Pearl Harbor

Journal Entries:
Fall, 1941 - Spring, 1942


The Pearl Harbor picture at left (as well as the one shown with the Dec. 7
Journal entry below) was obtained from the U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Billy spent at least part of the summer of 1941 traveling. Here is a postcard he sent June from the Davis Mountains in West Texas, postmarked July 12, 1941:
Davis Mts. card Davis Mts. card

He was also busy lining up recommendations for admission to training as an aviation cadet. We have copies of some of this correspondence. This set of PDF images shows

  • a cover letter from Congressman Albert Thomas, referrring to recommendations he made;
  • a letter from Shirley Estes, referring to recommendations from Billy's former officers in the Texas National Guard;
  • recommendation letters from two of these officers
As you will see below, he decided to postpone enlisting in the Air Corps as long as there was a chance he could return to school. However, the events which unfolded late this fall made his decisions for him, as they did for many of his contemporaries.

September 22 — Houston

I return to my neglected journal for a moment. Long enough to record that I did not return to A&M College this term, nor will I ever return. My reasons for not going back at this time are of course as ever—money & money. I shall, however, do everything in my power to return to my College career someday as soon as possible. My desire to become a Doctor increases every day and my other ambitions are slowing fading. If I could but become a doctor. It will take so much money and if it takes money only a miracle can help me now to realize my ambitions and ideals. However, I'm taking a training course, at the Y, in preparation for a mental exam I will take on Nov. 12 of this year, and if I am able to score 80 or above I shall have gained the right to enter the Aviation Cadets of the United States. Whether or not I take this step depends on my financial setup: If I can scrape up enough money to continue my college I will do just that. If not I shall join the U.S. Air Corps. The war crisis is still grave; The Germans claim that Kiev has fallen and that Russia will soon fly the Nazi flag.

Oct. 8, 1941 — At Home in Houston

Received a letter from Ellington Field yesterday asking me to report for my physical exam. I have just answered it asking for postponement. There may be a chance for me to go back to school; as long as there is the slightest chance I must wait. School means more to me now that it ever did. All the time that I have spent in school in the past, I have gone from one course to another, trying to find the one thing that I wanted to make my life's work and now that I've finally found it, I'm out of school and there is only a chance that I'll be able to go back, and what I want to do will take so long and so much money...

October 15 — Houston

Have made up my mind for better or for worse. I shall go back to school as soon as my financial status has been raised. A Medical Degree is my goal and I pray that I can make it. Mom says that it is not for me but I think, ... I know that it is.

October 20, 1941 — Houston

News reports today are far from bright. The United States is (say spokesmen in Washington) tottering on the brink of war. The U.S. Destroyer " Kearney," which was torpedoed by a German Sub a few days ago, came into port yesterday with eleven of her crew dead, and many injured. Secretary of State Hull said today that "one does not often send diplomatic notes to 'international highwaymen.'"

Sunday, Oct. 26 — Houston

I went down to the station early this morning to see Shirley (now St. Sgt. Estes) and all the ole' gang of the 111th Observation Squadron.[1] They were just passing through on their way from Camp Bowie to Greenville, S. Carolina. It was a scene that could have been taken from a motion picture or stage play of the war or wars, any one of them from 1812 down to World War II. Men laughing and talking, greeting friends and loved ones. There were of course some who were not met at the train but on the whole it was a riotous occasion indeed. They were here for a small moment then again there was a mad rush around the cars and then they were gone again. There was not a tear shed that I could see. I pray that these boys will always take their leave among laughter and joyful faces, but I fear that all will not be too rosy in the future. But for now they are off to the war "games" and there is no thought of war.

October 31 — Houston

Another destroyer was attacked by a German U-Boat last night—that would be Oct. 30. It was a World War I boat, Rubin James Reuben Jamesthe name. The story broke with extras in the news and much talk could be heard among the men and women alike at the office and on the street. Would the President now declare war against the Hitler government of Germany? Would America at last be officially in World War II. From Washington came the answer: The President said in his press conference today that he saw no reason for the U.S. to change its foreign policy and that relations with Germany would not be broken off. One newsman gave several good reasons for this stand taken by the President and State Dept.: If war was actually declared it would mean that the U.S. would have to stop aid to Britain and Russia and prepare for defense of our own country alone—this he added is exactly what Adolph Hitler would like to see take place—Another reason is that our navy would have to be shifted—heavy side on the Atlantic and this is what Tokyo would like. No, America 's course has not been changed.

