Sunday, January 31, 2010

Still more reaction to hometown news and gossip

Apologies again for sending a late post, this time after a two day break.  My parents are visiting, which is great fun, just very hectic.  My mother and I have been going over the Japan memorabilia given to me by her sister Emily on Wednesday.

A quick aside:  My mother's college roommate at FSU (and soon-to-be follower of this blog) has a son exactly my age, Ed, who has had a life-long fascination with all things Japanese.  When I visited them yesterday, Ed lent me a pile of books, most of which dealt with the Japanese language.  So now I am teaching myself a bit about Japanese, with the main goal of figuring out how it works rather than becoming fluent.

This next letter is the second one written after the deluge of letters from the homefront, so again the topics are mainly personal and newsy. 

27 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

I love you!  How is that for getting down to the point?  It is the most important thing in my life and I am always conscious of it.  You are my guiding light and the source of hope for me.

Your letter containing one from cousin Ruth and Lev and mailed 19 Nov was received today.  That is the quickest one has come to me.  The news about mother depressed me as it always does.  It can't go on forever, but the thing that is so depressing is that it seems to go on and on and there is no hope for improvement -- only the end.  If this problem doesn't solve itself by the time I get out of the army, I don't know what to do.  It will be hard enough for us to adjust ourselves to a reduced income, without additional problems.  In spite of every effort we might make, she is getting nothing out of life now.

It has rained all day here today.  I am on duty at the office tonight until 9PM.  However, I expect to get an extra day off this week to make up for missing it the first week I was here.  The officers in this section, including the two RA full colonels in charge, seem to be very considerate and high class men.  I only wish I fit into the work better.  However, this is not my career and my time will be up soon regardless of what I do or don't do.  I am thankful that I have a good billet (much better than most here) and a pleasant place to work.

Did my V-Mail letters ever reach you?  I mailed two to the children on the ship and two or three since then.  Some officers in my shipment are having trouble with their mail both ways, but at least the majority of ours seems to be going through fine.  One officer's wife assigns a serial number to all her letters and in that way he can tell if he has missed one.  If you just keep the back account straight, I won't ask you to do that.  I find that these typewriter second sheets make fine air mail stationery.  I can buy the stamped envelopes at APO 500, which is located on the first floor of this building.  I believe that APO 500 is a good address because much of the high brass in this theater recieve their own mail through it and they see to it that it clicks.

When I enclose a request for a package, it doesn't mean I want the items mentioned in the request, unless I so state in the body of my letter.  I just send the request so you will have it in case you want to send something.  Last time I mentioned books because they are heavy.  Speaking of books, last night I made a good haul.  I was in the lobby when they brought in a load of "pocket books," magazines, funny books, etc.  They were free for the taking.  I got an Omnibook, Pitcairn's Island, a Webster's dictionary, and several periodicals.

We have a PX in the hotel which sells crackers, cookies, candy bars, chewing gum, peanuts, fruit juice, Newsweek, Time, N.Y. Times, News Review, toothpaste, soap and Kotex.  The only thing I need that I haven't been able to get is Barbasol.  I think they will have some before long.

I don't know what the score will be on bringing families over, but imagine it will be for RA and those who sign up for a certain period, with preference given to those who have been away from the US longest.  The problem of housing may retard such a plan in this area.  However, if it can be worked, I am certainly all for it.  I have wished for you many times.

Martha is certainly getting to be a big eater.  In the picture you sent I was interested in the way she was all dressed in her Sunday best with her hair brushed, etc.

I am glad you live where you know so many nice people.  I hope you enjoyed the trip to Santa Cruz.  Is Downs Atwood still planning to go to La Jolla?  Are you going to drive by there?  I hate to think of you making that long trip with no help.  Can't you get someone to go with you?  I know you have a car full as it is.

So you are running around the circle at 1 AM singing to the moon!  I though we got rid of that element when the summer crowd left!

I don't know where to say to get the projector repaired.  Keep the pieces!  It is a mechanical job that any good machinist should be able to fix, but I don't know a place in Monterey.  Be sure to take some pictures from time to time so I will have a record of what you did while I was away.

If you hear of anyone that we know that is over here, send me their mailing address -- I may be able to get in touch with them.

My darling, don't you get downhearted!  The best way to prevent it for you is not to get too tired.  So take it easy.  I hope you have a nice trip and pleasant family reunion at Christmas.  When will Dan finish at Harvard?

Lots of love,



Here are some photos of the family in Robles del Rio, CA:

Monty in front of the Gillham's home in Robles del Rio, CA, 1945
In the driveway is the blue 1940 Ford they drove east in.

Emily holding baby Martha in the yard at Robles del Rio, CA, 1945.

Frances and baby Martha, Robles del Rio, CA, 1945

The acronym RA stands for Regular Army which was a general designation for those that volunteered for service and made the military their career.  This is in contrast to draftees, most of whom were on their way home at this point.  Maj. Gillham, who had a career already at Southern Bell, joined before the general draft but was not making the army his career.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More catching up with the home front since the new batch of letters

Sorry for missing a day, but it's bound to happen now and then.  Today I got some of Maj. Gillham's Japanese memorabilia from Emily, his daughter.  Included in the box:

1.  Letters from Frances and others (but none from 1945)
2.  Photographs, including Maj. Gillham in front of the Dai Ichi building, and Gen. MacArthur walking into the building.
3.  Maps of Tokyo and Japan
4.  Souvenirs from places he visited, including Nikko, Atami, and Hiroshima.

As soon as I can, I will scan some of the more relevant photos.

This letter was written 11 days after the previous one, which is the longest hiatus so far.  However, he probably wrote other letters in the meantime -- he has even written one earlier that day, which I don't have in the collection.

Tokyo, Japan
26 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

This is my second to you today, but I got some pictures back and wanted to get them off right away.  Since we got our big report off, we are not so busy at the office.  I took one roll of film to one place and another to a different one as a hedge.  One was more expensive -- and much better as you can see.

Guess who is on the court martial that is trying Gen. Yamashita in Manila?  None other than my old friend Gen. Handwerk!  That really serves the war criminals right, doesn't it?

Yesterday I went out into the country to scout around a little, and while I was gone, George Bull came to see me at the hotel.  He left me a note and I wrote him a letter.  He is stationed at Mito, which is only about 80 miles away so we may get together yet.  Mito is the town about which most of our theoretical problems involved at Charlottesville, so we all feel that we already know the place.

When I get the details of your plans, I will also try to have a letter for you at Memphis.  I will send it in care of Mother.  Do you know if she has moved yet and what her new address is?

Transfer of money into a bank in the states takes about three weeks, so if I send any I will send it to the Charlottesville bank, and advise you.

It sounds like Miss Martha is getting to be quite a cutter.  I imagine she will keep things from becoming too boring for you for quite a while.  We are very fortunate to have three such fine children.

You are certainly a smart girl, taking such good care of business and looking after the car so well. The best thing to do to the new paint on the car is to wax it, then you won't have to worry about the dew.  In fact it would make the car look more uniform if it were waxed all over.  I think that would cost about $10 in Monterey, but it is a big job if you do it yourself.

