Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Situation Normal (With Mail)

From The Reflector

Richmond, Virginia
Friday May 12, 1944
Page six
Boxed Sidebar story on the 898th Engineer Aviation Company's return to the States from Ascension Island.

"First Mail Call Hit Island Like a Tide"

"For 70 days, the Engineers sweated out their first mail call on "The Rock," and then a hot rumor sped around:  'There's a Navy destroyer offshore with our mail.'

When the destroyer put ashore its cargo, though, it was found that there was only second and third class mail for the Castlemen [the Corps of Engineers insignia is a castle]--newspapers, advertising circulars, etc. no letters or postcards.

First class mail didn't come until they'd been on Ascension four months and then it deluged! Some men got as many as 200 letters and cards.  A hundred was nothing out of the ordinary.

Christmas, 1942 rolled around ... nothing happened.  April, 1943, rolled around ... and Christmas gifts arrived.  But by Christmas last year [1943], mail was up on schedule for everyone but Pvt. Robert K. Lane.  His folks sent him a gift in September, 1943.  He found it waiting for him when the 898th arrived here at Richmond Army Air base on the 29th of March, 1944."

RC notes:  my father says the mail did not get through going the other direction either, and that for more than 70 days his parents did not hear anything from him and were growing increasingly concerned. Finally, he said, his father called the War Department in despair, asking if his son, Lt. William Ashley Chapman, had been killed in the war.  The clerk on the other end of the line asked:  "Have you received notification of his death by telegram?"  No, said Roy Chapman, still very much worried about his son.  "Well then, there you are.  If he's dead, you get a telegram," said the busy War Department employee.  My grandfather wasn't sure if he should be relieved or not. Either the telegrams or the mail were really fouled up.  When the mail finally did get through, the Chapman family of Homewood, Alabama was also inundated.  They received more than 100 letters from their son, and were relieved to know the War Department was right.  No telegram?  No death.

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