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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

"Two Formals and Gold Sandals"

The following letter published in a Lawrence County newspaper from 23-year-old Army Nurse Bettie Jo Eaton sent home to her family in January 1945 shows patriotism is best served with a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.. Submitted by Julia Randall


Somewhere in the Marianas January 20, 1945

Dearest Mother, Daddy, and Sambo.

I really don’t know where to begin, so much has happened and everything would be so interesting to you. We made four stops on our way here. The first was the Hawaiian Islands. We went ashore and explored for one day. We were anchored at Pearl Harbor and saw plenty. I can’t tell you the other three stops; just study your maps. At one stop we went ashore four consecutive days. The beach was beautiful; the water was very, very clear and a light blue color. Lots of coral reefs and beautiful shells. We swam every afternoon; went back to the ship for dinner, then back ashore for outside dancing at night. A 39-piece Marine band came aboard and gave a 2 and ½ hour concert. I could give you a run for your money any day now for skin color.


Arriving here I received 39 letters, a Christmas card from Jean Wolfe with a picture of Jack and Mike, a letter from Anne telling of her tour of London, and two from Ed in Germany.


We are living in partially constructed huts. The ground is red and sticks tight. We will wear nothing but field shoes and fatigues for a while. I brushed my hair tonight and when I finished my white brush was orange colored.


We are eating K rations and only use canteen cups and a spoon, because of Dangue fever. Our mess hall is a big G. I cook over a trench fire out in the open. The island we are on gets quite cool at night and it is also quite windy, which helps dispel the day heat. I took a shower in the dark tonight and in the process stepped on my tube of toothpaste and smashed it, lost my dog tags, and had someone walk off with my trench coat, which was all that I had worn to the shower house. However, she brought it back before I started screaming.


The hospital will not be completed before three more weeks, so we are going to help the C. B.s with building fox holes and air raid shelters. Can’t you see me with a shovel? Day before yesterday Bob DeBord came on board our ship while we were stopped at his island. We St. Lukes people had a grand confab. He will be able to fly over and see us. He has his own hospital and does all his own operating. He is so proud of his hospital and wanted us to see it, but we weren’t allowed off the ship. He has been in the South Pacific fifteen months.


We had a lot of laughs out of one another. As we were unpacking our bedding rolls one of the girls brought out a pair of white fur slippers and another several pairs of flannel pajamas. Wait until they see my two formals and gold kid sandals. I’ll never live that down. It will be long trousers for quite some time for us.


Eventually we have plans for a lively officers’ club overlooking the ocean. We will eventually have our own outdoor movie screen, courts for badminton, volleyball, and what have you. Right now our recreation is to be manual labor.


The C. B.s finished our wiring and showers just tonight. The shower works by pulling a chain, and a huge spray with a terrific force practically drowns you. Our drinking water is from a Lister bag hung on a tripod in front of our hut.


There are 28 nurses in our hut; 26 in the other one. Our regulations are very strict. Lights out at 10 p.m. We are not allowed to roam about our area or beyond it without an armed officer. We are the first nurses here so are quite in the public eye. You should have seen the Navy, Army and Marines and C. B.s gape open-mouthed at us when we rode on trucks through the island.


Our breakfast was ham and eggs out of a can, packaged figs, chewing gum, and four cigarettes. We are on the ground and washed our own can in a big can of boiling water. Wish you had a movie of all this. “Washing out of a helmet” is no scuttle butt. It is really true. When we get our foot lockers, we will start building furniture. We have nothing but a cot; chairs are unheard of.


I wouldn’t trade anything for this experience. No wonder Anne in England is disillusioned though, she says she hasn’t been warm since she left the ship. In her old estate she had it too nice.


I am glad I am here to see the hospital take form and grow ---screened mess halls, beaches, and everything; and plenty of work.


Love to all three of you,

BETTS


Bettie’s father, T/Sgt Flaurice E Eaton served in WWI and WWII and helped organize a unit of the Illinois Reserve Militia after WWI. She had two younger brothers, Thomas, and George “Sam”. Thomas, age 20, was the pilot of a Flying Fortress plane with a 10-man crew, shot down over Germany in 1944. Brother “Sam” would serve in the Air Force during the Korean War.


The Mariana Islands are in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The area saw fierce fighting with the Japanese. After Japan surrendered at the end of the war, the United States took over and the Marianas remain today a Commonwealth of the United States.

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