From Tarzana, California
Memories from the
. . . AND NOW. . . IN THE VERY WORDS
OF MR. BURROUGHS. . .
Excerpts from the Wartime Letters of
the Oldest Correspondent in the WWII Pacific
Edgar Rice Burroughs
c/o G-2 First Island Command
Somewhere in South Pacific
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu T H
Collated by Bill Hillman
The letters are to
daughter Joan Burroughs unless otherwise stated
January 20, 1943
I hide my head in shame. I am an autograph hound. I have filled two
books and am about to start on the third. I've got privates, Pfcs, corporals,
sergeants, lieutenants, captains, majors, colonels, generals, nurses (pretty
ones), an American Consul, two governors, Australians, New Zealanders,
Englishmen, Frenchmen, and I hope to get a cannibal. Practically
all of them mean something to me. I don't ask for any that don't.
As a War Correspondent, my dear, your Dad
is a flop; but he's having one hell of a good time. I work hard at it (being
a correspondent; not at having a good time), but what I send in is tripe.
I am occasionally up at 4 A.M. and off for a story in Bouncing Baby, my
jeep. I have recently gone up with parachutists and watched them jump,
and. the other day I rode for two or three hours over steep, narrow, and
precipitous mountain trails with a pack artillery outfit. It was great
being back in a saddle again. I have met many swell people and made numerous
friends. The Army couldn't treat anyone any better than I have been treated.
There is one thing I miss here more than
another. That is being clean. I have only four khaki uniforms with me.
I haven't space for any more. Two are in the laundry. One got soaked in
the rain yesterday and covered with mud, and I got mud on the one I am
wearing right after I put it on. And I am invited to a party tomorrow night
by Commander Burroughs, whom I interviewed yesterday. He commands a Carrier
Group of four squadrons. His branch of the family comes from New Hampshire.
A very nice chap. In addition to being dirty, I am all bitten up by spiders;
and I think I hate fleas.
March 5, 1943
After spending three solid months with Army, Navy, and Marine Corps
men of all ranks and grades I am so damned proud of being an American that
I am on the verge of bursting. They are friendly, they are intelligent,
they are ingenious, they are courageous. I know that there are morons
and heels among us, but they are outnumbered a thousand to one.
The aborigines on the islands love us.
They hate the Japs and they are not particularly crazy about non-American
whites. Our boys laugh and kid with them. and they'll work all day
for us for food and a package of cigarettes just to be with us. They
are a simple, likable. childlike people. If they stewed you for dinner,
it would not be because they disliked you. Quite the contrary.
I had a grand time on a destroyer (USS
Shaw). Spent a month aboard her. The Executive Officer shared
his cabin with me. He ranks next to the captain. I sat at the
Captain's right at mess. We chased subs and dropped depth charges.
It was quite exciting. They gave me the run of the ship. It
was fun standing on the fantail when depth charges were dropped or being
on the bridge when we were entering a harbor. And ladders! I was
running up and down 'em all day. I am convinced that there is nothing
wrong with my heart. Over the loud speaker would come the command,
"Stand by for submarine attack!" That gives one's heart a few
extra beats to the second. Then, if I didn't go aft to the fantail,
I'd scamper up three ladders to the bridge as fast as I could scamper.
When the charges detonated, the ship would jump and shudder. Just
to give you an idea of the force of these charges of TNT: Another
destroyer dropped charges two and a half miles away, and our ship shook.
April 6, 1943
I spent some time in New Caledonia. I was quartered in a hotel in Noumea,
the capital. . . Was also in Australia for sixteen days. Had a swell time
there with plenty of good food, something I had not been accustomed to
for more than a year. . . . I was twice on Vita Levu, one of the Fiji Islands.
The last time I spent twelve days in Suva. The islands are British. The
native Fiji police and East Indian Sikh police are very colorful. In a
former letter I told you about the old lady who pinched my leg. That was
the first time I visited Vita Levu, and was at the other end of the island
from Suva. The old lady was a Fijian, and doubtless in her youth ate people.
She looked like she still might.
It seems a little tame and dull here now,
but I don't expect to be given another assignment. There are too many correspondents
Yesterday, Brig. General White took me
to Lieut. General Delos C. Emmons picnic at Waialae Country Club. . . .
There were about two hundred guests, and most of the men seemed to be generals.
Supper was cafeteria style (buffet to you), and consisted of hot dogs,
ham, potato salad, potato chips, and all the other things that are piled
on plates. There was also coffee and beer, but no hard liquor. General
White furnished two of his Negro soldiers who pattered and danced. The
dancer, whose name I have forgotten, was a big time night club entertainer
on the Mainland. He certainly let himself go in front of all those brass
hats. . . . There was also dancing for the guests to an army band, and
the party closed with a picture - Tripoli. I think - with Dorothy Lamour,
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. There were some funny gags in it but otherwise
was not so good. On the way home we stopped at the lady's apartment
for a nightcap. It was, altogether, a very pleasant evening.
