“When this upset world straightens out we will all be together again.”

In July 1941, Grandpa had only been in the service for a few months. He was still getting to know Hawaii and his ship, the U.S.S. Chew. Meanwhile, all the action seemed fairly remote: the European War lurched to the east in dramatic fashion when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union the previous month, and Japan’s diplomatic impasse with the United States was quiet if ominous to anyone on or within shelling range of the Pacific.

Elmer did not have much to tell his parents, but they did have a great deal to share with one another. This letter, written on July 2nd, lists some of the things they exchanged between Oahu and Missouri: birth dates, DeMolay cards, and care packages for Elmer; and photos, programs, and money for his parents. “Today I got the box you sent me. Boy, it sure had plenty. A lb of tobacco, 2 boxes of cigars, candy, soap, tooth powder, and shave lotion. Gee, you sure are good to me . . . you are always thinking of your sailor boy.”

Elmer certainly returned the favor every payday, at which time he would send a few bucks back home. Although this letter hints at some good news regarding his father’s job, it is clear the Depression hit him hard, just as it did so many others. “So glad to know you are still working steady,” he commented. “I guess all business is pretty good now.” In spite of the warming economic climate, however, Elmer continued to send his parents money. This letter in particular contained a money order for $8.

Over the next few months, Elmer would send more money, as well as pictures, brochures, and descriptions of his adventures in Oahu and throughout the islands. Although his reactions in his letters to his parents seem muted, he no doubt enjoyed the time he spend in Hawaii that summer. Like many others stationed at Pearl Harbor, he knew he was lucky. In a world torn apart by war, he was able to serve his country while enjoying the sun, surf, and scenery.

It was paradise.

“I suppose you are all worried sick since the war started . . .”

I’ve started the process of scanning and transcribing my grandfather’s letters, only to quickly discover that my laptop (on which I have Dragon Naturally Speaking) is far too slow and cumbersome to carry this load. So as I start to shop for a new computer, here is one of the first letters I found, which just happened to be dated December 10, 1941 . . . three days after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.

My grandpa, a steam engineer aboard the U.S.S. Chew, tried to allay his parent’s fears. “Don’t worry about me,” he wrote reassuringly, “because everything is O.K. . . . keep your chins up.” The letter has few specifics beyond that, but with several hundred to go I think this is going to be a fascinating journey.