Hiroshima. . .Now

(One month ago today, we walked through the museum and around the grounds of the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. That was before the inauguration of a dangerous leader in the US who seems oblivious to lessons of the past. Over the last month, I have struggled with a search for the most appropriate words to describe our experience in Hiroshima, as humbling as it was awe-inspiring, and as terrifying as it was motivating. Our entire trip to Japan for a visit to our US military family, was in the shadow of ominous historical events that predate my years, but which my parents lived through and knew intimately.)

On a driving tour of the US Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, several landmarks were pointed out. Most were fairly recent constructions, but one, in particular, stands out in my mind. It was not new, and had been part of the original military post, back when the base belonged to the Japanese military establishment.

Building where the attack on Pearl Harbor was planned.
Building where the attack on Pearl Harbor was planned.

“That’s where they planned Pearl Harbor,” we were told by our marine corps son-in-law. The origin of the attack which drew the US into the war–the beginning of the end of my uncle’s life–was here in this building. Part of world history collided with my family history. This  tidbit of information put our walking tour of the Hiroshima Peace Park into a personal perspective.

Hiroshima’s Peace Park covers a huge area, crosses several fingers of the bay, and showcases one building which sustained major structural damage on the fateful day of the bomb. Genbaku Dome, preserved forever as a reminder of the horrors of nuclear war, once was a modern building designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel. Completed in 1915, it was only thirty years old at the time of the bomb.

The dome before August 6, 1945.
The dome before August 6, 1945.

“The A-Bomb Dome is the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall which was destroyed by the first atomic bomb ever to be used in the history of humankind on August 6, 1945. (8:15 am) The atomic bomb was detonated in the air at an altitude of approximately 600 meters almost right over the hall. The explosion of a single bomb claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and the city area of about 2 km radius was turned into ashes. In order to have this tragic fact known to succeeding generations and to make it a lesson for humankind, the reinforcement work of the ruins has been done by the contributions of many people who desire peace within and out of the country. The ruins shall be preserved forever.    August 6, 1967   Hiroshima City”        (Inscription engraved on a monument at the site)

Genbaku Dome today
Genbaku Dome today

Contributions from many Japanese people and others around the world dedicated to peace have preserved the ruins of this building.


“As a historical witness that conveys the tragedy of suffering the first atomic bomb in human history and as a symbol that vows to faithfully seek the abolition of nuclear weapons and everlasting world peace, Genbaku Dome was added to the World Heritage List in accordance with the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention)’                      December 7, 1996, Hiroshima City”                                                                  (Inscription engraved on a monument at the site)

It has received four major restorations to preserve its bombed-out condition from further crumbling. These occurred in 1967, 1990, 2003 and 2016.

Genbaku Dome, the A-bomb Dome
Genbaku Dome, the A-bomb Dome, from a viewpoint on the targeted bridge.
This t-shaped bridge was reportedly the target of the bomb in 1945. Detonation almost directly above the bridge damaged, but did not destroy the structure. It was still usable afterward as this photo shows.
This t-shaped bridge was reportedly the target of the bomb in 1945. Detonation almost directly above the bridge damaged, but did not destroy the structure. It was still usable afterward as this photo shows. The dome would be to the left of this photo.
The uniquely shaped bridge today.
The uniquely shaped bridge today.


From one bridge to the other at Genbaku Dome
From one bridge to the other at Genbaku Dome

The other end of the Peace Park houses a massive museum. A short walk brings visitors across one of several available bridges and along a mall featuring the Pond of Peace above which a platform showcases the Flame of Peace.

The Flame of Peace
The Flame of Peace

“Symbolizing the universal desire for a world free from nuclear weapons, the flame will burn until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the earth.” The flaming monument burns continuously, reminding visitors of the somber promise and the huge sacrifice this community made. The reverent mood of the park made the day’s overcast sky an appropriate backdrop for our visit.

Beyond the pond, visitors find an artistic stone cenotaph, adorned by fresh floral bouquets. President Obama spoke here in May 2016.


Inside the museum visitors are able to amble through displays that include a panorama of the A-bomb detonation, items fused by the intense heat of the bomb, a room dedicated to education about the lingering dangers of radiation, and paper cranes.

Model of the A-bomb detonation in the museum
Model of the A-bomb detonation in the museum. Note the unique t-shaped bridge to the right of the dome. Much of the area on the point of land is now part of the Peace Park.


Replica of the bomb dropped over Hiroshima
Replica of the bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Today’s bombs would be much more efficient.