Nov. 1 — Houston

Correction on the name of destroyer sunk by Germans: it was the "Reuben James" instead of Rubin James.


Nov. 16 — Houston

Things have been running smoothly here at home. I've been living from day to day without much worry, but always just outside of that field called thought there's that same something that is hard to explain. It's like a shadow, a shadow that stands between me and the future. Sometimes when I allow my mind to dwell upon that subject I become extremely nervous and irritable and I say and do things that I'm sorry for after I have slept on it. As I said before I can't exactly explain what it is and I don't suppose that it is any one thing but a combination of shall I say possibilities, or maybe dangers, not to life of course, but dangers that may keep me from attaining my ambition in life. The whole world is changing, the change is not unexpected, the world has been due for some sort of revolution for some time. But a number of changes are taking place in the world, most of them due to the war of course. This all goes to make the future an uncertain thing. As I said there is a shadow hanging between this world and its future. Sometimes we think that we see light through a small hole in that shadow then the hole closes and we are even more in the dark than we were before.

So that is the way things stand with me this Sunday nite of Nov. 16. But whatever the future may hold I have made up my mind that my hat will be in the ring and that I'm going to be in there slugging, and fighting just as long as there is something to fight for.

Sun. Dec. 7, '41 — Houston

Pearl HarborJapanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor Honolulu today. America is at war!

Mon. Dec. 8, '41 — Houston

A fateful day in the life of every American, in the historical records of the world. For today not long after the clock has struck twelve noon the Greatest Democracy in the world will be officially at war. Not long after that the rest of the American nations will follow the U.S. lead, some already have. What does this mean to me? What does it mean in the life of every twenty year old American boy. Thwarted hopes, mixed up plans, uncertainty, and sacrifice, but we are willing, no matter what the price, to protect this homeland of ours.

Wednesday, Dec. 10 — Houston

We have been at war officially since about 4:30 on Dec. 8, when the President signed the resolution made by Congress. In a speech before Congress made on Dec. 8 the President said that American in her righteous might would win through to the end.

Last night in an address to the nation he said and I think expressed the feeling of all of us. We don't like it, we didn't want to get in it but we are in it and we will fight to the finish. He told of the sacrifices that the American people would have to make, but that he was sure they would and expressed his faith in them.

That is about all, our chief has faith in us and we have faith in him and our armed forces. We Americans boast of being a part of the greatest, most powerful nation in the world, well now is our chance to prove it. Whether we are not will, in the next few years, be recorded in the historical records of the world for all mankind to see.

I listen to news reports all day and scramble over a map of the far East trying to locate the various names of places in the news. I still don't know what to do about it but just to sit and wait and find out where I will do the most good. I go to bed weary at Prince of Walesnight, but my problems seem not quite so huge after I have slept on them. Then I turn on the radio for the news and the first news that I heard this morning made me start. The great British battleship "The Prince of Wales" has been sunk!

Dec. 11, '41 — Houston

The United States has two more official foes today. Germany & Italy declared war on us this morning and the President signed the joint resolutions from Congress to the effect that a state of war exists between the United States & Germany and Italy. (Separate resolutions).

I'm still recovering from the shock of war declarations. I sent a letter today to the Cadet Examining Board at Ellington Field today. In it I made the statement that I was ready to take the necessary examinations for a Flying Cadet appointment. I hope that it will be possible for me to enter the Air Corps as pilot. If this is not possible I don't know just what I will do. By Christmas I should know.

December 17, '41 — Houston

War has been on for the U.S. for over a week now and all of us are preparing ourselves for a long and hard task—"the destruction of the Empires of Japan, Germany, and Italy."

I have given up my plans for studying medicine at U. of Tex. This is not an easy thing for me to do and I feel that I, in my old age, will look back upon this incident and consider it the greatest tragedy of my life. But I'm not fretting; everyone has a tragedy in his life at one time or the other, that is if he has really lived; it is these that make us tough. I still believe in the philosophy that I formed early in my teens, that I was put upon this earth for a purpose and that I will remain here until my purpose for being here is carried out.

So I guess I shall attend the greatest university of all time, World War No. II. God helping me.

Dec. 25, '41

Another Christmas and still a merry one here in America in spite of war. We had our tree and gifts last night, Christmas Eve, and I was given so many good things, the best of all being a watch from Mom that I will treasure always. After the tree, Ben, Alvin [2] and myself went into town and saw Dumas' "Corsican Bros." with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. And after the show we walked along the streets listening to the carols pouring forth from the giant speakers atop the Jones Bldg. We then rode in the car out main street for a bite to eat. Yes nothing special just what we have done every Sat. night for the past three years, yet last night it meant more for it was Christmas. Will next Christmas find us all here again?

