Posted by: notsofancynancy | October 1, 2014

The Suitcase, Chapter 8, Pearl Harbor

The Suitcase

Chapter 8

Pearl Harbor

December 1941 I am very nervous to read the December 1941 letters. My heart beats fast and I am feeling hot and shaky. Out of all the letters I have read, I know what will happen on 7 December 1941 will be the beginning of the end for many a young man in the United States. I have started to read the letters several times now but I have not been able to get past the first letter. I have held it but I have not been able to open it. So for the sake of preserving history I will push on.

Camp Robinson Stationary

Camp Robinson Stationary

The beginning of December finds Dad still in Camp Robinson, Arkansas, and getting pretty bored. But maybe it was more than that. Maybe he was just trying to right the wrongs he made by not visiting Mom on the last furlough he was granted. He will have been in the Army for one year on the 23rd and he has just turned 22. Something must have been said about not being discharged, or maybe his quest is just to see my Mom before he went to fight in a war that is becoming more real. For now he is focused on getting that furlough long enough to visit my mom and her parents for a few days.  I wonder how many others made that last minute choice and got married because of a war. I am sure way more than I can know. The United States was new in the act of war.  We had fought several wars but never with the weaponry than will be used to fight this war. Dad is beginning to look at mom family as “his” family. He thinks he will be getting furlough sometime around Christmas in 1941, although he is not certain. There seems not to be much of anything going on other than the usual inspections, watching training films, and having the Army changing its mind about what the soldiers should be doing. Then this,

You know I told you about a convoy home. Well that blew up. The colonel wouldn’t give permission. We had the generals’ but that was all. Boy we sure were mad, you see it was to get furniture for our day room. The Texas Chamber of Commerce gave $300 for it. I don’t know how we will get it here. I suppose we won’t. Maybe he will change his mind.

I am not sure why the Texas Chamber would give the Nebraska boys who are in Arkansas money. But it looks like they cannot find a way to get it to Arkansas anyway. Wait! I remember some Texas Girls made a stand about a certain 15 mile hike can this be why? In the same envelope he writes to Grandma,

Well I guess we get travel time on our furlough but that is all. They are giving 10 days and 1 day for every 500 miles on the road. I really don’t know what to do. Right now all I can get off is the 31st and I don’t know about coming then. I asked the Co Clerk and he said he didn’t think I could get gone any before that, I still have the top kick to ask. I think he’ll let me go around the 20th.Right now he is engaged in a big crap game and I couldn’t possibly interrupt that. If I did I know darn well I wouldn’t go. Darn the Army anyway.

There you go he is still thinking he is going to get a furlough but they have just pushed the date back. Did stuff like that really happen? It brings back memories of the television series MASH, sitting around in their underwear, smoking cigars, and playing cards. Although the actors in MASH were in a war zone these men were not worried about it. No one realizes what is going to happen in little less than a week.

Camp Robinson 19411

When I think of Hawaii I see surfers, palm tree’s, beaches, beautifully brown skin kissed by the sun, girls in hula skirts, men in beautiful costumes, drums, drinks served in pineapples with umbrella’s, fruit, and a kicked back life. I cannot get my mind wrapped around the actual event that happened there on that December day in 1941.Although I know that Hawaii is a beautifully magical land, I am now aware that this horrific event happened there. Thankfully my father was not at Pearl Harbor but I cannot help thinking how many men were killed.  I believe in my mind I have always kept Hawaii separate from the Pearl Harbor Naval Base.  This catastrophic event would seal our fate and send our soldiers into a frenzy knowing it was now their duty to guard the United States. As I write this I feel frantic to read what was written in this next set of letters but let’s take a look at the facts of the bombing. According to Wikipedia (Click Here) a little before 8 am on 7 December 1941 a swarm of over 300 Japanese planes filled the sky in a surprise attack over Pearl Harbor Naval base. It was located on the island of Honolulu in a perfect horseshoe bay called Pearl Harbor. It was a Sunday and a lot of the service people were off the base to attend Sunday church services, or it might have been a whole lot worse.

