Ripples Through the Generations

            It is now seventy-two years after the accident in the whale boat, three times the span of Lester’s short life. What happened to the folks during those ensuing decades?

            Shortly after World War II had ended, the family received medals Lester had been awarded posthumously for his dedicated service. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore a decade had passed, Frances and Gloyd were blessed with a boy and a girl. the first children of the next generation. Born just three years after Lester’s death, Frances named her son David Lester in honor of her brother.

            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn that first decade, Lester’s father Charley died of heart disease. “He took Lester’s death hard,” Wallace told us, “and never got over it.” Wallace was convinced the accident in Narragansett Bay was a contributing factor in his father’s death.

            Sometime in that first decade, Josephine met and eventually married another man. The home wedding was attended by well-wishing members of Lester’s family, and officiated by his aunt Mabel, the first woman in Kansas to be an ordained pastor of the Methodist Church. Though Lester’s mother kept in touch with Josephine for many years, they eventually lost contact.

Josephine's wedding. Lester's aunt Mabel officiated.
Josephine’s wedding. Lester’s aunt Mabel officiated.

            Before ten years had passed, Wallace, a high school senior in 1942, had gone to college, met and married the woman who would be his faithful partner for fifty-three years, Helen Peterson.

The wedding of Wallace and Helen. The two youngest children belong to Frances and Gloyd.
The wedding of Wallace and Helen. The two youngest children belong to Frances and Gloyd.

            In the second decade beyond Lester’s death, Wallace and Helen welcomed three daughters to the family.

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            In that second decade, Lester’s sister Frances met him at the pearly gates, a victim of cancer. She left her school-age children in Gloyd’s care. Her son David, Lester’s only nephew, enlisted in the US Navy upon his graduation. He began an involvement with the navy that continued through the rest of his life, with active duty and the naval reserves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA            Lester’s mother Georgia persevered with a broken heart. Though she had lost much in a few short years, she devoted herself to her remaining children, and then her grandchildren. She was a trusted and beloved friend to many people. After Charley’s death, she managed the farm with astute business sense. She rarely spoke of Lester, but he was never far from her thoughts. His portrait hung on her living room wall for decades after she moved the farm house to town. She guarded her memories, stored the photos and other memorabilia in the attic, and mourned privately.

            Still there were times when she mentioned her son, and alluded to his sunny personality, always with a tenderness in her voice, and a reverence that spoke volumes about the depth of her love and her loss. I recall waking in the middle of the night during a visit to her house to hear her sobbing alone in the darkness of her own bedroom. She died fifty years after Lester, in her 99th year, to finally join those who had preceded her.

            Perhaps young Paul suffered as much as anyone from his brother’s tragic death. Only seven years old at the time, Paul grew up in a house shadowed by grief. His father was never the same. His mother carried on the best she could. But her heart was wounded. Maybe Paul never even remembered, in the end, what life had been like before Lester’s death. He grew up, left home, attended college for a while, and spent most of his life alone, bouncing between jobs in the kitchens of various Kansas City restaurants. He died alone and nearly penniless at the age of seventy.

            Lester became a legend in the family. Life moved on. He was gone, but not forgotten.

            That brings me to the point of this whole project with the letters from 1942. Lester Franklin Harris was a good man. Through his twenty-four years of life, and his sudden, unexpected death, he impacted the world around him. Like pebbles tossed into a still pond, the ripples started during his life continue to spread outward, undulating through generations of people who weren’t even alive when Lester left this world.

            If he were still alive today, my uncle Lester would be 96. My cousins, sisters and I would have grown up to know the good-natured generous soul others loved, but we never had that opportunity. We knew him only through the occasional story, a fond remembrance or gifts shared once in a while.

            When I was establishing my piano repair shop, my father  (Lester’s brother Wallace) gave me a portable shop vise. In a voice filled with reverence and love, he explained, “This belonged to Lester. I want you to have it.” Lester’s vise has assisted me with numerous projects over the years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            In the late summer of 2013, my cousin David Lester Pickett passed away at the age of 68. At the family dinner following his service, his widow handed me a small new testament, covered in a zippered canvas case. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt had been a gift to Lester when he enlisted in the US Navy. In my imagination, I saw our grandmother passing this booklet to David when he entered the navy, with the same sense of reverence and honor that my father displayed with he passed the vise to me.