Is any of CASA left at the Presidio?  Is Ord still as busy as ever?

I ran into an officer that spent a month with Joe Mabey -- said he thought he had gone home.

As to what I want you to send me, I can't think of much.  The two padlocks I asked for once before would come in handy.  In the food line something like sardines and hard cheese would be fine.  If you have to show a request at the P.O., I will put a note at the bottom just to cover you.

Lots of love,


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Tokyo, Japan
26 Nov 1945

Dear Frances,

Please send me some food and some books, and a couple of padlocks.


W.T. Gillham
Maj. COC

Monday, January 25, 2010

Finally, letters from home arrive in Japan!

After being away from home for nearly a month, Maj. Gillham finally received letters from home on this day.  It must have been quite a relief, since there was no other way to find out any news about his family.  In this age of email and cheap long distance, it's hard to imagine exactly what that news deprivation must feel like.  Add to that the uncertainty of the long wait:  Was the mail lost?  Did they just not write anything?  Has something happened to them?  You could probably drive yourself crazy thinking about it.

Consequently, the letter he wrote on this day deals primarily with things mentioned in the letters he just received.  I will try my best to clarify the names and places he mentions, but I may need some help from our studio audience, as well.  If you have anything to add, please make a comment below by clicking on the comment link after this post (it most likely appears as "0 comments," but it could be more).

15 Nov 1945
Tokyo, Japan

Dearest Darling,

This was a big day for me.  I got my first batch of letters.  There were five from you and one each from Emily and Monty.  They were all addressed to my temporary APO and the latest ones were postmarked 30 Oct. which isn't bad considering they were forwarded.

It is certainly fine to establish contact with you again.  It had been just four weeks since I left (not counting the day I gained crossing the date line).

I know you enjoyed the visit from Mary Elizabeth and I am glad you have been getting out and about.  I am glad Emily is so prompt.  It will have to be her job to keep the family on time.  I am sorry George Bull went on such a wild goose chase, but I may get to see him yet.  However, most everyone I know is in Korea now.  The situation is rather difficult there now and I knew it would be before I left the states.  What with the Russians in an arbitrary half of the country, and all the Japanese officials removed and no trained Korean technicians or proven leaders to take over.  Also the Koreans feel they have been liberated and don't want anyone telling them what to do.  Here, other than such problems as food and shelter, everything seems to be running smoothly.  The Japs run everything and we just tell them what we want and they break their necks to do it without any apparent evasion.  For instance, they had stripped two of the four elevators out of this building to get the metal.  They were told to replace them and now they are swarming up and down in the elevator shaft like bees in a hollow tree.

I have wished for the movie camera many times on this trip, but I don't think you had better try to send it.  By the time it arrived and I got film coming regularly I would be back home -- I hope.  And it might get lost or broken.

You are a very smart girl to get your stove fixed and to take such good care of the car.  When you leave be sure to sell Mrs. Baldwin all the oil and butane you have on hand.  She sold it to me when I moved in, and said such a transfer was customary there.

I like the piece on youth very much.  It is quite true, and I believe Dad was a young man when he died.  It has been nearly ten years now.  Can you realize it?

Tell Emily and Monty I wrote to them last night and will write again soon.  I enjoyed their letters very much.  Emily is developing a very nice handwriting and I know Monty is going to, also, if she keeps on working hard.  I know they enjoy Ed Singy's visit, and they really caught some fish!  My!  So Monty is going out visiting over night!  What big girls you have, mama!

The only criticism of your letters so far is that you didn't date several of them, and you didn't tell me enough about Martha.

I am looking forward with great anticipation to the result of Siederneck's work.  He had fine material on which to work and should get results.

I am glad we got to see Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon together instead of separately as Mary E. and George are doing.

I think it is a fine idea for you to ask Father to come out and drive back with you.  It will mean a lot of traveling for him, but it will be over new territory and with his grandchildren, and that should make a difference.  I will write him and tell him how much I will appreciate it if he can.  By the way, when you get to Atlanta, don't say anything about that waiver to any telephone people.  There was no harm in it, but I think it best not to talk it around.

The Halloween party sounded like a lot of fun.  I know the children had a big time.

I know Bryant is disappointed at the prospects of Carl having to stay out another year.  Where is he?  If I get home before he does, I don't think I will be able to face her.  I am already scheduled for a week's "special duty" at a rest camp located in a swank hotel in the mountains -- next spring if I am still here.

Ate supper tonight with a Lt. Col. Smith that taught me when I first started in the army at Ft. Monroe.  He was also on Handwerk's staff at Edwards.

Thanks for Wrightson's address.  Maybe we will be able to get together.  Kobe is not too far from here.  I will write him.

I wrote Mr. Hay and Mother 'Cile the other day.

I will be looking forward to your letters all the time now.  I love you more than anything else in the world, my darling.



George and Mary Elizabeth Bull were great friends of my grandparents, and remained so for the rest of their lives.  I don't know the facts about how they met, but I do remember my grandfather saying how great it was to travel with George Bull, because it was easier than bringing along a set of encyclopedias.  I accompanied my grandparents and the Bulls on a trip to Alaska in 1977, and I can confirm my grandfather's claim.  He was a quiet and insightful man, tall and lanky, with a wry smile that always put you at ease.  His wife, on the other hand, was a garrulous, effusive sort who seemed the antithesis of George.  She was a good sport, always loved a joke, and was generally a fun person to have around, but she had an uncanny ability to misjudge situations and speak before really giving things much thought.

George Bull shows up in subsequent letters, since he was also being sent hither and yon by the Army after the war and would occasionally pass through Tokyo.  It always seemed to me that George was my grandfather's best friend, and it was a joy to watch the two of them interact while I was on that Alaska trip.

I have no idea about Ed Singy, Siederneck or a Mr. Hoy.  And it may actually be Mr. Hay, I'm not sure.  My grandfather's o's and a's are indistinguishable, which is not a problem 99% of the time because of context.  It's only a problem when he writes names that are of people or places I don't know and that could be spelled correctly either way, like Hay or Hoy. 

Bryant Holsenbeck Moore is my grandmother's sister, and her late husband, (Thomas) Carl Moore, was in the Marines during the war and fought in many battles in the Pacific Theater, including Guadalcanal.  They were stationed in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  I don't know the specifics of Carl's "having to stay out another year," but I do know that Bryant was living with her parents at 992 Washita Ave. in Atlanta, which is where Frances and her daughters eventually moved in December.  Bryant and Frances' parents were Daniel Marshall Holsenbeck, Jr. (referred to in these letters as Father or Pop) and Lucile Dixon Kiser Holsenbeck (who everyone called Mother 'Cile).

Bill and Frances Gillham with their new daughter, Emily, 1935
Behind Bill are his inlaws, Lucile Holsenbeck (Mother Cile) and
Daniel Marshall Holsenbeck (Pop).  Behind Frances are her inlaws,
George Halsey Gillham and Effie Tucker Gillham.
Taken at 992 Washita Avenue, Atlanta

Ft. Monroe is located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, across the James River from Norfolk.  Maj. Gillham was stationed there in 1940-41 for officers training, before the family headed out to La Jolla, CA, in 1941.

