Life on the Ground

            Felix Stumpf served two years in 31st Squadron and 5th Bomb Group Intelligence. “From the very beginning, one of my duties during the day was as Squadron censor. At the outset of my censorship, I didn’t have any problem getting all the mail to be sent out read during the day. But the mail was getting much heavier and I had a problem getting all the mail to be sent out read during the day. So they would give me assistants…We had to put my stamp on the envelope to have the mail accepted for re-mailing. You had to make sure in the censorship that they didn’t disclose the location of the Squadron or the Group and that they didn’t say anything about the kinds of operations that were being planned. Because of the heavy volume of mail leaving the Pacific Theatre for the United States, a system called “V-mail” was instituted. Letters were written on special forms which were then photographed and the film flown to the Mainland where it was reproduced as a letter and mailed. Censoring was done by either blacking out portions of the letter or by actually scissoring out sections.”

            “The Seabees were always based quite close to us. They were an enterprising bunch of people and they had a reproduction machine that would mimeograph on these little reduced messages. The V-mails that the Seabees had used had the figure of an unclad woman running in the distance and an unclad male running after her. It had sparks coming from her behind to his front part saying, ‘Sparks will fly when we meet again!’ One of the officers came to me to help me censor and he had a whole fist full of these things and then for quite a while thereafter we had them. He asked me whether this could be sent in the mail. There was no provision in the regulations that governed the mail for this. The usual provisions on censorship had to do with important matters that related to the conduct of the war, but they also had provisions about not fraternizing with the natives, if they HAD natives, and not doing certain things if you did come in touch with natives. The main thing was not to demoralize the people back home. He asked me what I thought about the drawing, and I said, ‘Well, it’s not the sort of thing I would send to any lady friend I had, but as long as they want to send it, I don’t see any objection that I can make to it on the basis of morality because we’re fighting a war of security, not a war of morality.’ Well, there was a provision in the Army regulations which I apparently took rather lightly that you were not to demoralize the women at home.”

            “All mail that was censored was sent to a place in Australia and that was managed by a WAC [Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps] contingent. They spot-censored the mail that WE had censored to see if the squadron censors were performing their job. Well, these WAC censors picked up the V-mail and notified by Group in which our Squadron was a member that I had failed to perform properly and the Executive Officer was to reprimand me for my failure to observe Army regulations dealing with morale. The Group Executive Officer was Barney Samelstein. He had been a lawyer in New York. My meeting with Barney was kind of hilarious. He smiled at me and I smiled back at him and he said, ‘OK.’ We never sent any of those V-mails again!” - - Felix Stumpf, 31st Bomb Squadron

            First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was on her way to the South Pacific. Her tour, scheduled from August 17 through September 23, included a one-day stop on Guadalcanal. She wore a Red Cross uniform and was touring as their delegate. Mrs. Roosevelt believed Guadalcanal “was the symbol of the war in the South Pacific and of all the hardships and suffering to which American boys were being subjected” and was insistent on visiting it. Admiral Bull Halsey was reluctant to agree, saying, “Guadalcanal is no place for you, Ma’am!” The fight for New Georgia was ongoing; providing fighter escort for the First Lady meant pulling that escort from 5th Group bombers. Billy Wilson recounted, “Island Operations called me, then the 31st Operations Officer, and directed me to stand down a select crew and aircraft as a backup for the First Lady’s aircraft. We not only flew the mission that day without fighter cover, but we flew it with a good crew and aircraft sitting on the ground.”

            The battle for New Georgia was winding down by the end of Mrs. Roosevelt’s tour, however, and Admiral Halsey finally approved her visit to the Canal. Hurried preparations had to be made. Billy Wilson recalled, “When the First Lady’s impending visit became known on Guadalcanal, a staff officer reminded the Commander, then a Navy Admiral, that there was no flush toilet on the island. The Admiral almost had apoplexy. He dispatched an aircraft to New Caledonia to pick up a flush toilet. The toilet was plumbed into a Quonset hut serviced by two oil drums fastened to a coconut tree.”

            Miss Colette Ryan of the Red Cross accompanied Mrs. Roosevelt as she landed on Guadalcanal at 4:30 AM September 17, 1943. It had been announced at the movies the previous night that no man would be allowed to walk around the following day without shirt or shorts. But 31sters Bill Winks, Bill Quinn and Stanley Bakula were not thinking of that as they returned from a mission and headed to the showers, which were nothing more than perforated gas drums that dripped water on the men who stood on raised platforms underneath. The baths were “open air,” no curtains, no coverings. “It was along the road to the Squadron area,” recalled Bill Winks. “Two staff cars went by and we waved at them [presenting a full frontal view to the personnel in the cars]. Two ladies were in the staff vehicles! Later a Colonel from the 13th HQ came to see Colonel [Marion] Unruh and was really upset. After Col. Unruh got him calmed down, he told him who the ladies were!” The women were First lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Colette Ryan!!