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
U. S. S. CAHABA (AO-82)
c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
In Port Somewhere,
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu T H
Collated by Bill Hillman
The letters are to
daughter Joan Burroughs unless otherwise stated
February 5, 1945
After four days of cold rain and high winds, I finally got off late
Friday afternoon, arriving here about 4:30 A.M. (Honolulu time) Saturday,
after bucking a 48 mile an hour head wind for 14 hrs and 14 min. . . .
. A lieutenant met me at the train in S.F. with a staff car and drove
me to the airport, where I was treated wonderfully. Instructions
were given that if there was not a one bed room in the Visiting Officers'
Quarters, I was to have a two bed room alone; so I had privacy. The
Visiting Officers' Mess was excellent.
Friday morning I was processed, getting
another medical examination and vaccination. . . . . and took me to the
plane. He also got me into compartment B, where I had the lower berth.
. . . A couple of good looking flight nurses came up and sat on the
edge of my bunk to smoke. . . . Phil met me with a staff car and
drove me to the Niumalu.
Tomorrow noon, I am going with Floyd (Adams)
to Lum Young's farewell luncheon to his son, who has been inducted. Lum
serves the most wonderful Chinese food you ever tasted.
I keep thinking of the wonderful times
I had back there with all of you. They are very pleasant memories.
February 14, 1945
Phil Ford has been after me for a long time to write my autobiography;
and today, with that in mind, I read my 1934 diary. It was rather tragic,
yet there were many bright spots - the birth of Mike and my visits to the
hospital to see you, and I was surprised to see how many times I saw you
and the boys, and that several times you came to one of my numerous homes.
1934 was the year that Hully and Jack and
I learned to fly, and Hully cracked up, and Jim Granger was killed in a
crack-up. That wrote finis to my flying, but I hadn't remembered that I
had over 30 hours of solo flights or how many fields I had made more or
less decent landings on. But there was not much in it that would make an
autobiography interesting to any one but myself.
Boris Karloff is here and wants to meet
me. Phil is taking Mildred Rathbone, Edith Peterson, General Fielder, and
me (and, of course, Wilma) to see him in Arsenic and Old Lace.
When Ernie Pyle comes back this way, Phil
is going to see that I meet him. I am reading his BRAVE MEN now, the copy
that Joan II gave me. Every day I re-read what she wrote on the fly leaf,
and my heart swells - "To the "best Grampaw in the world."
February 21, 1945
[To Joan, Jack and Ralph]: (Hulbert) and I have accumulated a number
of books since we have been here. Being Burroughses, we hate to part
with books. Also, being Burroughses, we dread the thought of packing
them all up at one time after the duration and six months. So Hulbert
suggested that we mail them back in driblets to Joan and Jack, thinking
that they might like to read some of them and that we should then have
them for our respective libraries when we return.
Book Shipment No. 1: Gem of the Prairie
- an informal history of the Chicago underworld. Interesting. ~ I
Love You I Love You - Bemelmans ~ Invitation to Experiment
- Ira M Freeman Ph D. ~ The Devil's Dictionary - Ambrose Pierce
~ Night Shift - Maritta Wolf ~ Billy Mitchell. Founder of Our Air
February 27, 1945
[To John Coleman Burroughs]: Many Happy Returns
of tomorrow. Under separate cover, I am mailing you a book of sketches
by John Kelly, the outstanding artist of the Islands.
March 3, 1945
Was glad to learn that you are O.K. again. Leavelle was probably quite
right (and playing safe) in diagnosing your trouble as "gingivitis".
We were all shocked at the reported loss
of Genl. Harmon. I met him on New Caledonia, where he was extremely
nice to me. He was a respected and popular officer.
Was glad to know that Joanne is in Van
Nuys High School. It was a very fine school when Hulbert and Jack
went there. . .
March 12, 1945
I am sort of toying with the idea of returning to the mainland and
staying there. As I wrote Ralph, I am just wasting time here.
I have a couple of other very excellent reasons, which I shall lay before
the board of directors if and when I return.
March 24, 1945
[To grandson Mike Pierce]: Most of my Army and Navy and Marine friends
are now scattered all over the world. Pretty soon they will be headed
back here - many of them - when the war in Europe is over and the big push
against Japan is under way. I wish it were all over.
