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Letters to Lee

From Pearl Harbor to the War's Final Mission

Celia Edmundson

Publication Year: 2009

In his 36 years of military service, Lt. General James V. Edmundson had extensive experience in combat operations and command at every level in the Air Force. He had over 10,000 hours of pilot time in 137 types of airplanes. In addition to the 107 combat missions in World War II, he led 32 combat missions in Korea and 42 in Vietnam. Two years after General Edmundson's death in 2001, his daughter, Celia discovered a trunk of his letters and was particularly fascinated with the correspondence between her father and mother, Lee. This very personal story is told through chronological vignettes, letters, newspaper and magazine articles of the period. The vignettes were written in 2000 - the letters begin in 1939 in the beautiful Territory of Hawaii. The two are interwoven and provide incredible descriptions and detail of the conditions both before and after the U.S. entry into the War; of the early fighting in the South Pacific; of the highly secret development and implementation of the Superfortress, which ultimately brought an end to Japan's war against the United States; and of the China-Burma-India Theater, as the war accelerates and the last mission is flown. Correspondents from the United Press and Newsweek who accompanied Edmundson on combat missions enrich the story. Letter to Lee is a first person account of two of the heroes of World War II and of the love that they shared across the years and miles. They lived their lives with integrity and courage, one example of this great generation and this incredible period in time.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title page, copyright, dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

After my mother’s death on January 24, 1999, my dad began writing a series of vignettes about their life together. They had been married for 58 years. He said then:...

Part I: Randolph and March Fields, 1936-39

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pp. 1-3

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1. How to Win While Losing, I

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pp. 3-8

There wasn’t a military tradition in our family. When I came home and told the folks I was going down to Randolph Field to train to be an aviator, it was almost beyond their comprehension....

Part 2: Territory of Hawaii, 1940-42

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pp. 9-10

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2. I Meet My Queen

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pp. 11-14

Gosh, I’ve been busy. I was Officer of the Day the first day out, as you know, and they also made me commanding officer of the 1st Company of soldiers down below. I’ve 91 men, and for the first two days, they were all too seasick to move. By now, half of them are able to laugh at the other half, so things aren’t so...

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3. How about a Martini?

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pp. 15-16

Hawaii was a wonderful place for a young bachelor, second lieutenant pilot. There were a bunch of nice guys in the 31st Squadron. It was a casual life in the military then. Every Wednesday was a half holiday, and work stopped at noon. About one Saturday...

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4. Kiss an Angel in the Moonlight

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pp. 17-22

I had always been a guy to play the field. I enjoyed the freedom of bachelorhood, as much as I enjoyed the freedom of flying like a bird. I had made it a habit not to see the same girl too often and to avoid establishing any kind of a pattern that might lead to a loss...

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5. Are Airplanes Here to Stay?

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pp. 23

After that night on the Pali, my world revolved around Lee. All my waking moments were either with her or planning how I could be with her. From that time on, other girls were friends or acquaintances, period! Things were a little different with...

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6. Down with Uniforms

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pp. 24-26

Lee had an inherent dislike for the military services. She grew up in Long Beach, California, which was a Navy town, and the Army’s Fort MacArthur wasn’t very far away. Her only contact with either the Navy or the Army was to watch the soldiers and sailors...

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7. Papaya Trees for Sale

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pp. 27-29

The very southernmost tip of Hawaii, the Big Island, is called Ka Lae, meaning ‘‘South Cape’’ in Hawaiian. Hickam Field maintained a bombing range at South Cape, with a target so that we could drop our practice bombs, known...

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8. B-18 in a Sugar Cane Field

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pp. 30-32

In the fall of 1940, Lee was scheduled to make a business trip back to the States to buy merchandise for her department at Liberty House. She had a busy program of meetings in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and planned to take a few days off to visit her folks...

