Beverly Clinkingbeard, Westboro, Mo.
He was born to Bob & Dora Morrison, the only living child of seven. Other than a sister who died at 11 months, his siblings were still births. However, his parents took in two motherless nieces and Jim thought of them as sisters. His mother was a homemaker and his father a farm hired hand. In 1934 the family moved from the Watson, MO area to Westboro to the Kime place, east of Walden Grove Cemetery. They also worked at the Hanrath Farm. Jim graduated from Westboro High School in May 1942. As a teenager he often worked for Todd & Mary [Harris] Macrander east of Westboro, and thought of them as second parents.
He received his draft notice for the U.S. Army and left Rock Port, MO for Ft. Leavenworth January 20, 1943. He said, “That’s the day I started my government job.” It’s also when he began writing letters home, signing them as “James,” though his mother called him “Jimmie.” She saved his letters and this many years later they document and refresh Jim’s memory of his days as a homesick soldier. And, that is where we begin his story, documented in the fragile paper letters.
From Rock Port the new recruits rode a bus to Leavenworth. There Jim had KP [kitchen] duty until departure for basic training with the next stop being Camp Howze, TX, near Gainesville. The camp was an infantry replacement training center. Soldiers arrived from all over the country by train and bus. It also housed 3000 German prisoners of war.
At Camp Howze Jim learned about weaponry, heavy weapons and truck driving skills. Since he was stateside he could write “free” on the envelope where a stamp would normally be placed. Next was Camp Livingston near Alexandria, LA. It was a big camp that was backed up by several other training camps and it involved about 12,000 acres of swamp land and several thousand soldiers in training. That tropical-like environment lent the first inkling of where the recruits would eventually serve. A letter from Camp Livingston mentions a “stray pup” that showed up at the barracks. He wrote, “He looked cold and hungry so I brought him along and fed him a big meal.” Of course, the dog stayed and when Jim’s next move came due, the dog was handed off to another soldier.
He traveled by train to Ft. Ord, CA, approximately 80 miles south of San Francisco. Of Ft. Ord he wrote on a “V” Mail note, “We sleep in tents. The food is exceptionally good here.”
“V” Mail was supposed to be a means of speedy delivery. The “V” stood for victory and forms were available at base commissaries, post offices and five-and-dime stores. After a censor cleared a soldier’s letter, it was microfilmed or photographed onto 16 mm black-and-white camera film. The reel then went to a processing center, where a copy was printed onto photographic paper 5 by 4 inches. It was then put into an envelope for delivery. According to the National Postal Museum, “V” Mail saved thousands of tons of shipping space for war materials. The 37 mailbags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight was dramatically reduced from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45. The soldiers also got their letters from home much faster. The system processed 1.5 billion letters and used from June 1942 thru November ’45.” However, it often didn’t work quite as quickly as proposed and the Morrison’s utilized light weight air mail paper and envelopes. Jim was careful to write his letters in such a way the screeners wouldn’t have reason to blot out his messages. Many envelopes are stamped, “Army examiner E.C. Swiger lt. inf. “ (although the name of the examiners would change). Posters reminded, “Somebody blabbed. Button your lip! …don’t talk about troop movement…don’t talk about war production!” Dora Morrison also sent many care packages. In one letter Jim wrote, “An angel food cake sure would taste good.” In a later letter he acknowledged the cake had arrived and he’d shared it with his buddies, and yes, it sure did taste good.
Next Jim boarded a troop carrier and by Sept 9, 1944 he was in the South Pacific, and assigned to the 164th Division. A new division, “Americal” was formed, the only division without a number. This represented a merger of America and New Caledonia [French held territory].
New Caledonia is a mineral rich island 700 miles from Australia. The Japanese had not invaded the island and it became a staging area for troop training and deployment for invasion of the Solomon and Philippine Islands. New Caledonia was rugged jungle and Jim remembers there were beautiful rainbows every day. Because of mining exports, New Caledonia also had ports that large ships could access. Jim remembered with amusement, the native women were topless, and the military thought a distraction to their troops, so the government supplied the women with undershirts that they promptly cut holes in.
After New Caledonia was Guadal Canal. It had been secured by the 164th Infantry Division on February 8, 1943 and Jim remembers there wasn’t a tree left standing that wasn’t battered from bombs. Immediately after the enemy surrendered the island, America’s military developed it as a staging area to assault islands that dotted the Pacific and were under enemy control. There was more training, and deep bomb craters were used for learning to swim.
The way to victory was island by island. On a map the islands appear near each other, when in actual fact, many are hundreds of miles apart.
To be continued…