Capt. Gillham at Fort Monroe, VA, 1941

Capt. Gillham (third from right) with Bell Telephone colleagues
at officers training in Fort Monroe, VA, 1941

"Edwards" refers to Camp Edwards, which is located on the southern part of Cape Cod, MA.  It was used as an Army training facility and sending off point for new draftees during World War II.  Maj. Gillham was stationed there in 1943 and the family lived in the nearby town of Monument Beach.

Monty and Emily Gillham showing off their doll collection
Monument Beach, MA, Christmas 1943

I will be heading out to Harlem, GA, tomorrow to visit my Aunt Emily, and I will be sure to run some of these names, places and questions by her when I am out there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Working on MacArthur's first report to Washington, and a trip to a geisha house

This next letter was written four days after the last one, which is an uncharacteristically long interval.  He does mention that he is having to work hard to produce the first major report to Washington, and that he has been writing "into a void," with no letters from home since he left San Francisco, which must make it difficult to keep up the semblance of a correspondence.

This is also the first letter where Maj. Gillham uses new air mail stationery that he must have purchased at the PX.  It has horizontal red stripes on the top and bottom borders, with a stylized sketch of an airplane circling a blue globe centered at the top.  The words "Air Mail" run along the base of the globe.  I will scan an example of this as soon as I can.

Tokyo, Japan
14 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

I haven't heard from you yet, but don't give up -- just keep on writing and the letters will start coming through before long.  From all I can hear, I imagine you are getting my letters in about 10 days.  I hope so, for I have been writing into a void for some time now.  Everyone has the same trouble at first, but as soon as mail starts coming to the new APO it comes all right.

I haven't had any time off since I have been in Tokyo, as we have been working pretty hard trying to get out MacArthur's first official, complete report on the occupation for Washington.  Today I went down to the Civil Communications Section scouting for a job and found the head of the Wire Communications branch to be a Lt. Col. Jacobs, a Southern Bell man who was construction supt. in Georgia.  He is going to try to get me into that section if he can work it.

I got my laundry back tonight and it was beautifully done in three days and only Y4.20 or less than 30 cents.  It had my room number sewn into each piece with red thread in Japanese numerals:  roku roku ku, or 669.  I also had a pair of new pants shortened for Y4.50 by a tailor downstairs who did a fine job.  Such services are very reasonable here -- it is only goods, especially food and anything that can be used as souvenirs, that are sky high.  As I get a chance, I am trying to get a few little presents for you all, but I am afraid you had better not count on them for Christmas.  So will you get everybody Christmas presents for me?  I will get these things off as soon as I can, but the mails are so burdened with Jap rifles, etc., that are being sent home that I am afraid it will be January before it arrives.  I got Pop a little brass pipe type cigarette holder like the Japs use.

Last night several of us went over to a "Tokyo Officers Club" run by some Japs.  It is a cross between a pub and a Geisha house.  We took our own beer since they can't get any, and for a cover charge of Y10 we were entertained all evening by the various "hostesses."  Some wore Japanese dress and some Western style clothes.  All our conversation was in Japanese, and we found it to be an excellent way to practice Japanese.  That is really the whole story and all there is to it.

Every night the little floor boy comes down to my room and turns the cover down for me.  And did I tell you we have an excellent orchestra that plays for us at supper?  It's a tough life.  In fact there is a sign in the lobby reading, "It's Hell, Ain't It?"  With it all, I am already anxious to come home, and will do so at the first opportunity.

Lots of love,



Judging from Maj. Gillham's short description, the "Tokyo Officers Club" he writes about was probably not a traditional geisha house and was likely something set up just for American soldiers.  The geisha culture is very rigorous and structured and would certainly not be mixed with women in Western dress.

Traditionally, geisha start their training at a very early age and decide then to make it their life's vocation.  They are trained in dance, voice, literature, oration and what could be called hospitality -- serving food, pouring drinks, lighting cigars, making tea, etc.  All geisha are single and once they marry they must give up the profession.  The tradition got its start in 17th-century Kyoto, where men were the original geisha.  Women accompanied them and soon outnumbered them.  The okiya, or geisha houses, were very well respected and visited by the well-to-do.  The two kanjis, or Japanese symbols, comprising the word geisha mean literally "art performer," and a geisha's primary job is to entertain with dancing, singing and recitation.

Unfortunately, the international reputation of the geisha took a big hit after WWII when prostitutes in Tokyo began dressing like geisha for the soldiers, who didn't know the difference.   Soon the term "geisha girl" (mispronounced "geesha" instead of "gaysha") became synonymous with streetwalkers.  This is still a common misconception among Westerners.

The geisha today are very rare and usually cater only to foreign tourists.  It is estimated that there are only 2,000 geisha in all of Japan, most of them based in the spa resort of Atami, just south of Tokyo on the Pacific coast.

The decline of the geisha can be traced to Japan's general lack of interest in historical preservation, which is very different from attitudes in the West.  The Japanese embrace the new like no other country, and entire sections of Tokyo are routinely bulldozed and rebuilt into shiny glass-and-steel caverns without so much as a whimper of protest.  Anything of historical significance, such as temples, museums, and the geisha culture are generally sustained by foreign tourists.

Traditional geisha costume with ornate hairstyle,
face paint, kimono and high-soled shoes

Back view of a geisha, showing strips of unpainted nape, which act as a
sort of tease, like low-cut dresses in the West

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The new Japanese money, and a laundry list

Enclosed in this letter were several other items that I will have to scan at a later date.  They include old Japanese money as well as a laundry list.  Maj. Gillham had written an additional note on the back of the laundry list, and I have appended the text to the main letter below.

Tokyo, Japan
10 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

I just wrote a letter to Dan and one to Mother, but a day doesn't seem complete unless I write a line to you.  It is the next best thing to talking to you, for I know you will understand what I write better than anyone else.

It is very interesting to see the inner workings of a big headquarters like this.  It is the first time I was ever around such an organization and it is a valuable experience.

I had Lt. Nichols, who used to work for me at CASA, over for supper tonight.  We ate with a correspondent for Newsweek.  He was very interesting.  They are printing Newsweek here in Tokyo now, and he said not to try to change my subscription out here, so you just let it come to you.  I can buy it at the PX and it will be much newer than if it comes by mail.

I gave them the dope for my pay voucher the other day and took out a $100 bond per month to be sent to you at Atlanta.  It will probably be the 1st of the year before the first two arrive for Oct and Nov, but let me know when they come.  Your allotment should be changed Dec. 1st.  I hope it isn't delayed too much.  I drew a partial pay of $75 and got 1,115 yen.  It makes you feel rich, but it actually doesn't go very far on account of the inflation.  However, we don't have much to spend money for here, but the few souvenirs that are available.

I want to take a trip out away from Tokyo as soon as I get a chance and see what I can find there. 

The Japs all seem very friendly and helpful, and I am convinced that it makes all the difference as to who is on top.

