I N T R O D U C T I O N
When I started reading through these letters, I had no idea it would turn into such a fascinating project. After my dad passed away on May 2, 2001, I was saddened not only by his being gone but knowing that I would never be able to again hear his great war stories which I had heard all my life. When dad would tell us about various events in the war it always spawned questions and he always responded with amazing recollection even into his final days. Fortunately I was able to record many of my father’s war stories on audiotape. But I was not through recording his stories when he passed away. Over the years he had written a few short biographies for fighter squadron reunion newsletters. He had been interviewed for several newspaper aviation articles as well. There have been several books written about the 5th Air Force, which provide good information and photographs. There have also been books written about the 348th Fighter Group. One book in particular, “Kearby’s Thunderbolts”, about Col. Neal Kearby, dad’s Commanding Officer, tells a great deal about the operations of the 348th Fighter Group in New Guinea. A book about the aviation history in Sweetwater, Texas (dad’s home town) “Wings, Wasps, & Warriors” by Travis Monday, tells of some of my father’s aviation background as well as some war experiences. I was able to contribute much of dad’s memorabilia, newspaper articles, military records, etc. for that book. The internet has been invaluable in being able to find chronologies of events that would be impossible to find elsewhere. Also, thanks to the internet, I have found several old documentary films which have been preserved in digital format. Obviously, no one has been more helpful in answering questions about the “whens and wheres” of this story than my mother Lillian Carter. Mom and dad were high school sweethearts and stayed in touch off and on through college and mom also wrote dad a few times during the war. Mom is referred to as “Lillian Harkins” in the letters, although her maiden name was Pratt. Due to her mother’s death during the flu epidemic in 1917 when Lillian was an infant, her family was split up and she was raised by her aunt and uncle, the Harkins. Mom informally adopted their last name. Mom attended John Tarleton Junior College and then went to Texas Women’s University to finish her teaching degree. She was working in Dallas, Texas at Republic Pictures Corporation when dad came back from the war.
To add clarity to some of the people mentioned in these letters, I will name dad’s immediate family. Father – William Otto Carter, Sr., Mother – Leona Uvalde Carter, Sisters – (oldest to youngest) Thelma Ford, Velma Carter, and Katherine Wells. Thelma was married to Walter W. Ford and had one daughter, Sarah Lee. Velma later married Harold Jester. Katherine married James Wells of Sweetwater and had one daughter, Kay.
Otto Sr. owned and operated a plumbing business in Sweetwater, Texas. His one hobby which he dearly loved was trap shooting.
Located next to granddad’s plumbing business was the famous S.D. Myres saddle shop. Dad grew up hanging out at Myres’ shop and admiring S.D.’s beautiful leather craftsmanship. The holster mentioned in the letters was one made by S.D. Dad also happened to get a saddle from S.D. Myres that he had made for the movie star Tom Mix. Tom had traded it back to S.D. for another one and dad got it cheap. It even had his “TM” brand tooled into it. One of dad’s biggest regrets was that he sold that saddle.
After attending college at Texas A & M and John Tarleton Junior College, dad worked for the International Harvester Company. A company newsletter was printed by IHC called the “Round Robin”. Along with company news, it also had articles on IHC employees who were in the armed forces overseas. Dad made quite a bit of reference to IHC matters as well as to a Dorothy Cooke, who was in IHC management in Sweetwater. Coincidentally, the Cooke’s ended up living across the street from us in Abilene, Texas.
So who were all these girls he mentioned? Mary Paxton was his girlfriend from Sweetwater. Barbara Fuller was his girlfriend in Springfield, Mass. Beth Conley was his girlfriend in Sydney, Australia. At some point, near the war’s end, dad told his friend Lynn Parsons, that when he got home he was going to look up his old high school sweetheart Lillian and if she were still available, marry her. And he did. Dad got back home around March of 1945. Lillian came home and visited him and after a two-week engagement, they were married on April 17th.
It’s hard for me to believe that I never sat down and read all these letters until recently. (Nov. 2006) I remember glancing through a few of them when I was a kid, but it didn’t seem all that interesting then. Looking back, I should have transcribed them and asked dad all about them years ago. I can imagine how many memories that would have brought back for him. I wonder if maybe he knew the content and didn’t want to revisit a lot of it. Even though he certainly didn’t mind talking about it, I can see why maybe he would just as soon forget some of it.
Most of these letters are addressed to his parents who lived in
Sweetwater, Texas. He usually wrote
as if he were talking to his mother. And
unlike me, seemed to share his every thought.
It’s too bad he couldn’t mention a lot of the details of their
operations. All their letters were
gone over by censors. In many of
the letters he couldn’t even mention where he was located.
But the details he did get to mention are real “jewels”. You also get a very real sense of how worn-out and tired he
was towards the end of the war. Some
of the things he mentions are now of historical significance.
Also some of the people he mentions whom he met are now legendary
figures. Notably; L.E. Derryberry,
Col. David C. Schilling, Col. Hubert “Hub” Zemke,
Lt. Col. Edwin Dyess, Maj.
Richard I. Bong, Lt.Gen. George
Kenney, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., Col. Neel Kearby,
Dr. Charles Mayo III of the Mayo Clinic, and Charles A. Lindbergh.
I hope you enjoy reading these letters as much as I have. It has been fun for me to be able put all this information together in such a way that you can more fully grasp what a unique experience my dad had during World War II.
Otto Carter III