Letters written while on the troopships en route to Australia survive from only two of the thirty-two South Carolina officers assigned to the otherwise Michigan-Wisconsin 32nd Infantry Division (the “Red Arrows”). One set, those belonging to Lt. Ben McKnight (Clemson ’41), is addressed in the pages of 32 Answered. The other set, belonging to Lt. Sheldon Dannelly (Wofford ’39), supplements a diary (also cited in 32 Answered) of the events he witnessed on the troopship USAT Mount Vernon, the ex-Transatlantic Steamship Company liner now commandeered for the duration by the US military. This, again, was part of the most recent discovery of letters (December 2016) found well after the book’s publication. Included in Dannelly’s shipboard correspondence are a lengthy, typed letter encompassing several days, in stages; also, two handwritten letters dated 30 April and 3 May 1942.
The typed letter, with begin date of 24 April 1942, and continuing over several subsequent days, is very detailed and truly a great window for what these young men were thinking about while, as yet untouched by war and actual combat, they had time to think and reflect on the past events and on the job ahead. Most of the letter is supremely quotable, as a result.
[Excerpted exactly as written, brackets added.]
Today I am somewhere in the Pacific Ocean; don’t ask where. That I couldn’t tell, even if I knew, which I don’t. Accordingly, there is practically nothing that can be given as news, because whatever has happened is of military nature.
Perhaps you’ll be amused to learn that I have had my first taste of seasickness, from which I have recovered. The spell lasted about 24 hours, and wasn’t especially pleasant, although mine was much lighter than many of the men and officers. Except for this the trip has been very pleasant and uneventful so far. I’m getting my “cruise” sooner than I had anticipated, however, and like a lot of my other travels, at government expense.
We have good quarters on board and are on a fine vessel, which is particularly gratifying. The food, too, is good and well prepared, thanks to the Navy.
The troopships used for this, the first such convoy of an entire Division across the Pacific Ocean after the Pearl Harbor attack, consisted of active passenger liners from primarily the Matson Lines or others, which had been contracted to the military for the duration of the war. Because this was the first or at least one of the earliest convoys, many of the civilian amenities, including crew and stewards, plus the cuisine from the galleys, still remained in place. As a result, the officers, especially, traveled very well. Although most of the 128th Regiment went over on the USAT Monterey (a Matson Lines steamship), some overflow evidently boarded the Mount Vernon, which was otherwise assigned to the 127th Regiment.
Lt. Dannelly continues:
Gee, I have so much to tell you about when I get home–all about the different sights and experiences, the different kinds of people, the small amusing things that come up, the places we see, the friends we make, the soldiers about whom we learn so much through observation and conversation. All of that will have to wait until this is over and I return home, however. One particular thing I have noticed, however, is that these men have an air of determination, along with a sense of humor, and the easy-going jolly nature is so American. As a general rule, worry seems to be conspicuously absent from the expressions on the faces of the men, which is an excellent sign. The morale seems to be high.
Personally I am in the best of condition, and feel fine since I have recovered from the seasickness. When it’s over it’s over, I’ve found out, but while you’re sick, you’re really sick! Right now I don’t even feel any the worse for it, thank goodness.
. . . As I said in my last letter, you probably won’t be able to hear from me for quite a while; likewise, your letters will probably arrive far, far between, and quite a while later from now. Rather than every few days, they will probably come every few weeks, but there’s the consolation that I shall probably get several at the time.
. . . I’ve heard of being “out where the blue begins”, but this is really the “blue Pacific”, and I don’t mean maybe. The water is dark blue; not pale.
Yesterday we had quite a bit of nice entertainment. One of the men is an excellent pianist, so we had him in the Ward Room (Officers’ parlor) where there is a piano, playing all kinds of music from old favorites to modern popular and classical music. He was good at all of it, rather than in only one line, as pianists usually seem to be.
. . . We have time to get in a great deal of reading, in case we have something to read. Most of us have some magazines which we pass around, and there’s a canteen on board at which we can get magazines. There is also one for crackers and a soda fountain. These, and watching the waves, are our chief entertainment, since ladies are conspicuously absent. Incidentally, I hope there are girls where we are going, but I can’t even guess about that since I don’t know where that is.
