WWII Letters from the Men & Women In Service


Ellefson, Sgt. Vernon letter dated January 1943


EDITOR’S NOTE:  Letters from Africa, Ireland, England, Alaska and the Pacific continue to come, but haltingly, to this department. If we can shorten the great distances between Mason Cityans stationed over all parts of the world, we shall consider this column to be justified, whether or not it fills the requirements for local news. Here is all we ask: 1. If your (sic) receive an especially interesting letter, bring it to this department. 2. Clip this sheet, and send it overseas.


Today’s most interesting letter comes from Sgt. Vernon Ellefson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Rose, 232 First street northeast, who is in North Africa.

“No one was more surprised to land here than we were,” writes Ellefson, who was only recently promoted to the rank of sergeant. “The country is pretty, the people are friendly, but the money is most confusing.

“They have so many notes, that when one gets change, it is just a handful of paper.

“Tangerines, oranges, dates and figs grow here year around, and we are getting our fill.”

Sergeant Ellefson was amazed to find the architecture so advanced. The buildings are modern, the houses are stucco and painted white, yellow, pink or brown.

It is interesting to discover that the beers served in Africa are more nearly like the American brew than any the men in Ellefson’s outfit had tasted on the continent.

“We must not speak to the moslem women who dress in white robes, and wear veils,” writes Ellefoson.

He concluded that they are all getting along very well, an that they are picking up a few French phrases as they go along.

Source: The Globe-Gazette, Mason City, Iowa, Monday, January 29, 1943 [Cerro Gordo Co.]


Emerson, Kenneth L., letter dated January 1, 1943

County Youth with Amphibious Force
Writes of Africa


The Beacon feels most fortunate in having received a splendid letter from a Dickinson county youth, Kenneth Emerson, who was a member of the Navy Amphibious Force, which landed troops in Africa early in November.

As far as the Beacon has been able to learn, Kenneth is the only boy from around Spirit Lake who was actually known to have been in the Landing force, although several local youths were in the convoy to Africa, including Sterling Grimm, Ph. M. 1/c in the Navy, Pvt. Leonard Carpenter of the Army, and several others.

Kenneth is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Emerson of Spirit Lake, who recently returned here to reside after living in Wisconsin. Kenneth made his home with his uncle, Clarence Emerson, at Okoboji while his parents were in Wisconsin, and was graduated two years ago from the Arnolds Park high school.

He visited with relatives and friends here and at Arnolds Park after returning to the states the middle of November, but at that time was able to tell little of his experiences.

In his letter below, you will find the hardships and adventure the youth and his buddies had in their attack on Africa. The Beacon is happy to have the privilege of printing such a fine first-hand story of the landings.

Jan. 1, 1943
Dear Readers:

I have been in the Navy since May of 1942. Since then I have had some very exciting experiences, which I am now permitted to tell of.

I was with the first group of U. S. sailors to train for the Amphibious Forces, which has played such an important part in the present war. We took eight weeks of training before we were assigned to our ship, the Susan B. Anthony. I boarded the Susie the 7th of September in New York. We then went on maneuvers which lasted until Oct. 18.

Then after supplying the ship until the 23rd, we left for an unknown destination. We were well supported by battle ships, cruisers and destroyers. We also had air craft carriers with us. They were loaded with some of the United States best made planes, the P 40s.

The papers have revealed that there were over 600 ships in our enormous convoy. I can not say what important ships were with us, but we did have the best ships and also the best known men in the service.

Admiral Hewett, who is in charge of the Amphibious Force, was with us. A very fine man and liked by all.

After fifteen days of sea travel and no land we arrived at our destination. It was Port Lyonety in French Morroco (sic). Here we made our attack on the morning of Nov. 8th, 11 months after Pearl Harbor.

We were to start our attack at 4 a. m. but were not signaled to do so. We stalled around nine miles out to sea, loaded with soldiers, tanks, jeeps and other army equipment. We had 36 foot Higgins Boats and 50 foot tank lighters. I was the coxswain, or driver of one of the personnel boats.

At 6:30 we were given the signal to start. We reached the line of departure and then left for the beach.

