Mission 31: The Cross-Country Journey

There was no order to Dad's stash, but I slowly began to recognize the clues to his journey.

There was no order to Dad’s stash, but I slowly began to recognize the clues to his journey. From the KBL Family Collection.

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.

Mission 31: Boys and Bombers

Some young guys, like my dad, had the bug to fly from an early age. This recruitment poster made service in the Air Corps look like a cakewalk. "The boys" soon found out it wasn't all glam. Courtesy of Washington State Historical Society Collections.

Some young guys, like my dad, had the bug to fly from an early age. This recruitment poster made service in the Air Corps look like a cakewalk. “The boys” soon found out it wasn’t all glam. Courtesy of Washington State Historical Society Collections.

March 2, 2014 — Recruitment posters like these were hung in schools and stores around town. While an effective tool for calling out patriotic high school grads, these posters also tell us volumes as historical evidence. They show us attire, plane types, and suggest the means by which men were inspired to join the war effort. One gut-wrenching bit of declassified info I found stated that B-25s were being manufactured at a rate that calculated plane life spans of just 11 missions. If that was the rate for planes, imagine the recruitment needs for men.

Dad and his buddies answered the call for airmen, not only because they wanted to fly, but because they had no desire to be on the ground. One of the first letters my sister and I found and read in Dad’s stash was one from a friend in South Dakota named Flora Peckham. She wrote to Dad during the war, and I used a section of her letter verbatim in The Tail Gunner:

“Do you remember when you were about seven and you were at the house one day, and I let you run the Hoover sweeper, and you were thrilled to death because it sounded like an air plane? I wonder if that terrible roaring of motors will always thrill you. I know just how brave you are and how anxious to get going, and all that, but the out-come is so far in the distance as I see it, and so vague. I feel the worst is yet to come.”

It’s from letters and posters like these that we can gain a context for the period. The range of research that’s required to construct even the simplest historical scene can be daunting for those historical sticklers among us. For example, I needed to know how young guys were recruited for the Air Corps, and what motivated them to sign up. Guys could either wait to be drafted or be pro-active and test for the branch of the service they preferred. Even boys too young to enter the service, like my uncle Wendell, were eager to join.

This led me to search for Dad’s Army enlistment record, which turned out to be available online through the National Archives. (http://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=3360&cat=all&bc=sl) This database allows many kinds of searches, the easiest being by name. I was able to find the enlistment record for my Dad and two uncles. These records are the first step to getting access to other military records as they not only show the individual’s serial number, they show the place of enlistment, division of the military, and the terms of the enlistment. Dad’s was,  “…for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law.”

His record also contained a mystery; why was his place of enlistment noted as Miami Beach, Florida when he was living in Washington State?

For that part of the cross-country adventure, you’ll have to check back tomorrow…