, a new B-24 (Liberator) heavy bomber. What
Have been on two bombing missions. The
Japs threw ack ack at us both tines, but didn't come near us. I watched
the bombs fall all the way to the targets and saw the bursts. They
were 500 lb bombs. A village and a radio installation took them on
On this atoll, the Japs still stink; and
the day I arrived they dug up a couple while excavating a trench.
It is cool and comfortable here, with a stiff breeze blowing constantly.
A blanket is comfortable at night. There is no malaria, no mosquitoes,
and very few flies; so, little illness.
The other day I flew with the general to
another atoll still farther west, passing over Jap held islands, where
the so-and-sos must be starving to death. They will probably eat
the natives first and then the Korean laborers.
Living with a general is something.
We have a 20 ft square frame and screen house with a canvas roof.
We also have a lavatory in the house. The general has a private shower
in a nearby building, which I use. He had a private Chick Sale on
the other atoll, but here he shares a four holer with other officers.
Landon is a young general - only 37 - but
I am told that he is one of the finest air generals in the array.
His officers and men worship him. He is a West Pointer, extremely
democratic and approachable. His command is tops. I have never
heard an unpleasant word spoken since I have been with it. His bombers
are doing a fine job over all these is-lands all the way to Truk.
April 28, 1944
[To grandson Mike Pierce] For the past five weeks I have been sleeping
on Army cots, usually without a pad or a pillow. And for all that time
I never had hot water for washing or shaving. Those things are not hardships
- they are just discomforts. They are good for a fellow once in a while.
Coming back from Tarawa, I was on a big
four-engine transport plane bringing back some casualties. There was one
extra litter, so I flew home horizontal, which was far more comfortable
than the gosh-awful tin bucket seats. I was at the bottom of a tier of
four litters, with just barely room enough to squeeze out occasionally
and roll on the floor in a most undignified manner before I could stand
I flew about 7,000 miles this time - in
C-47s, C-54s, and B-24s. The B-24s were most uncomfortable, as the wind
blew up around the ball turret and out the tail-gunner's back window. And
it was darned cold at nine and ten thousand feet. I always stand up in
B-24s to keep from freezing to death. Just that little moving around keeps
my blood from congealing. But I'm sure tired by the time we come in. .
. . As a matter of fact, Mike, I hate flying. I have flown about
15,000 miles since the war began, all over water. I am never air-sick,
nor do high altitudes affect me unpleasantly; but I still hate flying.
One phase of flying a B-24 always scares
me stiff. Those in the waist have to go forward when the plane is taking
off. The only place for me to go was the cat-walk through the bomb-bay.
It is about eight inches wide, and the space between the bombs is so narrow
that I have to slither through sideways. It is also dark and cramped and
no place to look out except a tiny crack at the forward end of the bomb-bay
doors. And noisy! Gosh! And rough, too, as the plane gets up speed. You
know they run about a mile during the take-off. And there is the knowledge
that in a crackup, everyone in the bomb-bay is always killed. I used to
watch that crack in the bottom of the front end of the bomb-bay, and I
didn't breathe easily until I saw green water and knew that we were airborne.
I can think of lots of pleasanter places to travel than in a bomb-bay.
[To newborn grandson, Danton Burroughs]: Just
two years ago today your brother arrived when our world did not look too
bright. But you come in on the crest of a victorious wave that is
carrying us and our allies to successful ending of World War II much sooner
than we had expected. If your generation shows more intelligence than past
generations, perhaps there will be no more wars. But that is almost
too much to expect. However, there is a chance. You have been
born into the greatest nation the world has ever known. Keep it great.
Keep it strong. If you do, no country will dare to go to war if we
say no. Put this letter away and read it June 21st 1965. You will
be of age then. See then if the politicians have kept your
country great and strong. If they haven't, do something about it.
