Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Site
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-- The War Years --
Dean of WWII War Correspondents in the Pacific Theatre
Edgar Rice Burroughs, along with son Hulbert, witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In spite of his age, he stayed on the islands to help in the war effort -- he was the oldest war correspondent in the Pacific Theatre. Those who worked with him were astonished by his courage and stamina. Only one novel was the result of these experiences -- it actually came out of time spent in Java. Fittingly it involved his best known character -- Tarzan and the Foreign Legion.
ERB’s “Laugh It Off!” column was originally started shortly after Pearl Harbor at the request of army authorities in the Hawaiian department, as a civilian morale booster, and it soon became a familiar fixture to Hawaiian readers. It often ran simultaneously in two Honolulu newspapers, “The Advertiser” and the “Star Bulletin,” as well as in “Hawaii: A Magazine of News and Comment.” ERB’s keen sense of humor, wittiness and strong opinions on a wide range of topics served him well in the writing of this column -- the start of a five-year-long series of journalistic endeavours.
Burroughs, stationed in Hawaii as an accredited United Press correspondent, also wrote an undetermined number of news dispatches from the Pacific theater during the war. In fact, William Brinkley’s humorous novel of the war in the Pacific, “Don’t Go Near the Water”, devotes its first chapter to a fictitious visit made by correspondent ERB to one of the Navy-held islands.
LAUGH IT OFF COLUMN EXCERPTS
2. Laugh It Off excerpts from December 1941
3. Laugh It Off -- Honolulu Star Bulletin -- January 22, 1942
4. Laugh It Off -- Honolulu Star Bulletin -- January 23, 1942
5. Laugh It Off -- Honolulu Star Bulletin -- January 26, 1942
6. Laugh It Off -- Honolulu Star Bulletin -- January 27, 1942
7. Laugh It Off -- Honolulu Star Bulletin -- “Last” Column By Edgar RiceBurroughs
8. Conclusion of Laugh It Off Columns -- January 1942
ERB COLUMN EXCERPTS FROM 1942
AUTHOR OF TARZAN RIDES FLYING FORTRESS February 17, 1942
BMTC GETS TRAINING IN SHOOTING PISTOLS March 14, 1942
WHAT IS SABOTAGE March 26, 1942
OAHU: SINGAPORE OR WAKE May 19, 1942
DON'T BE STUPID July 4, 1942
DON'T LET 'EM KID YOU, JOE July 15, 1942
NOT FOR MICE September 22, 1942
WANTED: 1,000 September 24, 1942
BMTCERS CAN SHOOT September 30, 1942
WHATSOEVER A MAN SOWETH October 21, 1942
SATURDAY NIGHT IN HONOLULU DULL November 11, 1942
ERB IN THE FIELD WITH THE ARTILLERY December 1, 1942
ERB COLUMN EXCERPTS FROM 1943
TARZAN'S CREATOR, NOW COVERING WAR, FINDS AUSSIE CUSTOMS ODD January 4, 1943
ERB WITH A TANK OUTFIT IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC February 14, 1943
BOMB HIROHITO April 24, 1943
April 10, 1935 - ORIGINATOR OF TARZAN IN TOMORROW
"ERB...most popular author of the day will arrive in Honolulu..." followed with the usual biographical notes...
April 11, 1935 - Features a large picture of ERB and his new wife at the top of the front page. It reports that one of the world's great adventure writers was met aboard ship by a living image of his creation -- Tarzan. The "ape man" who greeted ERB at the dock was a husky, dark-skinned Hawaiian youth who looked every bit a "Tarzan." In the article ERB is quoted as saying, "My first Tarzan story was just a vagrant idea...a new type of story and not more unusual than a new type of stove." He mentioned how he had sent it in on the backs of old discarded letter paper with little hope of it being accepted and was "completely surprised" when it sold. The rather lengthy article goes on to tell that ERB had never swung from a tree and had never been to Africa. At the time of this article, ERB had 43 books published and the filming of the 12th Tarzan movie had just been completed in Guatemala.
