I’ll never forget the night my father walked into my bedroom and asked me a question that would change my life forever. I had left Wall Street and had been out of work for nine months. My mother no longer was speaking to me, and my father finally came in and asked me point blank what I wanted to do with my life.
“What are you interested in; what are you passionate about?” he asked. I told him I couldn’t go back to Wall Street and my only interest and passion was horse racing. “Then, try to get a job in horse racing,” he said.
It had never dawned on me that racing could actually be a profession and not just a passionate hobby. To make a long story very short, I was hired as a copy boy at the Morning Telegraph, which I bought every day, moved into the library as head librarian, and eventually began writing freelance. The rest, as they say, is history.
Two years after being hired by the Telegraph my father passed away suddenly. Considering how proud he was of me being a librarian, always bringing in the terrible horse photos I took to show his co-workers, I can only imagine how proud he would have been over all these years.
I have been waiting many years to print what follows, as I find it to be one of the most compelling pieces of writing I have ever read. It doesn’t matter that is has nothing to do with racing, and it doesn’t matter if not a single person other than family and friends reads it. To me, it is something that needs to be in print, even in a relatively obscure column such as this.
I have typed the following from the original, written in green ink. It is a letter written by my father to his boss from the South Pacific in the closing days of World War II, just days following the historic invasion of Luzon in the Philippines. I was inspired to type out and print this letter by the WWII veterans from the Normandy invasion I met who came to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby at the invitation of Rick Porter, owner of the horse Normandy Invasion. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in a while, and I decided then it was time for my father’s remarkable letter to be printed. After all these years I still feel like I was there.
It is a tribute to him and what he meant to me, and as I mentioned earlier, even if it is only read by my family and friends it will always be preserved, as a piece of me and of history.
January 21, 1945
The Navy may move slowly, but once they get started, things really begin to roll. We picked up our ship, which incidentally is an amphibious craft known as an L.S.M. (Landing Ship Medium (Tanks) at a Chicago shipyard. We remained there for a period of three weeks, outfitting the ship with supplies, equipment, etc. After the commissioning exercises, we started our journey, which was to take us through the States, the Panama Canal, through various South Pacific islands to our present operating base in New Guinea.
After leaving Panama, one could detect a wave of excitement rippling through the crew in anticipation of coming face to face with – not the enemy – but a real South Sea island Hula-Hula girl. But like other things that I had read and heard about these islands, I was doomed for a disappointment. Due to censorship, I cannot disclose the names of the islands we stopped at. But at these islands, of which there were many, we never did see anything that even resembled a Hula-Hula girl, let alone a sarong.
Where were all those Dorothy Lamours? The native women we did see were either too young or too old, too short or too long, too thin or too fat – but never in between. Somehow or another they seemed infatuated by brightly colored things. It was a very common sight to see these native women walking to church on Sunday wearing brightly colored dresses – latest American style creations of 1920 – and shoes (less stockings) the largest possible sizes manufactured, with such prominent colors as canary yellow, ruby red, a bright green or a dazzling orange. The large sizes were necessary due to their enormous feet. After church, we would burst with laughter to see how proudly they displayed their shoes – in their hands.
We kept hopping from island to island, doing various tasks assigned to us. Suddenly, a trip to one island brought us face to face with the grim realization that we were really part of this war, that our enemy was lurking nearby and we were helping to drive him out. We had undergone our first air-raid. For many months, even prior to my entrance into the service, I had given this very thing plenty of thought. What would my reactions be? Would I be afraid? Is it as devastating as I’ve heard it was? Now that it is over, I can truthfully say I was not afraid. Probably more angry than anything else. Angry at the fact that we – the L.S.M. 314 – could not do anything to bring the raiders down. The shore Anti-aircraft guns were keeping them high enough to prevent any serious damage.
After an hour or two of maneuvering, they dropped their bombs harmlessly in the ocean and several points on the island. Net result of the raid – several holes, with nothing hit but Mother Earth. Those raids were repeated every night of our stay there, and so regular in fact that we could almost set our watches by it. We finally moved out and pulled into a port in New Guinea.
Our next assignment came earlier than we expected. At last, the real thing had come along. We were going to participate in an invasion of a group of islands now being held by the Japs. The convoy assembled outside the harbor and prepared to get underway. It was a rather uneventful voyage – with nothing to be seen but a wide expanse of ocean. Four days later our objective was sighted. Timed to perfection, our convoy, supported by bombers and fighter escorts, arrived at the island precisely at H-Hour. The bombers made their run on the beach to wipe out any opposition. Meanwhile, all amphibious craft were standing by awaiting the signal to beach and unload their men and equipment. The beachings were made, opposition was very light, and the island was ours. Another step towards the final capitulation of Japan had been accomplished.
We returned to New Guinea and there awaited further instructions.. During all these months in the South and Southwest Pacific, I’ve had the opportunity to observe as well as to speak to the boys that have participated in such campaigns as Guadalcanal, Kwajelein, Saipan, New Guinea, and the first invasion of the Philippines. They’re a rough and tumble lot; boys that had once been farmhands, grocery clerks, salesmen, factory workers, and now transformed into the world’s greatest group of fighting men. But all this could not be made possible without the splendid co-operation of the home front.
The above mentioned operation we now know was in a way a preparation for a larger major operation. By the time you receive this letter, this operation will be old news. As a matter of fact, you probably know more of what happened than I do. However, I will attempt, to the best of my ability, to give you an eyewitness account of the Invasion of Luzon.
