Robertson Bruce Graham
A WWII Remembrance – Part II
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
In a letter to John R. dated June 30, 1942, dad tells about his first few days of experience at Roswell. "At last, we're down to a system, and are running on schedule - and when I say schedule, I mean just that. Our training program here is the toughest I've encountered yet. We fly six hours a day, ground school 3 hours, athletics 1 hour, link trainer 1-2 hours, drill anywhere from 2 to 4 hours - But we still get eight hours sleep from 9 P.M. to 5 A.M. As long as we get our rest we can't complain.
"We are training under terrific difficulties here. It's a brand new field, only partially completed. We are living in six place tents - hot and dusty, but cool at nights. As for flying, these twin engine jobs really give you a thrill. You have twice as much power, therefore, twice as many instruments to watch and levels to work. It's the first ship I've flown with retractable landing gears. We aren't allowed to do any aerobatics at all. Just straight and level flight...and never any solo flying...always a co-pilot. The real thrill will be when they give us a real bomber!
"And speaking of bombers - in our ground school, we are given a three hour course on the famous Norden Bomb Sight. They showed it to us yesterday. It's really a marvelous thing - and very deadly. But that's all I can tell you about it except that from 40,000 feet, they can put a bomb in a 500 foot circle with it."
In a letter to Gran dated July 14, 1942, dad tells of his plans to marry. He says "JR hasn't written me for a month. I've been so darn busy; I only have time to write him and mom - and my girl... But you haven't heard about Lil, have you? . JR met her, and I think he fell for her. We plan to get married if I make an instructor rating, cause that means I won't go overseas - at least for a year or so. Her name is Lillian Davis, and she lives in San Francisco. I met her in Santa Cruz last September. I'll tell you all about it.
"We, the boys and I, hope to get a 10 day furlough upon our graduation - which will be about the 21st of August. Won't be long now, and I'll have Lt. in front of my name - also $300.00 a month."
Marriage In Roswell
Dad completed advanced training at Roswell, received his wings and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Reserve, and was honorably discharged on August 26, 1942, to await further instructions. The next day dad married Lillian Davis. A newspaper account tells us that "Mr. and Mrs. Jack Graham Jr. and John R. Graham Sr. have returned from Roswell, New Mexico, where they attended the wedding of the junior Grahams' son, Second Lieut. Bruce Graham, to Miss Lillian Davis of San Francisco.
"The marriage took place Thursday evening at the chapel at the air field at Roswell. It followed the morning ceremony at the field in which Lieut. Graham received his commission and wings. A number of Lieut. Graham's classmates were married during the day and the chapel was banked with flowers arranged in honor of class members and their brides. Soft bridal music accompanied the nuptial rites. Lieut. Graham's grandfather, John R. Graham, Sr., gave the bride in marriage. The best man was Lieut. Richard Charlton of Whittier and his sister, Miss Betty Charlton, was bridesmaid.
"The bride wore a suit of beige wool with luggage tan accessories and a corsage of gardenias. She is the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Bernard Davis of San Francisco and was graduated last June from high school in the Bay City. Lieut. Graham and his bride met at Santa Cruz the summer of 1941. He was graduated from Merced Union high school and attended the University of California, where he was majoring in music.
"He enlisted in the Air Corps more than a year ago. His sisters are Miss Elaine Graham and Miss Marilyn Graham. Following the ceremony the newlyweds left for a honeymoon to be spent at the Grand Canyon. Afterward they will go to Salt Lake City where Lieut. Graham has been assigned to duty."
Another account of the marriage to Lillian is given in Rad's Ramblings in the Merced Sun Star dated August 23, 1942, under the heading ‘Graham's make jaunt through Southwest’: "In the late summer, with comparatively cool weather prevailing, John R. Graham, Mr. and Mrs. John R. Graham, Jr., of Merced and Mrs. Bernard Davis and her daughter Lillian, of San Francisco made a most interesting automobile trip to Roswell, NM. On the return to California, they lost one passenger. Lillian Davis got married. That was the motif of the trip as the society editor might put it. She wedded Bruce Graham, son of John Junior and grandson of John Senior. Bruce had just gained his wings and a second lieutenancy at the Roswell Air School, and he flew straight into matrimony.
"It was an 8 day trip from Merced to Roswell and return. Left Sunday morning, August 23, at 5. Breakfast at Bakersfield and Barstow for lunch. There was an interesting diversion at Needles where they met the big convoy of the Red and the Blue Army. The U.S. Army was having maneuvers to harden the soldiers to desert warfare...It was estimated there were 50,000 troops there, including many parachuters.
"Dinner and overnight at Seligman, Ariz., 507 miles from Merced. Lunch next day at Holbrook, Ariz; dinner and overnight at Albuquerque, 971 miles from Merced. On to Roswell arriving in mid-afternoon, 1247 miles from Merced. The next day was devoted to Bruce Graham getting his wings and a wife. The next day, Thursday, the Grahams and Mrs. Davis started Merced ward. They had the newlyweds with them. Lieut. Bruce Graham and his bride were not exactly hitchhikers, but the folks gave them a lift to Las Vegas, Nev., where they took the train for Salt Lake where Bruce was ordered to train."
Dad's mom, Yvette, gives her own account of the trip to Roswell in an undated letter to Gran. "I know Johnnie is over there and has told you all about our trip. Really, we had a grand time, and much to my surprise, I felt grand. Only once did I feel bum and I had one of my usual weak spells which lasted about an hour. Everyone was congenial all the time and we had a lot of good laughs.