August 24, 1938 - CREATOR REGRETS BUT TARZAN'S
GOT A WIFE
ERB is quoted in this article as saying "I married Tarzan off in my second book. I know now that the wedding was a mistake...He's just not domestic." The item goes on to explain how ERB attributed the popularity of Tarzan to the suppressed desire in every man to be a "Tarzan," and battle lions and bellow like an ape. It also mentions ERB's refusal of $10,000 for the original manuscript of the first Tarzan story written in long hand.
September 18, 1940
- The article reports that ERB has come back to the islands for his health,
and is writing 20,000 words weekly. He had completed three 20,000 word
novelettes during the first part of the month of September and had started
his fourth on September 16! His work schedule was as follows: "...to work
at 9AM in slacks and beach slippers. Answers correspondence until 11AM,
works on stories until 4PM. following the two finger method, he types out
330 words in 20 min." The news item also states that ERB had come to think
of TARZAN as a real person, whereas John Carter and his other characters
were thought of as purely imaginative creations.
mauka: inland, toward the mountains
makai: toward the sea
buffo: "a repulsive toad that swarms over our yard nights"
The civilian morale here has been fine, but I look for it to crack one of these days if some of the restrictions placed upon civilian life are not lessened. Coop people up in their homes from 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. daily, day in and day out, week in and week out, with the assurance that it will probably be for the duration is going to play hell with morale. We are not allowed on the streets and may not even buy a little hootch with which to lessen the tedium of the long, dark hours. While I don't, myself, now drink, I hear rumblings about town concerning this restriction.
The civilians here have responded splendidly in the emergency, and they can't understand why they shouldn't now be trusted as much as Londoners are trusted over there. They are allowed on the streets at night, and they may buy liquor. It all seems to the civilians here a poor reward for loyalty, sacrifice, end co-operation.
From a January 28, 1942 letter
That you may see how silly my column is, I am enclosing one. It has been sort of fun; but bucking a newspaper editor, a military censor, and, apparently, the WCTU and the Epworth League, and probably the PTA and the advertisers has rather cramped my well known style. Even a little "damn" was cut out of one story I told - and the damn was the whole point of the story.
In following with his goal of cheering people up, Ed included many humorous stories. Among these was a report of the owner of three dogs who feared that fifth columnists had poisoned the water; he sampled the water first before allowing the dogs to drink. As one of the blackout problems, there was the incident of the three-year-old who cried out from the bathroom in the dark, “Mommy, I can’t find my way home.” --Irwin Porges ERB Bio.
Whatever else the civilian population of this island of Oahu may lack, it is long on cooperation, guts and a sense of humor.....These people, regardless of race, color, or antecedents, are AMERICANS. They make me proud to be an American, too. -- ERB, Laugh It Off, December 13, 1941.
I am now a War Correspondent with a green arm brassard and a red C and
an official identification card. Am I getting up in the world! --ERB
Diary, Dec. 23, 1941
In the good old days, generals used to have cushy jobs far behind the lines. It was seldom that one of them was killed. Adolph has changed all this, and “a usually reliable source” reports that his generals are hastening to resign their commissions and enlist as privates.But Adolph isn’t worrying -- there will be others when the generals are all gone. It is the astrologers who are worrying.
If we don't get busy they'll get their lobbies into Washington and grab off bonuses and pensions ahead of us. So arise comrades, and organize the Ancient and Honorable Veterans of Kewalo Basin. And weren't we all honorable and weren't some of us ancient!
For the post of exalted grand commander I nominate Anton Rost, our own Sgt. York, who, single-handed captured 42 enemy aliens. I'll be treasurer.
For several issues the column was published in both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin, but ERB soon arranged for the latter paper to have exclusive rights to the column. The “Laugh It Off” columns appeared uninterrupted until January 28, 1942, when they were temporarily discontinued. (In the Spring of 1945 ERB resumed writing the Laugh It Off column while aboard a U.S. Navy oil tanker.) ERB, restless, was seeking a more active war role. He spent the remainder of the war involved in a long string of colourful War Correspondent activities - in both official and non-official capacities -- and on both the Hawaiian home front and in active combat situations.
