Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The first letters: Aboard ship, heading for Japan

The first letters sent by my grandfather, Maj. William Tucker Gillham, were from aboard the transport ship U.S.S. Admiral Henry Thomas Mayo, which had begun escorting occupation troops to Japan beginning in September, 1945, about a month after V-J Day.  The ship left on October 17, 1945, from Pier 45 in San Francisco, California, bound for Yokohama, Japan, a large port city located on Tokyo Bay.

His initial correspondence was written on the day of embarkation, on normal 6"x 10" stationery.  It was just a short note written aboard ship, after having just said good-bye to his family earlier that day at the Monterey station as he boarded his train for San Francisco.  The letter was addressed to Mrs. W.T. Gillham in Robles del Rio, California, a small town in the Carmel Valley about 15 miles east of the city of Carmel.  Major Gillham and his wife, Frances, and their three daughters, Emily, 10; Monty (my mother), 7; and Martha, 8 months; were living there in a small vacation cabin owned by friends who lived in Oakland. The Gillhams had been there since February 1945, while Major Gillham was stationed at Fort Ord, about 20 miles away.

The Gillhams, Christmas 1943
Monty and Emily hold their dolls
Monument Beach, MA


San Francisco, Calif.
17 Oct 45

Dearest Love,

Well, I am aboard ship and it is a very nice one -- a big new Navy transport about 600' long.  There are nine of us in a stateroom (Majors and Lt Cmdrs).  It is a little crowded, but we have good beds and plenty of room on deck to roam around.  It should be a fairly quick voyage.

I hated to leave you and the children this morning.  You were very brave and cheerful.  You have a big job to take care of our family while I am away, but I know you will do a good job of it.

I will remember last night as long as I am away.  You are a very sweet wife.  I love you with all my heart.

Don't forget to change the oil in the car.

I am not sure that I can get this mailed before I get to the other side or not, but am writing it just in case I can.

Remember, I love you.



His second letter was in the form of a V-Mail, or Victory Mail, which was a standardized system for delivering mail between troops and the homefront during the war and thereafter. V-Mail used standard 7" x 9-1/8" stationery that had a glue flange on one side so that the page could be folded in such a way as to become its own envelope.  This letter was written five days out to sea.

22 Oct 1945

Dearest Darling,

We are now about halfway across and I thought I would write this so I would have it to mail at the first opportunity. I have been keeping up my diary and I feel like I have written to you after I make an entry. We cross the date line tomorrow and thereby get an extra day's pay. So far it has been a fairly rough voyage but I have eaten three fine meals every day and kept them all down. This is a fine ship -- one of the best in the transport service. I will write several letters before the end of the trip. I am well and hope you and the children are too.

Lots of love,



The U.S.S. Mayo was named for Thomas Henry Mayo, a Navy admiral who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.  The Mayo was a so-called Benson-class Navy transport ship that was commissioned in the last days of World War II.  She transported over 5,000 released American prisoners of war from Le Havre, France, to Boston, and then moved nearly 5,000 troops from Marseilles, France, to Okinawa.  Once in the Pacific, the ship was used as a part of Operation Magic Carpet, transporting U.S. troops from the Western Pacific back home to the U.S. mainland beginning in September, 1945.  Major Gillham was aboard the Mayo on one such return trip to Tokyo.  Below is a photograph of the Mayo taken in 1945.

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