Origami cranes have become symbols of peace, largely through the efforts of a little Japanese girl named Sadako. She was only two years old in August of 1945. Though she survived the bomb blast, a few years afterward she developed leukemia, a common occurrence for the survivors who were exposed to immense levels of radiation.

Sadako set out to fold 1000 paper cranes, hoping that the legend of wishes being granted to a person who would fold 1000 origami cranes would heal her. That was her wish. But it was not to be. Sadako died of her cancer in October 1955. Ten years after the bombing it claimed yet another victim.

I was five-months old at the time she died. It has only recently impressed me how close to the actual event we were. Ten years. One decade. That hardly seems long at all now that I’ve lived six decades.

Sadako’s cranes have become a world-recognized symbol of the hope for peace. The park in Hiroshima has peace cranes scattered in many places. A few of Sadako’s original cranes are preserved and displayed under glass in the museum.

A few of Sadako's original origami cranes, preserved in the museum
A few of Sadako’s original origami cranes, preserved in the museum


Another glass-topped display features two new cranes, folded in May 2016 by the visiting US president, Barack Obama.

Museum display of President Obama's visit, May 27, 2016
Museum display of President Obama’s visit, May 27, 2016


The peace cranes folded and given by Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima
The peace cranes folded and given by Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima

There are strung garlands of thouands of cranes draped on a park sculpture, and cranes hung from the trees.

Colorful paper cranes strung together and draped onto this shrine for peace
Colorful paper cranes strung together and draped onto this shrine for peace


Peace cranes in the trees
Peace cranes in the trees

There was even one live crane seeming to survey the scene below from a perch on the rafters of the burned out Genbaku Dome, looking for peace even today.




View from the Museum to the Dome
View from the Museum to the Dome, past the Cenotaph, the Pond of Peace and the Flame of Peace

Extending to either direction between the dome and the museum are a number of special exhibits. A children’s memorial, dedicated to the memory of Sadako; a peace bell inviting visitors to swing the gong and feel the reverberations; a memorial to the victims of the atomic bomb; fountains flowing with precious water, keeping the hope of peace alive.

Memorial to the victims
Memorial to the victims





The Hiroshima Peace Park is one great reminder about the horrors of war. When ranked among the developments of humanity, war is one with purposes of destruction, domination and retribution. It lies at the bottom of the list of our achievements. On the other hand, the Hiroshima Peace Park celebrates some of the best that humanity has to offer–beauty, creativity, art, and the resilience of life, a gift of hope for those who will come after us.

Peace, where art thou?
Peace, where art thou?


Lessons from Hiroshima
























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.


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.


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.





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


          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?




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.


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?


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



Letter Posted November 8, 1942



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!


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.



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

Weekend at the “Y”

Monday evening   October 19 – 1942


Dear Folks.

I received your letter today, in fact I got five letters today so I will be quite busy if I get all of them answered.  Three of them were ones I would have received Saturday afternoon but I went into town before mail call so didn’t get them until this morning.  One of the fellows had kept them for me so I could have them sooner.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It rained nearly all day Saturday but I went on liberty anyway.  A buddy and I got a room together at the “Y” for seventy-five cents apiece.  Saturday night he went roller skating while I saw the show “Across the Pacific”.  We get in the shows for twenty-eight cents which is very reasonable since many of the theatres regular prices are fifty to seventy-five cents.

Sunday morning I slept until nine-thirty then got up and went to a church close by.  I was the only sailor there though there were three army officers there too.  That church service seemed more nearly like those at home than any I have attended in the past year.  As soon as I stepped into the vestibule, an usher greeted me and shook hands.  As I started down the aisle another usher met me, spoke, and showed me to a seat.  The church services lasted from ten-forty five ‘til twelve fifteen but it was very interesting.

After the services I went back to the room at the “Y” and my buddy had just awakened so we went out to dinner together.  For dinner I had pork chops, mashed potatoes, baked beans and ice cream.  After dinner we walked out to the Franklin Institute which is a museum of mechanical inventions.  Wallace would have enjoyed it a lot.  We spent all afternoon there then went to the show “My Sister, Eileen” in the evening.  After the show I came back to the ship while my buddy went roller skating again. I don’t know what time he got home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I bought a sweat shirt Saturday afternoon.  It should be very warm.

I thought my bonds were to be mailed to you every three months, three bonds at a time but it doesn’t matter, just so you get them.  August was supposed to be the first month so guess it is okay.