            Over the years, the fresh wounds that jolted the hearts of my family in 1942 had two effects. Either they contributed to a sad life and an early grave, or the wounds healed. Scars would never disappear, for Lester would never be forgotten. His mother and his siblings had to learn how to carry those scars like badges earned in the storms of life.

Lester's flag.
Lester’s flag.

My grandmother learned how to laugh again. My favorite memory of her is her belly-busting, whole-hearted laughter. But she never forgot Lester. She kept his letters, the flag which accompanied him home, a box full of cards and notes, two memory books from the funerals, the medals, a photo album and a few personal items. Upon her death, the memory box passed to Wallace. Upon his death, it passed to me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUntil 2010 I had no idea the letters existed. But when I read the words written in his own polished penmanship, Lester has come alive for me after seven decades.

            None of her grandchildren knew our beloved Grandma Georgia before her heart was scarred with grief. I wonder what we missed. What was she like before? Who would she have been if Lester had lived?

            The love my family felt for him and their grief at his loss crossed generations to impact those of us who never knew him. That experience in 1942 led them to support me with compassion and empathy when I struggled with a series of losses four decades later. That, in the end, is the greatest honor we can give to those whom we have loved and lost: to use the pain, and the healing, to assist others when they face their own storms in life. None are immune to grief. When you love somebody, you risk the pain of loss. If we can honor those memories with compassion to others, then the world will be better for it.

            Ripples from Lester’s life continue to spread towards the horizon in every direction. He was a good man, and the world is a better place because he lived.

Lester Franklin Harris
Lester Franklin Harris

(Lester’s World War II memorabilia will be displayed in the Dunlap, Kansas historical museum housed in the former Dunlap Methodist Church.)

Western Union Telegrams, December 1942

The day was drawing to a close on December 4. Chores were nearly done when a lone vehicle approached the farm home of Lester’s family. The driver bore a telegram for CF Harris from Arlington, Va.

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The Navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your son Lester Frank Harris fireman first class US Naval reserve is missing following the capsizing of a motor whale boat in Narragansett Bay on December second. If remains are recovered you will be notified and every effort will be made to conform to your wishes regarding disposition. Further details probably will be communicated to you by his commanding officer. Sincere sympathy extended to you in your great sorrow.             

     Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel

Even without today’s social media, news of the family’s unfolding sorrow spread like wildfire in the close-knit farming community. Hardly a soul remained who hadn’t heard the news when a second telegram arrived on December 10, the birthday of Lester’s sister Frances.

330 pm 10

Supplementing our dispatch of Dec 4 1942 The bureau of Naval personnel  has been informed that your son Lester Frank Harris fireman first class USNR previously reported as missing lost his life in line of duty as result of submersion when a motor whale boat capsized December second. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecovery of remains is not probable. Further details will be sent you by his commanding officer. Sincere sympathy extended to you in your great loss

                 Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of naval personnel

Refusing to believe the news could possibly be true, the folks carried on, rising each day with the hope that Lester would contact them and all would be well. Lester’s brother Wallace, then seventeen years old, recalled decades later, “When we were notified of the accident and his probable death I could not believe that it had really happened. I kept thinking, ‘This is not real. I must be dreaming. When I awaken I’ll find it’s a dream and that Lester is really alive.’ Eventually, I came to accept the fact that it was no dream; that we had been separated, completely and irrevocably by death.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn an effort to learn what had actually happened, Lester’s mother carried on a furious correspondence with his buddies Harry Haring and Joseph Feingold. Haring dissuaded her from trekking to Newport, assuring her there was little she could do that wasn’t already being done. He wrote, “No, Mrs. Harris, I’m sure that there is nothing to be gained in coming to Newport. It’s cruel I know but it’s hopeless. A body will rise after the third day and then if not recovered it again sinks. I’m afraid the sea will not give up her bodies until the final day. For a man of the sea, Mrs. Harris, there is no finer resting place than the sea when the man sails.”

By the end of December, Lester’s personal effects had been shipped home. Included in the shipment were several sets of his navy uniforms both white and blue; bedding; towels; a sewing kit; a shaving kit; a shoe kit; two bundles of books; a slide rule; a gauge; miscellaneous letters and stationery; and “one unopened package addressed to Mr. Harris.” He had never opened the Christmas package sent by his sister.

That Christmas surely was a difficult time for the family. On January 3, 1943, one month after the ill-fated accident, Lester’s family and friends gathered for a memorial service. It was to be the first of two funerals for him. Over the weeks and months after the accident, several of the sailors’ bodies were discovered and identified. In July 1943, seven months later, a body was found and determined to be that of Lester. The presence of Lester’s personal billfold with a water-stained photo of Josephine aided the final identification of his remains.