You say you are a bear cub. What
were you before? I'm a little hazy on this Scout business.
You see, neither Hully nor Jack belonged; and there was no such thing when
I was a boy. As a matter of fact, nobody paid much attention to boys
than except to see what they were doing and tell them to stop.
March 29, 1945
[March 19-29]: I have been doing too much partying lately: Outrigger
for lunch. Scotch... beach... highballs... rum drinks... sun bathed...
Outrigger... The Waikiki... dinner... cocktail lounge... highballs... bridge...
highballs... poker... beer... Sun bath... cribbage... cocktail lounge...
bridge... bottle... cocktail party and buffet supper... grand party...
One lady got high... Sounds like Hollywood... entertaining three Navy officers...
serving gin, Bourbon, and champagne... quite a party... Navy officers and
two Niumalu girls... Hully came, bringing a bottle... sun bathed, lunched
at the Outrigger... drove to the the Adamses' Kahala home, where Hully
took pictures for a couple of hours... poker... finished the bottle...
drove Hully to his bus... cribbage... bottle... midnight... dinner with
colonel friend at Trader Vic's... cocktail lounge for highballs... opened
a bottle of PM... to the tennis court looking for trouble, I found
I read an awful lot. Am now trying to wade
through Clauswits on War. Very dull.
April 20, 1945
Thanks so much for the offer of your stock. I don't know what
Ralph will decide about the feasibility of making the transfers as gifts.
He definitely disapproved of sales for tax reasons. I wonder if Americans
will ever again be able to do what they wish with what belongs to them
without being penalized.
Sol Lesser's son. Bud, a Marine Corps captain,
took me out to Camp Catlin for dinner that same evening. He is a
very nice chap. Had invited several other officers to meet me, and after
cocktails and a swell dinner, he ran three training films for us.
It looks now as though I should never get
home - too many obstacles in the way. Also, I shan't live forever.
May 2, 1945
[To son Jack]:Was not surprised to learn that J is running true
to form.. He is a bum and a heel of the first water. If he gets too belligerent,
all the other J would have to do would be to sock him one and he'd yell
uncle. He's yellow.
Hully was in for a little while yesterday,
and we played some cribbage. He does not seem very happy. I wish
that he could get out of the Army. he has been here too long, and
the whole thing is getting on his nerves. It is what is known here
as being Rock happy. Like punch drunk.
You, Hulbert, Ralph seem to be all steamed
up over the fear that I may remarry. I am not planning on it. Should
I ever do so, I shall have the gal sign away all rights in my corporation
stock. What started all this interest in my connubiality? Was it
my friendship for D.D.? I can think of no other reason.
I was amused by your implication that no
woman could marry me except for selfish reasons. While it is not
very flattering, I think I quite agree with you. You see, I have
a set of bathroom scales, a mirror, and a tape measure; and I am also fully
aware of my many shortcomings. But when I see some of the godawful,
funny looking heels that some women really seem to love, I can almost believe
that somewhere in the world there is a woman who might really love me.
. . . there has probably never been more
than one woman in a million who married for purely unselfish reasons.
They may have wanted to escape unpleasant conditions at home or sought
security or feared spinsterhood or wanted babies. There is only one
valid reason why I should ever want to marry again, and that is for companionship
- something I have never really had.
If you are inducted, there is a chance
that we can help you. But if you want us to mind our own damn business,
just say so. You see, we love you a lot; and we'd like to see you
assigned where your talents could make the whole thing less unpleasant
for you as well as permitting you to do something more worth while for
the war effort than just sitting in a fox hole waiting to get your purple
Love to Jane, the two incendiaries (or
is it arsonists)[John and Danton], and yourself, my dear boy. ~
May 10, 1945
[To grandson Mike Pierce]: I suppose that you all celebrated
V-E day back there. About the only thing out of the ordinary that
happened here was that the saloons were all closed for 48 hours.
Only they are not called saloons any more, just cocktail bars, General
A cub scout drowned here last week in a
heroic effort to save a playmate from drowning. The latter, who could
not swim, fell into deep water in a lake; and the cub jumped in after him.
But the other boy got panicky and grabbed the cub around the neck.