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9. Gunnery Camp

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pp. 33-35

After Lee’s return from the mainland, I was walking on air. Lee left her job at Liberty House so she could concentrate on getting ready for the new life that faced her. We selected ‘‘Franksgiving Day’’—the 21st of November— as our wedding day. For...

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10. Wedding Bells and Tin Cans

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pp. 36-37

Our wedding was a dream affair. Lee had decided to be married in the beautiful home of a friend of hers, Mary White, which was in Nuuanu Valley. Mary’s sister, Katharine, gave the bride away. The Reverend Henry Judd performed the ceremony. He...

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11. Unexpected Guests

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pp. 38-39

As we drove away from the wedding in our can-free car, we drove up Nuuanu Valley, over the Kamehameha Pali that had so many happy memories for both of us and down the windward side of the Waianae Mountains toward Kaneohe...

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12. Lumpy Gravy

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pp. 40-42

Our month in our little cottage on the windward side of Oahu was idyllic— endless days of sunning and strolling on the beach and reading aloud to each other in the evenings. We had eggs and bacon for breakfast and sandwich makings for lunch. In the evenings, we usually...

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13. Lovely Hula Hands

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pp. 43-44

When our month-long honeymoon at Kahaluu was over, construction at Hickam Field was still underway, so there were no quarters ready to move into on the field. We found a nice little apartment in Kaimuki, up behind Diamond Head, where we lived until...

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14. How to Road-Test a Tank

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pp. 45-54

In March of 1941, quarters became available at Hickam Field, and we left our apartment in Kaimuki and moved on base. It was a nice little twobedroom duplex, quite close to Pearl Harbor channel. When the huge Navy vessels went to and from Pearl Harbor, they...

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15. Gathering War Clouds

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pp. 55-60

Things on Hickam Field were pretty tense as 1941 wound its way through the summer. We completed the conversion from B-18s to B-17s, which made a tremendous improvement in our combat capability, but the world was at war, and it seemed like only...

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16. Speculation among Lieutenants

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pp. 61-63

Early in 1941, Colonel Claire Chennault had come through Hickam on his way from Washington back out to China. He was recruiting Flying Tigers and painted a bright picture of all the money to be made and all the fun to be had flying shark-nosed P-40s out of Kunming. The pay was roughly ten times what a lieutenant made, including...

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17. December 7, 1941

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pp. 64-65

Sunday morning, the 7th of December 1941, started out like any other beautiful day in Hawaii. Lee and I had gone to Honolulu the day before to do some Christmas shopping. We had already gotten our packages off to the States. In Hawaii, you had...

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18. The Flight Line on December 7, 1941

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pp. 66-68

That day was one I will always remember. To a young lieutenant whose exposure to violent death and mutilating wounds had been limited, it was unreal. The day had a sense of horror and unreality that are hard to convey....

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19. First Class Passage

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pp. 69-71

It was about a week before bomb shelters were dug in the vacant areas throughout the quarters section and wives could come back to the base. There was a curfew after the hours of darkness all over the island. All windows were blacked-out so that no...

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20. The Sunset Message

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pp. 72-94

After Lee left on her way back to the States, I did a lot of worrying. I was not at all sure that the Navy, with its destroyers, was capable of assuring that the...

Part 3: The South Pacific, 1942-43

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pp. 95-96

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21. From Long Beach to Guadalcanal

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pp. 97-98

Soon after we returned to Hawaii from Midway, the 11th Group was alerted for movement to the South Pacific. I had been promoted to captain, which I could tell Lee about, but there was no way I could let her know that we were headed south. She found out eventually, though, because...

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22. How to Win While Losing, II

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pp. 99-103

Our first station down south was on one of the southern islands in the New Hebrides, called Efate, near the capital city of Vila. Our flying field consisted of one very narrow strip, covered with pierced steel planking and carved out...

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23. Missionn of 19 August 1942

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pp. 104-113

Early in August, we began operations from Espiritu Santo, an island in the northern New Hebrides and closer to the action in the Solomons. Our base on Espiritu Santo was extremely primitive, just a runway chopped out of a copra plantation and covered with...

