Category Archives: War Stories

Veterans Day op-ed

The Daily Caller published my op-ed recalling Veterans Day 1943. Wilber, had lost three forward observers (young lieutenants who spotted artillery fires from the front lines) in the previous three months of fighting in the Solomon Islands. On Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, the division gathered at Munda cemetery for a memorial service. The day before, he wrote to my mother:

Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]
Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]

“The Armistice Day will be a religious service for our dead who are in this island. It will be a sad Armistice for us for Lieutenants Payne and Malone and Heidelberger will be there in the cemetery from the 169th. However each was doing a grand job when his time came.”

A few days later he described the service to my sister: “We attended a religious and military memorial service on Armistice Day in honor of our dead comrades. We stood at salute while the firing squad fired a volley for each battalion or regiment that had one or more men killed. For us the speaker said ‘For 1st Lt —, the first to fall in the 169th, and his brave comrades that followed.’ Then the volley was fired. It was a beautiful spot that had been made into a cemetery and the service was lovely but so, so sad. I hope too many more don’t ‘follow’ in the next year.”

Thus passed Veterans Day in 1943.

Off to war today!

Wilber’s last letter before sailing off to war,  San Francisco Harbor, Oct. 1, 1942,

“Hello Beloved [Norma] — Letter No. 2 will be very short. I just want to say again that I love you more than anything else in the world. I’ll come back to you just as soon as possible.

“You know of course not to say anything about your guesses of the movements of the 43d in your letters. Censorship is on.

“Dear Darling Mate of Mine you will be in my arms so many times in spirit even if not in fact. You must not feel alone. I will be beside you all the time. You and Hale and Valerie and I will do many happy things together as soon as we can. Until then My Heart, My Interest, My Love is with all of you until I come back. Please be kind and gentle and considerate to each other so my wonderful home won’t be spoiled. It’s my family, you know.…”

Four days Before Sailing off to World War II

Here is a glimpse of Wilber’s thoughts four days before sailing from San Francisco to help stem the Japanese advances toward Australia after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was at Fort Ord, California. His artillery battalion was rushing to get ready for the long voyage to the Southwest Pacific. He writes to his wife, Norma,

“Sept. 27, 1942 10:15 P.M. — … I have made out “Safe arrival cards” for you …. These cards are held at this Post until our unit reports by wire that we have arrived safely less whoever fell off the boat. They don’t stop the boat for one man overboard, so if I slip I’ll grab a couple to go with me. My orderly is instructed that if I go overboard to yell, “Three men overboard.” Some of my “sarcastic” friends say the splash would justify it anyway. [Wilber was on the heavy side.]

“My baggage and roll goes [sic] out today so I’ll sleep in my size 48 overcoat.… — Your man & Husband, Wilber”

Wilber’s gallows humor regarding men falling overboard was not so funny in reality, but it perhaps helped preserve his and his correspondents’ sanity in those rather perilous circumstances.