After a few hundred yards we were attacked by two P 39s, American built planes, bought before the war. The Germans and Vichy French had them then. We at first thought they were friendly planes, but they came down to about one hundred foot altitude and opened fire. We were well prepared for the plane attack and with our small 30 caliber machine guns, rifles which soldiers had, and a few 50 caliber machine guns. Because we sailors never used machine guns before, every other shell was a tracer. These showed us where to fire, which was carried out as the navy says, Magnificently.

We shot down the first one and the second soon disappeared. This of course scared every man in the boats. We were nearly hopeless there in the boats, if enough planes would attack. The sky was lit up with tracers like the Fourth of July.

We then continued to the Beach, which had to be taken, casualties or not. We were attacked by two more planes again. This time it was the Germans famed Messerschmidts 110s. One of them dropped a couple of bombs and just missed a couple of our small boats. Four of our Navy planes then came to the scene and attended to him.

Again as we were about to land another Messerschmidt came. He was only about 500 feet from my boat and closer to some of the others. We opened fire and down he came. The men began to cheer and [Page 11] holler in praise. We had done something in those small 15 boats that no one had done before. Our ship, and us had been credited with two ships. We were the only boat crews I know of that had air attacks.

We landed our troops and equipment safely, no casualties to our surprise. The army then took the air field, port and also a French Fort there. It took them three days of fierce battle and then finally the French and Germans begged for peace.

From then on we only had the large 32-ft. breakers to fight. They were really terrible, the largest in the world. Some times we would drop 8 to 10 feet in our small boats. Many of the fellows said their prayers going through them. We fellows driving the boats had the responsibility of the troops and equipment. We had to get through them or else. I am fortunate to say I didn’t lose a boat. We lost 10 or our 27 from tipping over and swamping.

We also lost two men from drowning, they were very nice fellows and we all feel sorry for them and their parents. It was of course a terrible blow to parents to get the notice during the Holiday season.

After our attack there we went to Soft, and unloaded the remainder of our cargo. We left there Nov. 16th and returned to the United States, safe and sound.

During our attack and coming and going we were given the credit of sinking six enemy subs. That is the destroyers sunk them.

The four ships that were sunk off the coast of Africa were in our convoy. The men on the U. S. S. Scott went through training with us and many of the fellows were our buddies. Then there was the Hughes, Bliss and Rutledge, all disclosed by the United States War Department. The Hughes was a sister ship to the Susie, I was on.

In the following paragraph you will find an article I found in a Norfolk paper, pertaining to the African Attack and medals given. General Truscott gave a speech on our ship just before we sailed. He is also well known and a remarkable man:

:”General Truscott of Charlottesville, Va., also won the Distinguished Service Medal for his part in leading the landing operations Nov. 8 at Port Lyonety. The town and harbor were taken and captured against superior resisting forces, the War Department said.”

This is what the War Department says of our great attack:

“We are very proud to be the first ship to land on African soil. We are also very proud of our well experienced Captain Henry Hartley, a man with 42 years of Navy Service. He started back in 1900 as an apprentice seaman and worked his way through the ranks.”

These are the very words he used as we were to leave the ship Nov. 8, “I ask no man to do what I could not do myself, or something that I haven’t done. Go about your work deliberately and carefully, do the best you can with what we have.”

Captain Hartley is all that one paragraph makes him. He is a man none of us will ever forget. If you watch the papers, I’m sure you’ll find him among the famous and also the best men in the Services.

I can not think of much else right now so will have to close. All of the men in the Service want to be home very soon, so do your part at home and we will be sure of a speedy finish.

Give till it hurts, we did, all of us, and we will till this is over and we are safely home again.

Kenneth L. Emerson
Amphibious Force
Barr. A-3 Dorm. 1
Portsmouth, Va.

Source: The Spirit Lake Beacon, Spirit Lake, Iowa, Thursday, January 07, 1943, Pages 1 & 11, [Dickinson County]

Erskins, R. K. "Keith" ~letter dated before April 1944

Our Men and Women
In The Armed Forces

Mr. and Mrs. Caleb Erskins have received several form communications from the ship’s officer on which their son Keith is stationed They are very interesting and give some exciting information of life on ship board and during action.

The following is the most recent one received:

First Phase

It is about time that another of our crew letters found its way to you. Here it is and we hope that you enjoy it, in all three phases.