Courtesy of the Cain Family

Courtesy of the Cain Family

It would be a time where the people of the United States were scared and many paranoid. My family came to the United States to get away from war. Never before had it hit so close to home and never had our people felt so vulnerable. When the smoke cleared and inventory was taken over 2,500 people were killed and 1,000 were wounded. All eight of the Navy battleships were damaged and of those, four sunk. Also damaged or destroyed in the attack were three cruisers, three destroyers, and approximately 180 airplanes. Thankfully four of the Japanese’s intended targets were missed. Three of our biggest battleships were out at sea and thankfully the fuel tanks located on the island were missed. The attack was the last straw in failing communications between Japan and the United States. This is what my father and his buddies had been joking about the last few years, having to actually fight in a war.  The safety of the United States just got dumped on these young men’s shoulders. My father told me of being sent to California to guard the coast from any further attack. I cannot even imagine what it felt like to be being threatened with that kind of force here in the United States? 8 December, President Roosevelt came over the radio wires with the same sentiment others in the United States felt.

Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Anyone who was living that day would always remember where they were and what they were doing when the news of the attack reached them.  The whole country was unbelievably surprised by this attack and it sent more than one American’s life into tailspin of uncertainty.

Marvin Cain wrote "December 8, 1941  Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain wrote “December 8, 1941 Courtesy of the Cain Family

I have seen the movies of Pearl Harbor and not once has it hit me as hard as this research into the causalities of Pearl Harbor. Maybe it is because now I am looking at it for more personal reasons. I am anxious to find out how this bombing will play out in my father’s story. To me this is the one incident that would change my father’s life forever.  I wonder if he had gotten home in 1941might my parents have gotten married? The way Dad is talking right now I think it is a possibility. This one earth shattering event affected not only my family but the families of over 17 million men and woman who served in this war. Still in Arkansas on 11 December 1941 he writes to my mom,

Up until an hour ago I still had hopes in coming home only for four days. Then a bomb struck them. [Sic} Where will we be by then, God only knows. I only hope we get it over with in a hurry. There is so much I haven’t done and I would like to. Well here are the circumstances good or bad. We might move from here in a half an hour and it might be six months before we go. That is as much as I can tell you. I know one thing though I was a damn fool for not coming when I had a chance. I guess that is too late now. Remember though it is the same as when I was up there before. You’re the only thing I really have left. I hope I can say that???? I guess you can tell me what your Grandmother gave you. I am sure I will be home for some Xmas but not this one damnit. I never did plan ahead of time that worked [Sic}. No I guess you didn’t say you made up your mind. Well we have one thing in common now. At least we won’t argue about it for a while. I had a good argument to put up though when I got there. Hope you had a good time while you were in Emporia. I imagine you did though. I haven’t much to say so I guess I better quit. Adios, Lefty, Tell everyone hello.

He sounds so desperate and alone. He has his family in Nebraska but his dad is not healthy and will soon go to live with my father’s brother, Dad’s Mom has been gone for four years now and I am not sure why he does not have much contact with his brothers and sisters.  He has family who writes him but he does not have the connection he has with my grandparents.  It is sad to think he felt so alone. I am really glad he had my mom and her family. It is beginning to make me realize why Dad was always so loyal to my mom’s parents. He was always close with them and you could tell how much he loved and respected them. After my grandfather died in 1972 my father would drive the half hour to Grandma’s house twice a week. Towards the end of her life in 1996 he drove there every day to help care for her. That is right Grandma lived another 24 years living alone. Grandma did not learn to drive when she came to California and 30 years later when Grandpa passed she had to learn. She was 71 years old. It was a scary time in our family, we were fearful to be on the roads at the same time! 1

6 December 1941 – QM departed from Camp Robinson, Arkansas

Marvin Cain wrote "California Bound" Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain wrote “California Bound” Courtesy of the Cain Family

19 December 1941 finds the letter postmarked from Big Springs Texas. So they are on the move and there is more uncertainty,

Well here I am again. We left camp last night bound for God only know where. We are somewhere in Texas now. All we know it that it is suppose to take four days to get us to our destination. We are going by train (Note is scribbled) so if you can’t read this than it isn’t my fault. There isn’t much to write about only I love you. Wish I was headed your way instead of this. I have been on guard for the last two nits. [Sic] Sure am tired. Have 2 more Hrs and then I am done I hope. They split our Co in half. Half is with Co F 110th Engineers that is what I am in. Half is with Co E 110QM. I hope the whole Co. gets together again. We don’t even know whether they are going the same way. Well I guess I better close by the time you figure this out you will probably be gray haired. All my love, Lefty, Merry Xmas.

