December 9, 2014

1945. First Impressions of the Postwar World

En Route to the Pacific Theater
Downs approaching Hamburg in May 1945
August 1, 1945

Dear Folks,

For once I have some time to write. Right now we're traveling up the eastern side of India towards Calcutta. After that it will be Chungking, then Manila and then Guam.

Although it's not quite two weeks since we left, it seems more like two years. Impressions have become so mixed and nations so jumbled that I haven't had time to sort out impressions. London, Hamburg, Berlin, Marseilles, Rome, Athens, Cairo, Abadan, Karachi, and Ceylon have made this sort of a kaleidoscope Christmas pudding, but it has been wonderful in its way.

London and Paris were much the same, except that London has the lights on and it looks good after living there in darkness for a couple of years. Ed Murrow was fine and the office was very cordial. Then there was the tragedy of Germany -- Berlin is the worst city of the lot...4½ million people once lived there...but it's not fit for 100,000 people now. Paris was the same beautifully gay place, but the French are on the verge of political crisis which may break out this winter. Rome also has the same troubles...a kind of revolutionary atmosphere, although the Italians are fed up with war and strife as everyone else. The right wing politicians and the Italian royalists want us to keep troops in the country. They fear that if we leave them alone they will find themselves with a communist fight on their hands. Greece is the same way...as a matter of fact, everyone seems to be seeing communists behind every tree in Europe these days.

Cairo, where few people ever knew the war was on, now seem little impressed that the war is off. However the businessmen are sad that the soldiers have gone and that they no longer can sell cheap Egyptian souvenirs at ridiculous prices. Then there was that fantastic trip out of the modern world into the Middle Ages, flying over Baghdad and into India...to Karachi on the northwest Indian coast with its sacred white cows and its people with the sensitive faces and the wet sympathetic eyes of the animals they worship. We spent overnight there and everyone managed to get a touch of the notorious eastern dysentery...mine was not so bad and I think I'm about over it now. Then the long flight down the east coast of India to the island of Ceylon, landing at Colombo. Ceylon is far and away the most beautiful place we have touched upon. Paris and Rome have their civilized beauty, but this jungle island with its clean, picturesque natives seem much more genuine than the rest of civilization put together.

We should arrive in Guam about the 15th of this month. It'll be good to get to a base that you can call home for three or four days running at least. We all are running short of clean clothing...someone stole my house slippers you bought me and I'm getting saddle sores from riding this B-17. Incidentally, we've christened her "The Headliner." We have a combat crew that did many missions over Europe and they fly like demons. So everything is okay.

Until we get settled down you will be getting my letters sporadically...but don't worry about me. As you know by now, I can take care of myself. The feeling about the Jap war out here is moderately optimistic...some people give it another six or eight months, but personally I think it will be more than that. Still there is some serious hoping and anticipation that the whole thing will be over before Christmas. If that sounds familiar, remember we were doing the same kind of predicting last year in Europe, so don't take any predictions too seriously. As a matter of fact, no one knows when the damn thing will end.

Give my regards to everyone. All of you write me the news...I hope to have a bale of mail when I get to Guam. Take care of yourselves...and Suze and Randy...

Love,
Bill
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August 13, 1945

Dear Folks,

Well, I finally made it...and apparently not a minute too soon either. We now are preparing to go into Japan, provided this surrender comes off. Don't know what's wrong but it already has taken three days for the details to be ironed out. We're going to try to be the first into Tokyo...don't know what we're going to meet with, but we have to operate on the assumption that when a nation says it will surrender, it means it. However Jap treachery is notorious...and we'll just have to wait and see.

We went down to Ceylon to Mountbatten's headquarters. It's a lovely place. Then on up to Calcutta. India has to be seen to be believed. The millions of people who live in the world's most abject poverty -- the classes and castes. Human dignity gets an awful kicking around there. Then we got into Chungking on the day the Russians declared war on the Japs. I got a story out okay, and during our 24 hour stay managed to have the same poverty as the Indians. But they seem much more alert and happier than any of the Asiatic peoples. Their children are like dolls, and everyone has a great curiosity and is friendly and they laugh a lot.

We went on to Manila, flying over Jap territory in the night, and arrived there in time for the Tokyo announcement of the surrender. Meanwhile we had dropped the first atomic bomb. Manila went wild that night and John Adams, our man there, and I were up all night broadcasting. I think we did a half-dozen broadcasts, then the next morning we got on our plane and came here to Guam. We are billeted in Quonset huts -- sort of a modified Nissen hut -- sleep four to a room on army cots. All in all it's okay...messing is good for the army.

...

We are drawing kit all over the place for the stay in Japan. No one expects it to be pleasant. I don't know what's going to happen when the war's over. I undoubtedly will be stuck out here someplace for a while. Maybe some place like Tokyo...or Shanghai or Singapore. It's too early to say. But there are a half-dozen guys who have home leave coming before I'll be eligible again...still, it may not be so long at that. The CBS outfit here is like the outfit in Europe...a nice bunch of guys more interested in seeing that the news gets over our network first rather than thinking in terms of personal aggrandizement.

That's about all the news now. You probably won't be hearing from me for a while, but we should be broadcasting like mad. That will keep you in touch. Don't worry about this next show.

...

Love,

Bill