March 3, 2014 —I couldn’t figure out why there were seemingly random bits and pieces of memorabilia in Dad’s stash. There was a postcard from New York, a Senate pass from Washington D.C., a transfer paper stating the date and time he was to report for Basic in Miami Beach, Florida, he’d even kept a tiny address book with addresses across the country from Puyallup, Washington to South Dakota, to Florida. It was a section of a letter from my young Uncle Wendell that helped me figure it out.
May 14, 1943 —Dear Keith…
I bet you are having a swell time. How did you like Chicago and all the big towns? What do you think of New York? You might have seen a good baseball game in New York, but Chicago isn’t so hot. I hope you saw the Brooklyn Dodgers — they are the best. Seattle has won one game this year.
What did you think of Ellendale and all that’s in it? How many of my friends did you see and what did they say? Did you see Bauer? He’s the tall kid with the ass sticking out. How about the family? And all the little tots? What did you think of Tom-Boy Mary and Curtis the little devil. Did you see Eleanor Gessman their teacher? Not bad Eh?…
Write soon, Love, WB Lile
Make that letter thick.
Written by my uncle from Puyallup, Washington where he’d gone out to stay with Dad and attend high school, this letter made me realize that Dad had left on a cross-country journey prior to basic training that had taken him back to the Dakotas to see his family as well as the sights of Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. I used and adapted this letter to help tell part of Bish’s story in THE TAIL GUNNER, and even wrote a letter back to Wendell (Hound Dog in the story) to help explain that tran-continental adventure. (See the Sample Chapters on the campaign site.)
There were ultimately 15 Lile kids in Dad’s family, and he was number five. His oldest sister had moved to Florida and married. He’d wanted to see her, too, before inductment which is why he’d managed to get his reporting location changed from Washington State to Florida.
A total of three Lile sons served in active duty during World War II (Bill, Bob, and Keith) as noted in a newspaper clipping saved in the stash. My grandfather, a blacksmith by trade, also pulled up stakes and went to work at the Bremerton Shipyard with my uncle Louis.
Dad’s journey to Basic led to my writing a scene of him reporting for duty that fell to the cutting room floor during revision. It’s that outtake that’s on the docket for tomorrow. See you in Miami.