Sunday, June 6, 2010

...and Major Gillham relays his version of the overseas call

Today we get to hear Maj. Gillham's version of the overseas telephone call with Frances.  Not surprisingly, his story is very much that of an engineer, dealing mainly with the technical aspects of it.

25 Feb 1946

Dearest Darling,

It was certainly a thrill to talk halfway around the world to you last night.  It has made you seem real and live again instead of just a dream.  It may have been that the American transmitter was a little better than the Japanese one, for I heard you very plainly and distinctly.  Your voice would distort at times, but it was always intelligible.  Just when my call was put up the lights in the room went out, in true Japanese fashion, and I had to grope in the total darkness to even find the telephone.  I was unable to refer to my notes and had made no previous effort to memorize them.  Just as the operator was trying to get me to stop, the lights came on, and I realized I hadn't mentioned half the things I had in my notes.  Anyway, it was certainly fun, and the main thing was just to hear your voice again.

It sounds like that woman in Calif. is being coached by Mrs. Baldwin.  Well, let your offer stand, and if she won't take it, give her nothing.  Tell her I am to be discharged from the army "very soon."  Then let her make the next move.

I am sorry I called you at such an ungodly hour, but I wanted to get it in before going to Hiroshima and had to take what time was open.

Today I sent you a wooden box by parcel post, containing some lacquer, etc.  Let me know when it arrives.  The seven sake cups contain pictures of the seven wise men, or seven "happy gods" prominent in Japanese tradition.  The three red lacquer bowls of different sizes are a set used in the marriage ceremony and are dated Showa 11, or 1936.  I got them at Nikko and they seem to be good lacquer.  Also I like the carved lacquer postcard box.  It is an old piece.  I kept in on my desk until I sent  it and would like to hang on to it.  The other pieces are things made up new for the PX.  Time will tell whether they are good or not.  I made no attempt to get something for everyone in the family in this box, but just sent what I had on hand.  There is a little doll for Margaret and a cherry bark cigarette box for Father.

I leave tonight for Hiroshima and am looking forward to the break.  I have been working steadily since I returned from Nikko.

Tell Bryant I have a string of pearls for her and they are a "presento" (a new word recently added to the Japanese language) from me to her.  Shall I mail them or wait and bring them with me?

You will have to wait until 23 June to find out if you are going to get any yourself.  Isn't that horrible?

Loads of love,



The Seven Lucky Gods are a traditional grouping in Japanese folklore, and each god has his own personality and duty.  Their depictions are ubiquitous in Japan, like on the seven sake cups Maj. Gillham mentions above, as well as on netsuki figures and prints found on walls in homes and small retail shops.  The seven gods are as follows:

1. Hotei, the fat and happy god of good health and abundance.  I own a brass Hotei figure that is presumably from Maj. Gillham's collection.  In our house we always referred to him with the familiar form, Hotei-san.

2.  Jurojin, god of longevity

3.  Fukurokuju, god of happiness and wealth

4.  Bishamonten, god of warriors

5.  Benzaiten, goddess of art, knowledge, beauty and music

6.  Daikokuten, god of commerce and trade

7.  Ebisu, god of fishermen and merchants

The Seven Lucky Gods, in the same order as above.
Click on photo for larger image.

The year Showa 11 refers to the eleventh year of the Showa dynasty.  Emperor Hirohito was known officially as Showa and attained the throne in 1926.  Therefore, 1936 would be the 11th year of his reign, with Showa 1 being 1926. 

It is interesting that Maj. Gillham, while counting off the items that he sent Frances, mentions that "the other pieces are things made up new for the PX."  This is the very subject matter of the film Teahouse of the August Moon, from 1955 starring Glen Ford.  Ford's character is an Army officer stationed in occupied Japan and is sent by his irrascible C.O., played by Paul Ford (Mayor Shinn in the film The Music Man) down to southern Japan to rebuild a small village and help it regain its economic footing.  The initial plan is to have the villagers create handmade trinkets and gew-gaws that could be sold in Army PX's throughout the country.  This plan, of course, goes badly awry.  Apparently, though, this sort of economic planning did take place in Japan at that time.

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