January 1942: Adjusting to a New Reality

Published in the Los Angeles Times, 1 January 1942 (Posted by GreenTentacle, https://imgur.com/gallery/35PER)

One month removed from the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, Elmer and the thousands of other surviving sailors continued to cope not only with their injuries, shock, and anger, but also a very different reality. Hawaii at peacetime was warm, pleasant, and inviting. Sometimes it could be boring, expensive, and placid, but considering everything that was happening in Europe, Asia, Africa, and on the North Atlantic, it was the warmest part of the luckiest country on Earth. With the start of the New Year, however, wartime rules were now firmly in place. Cruises beyond Oahu often led to dangerous encounters with the enemy, while on the island the soldiers and sailors warily stood guard against a possible Japanese invasion.

Yet the New Year also offered some rays of hope. One positive development was the reopening of lines of communication between servicemen and their families back home. It was now possible to renew pre-war correspondences on at least a semi-regular basis. “Yes, we were right in the middle of the air raid on the 7th of December,” Elmer reported to his parents over a month later. “It is a scene I will never forget. Our anti-aircraft guns and machine guns were extremely accurate.” Elmer began hearing from other family members, friends, and acquaintances as well. Even Pat began writing him friendly letters.

One note in particular brightened Grandpa’s day. When family friend Harry Scott wrote to Elmer, he recalled how happy Forrest was when he came by to report that his son was safe after the bombing. “It made me feel good to know that,” he admitted when relaying to his father what Harry had told him.

Not all mail services were timely or reliable. Elmer had to wait nearly two months for his “Christmas box,” which contained candy, cigars, pipe tobacco, socks, and other gifts. By the time Elmer had received it his parents had already sent him another one. But Elmer was still able to reliably send money home, which was particularly important following the wartime raise he and the rest of the Navy’s sailors received retroactive to the morning of December 7th. On January 20th he sent his parents a $75 money order (which would be worth over $1,100 in 2019), and he promised to send monthly $30 allotments in the future.

Elmer also decided to earmark some of his wartime windfall towards an upgraded life insurance policy, which was now worth $7,000 (about $100,000 today). Despite being in the “best of spirits” Grandpa understood that the Pacific was a much more dangerous place to be than it had been just a month earlier. But morbid practicality did not dampen his otherwise optimistic outlook. “The Japanese are finding out that Americans are hard fighters,” he declared. They were a “little different than unarmed Chinese troops they have been slaughtering for years.” In another letter, he admitted that the war might take some time to win. “I hope we can lick those Japs as soon as possible. It might take a little while . . . [but] ultimate victory is inevitable.”

Part of Elmer’s job while writing these letters, as we will see, was to maintain parental morale back home. “Keep those chins up!” he declared with regularity. He also warned them against believing rumors or sensationalist reports in the press. “Dad, you and mom shouldn’t pay attention to the rumors and all the newspaper reports you read. The Navy gives out very little news and it is through official sources only.” But Elmer’s letters, vital as they were in assuring his parents that he was still alive, was not enough. Mr. and Mrs. Luckett quickly found a community of other parents whose sons were off fighting in the war. His mother Rose joined the local Navy Mother’s Club and gave a speech at the Trinity Church on South Grand, while both parents called on and received visits from Elmer’s friends and his shipmates’ families.

Everyone had their part to play, but no one had to play it alone.

The Chew, Elmer’s home for over two years, including all of 1942. I have no information about who took this photohtaph or when, but I found this copy it in my grandfather’s Navy scrapbook.

Next Entry:
February and March 1942: Making the Best out of a Bad Situation

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