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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Letter from the Western Pacific

The envelope is bordered in red and blue stripes designating "Via Air Mail."

The six-cent red stamp bears an airplane flying into the wild blue yonder.

The hand-stamped post mark: "U.S. Navy. Feb. 25, 1945."

Another stamp: "Passed by Naval censor," is initialed.

He was aboard the USS Wren.

The letter I came across recently was written in blue ink by my late Uncle Bill Martin who grew up in Marshall, Texas.

Seaman 1st Class Martin served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. (Interesting note: his mother’s maiden name was Wren.)

The two-page letter was addressed to his sister, Florence Martin, who at that time lived in Shreveport but was a prolific letter writer all her life — and showered him with mail! (They were the siblings of my father, the late Robert C. Martin Jr. and the late Frank L. Martin, who was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. And were the children of Robert C. Martin and Florence Wren Martin.)

With Ken Burns new PBS documentary on "The War", in the news, it had special meaning.

I was born in 1940 and like others of my generation growing up in that era, I never really talked to my relatives — two other uncles also served — or adult friends about their experiences and forever wished I had. (Perhaps we were just too close to it all. For us, it really wasn’t history yet, but veterans were our teachers, car repairmen, store managers, people we saw everyday. Looking back, I can see the effects the horrible things they encountered had on so many of them.)

So, I thought I would share some tidbits from my uncle’s letter.

He was on a ship in the Western Pacific, in an area that stretches northeast from Hokkaido, Japan to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. And although he appreciated my aunt’s letters, it was difficult to write aboard ship.

"We have bombarded the Kurile Islands as far south as Matua with very good effects. So you can imagine about where we are," Uncle Bill wrote. (How THAT got past the censor, I’ll never know!)

Having never having heard of the Kurile Islands, known in Japan as the Chishima Islands, we checked it out. They are in an area that stretches northeast from Hokkaido, Japan to Kamchatka, Russia, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean. They are part of a group of islands known as "the Ring of Fire," because of volcanic activitity. (I wonder if my uncle knew precisely where in the word he was!)

Matua is an island in the central Kurile archipelago. During WW II, the Japanese had an airfield located on the island. During 1944, the Japanese facilities were intermittenly shelled by U.S. Naval and bomber forces, according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matua_Island.

The weather had been rough, with waves up to 75-feet, "which is rough enough."

"Perhaps we shall get relieved in a few more months, we hope," he added.

My uncle rarely wrote to us after the war and he died many years ago.

I am sorry I never broached the subject of WW II service. Perhaps he would have talked about those islands in that faraway and remote place. Those battles. And life aboard ship.

And, how it all of it affected his life.


Blogger Pam Jones said...

You might enjoy visiting the WWII museum in New Orleans. Last November the museum hosted a week-long WWII symposium at which veterans from the War (U.S., Allies, Japanese) gave presentations. Ken Burns was there and some of the interviews in the documentary were filmed there. I think another symposium is being planned. Here's the web site for the museum www.ddaymuseum.org

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