Well, where-ever we go our task is all the same. I have no fear of the immediate outcome of our campaign. However, there is much to consider about the eventful repercussions of even an American victory. Should those who believe in a world dominated by any one people control the reconstruction that must follow this war, then our fighting will have been for naught. If a Democratic way of life is to survive, it must, I think, be through the consideration of differences between peoples, as well as their similarities. If we expect to keep a people or nation under foot, or to eradicate any race from the earth, then we are making the same disastrous mistake that Hitler is making and has made in Europe. Let us see to it that America plays her part as a guiding and a leading power, not a dominating force, once this victory is ours. That’s what I believe we’ll achieve; but not without effort.
Now I have just returned from a swell supper of potatoes, steak, olives, soup, and cocanut pie, accompanied by piano music by the solider mentioned above, who played such selections as; “Intermezzo”, “Tonight We Love”, “Londonderry Air”, “My Rosary”, “Blue Danube Waltz”, “Blues In The Night”, “Deep In The Heart Of Texas”, “I Love You Truly”, and many other swell tunes. It really added a lot to the meal, and the applause of the officers certainly showed their appreciation. We are going to have orchestra and piano and violin music later, at other meals. Who says we don’t have grand entertainment in the Army, even on ship? It’s easy to see that men really appreciate music, and good music at that; they, to say it in slang, “eat it up”.
Saturday, April 25, 1942. . .
I’m still feeling fine this morning, so my seasickness must really be over. Several of the men and a few officers haven’t recovered completely quite yet, however, but that’s natural since we’ve only been at sea a very few days.
By now I’ll bet there’s some good fishing around home. Have you been out to Clear Pond lately? It won’t be very long before season for swimming will be in there either, will it? I have seen some very beautiful sights and scenery in the various parts of the United States, but, somehow places around there still have their own peculiar attraction for me. I’m enjoying my travels and sightseeing; it’s good to get out and see different parts of the country, and of the world. Life and people can be seen and understood in such broader aspects than if one gets only one particular view of everything. It’s easier to understand how people can do such great and foolish things as we human beings sometimes find ourselves and others doing.
There is one thing you will be glad to hear, and that is that there is an awareness of the teachings of Jesus among the “hard-boiled” Army men. I was surprised last night when one of the high-ranking Colonels made the following statement, admitting that he was far from a religious person; “Some nineteen hundred and forty-odd years ago was born a Man who, I think, is the greatest Leader the world has ever seen. He placed duty first and Himself last. We shall do well as officers to follow His example , and in so doing you need have nothing to fear.” Before making the above statement, he said, “As you all know, I’m no Chaplin” (Of which we were quite aware) and he was speaking in regard to Leadership and the Officer’s code: “DUTY FIRST, HONESTY ALWAYS, AND SELF LAST”. Personally I think it is a good code for anyone to live by. By that it can be seen that all of us realize that we cannot win merely through physical prowess; we need a greater Spiritual power, and, somehow, we feel that that Power is behind us in the task that lies ahead.
I keep mentioning the greater aspect beyond our military triumph. This is necessary and of immediate interest, but beyond that is the scope of a new world to be created out of the certain chaos of this War. That peace must be a just one for ALL concerned, not born out of hatred and revenge, but from the same spirit of sacrifice to feed, clothe, and comfort the unfortunate that moves us to make the present sacrifices to equip our men and soldiers so that Victory will be assured. God being our Helper, we shall not fail in the first part; let us take care that we shall be equally successful in the second and, perhaps in the long run, most important phase, since the entire structure of the future world depends upon this part. There has long been a dream of a World without War; perhaps we are about to see the fulfillment of that dream. Isn’t it worth striving for? And if it is worth striving for, all our efforts should be made in that behalf. We cannot expect a perfect world, but we can certainly strive to create one—any smaller or shorter goal is too low to aim!
I thoroughly believe that we are coming into a new world. I further believe that we would make a great mistake in trying to recreate the world as we knew it before the War. Just what kind of world we shall have cannot be conceived at present; it must grow out of the developments that are to come and out of the solutions of the problems that will arise. That world must be built gradually and developed carefully if it is to be permanent. We cannot, I believe, redraw the boundaries as the[y] were and say, “Here is the dividing line.” That, it seems, would be futile, and would only be a waste of the effort our nation and Army are now making. All this will take time, it will take effort, it will even take a further sacrifice, perhaps, but we cannot revise a permanent world at a Victory table with the rules written on a piece of paper. Time and gradual working out of each detail with careful regard to the entire plan are vital. The first treaty must and can only be a starter or temporary one until satisfactory arrangements can be worked out. Another Versailles would result in repetition of the present conflict at some future time, which wee must strive to avoid– rather, which we must prevent!
