Thursday, March 18, 2010

Maj. Gillham discusses his place in history

This letter is a rather interesting one, especially because of one paragraph where Maj. Gillham makes an assessment of his place in history.  He realizes that he is doing historic work but that he is not in a position to make any decisions about the course of history.  It's a rather cognizant assessment, given that it's very easy to get bogged down with daily minutiae and lose the broad perspective.

11 Jan 1946

For several days I have been sinking lower and lower because I didn't get any mail from you.  I had your letter written Christmas so I knew you got to Atlanta all right, and I had a sweet note from Emily and one from Bryant, so I assumed everything was O.K., but nothing can take the place of a letter from you, my own sweet wife.  Today two of them came and I have taken a new lease on life.  Although they were written on Dec. 29 + 30, they were both postmarked 2 PM 31 Dec.  I had seen cartoons of a lonely G.I. getting nothing at mail call, but you have no idea how it makes you feel to see everybody getting mail except you until you experience it.

I sent the children another little package yesterday -- nothing valuable, but maybe interesting.

Tell Bryant I met a Marine Lt. Col. McMillan today that said he knew Carl well at New River.

Of all the stuff I brought with me I think I have gotten the most satisfaction out of my pajamas, and that little can & bottle opener.  The things I wish I had brought and didn't are my bath robe and writing pad; in fact, I though I had them until I unpacked.  However, I have everything I need.  I found a good Eversharp fountain pen, so I have two; I won the right to buy a lighter at a PX lottery, so I have three; we get more than we need to eat; I got another pair of low shoes, but I turned my ankle so I have gone back to field shoes temporarily; at the PX we can nbow consistently get crackers, cakes, candy, gum, fruit juice, peanuts, soap, paper, razor blades, etc.; we get a ration of one carton of cigarettes per week and sometimes they throw in chocolate bars, shaving cream, chewing tobacco, etc.

At work I have two officers as my assistant editors and two enlisted men typists.  The are all good men and very cooperative.  I don't sit across the table from General MacArthur, but at least we work on the same papers.  I get them with his own penciled notations on them and put them in shape;  but he hasn't changed too much of my work, though I know he reads it.  My spot in history is somewhat like that of the hero in the "Tree of Liberty."  I can't do much about it, but at least I can see what is going on.

Please send me foot outlines of all of you who would like tabes.  Put your foot on a piece of paper and draw an outline around it.  Send me Margaret's size, too.  Also tell me how tall the children are.  I hate to get things too small, but over here among these dwarf people you lose your sense of proportion.  Things are easing up a bit, more goods are available, and before I leave I might be able to get a few nice things.  What type of things would you want?

I will try to send Martha a birthday present in a few days.  Doesn't one year ago seem a long time ago?  I know Martha is keeping you busy, but it's fun, isn't it?  I think that as I get older, I am becoming much more interested in my children -- all of them.  I think it will be fine for them to go to NAPS provided there is no snobbery there.  I have no use for that, but I don't remember it as that kind of a school.

I think Emily was very smart to pick out a silver pattern.  She showed excellent taste and I am very anxious to see one of the real spoons.  She profited by waiting for her present, for I had the same idea and sent her the pearls.  I am glad Monty liked the bracelet.  I hope she doesn't get sick any more.  I am also glad to hear that you have a watch again.  Bryant and Dan are keepingus in time pieces.

We have about three movies a week -- I am going to one in a few minutes.  We have been able to get some Japanese sherry (very dry) at the bar lately.  It is very good.  Believe it or not, I haven't tasted sake yet, but I will before I leave.

I recently finished reading Arctic Adventure by Peter Freuchen.  He married an Eskimo and raised two children in the Arctic.  Some of their experiences raise your hair.  Imagine seeing a wolf stalking your child and being too far away to help.  He got the wolf with a lucky shot, but many of their experiences make our hardships and hazards look very mild.

-- Just saw "Those Endearing Young Charms," a love story with some good lines and acting.  Makes me miss you more than ever -- and also look forward to seeing you again more than ever.

I dreamt of you last night and I hope I dream of you again tonight, my love.  Also, the other morning I was dreaming that the children were running around in the room -- and I woke up and it was the Jap boy running down the hall.

Good night, Sweetheart, 



The "New River" mentioned in this letter refers to what is now called the Marine Corps Air Station New River, now a part of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  Originally, the New River section was a tobacco field that was purchased by the War Department in 1941 to be developed into an air field for adjacent Camp Lejeune.  When this letter was written, the property was known as Marine Corps Auxiliary Airfield Camp Lejeune, but was known commonly as just New River.  Carl Moore, the husband of Frances' sister Bryant, had done his Marine training at Camp Lejeune.

The Eversharp fountain pen was made by the Eversharp Pencil Company of Bloomington, Illinois, which by 1945 had branched out from its origins as a manufacturer of mechanical pencils.  In fact, the mechanical pencil was invented in 1913 by Charles Keeran, who subsequently started the Eversharp company.  In an interesting sidelight, the Japanese inventor Hayakawa Tokuji devised a mechanical pencil in 1915, which he called the Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil.  With the success of his company, he later founded the Sharp Electronics Corporation.

The Tree of Liberty was a novel that was written by Elizabeth Page and was filmed in 1940 as The Howards of Virginia starring Cary Grant.  The story revolves around Matthew Howard and his family's plight during the American Revolution.  One can assume that the novel's title comes from Jefferson's now-famous assertion that " the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

NAPS was the acronym for the North Avenue Presbyterian School which was founded as a day school in 1902 and later became a K-12 school in 1917.  It was associated with the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, which is where Maj. Gillham and Frances met in 1929.  In 1951 the school became what is known today as the Westminster School, located on West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead.

Peter Freuchen (1886-1957) was a Danish explorer who traversed the Greenland icecap with Knud Rasmussen.  In 1935 he wrote a book about his experiences, Arctic Adventures, which Maj. Gillham references in this letter.  Interestling, a year before his death, Freuchen won the top prize on the TV game show The $64,000 Question.

Those Endearing Young Charms was a 1945 RKO film starring Robert Young and Laraine Day.  It was a service romance, which is probably why it particularly struck Maj. Gillham.  Incidentally, the film was based on a play which got its title from the old Irish song, Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms, written in 1808 by Irish poet Thomas More.  Modern audiences probably remember this song as the one Yosemite Sam had Bugs Bunny play on a rigged piano in the Warner Brothers short Ballot Box Bugs.  The high note in the opening strain was supposed to set off dynamite, but Bugs Bunny would continually play the wrong key.  Finally, in frustration, Yosemite Sam shows him how to play it, with explosive results.