June 1941: Tiger Sharks and Thank You Notes

Elmer spent the majority of the month at sea, so he had fewer opportunities to write his folks. Not that he had a great deal to say, anyway. “There really isn’t much to write about this time,” he wrote apologetically. “Our duty is the same, and not much to speak of.” His writer’s block appeared to be contagious as well. “Ozzie is writing a few lines also, he is sitting next to me. He doesn’t know what to say either.” His time at sea was not entirely uneventful. In the next paragraph, Elmer recounts spotting various kinds of marine life. “Ozzie and I saw a tiger shark this morning,” he wrote. It is “the most fierce of sharks.” They also watched “flying fish and porpoises” on the trip.

Thank you’s dominated his letters. His mother continued to send him candy. His sister Irene shipped him cookies, which “sure [were] good” despite being delivered a month late. “That happens every once and a while by parcel post,” he offered.” Thanks a million, sis.” He also sent home three Father’s Day cards, as thanks for “being such a swell dad!”

One reason for the lack of commentary was both straightforward and inevitable: after six months, life in the Navy was becoming routine. Elmer stressed in his letters that he still missed his home and his family: “I’m not kicking [out of the Navy] but a home with mom and dad suits me any time.” He also continued to reassure them that he was OK, “safe and shipshape.”

However, he did not fail to mention that he was studying for his new rating, and that the pay increase would be substantial. Compared to his pay in the Navy, “when you stop to think about it I wasn’t doing all that well at home.” Similar economic circumstances drove thousands of men from across the United States to join the Navy during the 1930s and early 40s: the promise of paid room and board, adventure and excitement on the government’s dime, and pay on top of all that. It was a great deal, at least for the time being.

Image result for invasion russia honolulu newspaper
Half a world away, Hawaiians read with foreboding – and maybe a silver lining’s worth of hope – about Hitler’s invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941.

Yet his June letters sounded more ominous notes about the waters ahead. For one thing, the Navy announced it would begin censoring sailors’ mail. Elmer explained that he would have to be careful about what he could say, and that he would no longer be able to describe the ship’s activities, location, or other details that could be intercepted by a potential enemy. He also responded to Hitler’s invasion of Russia that month. “I think Germany has bit off too much time,” he wrote his father. “At least I hope so.”

But Elmer, ever the optimist, expressed no regrets. “It is such a beautiful day today,” he wrote on June 15th. “The waiting room [at the Y] is open around the front and the sun is beating down on the palm trees. A cool breeze is drifting through here and it is refreshing. Gee, it is great to be alive.” Regardless of what was happening elsewhere in a world gone mad, it was a lovely afternoon in Hawaii, and Elmer was determined to enjoy it.

Longer letters were nice, but as far as his parents were concerned, that is all he needed to say.

Next Entry:
July 1941: Day Trips

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10 thoughts on “June 1941: Tiger Sharks and Thank You Notes

  1. Do you have that actual news paper from June 22, 1941 or is this a screen shot from a micro film? I studied about Hitler’s invasion on the Soviet Union back in the 90’s at UA. It was interesting how the Soviets were able to hold off the Germans for a few months. I found it interesting that Hitler was dead set on wiping out the Soviet Communist regime and all Jews. Why was he so interested in ousting the communist regime out of Russia? I enjoy reading you blog.

    1. Hi Darrell,
      Thanks for reading! This is a digital image from the internet. I should have sourced it… apologies for the confusion.

      Communism was one of Hitler’s bogeymen. Like a lot of people he despised Communism as an ideology, and he preyed on the fears many people had (especially in Germany) of a coming worldwide Communist revolution. But while I’m not an expert on this, my sense is that Hitler was more interested in Russia’s land than in exterminating its Communist government. He wanted Germany to have it’s own land frontier (like America had) and believed he could make that happen by taking out (and then killing off the people in) Eastern Europe.


  2. Matt,
    You continue to write an excellent blog! Please continue with your “Grandpa projects”..
    Aunt C

  3. Matt, Your writing style is so easy to read. Wonderful job of writing history through info gathered from Dad’s letters and incorporating it with facts from other sources. It’s going to be a wonderful book! Aunt C

    Sent from my iPad


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