For the time being our troubles are over but the past weeks have been full of activity and invaluable experience. In the first phase we have been members of a might team wearing the uniforms of our Uncle Sam. We have been cogs in a colossal war wheel which has ground into the dust a few more Japs. It has been a great privilege to do our part and do it well. Perhaps in all of our letters you should keep that in mind. We are doing the part that is assigned to us as well as we can. Some outfits have greater parts, some have lesser so that no one unit deserves the glory for a victory all help in achieving.

It was like listening to a football game home on a Saturday afternoon, for example, to hear the marine landings as reports came over the ship’s public address system. We had to admire the practical matter-of-fact manner in which they went about the grim business of blasting the Japs. They did much more than we in the operation, yet it was the work of our group to prepare the way for the invasion. As we heard of them reaching the beaches which had been blasted with ship shell fire we knew that our work had undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds of the leathernecks.

There were thrills on this operation of a different nature from the last. During phases one and two we did not see a single enemy plane overhead. The destroyers with us were responsible for some of the “fun;” One of them, came along side at sea, sent a patient over in a stretcher and rushed off on the prowl. It is quite an experience to see a man transferred from one ship to another with the water rushing between the two ships as they keep right on their course. Another destroyer came by a few days later with a patient, one of the flyers they had picked up in the water. It was a beautiful job of transferring him. They too went off looking for Japs but had to wait a short time for permission to leave our formation and join their own. Finally it came and off they went into the dark. They had proceeded only a short distance when they ran into four Jap ships and what a picnic they had, finally they returned to our formation very happy about the whole thing. But who wouldn’t be after sinking four valuable Jap ships, not to mention keeping supplies and reinforcements from the islands.

The sight of Jap ships burning at sea certainly lifts your morale. Two of the medium sized craft glowed and flamed in the darkness so that the smell of burning wood filled the air for miles around. Our ship asked if the destroyer needed assistance. “No,” came the answer. “We have the situation well in hand.”

The afternoon before we did our job, a very noisy part of the operations, we had church services on the fantail of the ship. The pennant which signifies “Divine Services being held” was being flown from the masthead while over it and all around us great flights of planes were taking off and landing on the carriers, doing their job.

Leaving us they dropped their bombs, fought off Jap planes and came back for more fuel and ammunition. So the church services, as far as we were concerned, were very appropriate. They showed the Lord that we are doing the best we could and at the same time asking His help. It is getting to be quite the thing now to have our church hymns mingled with the roar of the plane motors.

On the next morning, bright, cheerful and almost peaceful, we followed an air strike into the islands. We had quite a celebration. Most of the day was spent in company with a few other ships exterminating the Japs and their shore installations with our big guns. At one time during the bombardments some of the Japs came out of a building with a portable five-inch gun. They just about got it setup and as though our boys had been waiting just for this, they laid a beautiful salvo right alongside of them. When the smoke cleared away there were no Nips and the “big gun” was a droopy little pop gun which would never pop again.

Starting along the beaches the big guns ranged far and wide. Here an oil storage tank would go up in smoke. A little further there would be fires and then suddenly with a terrific explosion which seemed to lift a major part of the island with it an ammunition depot blew up a geyser of flame and smoke. Then we drew off a little for a momentary lull as the dive bombers, which had been waiting on the horizon waited for the word to come in for their act, appeared on the scene.  They came in very high, peeled off one at a time and dropped their thousand pound calling cards on the buildings that remained standing. It was quite a sight and we were close enough to see it well. Later as the marines landed and received almost no opposition on the beach we were told that almost
60% of the Jap defenders had been destroyed during our bombardment.

Second Phase

As we finished the paragraph above we thought the letter would be on its way to you shortly. We pulled back into a port for fuel and ammunition. There a surprise awaited us. We stocked up quickly and without delay, and when all was in readiness, one bright and sunny morning we left port. With a number of battleships, carriers and destroyers, we started out on another attack. The Nips were sleeping soundly when our first flight of airplanes gave notice that Uncle Sam’s boys were overhead. There is little to say about this. You know what happened from your newspapers. What a shock it must have been to the Nips. What a shock it was to us too, listening in on the radio the afternoon before the strike to hear a New York news commentator blithely tell the world that our next stop would be just where we were going. Thank heavens the Japs did not believe him and we caught them flat-footed. You have seen the scars. Even the Japs in Tokyo admitted this raid made them very unhappy.

