WAR LETTERS: DEATH - 1945 Okinawa

LETTERS HOME FROM SOLDIERS AT WAR

Nebraska Public Radio and the Legacy Project received letters
written by soldiers who had seen fellow soldiers die or, in one instance,
were writing about the first visit to the grave site of a loved one.

1945 Okinawa

Stan McComber wrote this letter to his sister-in-law, Fayne, in which he describes his first visit to his brother's gravesite. His brother, Sheldon McComber, Fayne's husband, was killed in action on April 30, 1945, two days after his 25th birthday.

July 16, 1945, off Okinawa
Stan McComber's letter to his Sister-in-Law

July 16, 1945

Off Okinawa

Dearest Fayne,

I know I should have written before, but somehow I just couldn't till I was able to say what I am going to in this letter. I wanted to try and write something that might bring some comfort to you. It hurt knowing that you were waiting to hear from me.

To go on with what I have to say. Day before yesterday I was taken over to the island so that I could go to Sheldon's grave. I got instructions how to find it from the Island Commander, and then rode in a jeep about the island before finding it. When I got there — well this is just what I saw and did — I think it will be easier to picture it as it was — the jeep stopped, and I got out, thanked the driver, and then looked down upon it awhile.

I noticed the hills on either side of it — how green they are and seem so much at peace. I looked at the cemetery itself — saw what nice even rows the crosses were in — saw the white picket fence. I went down to the shelter which is built over the stone which bears the inscriptions on it but it was still covered with canvas. The shelter itself is of natural wood color and the roof is the same. There was a flag flying at half-mast. I saw several men with garden tools loosening the ground so as to plant over the graves.

I started to walk into the cemetery but stopped to ask one of the men if there was an alphabetical list. He said no, that I would have to go to the other end of the grounds to see the Lieutenant since it hadn't been finished for mounting as yet. I walked around the edge near the fence towards his quarters, reading the names on each one of the little white crosses next to the fence. I was afraid for what I might see, and yet I couldn't take my eyes away from them. I finally reached the end, and I must admit that I had a rising surge in me — most of a voice — all this might be a mistake — he may be only wounded, he mustn't be dead — but I knew I was only working myself up.

I asked for the Lieutenant and was shown to his cabin and office — told him what I wanted and he said, "I didn't remember having the name on the checklist but I'll look through for you." Again I had that surge — we looked through, and it wasn't there. Then one of the men told him that, "He was the fellow we had a hard time trying to get the name right on — look in the Mcs." So we did and found it, McComber, S.C. — and all the rest — row 29 number 17. I wrote down the details on it from his record. Place: near Yonabaru airfield (that's near Naha town) — killed in action — by: shrapnel — no personal effects on body — 2 identification tags on string about neck.

He told me that it was at the time they were having a hard time cracking a Jap line supported by artillery. The boys could do nothing but lie there and wait till we moved up heavy artillery to knock out the Japs' artillery — there were many lost that day.

They were going through the personal effects of those lost on that date but hadn't come to his as yet. By the way, they have your address as at North Platte, so they will most likely send them there. I went down to the gateway halfway down along the side fence and entered there — it started with the 19th row. I walked along counting to myself until I came to 29. Then since the graves numbered from the left hand, I walked along slowly glancing at the names — afraid I had mixed up in the count of the rows. Then I saw the cross with S.C. McComber on it, and all the blankness and awful feeling came back to me of that day - 21st of June that I received the message.

I didn't know what to do, I just wanted to sit down and be alone. I guess I stood there for quite a while not trying to hold back the tears. After I got a hold of myself, I knelt there and prayed. I don't remember everything I said — in fact very little. I don't remember how long I was there — it didn't seem as though there was such a thing as time, it was all blank. I remember praying that he be granted his wishes — that Terry and Tommy grow up the way he would want, that somehow, someday they would be able to understand. I prayed that God would give you the blessings of the angels — that you might be guided in bringing Terry and Tommy up, that somehow you could find happiness in them and the world now that he is gone. I prayed for Mother and Dad — I said a prayer for everyone. As I said, I did not realize any length of time — I was numb. I remember how hot the sun was on my head — I guess that accounts for the sunburn where my hair is thin, since my hat was in my mouth and hands. I went back up to the Lieutenant's quarters and asked a few questions. They told me to write to his commanding officer and maybe I could learn more about it, so I'm going to do it.

I came back to the ship and tried to write to you but couldn't - tried again last night but couldn't. It just didn't sound right. This one doesn't either, but I'll have to send it because I can't do it any better. I hope, Fayne, that I haven't hurt you. I hope that I have made it clear to you what it was like. I hope that I've made it easier for you and relieved you a bit. Sheldon was my brother — I loved him very much, more than I can say. He was my idol — sort of. I've always wanted to be like him. I loved him and now that he isn't here, I love the thought of him. I love you, Fayne — I do so very much. I can't tell you in any different words how I feel. I love Tommy and Terry as if they were my own. I have often laid in bed and dreamed that someday I might have two like them. I guess this is all I can say, Fayne. It's up to you now, Fayne, you have the road to go alone, but you have Sheldon's memory and his spirit in your and his children. Kindle that spirit and have it glow in them. Someday they will be much older, and they must be the good citizens he and you planned them to be and have the right place in life. It's you who has to do it all now, but if you look to God and Sheldon for guidance, you can make it.

I hope, as I said before, I have made it a bit easier for you. I must go now. I will try to write soon and oftener. God bless you and Terry and Tommy — may his light shine upon you.

Your loving Brother,
Stan

COMBAT

DEATH OF LOVED ONES

1945 China Sea          1918 France
1940s Philippines          1945 Okinawa

LETTERS FROM FAMILY