So they both drowned. Have you been taught what to do in a case like
that? There may be some more modern way, but we were taught
to clip the savee on the chin and knock him out - even if he were a girl.
I sort of thought that maybe I'd get myself
a well trained German shepard when I got home, because I shall be living
alone. But I guess I won't. It would just be another responsibility,
and if I wanted to travel, I'd have to farm the dog out. If he got
sick, I'd have to nurse him. If he died, I'd feel terribly.
So no dog.
May 27, 1945
I am off again on another adventure. This one bids fair to be
the best of all. It will certainly be the plushest.
This ship is a fleet oiler. It meets
task forces and gives them gas and oil at sea. I am looking forward
to seeing this operation which must be thrilling. Am living and eating
much better than I do at the Niumalu. The Captain installed me in
his quarters - two big rooms, a swell bath, a steward and a mess attendant.
I have been eating with the Captain, but shall go to some of the other
messes occasionally. As usual, everybody is swell to me. Unlike the
merchant tankers, this is an all-Navy ship. It has a complement of
about 21 officers and 250 men, and, thank the Lord, a slew of guns.
It is heavily laden and rides like a Pullman, only much more quietly -
no vibration at all. It rolls constantly, and quite considerably.
Am slowly getting my sea legs, but I still stagger a lot. At night
the motion rocks you to sleep. It is nothing like a destroyer in
that respect, I used to have to hang on tight sometimes to keep from
being rocked out of my bunk in a destroyer.
Yesterday we had fire drill and also fired
at balloons released from the bridge. We have sighted whales and
porpoises and a wooden box. Anything you sight in this empty sea is exciting.
The ship is darkened from sundown to sunrise, but as my quarters are blacked
out I can use the reading light over my bunk. Before I turned in
last night I went up to the bridge to have a look-see. The night
was beautiful - a calm sea, a full moon, the Southern Cross quite high
above the horizon, a soft and balmy wind. Our white wake stretched
out for miles behind us, plainly marking our zig-zagging course, and the
white water from bow to stern boiled silver in the moonlight.
This is a big ship (at least big to me),
I should say that it was as large as a small cruiser. It is kept
scrupulously clean. There is no formality, but the discipline is
fine. The men are in dungarees, and the officers discarded their
neckties and opened their shirts as soon as they came aboard. So
did I. I already hate to think of leaving her, but as she may be
out for a year I shall probably have to. My travel orders permit
me to return at any time on any Navy ship or plane that can take me.
Until after we got under way, I did not
know where the ship was bound for; and the Skipper doesn't know where we
may go from there. Anyway, it looks like a lot of excitement but not very
June 10, 1945
[U. S. S. CAHABA]:We are still
at anchor, nor do we know exactly when we shall pull out of here - maybe
in four or five days. . . . It has all been tremendously interesting, the
only drawback being the damnable tropical heat. It is almost prostrating,
and it affects about everybody the same way. But our next move
will probably be farther north, where it will be cooler. Several days ago
I called on the Atoll Commander and asked permission for some of the ship's
officers and me to visit the island where all the natives have been congregated,
the island being Off Limits for all service personnel. He very kindly gave
the necessary orders, and yesterday morning a Navy tug called for five
of the Cahaba's officers and me. All together, we were a party of about
thirty, including some ten or more Army and Navy nurses.
Each party contributed sandwiches, in addition
to which we took along several cases of beer and plenty of ice. As usual,
it was pretty rough in the lagoon; and as the main deck of the tug was
being swept by nearly every wave, I went up to the flying bridge where
the roll of the ship is far more noticeable - and did she roll! I hung
onto a gun tripod all the way over to the island in order to keep my feet
Arrived off the island, we transferred
to an LCI: but she couldn't get her ramp onto the beach; so I jumped off
in water up to my knees, getting my shoes full of coral sand and ocean.
We went all through the village with a Public Relations Officer explaining
things to us. There were two Navy photographers along, and several of the
party had cameras, including Dr. Wieman; so I should be able to add some
interesting pictures to ny already large collection. We were introduced
to the king, an infantile paralysis victim who is pushed around in a two
wheel cart, and he shook hands with each of us. There are about 250 natives
in the village. They are Micronesians. They were very friendly and seemed
quite happy to have us stare at and photograph them.
