Although the war moved closer to Japan, Phil remained in the South Pacific, continuing his work with the AACS. But it was clear that the tide of battle would never again favor the Japanese. In October of 1944, the largest air-sea battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, had destroyed most of the Japanese fleet.
Leyte meant we were on the move again, and maybe just a little bit closer to the end of the war.... It just seemed that for the first time since being in this whirlwind, things were kind of settling down. There was a feeling in the air that the war was going to go the other way from here on out. And it did, too. It did go the other way. Not as fast as you’d have liked to have seen it, but it did.
Phil’s hard work resulted in another promotion:
One day I was walking by the orderly room and Johnny Lindquist came out —the Colonel’s boy there—and he handed me this manila envelope. ‘Here’s something for you,’ he said. I’d been promoted to Master Sergeant.
One of the documents that has survived the decades since the war is a fragile telegram from Bea congratulating Phil on his promotion. It was sent from Clovis, New Mexico, where Bea was visiting her father, who was also in the Air Force.
The telegram has a receiving mark, a circle date stamp (CDS) from the New Caledonia post office, dated November 2, 1944. Civilian telegraph lines were often administered by postal administrations, which use the same type of CDS to cancel stamps on letters.
Only one letter from Phil has survived from his tour of duty in the Pacific, the V-Mail letter shown at the right, written to my grandparents on March 16, 1945. V-Mail was a common way for soldiers and their families to communicate during the Second World War.
When Phil posted that V-Mail, my grandparents were were living at the Monterey Hotel in Silver City while they waited to move into a house in Hurley, where my grandfather was working at the Kennecott copper smelter. They were new residents, having moved from New York State in hopes of curing my grandmother’s tuberculosis. (The move proved to be healthy for my grandmother, who died of old age in 1985 at age 95.)
The end is in sight
Events were moving swiftly in the Pacific. On the day in March that Phil wrote to my grandparents, the battle for Iwo Jima ended. The Americans had lost 6,821 soldiers and sailors, but the island’s three airfields, previously used by the Japanese, were now available for American fighters escorting B-29 bombers on their incendiary raids over Japanese cities. Phil continues:
I knew that pretty soon now we were going to go home. And sure enough. I went to a movie one night, an outdoor movie. You want to remember that the war had long gone by — well, it had at New Caledonia some time ago, to all intents and purposes — and we could sit there and enjoy a movie. They got all the latest movies. They’d come over by ATC — Army Transport Command. We’d get the movies sometimes before the movie houses back in the States.
A fellow sat next to me, and he said, ‘Hey, Phil, I dunno, but I’m pretty sure you’d better be prepared to go home.’
I said, ‘What!?’
He said, ‘Yeah, I think you’re on a list over there.’
Oh, this was fast. I went back after the movie about eight o’clock in the evening and the orderly came in and said, ‘Throw everything you’ve got in a barracks bag. If you’ve got something you can’t carry, give it away or sell it. You’re on your way home.’ Well Ho-ly Cow!… There was a big push to get people home.
Home at last
Well, anyhow, I flew home to California, met my wife at my folks’ home in Hurley, New Mexico, near Silver City. Bea and I had a great time up and down the old State of New Mexico and out to some resorts there and so on.
On the day that victory over Japan was announced, VJ Day, Phil and Bea remember celebrated at the Casa Loma nightclub on the highway between Fort Bayard and Silver City.