Thursday, January 24, 2013

Maurine and Joe - A Texas Tragedy

The following is a love story between an American soldier and his wife. Somewhere out there may be the relatives of these now departed people. It is hoped that you can help find those who knew and loved Maurine and Joe and share this story with them. Please take the time to leave your comments about this story.

Maurine and Joe - A Texas Tragedy

by  Benedict A. Termini, M.D.

This is the story of how I came into possession of correspondence between an American soldier who died in World War II and his wife, and how I was able to track her down and reunite her with her memories. It happened over ten years ago, but I was hesitant to write about it at that time because I did not wish to cause problems for Maurine, who was then 88 years old and living in a nursing home. She has since passed away, and I now offer this story as a tribute to her and her husband and the sacrifices they made for our country.

While browsing at a stamp shop in Arlington, Texas, I spotted a large brown paper sack full of letters. I asked the dealer what they were. He replied, "I don't know, I just bought them for fifteen bucks." I offered him twenty, and a few minutes later walked out of the store with the bag of letters, but without the foggiest idea of what I had just purchased.

When I got home and started going through the letters, I realized that I had indeed acquired a treasure. There were about fifty letters written during World War II by a soldier named Justus W. Bachman, who died during the war, and about twenty letters written to him from his wife Maurine but returned as undeliverable after he was reported missing in January 1944. There were also other documents, including letters from friends, letters of condolence from government officials and fellow soldiers, as well as copies of official documents pertaining to Lieutenant Justus (Joe) Bachman. These had been saved by his wife, the former Maurine Jons, of Lubbock Texas, and they told the sad tale of two people very much in love but whose chance at the American dream had been ruined forever by an accident of war. I don't know how these letters arrived at a stamp store in Arlington. My best guess was that they had been sold in an estate sale after being carefully preserved by Maurine during her lifetime. If there were any surviving family members, I figured that they had not recognized the historical significance of this time capsule.

I present here some excerpts from these letters, the story of Joe Bachman who died in the South Pacific in the service of his country and his wife Maurine. I am using real names because I believe these two people should be recognized for the sacrifices they made.

Maurine Jons was born in 1912. Little information is available about her family except that she had a younger sister, Darlene. She went to school in Lubbock and attended Texas Tech. Her father owned a sign company in Lubbock, the Jons Sign Company, and she worked in the family business. That may have been how she met Joe.

Born in 1915 in Throckmorton, Texas, Joe was employed as a sign painter in Lubbock until he was drafted in March of 1941. He and Maurine were married two months later. His military records describe him as having blue eyes, brown hair, a ruddy complexion and a height of five feet seven and one-half inches.

Joe went through routine military basic training after induction, but received an honorable discharge after about six months, in order to re-enlist as a cadet in the Army Air Corps.

Joe's letters to Maurine start in January 1942, when he was attending Flying School in San Antonio, but there were undoubtedly earlier letters which have been lost.

Joe seemed rather pessimistic about the pilot training school, commenting that "It is very doubtful that I will get through this course." In a letter dated January 25, he gives a little more description of his situation; "The military drill here is comparable to West Point. Every little thing is executed with precision. When we eat, there is not a sound in the mess hall, except those asking for food. We can eat (about 400) and clear out in 30 minutes." The tone of his letters is rather ordinary, he discusses his problems with ground school math tests, frequently apologizes for not writing enough, and mentions how much he misses her. Interestingly enough, even though they had been married for almost a year, he still addressed his letters to her using her maiden name, Maurine Jons.

In March 1942, he was sent to Bonham, Texas for flight training. He comments that "They are dropping out here like flies. In the class just before us there were 119, and there have been 41 sent home. The ground school is very hard and it is coming at us like a cyclone, so you can see I may be coming back home soon." He misses Maurine, and in the same letter he says, "Every night when the lights go out I think about you. It has been exceptionally cold here, and I need you to keep me warm as I am sure you could."

Soon his premonition came true, he washed out of pilot school, and his letters took a pessimistic turn accompanied by complaints about his posting back in San Antonio. On July 16, 1942, he writes, "The heat up here is sweltering. The evenings get so damn hot you can’t breathe. I haven't even been thinking about what the future holds because I don't give a damn any longer - except for you." He mentions in his letters that he is upset because Maurine had had "an operation" and he had been unable to get leave to be with her.