I intend to make out an allotment tomorrow and will probably have it sent to the Americus bank.  That is the only way I’ll be able to save any money and I do want to have something to start on when I get out of here.  I’ll have to pay an income tax this year unless I can get married.  I’d probably do that if I could get a leave to come home.

It is sure nice that you have been having fair weather.  We are still in our shirt sleeves though some of the boys think it is cold and have to wear their sweaters or peacoats.  Wonder what they will do when we get up in the North Atlantic?  Maybe I’ll be the one who gets cold then.  The leaves are starting to fall but aren’t turning colors yet.  I’d sure enjoy having a picnic in the timber but I guess that will have to wait.  Some of the boys are getting five day leaves but I can’t get one because the officers say I need ten days to go home and they aren’t granting anything over five days.  Oh well, I guess all things come to he who waits.  I’m waiting.  Almost one of my four years is gone and it hasn’t seemed so long.


Yes, quite a few folks are in Washington.  I didn’t know that Leslie Rutledge was there until Alice told me but she didn’t know his address.  I would like to go to Washington again but guess I had better save my money.  I had a letter from Alice today and she sent a picture of Irene and Anne which I am going to have Josephine put in my album.  You can have her show it to you if you wish.  It was taken before I was there but it is raining just like the day I visited there.

No I haven’t seen any cranberries, in fact I don’t even know if they grow around here but I don’t have a chance to see them even if they do.  I haven’t seen any farms around close and on the trip to Washington the farms I did see were rather small.  Lots of the land seemed to be swampy.  No, I don’t have much trouble getting around in the cities now. In fact I’m sorta like the Indian who was wandering around in the forest when he met a white man who asked if he were lost.  The Indian replied “Me all right, wigwam lost.”  Of course, I don’t always know just where I am or East from West but I always get back to the ship on time.

We are rationed pretty close on food but it is cooked good, the best navy food I’ve ever eaten.  We don’t go hungry, in fact I can’t begin to eat as much as I could a year ago.

Yes I have my job learned fairly well but all of us have enough to learn yet.  I have charge of the refrigeration and the heating system with a chief over me and others who will help if I need them.  The others have specific jobs and I’ll help them if they need help so you see we have to know something about nearly all of the ship.


I have a lot of letters to write tonight so guess I’d better get started on some of them.

Paul I believe you have a birthday soon, haven’t you?  About Friday, maybe?  Happy birthday, brother.

Love to all,


Another Letter from Frances

Lester (upper right) with his sister Frances, little brother Wallace, and their grandmother.
Lester (upper right) with his sister Frances, little brother Wallace, and their grandmother.

Council Grove, Kansas

October 16, 1942

Dear Brother

Since I never got the other letter mailed yet I will write a little more this afternoon while I am not busy. August is gone again this afternoon and we are going to have a birthday party afterwhile so I guess there won’t be much work done this afternoon. I did work all forenoon though. I believe I am beginning to get on to the work a little now but at first I thought I never would learn. It still makes me nervous when I have to make out a loan in a hurry. They say that after harvest the men come in and we sometimes have to make as many as twenty loans a day. There is so much to it. The worksheets have to be made out, then the loan, then the folder must be labeled and put in the file. A record is kept of every loan that is made and all the feed wheat that is sold.

It started to rain last evening and we had a little shower but it didn’t make things very muddy for which we are glad. The weather is going to get a little cooler I believe but that will be all right too for it has been so warm it has taken all the pep out of me.

Mae and Bill are in town today. Bill is home for a week. They are trying to sell the farm and he thought he would come home and see about it rather than sign things down there. They were going out to Delavan this afternoon to see about getting on out there. But he said if it wasn’t quite a lot better than his present job he wouldn’t change. He is making pretty good now. They wanted all of us to come down Sunday so he could see everyone but Gloyd has to work so I know we can’t go until after dinner anyway. If it is nice we might drive down in the afternoon. Since we are rationed on gas we won’t be able to go much.

They are creating new boards here all the time and some of them meet up here. They have a new gas rationing board and one to check the tires. I guess they call it a transportation board. They are in need of a new secretary for the board but so far they haven’t been able to find one. Dolly Collins worked one day and decided it was too much work. The state man was here Wednesday and told Helen that any one that wasn’t worth $2.50 a day wasn’t worth having. We decided we might as well go home for we are only getting $2.25. We hope for a raise before too long though.

