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Your son, John Allen: More letters from the trunk

This column is the second in a special four-part series.

Last week I introduced you to John Allen Price, a U.S. Army Air Corpsman whose cache of correspondence was found in an old smokehouse on property in Bogue Chitto. The young airplane mechanic wrote his mother precisely one letter every month from 1939 to 1941, and I recently had the privilege of handling his yellowed pages of careful penmanship.

Price was stationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu at Wheeler Field, an army installation whose hangars were famous for being part of Amelia Earhart’s record-making 1937 solo flight from Hawaii to the Mainland. Price never mentioned that distinction in his letters, but focused instead on what was happening on the tarmacs while he was there — maneuvers involving planes fully-loaded with a thousand rounds of ammunition, during which “everyone wears a forty-five, with two loaded clips in his belt.”

He also described the challenges of being a crew chief. When one of his men made a suicide leap from the cliff of Pali, Price took it hard. “I wasn’t as friendly toward him as I could have been,” Price lamented. “He was a Jew and thought no one liked him.”

The former McComb High School football standout admitted he longed for home. “I have been here one year, one month, 14 days, and about six hours,” he recorded on Sept. 16, 1940. A package from his mother evidently was a welcome sight ­— and taste. “I did get the cake and really enjoyed it (so did the rest of the boys). I couldn’t just sit in front of them and eat and not give them some.”

The next month, Congress enacted America’s first peacetime draft. “How are all the boys taking the passing of the conscription bill?” Price questioned his mother in one letter. “Tell them that I will probably see them sooner than I expected.”

Price alluded to another important current event on Nov. 6, 1940: “I heard the election returns on the radio last night. I am sure glad that Roosevelt won. He has already been tried, and the present time is no time to experiment with a new man.”

In the spring of 1941, Price wrote that his tour of duty had been extended by 18 months. No homecoming until December 1942, he predicted.

“If ever you don’t hear from me in a great while, don’t be alarmed, for you will know it has come,” he explained to Leona. “We are in it up to our necks and can’t quit now. The 18th Pursuit Group may have to move at any time. If we are not actually at war by next December, I will be able to transfer back to the States somewhere.”

Bob Naeger, the letters’ current owner, is drawn to such details. As he made his way through the stack of 25 letters, Bob realized his interest in the Greatest Generation as a whole was being eclipsed by a new one: curiosity about one of the ordinary individuals who comprised it. “The letters speak so sublimely of patriotism and duty, that generation’s trademark,” he says. “John Allen never mentioned whether we should be in the conflict, or if he agreed or disagreed with our leaders. He simply served his country.” 

The last letter in the stack was weighty, and not merely because of the double postage affixed to the envelope. It was dated Nov. 23, 1941. War was looming, and the recently-awarded staff sergeant had four pages of things to say to his mother: “I know it is lonesome and trying for you, but you shouldn’t feel so badly about your two sons being away. For there are some poor mothers who are no doubt giving up more sons than you ever had to the defense of the good ole United States,” he wrote. “I still do not like the army life, but I have a job to do for my country. As long as it is in danger, I will remain in this life to do that job. Of course, I will come home if possible when my time is up.”

He added a note about a girl back home named Juanita, who he supposed had severed relations with him after two-months of unanswered correspondence. “One of the things a soldier must expect,” he shrugged it off, then concluded as he nearly always did:

“Your son, John Allen.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.