By Richard Mabey Jr.
My beloved father often told me that while he was at Hickam Airfield during World War II that he often got so very homesick. Dad told me that when all of his buddies got leave and went off base, he usually stayed in his barracks and wrote letters home, while sitting up in his bed. For the most part, most of these letters are gone. Letters that Dad wrote to his mom and dad, his sister Violet, to his seven brothers and of course, to my mom.
During my freshman year of college, back in the Fall of 1971, while attending County College of Morris, I had the afternoon off from the grocery store that I worked at in Whippany. I remember visiting my Grandma Mabey. We had lunch together at her kitchen table in Towaco. Sadly, by that time, Grandpa had gone Home to be with the Lord. Grandma lived with her daughter, Violet, at the kennel that my Aunt Vi owned and operated.
I remember this moment so very well. Grandma and I had chicken noodle soup. Grandma asked me if I had planned on signing up for the service. At that time, the Vietnam War was still going on and my grandmother was concerned that if I joined the army that I might have to go to Vietnam. I remember, it was such a serious conversation. Outside the kitchen window, we watched Aunt Vi’s dogs run and play in the side yard.
As Grandma and I ate our chicken soup and sipped iced tea, Grandma told me to wait just a minute that she would
be right back. Grandma left the kitchen and I could hear the creak of the stairs as she ascended the staircase to her bedroom. In a few minutes, Grandma returned to the kitchen and sat at her place at the kitchen table. She had in her hand a stack of letters, tied together with a blue ribbon.
Grandma slowly untied the blue ribbon and handed me one of the letters in the stack. The letter was addressed to Grandma’s old home at the end of Mabey Lane. The envelope read that it was from my dad at Hickam Airfield. I wanted to be sure that it was okay to read the letter. So, I double checked with Grandma. She simply replied, “Richie, if I didn’t want you to read it, I wouldn’t have given it to you.”
So, I took the letter out of the envelope. The letter was postmarked from back in July of 1943. The letter was written on very thin paper and had been mailed to Grandma via U. S. Airmail. I began reading the letter. It deeply touched my heart.
In the letter, Dad wrote about how much he missed everyone. He wrote about Hickam Airfield. How the food was okay but nowhere near as good as the meals that Grandma cooked for him. Dad wrote about the pine trees that were abundant in his yard and in the forest that surrounded his home, back in Lincoln Park. Dad wrote about his new-found friend, Tommy Andrews from Haskell. He wrote about how much he was learning about how to repair the many airplanes of Hickam. And, he wrote about the hundreds and hundreds of airplanes that filled the hangers and fields of Hickam.
There was not one single, solitary word from Dad that he was scared that the Japanese might attack Hickam Airfield again. Although, there were many times that Dad told me that there were many rumors of another Japanese attack. I suppose that Dad kept a stiff upper lift, so as not to worry his beloved mother.
I was 18 years old when I read that letter. After lunch, I dried the lunch dishes while Grandma washed them. Aunt Vi was out for the day, at a luncheon for the German Shepherd club that she belonged to. That afternoon Grandma and I sat at her kitchen table and Grandma gave me more of Dad’s letters to read. There was a repeating theme in all of the letters, that Dad couldn’t wait to come back home to his hometown of Lincoln Park.
That afternoon, Grandma also showed me her old photograph album of black and white pictures that Dad had sent her from Hickam Airfield. I was so dearly grateful to my grandmother for sharing that side of my dad. A side of Dad, I would have never gotten to know, if Grandma had not shared her letters and pictures with me.
That year, I wrote an essay for my English Composition class about Dad’s service at Hickam Airfield. I included a bit of the afternoon when Grandma shared Dad’s letters and photos with me. I am proud to say that I got a grade of an A on that essay. Somewhere, in my boxes and boxes and boxes of my writings, I think I still have it. Regretfully, I couldn’t find it right now. I hope and pray that I still have it.
Servicing and repairing airplanes at Hickam Airfield would hardly be the kind of thing that a Hollywood producer would cast John Wayne for in an epic World War II movie of heroism and true grit. But, still, none-the-less, it was a real service to the war effort. There are no words to define how very proud I am of my dad’s devoted and dedicated service to the Seventh Army Air Corps during World War II.
Sadly, when my dad was still on this side of Heaven’s Gate, I just did not thank him enough for his service to our country. It is something that I deeply regret. Oh, so deeply regret.
Perhaps you have a loved one, a neighbor, a friend, who served his or her country in the armed services. Please do consider taking the time to thank them. Truly thank them from your heart. You will never know how deeply they will cherish your kind words of appreciation for their sacrifice.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put on the subject line: My Life Publications.