The married women wear a sort of lava lava
around their hips, all other females wear a type of grass skirt that was
entirely new to me. Not being a dress maker, I can't describe it. The men
were the first aborigines I had ever seen who wore nothing but a very sketchy
G-string. The older men were all tattooed. Most of then had designs covering
their entire torsos, arms, and legs. If they had a mad on, those old fellows
could have looked mighty ferocious; but they were all smiling. And did
they love to he photographed. I was going to be photographed with one of
them; so I called in a nurse from Los Angeles whom Dr. Wieman knew, and
she was photographed between her two boy friends.
We had a swell picnic lunch in the village;
then I hunted along the beach for shells. I have never seen such a dearth
of shells on any South Pacific beach, and managed to get only a couple
of inferior ones. Returning to the LCI I took off my shoes and sox this
time, but I still got my pants wet. The return trip was even rougher than
the other. I stood up again all the way - nearly an hour - and was I tired!
The Port Director and the PRO invited us all to come to a dance on another
island, which would have meant two long trips in a motor launch in rough
water, I begged off, but I am afraid that I shall have to do it later on.
Trips on this lagoon in small boats give one a terrific beating, but getting
on and off the damned things is hell for me, I am so clumsy, I practically
take my life in my hands every time I transfer from one bobbing, rolling
thing to another bobbing and rolling in the opposite direction.
But I'm having fun.
Was just called to the starboard boat deck
to be photographed with the Bos'n and two carpenters mates and a chair.
The Bos'n designed and the two mates, built the chair and presented it
to me the other day. Everybody on the ship is swell to me.
Every one has a smile. The Captain has been good enough to say that my
presence aboard has done much for the morale of the crew. I hope so. There
is not much else I could do for them.
The eight Chiefs had me down in their wardroom
for supper Friday. Filet of beef, avocado salad, french fried potatoes,
ice cream and cake. The Chiefs are the highest ranking enlisted men - the
"backbone of the Navy". We live better way out here than a lot of people
do in the States - and with no ration coupons. In the midst of this letter
I had a session of bridge with three officers. Being a correspondent is
June 23, 1945
[U. S. S. CAHABA]: We are pulling out for our former port this afternoon.
. . . Have visited one of the islands of the group among which we are anchored.
The first time I went to the officers' recreation area with a Navy captain.
. . . we cavorted to the Army landing on the island - about three miles
from the Cahaba. The Colonel met us in his jeep and showed us around. He
drove us to two Jap towns where the mayors entertained us with tea and
cakes while I talked with then through our interpreter, an AJA from Honolulu.
Between the two towns we went beyond our
lines and into enemy country, where I had the distinction of being fired
at by a Jap sniper - a lousy shot. Then, on our return to my ship, which
had changed its station and had to be hunted for, a Jap suicide plane came
over us. Ships around us were firing at it. I saw it drop a bomb on a large
ship and then crash dive into another. It hit the first ship and set it
afire. There must have been many casualties. The second ship shot it down
at the last second.
We were called to battle stations several
more times that night, but as I couldn't see anything because of the smoke
screen that was laid down, I took my bunk as my battle station and went
to bed. It must have been a big night in this area, as we are reported
to have shot down thirty-seven enemy planes. It was quite an interesting
day for OB.
July 2, 1945
[A Harbor]: We sail again tomorrow morning, and may be gone several
weeks. The Captain thinks about three, but it may be longer. Then
we return here, when I shall leave for Honolulu.
July 14, 1945
Through the good offices of the Public Information Officer it was arranged
that I leave by plane at one o'clock. But this necessitated my getting
back to my ship immediately to pack my gear and get to the island where
the air strip is located in nothing flat or less.
The LCVP stood by until I packed my gear,
and then started off this island where I now am. It was then noon and I
was supposed to be here before 1:00. I asked the coxswain how long
it would take to make the trip, and he said from an hour to an hour and
a half. I told him I had bo be here before 1:00; so he opened the throttle.
If you have never been on an LCVP cruising
at full speed - don't. The other member of the crew and I sat on life jackets
under a tarpaulin forward. That part of the ocean that was not beneath
us came over on top of us, but we made it in 35 minutes! And then I learned
that my plane had been cancelled; so here I am, and for how long I do not
know. But everyone has certainly made it very pleasant for me.