Another set of telegrams brought the final news, this time to Mr. and Mrs. C F Harris.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA959 am July 17 1943

Supplementing our dispatch of December tenth 1942 the bureau of personnel has been informed that the remains of your son Lester Franklin Harris fireman first class US Naval reserve have been recovered. Please telegram collect to the Bureau of Medicine and surgery Navy Department Washington DC whether or not you desire to have remains sent home or interred in any National or Naval Cemetery you may select without cost to you. If sent home all expenses of preparation encasement and transportation will be prepaid to destination and reasonable necessary expenses not to exceed fifty dollars will be allowed towards funeral expenses subject to reimbursement by the bureau of medicine and surgery navy department. If the body is sent home please advise whether or not you desire an escort to accompany the body. The department extends its sincerest sympathy to you in your great sorrow.

                     Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs Chief of Naval Personnel

His parents must have responded immediately, as requested. Of course they wanted him to come home. Another telegram arrived the following day.

1943 Jul 18 P M 4 39OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

=URTEL SEVENTEENTH NAVAL HOSPITAL NEWPORT RHODE ISLAND DIRECTED FORWARD REMAINS YOUR SON LESTER FRANKLIN HARRIS CONSIGNED TO YOU AT DUNLAP ACCOMPANIED BY NAVAL ESCORT WITH TELEGRAPHIC NOTIFICATION GIVING DATE ROUTE AND SCHEDULED TIME ARRIVAL HOSPITAL ALSO REQUESTED HAVE JOSEPH FEINGOLD ACT AS ESCORT IF PRACTICABLE LETTER FOLLOWS.

=BUREAU OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY NAVY DEPARTMENT.

                                                                 

Though no confirmation of Joseph Feingold’s attendance is among the existing memorabilia, it’s nice to think that Lester’s last journey was accompanied by his good friend. He had come home at last.

This photo is labeled "Lester's Navy Friend." He is not identified by name, but this is likely to be either Haring or Feingold.
This photo is labeled “Lester’s Navy Friend.” He is not identified by name, but perhaps this is Joseph Feingold who may have escorted Lester home in 1943.

The family and friends gathered again for a second funeral on July 24. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis one completed the solemnity, for there was no hope remaining that Lester might one day return to favor all with his friendly smile and warm hugs. He was gone.

I wonder if anyone read from his high school salutatorian address during the service. He spoke these words before his classmates at their graduation ceremony:

“When a ship starts on a voyage, it is loaded with fuel. If the ship is large or the voyage long, stops may be made at several fueling stations. . . .Ships are always in danger of being veered from their course by storms, of running onto hidden reefs or rocks. . . .However a ship does not by any means sail blindly. It has a pilot, lighthouses, and buoys to guide it and mark the dangerous spots.”

Nobody knew better than Lester how dangerous the sea could be.

Gherardi at sea

As time passed, Lester’s story was told to a new generation. Thus, his nephew and niece (Frances and Gloyd’s children) and three nieces (daughters of Wallace and his wife Helen) learned the story of their uncle’s World War II service. The pain still showed in the somber faces and the irony persisted. The most poignant detail ended the tale. “And he wasn’t even supposed to be on that boat.”

But he was.

Lester Franklin Harris, 1918 - 1942
Lester Franklin Harris, 1918 – 1942

 

Though evidently Lester was one of the last of those fifteen sailors to be found, there was one more body discovered in August 1943. It was damaged beyond recognition and unidentifiable. According to a Wikipedia article (referenced under USS Gherardi), the final body was identified conclusively through DNA analysis in 2006, more than sixty years after the accident. Those remains were determined to belong to Raymond Johnson, the coxswain of that whaleboat. Two other sailors have never been found.

The Wikipedia article described a 2006 plaque commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of the fifteen sailors, commissioned for the US Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. Names of all fifteen sailors are listed on the plaque. The USS Gherardi received five battle stars for World War II service. In 2004 the USS Gherardi Association dedicated a plaque to her service from 1942 through 1955, claiming “She safely returned all those who served in combat.”

Sadly, she didn’t have the same good fortune in protecting her sons from a storm off the coast of the homeland.

