And in this second episode, the Eyde brothers wait to see what the declaration of war will mean for them. The two in the service — Frank and Ralph — wait to see when and where they would deploy. And as one of the brothers sees his first combat, they wonder whether little brother John will have to face battle as well.
Thanks for listening to “Letters From War.” A note to listeners: Some of the letters included in this series contain racist and pejorative language, including in regards to Japanese and German troops, and descriptions of war that may be upsetting to some listeners.
FRANK EYDE: Thursday, Jan. 1, 1942
I have started snipers school for four weeks or more here, three miles from San Diego in the hills. We live in two main tents and the soil is all sandy, so when it rains it soaks right through the soil.
It’s the rainy season and everything around camp is wet. Thank Sanford for his letter…
DAN LAMOTHE: Just a month earlier, Frank was well on his way to settling into his unit as a young enlisted leader.
He was in charge of about 20 other men and leading some of their training.
The war was already consuming most of Europe and Asia, and Germany was on the offensive. But, for America, it still felt far away.
Now, after Pearl Harbor, the war had arrived on America’s shores.
And Frank was in a tent in the mud of San Diego, readying himself for combat.
He was training to scout ahead of tank units as they deployed to the Pacific theater.
It’s a job the Marine Corps History Division now describes as one of the most dangerous positions of the time.
Deployment was no longer a question of if, just when.
Across the country, it was a question that echoed in everyone’s ears.
The isolationist sentiment that had been all over the United States the previous year was now gone.
It was replaced almost by a war frenzy.
Nearly 2.2 million Americans were in the military by the end of 1941.
Most who could serve, did. Those who couldn’t, found ways to help back home.
War bonds became popular gifts to support the effort.
Defense production went into overdrive.
Many who couldn’t fight trained in civilian defense — first aid, spotting enemy planes along the coast line. Bomb removal.
And the mix of fear and bravado in the face of war also fueled the first calls for Japanese Americans to be placed in internment camps — effectively prisoners in their own country.
With the military draft underway, Frank and Ralph worried about their little brother. They hoped John would get a deferment. They gave him advice on the best jobs to avoid combat.
But they themselves seemed almost eager to see action.
“We’re going to wipe the Japs off the map,” Ralph wrote.
“Watch them babies fall when I get that gun working,” Frank said
For the Eydes, 1942 began with preparations for the combat that had become inevitable but was maybe still not quite feeling real.
Jan. 1, 1942. From Frank.
FRANK: Tell John if he joined the navy reserve and asked to be put on welding, he would stay on land possibly and maybe as much or more then outside, because they make him a rated man right away if that’s what he wants. Of course there’s always a lot of opportunities and grab the best one.
I am feeling fine and dandy. Getting up and going through one exercise every day at six.
I’m still at the East Garrison and feeling fit as a fiddle. On guard duty seven days a week, and four hours and eight off isn’t bad at all. My new address is:
PFC Ralph Eyde
San Jose, California
I’m still at Ord, but all mail is sent to headquarters, as they know where to find us at all times. And notice the PFC! The company commander says to me on Dec. 31, “You’re a private first class now.” I got it on my first rifle salute and snappy dress, cause on last Saturday’s inspection he inspected me and asked me several questions and congratulated me on my neat appearance. He says to me, “You’ve attended some military school, haven’t you?” I replies, “No Sir.” Then he asks how long I’ve been in the service. I says “six months” and he says, “Very good, very good.”
So today I’m drawing $36 a month instead of $30. I’ll sure try for the corporal rating and studying will do the trick.
I can’t leave camp anymore. I haven’t been out of camp going on 5 weeks now. But we’ll get together sometime in the future.
Johnny doesn’t know if he’ll get another deferment, and if he doesn’t he states that he’s coming out here and see you and I and sign up for his draft so he can stay out here.
Take it easy, Frank, and here’s hoping we can get together again soon in the next few months. Get that sergeant’s rating Frank and stay in there pitching.
This is your boy again, saying hello. Just got a letter from Harry and he says you looked swell, but was worried. Why worry? Things come as they do and no one can do anything about them, so rest assured it will be some time before I will see action — as much as I like to get into it and get my share of those Japs and Huns.
Ralph is oikay and so are all the rest of the lads.
Must close with happy thoughts of home and hope for the better to come.
Why are the Japs like their silk stockings? One Yank and they all run. Ha ha.
I’m in training in school just studying and working problems and reading instruments that tell you how far a man is from me or from another person or poi-sons.
Don’t tell anyone of this information, as I’m not supposed to let it out, but I know it doesn’t go past you. They don’t want us to say anything about anything but what I talk about to you isn’t any more than you read in the papers.
They’ve canceled passes now and maybe I’ll get another 24 hour pass next in March.
I can write more, keed, but signing off till next time,
NEWS CLIP: The News of the World. Wed., Feb. 11. For the news in our own nation’s capital, we take you to Washington for the report of Eric Sevareid:
Today is the national holiday of Japan. Some authorities Washington whose job it is to carefully check the progress of the Philippine fighting each day believe last weekend that the Japanese would try to complete the capture of the Philippine islands in time for today’s celebration. This morning it appeared that Singapore might fall before the Philippines. But there is a feeling here that the final hour of trial for MacArthur’s men is now at hand. The military problem of coping with the Japanese in the Far East has a parallel in the legal and administrative problem of coping with them on the West Coast of the United States. Yesterday a committee of Pacific Coast senators and representatives asked that all persons of Japanese ancestry — and that would mean many who are now American citizens — be evacuated from the coast and that individuals be readmitted only on right. One solution now being discussed is a declaration of martial law in these areas. Then the army would move citizens as well as aliens. Pacific Coast congressmen are expected to meet again tomorrow and may ask the president to issue an executive order to carry out the evacuations at once.