I am glad I have the pictures of you and the children.  I look at them often.  I think I am going to be able to get my films printed here.  I have taken about two rolls so far.  Have you taken any?  I would  like some new ones any time.  Did you get any more movie film?  Go ahead and take up that black and white.  Remember, it is faster than the color, therefore you use a smaller hole, and that means a bigger number on the setting.

We get the newspaper "Stars and Stripes" daily, and once a week we get an overseas edition of the Chicago Tribune.  I see shoe rationing is off.

Lots of love,


P.S.  Just ran into Frisby on the street.  He is passing through, still flying to Korea.  He didn't make any better time than we did, but got to see Honolulu, Guam, and Manila, where they had layovers.  I have asked him to have dinner with me.  He said he saw you and the children 27 Oct. and you were all well.  That was 10 days after I left, so that is news.   WTG

[The laundry list is dated Nov. 10, 1945]

This was my laundry list.

Also, here are a couple pieces of money.  Japanese money is a different size for each denomination; the bigger the amount, the bigger the bill.  A Y1,000 note is about the size of this laundry slip [approx. 6" x 8"].  The enclosed bills are a 10 sen note worth practically nothing, and a one yen note worth about 7 cents.  The verticle column of characters on right of the face of each reads "Nehon Ginko," or Bank of Japan.

We get paid in this stuff and buy all our PX supplies, etc., with it.


Here is a photo of the laundry list he enclosed in the letter.  On it he writes a note to Frances about a the Japanese word for "towel." Frances would help him study his Japanese vocabulary in Chicago, and this is apparently a word that he learned with her.  You can click on the photo to get a larger image.

Below are two currency notes he included in this letter (each shown both front and back).  The top one is a one yen note, and the bottom is a ten sen note, worth 1/10 of a yen.  This was legal currency at the time Maj. Gillham was in Japan.

Here are photos of a 10-centavos note (front and back) that he also included in this letter.  This had no value at all at thet time:  it was left over from when the U.S. Army of the Pacific was based in Manila and they were using old Japanese-Philippine pesos as currency (centavos are 1/100 of a peso).  This money was printed from the time the Japanese had taken control of the Philippines in 1942 until MacArthur returned in 1945.  We will see another example of this currency in one of Maj. Gillham's later letters.

The "Dan" mentioned in the first paragraph is Daniel Marshall Holsenbeck III, a brother-in-law of Maj. Gillham.  Frances had two siblings:  her brother Dan, who died in 1967, and her sister Bryant Holsenbeck Moore, who is still alive and living in Roswell, GA, at the age of 91.

Bryant Holsenbeck and her brother Dan, admiring
their new niece, Emily Gillham, 1935

"Mother" is Maj. Gillham's mother, Effie Tucker Gillham, who at the time was a widow living in Memphis, TN.  His father, George Halsey Gillham, was born and raised in Tennessee and had died in 1936.  Effie had been in poor health for years and would only live a few more months, dying on Sept. 2, 1946.  In my parents' dining room in Crosswicks, NJ, we have two large portraits of Effie's parents, William Augustus Tucker and Helene Montague Tucker.

Bill Gillham (left) with his father, George Halsey Gillham.
His mother, Effie Tucker Gillham, holds newborn Emily,
with Frances to the right, Atlanta, 1935

The CASA was the Civilian Affairs Staging Area, located at the Presidio in Monterey, CA.  It was run jointly by the Army and the Navy, and was located just south of Ft. Ord.  During World War II it was a processing center for new draftees, who were then shipped to San Francisco for active duty in the Pacific.  Presidio is the Spanish word for fort or military settlement, and there were many such presidios built in early California as the Spanish tried to protect their missions.  The most famous presidio is the one in San Francisco, built on a promontory that is now the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Presidio of Monterey

The U.S. Army PX in Tokyo, as I mentioned before, was located in the Ginza in a large department store known as the Ginza Wako.  The PX was restricted to U.S. military personnel and their families, but after a while certain Japanese officials (and the Japanese housekeepers of U.S. soldiers) were allowed to shop there.  In 1952 the store was handed back over to Japanese ownership.

The Ginza Wako today.

The yen (¥) is the basic unit of Japanese currency, and is written 円 (pronounced "en"), meaning "round object."  It was introduced in 1871, replacing the old intricate system of the mon.  The yen was adopted using the Western metric system, with one yen equalling 100 sen, and each sen divided into 10 rin.  Needless to say, the sen and the rin are now long gone, but in 1945 there were still 10 sen notes in circulation, which Maj. Gillham mentions were "worth practically nothing" (or roughly 7/10 of one cent).  I will scan these notes as soon as I can.  Currently a U.S. dollar is worth about 90 yen.

I was somewhat puzzled by a statement made towards the end of the letter:  "The Japs all seem very friendly and helpful, and I am convinced that it makes all the difference as to who is on top."  At first I thought he meant that, were the tables turned and the U.S. were the vanquished nation, the Japanese would not be nearly as friendly.  But a second reading made me think that the difference was that Gen. MacArthur was on top and not some other general or Washington official.  MacArthur's meeting with Hirohito on Sept. 27, 1945, and the general's later exoneration of the royal family did much to endear him to the Japanese.  I will have to do more digging into some social histories of the time.  In the meantime, I welcome any thoughts you might have on the subject.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Settling into the Dai-Ichi Hotel

Just a quick note on the status of my blog.  The scanner portion of my all-in-one is not functioning, so I am not able to scan any of the 2D memorabilia that WTG enclosed in his letters.  That includes the beer bottle label  he talks about in this letter.  In two weeks I will be up in NJ and will be able to scan some items then and retrofit them into the blog.  I will keep you posted on the developments.

Similarly, this Tuesday I will be traveling out to Harlem, GA, to visit my aunt Emily, one of WTG's daughters.  Apparently she has boxes and Ziploc bags full of items marked "Japan" that she and Martha sorted out a few years ago, so we'll see what kind of gems we find there.  If I find anything of relevance that pre-dates the current blog entry, I'll edit the earlier blogs and let you know about it.

This letter is pretty self-explanatory.  If any of you family members recognize any of the names of WTG's friends that he mentions in these letters, please let me (us) know about it.

Tokyo, Japan
9 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

Enclosed is the label from the first bottle of beer that I drank in the Imperial Hotel several days ago.

We are getting better situated here in the Dai-Ichi all the time. Today I had new wall paper put in my room. We have an excellent orchestra that plays for us at dinner -- and the meals and service are excellent.

I didn't think much of the assignment that I drew in GHQ today. It is a sort of editor and rewrite man on official reports. I don't think I am cut out for it and told them so. I may get it changed. Lt. Col. Melane who was at Chicago with me and has been out here about a year, said he would give me a job in the industries section if I could get loose. Lt. Cmdr. Wilson is in that section and I believe it would be interesting work.

Everything here in Japan is built to a small scale. Tell Emily and Monty the drinking fountains and wash basins would be just the right height for them. All the chairs and tables are small and low. This hotel caters to American trade and the beds are long enough and they have stool-type toilets. But in some of the finest office buildings, including GHQ, you can go into a marble toilet and there you can find what one officer termed "a flush type slit trench." And that is just what it is, an enamel, flush type slit in the floor, over which you are supposed to squat.