Gloyd got his notice to take his screen test Tuesday. Of course they aren’t really reclassified until they take that but there isn’t any doubt but what he will be all right for there has to be something decidedly wrong with anyone now before they are turned down. He thinks maybe he would like to get into the ground crew of the air force. I would rather have him there than in a lot of places. I was in hopes he wouldn’t have to go before Christmas anyway and maybe he won’t if Kirk can get him deferred. Wayne took the test to get into the radio school for the signal corps or something of the sort and heard that he had passed but hasn’t been told to report yet and has already received notice to go to Leavenworth for his physical the 27 of this month. He is very much in hopes he will be accepted in the school before he is inducted otherwise if he gets in after he draws army pay. He may join ghe ground crew of the air force if nothing else develops. Melchert has received his call to report the 26 of this month. That will just about leave Council Grove without any doctors. I guess Miller and Kerr will be here as long as Council Grove is.

We went to the show Tuesday night and saw “This Gun for Hire.” We neither one cared for it as it was very much a gangster picture. I don’t know whether the money was given away or not. We never got it. Wednesday night we went on a weiner roast with the bunch. The rest of them went to the show afterwards but as we had already seen it we didn’t want to go again. They planned the party Monday night but I wasn’t there so didn’t know about it and they forgot to call us until noon Wednesday. Gloyd always has a meeting on Wednesday night anyway. They signed up another recruit last time but they still don’t have the company up to full strength.

Mother called Wednesday evening. They are all well. They had been to Emporia on Saturday and she had gotten some things for me that I couldn’t get up here. I have been needing a little washboard and there just weren’t any here. I thought it would help a lot to have one that could be put in the sink. Then I have a sunshine sister that has a birthday the 21st of this month so I had her get a serving tray for her.

The town has been full of soldiers the last few days. They are out on maneuvers from Fort Riley. Yesterday there were jeeps and tanks but every day nearly there are jeeps. They are quite a contraption. Gloyd thinks they would make a good mud car for mail carriers. The tanks were all named. One of them was named Eisenhower, Wainright, Vinegar Joe, and I can’t remember the names of the others.

Well, I guess I have told all I know again this time so better get started on another letter. I think I will write to Paul. Seems like Gloyd doesn’t have much time and in the evening he is so tired he doesn’t feel like writing.

Love to you

Frances and Gloyd

The Folks. Paul in front; Charley, Georgia, Gloyd and Frances; Wallace and Lester in back.
The Folks. Paul in front; Charley, Georgia, Gloyd and Frances; Wallace and Lester in back.

A Letter from Alice

3416 Baker St, N.E.

Washington, D.C.

October 15, 1942

Alice, DHS class of 1936
Alice, DHS class of 1936

Dear Lester,

No bad effects from our soaking. I’ll bet you thought we all had double pneumonia and died—not hearing from us sooner. I’m really sorry I haven’t answered sooner. I haven’t written Helen K. yet either, but still intend to, soon, I hope.

Speaking of rain, it’s really pouring down now. What we went thru that Sunday was a sprinkle compared to this. You should know it’s bad because all three of us had intended going out and didn’t.

Worst of all, my only umbrella disappeared at work today. Either someone mistook it for theirs or plain needed an umbrella. I’m hoping it will be back in the morning. Optimist ain’t I?

I have enclosed one of those street pictures of Ann and Irene. It’s complete—wild hair, wrinkles, and umbrella. They really don’t register “dampened spirits.” We all had a grand time—and I’m not jus’ a foolin’.

Too bad the weather couldn’t have been nicer. Maybe you’ll have another chance. Lea’s still planning on getting to D.C.  I hope he makes it.

Got a letter from Floyd, during the week after you were here, telling me their brother Edgar, had the worst kind of a nervous break-down. (Mom said, “violently insane” in her letter.) They took him to Topeka. He’s Marie White’s husband. Too bad.  They blame it on the war situation.

Incidentally, my camera is still at Walter Cobb’s place. I haven’t seen or heard from them since. If and when I get that one picture developed, you’ll get one regardless of how it is, for memory’s sake—‘er somethin’. That’s a promise.

By the way, you were a little late getting back, weren’t you? You must have been about dead from loss of sleep, etc.

You aren’t just ‘a talkin’ when you say it doesn’t seem like we’ve been out of school so long. I don’t suppose very many would have answered this year. I’m sure I wouldn’t have. In fact, from the rumors going around here, it sounds like very slim chances for a civilian getting to travel by train, around Christmas time especially.

I too, have had a lot of fun and new experiences, but I wouldn’t mind trading for some of the times back when – – – -.

Remember, among other things, the constitution of U.S.A. Ha! Ha! Don’t tell me you missed out on that.