I had a 24 hour pass last Thurs. April 2.
I went to Los Altos and visited Uncle Oscar’s place and saw everyone again.
Uncle Oscar is doing his part in civilian defense by standing his turn at night watching and listening for enemy planes. It’s quite a strategic place where they live, so they have night guards out every hour of darkness.
You’re learning a lot on those different jobs in the shop and stick with it.
Well, Johnny, watch your driving and take the curves easy.
I’ll keep you all posted on how I’m making out.
Oh, yes, Edythe would like to hear from you and Sigie, so when you get time, drop her a few lines of bull to:
Miss Edythe Eyde
So long for now and keep smiling,
The Range Finder (ha, ha)
FRANK: June 3, 1942, Tuesday, noon
This is that letter I wanted to write you. I am in the reconnaissance department of the tank corps, Company C, 2nd Marines, and my job is to plot roads for tanks and be on the watch for enemy traps.
We do not expect to know where we are going, but will write from port or make phone call or telegram so you can keep sending the mail as regular to my new address at camp and let me how things are at home.
I am in fine shape and expect to take good care of myself. Musha knows I can.
I will try to write you, but doubt if they let mail go out from the new port.
Tell John to save his dough and quit arguing so much.
Keep smiling and be cheerful as worries never did anybody any good.
He that hath not the Son of God hath not life, from I John 5:12.
What do you think of the big bombings of our planes over Germany?
NEWS CLIPS: THE WIP special events department in conjunction with the coast to coast mutual network presents the exclusive story of the battle of Midway Island …
… We licked the Japs in a major slugging match between surface ships and though it would be almost impossible for me to give a complete description of the battle, these are a few of the impressions which I’ll never forget. I remember the sheets of flame which came up and almost blinded us from our guns. And then the shells as they started on their way, fireworks more spectacular than any Fourth of July. Pinpoints of red winging their way toward the target …
RALPH: Sunday, June 7, 1942
Had a line from Frank last week and according to his letter, he shoved off.
But don’t worry about him. He’s milad who can take care of himself and he knows all the tricks.
I was hoping to see him, but that’ll have to wait a while I guess. It won’t last too long, the way the U.S. fleet is beating the Japs in the Pacific.
Well, take good care of yourself and the boys Musha.
NEWS CLIPS: Guadalcanal airport. The tiny patch of land for which Japan has sacrificed a fleet of warships and thousands of fighting men still bristles with United States bombers. Today, these land-based bombers are leading the way as the combined United States land, sea and air offensive begins the task of sweeping the Japs from the south Pacific ….
… In the far south Pacific, brave American boys are fighting and winning. It is slow, tired, dangerous fighting. Fighting in mud and heat and dense jungle.
After the battle is over and all is well, we are on our way again.
What I saw I will never forget.
I was on a guncrew that shot down a Jap bomber coming right at us about 20 feet off the water and 25 feet from our boat.
In all, our ship shot down five bombers coming right close to the ship, trying to crash into it. High bombers overhead dropping eggs all around us.
At night a real battle was on. I saw tracers blast from our ships against the Japs and heavy fires all around.
We can’t talk about the losses of the war so I guess all I can say is, we won the battle. It was sure a Fourth of July and it happened eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This being my birthday, I am enjoying it as much as possible. The Red Cross has been giving us books, sewing kits, sweaters, socks, and many other things of value.
It looks as if we might have some rest for a while anyway.
I am feeling fine as usual and know you and the boys are all behind us in the cause to win. I will write soon and keep smiling.
LAMOTHE: Frank was the first brother to see combat.
The Guadalcanal campaign is famous in Marine Corps history.
In a surprise attack, Marines came ashore several tiny islands in the Solomons and took control of a Japanese air base that was under construction.
It was the first major Allied offensive in the Pacific theater.
Frank’s unit was put on the island of Tulagi.
They arrived under heavy fire. Not everyone on Frank’s ship made it off alive, let alone got ashore.
Those who did get ashore fought hundreds of Japanese soldiers on a strip of land about three miles long and a half-mile wide.
The battle ended in a decisive Allied victory.
We can’t know exactly what Frank saw or did in those initial hours of the battle that he described in his letter.
But it stayed with him for the rest of his life
Frank’s unit withdrew relatively quickly, moving to the islands of New Hebrides.
There, they began training for more combat in the Pacific islands.
It was a situation he and Ralph were trying to help their brother John avoid.
They hoped John’s technical skills would keep him out of combat.
Keep your job as a mechanic, they’d write him. Stay out of the infantry.
Frank had had his first taste of enemy fire, and he didn’t want his little brother to face that, too.
JOHN EYDE: Private John Eyde
Squad 168 B Flight B
Miami Beach, Florida
Lucky me! Here I am in Miami Beach. It was going to be one of two places I knew — St. Petersburg or Miami — and it turned out to be Miami, thank goodness.
Training starts Monday, that’s tomorrow and watch me show them rookies how to march!
Chow is going to be sounded pretty soon so I may have to leave before I finish this.
So now if you don’t mind me leaving I’ll be signing off – eat chow and walk around this place so I can write more about the place later. So goodbye for now. Will write Ralph another letter later.
Bonus: Listen to the voice actors, all modern veterans discuss major themes in the first half of the podcast