Ralph wrote me that Jack is working for
Douglas. That is fine. I know that he will make good. Like Hulbert,
he knows his profession. I am glad he is not doing that newspaper page
any longer. That work was too hard on his eyes, too exacting in the matter
of time, and had not much of a future.
April 9, 1943
[Letter to grandson Mike Pierce] Shortly after we dropped anchor in
Suva harbor, a native Fijian paddled alongside in an outrigger canoe, bringing
native fruits, vegetables, and other things to sell to the sailors. . .
. a sailor got the war club for me. And I am sending it to you by
parcel post. . . . Until not so long ago the Fiji Islanders were
notoriously savage cannibals. They are a fine looking race, beautifully
muscled, tall and strong. They have long hair that sticks straight
out in all directions. They are fond of Americans, and always have
a ready, engaging smile for us, greeting us with, "Bula-bula!" and a sort
of salute that looks like a hitchhiker's gesture.
April 10, 1943
I thought that you might like to have souvenirs of the travels of Marco
Polo Burroughs.Please divide them in your family as you see fit.
May 15, 1943
I collect magazines and books for Phil's (Bird) battery and take them
out occasionally. Yesterday, one of his officers told me of
references to me made in letters home by a couple of the enlisted men.
One of them, referring to having seen me at a recent battery dance, wrote
"but you're liable to meet anybody here." Another: "He's terribly
old. He must be sixty."
The dances are held for the men, but the
officers dance, also. At the last dance I saw a buck private
cut in on a lieutenant colonel. The girls are all colors except coal black
- Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian, Portuguese, and white. The boys
are, of course, from all parts of the Mainland. Just watching is a lot
As far as I know, none of my stories appeared
in Mainland papers. Until today, I thought they were so rotten that United
Press wouldn't release them (and they were rotten). But today I received
a letter from George Carlin, General Manager of United Feature Syndicate,
a subsidiary of United Press, in which he says: "The United Press reported
that the stories you sent were swelL, but somehow the subscribing papers
did not come through with the promotion and display anticipated. This was
probably due to the press of big war news, especially from North Africa."
That made me feel a little better. A few that were run here seemed
to be very well liked. I was just getting onto the knack of the thing
when the Navy refused me transportation to Guadalcanal.
I was more scared of malaria (in Guadalcanal)
than I was of the Japs, and malaria caused more casualties down there than
bullets - both among our own troops and those of the Japs. The worst
part of contracting malaria is that one may be subject to recurring attacks
for the rest of one's life.
Hope your Victory Garden is more of a success
than any of my gardens ever were. But it probably won't be.
If the damn things come up at all, there are always a million pesky pests
to devour them before you can. I was once successful in growing strawberries
at the Mecca Avenue Place. And the quail came in and ate them all.
I couldn't do a thing about it, because nothing could induce me to kill
a quail - as you probably recall.
August 5, 1943
I know how you feel about bills. The first of each month used
to be a terrific headache for me. But no more. I pay cash for
Life here has ceased to be very exciting.
I am ashamed to say that outside of a little bridge, a little poker, and
an occasional cocktail party I do nothing. I cannot think of anything
to write. Whatever creative urge or ability I may have had has apparently
vanished. My main occupation is reading the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Have been reading a brief history of the
Pharaohs (in Britannica). Inasmuch as about all that is known of them is
taken from eulogistic inscriptions from their tombs, temples, and other
monuments, inscribed there by sycophantic biographers who would have lost
both their jobs and their heads if they had told the truth, I am not as
deeply impressed as I might be.
I am reading the autobiography of Benvenuto
Cellini, a great artist, but also a lecherous braggart, a liar, a thief,
a murderer, a traitor, and all-in-all one of the most scurrilous of all
historic characters. Pope Alexander VI and his bastard son, Caesare Borgia,
are two other choice products of Italy into whose putrid lives I have again
been dipping. I can say this for them, that their villainies fascinate
one. The Pope's illegitimate daughter, Lucretia Borgia, has been much maligned.
She was the most decent of the lot. Or perhaps I should say, the
least indecent. Benito, Edda, and the other Fascists had an all-time
low mark to shoot at, but they have done pretty well.
October 2, 1943
I must go back to my quarters and listen to the California-USC game,
which starts at 11:15 A.M. Hawaii War Time.