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24. Mission of 25 October 1942

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pp. 114-122

With the capture of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and its improvement so that it could accommodate B-17s, the scope of the 11th Group operations was considerably broadened. Reconnaissance missions for Henderson made it possible to locate Japanese naval...

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25. How to Win While Losing, III

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pp. 123-126

Being a major and commander of a B-17 squadron was pretty tall cotton for a knuckle-headed kid who was just barely smart enough to find his way from his tent down to his airplane and back. I kind of enjoyed it except for those unpleasant periods when very unfriendly...

Part 4: Washington, D.C.; Marietta, Georgia; Salilna, Kansas, 1943

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pp. 127-128

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26. Together Again

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pp. 129-130

In the spring of 1943, the 11th Group was returned to Hawaii to remain, reequip, and return to the Pacific war. All of us old B-17 guys were returned to the U.S.—‘‘Uncle Sugar,’’ as we called it. I was flown back to Mather Field, next to...

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27. Where's the Pentagon?

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pp. 131-132

We arrived in Washington on a cold, blustery day in March. I found a building that was marked war and navy department building, and with my orders in my hand, I strode in the door to report for duty. I saw nothing but Navy uniforms around, and everybody...

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28. Washington Duty

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pp. 133-137

We found a house. It was a nice little place. We had delightful neighbors across the street and were only a couple of blocks away from a bus line where I could ride to work and let the bus drivers worry about finding the Pentagon for me. I found a pleasant...

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29. Marietta Georgia

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pp. 138-139

In 1943, Marietta, Georgia, was a quiet little southern country town, clustered around a town square. Today, Atlanta has spread out like an amoeba and engulfed Marietta completely. The airport, just out of town, was a small one, where a big hangar had...

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30. Salina, Kansas

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pp. 140-142

My tour at Smoky Hill Army Airfield was short but busy. The days were about 48 hours long. New assignees would walk in each day, and they would be greeted and put to work. Our job was to get combat ready in B-29s while they were still inventing...

Part 5: China-Burma-India, 1944-45

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pp. 143-144

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31. Cigars and Mustache Wax

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pp. 145-146

In March of 1944, we began receiving the B-29s. These were the first we had seen with operational remote control gunnery systems and operational pressurization systems. We had to change all engines, across the board, to the new combat-ready engines. The...

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32. How to Win While Losing, IV

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pp. 147-157

It was a real relief when the people on top decided there were better ways to use my special talent, and they assigned me to the B-29 program. The B-29 was a big, new bomber they were inventing with a pressurized cabin, remote control turrets, and a lot...

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33. Tokyo Rose

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pp. 158-190

One incident that occurred during my year in India and China was a chapter of the war that Lee and I never forgot. In June 1944, we flew our first mission out of China against the Japanese home islands. We bombed the steel mill in Yawata, on...

Part 6: Tinian, 1945

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pp. 191-192

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34. Winding Down the War

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pp. 193-200

Early in 1945, we got word that a base was ready for us on Tinian (one of the islands in the Marianas) and that we were to move from our bases in India and China to Tinian. This was good news for several reasons. It would put us closer to Japan where we...

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35. A Whisper Away

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pp. 201-208

Paul Tibbets, a flying school classmate of mine, arrived on Tinian with his 509th Group and his atomic bombs. By the time Paul got there, the Japs were already beaten. Paul provided the force to make them admit it....

Epilogue, 2001

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pp. 209-212

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From the Author

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pp. 213-216

On the last mission, the sky was full of B-29s, but I’m sure they had a better view of it all from down below than we did. There were two things about the mission that struck me at the time. One, of...

About the Author

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pp. 217-222

Illustrations follow page 94 [image plates]

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pp. 223-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248100
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230969
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230961

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Edmundson, James V. (James Valentine), 1915-2001 -- Correspondence.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, American.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Correspondence.
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