I rode the subway yesterday and it is about like New York or Chicago, but the lack of papers thrown around everywhere gave me the impression that it was cleaner.

Met a Cmdr. Ling tonight of the Chinese Navy, and went to the picture show with him. (It was "Mrs. Parkington," a very good show.) Cmdr. Ling was on his way to Chungking from Washington where he has been a naval attache for the last year or so. Before that he was an aide to Chang Kai Shek. He did a lot of fighting in China. There was an article about him in the 31 Mar '45 issue of Colliers. If you get a chance look it up. Saw "Barron San" and Lt. Col. Franklin today. Both sent you their regards.

They are getting mail here from the states in 9 or 10 days, so I imagine that as soon as you start using this new APO I will get your letter fairly promptly. Everyone has trouble with their first batch of mail.

This is the longest I have ever been out of touch with you since I have known you. Its only good feature is that it makes me realize how much I love you. It is hard for me to have all these interesting experiences without you here to share them with me. It is less than a month since I left but already it seems like years.

Give all three of my sweet daughters a big kiss for me.

Lots of love,


P.S. Recognized a Major by sight here today as being a brother of Maj. Moore that taught us at Charlottesville. He was the missionary from Japan. When I asked him, he confirmed it. I had never seen him before, but noticed family resemblances -- how's that!


The Tokyo subway system is actually two systems -- the Tokyo Metro, a private company jointly owned by the city and federal governments, and Toei, which is the regional transit authority.  Most rides within the city cost at least 170 yen (about $1.85).  Interestingly, the subway makes up only a fraction of the rail system in Tokyo, with 282 stations out of the network total 882 stations.  By comparison, New York has 468 subway stations, and Atlanta has 39.  The first Tokyo subway lines were operational starting in 1927, having been constructed while the city rebuilt itself after the great earthquake of 1923.

Below is a photograph of an occupation-era Japanese toilet, the kind which Maj. Gillham describes in his letter.  It is similar in concept to the Turkish squat toilets that can be found in certain countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Most modern homes and buildings in Japan now have the chair-style toilets, but, amazingly, many of the new toilets are fitted with two foot platforms on the sides of the seat area for those who prefer the squatting style (see below).

Maj. Gillham went to see the film Mrs. Parkington, most likely in a local theater under control of the occupation forces for use by U.S. servicemen.  The film was released in November, 1944, so it was already a year old by this time.  It's probably the most famous of the Greer Garson-Walter Pidgeon pairings from MGM, and it includes some of the studio's finest supporting actors, such as Agnes Moorehead, Edward Arnold, Dan Duryea and a young Peter Lawford.

Maj. Gillham's acquaintance Commander Ling from Chungking (now known as Chongqing), had been an aide to Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of nationalist China, who at this point was continuing his war against the Chinese Communist Party.  As a part of the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, Japan ceded the territories of Formosa (later Taiwan) and Manchuria back to China.  When Chiang Kai-Shek was eventually defeated by the Communists he retreated to Taiwan in 1950, which is now the main island of the Republic of China.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Meeting Gen. MacArthur, "the old man," while moving into new offices

Wow, I now have seven official Followers of my blog.  Glad you all have made it here, and feel free to leave comments, if you'd like.  The decoder rings should be in the mail soon, as well as instructions for the secret handshake and coupons for a free oil change at Sears.  Talk up the blog with any friends you think might be interested; the more the merrier.  Okay, on to the next letter.

This is Maj. Gillham's first letter written in his permanent digs in Tokyo, the Dai-Ichi Hotel, which is not to be confused with the Dai-Ichi building, where he worked.  Just a quick lexical note:  when a soldier is placed in a private or non-military room, such as at a hotel, he is billeted.  The more general term quartered can be used for any assigned living situation.

Tokyo, Japan
7 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

Well, I finally got moved in to Tokyo and will start working tomorrow.  We came in trucks from Zama and it took us most of the day, even though it was only 40 or 50 miles.  We wound around over many little narrow Japanese roads, through little country villages, etc.  We didn't have any lunch, but that didn't bother me.  We had a flat tire in front of a little native shoe shop and I got you and Emily and Monty each a pair of tabe (the big toe sox like you used to have).  They are worn in the house, or with the clogs outdoors.

We arrived at GHQ just as Gen. MacArthur was coming out, so I got a good look at him.  We were all covered with dirt and dust from our trip.  I signed in and am to work in the "Statistics and Reports Section" of SCAP.  A good many of the other staff sections are located in other buildings, but ours is in the GHQ bldg with the old man.  It is the best looking office building in Tokyo, naturally.  I understand it belonged to an insurance company.  It is right across from the Emperor's Palace.

I was fortunate in getting billeted in the Dai-Ichi Hotel, which, next to the Imperial, is about the best place to be quartered in Tokyo.  Only Field Grade officers are quartered here.  The room I have doesn't have a private bath, but it does have hot and cold running water and showers are available just down the hall.  The hotel is about on a par with an average good commercial American hotel, but is one of Japan's best.  The mess here is excellent, and every night we get a beer ration for a quart of Japanese beer, which is excellent.  We also have a bar in the basement, where beer and whiskey can be purchased in limited amounts.

I had dinner tonight with Maj. Raul and another major that used to teach at Charlottesville.

Remember, my address now is:

Maj. W.T. Gillham 0-272207
GHQ-SCAP Adv. Esch.
S. & R. Sect    APO #500
c/o P.M. San Francisco, Calif.

Tokyo is pretty badly bombed and burned.  Worse than I had thought at first.

I got here with all my baggage intact, which is something to be proud of.

Am looking forward to hearing from you before long.

Lots of love,



In September, 1945, Gen. MacArthur's staff, known by its official acronym GHQ-SCAP, began moving into the Dai-Ichi building located on the southeast corner of the Imperial Moat.  The building had been built in 1938 as the new headquarters of the Dai Ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company, the oldest mutual insurance company in Japan, founded in 1902.  Dai Ichi Life continues to occupy the building to this day, and in 1993 the company built a skyscraper addition, the DN Tower 21, behind the original building.

Dai-Ichi Insurance Building in 1938, on the Imperial Moat,
later headquarters of SCAP

Aerial view of the Imperial Palace Grounds,
with the blue X signifying the location of the Dai-Ichi building

The Dai Ichi Building as it looks today,
with the new DN Tower 21 behind it

Maj. Gillham was billeted at the similarly-named Dai Ichi Hotel, which, along with the famous Imperial Hotel, was located in the Ginza section of the city.  The Ginza has long been a famous shopping area in Tokyo, similar to Fifth Avenue in New York, with high-end shops, hotels and restaurants.  The area became well-known in the 1870s when, after a sweeping fire, the neighborhood was rebuilt with many European-style buildings designed by the Irish architect Thomas Waters.

The most famous building in the Ginza today, the "Ginza Wako," was built in 1932 for the Hattori company, a watch and jewelry establishment.  During the Allied occupation, this building was used as the PX (or post exchange) for Allied soldiers.

The Ginza during the Occupation, including the Wako building
(with clock tower), which was the Tokyo PX.