Well, today has been a very lovely Sunday, with the sun shining warmly all day long, until after sunset, when it is just now beginning to rain a little. Speaking of the sunset, I have seen few things that could equal the splendor of the mid-Pacific sunset I have just seen. Its beauty is not in the richness of color, but in the delicate subdued shades that blend so well with the hue of the sea. the sun itself was a very mellow, deep yellow, and moved so that you could see it gradually dropping into the sea at the horizon. It’s really something to behold, and to capture the real beauty of it in words is quite impossible. That is another of the wonders of nature that I can put in my mental picture album that has seen so much lately.
This morning I went to services on the sun deck, where the Naval Chaplin gave a very appropriate talk. The band furnished the music for the service. The Chaplin spoke of our sailing away from America as really our homeward voyage. Each day we move brings us nearer and nearer to our homes, in that it hastens the day of our actual return, he told us. I rather like to look at it that way, too, for it is true that each passing day brings our homecoming that much nearer, and the sooner we get over there and accomplish our mission, the sooner the prow of our ships will really be pointed for the United States, full speed ahead.
Today for lunch and tonight at meal time we had the pianist playing while we ate. The music adds so much more to the pleasure of our meals than would be true without it. More old favorites, classics, and popular songs were mixed in with the ones he has learned that we like to hear best. “Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover”, “Liebestrom”, “God Bless America”, “Miss You”, “Tonight We Love”, “Summertime”, and many other grand ones were played.
We find that time passes much better than we thought it would on board ship, so that it doesn’t really seem very long for each day to go by. We do get plenty of rest and sleep; I never imagined one could sleep so well on a ship, but somehow it seems to lull you to sleep, with the gentle roll of the sea. . . .
MONDAY AFTERNOON. . .
Here’s one more sight to add to my collection. I have just seen my first flying fish. The ship frightens them out of the water and they really fly through the [air] several yards before diving into the water again. They seem to have pointed mouths and their wings look like very large (two) fins on their backs. That’s about as well as I could tell from the deck of the ship.
. . .We’re still sailing calmly, uneventfully. . . .
For the final segment of the 24 April long letter, he switches to pen, handwritten, for the lower half of the last page:
Thursday. . .
Today I went through the initiation for those who are crossing the equator for the first time. It was a great deal of fun and reminded me somewhat of college fraternity initiations, although this isn’t quite so painful; however it is shocking (electrically and by cold water). All of the officers went through it as well as did those sailors who hadn’t experienced the crossing before.
Tonight the tropical moon is shining in all its splendor, and such a view at sea is definitely beautiful. We’ve had two or three lovely moonlight nights and several grand sunsets.
I am still fine and am enjoying the voyage, although I don’t know where we’re going. This letter, too, is long, so I’d better close while I can still get it in an envelope.
The handwritten letters that followed consist of one each tailored letter to his mother and father. The differences between the two are nuanced, and probably intended to answer questions that has been previously asked by each parent. While much of the individualized subject matter is personal and regarding rather mundane family events, there is still a fair bit of crossover and repetition of information between one another as well as with the longer, typed letter.
Some of the topical discussions relative to our overall theme are here excerpted from the “dad” letter of 30 April, heading titled, “Somewhere in the Pacific”.
[Shown exactly as written, unless brackets added.]
The other night I wrote all of you a letter [re., the long letter] about my setting out for overseas. We are still en route with plenty more to go, but someone had better look out when we get a crack at those Japs. My guess is that we’ll be stationed somewhere out here for awhile, but I haven’t any idea where or for how long. My only reasonable guess is that I’ll see the U.S. only after the War has been won. That’s something we want to accomplish soon.
The sunsets out here on the ocean are beautiful! Tonight there’s a tropical moon, big and yellow, cutting a silver path across the smoothly rippling ocean. Up on deck the breeze is blowing just enough to drive away the heat of the day. Many of the men are sleeping out on the different open decks. All of it is a sight to be remembered long and well; I’ll have plenty to tell you all about my travels and experiences when I return. — and who knows but that I may even dock at Charleston after the War. Wouldn’t that be really swell.
I think I wrote about the flying fish, many of which we see every day, now. They really do fly just a foot or two above the water, and remind one of a partridge “on the wing”. They sail along rapidly, and dive under the water without slowing down. Their wings look like large transparent fins.