AUTHOR OF TARZAN RIDES FLYING FORTRESS February 17, 1942
I flew in a flying Fortress the other day. Six of the great capital ships of the air flew in formation. I was in the sixth, with Jack Price, cameraman for Associated Press. I do not know what altitude we flew; but as I stood between two open gun ports, holding on to both because of the roughness of the air the sea, far below, appeared a solid mass of dark blue ice, flecked with snow....
And then two days later I watched some 1,200 other Americans being trained to serve. They were older men... clerks, salesmen, business executives, bankers, lawyers. It has been said that comparisons are odious. But it can't be said in this instance, not truthfully. These men are as keen and conscientious and as proud of their organization as are the boys who fly the Fortresses. They are members of the Business Men's Training Corps -- the BMTC... I have attended every meeting and drill... amazed at the constantly increasing attendanceand at the serious and conscientious attitude on the part of every member.
And they are on the streets nights now, guarding you and your homes... walking their posts in the cold wind, the rain and the mud. You've got to hand it to 'em -- these men who work in their regular jobs all day and then go out and walk their posts at night. Why do they do it? For $21 a month? [A private's pay during the peacetime draft and early part of the war.] They don't get 21 cents a month for it. They do it because they are swell citizens and real patriots... the Minute Men of 1942... living proof that America is not a decadent nation of conscientious objectors. More power to them.
As a member of the BMTC, I am probably more aware of the morale saboteurs who are deliberately trying to undermine that organization than I am of others. Yet I hear many thoughtless criticisms of Civilian Defense and ridicule of Air Raid Wardens. Let's stop it. I know that those who are 100 per cent loyal to America will.
This is an all-out war. Can't we ever get that through our thick heads? ... Are we making an all-out effort? We are not.
[ERB proceeded to read the riot act to his favorite organization, the BMTC, stating that they were only giving 12 1/2 per cent of their leisure time to war work. He called upon them to give a minimum of at least eighteen hours a week -- 33 1/2 per cent.)
Other citizens should give as much. Oahu should set an example... the eyes of the world are upon Oahu as never before since she was lifted from the depths of the ocean. Her place in history lies in our hands. Shall we go down in history as another Singapore or another Wake?
...What I do know, and what everyone else must know is that the Japanese, for psychological reasons, have go to hit back. They've got to save both their faces...
Don't throw away your gas mask. Don't cancel your Mainland booking. Don't neglect your defense duties. Don't be stupid.
The Japs might come tomorrow.
I do not impugn the loyalty or patriotism of the Gentleman from Kentucky when I assert that [his] statement might have been dictated word by word by Goebbels. It is an outstanding example of unconscious morale sabotage, tending to lull millions of Americans into a false sense of security. Hitler and Hirochito must have loved it...
There is not the slightest reason to believe that the war will be won by the U.S. this year or next. But there is a hell of a lot of reasons to believe it could be won by the Axis this year....
I don't know what sinister shadow darkened Mr. May's mind. It may have been Publicity. It may have been Votes. But a mind that can see harm in drafting youths of 18 and 19 at this time was darkened by something -- it is the type of mind which multiplied by millions, could cause us to lose the war. Or, if we are victorious, to lose the peace....
There are some 25,000 adult male citizens of Hawaiian, part Hawaiian and Caucasian blood living here in the city of Honolulu. Perhaps many of them do not know how badly they are needed, nor where and how to offer their services. This article will tell them how.
The BMTC needs men. The BMTC needs YOU.
If you are anywhere between 21 and the grave, have all your arms and legs, a little endurance, and a lot of guts....
[The column listed addresses and phone numbers where those interested
in joining the BMTC could get further information.]