Maj. Gillham noted that the city was badly bombed out, much more than he had originally thought.  My guess is that up to this point he had only seen the western sections of Tokyo, as he had been coming to and from Zama, which lies to the southwest of Tokyo.  Most of the damage to the city was in the eastern sections, which were highly industrial and included the port area on Tokyo Bay.  About 50% of Tokyo was totally destroyed during the war.  There were 14 major Allied bombing raids on Tokyo between February and June, 1945, carried out mainly by B-29 bombers.  The worst attack was on March 10, when about 25% of the city was destroyed and over 100,000 civilians were killed.

The bombed-out area of Tokyo near the port, 1945

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Assigned to Gen. MacArthur's staff, yet still awaiting orders to move

In this letter, his last written at the U.S. Army camp in Zama, Maj. Gillham reveals that he is to be assigned to Gen. MacArthur's staff.  He does so with amazingly little fanfare or ballyhoo, and slips easily back into mundane questions to Frances about friends and family back home.  I am sure he was long aware that this assignment was a distinct possibility, since he had been trained at the School of Military Goverment in Charlottesville, VA, in 1940 and was taught Japanese language and culture at the University of Chicago in 1944 before being transferred to Fort Ord, CA.  Still, his announcement is startlingly brief, considering how famous MacArthur was at the time and in what great esteem he was held by my grandfather, who didn't hand out praise to army personnel lightly.

Zama, Japan
5 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

The last few letters that I have written you were done in a crowded room with much discussion taking place, and they may not have made much sense.  It is now 1300 and nearly everyone is out on pass.  My group couldn't get a pass so we may be going to move soon.  I hope so, for I have about seen enough of this place.

However, I believe I have a good temperament for being shipwrecked on a desert island.  I don't tend to get the "whim-whams" in a place like this, as some do.  I guess it may be because I spent a lot of time alone when I was a child.

I just drank the last of my California water.  That seems like a long time for one canteen of water to last, but I find that when I drink all the liquid they pour at us at meals, I don't want any more water.  I have had practically no indigestion, and very little rheumatism since I left, I am glad to say.

I understand that our mail goes to Manila and that is probably the reason we don't have any yet.  I don't know my section yet, but you may start addressing me as follows:

Maj. W.T. Gillham 0-272207
GHQ-SCAP Adv. Esch.
APO #500
c/o P.M. San Francisco, Calif.

As soon as I know my section I will give you that also, and it will probably speed up delivery a few days.  SCAP stands for "Supreme Command Allied Powers," so it looks like I will wind up on MacArthur's staff.

I hope that you all are getting along all right.  Did you get the stove cleaned?  How is the weather there?  Is the car doing all right?  Has Martha walked yet?  I would love to see her step out.  How are all the neighbors?  How are Nelly and Cousin John?  Have you heard from Ellen?  Did Jack get home?  What do you hear of Mother?  The time-space factor between us is getting too big.  I would love to be with you.  I prefer our double sleeping bag with you in it to the one I am using now.  I need you to keep my feet warm, and to divide a bottle of champagne with me.

Lots of love,



Douglas MacArthur graduated at the top of his class of 93 at West Point in 1903 and went on to become one of only five men to be named General of the Army (i.e., five stars).  He served in World War I and was promoted to Brigadier General just before the Armistice, at age 38;  thus he was often referred to as the "boy general." At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was the Allied commander in the Philippines and was soon forced to retreat to Australia when the Japanese captured Manila.  It was in Australia that he made his famous pledge to the Filipinos, "I shall return," which he did in October, 1944, leading the Allied recapture of the island nation.  In Manila he formulated plans for "Operation Downfall," an air and sea invasion of Japan similar to the one in Normandy.  However, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 made this plan unnecessary, and on September 2, he accepted the surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.

In his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, MacArthur was, in effect, the leader of the Japanese nation from 1945 to 1948.  His decision to exonerate Emperor Hirohito and the royal family of any charges of war crimes was severely criticized in the West yet endeared him immensely to the people of Japan.  With this good will he was able to begin a primitive democratization of Japan, and in 1946 he and his staff drafted a new constitution that is still in use today.

One of MacArthur's initiatives was to have dozens of copies of the film Gone With The Wind flown to Japan and shown in theaters around the country.  The idea was to illustrate to the Japanese how a nation devastated by war and defeat could rebuild itself with what Scarlett O'Hara called gumption.  The film is still very popular in Japan, which explains why over 25% of the visitors at the Margaret Mitchell House are Japanese.

Gen. MacArthur's 130th birthday is next Tuesday.

The iconic image of Gen. MacArthur,
with open collar, sunglasses and corn cob pipe

The meeting between MacArthur and Hirohito, Sept. 27, 1945,
one of the most famous photos in Japanese culture

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Some general observations while awaiting orders

Zama, Japan
4 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

Today was Sunday and I went to church this morning.  I like to go to church when a long way from home like this -- it gives you a tie to your own culture which you crave in a strange environment.  The old hymns are deeply rooted in us.

I wish I could get some of my impressions across to you while they are still fresh.  First I want to express my admiration for the American G.I.  He is a fine, self-reliant and generally well behaved man.  All that I have seen are healthy, well trained and well disciplined -- but they are no robots -- and nothing fazes them.  There is a very evident feeling of comradeship between all Americans in this situation.  A truck driver won't pass you on the road without offering you a lift.  Everyone seems to try to help the others.  I have heard no real griping, even in spite of very nasty details.

This afternoon I went with a couple of others by train to a medium sized country village about 30 miles from here and prowled around a little.  The average Japanese is undoubtedly poor and crowded.  He is almost without exception very small.  Americans look like a race of giants among them.  You can always look right over the top of a crowd.  Most of their small towns are about on a par with the Negro section of a southern city, as far as space and worldly goods are concerned.

I slept in my mummy sleeping bag last night.  It works pretty well.  I hope to get out of here soon.  So far there are no orders and no mail.

Tell Emily and Monty that I saw several little Japanese girls about their ages down at the train platform today.  They were playing a game something like jacks done with two bean bags.  They would bounce these around from hand to hand or to the back of the hand, etc., in different patterns and did it to the time of a quaint little Oriental tune.  They seemed to be having a fine time.

Except for one day the weather has been fair, warm in day and cold at night.

Lots of love,



This might be a good place for some information about Japan -- not encyclopedic or scholarly, but more like bullet-point "fun facts."

-- Japan has the same population as the U.S. west of the Mississippi, but in an area the size of Montana.  Put another way, Japan has 45% of the U.S. population but only 4% of its land area.

-- Germany and Japan are roughly the same size, but Japan has 55% more inhabitants.

-- The average height of an American male is 5'9" while that of a Japanese male is 5'7".

-- The difference between women is the same two inches, at 5'4"and 5'2", respectively.

-- The native name for Japan is 日本, which can either be pronounced Nippon or Nihon.  Nippon is more the official pronunciation, while Nihon is a more casual or provincial usage.

-- The term 日本 means "the sun's origin," and comes from the Chinese perception of Japan lying to the east.  This is why Japan is often called "The Land of the Rising Sun."