The only thing different in the letter he wrote to Grandma was,

I don’t think there is anything to get worried about though.  Anyway no one is here is. As far as we know Calif [Sic} is our limit. Maybe we will get to shoot a jay yet. We were supposed to have a convoy last Sunday but they could not get flat cars in fast enough to load the trucks. So we were waylaid until Thursday.  Merry Xmas, Lefty

The next is this postcard dated the 20th,


20 December 1941-post marked Bowie, Arizona

 It says “Good Scenery here too, Love Lefty. The Letter on the 21th we find him on a train where he writes,

I am just leaving Los Angeles. Not what I expected though. As far as I know we are still going west. I guess we are pretty sure to go to Ft. Ord Calif. for a while. In all the places I have been in yet I’ll take this. Boy you can sure see a lot (of mountains) We have been in them the last two days. That is in and out of them. I always though Texas was grazing country well what I saw of it was mostly farming. New Mexico and Arizona are the ones for that. Always [Sic] across both of them that was all we saw. I believe I had rather driven down though. I believe we could have had more fun. It would be colder though. I guess we are going through a tunnel before long. Anyway they just came along and told us to close our windows. I am getting a lot of experience on this trip. Just think right now there is an orange grove on each side. Everything is green and it is plenty warm. I wish you and I were taking this trip together, I sure bet we could have the fun. That was quite a tunnel. There seems to be more rocks on this side. That was a double header. On [Sic] another it seems to be a habit now. We seem to have a lot of them. This one seems to be a long one. We have the lights on in the car. Boy that really was a long one. The gas from the engine almost got us. It must have been all of a mile long. Gosh I can’t think of much more to say right now so I will close until later.

Marvin Cain wrote "On our way to Fort Ord, Calif"  Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain wrote “On our way to Fort Ord, Calif” Courtesy of the Cain Family

24 December 1941 – QM arrived at Fort Ord, California

26 December 1941 finds him in California. There are two letters with the same date on them.

Darling, well guess what! I am still alive. Wouldn’t you know it? We sure have been having a time here. I have been on guard for the last 40 hours. No let up in site either. We have to stand until the company comes back. They are someplace around here close. Pardon the pencil but I just ran out of ink and everyone who seems to have some is gone.  It’s just as good though. You probably wouldn’t be able to read it anyway.  Gosh darling I wish I were there instead of this damn hole. I never did like to break promises. We could have so much fun if it wasn’t for the Japs. [Sic} Just wait. When my chance comes I’ll make them pay for it. That is if they don’t see me first. I am about a man to shoot the _ _ _ _ out of someone anyway. Well I guess I better close for now.

That makes me want to tell him to be careful! I know that he feels like it is his duty to keep us safe no matter what the cost to him would have been. It is how my dad rolled. To Grandma he writes,

Well by now you probably know I am in Calif. This is sure quite a place. It is a lot larger than Robinson is. We can harbor 40,000 men and if need be 80,000. I don’t know how many are here now. I know we are sure having a time. I have been on guard for the last 40 hrs. Boy am I tired. This is some way to spend Christmas Eve. There are only about 19 here, The rest took off this afternoon. We don’t know where they are or when they will be back. Only we do know that we are stuck with guard until they get back. They are taking every precaution against attacks. We even have ammunition on guard. About the first time in the last year. Well there isn’t much to write about. A motor cycle rider just came back from the rest. They ain’t [Sic] so far. I guess every truck in the Co. is going into San Francisco tonight. Boy I sure would like to be them. Maybe there would be some excitement. There sure isn’t here yet! Boy I sure would have liked to come up. It kind of hurt at first but there wasn’t anything I could possible do about it so I guess I have to do the best I can. Half of the Co came through K. C. Wichita and as far as I know Salina. I guess it was after night though. I guess I better get some sleep. As ever, Lefty.

Wait did I read that right? “We even have ammunition on guard?” I am not sure that is a good thing with my dad feeling as desperate as he is right now.

Marvin Cain wrote "Breaker's at Fort Ord"  1941 Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain wrote “Breaker’s at Fort Ord” Courtesy of the Cain Family

And the second one reads,

Darling, Well I was right we are in Fr. Ord. how long I can’t say. This is quite a place. Have seen a little of it by now. We got here at 5 this morning (Mon.) unloaded and was going to take it easy. Well guess what, they called us out to help more inf. in. Well we were still going at 7:30 tonight. This camp holds 40,000 men. Quite a lot larger than Jolly Joe’s. We have barracks here. They seem OK so far. Not quite so much privacy but it isn’t bad. Things seem a lot better here than there. Anyway it is warmer. We have a nice view of the ocean form here. In fact we are only about a half mile from there. The rest of the company has not gotten here yet. I think now they will because most of the rest have shown up. Well must close for now and hope to hear from you soon. All my love, Lefty.