Storm in Narragansett Bay

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          On the afternoon of December 1, 1942, about three dozen sailors left the USS Gherardi for a few hours on liberty. The ship was moored to a pier at the Torpedo Station Annex, Coddington Cove. This is located about four miles north of the Government Landing, Newport, Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay. The sailors left the Gherardi in two motor whaleboats. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALester’s buddy Harry Haring was on duty as engineer in one boat. Off duty and taking advantage of his shore leave, Lester rode to shore in Haring’s boat. He welcomed the chance to stretch his legs on the streets of Newport and planned to shop for stationery and envelopes. Perhaps he also hoped to find a few gifts to send his family for Christmas.

        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    The sailors were to report back to the pier for a return to the ship by midnight. Sometime during the evening hours, a storm brewed at sea, moving into the bay. By midnight the waves churned wildly off the pier. Raymond Johnson, age 18, the coxswain of the second boat, conferred with Haring for a few minutes. Concerned about the inexperienced fireman on his boat, the coxswain requested assistance. Haring, confident that his friend Lester had mastered the skills needed to operate the diesel motor through any weather, asked Lester if he would lend a hand.

            Haring knew his friend well. Lester, a cheerful, easy-going and competent fireman, agreed to help. The whaleboat carrying seventeen sailors, including Johnson as coxswain and Lester, as engineer, launched at 12:05 a.m. the morning of December 2. The sailors hunkered down against the driving wind as the boat headed into the bay, toward the Gherardi.

            Haring’s boat left ten minutes later. After an hour’s grueling trip, an easy forty minutes in fair weather, they arrived at the Gherardi to learn the first boat was still at sea. The officer of the deck was informed and search lights were played on the water in the hopes that the men would see the lights in case they had blown off their course. After a half hour of no success, the naval and civilian authorities were informed about the missing boat. Eventually, the crew of the destroyer had to abandon efforts to locate the missing sailors when the storm intensified. In the early hours of December 2 it even threatened the safety of the Gherardi herself.  After a steel mooring cable parted, the unusual procedure of securing the USS Gherardi to the dock with the anchor chain was initiated.

            The following morning, the wreckage of the whale boat was found washed ashore. Two bedraggled sailors clung to the boat. Fifteen others were missing. Lester was among the missing.

            Though details of the whaleboat’s fate remain unclear, some believed that the whaleboat collided with an object in the water, a rock or a buoy. “The collision likely stove in the bow and stopped the motor,” Joseph Feingold wrote to his friend’s family. Lester must have worked madly to restore power to the diesel engine, but a large wave swamped the boat, followed by another which capsized it.

The diesel engine (under showcase for display) which powered the motor whaleboat.
The diesel engine (under showcase for display) which powered the motor whaleboat.

            The two sailors who survived the storm were identified as strong swimmers. Lester surely could swim, as he spent many summer hours in the river which ran through his family’s Kansas farm. But he was not lucky enough to cling to the boat, and he was hardly prepared for a dip in the December waters of an angry ocean.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            Lester lost his life with fourteen other young sailors that fateful night off the coast of Rhode Island. I wonder how long he fought in the water. Was there a moment when he realized he was not going to make it home again? Perhaps his last thoughts turned to his family, their recent Thanksgiving dinner followed by his father’s fifty-first birthday on that very day. He might have imagined them, smiling and laughing around the dining table, his mother carrying in a basket of steaming butterhorn rolls, or pulling his father’s favorite pie from her wood-burning oven to complete the dinner menu. With his characteristic gentility, he might have found himself overcome with sadness for them. He’d not even had a chance to say good-bye. Perhaps in that last split second, he bid them a silent farewell as the waves tossed him mercilessly in the churning sea. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs he thought of his mother, he surely sensed the devastation she would bear at his death. Perhaps he spoke to her silently. “Mom! I’m sorry.”

            And then at the very end, perhaps his thoughts drifted with a heavy longing to Josephine, his beloved fiancé. What would she do now?

            Josephine.

                                    Josephine.

                                                                                Josephine.

The Last Letter: November 25, 1942

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANovember 25, 1942

Dear Folks,

I expect that you will get this just about on Dad’s birthday so I’m sending my best wishes now. Have you had much snow yet? I can’t tell you anything about the weather here.

PICT0612

Have you heard any  more about Soltz Prichard? I can well imagine that military life would be quite hard for him. I have known one or two fellows about like him but so far as I know, they are still sticking it out in the navy.

PICT0862What would all of you like to have for Christmas? I don’t have much of an opportunity to buy anything but I want to send something to all of you.

It is time for me to go to work now so I’ll send this on its way.