-- There have been three Olympics held in Japan:  the 1964 summer games in Tokyo, the 1972 winter games in Sapporo, and the 1998 winter games in Nagano.

-- The Japanese drive on the left, which comes from the ancient tradition of left passage among samurai warriors.  Left passage would prevent right-handed samurai from drawing their swords as they passed, as the sword hilts would usually touch.

--  Not surprisingly, Japan is the largest automobile manufacturer in the world.

-- Because of Japan's temperate climate and relative isolation, fruit is extremely expensive.  Watermelons are a rare delicacy and can cost up to $250 each.  Fish, on the other hand, are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.  The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is the world's largest.

-- My mother will love this one:  In Japan it is considered rude to tear the wrapping when opening a present.

-- Sumo wrestling is Japan's national sport, but baseball is the country's most popular sport.  This is similar to the relationship between baseball and football in the U.S.

-- It is considered rude to blow one's nose in public; however, 60% of all adult Japanese smoke, which is allowed in every public place except local trains.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New orders: Assigned to Tokyo

Six days after landing at Yokohama, Maj. Gillham finally gets his new orders.

Zama, Japan
3 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

Got my orders today to go to the GHQ-AFPAC in Tokyo, but I don't know yet what my job will be or when we will go in, but it should be in a few days.  Most of the men I know are going to Korea; in fact, only 68 of the 256 are going to Tokyo.  Chun was very disappointed that he didn't get to go to Tokyo.  The Tokyo set up looks pretty good to me now, living out here in the mud, but you never can tell how things will work out.

We have no mail yet, but some men on another APO# are getting letters mailed in the US as late as 24 Oct.

I haven't been anywhere today because I was expecting to have to move.  I think the hotel in town is full and they must be having to make other billeting arrangements.

Last night another officer and I walked out and down the road about a mile.  We hailed a passing Jap and traded him two candy bars for some charcoal.  He said he was Korean -- they were very poor people.

We built a charcoal fire in a formaldehyde burner that the Japs left here.  It makes an ideal charcoal bucket, and breaks the chill in this room.

My new APO is #500 but that is not a complete address, so wait until I can give it all to you.

Lots of love,



The GHQ-AFPAC stands for General Headquarters, (U.S.) Armed Forces of the Pacific, which had its base in Tokyo after the war.  The offices were in a group of buildings along the east bank of the Imperial Moat, across from the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo.

The APO stood for the Army Post Office, which was a self-contained unit within the Army responsible for the delivery of all Army mail.  Each APO division had a specific identifying number, usually three to five digits in length, which acted as pre-Zipcode postal codes.  Prior to 1980, each branch of the service was responsible for its own mail delivery.  Thereafter, the Department of Defense created the umbrella Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA) which followed the USPS model and was assigned its own set of Zipcodes.

The situation in Korea at this time was much more volatile than that in Japan, owing to the fact that two months earlier at the Potsdam Conference the Allies had decided unilaterally to divide Korea along the 38th Parallel.  While the country was ostensibly under the control of a U.S.-Soviet alliance, the northern section was an "area of responsibility" of the Soviets.  This made it one of the buffer zones promised the Soviets in return for their aid in defeating the Japanese in WWII.

During the war, Korea was under the control of Japan, which used Korea's resources and manpower in its war effort.  Over 700,000 Koreans were transported to Japan for this reason.  In the above letter, Maj. Gillham writes of an encounter with a Korean, who was most likely in Japan as a result of the war.  In the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, over 25% of all victims were Korean.

Cold War-era map showing relationship
between Korean peninsula and Japan

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A day on the town: The first trip into Tokyo

From his quarters at the Army post in Zama, Maj. Gillham took a day pass into Tokyo and describes some things for the first time that will soon be very familiar to him.

2 Nov 45

Dearest Darling,

Got a pass yesterday and went into Tokyo.  It was quite a day.  I haven't had so much fun since I was in college.  This place is about 45 miles S.W. of Tokyo right out in the country.  Five of us, all majors who shared the same cabin on the ship, went in together.  We left here about 1000 and walked about a mile to the nearest electric railway station.  Only Maj. Chun and I could talk much Japanese and we were rusty.  We had no map and no idea of how to get anywhere, but we just kept trying to talk Japanese to everyone we saw and figured out how to get to Tokyo by making two transfers.  I had heard that the Japanese were the train-ridingest people on earth and now I believe it.  All trains were packed so that people had to climb in and out of the windows at stops.  They all carried either a big bundle or a baby or both.  We pay no fare and ride anything we want to.  I was amazed at the the electric railway system around Tokyo.  It is on a par with the I.C. in Chicago, only much more of it, and it is functioning smoothly in spite of tremendous bomb damage all around.  Yokohama is nothing but burnt out ruins and Tokyo was hit bad in spots.  The industrial areas are the worst, naturally.  The people have salvaged the burnt, rusty sheet metal from the roofs of the plants and constructed thousands of little huts out of them.  Chun and I talked to all the Japs near us and they were very interested in the fact that we could talk a little Japanese, and tried to be very helpful.  The rural areas are just about like I expected them.  Right now they are harvesting the rice.  In Tokyo I was a little surprised at how modern it was.  I knew it was a very large city, but I didn't expect wide, clean streets and beautiful modern buildings.  Some of them have been burnt out, but others are intact.  We went to the GHQ and there I saw several that I knew, including Col.  Dillard, Col. Clark from Chicago, Lt. Cmdr. Wilson, Maj. Raul (just out of hospital at Manila) and others.  They are all set up and you might think you were in the Pentagon Bldg in Washington, D.C., just to look around.  Most of them are living in the Dai-Ichi Hotel, a nice big modern hotel.  The big shots live at the Imperial Hotel.  The desk clerk, a Jap, told me there were 20 generals there at present.  It was about 3 PM when we were there but we talked our way into the kitchen and got them to fix us sandwiches and coffee.  Only field officers and above are allowed in the place.  We went back there for dinner that night -- the only thing we paid for during the whole day.  We went to a supply depot and drew two wool shirts, two pants, a sweater, and a combat jacket -- no charge.  Nearly everywhere we went we would hail a jeep and get a ride.  Kimonos are very high right now, Y500 to Y1,000, but the native population looks very well dressed, and I know they don't pay those prices, so after I get established I imagine I can get some cute things.

I don't know where I will be assigned yet, but may find out this afternoon.  A large per cent of this group is to go to Korea.

I washed all my dirty clothes this morning and took a sponge bath -- all this in my helmet.  I am ready to move now when I get the word.

I am afraid that your mail may be slow in catching up with me.

I want to get you one of these rigs for carrying a baby on your back.

Lots of love,



The Imperial Hotel was the jewel of Tokyo hotels and was not damaged significantly during the war.  It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to replace the original hotel built in 1890.  Wright's hotel was completed in 1923 and was damaged slightly that same year in an earthquake.  It was designed in the "Mayan Revival" style that incorporated a pyramid motif and other features prominent in Mayan temples.  It was the primary billet of the upper echelon of the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers during the occupation of Japan.  After years of gradual demise, the hotel was demolished in 1968, although several sections, including the famous main entrance, were restored in local museums.