About this time, the Jons Sign Company closed down and Maurine moved to Fort Worth to work at the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Plant, working on the B-29 and B-32 bombers. While in Fort Worth she took flying lessons, with a goal of signing up with the Women's Ferry Command, a branch of the military which used female pilots to move planes from one location to another within the United States, thus releasing male pilots for overseas duty.

Although he was unsuccessful in pilot school, Joe could apply for training as a navigator or bombardier. Upon completion of either course, he would be commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. He writes that he had been accepted for navigator training. His social life was considerably improved by a visit from Maurine. His attitude improved as well - on October 9th, he writes, "I am trying hard again and maybe I won’t fail this time - I hope."

Soon he was sent to Greenville Army Air Base in South Carolina for additional training, In May 1943, he writes "We have had navigation, radio, pilotage, dead reckoning, some celestial which is very interesting and very hard to remember. It’s kinda like learning how to keep books and if you don't stay right with it you forget very easily."

He notes that Maurine came to visit about that time, by train, a wartime visit which must have been very difficult to arrange, and tells her that he enjoyed "getting together with her." Throughout most of his letters (and by inference in her letters to him) there is a streak of raw sexuality and they both are quite graphic. Obviously his letters were not intended to be read by anyone other than Maurine.

In the summer of 1943 after completion of his navigator training, he was sent to San Francisco and from there to Australia and New Guinea, with the 823rd Bomb Squadron, 38th Group. He did not think much of Australia: "There are quite a few kangaroo over here. You rarely see one but they are thick out a ways from camp. The Australian people are very peculiar. They don't have much to say and they are definitely not friendly. Cars drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right."

When I started reading Joe’s letters, I noted occasional references to someone named "Hicks" that I had assumed was a friend or fellow soldier. But it soon became clear that "Hicks" was an anatomical reference, part of a personal code between Joe and Maurine. He writes “I see Hicks almost every night. You know they must have overtrained him in the States because quite often he seems to be standing at attention. I think he misses his girl a lot.” This enabled him to express erotic sentiments without the military censors catching on.

Several times, portions of his letters were cut out by the censors when he came too close to revealing exactly where he was located. Perhaps for this reason his letters are vague about what he is doing, although on November 4, 1943, he says "I have already had some experiences, certainly not happy ones." And in a subsequent letter he says, "Yes I would like very much to tell you some of my experiences so far, but I can't and that's the deal - sorry." Possibly he did not want to upset Maurine with details. He did mention that several of his friends had "gone away" or "taken long trips" which probably meant that they had been killed or wounded in combat.

He compliments Maurine on that fact that she has taken up flying, perhaps as part of her contribution to the war effort. He even gives her advice, "Try to imagine where you want to put the plane and make it go there. Don't let the plane fly you. Lots of these things will come to you after you solo." He also mentions that he has resumed his hobby of sketching and comments on the difficulties he is having getting materials and his doubts about the quality of his artwork.

The mail service to the South Pacific must have been very irregular. In October 1943, Joe says, "I haven't received any mail from you in over a month, but I am due to get it in a day or so I hope." We can imagine the disappointment he must have felt as day after day went by without any letters. On October 11, he wrote, "Letters are golden here. The mail box is always clean." In another letter he mentions that some expected drawing materials that Maurine was sending him had not arrived and he says that a ship which was supposed to have been carrying mail and packages was sunk.

Some of Joe's letters were sent by "V-mail" which involved the use of a special letter sheet which was photographed and transported as part of a roll of film, saving cargo space. The film was developed, printed and placed in the mail stream after it reached its destination, and the recipient received a four by five inch photographic copy of the original letter. V-mail was not only used for mail sent to soldiers in war areas, but also for mail going back to the United States. It saved considerable air space and in addition served to remind the civilian population of the need for wartime conservation.

His loneliness was almost palpable. On December 25, after returning from leave in Sydney, he writes, "Wish you could have been with me. You were always on my mind. There were no girls in the million or so I saw that came up to you. I really wish I could sneak in on you right now, just like I used to." Hicks however was still a frequent visitor. “Hicks just came by. I sure hope we come through this thing together, it would be really tough if we got separated.”

