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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . c h a p t e r t w e n t y - s i x ........................................................... together again 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 Sacramento, California. I shipped ahead what baggage I had and began scrambling to find myself a flight to Long Beach. When I arrived, Lee’s mother met me with a smile and told me, ‘‘I feel as though I know you already, Jim. Just like my own boys when they were away at school. When they came home, the first I would see of them was a big bag of dirty laundry.’’ Sure enough, my barracks bag of dirty uniforms had beaten me there. Meeting Lee’s mother gave me a chance to appreciate where Lee got all her warmth and charm. It was wonderful being with Lee again. She kidded me about my gold leaves and said that the only majors she had known were old fuddy-duds and that I had no business being a major. I gave her the only excuse I could come up with: ‘‘There’s a war on, you know. They aren’t putting the stuff into majors any more that they used to.’’ We spent a few days in Long Beach with her folks and drove up to Santa Monica and spent a few days with mine, but the time was all too short. I received orders assigning me to the Air Staff at Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C. After a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation, we packed up the things we had, stowed it in our same little car, got a special issue of gasoline ration stamps to get us across the country, and were on our way. Crossing the United States by automobile during the war was an adventure . There were none of the interstate highways and freeways that we have today. And because there was hardly any traffic on the road, we took our time, stopping to visit friends along the way. We made the most of it because we were getting into strange waters. We knew nothing about Washington, D.C., or what a staff assignment there would be like. We did know that, eventually, we would find out all about these things and would do it together. The war was still on. My buddies were flying and fighting PAGE 129 ................. 17575$ CH26 10-14-09 12:24:43 PS and getting shot down all around the world, but Lee and I had a reprieve, a little bit of togetherness. We knew it wasn’t going to last very long, but in the meantime, we were together. Lee’s letter to Mom and Dad, March 4, 1943 In unpacking my suitcases—I found the little poem I spoke to you about at one time. Here it is. The Returned by elma dean War is a paper word, a sound on air and still not touching us. We are quite free to make our songs and slogans And to wear our colors on our cloths for all to see. But he was there. He knows how very small men are Or else how big when faced with death. He knows some will run, Some hold the failing wall Only with courage and their final breath. He has new quietness that seems to say: The spirit’s size is all there is to man That boasting mouths will ultimately pray And if we must, kill, die or starve, we can. There is gentleness upon his face As though he sees us from a far-off place. PAGE 130 130 : Washington, Marietta, and Salina, 1943 ................. 17575$ CH26 10-14-09 12:24:43 PS ...


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