Back in the Day

A window into the life of a WWII sailor


On April 4, 1946, 20-year-old Phillip Embury Reed wrote a letter to his father, Benjamin Gilbert Reed of Brookline, Massachusetts.

Phillip was serving in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Alamance, an attack cargo ship that carried landing craft on which to land weapons, supplies and men.

The Alamance was launched in November 1944 and three months later proceeded toward Pearl Harbor. For the remainder of World War II, it shuttled men and cargo from Pearl Harbor to other ports before being decommissioned in June 1946.

Phillip’s letter was written just three days after a tsunami struck Hilo, Hawaii, caused by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands that registered a magnitude of 8.6.

The three-page letter, penned on red and blue-striped military airmail stationary, was recently discovered within a box-lot at a flea market in another state.

Phillip passed away in Warwick in 2001.

The letter reads:

“April 4. Hi Pa, what’s new in good old New England these fine days of Spring? Well, Dad, I received your nice long letter of March 29 and was very happy to hear from you and all the news also.

Well, Dad, if we go ok to the east coast I will be out in June, in fact June 2. We will probably go to the east coast around the twelfth of this month and get there around the fifteenth of May.

Well, Dad, that fire started when a shipfitter was welding over an open hole and some sparks fell and landed on some mop yarns.

Gee Dad, I’m sorry you lost the job to the veteran but that’s the way it goes. Well, you can have a vacation now anyways.

We lefted San Francisco the twenty-fifth of March and arrived here in Pearl Harbor the 1st of April. We had about two good days of weather and the rest were ruggle. We had four sleepless nights, cold meals and plenty of watches. Also, they couldn’t do our laundry.

During this time, we had three field days below deck, and we scrub the deck, washed lockers and bulkheads and the rest of the time we played pinochle.

You should have seen an officer car up forward. A wave came up over the bow and it pushed the top of the car right down inside about halfway. I know it doesn’t sound sensible, but it happens.

I think I will go over for a baseball workout this afternoon. The weather here is very warm and we are all getting a good tan.

Oh yes, we all got a smallpox shot just after we left San Francisco. There was an epidemic going on in Francisco.

One more thing; they had a tidal wave and it was pretty bad. It wasn’t on this island but Hilo. I guess this is all for now. Love, Phil.”

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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