Tag Archives: Navy

Blue Star Mother: Family Letters

Blue Star Mother flag

Blue Star Mother flag with three stars.

Blue Star Mother

In December, I shared my grandmother Vera Anderson’s letters written in December1943.  During that month, she was thinking about Christmas and in her role as a Blue Star Mother. She was very concerned about her Navy SeaBee son, William. Through her letters, we saw a bit of what life was like on the homefront during World War II.

Many homes in Killbuck Ohio displayed a small banner with one or more blue stars embroidered on it. Grandma’s silk Blue Star Mother’s flag looked like this, with stars for Uncle Bill (William) Anderson, Uncle Herbert Anderson and my cousin Bob (Robert J.) Anderson.  When these letters were written, only William had joined up the Navy, but the other two would join before long. (I don’t know whatever happened to the banner, but it is one heirloom I would love to have.)

Articles on the Internet provide contradictory information about the beginning of the Blue Star Mother banners–with some claiming they started in World War II. However, this story seems to be the more accurate one. A soldier from Ohio designed the original flag in World War I.  By the time of World War II, the government codified who could fly the banner and the size and design.

Since December, I have selected snippets from Grandmother’s letters to my mother that showed her role as a gardener (and preserver of vegetables) and in her role as a Rosie the Riveter as she tries to make enough money to support her sick husband and herself. Now I am going back to grandma’s role as a Blue Star Mother. Some of the excerpts below are from December letters, so you may have read them before, but I wanted to put the whole story together.

During World War II, no matter what else was happening in people’s lives–and she related births, deaths, marriages, a bank scandal, basketball team and grandchildren’s accomplishments–the war was never far from her mind.

[I will be publishing the entire letters on a separate page for the benefit of relatives and anyone else who would like to see all the details of life on the homefront in a small Ohio town.]

I have struggled to date some of the earlier letters, but still do not know for sure the order of the letters. She wrote them in October and November 1943, but in many cases only put the day of the week rather than the date, and if I do not have the envelope or other clues, I cannot date them with certainty. The December letters all had dates on them.

The October Letters

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, Aug. 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

This is an earlier letter, because there is no mention of William leaving California.

Sent Wm. a letter and a compass this morning. Will send you his letter. Didn’t I send you his address?

For good measure, she includes his address at the end of the letter:

  • W. J. Anderson E.M. 3/C
  • 12 Spec. Batt. Platoon #2
  • Port Hueneme
  • Calif.

This letter seems to have been written before the October 12th letter.

Sarah (his wife) … had a letter from Wm saying there were 12 boats in there to be loaded and they was working them awful hard. He said his boss said he was the best checker he ever had and Wm. Says he always asks for him. He said they was loading their equipment on one of these boats so he thought they would be going this week. He said he thought they would go to Espiretu[Espiritu] Santo, an island east of Australia. It is 15 x 168 on map. We found it and put a flag on it. I do hope they get across and nothing happens. I guess all we can do is “Hope for the Best.” I do hope this D- war is soon over. Wm says he wants to go so I guess he will get his wish. I hope he never regrets it but we will never know if he does. It will be a wonderful trip and experience for him but he is sure taking an awful chance.

I was very young, but I vividly remember the large map of the Pacific that we studied and studied during the war, trying to figure out where my uncles and cousin were.

In another letter, Grandma show that although their mind is on the war, there is time for levity. (Bob–son of William the sailor)

Bob put on quite a show imitating Hitler last night and we laughed until we cried. He is good.

Another October letter, written before Oct. 12:

I will send you William’s address as I am afraid if you don’t write right away he won’t get it as he wrote Sarah they will be on alert after Fri. was the report now. Thinks they will be sailing before many days. That isn’t just what he said but I can’t think of the word he used but that it meant they will not be allowed any leaves or any liberty after Fri. He said they all were ready and wanted to get it over.

October 12. Sarah and Bob (William’s wife and son) visited grandmother with news. Sounds like William’s departure is imminent and he has been having an adventure. Grandma almost sounds like she envies him, but she is terrified that he will actually be going to war.