His letters continue on much of the same themes, until January 14, 1944, the last letter from Joe to Maurine in the packet. Here he says, "Yes darling, it would be nice for me to be there and help you keep warm, but sometimes I don't know if it’s good to plan too hard."

Next in the stack of correspondence, I found about twenty letters from Maurine to Joe, all returned to her marked on the envelope "Missing in Flight." None of her letters written after December 17th 1943 reached her husband.

This is our first glimpse of Maurine through her own eyes. She is much more talkative than Joe, her letters are longer, and contain lots more local gossip. She tells about her roommates, her flying, and her work as a draftsman at the plant in Fort Worth. She had recently soloed and was enthusiastic about flying, but discouraged about her ground school classes. She discusses her plans to join the Women's Ferry Command.

Maurine was not hesitant about describing her work. In her letter of Jan 1, 1944 she discusses her work on the B-32 bomber, which was just coming into production and says "Here’s a little secret, the B-32 is bigger - but is lighter and faster than the B-29. I believe we've really got something! If it’s as successful as I think it will be, I will be very proud that I had even a small part in getting it in the air." In other letters she discusses some of the drafting she is doing, designing and redesigning bomber parts. She is quite frank about the details of her work in the bomber plant, often mentioning details which might have been helpful to then enemy. "Loose Lips Sink Ships" did not apply to her correspondence. She usually closed her letters with lipstick kisses, still fresh after half a century.

Since her letters were not censored, there was no reason to limit herself to innuendo, and some of her letters are frankly erotic. On February 7th, she wrote: “No mail from you yet doggone it. I’m sure going to spank your pants – no, I’m going to take off your pants and spank your little ass with my bare hand until it’s plumb red, and then I’m going to kiss it so it won’t hurt.” Perhaps this was in response to his repeated requests to "write me the kind of letters you know I like."

But she can’t disguise her concern over Joe's safety. On December 26, she says, "Darling I pray that you come back to me safely - and God has been awfully good to me all my life so maybe he will hear me." On December 31, she writes, "Well sweet, I wish we could be together tonight - maybe next New Year’s Eve we will be."

Then the Western Union telegram arrived, dated February 9, 1944; 5:43 PM:

THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND FIRST LIEUTENANT JUSTUS W BACHMAN HAS BEEN REPORTED MISSING SINCE TWENTY EIGHT JANUARY BETWEEN QUEENSLAND AND NEW GUINEA PERIOD IF FURTHER DETAILS OR OTHER INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL BE PROMPTLY NOTIFIED PERIOD.

THE ADJUTANT GENERAL

The remainder of the correspondence consists of official letters from the War Department, letters of condolence from various public figures, and several letters from Joe's friends who were still in New Guinea. One letter from a friend named A.B. Calwell, details the circumstances in which Joe’s plane went missing:

“It had been our practice to send a plane down south as often as possible to bring back fresh meat and food so that we could have something besides the usual dehydrated and canned stuff. On each occasion a different crew was allowed to go. This fateful trip was given to Joe and crew. After getting their supplies they had taken off for five successive days, but each time were forced to turn back due to bad weather. This weather in New Guinea is the most treacherous there is. On their sixth attempt the radioman of their crew reported in thirty minutes after taking off, and after that nothing was heard from them. The squadron contacted every possible emergency landing field, but nothing had been seen or heard of their plane; there were ten men aboard all told.

For three days, we were allowed to take all of our planes and conduct searches. I flew on five of them, but I've never seen such rotten weather, each time we were forced to turn back without completely searching the whole area. To make bad matters worse, another crew which took off on one of these search missions failed to return. Against all orders they had vowed to complete this last search regardless. Our co-pilot was on this plane and he had been almost as close a friend to me as Joe had been. For the following days the morale of the squadron was at its lowest. I almost went completely nuts and the doc grounded me because he said my nerves were shot.

I wish that we could have conducted a few more searches but our planes had to be used for other purposes. I've lost many hours of sleep trying to figure out what might have happened. Maybe they decided to chance it and come through the weather anyhow, or else maybe the engines went out, but unless everything was out of control they should have been able to get into their emergency life-raft.