Ft. Ord is 80 miles south of San Francisco. It is 20,000 miles of prime beachfront property. Originally designated as Ft. Gigling, it was established as a military training base in 1917. With beach side training as well as providing wooded terrain and excellent training ground. It was also good having a ton of soldiers on the coast to protect it at the same time.

(The California Military Museum click here to learn more)

Viola wearing Pop’s WWI Uniform

27 December 1941

I wrote a little last night but I haven’t anything to do now so I guess I will write again. Boy I am tired. Haven’t been in bed for so long I don’t know how it would feel. I might get a few minutes tonight in a bed, I hope. Had a good chance last night but we had to take the trucks out in the woods and hide them. Then we tried to sleep in the cabs. Boy if I ever get in those positions again I think I will die.  Boy I couldn’t even straighten up this morning. I was so tired I couldn’t stay awake and I was a whole lot worse this morning. This is what I think of you joining the Ambulance Service. Don’t do it. You don’t know what you are in for, then if we can’t win this war without you we will deserve to lose it. If you think anything of me at all don’t do it. I have never asked much of you but I am asking this. That would just about be the end of us. If you know what I mean. And I hope you do because I love you. Bye now, Love, Lefty.

Well I guess he told her. I know this was also a hard time for the women in the United States. All of the people of the United States were thinking of ways to help in the war effort. 29 December 1941

Well here I am again and believe me I feel rotten. We got a good night’s sleep last night and it didn’t agree I guess. We get the afternoon off if the trucks don’t go out. I am taking all bets they do though. We can’t even go to town. And think of it we broke the last ping pong ball and now we have nothing to do. I really don’t know how sleeping would be but I suppose will find out. You know in every game a suckers had. Well we are on our way out. I don’t know how soon. So as far as I am concerned you won’t need to keep up with me anymore unless you want to. I might be here tomorrow and I might be somewhere else. Who knows. Anyway it has been nice knowing you and if it wasn’t for the darn Army I am sure we could have gotten together. The way it is I really believe it is better this way. I want your opinion on this whole darn subject. There isn’t anyone in the world I would rather have on my side than you. I’ll probably be sorry I even wrote this but if it does happen there is going to be a lot of grief for you. There will be times I won’t be able to write and times you won’t get the letters I do write. Take your choice. This is going to be a long war. Well the wind doesn’t blow so hard here but it has rained every day since we got here. Believe me it sure has been a job keeping dry. Especially if you are on guard.  As ever, lefty.

He sounds so depressed and hopeless! What will happen in the next months? I am interested to find out. I found this tidbit interesting; the average annual rainfall in at Ft. Ord is 14 inches and almost always occurs between November and April. No wonder it is raining so much. Those soldiers do not have a chance of drying out. I do not remember my dad talking about taking the trucks out each night and hiding them from sight. How long would he have to do this? How many nights would he end up sleeping in the cab of his truck? I wonder how many other soldiers were feeling the same way as he did, hopeless and uncertain. 1941 has been a big year for my father. First the National Guard, then the Army, then he fell in love, and now he is talking about sacrificing his life in honor of his country’s freedom. I don’t believe that he will ever be the same again.

Copyright 2012 © notsofancynancy


  1. The last sentence is so poignant. Nobody ever leaves the military service the same as when they went in.

  2. Hi Nancy! I entered the Army in 1971 and traveled to Ft. Ord for basic training. It’s cold in the mornings and hot in the afternoons there. Once I went into the Army I pretty much lost track of anyone that I knew before. I’m sorry about hearing the rough time your family had around then, with the loss of your grandfather.
    While I was at Ord, I saw some of the old barracks that remained from WW2. They didn’t seem to be very comfortable looking. When I went to Arizona for advanced training, I was able to confirm that those old barracks weren’t comfortable after having to live in them for almost a year. So I can appreciate what your dad wrote about them. But he also must have been at his wits end with all the unknowns at that time.

    • Wow Rudy! I had no idea they would have been around in the 70’s that is crazy! It most certainly was a hard time not only my family but the whole US! So uncertain after those terrorist attacks not knowing if they would actually attack us here at home. Such a scary time for the Americans.

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