Sarah and Bob was here a little while. She had a letter from Bill yesterday and he thinks he will be sailing around 15 or 18 for where I told you. [Espiritu Santo—island east of Australia] He says he weighs 175# and can take the training with any of them and better than most of them. He says he has been having some wonderful trips out on ocean with Coast Guard that Flying isn’t any thing to being out on rough ocean in one of those boats. Every thing is closed up tight and you look out in the water through the windows and wonder some time if it will ever get on top again. He is ready to go. I think it is terrible. I wake up at night and it seems like a dream that it can’t be so. I wish it was over. I am afraid Wm is getting right in the midst of it. He doesn’t write us very often. Herbert had a nice letter. I am glad he wrote you.

A letter probably written October 25, she lists some of the local “boys” who are facing the draft.

Wm is still in California. I hope he never leaves there. But he would be disappointed.

Earl and Elliot told me he was going to Cleveland and enlist in C.B.s Frank Kinsey passed and they say Bob Purdy has been called out of Coshocton Co. Mr. Click got reclassified in A-1. Franklin Day got his notice also.

You may notice that “Mr. Click got reclassified A-1”  This is the same Mr. Click who later gets arrested for embezzling from the local bank. Ironically, his crime kept him out of the armed forces.

November Letters

November 19, she writes:

Wm is still in Calif. He was out fighting that forest fire.

The LA Times in September 1992 reported on the 60 worst fires in southern California in the past 60 years, including this, “DATE: November, 1943 AREA: Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Los Angeles County ACRES: 40,000 ”

On Google Books I found interesting information on the American attitude about forest fires during World War II.  On page 42 of the book, “The Culture of Wilderness: Agriculture As Colonization in the American West” I learned the the FBI suspected foreign incendiaries as the cause of the California forest fires in 1943.  They learned, instead, that it was caused by Americans not used to dealing with the dry conditions.

America had good reason to worry about forest fires and produced posters (Yep! more posters) warning that preventing forest fires was defense against the enemy.  In fact, Japan had incendiary balloons that they successfully floated over the western U.S., particularly the states of  Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful in starting forest fires.

Toward the end of November, she writes:

We haven’t heard from William for several days. I am afraid he is going to have to go. They called them all together and told them they would leave this month. I had sent him a fruit cake and cheese. Hope it got there before he left. Sarah also sent him cookies and pickles.

Another letter still is hopeful that he will not go overseas. She includes a list of Killbuck men who are enlisting or reporting for examinations. Mrs. Alderman apparently has not heard from her soldier husband.

William is still in Calif. Said in his last letter some talk of going up coast to some port in Wash. I hope they do keep him in States. He got my box and said it came through in very good shape. He said they had a farewell party and the boys put on a show and I will send you a part of the program.

Bernard Click Bernard Gallion and Franklin Day, Loudell Lanham’s man all go to Columbus next Wed for examinations. Helen Alderman told me to day she didn’t know where Louie is.

December Letters

December 10, she is feeling melancholy about Christmas.

I think William has sailed as he thought he would go into Secure last Sun or Mon. I am all broke up about it. He mailed his Xmas cards last week.

December 14, some ominous news from William.

Sarah had a letter from Wm saying he was sending clothes etc home as he thought he would go into Secure last Mon. nite. Didn’t know where they was going but a lot of tents on boat so thought must be somewhere it would be warm. I am so sorry I was so in hopes he would never leave the States. I feel awful bad about it.

In same letter she mentions working at the movie theater for another woman going to a Blue Star Mother meeting, so apparently she is not active in that organization.

Worked for Amy last Sun afternoon and Mon night as she went to Blue Star Mother meeting.

About December 22, she writes the last letter that remains in this series. It is the letter that unveils the bank scandal but also starts with  specific news about William.

Yes, Wm sailed Sat Dec 11. Only wonder where he is and how he is tonight.  I know he would have been disappointed if he couldn’t have gone.

After all the hints that he might be going, and the periods of waiting, it is definite. Her son has gone to war and she is officially a Blue Star Mother.




Reading Letters from the Front on Veteran’s Day

Veteran’s Day Letters From the Front

As we approach Veteran’s Day, when we honor all those who have served our country in the armed forces, I have been looking at letters from the front written by some of those sailors and airmen (no infantry in this batch of my family).  Like most letters from men and women in battle, they generally reflect a longing for home mixed with a desire to reassure the folks at home. But what makes these two letters from uncles to their nephews so poignant is the way they show hopes of peace that came to naught.