WANTED: 1,000 September 24, 1942
Our boys are fighting and dying on the beaches of the green little Islands of the South Pacific... over the waters of the Pacific, the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Mediterranean. In China, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia. It is quite probable that one day they will be fighting and dying here again, as they did on December 7.
...the army wants a strong, well-trained BMTC for certain definite purposes of defense and to help maintain law and order.
...the Government will arm and equip you. You will give a few hours of our time each week. That is not too much to give.... Honolulu needs you. It may need you damn bad some cloudy morning.
... There are many old-time Army men in the BMTC. Mr. Pinchon should be in it. We need all the experienced men we can get, regardless of age. From the date of his service, 1898, I judge that Mr. Pinchon is about the same vintage as I, although probably younger. I was discharged from the 7th Cavalry in 1896 (actually March 23, 1897 after ten months' service).
We admire Russia as a great and powerful ally [but] if Russia forgets, we do not. We do not forget that for more than a quarter of a century Russia has been trying to undermine and overthrow our government....
Before one plane or one bullet was sent to the aid of Russia, we should have demanded this assurance from Russia....Perhaps, if we were convinced that Russia would always be an ally and would never again attempt to interfere in our politics, we could and would redouble our efforts to aid her now. But deep in the fiber of our being is suspicion and distrust of the Government of Russia. It is nothing of our own doing. The Government of Russia... sowing deep for a quarter of a century, planted it there.
Whatsoever a Man Soweth, he Reapeth.
However, there was absolutely no activity in the front line trenches, the enemy "Demon Rum" having practically run out of ammunition.
(The trio toured the city from 7:30 to 11:30 P.M., visiting the Red Cross stations, first aid units, telephone censors, auxiliary police -- all hard at work.)
And so to bed, taking with me an increased admiration for my fellow Americans -- God bless 'em.
Our battery left its position at 7:02 P.M. The range section and each of the big guns was hauled by an enormous, brutal-looking truck called a prime mover....
Captain Philip Bird of Oklahoma City, an observer, and I, of Tarzana, Cal., an innocent bystander, rode in the jeep at the head of the column with Capt. Robert Jaap of Canton, [Ohio] the battery commander. The convoy trailed out behind us like the tail of a comet -- a 15 miles-per-hour comet....
A range section consits of several units, including heavy, extremely delicate, precision instruments.... in 15 minutes the first unit, in the range section, was set up and ready to function....
There was another snappy section that ran [the first unit] a close second. We saw them huddled on their knees in a circle, laboring in the dim rays of a single flashlight even before the first gun was rolling to its position. This was the craps section....
What most impresses one is the assurance and confidence with which these boys handle an intricate job so remote, for most of them, from the peacetime work which they did a few months ago.
[Ed managed to get closer to the war at the tail end of 1942. What probably pleased him most was the front-page space the newspaper gave to his story, plus the byline: "United Press Staff Correspondent." Unfortunately, the headline was the most interesting part of the article.]
ERB further reported that he was routed out of bed at 3:30 A.M. and loaded onto a truck with a dozen other men... but not much was happening so he told of finding Aussie customs odd. Such as: "Streetcars are called trams, cars are driven on the wrong side of the street, cops are called constables and whiskey means scotch."
I have just returned from a couple of days in the field with a tank outfit. Sure I had plenty of fun; but then I didn't have to camp out for the duration, I hope....
Standing on the summit of a hill, I watched the tanks move into position to attack. It was interesting. It was thrilling. I should like to describe it to you. But I have a hunch it won't get by [the censors].
What I hope does get by is this brief description of how your men are living and working way down here to-hellengone from home. They are cheerful, their health is excellent on the Island. They want letters... cheerful letters....
Honeys, write your boy friends. When you don't their buddies tell them you have fallen for some rejectee.
In the first raid on Tokyo, we purposely refrained from bombing the palace of the syphilitic, near-imbecile god whom they worship. The Japanese mind could attribute this humanitarian decency only to fear. The next raid should disabuse their mind of this false conception.
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