Lester, and probably most sailors, visited the ship's post office frequently.

Love to all

Lester

 

None of them knew it at the time, but this letter held the last words Lester would ever share with his family.

Letter from Frances on Sewing, Gas Rationing, and Thanksgiving

Council Grove

November 19, 1942

Dear Brother—

We aren’t very busy this morning so will try and get a letter written to you. It surely is a pretty day but it feels more like spring than fall. The weather is so warm and it is rather windy. It has been quite foggy some mornings but was nice and clear this morning. Yesterday the fog was quite bad. Gloyd brought me to work and we could hardly see to drive. Leo Dike ran into a bridge on his way to Delavan and smashed a rear fender, broke a spring and broke the door handles off the car but no one was hurt any. Gloyd went down home yesterday and today to shuck corn. He said they should get the west field done this week. The corn is pretty good although he said it was rather thin and really should have been replanted. He said it would be nice shucking in the big field.

Paul Robert has the chicken pox but he isn’t sick at all. Gloyd said he was running in and out all day yesterday. I guess he didn’t feel very good Saturday but Sunday he felt better so got ready and went to Sunday School.

They had a party for Sam Edmiston’s Tuesday evening. They have sold their farm to Miles Sheaffer and are going to move to Texas.

Gloyd’s folks, Aunt Della and Helen came over last evening for awhile.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I have borrowed Mrs. Pickett’s sewing machine so she came over to use it. Her iron has played out too so she wanted to use my iron. We sewed and ironed and Helen took a bath so she could use the bathtub. I discovered I had sewed part of my dress together backwards so Aunt Della ripped for me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been trying for a week to get it made but haven’t met with much success yet.

We got up about 5:15 this morning and Gloyd left shortly after six. I stayed up so I got the house cleaned and the dishes washed before I came to work this morning. It will be nice to go home at noon and not find a table full of dirty dishes. When Gloyd isn’t working he gets dinner and washes the dishes and one day last week he cleaned the house and made the bed and did a good job of it, too.

We went out to Harry’s for dinner Sunday and took the folks and Aunt Della. Gloyd had to work that evening so we came home about six. Gloyd went to the selectee party that night. I didn’t feel like going so stayed home alone. There were 29 left Monday morning. I am getting to be the worst kind of a fraidy cat but I just can hardly stay alone anymore. I was alone again Monday evening while Gloyd went to drill but he wasn’t so late then. I guess I will get Helen to stay with me after this when Gloyd is going to be gone. They said awhile back that a hump backed boy here in town who isn’t too bright was around peeking in windows. Helen was just sure he was over there one evening. I always keep my doors locked when I am alone and here lately I pull the shades at dark. We girls don’t get together anymore on Monday evenings since Dale left. Nellie’s husband never did go to drill and Maurice hasn’t gone since he came back from Leavenworth. Gloyd is the only one that is still in. The State Guards are finding it impossible to keep their enlistment up to what it should be. The army has taken so many of the younger men there isn’t much to recruit from any more. This training is doing the boys some good though. Dale has already been put in charge of one squad and I wouldn’t be surprised but before long he will have some stripes.

Benny Linn was home last week and got married while he was here. He married Irma Scott.

Gloyd is going to try and get back in time this evening so he can register for our four gallons of gasoline. I couldn’t do it. Seems it has to be the same one who signed the registration certificate.

We had a fight over on the east side the other night. One fellow got his arm cut quite bad. The paper said he lost a gallon of blood but I imagine they over estimated the amount a little.

We went to the show Tuesday night and saw “The Big Shot.” It was better than we had expected it to be but not too good at that. I haven’t heard whose name was drawn last night.

The senior play was at Dunlap last night but I don’t believe Wallace was in it. He and Mother went though. Dad stayed home with Paul.

Gloyd and I have just gotten over some terrible colds. We just took them all at once and they left about the same way. Gloyd went to the doctor but I kept on going. Seems to be a lot of them around.

We are going to have a blackout here sometime next month. Guess we will just have to sit in the dark a few minutes.

Seems like I have about run out of anything to say. It is noon anyway. Maybe I will think of something before I come back after lunch.

Later–

When I went home at noon your letter was in the mailbox so I will answer it, too. I tried to call Mother but the Dunlap line was busy so I will try again this evening. If I don’t get through I will send your letter down with Gloyd. I imagine he will go back tomorrow.