"Johnnie was the best scout. He thoroughly enjoyed it and really relaxed and got a lot of rest and good food. He didn't have to do great deal of the driving so he didn't get too tired, because you know Johnnie, when he isn't driving, he's sleeping. We let him sleep all he could but when we would come to something interesting we would wake him up. His only regret was that you weren't with him. There wasn't a day that he didn't say 'I wish mama was here.' We all wished it.
"Bruce looks so well and is as happy as can be. I was glad to see him in such high spirits. We received a card from him yesterday reading, 'The weather is here, wish you were beautiful'...It showed that he was happy. It was written on the train, on the way to Boise. We are now anxiously waiting to hear how long he will be there and just what he is going to fly. Jack was so in hopes it would be the B-17, as that is the flying fortress you read so much about and they haven't downed one yet. I dread the day he goes across, but guess it is something we all have to bear up under.
"Lillian is a really darling girl, but so young. She is a month younger than Elaine is. She has a lovely manner and very neat and quite attractive. Her mother is French and (well I don't know what her father was). I didn't know until we arrived at Roswell that the man her mother is married to now was not her father. We liked the family very much Mrs. Davis said that when the war is over, the kids won't want for anything. They just built four duplex apts. in Oakland within the last few months. Mr. Davis is in the wholesale business, and from what I gather has everything from soup to nuts. He made his money during the fair. She was a good sport on the trip and always saw the funny side of everything."
Dad and his bride boarded a train in Las Vegas for Salt Lake City where he was to report for duty flying B-17s on Monday, August 31, 1942. Sometime, shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Boise, Idaho. In a letter dated September 10, 1942 to Gran, dad says "Wish you could have been at the wedding. John R. gave the bride away, and I think he was as nervous as I was...Guess I'll be stationed her for a month, anyway. Boise is a nice place - about 26,000 population. Lil has taken a lovely apartment with another Army wife, as we pilots have to live on Post while training.
"Can you imagine you're devilish grandson flying a huge Flying Fortress? That's just what I'm doing! Gads! Are they immense!! Carrier a crew of 9 men. We were in Salt Lake City for only two days. Surely would have liked to stay there. It's a beautiful city - reminds you of San Francisco.
"Guess JR has told you all about our trip from Roswell to Las Vegas - Lil's and my honeymoon with two mothers-in-law, a father- in-law - and grandpa! We sure had fun though..."
John R. returns dad's letter telling about his first few months of marriage to Gran. In a letter dated September 11, 1942, John R. says, "...I'm pleased to know you are so well located and know you will enjoy your first married life. I well remember ours. We were not as well fixed as you kids are. We had three rooms in Aunt Johnnie's house, paying $12.50 per month. I was $3,000 in debt and had 10 cents in cash, 1 pair of overalls, 1 suit of clothes, badly worn and Ma did not have much of anything and business was rotten, running behind every month. It was a long hard struggle the first few years, especially after your dad showed up.
"Ma was wonderful through it all. I hope you will not have to go through anything like it. Just remember that now is the time to give up for the future and profit by our experience. Yes, enjoy yourself but put some away each pay day. So when you are 74 you will not have to worry as we do sometimes..."
From Boise, dad was transferred for temporary duty to Alamogordo, New Mexico. On the way there, he stopped off in Merced to barely make it in time to stand up as best man for Uncle Bob and Aunt Elaine who were married on September 27, 1942. While in New Mexico dad trained as a co-pilot. After a month, he was transferred to Topeka, Kansas where his training continued as first pilot and he prepared to transfer overseas.
In a letter to Gran and John R. dated December 4, 1942, dad writes "This is the last station in this country - And may I say, I'll be darn glad to see some fast action, after this last year of strenuous training. Would sure like very much to be home for Xmas, but afraid there isn't any too much chance. Guess I'll have to spend it with the boys the best way I can. It's good that all of us are in the same boat - We can keep each other company.
"This field is only 150 West of Topeka, in Salina. The town itself is dead. Not a darn thing doing. Guess all these houses here are built for farmers. Our commanding officer is Col. Cahile. We haven't met him as yet, but suppose we will soon enough. I hear he's quite a rough boy."
Dad did not make it home for Christmas for they were preparing to ship him to West Palm Beach, Florida for assignment overseas. What he did not know is that he was to participate in “Operation Torch” in North Africa.
At age 14, his sister Marilyn may have sensed his loss at Christmas for she wrote the following short story titled A Christmas Chat Overseas.
"Two soldiers were sitting in a fox-hole. They were talking about their other Christmas'. In the distance there were sounds of machine guns and falling bombs.
"'Joe, what was your last Christmas at home like?' asked Jim.
"'Gosh, I can remember it so plainly. We had a big tree with popcorn and cranberries on it. There were lots of presents, too. It was three years ago this Christmas. I've been over here for two years and 11 months. It was Christmas Eve and my brother and two little sisters were sitting in front of the fire place. Bob was telling Jane and Joan a story. Then came the time to open up the presents. We got lots of them. After we opened our presents we sang songs. Songs like Silent Night, The First Noel, and Deck The Halls. My mother played piano for us. That was the last Christmas I had home. Funny, my brother left for the Air Corps two days later. I had no idea I would be leaving three weeks later. This year, my mother and father and the girls will have to have their Christmas by themselves,' Joe explained.
"'Gee, mine was just about like yours except I don't have any brother or sister. I guess my folks will really be alone this year.'
"Just then a big noise sounded behind the boys. It was a bomb. Joe turned around to see how far it came from them. After he saw he turned around again. Jim was leaning against the fox-hole with his eyes closed. His face very white.
"'So long, kid, and Merry Christmas,' Joe said. Then he got out of the fox-hole and moved closer to the enemy with the rest of the boys."
To be continued. . .
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Published in U S Legacies Magazine October 2004