If I'm around I'll remind you. Good luck my boy, Your Grandfather, Edgar
August 7, 1944
[To Jane Ralston Burroughs]: I did not say that I didn't like the name
Danton. I think I just asked how come? It is an unusual name;
so naturally I wondered about it. Both Hulbert and I have been wondering
what Jack is doing since his Douglas job folded.
September 6, 1944
[To John Coleman Burroughs]: We were both delighted to hear of
your new connection. It sounds might encouraging for the future.
It also sounds damned interesting and right up your alley. Am glad
that you are working under a nice chap who appreciates your ability.
Harry Cohen, president of Columbia, is an old friend of mine I'd hate like
hell to work for him myself; so I am glad that you went with Universal.
Had a letter from Joan yesterday.
She seems to have been having a wonderful time in Chicago, for which both
Hulbert and I were very glad. She has a lot of good times due her.
Wish that I might see Johnny and Danton
before they grow long white beards. . . . Am glad that you got Johnny a
rocking horse. . . . I know from experience how darned
expensive babies are; so if you need any financial assistance, let me know.
Ralph has written me about Mother's ashes,
and that he has arranged matters satisfactorily. Thank you both very
much for looking after this for me.
I want some one to tell me how the flowering
eucalyptus trees around the tract have fared. Also about the old
walnut trees on my lot behind the office and the other trees I had transplanted
there from the old homestead.
September 16, 1944
[To Jane Ralston Burroughs]: When Jack
Benny was here this week I had him and Larry Adler at lunch at the Outrigger
Canoe Club with some of my friends. The next day we all went as Jack's
guests to see his show at one of the recreation centers here. We
had staff cars and a motorcycle escort of MPs. I rode to and from
with Carole Landis. She is very lovely and very sweet. (Oh, to be
seventy again!) The audience at the show was almost as interesting
as the show - some 18,000 to 20,000 service men. They ribbed Jack,
which is part of every show he gives for them. He is a swell guy
- with no swelled head.
Tomorrow, I am invited to a party at the
Hallidays on the other side of the island. He is John Halliday the
stage and screen actor. On account of rubber and gas I have not seen
much of them lately, as it is quite a trip over the Pali to Kaneohe where
September 23, 1944
I have not been behaving very well lately. Two or three Marines
from Saipan have been making my room their headquarters when they come
in town from the hospital (they are all casualties). They have brought
in half a dozen bottles of Bourbon and a couple of cases of beer, and they
come in and make whoopie. One of them is Capt. Don Jackson, a friend
of Rochelle and Hal Thompson.
Jack writes me that you were expected home
on the 22nd; so I suppose you are back there now. I am glad that
you had such a wonderful time in Chicago. The Allens must be tops.
Old friends are pretty nice.
The Westons are about the only old friends
I have kept in touch with, but I have made a lot of new ones, especially
since the war. I've been making a card index of the people I have
met since December 1942.
September 23, 1944
[To John Coleman Burroughs]: It is amazing what water will do in that
country. The black walnut at the office went both figuratively and
literally nuts when it got a lot of water after we built there. Thanks
for the trees you planted on my lot.
Hulbert has a terrible going home complex.
I think that if he could get home for just a short leave it would fix him
Am glad that Johnny likes his "Fony".
One cannot learn to ride too young. Give him my love, and tell Danton
to take his fingers out of his mouth and try putting his feet in.
That is far more intriguing.
October 13, 1944
[To John Coleman Burroughs]: one hundred and eleven (111) years ago
your Grandfather Burroughs was born in Warren, Massachusetts, October 13
1833. He died thirteen days before you were born.
I just dug out a genealogical datum that
may interest you: The average age at death of eighteen of your ancestors
(and mine) was eighty-one years. The youngest died at sixty-nine,
the oldest at ninety-three.
Now I gotta go back to the hotel and get
into my uniform. I only wear it when I'm likely to go onto a military
reservation; because I am so goddam old that everybody takes me either
for God or a major general and salutes me. It is rabarrassing.
Source: The Danton Burroughs and ERB, Inc. Collection
Copyright 2003 ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
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