A Letter From the South Pacific During World War II

In the very first paragraph of his letter to his nephew, Uncle Bill Anderson hopes that this World War really will be the last one and his nephew will not have to take part in another.

WWII Letter Transcription

WWII Letter from Wm. J. (Bill) Anderson to nephew Paul William (Bill) Kaser who was born October 25, 1944. Uncle Bill Anderson wrote many letters from the front to the folks at home. This one is special because it presents such a vivid picture of the Solomon Islands and the life of a SeaBee during the war in the Pacific.

[Note: there were no paragraph indentations in the original letter. I have added some to make reading a little easier.]

Twelfth U. S. Naval Construction Battalion (Special)

c/o Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, California Nov. 20, 1944

Dear Bill –

I will call you Bill as they say that is what you will be called and they tell me you got that name from me. I don’t know why unless it is because I am over here in the South pacific trying to get this War over, the one to end all Wars, as they say but that was what the last one was for to{o}, so don’t think that there won’t be one for you to see. We hope that you won’t but if you don’t see one you will be able to say you helped pay for one any way as this one will keep us all paying for a long time.

I am in the solom {Solomon} group of Islands. That is all I can tell you now. The island I am on is about 5 miles across and 15 miles long about ½ of it is covered with coconut trees the rest is jungle and so thick you can hardly get through It is very hilly and steep. It is a coral island, not much top soil, but there are some large trees back in the hills. It is very pretty. You can see 5 or 6 islands from here and the sunsets are very pretty over the water. It gets very hot here in the day time and it rains about every day.

My Battalion is a Special as you can see by the heading on this letter. We unload and load ships. Have been here 11 months now and handled over a million tons of war supplies of all kinds. I am a store keeper by rate. That is a checker. We check the cargo on and off the ships and send it to the different destinations.

The army moved all of the women off this island. They are on another island about five miles from here but we can go over and see how they live. They live in grass houses, not very big and no floors in them, no bed or table of any kind. They sit and sleep on the ground. It is plenty dirty all over and they have sores all over the most of them. If one lives to be 35 yrs. Old, he is considered and old man so don’t believe all the pictures you will see of the pretty girls over here. All they wear is a short skirts.

Have not seen any real action. Had 2 bombings when we first got here and nothing big since. We are getting ready to move now but do not know how soon or where to as they don’t tell us for fear the Japs might get the news and be waiting for us some place out on the sea.

There are a few natives here on this island. They are not very big, about 5 ft 2 or 3 and very black and skirt around their waist. The men and women dress alike and cut their hair the same way. The little boys and girls do not wear any clothes till they are 7 or 8 yrs. old. They get married at 10 to 12 years of age. They are very thin but picturesque as you are to be taught. There are no wild animals here except pigs but a lot of different kinds of birds. A lot of white and green parrots, a few snakes, and lots of rats and all kinds of bugs. We sleep under mosquito nets all the time and live in tents with wire screen all around.

Well, I guess this will be enough for your first letter as you are not very big yet but thought you would like to have a letter to put in your scrapbooks from the South Pacific as when you get a little older, you will have to learn all about this war from history, so good-bye for now. Will be seeing {you} before long.

Your Uncle (CB) William J. Anderson SK2/c

Unfortunately, his wish for permanent peace did not come true.

The letters from the front continued. 25 years later, the baby he wrote to–Paul William (Bill) Kaser– who received that letter from the Navy C.B. in the South Pacific had grown up.

In 1969, a second “Uncle Bill” served as a Lieutenant in the Air Force, assigned to Vietnam.

Letter from Vietnam

The second “Uncle Bill” sent a letter to his nephew, 7 1/2 year-old Kenneth Paul (Butch) Badertscher in Scottsdale, Arizona. Paul W. Kaser, the second “Uncle Bill, stationed at Bien Hoa air base wrote an illustrated letter to “Butch” who was 7 ½ years old.

This letter, one of many letters from the front sent by the journalism major turned soldier, was another special letter because of the illustrations and descriptions attempting to make the war understandable to a small boy.