It would be nice if Irma and Howard were close enough so you could go see them but I don’t suppose you have much time. It is better to be busy. I have found from experience there isn’t anything harder to do than do nothing. There is always plenty I could be doing now. I have also found that everything doesn’t have to be done at once. Work is one thing that will wait and I have learned that I can’t keep my housework all done like I used to do and work here all day too. So the housework usually has to wait until Sat. night after work or Sunday  morning. I still work at the store Saturday night. I believe I will enjoy living more if I take things a little easier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo, I haven’t gotten my glasses changed yet but I am getting along all right. We got our grocery bill paid and Sims. It won’t be long till we have our debts all taken care of.

Aunt Cora is planning a Thanksgiving dinner at George’s if nothing happens. She has been home a couple weeks and was gone for five. She had a nice trip and a good visit with Charley’s.

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Well, I guess I better quit. I have done a little work this afternoon and there is a little more to be done yet. Helen and I came back a little early today. I had a dress to exchange. It will have to be made over but it was a bargain anyway.

Take care of yourself and write when you can

Love and Best Wishes

Frances and Gloyd

P.S. Irma didn’t like it either.

P.P.S. Wayne is an M.P. but doesn’t like it. Says he wishes he had waited to be drafted. Paul wants to get on the switchboard. He thinks he is too old to climb poles.

PICT0984P.P.P.S. If I had an extra quarter I would send it to your buddy for the nice compliment. The grey hairs in my head didn’t show in the picture.

Note from Boston dated November 17, 1942

November 17, 1942

Dear Folks,

At last I have time to write a letter.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFive of us came down to Boston for a few days to attend a fire-fighting school.  We didn’t get here in time to start in the first day so will just get in on the last day of it.  Don’t know what we will do this afternoon.  We have spent half the morning trying to get our baggage and have finally got it.  We didn’t have blankets of any kind last night and it got cold in here.  We covered up with our peacoats and still froze.

Had a good breakfast of grapefruit, oatmeal, doughnut, an egg, toast, potatoes, bread and butter.  That is more than we have aboard ship, especially after we have been out for a day or so.  We are up there for practice in drills and gunnery.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo days is the longest we have been out of port.  We will be there for some time yet.

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I like the country fine, it is very pretty with the islands, rocky coasts and tree-covered hills.  But I don’t like the town.  There isn’t anything to do in it.  I’ve been on liberty there only once.  I’ve got rocks from three different places for you, mom.

I don’t have your letters with me so don’t remember what questions you asked me.  It is rather hard to write letters and not say something that would be censored.  We aren’t supposed to mail anything ashore though we can send post cards with the name of the town if they are censored.  We are in the bay that was on the card I sent you.  Howard’s ship is still there but he was transferred, wasn’t he?

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I received Frances’ package and one from Josephine but I haven’t opened them yet.  Hope I get a chance to do some shopping pretty soon.  We get liberty only about once a week, don’t get off the ship until sixteen thirty and have to be aboard by one forty five.  Quite a number of the boys are “aos”, so the rest of us have to stand more watches.  I can’t complain though because I haven’t stood many watches yet.  It gets a little chilly but not too bad, sixteen above the other night.  We were issued woolen underwear, heavy socks, and a suit of clothes that are rain and wind proof.  I don’t think it will be too bad this winter.

Have you ever received the cacti that you were supposed to get?

It is fifteen hundred now and all of us have been asleep all afternoon.  We haven’t anything to do except write letters as we can’t go out on liberty until sixteen-thirty.  Two of our officers are here also and one of them tried to get liberty for us at noon but didn’t succeed.

I must try to write some more letters so will say good-bye to all.

Love to all

Lester

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November 13, 1942

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November 13, 1942

Dear Sis,

I got your package the other day but haven’t opened it yet as I thought I would keep it until Christmas. Thanks a lot anyway.

Say, if you see Irma, tell her I don’t think much of the town where she spent the summer. Did she like it? If Howard hadn’t been transferred, I might have been able to see him sometimes.

Saturday night.

Last night I was showing one of my buddies some pictures that were taken the last time I was home. When he saw your picture he asked if I had a picture of my other sister. I told him I didn’t have any other sister and he said “I thought you said your sister was twenty-seven years old.” He guessed you to be eighteen. He says “Your dad looks pretty young.” It was Wallace!

The four Harris siblings. Wallace, Lester, Frances and in front, Paul.
The four Harris siblings. Wallace, Lester, Frances and in front, Paul.