A few days later we had a report that a crew had been picked up by a tanker, but no one was able to find out where this source of information came from. This is why I waited and did not write. We have had no further news and have given this last hope as probably a false rumor.

I wish it was possible to express in words my feelings and those of the entire squadron. There will never be another man as well liked as Joe. "Bocky" as most everyone called him, was the most happy go lucky, witty and friendliest guy that ever lived; there was never a dull moment when he was around. To me he was as close as a brother, we met at Kelly Field during my first week in the army and from that time on we lived, worked, and ran around together.”

After reading through this archive, I find myself in awe at the magnitude of the sacrifice Maurine and Joe made for their country. These were not heroic people. Joe did not volunteer to serve, he was drafted. And Maurine would undoubtedly have preferred to have had him at her side during the war years, to have had children and to raise them on a little farm in the country, to live the American dream. But when the time came for them both to put their hopes and their future at risk, they did not hesitate, and they both tried to make the best of their situations.

The generation of Americans who fought in World War II has been called "The Greatest Generation," in a book by Tom Brokaw, a sentiment I heartily agree with. Those who returned from the war were showered with benefits and adulation by a grateful country. But it was really the generation which grew up after the war, my generation, which reaped the most benefit from the sacrifices our parents made. We grew up secure in the knowledge that our country was the greatest nation in the world, both in a military and an ethical sense. We faced challenges, but overall we lived in a time of economic and physical security. We had the opportunity to live the American dream, and our ability to do that resulted from the sacrifices made by Joe and Maurine and the thousands of others who contributed to the war effort.

In another sense, reading these letters has brought home to me the horrible nature of war. In an age when we are regularly exposed to horrifying TV footage and movies our minds become numbed to real personal tragedies. Yet I feel like I know Maurine and Joe. I invaded their lives, and in turn their tragedy has changed mine.

I decided to try to find out what happened to Maurine after the war. My assumption was that she had died and her letters had been sold as part of an estate sale. I knew she had returned to Lubbock after the war and had probably not remarried since there were several envelopes addressed to her as Maurine Bachman, using an address in Lubbock. The latest of these was postmarked in 1966.

My search started with the internet. I located a person with the same name in Utah but she was not related. I searched the Social Security Death Index - no listing for Maurine, although I did find out that her sister Darlene Jons had died in 1981. I tried various genealogical sites to see if I could find any mention of Maurine Bachman or Maurine Jons - no luck. I was unable to access the alumni records for Texas Tech in Lubbock. Then I had a friend search the Lubbock public records. Maurine had last registered to vote in Lubbock in 1976. Interestingly enough, the person who lived next door to Maurine had registered to vote on the same day, and still lived next door to Maurine=s old house. I figured that they had gone down to register together and must have been friends, so I wrote a letter to Maurine's former neighbor, asking for information.

Bingo! Three days later I got a phone call - believe it or not - from Maurine herself, now living in Roswell New Mexico in an assisted living facility. The neighbor had kept in touch with Maurine for all of these years and had forwarded my letter. Maurine seemed quite alert for a lady of 88 years, and we had an interesting conversation. I told her how I had acquired her letters and she said that she did not know how she had lost them. I offered to return them, and this made her quite happy - the letters obviously meant a lot to her. Three days later I sent the entire packet of letters and documents back to Maurine. I subsequently received a letter from her saying how thrilled she was to have her memories back.

In with the letters I found a poem Maurine must have written after she visited Joe in South Carolina in the spring of 1943, probably the last time they were able to see and speak to each other:

Do you remember your last days in S.C?

When you spent a wonderful week with me? I do.

Do you remember the house on the hill?

With the pond and the little windmill? I do.

Do you remember the games of ping pong?

It hasn’t been so very long - I do.

Do you remember the day to the park you took me?

And the great big beautiful willow tree? I do.

Do you remember the day you left?

How I wept and wept and wept, I do.

But there will come a day when you return

That's the day for which I yearn

And we'll settle down in a little home

And I swear never to write another poem.

Epilogue:

Maurine died in 2003, survived by a only a nephew whom I have been unable to locate. As far as I know, no more information has come to light concerning the circumstances of Lt. Justus Bachman’s death. He is memorialized in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

Benedict A. Termini, M.D. (termini@charter.net)

 

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