I attended the Royal Court of the Raging Main today, which is the initiation ceremony for those who are crossing the equator for the first time. It was plenty of fun all the way through, especially seeing some of the officers jump clear of the deck from their “all fours” or stomachs when they were shocked with an electric wire with just enough current to “stir” you good; others were “cut for a flip” when the full force of the fire hose was turned on them. It was an occasion that we shall remember to tell when we see you all at home again. All of us got the same “dose”.
Comparing that to the “mom” letter, dated Sunday, 3 May, and headed, “Still at Sea”, one can discern a slight difference in the focus from common events.
[Again, exactly as written unless brackets added.]
Today is a beautiful but hot Sunday. This morning I again attended service on the sun deck and heard another rather good sermon, taken from Paul’s writings concerning John the Baptist, and developed to the point that the value of Christianity is answered by its good works, especially in this world of conflict.
Our voyage has continued uneventful, which suits us fine. We aren’t sure how much longer we shall be at sea or where we are going, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can after our arrival.
This is our second Sunday on board, and we have certainly seen some wonderful sunsets and very beautiful moonlight, tropical nights. I’m trying to keep a kind of diary, but find really very little to record except “another uneventful day”. [NOTE: see 32 Answered, pages 88-92.] I seldom miss a night of reading the “Upper Room,” and read two whenever I happen to miss the night before.
Tonight the Army and Navy officers are to have a musical concert here in the Ward Room, with music by the regiment’s orchestra. I suppose I’ll come up to it after supper.
Time certainly if flying, here it is May already. Another year will be gone soon; and let us hope that the end of the War will also come not long from now. However, America hasn’t really begun yet, so we know it must last a while yet, even when we do begin an Allied attack.
I wrote a description of my “equatorial initiation” in my letter to Daddy. I know you’ll read it there, so I won’t describe it again–it was plenty of fun for us all!
I have had fun talking over school and college experiences with Lieutenant Larson, who is in the same cabin with me. He and I chat quite a bit together. I enjoy meeting and talking with the different people we run into; it’s good to know people from other places, etc., and to get their point-of-view on various matters. Often they differ from ours–often they are quite the same in their opinions.
. . . How would you like to see me with a mustache? I haven’t one yet but am thinking of letting one grow while I’m en route to our next destination. I’ll try to get a snapshot for you if I do, but cameras are restricted aboard ship.
I believe I told you that my hair is cut off to 1/2 inch in length, which makes it cooler and very much easier to keep clean while at sea. You should be able to take a peep at it. Imagine me with close-clipped hair and a mustache! Or does it stretch your imagination too much. Ha! Ha!
. . . Well, I’ve just been on the deck in the cool for awhile, listening to news and Jack Benny’s broadcast over the ship radio. We hear very little news while on board the ship. There seems to be very little genuine news of note now, anyway. Perhaps you hear some real “stuff” back home, but I doubt even that. One of these near-future days something may really break somewhere; it’s about time for something kind of sensational to hit the headlines.
Tonight is another real scorcher; we could use some cold weather for a change. Even tonight’s concert has been called off until later in the week because of the heat. I think I’ll have to retreat up on deck for some fresh air. It’s the only half-comfortable place on ship.
The news is definitely lacking, so I’ll close with, “Goodnight.”
On 8 May, the troops in the convoy heard of the relatively nearby naval battle in the Coral Sea, which had prevented a Japanese landing force from moving into the waters between Australia and the south coast of New Guinea, thereby denying Port Moresby to the enemy. This same battle, ironically, allowed the American troopship convoy to slide by undetected. Some accounts from the convoy say they could see the lights of the battle’s aftermath on the night sky’s horizon; other accounts indicated a belief that the Battle of the Coral Sea had prompted a re-routing of the convoy to Adelaide, well south, from a planned destination nearer to Queensland, northeast Australia. Whatever the truth, the arrival of the convoy elements in Adelaide, SA, was greeted with an enthusiastic welcome from the local populace, and in the weeks to follow the large influx of Americans alternately fascinated and yet occasionally tested the cheerfulness and patience of the locals. As we will see in future posts, the residents of Adelaide and surrounding towns were, overwhelmingly, glad to have these guests there and likewise felt a little more secure knowing that they represented the sole garrison force for the continent, their own first-line troops still mostly away in North Africa fighting Rommel and the Afrika Korps. Lasting friendships did certainly develop, both out of necessity and out of hospitality.
More to come…
27 May 2017