If we continue to be as busy as we have been I won’t have time to write many letters so you may have to exchange with the folks. I have received some Christmas cards already so guess I will start addressing mine pretty soon.

In one letter you mentioned that I had been in the service a year. I didn’t think about it until the next day. In some ways the time seems quite long. However, each day passes in a hurry. My work is different all the time so it doesn’t get monotonous as some jobs do.

Have you changed those glasses yet?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can’t think of much to tell you. I can’t tell you about the weather here, whether or not I am getting liberty, where we are, etc.

I must go to chow now so will drop this in the mail-box. If you can call mom tell her you heard from me. I have about a dozen letters to write and will probably write a couple of them.

Love,

Lester

Though all are blissfully unaware, the seconds keeping ticking away. The countdown is on for the last few weeks of Lester's life.
Though all are blissfully unaware, the seconds keeping ticking away. The countdown is on for the last few weeks of Lester’s life.

 

 

Letter from Frances dated November 12, 1942

Council Grove, Kansas

November 12, 1942

Dear Brother,

There is so much noise up here today I can hardly hear myself think so if there are more mistakes than usual you will understand the reason. I didn’t know until I got your card whether you would be likely to get a letter if I sent one but after your card came yesterday and I knew where you were I felt better. Mother said she mailed you a letter Monday so I suppose you have it by this time. How do you like traveling on the water? I don’t suppose you will be able to tell us much about where you are or what you see but try and remember everything so you can tell us about it when you get home.

The weather turned cold last Monday afternoon and did the wind ever blow. By next morning the wind had gone down though and since then it hasn’t been bad. In fact the sun has been shining and the air is crisp and cool. I was afraid we were in for a storm Monday night. We went down to Lillian’s for a shower for Irma. Gloyd stayed with dad while Mother, Josephine and I went on to the shower. We had a very nice time and she got a lot of nice things. There were about 30 women there and four or five men. They served ice cream, cake, cookies, and coffee. Mother made the ice cream and it sure was good. I guess Irma was leaving Wednesday morning. Hazel Woodmansee was going with her to Washington, D.C. That made it nice for Irma because Hazel is a good traveler.

We went to Emporia Saturday night. Mother, Paul and Charlotte went with us. We left here about six and did our shopping as soon as we got there then we ate supper before we came home. I got a couple dresses to make but haven‘t gotten them made yet. Maybe I will get started tonight. Gloyd is going to ask his mother to let me borrow her sewing machine and I will be able to get a lot more done if I have the machine at home than if I have to go over there to do it. I wish I could buy a sewing machine. Seems like I need one worse all the time. I looked in Topeka Wednesday afternoon for a dress but it seems they are so high to get them already made.

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Charlotte stayed all night with us Saturday night then she and I went down to her place early Sunday morning and finished moving her furniture so her aunt and uncle could move in where she had been living. She stored most of her furniture upstairs. Her husband passed his physical examination okay but Maurice didn’t pass his and he came back the next day. Dale is still in Leavenworth but hopes to get sent out soon. The folks had a letter from Wayne yesterday. He finally got sent out. I believe he is in Big Springs, Texas, now. Paul likes his work fine.

Gloyd has been sick with a cold since Tuesday morning. I don’t know where he got it. He just had it when he got up Tuesday morning. He felt worse yesterday so went down to Dr. Campbell yesterday afternoon and let him work on him. He didn’t feel very good yet this morning but went to work about 10:30 and seemed to feel better at noon. He had to go to work again at 1 this afternoon.

We went to the show Tuesday evening and saw “It Happened in Flatbush” and a comedy “Tireman Spare My Tires”. They were both very good. The comedy was about as good as any we have seen.

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Well, I had a big long interruption. Now I’ll see how much I can get done. Seems like I don’t know much news to write any way. We had to work yesterday and everything else in town closed but we don’t have to work Thanksgiving. We don’t get paid only for the days we work so I guess it is just as well that we work. There will only be 24 working days in November and that won’t make a very big Christmas check I am afraid. We had thought my check this time would just about get us out of debt but Gloyd hasn’t worked much these last two weeks so the car payment will have to be made out of mine and that will slow things up a little. Gloyd will have a lot of work around Christmas and that will help.