1:55 A.M. , Jan. 1, 1942 — Houston

Resolve for '42

  1. Think more
  2. Talk less
  3. Do more
  4. Talk less

It was a dreary day and night this 31 & 1, but just as the clock struck twelve here, there was a break in the clouds and the moon shown through throwing light through black night. I was with the gang, and we sang "Auld Lang Syne."

Jan. 11, '42 — Houston

Lard [3] left today—he has been in Houston for the past week on furlough. He will be at work in the 111th [4] in the morning and I will turn to my work again. It's getting harder and harder to find interest in my work and I'm very anxious for February and my induction into federal service. Was with June last night; I wish that I was in a position to get very serious about her.

Friday Jan. 30

Entry of Particular note by virtue of its probable affect on my life.

Yesterday, Jan. 29, was a day of fate. For it was yesterday between the hours of 10:00 & 11:00 A.M., that I took the oath and at once became a soldier in the armed forces of the United States. I became a cog in the machine that is destined to end tyranny and brute force in the world or be destroyed in the attempt. My personal life ended yesterday; from the moment I said, "I do," my life was dedicated to the cause of democracy. I joined the Army Air force, one of the most colorful branches of the service and I have made up my mind to do my best to make it the greatest. I will leave for Kelly Field in about three weeks (as soon as they find room), there I will begin training as an aviation cadet.

Jan. 31, '42 — Houston

This business of being a soldier in name only is going to become very tiresome I fear. I see now that I am going to have to keep my mind busy. I wrote a letter to Waley [5] today and asked him to send me a report on the studies that he was to take up in his ground school. I will try to grasp as much as I can from books before I am called to Kelly Field. War is moving back and forth and from all indications promises to be a long one. We have had a few heroes of battle already; one of most note being Gen. Doug. MacArthur who is fighting a gallant battle on the Bataan Peninsula on the northern edge of Manila Harbour.


Oh, streamlined beauty
Of man's design
Me lady of the sky
Grace with strength is thine

All the air is thine
Thou rule supreme
Power and speed are thine
Fashioned of man's dream

Designed by man
To destroy man
Death is also thine
Destruction is thy plan [6]

At times I believe that I should give up my journal. When I stop sometimes and look back over my past entries and find so many mistakes in both grammar & spelling the whole idea disgusts me so that a number of times I have almost given it up as a bad job, but then again I feel that it might prove valuable someday and I continue. I believe that if I spent more time in thought before making an entry, I would do better, but I always seemed to be pressed for time. However, I will keep jotting down facts that occur throughout my life and some day, maybe, I will find time to gather all my papers together and rewrite the whole saga in a more acceptable form.

March 7, '42 — Houston

The longer you resist
The easier it becomes for
You to resist.
The more we have to resist
The stronger we are.





March 13, '42

Time draws near. The time that I will take my place in the active armed forces of America . I must make good. It is my one chance to make something of myself and a chance like it may not come again.

News from Waley tells that he is doing fine. He is soloing and is verily flying the wings off his ship. I know that I too am capable of being a success in this flying business but I can't help being just a bit uneasy. I guess it will wear off when I get busy, though. I have always been that way about every new undertaking that I've ever started, but I've never failed in doing anything that I've ever set out to do and I pray God that I will not change now. This is by far the biggest thing I've ever tackled but, also, I want to do this more than any other job that I've ever started. If I can serve my country by serving in the Air Corps. I shall be happy, very happy and thankful too.

March 18

Received orders today: to report to board at Ellington Field on 21st. This looks like it.

The Moving finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

[1] Click here for more information about the 111th and Billy's service in it.

[2] Ben Stone and Alvin Wright

[3] "Lard" is a widely-used nickname for Billy and June's friend Shirley Estes

[4] "111th" refers to the 111th Observation Squadron. Click here for more information about this group.

[5] Waley Garrett. Click here for more information about Waley.

[6] It is not clear if Billy wrote this poem or if he copied from another source (although the sources for most of his other copied quotes are identified, which makes me think he wrote it). Click here for more information about this aircraft.

Forward to Journal Hiatus (Spring 1942-Summer 1943)
Forward to Atlantic Crossing
Back to Spring, 1941

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