The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, in the 1930s

Below is a clipping from the Pacific Stars and Stripes from October 1945 that Maj. Gillham included in a letter.  Across the top he has written, with his trademark misspelling, "This is no exageration."  You may have to click on the cartoon to get a bigger image.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The first days in Japan, and some spousal advice

Once he had settled into his digs at the U.S. Army replacement depot at Zama, southwest of Tokyo, Maj. Gillham began sending letters on a regular basis, about one every two days.  He wrote them on sturdy 8" x 10" stationery, often with matching envelopes, and attached a 6-cent air mail stamp, pictured below:

These red-tinted (or carmine) stamps were by far the most popular air mail stamps of the 1940s, with over 4.7 billion printed.  Occasionally Maj. Gillham would post his letters in a pre-stamped air mail envelope with the familiar blue and red striped borders.

31 Oct 45

Dearest Darling,

I have written you several V-Mail and air mail letters so far.  I think I will send this one straight for an experiment.  I understand that all mail goes by air as far as S.F.  If that is true and with you so close to S.F., this should make as good time as any -- maybe better.  Let me know how long this one takes.

If you can, please send me a couple of 100 watt light bulbs, a couple of padlocks and some assorted Singer sewing machine needles.  I know that is a funny combination, but there seems to be a national shortage of light bulbs, and I didn't put any in my locker.  The padlock on my foot locker was broken off in shipment and I lost the key to the extra lock that I brought.  I imagine locks are unobtainable also.  The needles I understand are excellent trade goods, but don't go to too much trouble to get them, if they are scarce in the U.S. also.  Those are about the only things that I see I need so far.  Except for the lock on the trunk, all my things came in fine shape.

I haven't seen much of Japan yet, but the weather today could be Arkansas in the middle of winter.  It has rained all day long without a let up, and the black mud is everywhere.  We were very fortunate indeed that it was good weather the day we debarked.

One of the boys in the room with me has a radio, and we get the Armed Forces Radio station in Tokyo.  The programs are very good, much better than any I remember in the states.  There are no commercials except occasionally an announcement such as "VDMT VDMT" which upon decoding is translated as venereal disease means trouble.  We also can get a Japanese station.  I can get words and phrases of what they say but miss the context generally.  The accent and the pronunciation is exactly as we were taught.

A couple of officers who were substituted on our order at the last minute and couldn't bring any equipment were permitted to go into Tokyo to a Q.M. Depot today to get some.  One was going to try to send a cable to his wife, if such facilities were available.  I asked him to send you one if possible.  He hasn't come back yet so I don't know the answer.

As far as knowing what is going to happen to me, I am still in transit for all practical purposes.  However, they say they don't keep you here long and I should know something soon.

How are you?  And what you doing and planning to do?  I am very anxious to hear from you.  We may get some mail in a few days if we are still here.  Did you get the oil changed in the car?  Remember to keep the tires properly inflated.  If some of them are getting smooth before you start back to Georgia, get them retreaded.  It only costs about $7 and takes a couple of days.  If more than one tire is involved, you will have to leave them one at a time, so start working on it before the last minute.  Darling, you have plenty of time for anything you start to do, so don't go and work yourself down trying to get something over with in a hurry.  When you get tired, slow down -- don't fight the thing you are working on.  I have known you long enough to realize that that is one of the biggest dangers that you face now.  If you can keep yourself and the children well, you will have won half the battle.

Did you pay Becker Roofing?  If you haven't, drop them a note and explain the delay.  That is always a good policy if you can't handle a bill promptly.

Must stop now and go to chow.  They are feeding about 10,000 men here, under terrible conditions, and putting out good food.  All the cooking is on field ranges, and they have no refrigeration or other refinements.  We eat out of our mess kits and I am careful to wash them well in three waters, boiling hot.  We always have great quantities of butter.  I can see why it had to be rationed in the states.

They have an ingenious arrangement for keeping hot water here.  The Japs left a big "wash boiler" mounted over a fire box.  When you want hot water, you dip out a helmetful, replace the water and put a stick on the fire. Thus there is always hot water for everyone.

Tell Col. Post that I sprinkled some water from the Robles del Rio water works on the shores of Japan as soon as I landed.

Lots of love,



Zama is a town in the Kanagawa Prefecture, about 45 miles southwest of Tokyo.  The Imperial Japanese Army Academy was established there in 1937, and after the war the facilities were refashioned by the Allies into Camp Zama, where Maj. Gillham was quartered.  The U.S. Army camp is still in use today, primarily the base of operations of the U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (yes, the same I Corps that Radar O'Reilly was constantly trying to get on the phone in the TV series M*A*S*H).

The "Q.M. depot" mentioned in this letter refers to the Quartermaster Corps, which is a combat support service branch of the U.S. Army.  It is responsible for general supplies (except ammunition and medical), food service, petroleum and water, shower and laundry facilities, and also mortuary affairs.

The Armed Forces Radio Service mentioned above was part of the larger American Forces Network (AFN) which was established during the war, in May 1942.  It would broadcast popular American radio programs, as well as news and bulletins.

In September 1944, a nonfraternization order was imposed by the occupying Allied command in Europe, forbidding the mingling of Allied troops with the enemy "upon the terms of friendliness, familiarity or intimacy, individually or in groups, in official or unofficial dealings." This was part of an effort to limit the spread of venereal and other sexually-transmitted diseases among the troops.  This directive was later expanded to include the Pacific Theater after V-J Day.  The AFN mounted a PSA campaign to this end, broadcasting a simple spoken message, "VDMT," several times a day for weeks, until it was finally revealed to mean "venereal disease means trouble."  This was usually followed by the admonishment, "For a moment of play you may have to pay."

Throughout his correspondence, Maj. Gillham refers to the Japanese people as "Japs," which was common practice at the time, especially among American troops.  There is, of course, an implied hostility when referring to the enemy as "Japs" or "Krauts," but I think for the most part my grandfather's use of the word "Jap" is fairly neutral and simply explanatory.  In subsequent letters he will also use the term "Oriental," which has only recently been relegated to the non-PC bin.  Also, later he will use the term "Negro" when referring to African Americans, which was the accepted norm in the 1940s.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Japan at last! Arrival at Yokohama

The first letter written on land was another V-Mail, giving a brief account of his arrival in Yokohama.  The return address reads:  Maj. W.T. Gillham, APO 22958, c/o PM San Francisco, Calif.

30 Oct 45

Dearest Darling,

We got into Yokohama last night and spent most of the night moving by truck & rail to Replacement Depot #4, about 25 or 30 miles from Tokyo, near the Atsugi Air Base.  It is an old Jap army cantonment and has just been occupied a few days, and everything is a mess, but I don't expect to be here long.  The boat trip was fine and on schedule.  Saw Fuji Yama as we came into the bay.  I am in fine shape, but you need to be.  Got my foot locker O.K.  I don't expect any mail for a while yet.

Lots of love,



Modern-day view of Mt. Fuji from the Pacific Ocean,
with the U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur in the foreground.

Modern map of Tokyo Bay, showing Yokohama,
where the Mayo docked.