World War II affected my world even before Pearl Harbor
Diane Lewis Hanger b. 1933
Many young men of Carmel, as was true across the U.S., joined the military before the outbreak of the war, realizing the country’s involvement was inevitable. My brother Carlyle, 18 years my senior, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in January, 1941. My 7-year-old mind, then, was focused on his activities as he progressed through advanced photographic school at Lowry Field in Colorado to become a Staff Sergeant and gunner/photographer. Pearl Harbor brought us into the war, and I was proud of Carlyle and confident our country would prevail.
I listened intently to nightly news, tracing the war in Europe and the Pacific, read newspapers to follow our troops’ movements and kept a list of the dozens of war correspondents. The progress of the war was a constant conversation in our home. In my young mind, there was no possibility we would lose the war.
I earned a nickel every time I brought a letter from my brother from the post office. And I was encouraged to write to all my uncles and cousins who were in the service via V-mail (Victory-mail). I wrote each letter on a special stationery sheet, which folded to form its own envelope. These letters, then, were censored, put on film, and sent to their overseas destination, a method that conserved space in transporting them, then printed again to deliver. I learned that servicemen didn’t want serious news, and filled my letters with details of everyday events in the family’s life and happenings in Carmel.
Family members served on both fronts. I lost a cousin on Omaha Beach, another, a paratrooper, was wounded shortly after. One lost his life at Pearl Harbor. My uncle, the oldest in the family to serve, fought to capture South Pacific islands from the Japanese. The youngest cousin to serve was a Seabee, building airfields on those islands as we won them. A lot of emotion for a youngster, but I remember feeling immensely proud, and confident we were doing what we had to do to secure peace.
Support for our servicemen was everyone’s responsibility. Young men hitchhiked for rides from Fort Ord when they had a weekend pass, and we were always delighted to help them on their way. We invited them into our home for meals sometimes. I remember feeling proud that there was something we could to do to help.
Carlyle’s 4th Mapping Squadron fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea, but just prior to shipping out, he was pulled out and chosen to go to South America, instead, with a select group of photographers who had been trained in a new, intricate aerial mapping procedure, with the task of replacing maps which had been produced by Germany and were, therefore, unreliable. Their work was highly successful, and during the months he was there, avid outdoors man that he was, he fulfilled the dream of fishing and hunting in an exotic land of crocodiles and jaguars and tropical fish.
Ironically, my Dad had been instrumental in erecting a large boulder monument in Devendorf Park in Carmel to honor the hometown servicemen who would be the casualties of war. At that time there was just one name, Gordon Bain, brother of my friend Linda, who had joined the R.A.F. and died in England in 1942. This monument was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1942. On the following day, my family learned that my brother, Carlyle’s name would be the second name on that stone. As his group returned to the U.S., their plane crashed in a storm in the jungle near Bogatá, Colombia. No one survived. He was 28 years old. My parents grew old that day, and I grew up.
We devoted an area of our garden to a Memory Garden for Carlyle. Fishponds, oak trees, ferns and flowers, and thoughtful additions from family and friends. My father erected a flagpole and raised the flag that had flown over Carlyle’s military grave in the Canal Zone every morning. My sister Doris and I lowered it each evening and folded it respectfully. My father was too old to join the service, but that’s what he wanted to do. Instead, he gave up his career as a builder for the duration of the war and worked at the Presidio of Monterey as foreman of the carpentry shop, finding himself in charge of German prisoners who were there. I think it helped him cope.
There are twenty names on the memorial plaque in the park in Carmel. I had occasion to write their stories in a book, “Carmel’s Heroes,” in 2009. http://www.pineconearchive.com/carmelsheroes.pdf.
It was an honor to tell what I could discover about their lives and their bravery, to put faces on those very real people who sacrificed for their country.
Diane Lewis Hanger, 1951