Note from Alice in Lester's autograph book
Note from Alice in Lester’s autograph book

“Bing” is now singing “White Christmas” for us (radio). I really love that song.

Got a letter from Ruby today. She’s getting along swell with her school and is having fun between times. She and the “kids” had a picnic last week.

A few of the boys around there have the idea they have to spend their money before going into the armed forces. Ruby seems to be having a good time helping Charles, Vance and others do it.

I know you must already have an enormous mailing list, but I’d enjoy hearing from you from time to time.

Your former classmate and

Very good friend,

Alice D.

Irene, Lester and Alice, Washington, D.C. September 1942
Irene, Lester and Alice, Washington, D.C. September 1942

Whaleboat on the Delaware River

Lester describes his first experience with the diesel engine whaleboats. He would become very familiar with these boats–perhaps too much so in the days to come.

The photos in this post all come from the USS North Carolina World War II museum in the Wilmington harbor, a fascinating place to visit for anyone in the area.


Saturday Night.   October 10, 1942

Dear Folks,

What is everyone doing?  I’m in the duty section this week-end so I’m staying aboard tonight.  I guess I have told you that I am in the auxiliary crew. We don’t have to stand any watches yet but we have to stay aboard so they can call us if we are needed.  The chief in charge of the engine and firerooms asked me if I wanted to get out of the auxiliary into a fireroom but I didn’t think I wanted to change. I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning my job and I didn’t want to have to learn another new one so soon.  He changed some of the others without asking them and they didn’t like it very well at first but they really have it easier where they are now.  Haring got changed to one of the firerooms.

I have a Jewish buddy that I run around with. We work together nearly all the time.  His name is Joe Feingold.  He is a second class motor machinists mate so he has charge of the diesel boats.  I am the only other one in the auxiliary gang with diesel experience or school so will probably help with the boats.

A whaleboat such as the one Lester mentioned in his October 10 letter. This one is on display on the deck of the USS North Carolina museum, Wilmington, NC.
A whaleboat such as the one Lester mentioned in his October 10 letter. This one is on display on the deck of the USS North Carolina museum, Wilmington, NC.





Four of us, two coxwains, Feingold and myself, took one of the boats today and went up the river to town.  I had never run the boat before so I took care of the engine.


The boats are steered by a coxswain who handles the rudder.  He rings a bell to signal to the engineer.  One bell means go ahead slowly, two means stop, three means reverse and four means full speed.  I enjoyed it a lot.  Some places the water was a little rough, but not bad. The waves weren’t over a foot high.  The most fun was when we would meet another boat and their waves hit us.  We always headed into a large wave so it wouldn’t come over the side and swamp us.  When we hit a large wave it would pick us up then drop us.  We planned on going out all afternoon but we had to bring the boat aboard after dinner so didn’t get to go.


I don’t know why my letter was so long in getting to you.  Yours usually get here in two days though it sometimes takes longer.

I lost my watch tonight but it was my own fault.  I had taken it off in the washroom and was washing when chow call blew.  In my hurry I forgot to pick it up.  A bunch of apprentice seamen came aboard this evening and some of them came in just as I left for the mess hall.  I didn’t miss it until I had finished supper but it was gone when I got back there.  If some of the older crew had found it, they would have turned it in and I could have claimed it.  It may turn up yet.

How is the scrap drive turning out back home?  You should see the junk that is piled up in the streets here in Philly.  They had a big drive for scrap and there is sure lots of it.  It has been accumulating in the streets for almost two weeks.

Yes I got the cake from Frances okay.  It was mashed a little but it was still fresh–and good!

Yes the trains are crowded and so are all other means of transportation.  Quite often I stand up because I haven’t learned to shove quite as well as most of the people here. I also don’t like to occupy a seat when some ladies have to stand.  Men around here wouldn’t stand for their own grandmother.  Sometimes I feel like knocking their teeth out for them.

There aren’t any mountains around here or on the way to Washington.  There were some hills but no mountains.  I did see some mountains around Johnstown in western Pennsylvania as we came from the Lakes.  They weren’t very large though.  Yes, Philly is on the Delaware river.  I don’t have a map either so I don’t know much about the size of the states or the route I traveled.

(Sunday night)

I didn’t get to finish this last night so will try again tonight.  We fueled ship today for several hours.  A tugboat brings the oil barge alongside then the oil is pumped into our tanks.  No smoking is allowed while fueling ship.  Wednesday we are to go down the river for a trial run.  It lasts only a day, tho.

I’ll have to close now.

Love to all.