41: Where We’re Going, There’s Going To Be Action.

At Sea[1]

Dear girls,

At sea at last! I actually had gotten to believe that this was never going to happen, that they didn’t actually plan ever to use us. When I last wrote you, we came back in again–it was still only a maneuver–and that seemed the final straw. But we are under way at last, for which all of us, of course, are very thankful.

It’s a funny feeling being cooped up on board here for days–weeks at a time–the days pass without number almost, they are all alike–we see nothing but ourselves, the ship, and the sea–do the same things: calisthenics on the deck, a lot of reading, and a minimum of card playing because there is really very little money left. The lucky few are cutting each other’s throats for the spoils; the rest of us stand around and watch. I haven’t played very much because I didn’t bring hardly any [money] aboard. And Sleep–with a great big capital S–sleep all hours of the day whenever there is nothing else to do–which includes everything but mealtime. Our compartment is unbearably hot and stuffy–lie on your bunk in the nude, sweating and smelling. If it wasn’t so close, it might be bearable under the head of languorous tropical heat, but we in the Agony Quartet (see picture) decided that we could not stand it, and decided to sleep on deck–which we do every night.[2]

Then the Pacific becomes lovely, in the evening with the cool, mild night breezes–long slow swells, the sound of the bos’un’s pipe, and the thrumming of the motors. There are stars out here of incredible brilliance and beauty–several that actually flash alternate red and blue lights, unbelievably enough–and when the rigging is threaded with these and the ship is dark and quiet, then the Pacific is beautiful indeed.

We do a lot of singing–some evenings sitting out on deck for two or three hours at a time–Harry and Ted can, between them, remember the words to all the old and middle aged songs. “Dear Old Girl,” “I Wonder What’s Become Of Sally,” lullabies and college songs–we really do make up a damned good quartet. I can at least carry a melody, and the other three do the variations on the theme. I hear their voices singing… they seem to say, they seem to say….[3]

The "Agony Quartette" aboard the USS DuPage - Eagle, Ted, Big Harry and Fireball.

The “Agony Quartet” – Wood, Fred Stott, Harry Reynolds, and Ted Johnson – rehearse in officer’s quarters aboard the USS DuPage.

Remember! Gretch, when Daddy used to come into the room before we went to sleep, and sing to us in the dark as he stood in the doorway–he always ended with “Good Night, Ladies.” I remember him singing most of the old songs–Victor Herbert and Stephen Foster, particularly–ones like “Santa Lucia,” “La Paloma,” “Le Marsailles,” and, above all, “Moonlight Bay.”

This is a peculiar time, though–a lot of thinking, dreaming, and remembering–and all of us go into this with so many different things to remember. Harry Reynolds, for instance. On our last liberty Harry saw that I was sorta indecisive–I didn’t want to go up to Los Angeles or San Diego for a conventional liberty–and he renewed his invitation to come up with him. I went up and was very glad I did. His was a very peculiar setup in some ways, but right. Alice lives in Laguna–she’s not divorced yet, and Harry lived with her for several months, but somehow there was nothing wrong in it. They made a home out of it–she’s a very lovely girl. Wellesley, looks just like Veronica Lake, has refinement, taste, and is a tomboy in a lot of ways, and they are very much in love–they chop wood together, swim together, decorate the Christmas tree, cook, and entertain all their friends. They both like me, and I like them a lot–and envy them tremendously.[4]

Owings, a boy in my platoon has on the other hand nothing to look back to–I got some letters from his father a little while ago telling why. He was injured about a year ago, and was told by the doctor that he would be blind by this coming summer, so he broke off with the girl he was to marry in a month without telling her why–joined the Marine Corps, and has been trying to get into action ever since. His father didn’t know it and had just found it out, and wrote a heartbreaking, illiterate letter begging that I keep good care of his boy who is the only thing the father has left in the world.[5]

Some have just been married, others leave a tangle of divorce, babies dependent on their family, but all of them have jobs and homes and someone they love. They are not afraid of what is coming, but they don’t want to miss all that Home means to them. They are not afraid of pain or death, only the lack of living–they have only begun to taste the joys of mature life.

Lots of things that I want to feel and do–lead a married life and have children, above all; Rusty taught me how much I want that–realizing ambition’s fruit of hard work–repeat the thrill of getting High Honors and the Law Journal–doing things for others; buying that watch for Daddy and seeing him cry over it–a lot of loving and living to do.

We know where we’re going–there’s going to be action, and more than enough of it, and of course preparations are going apace–planning down to the last iota, and all that gives rise to all of this.

We’ve seen something of the tropics already–and I like it, if only for the fact that it is far away (remember that book that Daddy read aloud, to the tune of Aunt Allie’s blushes). As you said, Gretch, I’m pretty damned lucky in my choice of places–exotic, strangely beautiful, traditionally romantic–and hard, sharp, but short fighting.

More later; I might have a chance to get this mailed.

Your Phil


[1] Written aboard the USS DuPage, en route to the Marshall Islands. Postmarked January 28, 1944.
[2] Phil’s new singing group, which included Lieutenants Harry Reynolds, Ted Johnson, and Fred Stott.
[3] A riff on the chorus to “Moonlight Bay”:
We were sailing along on Moonlight Bay
We could hear the voices ringing, they seemed to say:
“You have stolen her heart,” “Now don’t go ‘way!”
As we sang love’s old sweet song on Moonlight Bay.
[4] Although Alice was evidently an important figure in Phil’s social circle–as indicated in a later letter she sent to him–few other details are known about her.
[5] Dale Leroy Owings was from Rock Island, Illinois. He got the action he sought on Namur and Saipan, where he was badly wounded.

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