The airman plays guitar for Vietnam orphans during the war.

Transcription of Letter from Vietnam

1 April 1969


Dear Butch,

Here is a map of North and South Vietnam. {Drawn down the right side of the page.}

I am writing this letter from a spot near the airplane on the map. It is called Bien Hoa Air Base and is near the large city-capital of Saigon

I am also sending you some Vietnamese money. It is called “piasters.” Share it with your brothers. The picture is of King Hue who helped free Vietnam from the Chinese many years ago.

This is a very hot country and has many jungles and rice fields.

The people in the country are poor and their children do not have good schools to go to as you do. They often have only half as much food to eat as you do.

But, the people are friendly and one of them, an old man from Hanoi (see map) is teaching me to speak Vietnamese.

We have a Squadron mascot named “Ruben” who looks a little like Bitsy. [Dog of Butch and his brothers].

I will write another letter soon and send more pictures. Read this letter to your brothers.

Uncle Bill

{Drawing of a dog with a Vietnamese

cone-shaped hat.}

& “Rubin”

Wars Continue

World War I was not the promised “war to end all wars,” World War II  did not fulfill Navy man Bill Anderson’s hopes to guarantee that his nephew would not go to war.  And the chain of family members in service to their country continued.

The “Butch” in Bill Kaser’s letters from the front grew up to join the Navy nuclear submarine force during the Cold War. In his case “the front” spread across all oceans.  Although he did not have a nephew, he did have a son.

And as the navy-air force-navy-air force rotation continued, Kenneth Paul Badertscher’s son (Also named Kenneth Paul) joined the Air Force and  served in the mid East.

David William  (son of Paul William Kaser, AF veteran), saw combat as a Marine in Iraq.

Now both those 3rd generation veterans, David and Kenneth Paul II,  have small sons.  Will they escape the unwanted tradition that has continued unbroken for three generations? Will they be writing e-mail letters from the front, Skyping and otherwise communicating from the front to children at home as they explain some exotic far off land where American troops are fighting? We can only hope, along with Uncle Bill Anderson, that the chain will be broken before a fourth generation.

The Veterans We Salute

  • William J. Anderson, Navy, World War II South Pacific 1944
  • Paul William Kaser, his nephew, Air Force, Vietnam 1969
  • Kenneth Paul Badertscher, his nephew, Navy, Cold War 1980
  • David William , son of PWK, Marines, Gulf War 2, Iraq 2003
  • Kenneth Paul , son of KPB, Air Force, Gulf War 2, Iraq 2006

These five veterans follow in the footsteps of all the other family members and ancestors we honor on Veteran’s Day. We thank all of them, not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day for our Freedom.

More Details

I wrote earlier about Uncle Bill, and drew on history of the Special 12th Battalion.  That history says that the battalion stayed in the Russell Islands from January 1944 until May 1945 when they went to Okinawa.  Apparently, the history was off. if Uncle Bill is correct at least his contingent were on a tiny island in the Solomons in November 1944. I do not question that he was in Okinawa later, because he brought home Japanese pottery as souvenirs.

I am no closer than ever in figuring out what exact island he was on, as sources only talk specifics about the five or six larger islands in a cluster of 1000 that make up the group, and one that is 15 miles by 5 miles does not warrant mention.

The battles of the Pacific are detailed in this article with many photographs. And the map below comes from the U.S. Marines record of the battles. To put things in perspective, the entire Solomon Islands could sit inside the state of Maryland.

Solomon Islands

Map of Solomon Islands Campaign showing U.S. and Japanese bases.


Veterans in the Family–William J. Anderson

Seabee William J. Anderson

I have listed all the veterans in my family as I find them.  Please pay tribute to them here. (You will also find the names of the people in the family picture below by clicking on that link.) However, I must admit, I have many more veterans to add that I have discovered the in the past year. Those include Charles Morgan, son of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who fought in the Civil War for the North.

Now I would like to focus on one particular World War II veteran, now deceased, my uncle William J. Anderson.

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1942 or 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, August 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

World War II Family 1942 or 1943

World War II Family August 1943 gathered in Killbuck Ohio home of Guy and Vera Anderson. William J. Anderson is seated on the right hand side in his Navy blues.


