78: Hot Stuff In A Ravine.

July 26[1]

Dear Mrs. Wood,

I’ve hesitated to write to you, knowing full well how utterly inadequate anything I would say to you would be, and not knowing what I will say that would be of any good to you at this unspeakable time of Phil’s death. But I will say this, that at this moment I am on my way back to the States, and have hopes of getting shore leave, during which time I should like to stop in and see you and your daughter if it be at all possible.[2] He spoke to me often of both of you. Do you expect to be in New York around the end of August or September? If not, where should I look for you?

I was another Platoon leader in the same Battalion with Phil. The last time we spoke together, like everyone else he was dog-tired, just going on nervous energy and because you had to–there was no one else–his face, neck & hands thickly covered with the red volcanic dust from the island. We were digging in for the night. Being close by he had come over to say hello. He sat down beside me where I was cleaning my carbine. Occasional shells were dropping on the ridge, but we’d long since passed the stage of worrying about them much, despite their effectiveness. We talked briefly about how things were going–not too well: gaining steadily, but paying heavily. I remember our asking each other for a slug from his canteen, and both of us were “all out.” Then a short argument about which stood up better, Luckies or Camels, against moisture and banging about, each sticking up for his own brand, which we smoked, being unable to drink.[3] (Speaking of drinking, we had our last beers together in Pearl Harbor before leaving for good, and I remember thinking then as we clinked bottles that it might well be the last time one or both of us held a bottle.) Some days later, I gather from men who were there–I had been hit and evacuated by then–a patrol he was with ran into some hot stuff in a ravine, and he was hit by a machine gun bullet. Harry Reynolds, another officer in Phil’s Company, tells me that when he got back to Phil a short while after he had been hit with some help, he was dead…. Please forgive me if I have been presumptuous or unfeeling in thinking that however painful they may be to take, you would want at least some of these details.[4]

Two years ago I met Phil at OCS in Quantico, which we left together for New River and afterwards California, the Marshalls (Namur) and Saipan. During that time we had become as brothers. Ruth, my wife, was very fond of him too. He saw us through the earliest months of our marriage in New River, and later in California. Perhaps you remember his going to our wedding a year ago December in New Jersey.

He was loved and respected by every officer in the battalion who knew him, and that includes almost everyone, for the majority of us had been together in that outfit for a long time. The “Legal Eagle” we called him, from the day he was made recorder for courts-martial back in New River. I used to kid him about his dusty-colored moustache, but it did make him look all the more sapient.

Crossing to Saipan we slept under the stars on deck in the same boat, and used to talk long into the night about everything from God to women’s clothes. More often than not, his judiciary mind settled the questions that arose better than mine, which tended to be overenthusiastic or over-critical. In consequence we generally overslept and missed breakfast each morning…. But it is as bitter, if not more so, as it is sweet thinking on these things. And I am probably boring you, so I shall stop.

But if there is anything, anything at all that I can do for you, Mrs. Wood, please be sure to let me know. The address here is that of my wife–the surest way of reaching me, since I don’t yet know where I’ll be stationed.


Fran Shattuck

Lt. H. F. Shattuck, Jr.


[1] July 26, 1944.
[2] Fran Shattuck was recovering from a wound suffered on Saipan, and had just departed from US Naval Hospital #10 at Aiea Heights, Hawaii. He would spend the rest of the war at Camp Lejeune.
[3] This last meeting took place early in the battle, on D+1 or D+2; Shattuck was evacuated on 17 June.
[4] Shattuck’s letter was probably the first to provide any such details to Margaretta and Gretchen.

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