Third Phase

Well, we thought that this strike would end our battle proclivities momentarily but we did no even go back to port. Instead we picked up a little fuel at sea and started out again to take another bite out of the Nipponese empire. This time we were not so fortunate – at least we did not set in with a surprise attack.

Moving along the afternoon before the strike one of our ships saw a submarine in the distance, another saw a Jap plane so we knew that our goose was cooked so far as secrecy was concerned. Just a little after sunset the Japs confirmed our fears and in came the first of a long series of night attacks.

Twice there was a brief lull in the attack after planes were shot down and we thought they had given up and gone home. How wrong we were! But the Japs learned there is nothing so” ornery and mean” as an American sailor hauled from his dreams. Asleep only fifteen minutes after a midnight attack when word came “enemy planes closing.” Now we were “mad” and inside of twenty minutes four Jap planes had fallen, blazing infernos. There was not sleep from then on. We estimated that the worst would come at daybreak. It did and only one of the attackers escaped our fire.

[To Be Continued]

Source: Adams County Free Press, Corning, Iowa, Thursday, April 06, 1944, Page 4

Our Men and Women
In The Armed Forces

Mr. and Mrs. Caleb Erskins have received several form communications from the ship’s officer on which their son Keith is stationed They are very interesting and give some exciting information of life on ship board and during action.

The following is the most recent one received:

As the carriers were launching their planes the first torpedo bomber came in. All the ships took a crack at it but still he came. Just before reaching his target it seemed that his steering gear was shot to pieces and as he tried to crash dive a ship he missed by thirty or forty feet to burst into flame beside his target. A cheer from all the ships and almost in the same breath came the word “Jap plane on the horizon.” The plane, this time a torpedo bomber, was visible to the naked eye, as he looked over the situation. Finally he made up his mind and began his run. Came the word “Jap plane 18 thousand yards, closing.” Then the gorgeous and colorful lost its peaceful aspect as shrapnel, clouds of smoke and machine gun tracers closed in on the target. We could watch one burst of shells follow him as the gunners corrected their aim, shells all around, and finally they caught him. A great burst of flame and he fell into the sea. We breathed easier.

The next attack came from a different angle – we could see two planes looking over the group at about twenty thousand yards when three fighters came in through the clouds, cried “tallyho” and right in front of us was the prettiest “dog fight” you would want to see. Two fighters took one plane and one took the other. It lasted only about three minutes as both Japs were down in flames in about that time. The second plane put up a better fight and looked for all the world to see like a Great Dane trying to shake off a vicious little terrier but the terrier knew his business. “Splash two Japs.”

Apparently every one had been watching this and commenting on it when suddenly the machine guns on the forward part of the ship opened up very high in the sky. “Dive Bomber” came the cry. And there it was. A solitary Nip getting ready to “bomb the pants” off us. He made a fast run and every gun on the ship went into action – he was too high and then started another run on the nearest carrier. All over the formation guns were belching fire. As he came over the carrier he pulled out of his dive apparently to release the bombs. There our fire reached him and he went into another dive powerful and unscheduled, his bombs with him. What a sight as black smoke trailed him to a flaming crash which marked off another Nip and sent his plane into the sea.

But those Nips never learn and again came the torpedo attack. This one took everything we could give it and almost reached the carrier when he exploded in midair with probably the largest amount of good old American shot and shell every put in one plane. There is nothing lacking in the Japs courage – only it happens we have the perfect antidote for their attacks, the ability to shoot them down.

So while our carrier planes on their missions were ruining two of the best Jap bases in the area, destroying shipping, knocking down planes and strafing those on the ground, we were carrying on a little vendetta of our own and the final score for our part of it – night and day attack was sixteen planes. The final score of our whole carrier task force will have appeared in print before you receive this. However, you know that we are busy and in so far as we can, doing a good job. This third phase treated us to a magnificent and awe-inspiring spectacle.

Nor Fourth of July compares t the sight of a formation of ships firing at planes in the dark – no bonfire ever lit up a horizon as does the flaming crash of a Jap torpedo bombers at night. It has taught us too, not to underrate our opponent. His courage is superb and his determination to get us lacks nothing.
That’s all for now. Will write again soon. Remember us in your prayers.

Your Loving Son,
R. K. Erskins

Source: Adams County Free Press, Corning, Iowa, Thursday, April 06, 1944, Page 8 [Adams County]






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