Uncle Bill served in the United States Navy as a “SeaBee”–C.B., Construction Battalion, in the islands of the South Pacific roughly between 1943 and 1946. In 1942 or 1943 he and other relatives gathered at the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Vera and Guy Anderson in Killbuck, Ohio. He was probably at the end of his initial training period and would be shipped out to the Pacific in December 1943.

William J. Anderson Change of Address Card

Not only does this give me some interesting information about Uncle Bill, but it also highlights when my own family moved from Ames Iowa to Chicago Illinois during the war.

As for William J. Anderson, we learn that in December 1943,  he is with the 12th Specialists Battalion,  Company B-2. He holds the rank of EM 3/C, and his ship is in the Pacific–fleet post office San Francisco.  What does all that mean?

For one thing, it means that the nagging question I had as a five- and six-year-old was finally going to be answered.  We never knew where my uncles and cousin were in the Pacific. Once one of them sent us a souvenir book with pictures and maps showing Pacific islands, and I was convinced (having read too many Bobsey Twins mysteries) that they were sending us a secret code through the book to tell us where they were. I puzzled over it throughout the war, but never learned their locations.

Part way through the war, the Navy created Special Construction Battalions (also called Seabee Specials) for stevedores and longshoremen who unloaded ships in battle zones.  According to a history of the Seabees, the 12th Specialists were trained initially at Camp Peary in Virginia for three weeks and then in Port Hueme in California for six weeks before being shipped out in 1943, arriving in January 1944 at the Russell Islands in the Pacific. After unloading ships in the Russels for sixteen months, the 12th Spec. Battalion left its base and arrived in Okinawa on May 21, 1945. [Okinawa

Seabees emblem.

Seabees emblem.

William J. Anderson Dog Tag

I recently found Uncle Bill’s dog tags, and then saw this picture of him wearing the dog tag as he stood on a tropical island.

I have not been able to find what the meaning is of the serial number. If you know how to decode Navy serial numbers, please let me know.  If you are looking to decode an army serial number, Amy Johnson Crow comes to the rescue here.   However, I did learn that the “O” is for blood type, and the T 6/43 means he got a tetanus shot in June, 1943. I am not sure why he is USNR (Navy Reserve).

History of the 12th Special Battalion

Uncle Bill’s cheerful demeanor hints that this was probably the first post in the Russels, because the next post was not a piece of cake. Okinawa saw the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific, and the 12th was still there when the Japanese surrendered  in August 1945. [See a later post with a letter he writes from the Solomon Islands.]

From Wikipedia: “Between the American landing on 1 April and 25 May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes.”

The Seabees arrived at a most unwelcoming time of year, as Wikipedia graphically describes.

“By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested hills and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese and American bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey

You can see a film of the battle of Okinawa at the History website.

It is probably just as well that we did not know he was on Okinawa. We worried enough just listening to the radio news of the war, and seeing the newsreels that followed the features at the movie theater and reading screaming headlines. Had we known he was on Okinawa during that horrible battle, I don’t know how we would have coped. For that matter, I don’t know how HE coped, but he seemed to come through just fine.

William J. Anderson Life Details

The Rank on the change of Address card is EM 3/C, which means Electrician’s Mate, third Class.  While I know that Uncle Bill was proficient at fixing electrical things after the war, he was also handy at a great many chores.  His stories of the war, on a par with the tales in Catch 22,  indicated that he spent more time making deals with incoming ships to get good whiskey and special food for his commanding officer than working on wiring. But the Navy does not have a ranking for Finagling Deal Maker.

William J. Anderson would have been thirty-eight years old when he shipped off to a Pacific Island. That seems old for a warrior, but I read in a history of the Seabees that the average enlisted age of those construction battalion workers was thirty-seven. They were paid $140 a month, which made them one of the highest paid groups in the military.

Military life was not entirely foreign to Uncle Bill, as I described in this story about him in post-WWI civilian camp.

My other uncle, Herbert Anderson, was also a Seabee, as was my cousin, Robert Anderson.

They all came home safe after World War II, although Robert Anderson stayed in the Navy as a career.

I thank them all for their enormous contribution to our Nation during World War II.


How I am Related

Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of

Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the sister of

William J. Anderson