I wonder what we will have for supper tonight. We have been living on soup this week and I believe we would both enjoy something different tonight. We missed a good dinner last Sunday by not going down to Uncle Loren’s but Gloyd had to work that day and I needed to help Charlotte and by the time Gloyd got through in the afternoon it was too late and we were too tired to go so we slept the rest of the afternoon. I slept by spells. Gloyd came home and woke me up. Then we went to sleep and one of the Mullins came over and knocked and woke me up but I didn’t go to the door so she came back after while and woke me again. I still didn’t go to the door but something else woke me about five-thirty so I decided it was time to stay up and get supper. I went to bed early that evening though. Last night we went to bed about seven-thirty then Gloyd couldn’t go to sleep so he got up and listened to the radio until about ten-thirty. We have Wallace’s little radio now and it sure is nice. We have enjoyed ours but it never has worked so very good.

The payroll came back approved the first of the week but I don’t know whether the big check has come yet or not. I hope it gets here by Saturday anyway. My check this time will be about fifteen dollars bigger than I had expected it to be. Of course there will be the ten per cent taken out for bonds but that is all right.

We haven’t been going so much the last two weeks so it doesn’t seem like there is much to write about. I suppose you knew that Ernestine and Joe were married. She went to Kansas City and they were married there. We saw her in Emporia Saturday night and she said he was supposed to come home in three weeks.

This seems like it has been a long day and I sure will be glad when five o’clock comes. I expect it is time for me to get busy now so I will close for now. Hope you will be able to write to some of us before long and let us know where you are and how you are getting along. I imagine you received our Christmas package some time ago didn’t you? If there is anything we can send you at all I wish you would tell us and maybe we can get another package to you before Christmas.

Write when you can.

Love and Best Wishes

Frances and Gloyd

 

Letter Posted November 8, 1942

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Dear Folks.

Today is the fourth of November but I’ll probably write a few lines when I have the opportunity as I don’t know how soon this will be mailed.  I’m feeling fine and haven’t been too seasick!

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Mom, did you get the little cactus plant yet?  I bought one for you the other day and the florist was to send it to you.  There were some in pretty vases but he was afraid they wouldn’t stand shipping.  I hope this isn’t the same as any that you have.  If I had liberty now I could get you a rock to go with the cactus.

I don’t know of any boy that won’t get anything for Christmas, though there will probably be a few who won’t get a box.  I know lots of the fellows but only a few quite well.

I won’t be writing often because there isn’t much news I can tell you.  We will get our mail fairly regular now, I think.

Do you have the corn shucked yet?  Has it been cold yet?

Paul, I enjoyed your letter.  Yes, I have been taking more rides, three times during last night.

Love to all.

Lester

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Gherardi on the Move

From:  Lester F Harris F 1/C

USS Gherardi

c/o Postmaster

New York, N.Y.                                                                  Saturday nite  October 31. 1942

Dear Folks,

I received your letters a couple of days ago but the past week has been quite busy for all of us so I haven’t been able to get any letters written.  A couple of weeks ago I was caught up on nearly all of my correspondence but I’m behind again now.  Be sure to use the new address as we are leaving soon.  I think I’ll have a chance to send some letters again in a few days.

We went out to Chesepeak Bay on Thursday and came back Friday afternoon.  The water was smooth and we had a nice trip.  We saw lots of ducks in the river and bay.  Suppose we could have hit any of them with our five inch guns and machine guns?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weather was clear most of the way and there was some very pretty scenery along the river.  We saw a three-mast sailing boat that was fishing.  It was a novel and pretty sight.

Paul asked what kind of a bed I sleep in.  Well, it is just the width of the mattress I sent home. It is made of steel tubing and the bottom is wires spaced about four inch each way with springs at the ends.  It is pretty comfortable.  Three of them fold up real close together during the day.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt night when we let them down there isn’t room to sit up or draw up our knees.  A few of the boys have awakened during the night and tried to sit up suddenly and they bump their heads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can’t find your letter right now and I can’t remember any other questions you asked.  One of the boys is going ashore pretty soon so I’ll send this with him.  He is a young “rebel” from Georgia and you can sure tell that he is from the south.

I think I will send a suit of dress blues home if I have a chance as I want to keep one good suit and I don’t need two suits now.

Wallace, I’ll try to look at the radio equipment and talk to some of the fellows about it. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I was in the radio room the other day but I was checking the ventilation and didn’t notice the radio much.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI do know that you would need to know Morse code for this work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Is it cold yet?  I haven’t worn my peacoat yet and my Jersey only one  morning.

Do you have much corn to shuck yet?  Tell Frances that I am leaving and I’ll try to send her a letter from my next port.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Love to all.

 

LesterGherardi at sea