The Commanding Officer of this Marine Air Base gave up
(damn!) practically the entire afternoon for me, drove me around the island,
showing me the very interesting set-up. I was located in the Biltmore in
FLYSPECK HOTEL. The Biltmore is a tent. FLYSPECK HOTEL is a large group
of tents - Officer Country. At 4:30 I foregathered in the Officers' Club
with three young ensigns whom we had taken aboard our ship farther north.
They are on their way to the States for flight training. We discussed Bourbon
highballs until nearly 6:00 - Bourbon highballs, and darned good ones,
at 10 cents each!
At 6:00 I went to the quarters of the Commanding
Officer of the MARINE AIR GROUP that is stationed here. Several other officers
were there and some more highballs. Then to the Officers' Mess for chow,
after which we returned to the Colonel's quarters, where a padre told us
about the natives of this atoll until around 10:00 P.M. It was extremely
interesting. Instead of returning to the Biltmore I was put up for the
night in the Colonel's Guest House - a 20x20 tent with a plank deck and
an electric light. The Colonel brought me a large thermos full of drinking
water and a tin hat for a wash basin. Wherever I go people are nice to
me, but no one has ever been any nicer than these Marines. This morning
the Colonel got me a typewriter and stationery, and I am writing now in
I may get a plane out today, and I may
not. It will take me to an island I have never visited; and even if I can
get immediate transportation to Pearl, I expect to remain over for at least
one day in order to see something of the island. It would be stupid not
August 15, 1945
[To grandson Mike Pierce from 1298 Kapiolani Boulevard]: I had
just finished reading letters from you and Jack yesterday and was writing
Jack when the air raid sirens announced the end of the war at 1:45 P.M.(HWT).
It was wonderful.
Hully is still waiting for his ship to
sail. He may have to wait a long time, or it might sail any day.
He will be glad to get home and I know that you will be glad to see him.
I do not know what I am going to do. If I were certain that I could
rent an apartment around Beverly Hills or Westwood, I'd come home right
away. But the chances are that I shall stay here until there is some
likelihood of my being able to build at Tarzana.
September 23, 1945
As I wrote Ralph today. I had a heart attack recently which will probably
keep me in bed for some tine. I am improving rapidly and in no danger.
Marian phoned today that she is leaving on the Matsonia tomorrow. I am
sure that you will like her as she is a sweet girl. Through Phil's courtesy,
Pfc Donard Hawks is taking dictation, as the doctor will not let me exert
myself in any way.
October 23, 1945
You ask how much I want to pay for a place. All I can afford. Ask Ralph
how much that is. He probably knows better then I do, but I'd go pretty
high for a nice place to live, having no wives to support.
Just this minute had a radiogram saying
that Jack would meet me in SF. That is good. Only a few more days!
I am sure that none of you can imagine how much I want to be with you.
So the Major and the Mrs. are not back
yet! What a honeymoon! They must be having a wonderful time,
Hulbert deserves one. He is a grand guy. When his eight hundred smackers
are gone, he'll come home and be just what he has been calling me: "A goddam
civilian." I hope that Marian, being a non-drinker, will have a beneficial
influence on Hulbert, the souse. I am sure that you will love
her, even on Coca Cola.
The Army has kept me fed for weeks. This
is my 57th day confined to my room, and most of the time in bed. Every
one is wonderful to me. You would love them all. Mildred Rathbone, whose
car I bought and never have driven has done all my errands for me.
I show his (Mike) picture to everybody
and brag about him and Johnny and Danny just as though I had had something
to do about it. If I wanted fame, all I'd have to do would have been
to show my three grandsons and my glamorous Joan II to the goggle eyed
November 29, 1945
[To Mrs. Charles Westendarp]: Hulbert and Marion are getting into their
house Saturday and I am almost settled in mine, but can't really get to
housekeeping until the contractor finishes building servants' quarters
for me. We each have a nice little place here in the Valley. Mine is only
perhaps a mile-and-a-half from the office, and Hulbert's is quite close
to Joan. As Jack lives at Tarzana, we are all quite close to one another
but far enough away so that we can't fight too much.
Source: The Danton Burroughs ~ John
Coleman Burroughs ~ ERB, Inc. Archives
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