My eye was perfectly O.K. within a week
after the accident. I ran into Dr. Holmes, my occulist, on the street yesterday;
and he told me again how lucky I had been. . . And I don't need anyone
"to take care of me" - period.
I never want for company, as I keep a stock
of library books on hand; and no one can lack for company who has a good
book to read. . . . Then, of course, I have some social contacts
- bridge, poker, and parties.
October 4, 1943
Brig. Genl. Landon of the 7th Air Force, with whom I have become very
well acquainted, brought in a portfolio of Hully's pictures for me to see.
They were all good, and many of them magnificent. One very cute one
was of a little Polynesian boy, stark naked except for a soldiers tin hat.
Was invited to come to the dedication of
a library at an Army post on the Windward Side. . . . Was told that
they would like to have me "say a few words". . . . To make it all the
more horrifying, a really impressive audience turned out. The colonel
commanding the post was there. . . . I did my best, which is anything
but hot; but I got a lot of laughs. It was a very generous audience.
Just received a letter from George, dated
August 30, the day following his seventy-seventh birthday.
It is difficult for me to realize that he and I are so old. He says
that he is really beginning to feel his age now. . . He leads a quiet,
contented life with his chickens and his pedigreed Cocker Spaniels, which
he breeds and sells.
November 2, 1943
Last night I dreamed that I was married again. To whom, I didn't
find out. But I knew I was married because I was sitting at a desk
with a pile of bills, making out checks. I woke up with a headache.
My most recent letter from Ralph was the
most optimistic and cheerful letter that I have ever received from him.
It added to my now normal state of cheerfulness. He has done a wonderful
job for the corporation and for all of us. I hope that you full appreciate
what he has accomplished against great odds and also his almost unbelievable
loyalty to each and every one of us. I am confident that Ralph could
have his pick of many jobs that would pay him far more then he is getting
and at the same time be free from all the many griefs he has shouldered
for us. He is highly intelligent, and his integrity has been proved
beyond the shadow of a doubt. Shannon saw to that, and is convinced
by incontrovertible evidence. We should give Ralph every possible
support within our power, not only because he deserves it, but because
if we lost him, God only knows what would happen to the corporation - and
that is going to mean a lot to you children in later years. It has
meant a lot to all of us for twenty years.
December 29, 1943
Yesterday I read of the death of Brydon Taves, UP Bureau Chief. Australia.
He was killed in an airplane crash in New Guinea. I met him in Sydney.
Frank Cubel, Mutal Broadcasting correspondent, whom I met in Noumea last
December, was killed in that plane crash at Lisbon. Dick Tregaskia (Guadalcanal
Diary), whom I also met in Noumea, was badly wounded in Italy recently.
The destroyer McKean, which came back from the South Pacific with my destroyer
(USS Shaw), was torpedoed and sunk off Bougainville last month. I knew
her officers quite well, especially her skipper. He was not lost.
Leila Langford painted the originals of
the anthuriums and gardenias that I sent you, Jane, and Jack. She also
colored the photographic reproductions.
Hulbert has suggested that in my writing
I talk too much about myself. I guess he's right. But if I talk about other
people, that's gossip. And anyway if I just talk about myself I'll
never be sued for libel. . . . There are really a lot of interesting things
to write about here, but they'd never pass the censors. If they are of
military interest, I never mention them unless they have appeared in the
Lots of love and a Happy New Year! Papa
Source: The Danton Burroughs ~ John Coleman Burroughs
~ ERB, Inc. Archives
Copyright 2003 ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
2001 Email Letter
from Foster Rash (Excerpts from ERBzin-e No. 508)
Dear Bill:I've been interviewing my father
to compile a record of his experiences in WWII. He served on a destroyer
USS SHAW from 1941-45. Well, he told me a story the other night I'd
never heard before, about having Edgar Rice Burroughs on board for several
The ship was pretty banged up at the time
and it was going back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. SHAW had seen quite
a bit of action (Battle of Santa Cruz Islands and naval battles around
Guadalcanal) during Oct-Dec '42 and then had suffered damage to the hull
on a reef while entering Noumea, New Caledonia (where they picked up ERB).
Temporary repairs to the hull included pouring concrete into the holes.
They lost a boiler room in the process, so speed must have been seriously
affected. The voyage from Noumea to Pearl Harbor took 6 weeks.
Burroughs was very popular with the crew.
They refueled in Suva, Fiji (Feb '43) and the crew organized a football
game. It seems the gunnery officer had been a football star at Annapolis
and another crewmember was an All-American.
I would really like to read ERB's perspective
on life aboard SHAW. Dad said Burroughs wrote about it and the story
was published in Esquire magazine.... Whatever assistance you can provide
would be greatly appreciated. Thanks much for any help.
BILL HILLMAN .
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