No. 82 February, 2009
A Case For Peace
by June Tuthill Bassemir
This is 2009. Sixty five years ago in 1944 my brother Bruce W. Tuthill gave “the supreme sacrifice”…his life for his Country in WW2. It was supposed to be the last war. We lived for about a month with the “Missing in Action” notice until the final dreaded telegram of “Killed in Action” came. As hard a blow as it was for us to bear, the taxi man who delivered it had just as hard a time. He tried for as long as he could to delay the news of the delivery. Mr. Miller was the husband of Bruce’s first grade teacher and his job was to relay these telegrams as they came in to the parents in our small town. It was a dark day in November when we received the news. Its devastation is no less potent today than it was then but there are fewer and fewer folks still living to remember him. Gone are his Mother, Father, his oldest brother; both Grandmothers; the only Grandfather he knew; Uncles and Aunts…. Gone are his two closest buddies; his first girlfriend and his admiring Floridian cousin who thought so much of him that she even named her son - Bruce.
He was born on April 18th 1924 and died twenty years, four months and eight days later – in 1944. He was very proud of his birthday and never failed to let people know that it was the date of the ride of Paul Revere – no less a hero. He graduated from H. S. in 1942 and after working at Grumman Aircraft for a short time, he enlisted in the Army Air Corp in 1943. His basic training was at Camp Upton, NY and from there he went on to Miami FL; Tulsa OK; Las Vegas NM; and Sheffield, TX. In Tulsa he met “Billy” Emmons, a nice girl whom I am sure he was planning to come home to.
Finally, he was ready to be shipped out and the Army gave him a “Ten Day Delay en Route” to visit the family in the spring of ’44. The pictures of that time are curled and yellowed now, but oh how the memory lingers. All four siblings lined up in profile for that picture – from the tallest and oldest brother; then the second oldest brother, then Bruce; then me his only sister. That day he showed off his bulky brown shiny flight suit and his khaki uniform with the Staff Sgt. Insignia on the sleeve. At one point he noticed I was wearing the gold plated locket he sent me. Someone snapped a picture of us just as he said, “Oh… you’re wearing my locket – and my picture is inside”. I still have that picture with the locket attached to the outside of the frame.
I look at it and see two young people unaware of the photographer …absorbed in the joy of the moment.
He loved his family and his home town and wrote frequently from the day he enlisted to the bombing days while stationed in Italy. We didn’t know then where he was but afterward we learned that he was part of the bombing raids that targeted the Polesti Oil fields in Poland. I became the recipient of all his letters and tried to put them in a book but reading them with his hope of what he wanted to do when he came home expressed in all the letters caused my heart strings to stretch and the tears to flow. I put them aside thinking that time will ease the sorrow.
My life went on; I married; children were born; houses were built; moves were made – and still the letters followed with me. Now, my oldest son in his 50’s is interested in his Uncle Bruce that he never met. I dug out the letters to read and to supply the information my son wanted. What kind of a plane did he fly; what was his position in the plane; did the plane have a name; what was the number of the Bomb Squadron; how many missions did he fly? I found that even though tears flowed again, the more I read of Bruce’s familiar hand writing, the closer I felt. He lived in a tent and frequently he would write his letter as “the candle is getting low” or “I’m writing this by flashlight”. He had adopted a dog, a mutt really, and the guys called him “Elmer”. Elmer slept with Bruce on his cot. At one point he and his crew went to the Isle of Capri and he thought it was “the most beautiful place he had ever seen”. When servicemen wrote home they only had to write “Free” where the stamp would be and V-mail was another method of receiving mail. One sheet of writing was photographed and sent in a small envelope. While it was good to receive those letters, it was less intimate than a regular hand written one. Quite often the letters were censored if something was said that would imperil the safety of the soldiers or give information to the enemy. He said, “After fifty missions, we get to fly to Miami Beach for a 21 day rest”. I don’t know if that was a rumor or if it was really true. Fifty was the magic number. - But he was on his 35th mission when his plane was hit. All but two of the crew was able to parachute to safety but Bruce was not one of them. He occupied the Top Turret Gunner position on the B-24, having proven himself to be a good marksman. One of the crew, who lived in Brooklyn, came to visit us after he was sent home. He told us more than we wanted to know of that last flight. Too late to stop him, he said my brother’s chute failed to open.
I have come to the end of this writing… my eyes are swollen again but this time it has been comforting to share my brother’s thoughts and activities with my interested son…. sort of a visit with my brother “Bru” and his Uncle. Maybe some day wars will cease but I doubt it. There always seems to be another generation in the wings that has not learned that hatred, revenge, envy, greed and fighting only lead to bloodshed and heartache for those left behind. Of course, they say that WW2 was “an honorable war” but really in the end “honorable” or not, if you have lost a loved one in any war the sadness never really goes away.
copyright February, 2009, June Tuthill Bassemir
June Tuthill Bassemir is the widowed mother of four and grandmother of 10. An artist and writer, she volunteers as a docent in a 1765 farm house. June loves old cars and antiques, and has also enjoyed furniture stripping and rug hooking. "I used to say I was a stripper and hooker.but with so many trips around the sun, no one raises an eyebrow anymore. They only laugh." June has given up furniture stripping, but is still an avid rug hooker.