It all started back in one of the many harbors in New Guinea. Our task force was considered the largest ever to participate in an invasion. Our cargo consisted of Army personnel and vehicles. Unaware of what may lie ahead of us, we still left with the satisfaction of knowing, that back in our New Guinea harbor, we had left a Jap plane burning as a result of a morning raid. If that was a sign of what our Anti-aircraft fire was going to do, then the forthcoming campaign points to immense success.
The convoy proceeded rather smoothly. The evenings during our entire trip presented a full and beautiful moon as only the South Pacific can present. As beautiful as it was, it still had some bad aspects. Our convoy was lit up like a Christmas tree – making us an excellent target for enemy aircraft. This prompted us to call “General Quarters” at sunrise and sunset.
Early one morning, one of our escorting destroyers picked up enemy aircraft. The plane was visible by the entire convoy – circling us at will. It remained high enough to make us believe it was only a reconnaissance plane. If he spotted the convoy, which undoubtedly he did, then we can expect some uninvited callers before this trip is over. But we were prepared for all eventualities, and come what may, we’ll be ready.
We were rapidly approaching our objective, and how well we knew it. “General Quarters” became a daily as well as nightly routine. Enemy submarines one time and aircraft the next. All in all, sleep became something we faintly remembered from the past. I shan’t go into detail as to the various raids we experienced, but I can honestly say that a few more Japs had the distinguished honor of joining their honorable ancestors. We had the occasion to listen in on several of the “Radio Tokyo’s” news broadcasts. It provided us with many a hearty laugh. Our convoy was practically “wiped out” according to them. The operation was a huge failure. Of course, being part of the very convoy they mentioned made their reports sound silly. However, there are people back home that are gullible enough to believe all that rot. So think twice before believing their news reports. As a matter of fact, we didn’t lose a ship in the entire operation.
The New Year rolled in quietly and serenely. We had no time for any celebrations, and we continued to carry out our regular ship’s routine. However, it didn’t stop me of thinking of everybody back home. Although belated, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and successful New Year.
S-Day (equivalent to D-Day on the European front)
As dawn drew near, the island of Luzon began to take shape in the dawn’s light. We could see faint silhouettes marking our battleships, cruisers, destroyers, air-craft carriers, and hundreds of auxiliary ships, including landing craft. One hour before H-Hour our heavy ships continued their systematic bombardment of the beach. This has been going on for several days. Fire and smoke belched forth from these mighty guns. Flames and puffs of smoke marked the spots where these deadly missiles had landed. It’s hard to believe that anyone could survive this complete devastation.
Someone asked what time it was. Fifteen minutes to go. The first waves were preparing to hit the beach. Our time was rapidly approaching. We were going to be the first wave of the larger craft. Looking around at the Army boys and the crew showed us tense and earnest faces. Gone was all the hilarity that was so prevalent on the entire trip. They knew what was coming and what their task was. Last minute inspections of vehicles and sidearms were made. A high crescendo of blasts marked the final bombardment of the beach.
H-Hour had come. We kept maneuvering outside the harbor awaiting our signal to come in. The first waves had begun to land. Radio reports were coming in fast and furious. The first ten waves had landed successfully without any opposition. The Naval shelling had done its job well. Suddenly, our signal was given. We started to make our run on the beach. Many thoughts passed through my mind. Have the Japs been waiting for the larger craft? Would we meet the opposition that the previous waves had failed to meet? Would we reach far enough on to the beach to unload our cargo? We were now a thousand yards from the beach. Our bow doors opened like the jaws of some huge monster. The beach slowly loomed ahead – 500 yards….250 yards…100 yards – still no enemy fire. We felt the ship scraping bottom. Our momentum carried us forward. All engines had stopped. Slowly our bow ramp was lowered. The vehicles moved out, and everything went as planned.
From the extreme corner of the beachhead – as if arising out of thin air – we saw hundreds of Filipinos coming out to meet our landing parties. Those that were able, ran. The older ones, amongst whom were mothers carrying tiny infants, managed to walk at a rather lively gait. The scene that took place can hardly be described in this letter. They simply threw themselves at our boys, some shaking their hands, and the more brazen ones hugging and kissing them. Passing through the nearby town, in pursuit of the Japs, our boys were met by women coming out to meet them with wet towels – of all things to wash the grime and dust from their perspiring faces. Fresh eggs – indeed a rare treat out here – were freely given out. They wouldn’t think of having the boys do their own laundry. They protested any signs of refusal. But what can they do against a people so determined to do everything in their power to help us. The men worked endless hours unloading the ships. They were paid for it, but gladly would have done it for nothing.
These were the people we were freeing from Japanese enslavement. It made us thrill to the thought that once again they would be able to carry on a happy and normal life. They are not much different from us in their wants. These are not the barbaric natives we encountered in the wild jungles of New Guinea. Their civilization runs parallel to our own and we are all happy that whatever hardships we encountered thus far had not been in vain.
At the writing of this letter, we are anchored at some port, whose name cannot be disclosed. And so ended another milestone toward the ultimate defeat of Japan. I hope this letter has given you a complete picture of my activities the past several months.
I’ve got to run along now, so until you hear from me again – which will be soon – regards to all.
(A postscript: The invasion of Luzon was one of the largest amphibious invasions in history. A total of 175,000 men went ashore along a 20-mile beachhead over a period of several days. On Jan. 9, 1945, 70,000 American troops landed on Luzon. One of those who walked ashore to greet the cheering Filipinos was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Although the opposition on shore was light, the battleship Mississippi and light cruiser Columbia were lost to kamikaze attacks. The largest American Battle Monument Commission Cemetery outside of Arlington, Virginia is on Luzon where over 17,000 Americans are buried)
Thanks, Dad, for everything.