January 12, 1994
Letter writing is basically a lost art. We now communicate inadequately and impersonally by e-mail and telephone. That's the sign of the times, and who knows what the future holds. But a sense of history and insight into character, hopes, dreams, concerns, values and personalities are lost by not writing letters.
I waited until it was too late to learn all I wanted to know about my parentsí formative years. These things become more important as one becomes older. Roots, a sense of family and history then become more interesting and relevant.
Several years ago, Gary said he would like to have the family letters. I am pleased to provide each of you the letters in this binder. They commenced with a letter from Dadís sister Mary written while Dad was in the Navy in WW I, and other letters continued for many years. A number were written while Mother was teaching (Principal) near Coolidge, NM and Dad was attending UNM during the Great Depression. Others were written after Ladd joined the Navy in 1942 and I was attending UNM. Most were written from 1942 to 1946 during WW II. Some were written after WW II, including a few from Nedra and me, a few from Dad, one from my grandmother (Mama) Stewart, and one from my Aunt Adelia Stewart Sallee.
During the almost four years Ladd served, and the two years I served our country, letters or cards were written almost daily to each other and to and from our parents. It is probable that more than 2,500 letters and cards were exchanged. Some of the letters remain, and copies are in this binder. A few of the letters detail some of the activities leading up to joining the Navy. Many letters and cards were not kept. But the ones that remain provide an insight into a different era --- an era of deadly conflict and apprehension concerning life and the future. They also provide some insight into the character and values of our family. My parents worried constantly about their only two children whose fates were in the hands of the God and the Navy. Current and future generations of family might, or might not, find the letters interesting and/or even instructive. Be that as it may---,
The letters frequently contain purposely-misspelled words and grammatical errors as a matter of family jargon. Li'l Abner of the comic strips was popular, so we often wrote in "Dogpatch-eze". We frequently referred to Dad as "Pap", for this reason. Ladd and I had taken German in College, so we often threw in a few German words: mein hund, for my dog; der eltern, for the parents, etc. Dad frequently slipped in some Spanish words: escopita, for gun; truchas, for trout, etc. And we usually referred to Pensacola as Pepsi.
Dadís letters were replete with humor, wisdom, sound advice and encouragement. Motherís letters tended to be more perfunctory, and deal with daily living. But the family letters were invaluable and eagerly awaited by a young person so far from home in an insecure war-torn world. They made life much more bearable.
In 1944, during World War II, I had five semesters of college and was still seventeen. Ladd had already joined the Navy and Dad had been in the Navy in World War I, so it was only natural that I would volunteer for the Navy. There were two Navy programs that offered opportunities to become an Officer. One required that a person have at least two years of college and be at least nineteen years old. The other program was only available to those having less than two years of college. I did not qualify for either.
I joined the Navy when I was seventeen on October 13, 1944 ---- 3 days before I would have been required to register for the draft. So I suppose I was a draft dodger. By volunteering, I was able to enlist at a slightly advanced rating (Hospital Apprentice 2nd Class) and thereby ensure that I would serve in the Hospital Corps.
Hospital Corpsmen usually had good hospital food and slept on real beds. We received considerable training, much of which helped me later in life. The Hospital Corps was the place to be, unless you were one of the Corpsmen assigned to the Fleet Marines. In that case, it was alleged that the Japanese always aimed for the red cross on the helmets of the Corpsmen. I met one of the "Marines" made famous by the picture and statue of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. His name was John Bradley, a Hospital Corpsman assigned to the Fleet Marines. I heard today that John Bradley, 70, the last survivor of the Iwo Jima Flag Raising, passed away.
Mother accompanied me on the train from New Mexico where I had been attending UNM to Pensacola, Florida, where I joined the Navy. I did this for two reasons: 1) New Mexico had already filled its quota for the Hospital Corps, and 2) Ladd was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station where he was a Corpsman assisting in flight medicine research. By joining in Pensacola, I was able to visit Ladd every day for a month until I was called to active duty on November 13, 1944.
Ladd joined the Navy in 1942 and was sent to Notre Dame University. He was ill much of the time, and was subsequently transferred to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station for "Boot Camp." Following Boot Camp, he attended Hospital Corps School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, and was then transferred to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where he was stationed for the remainder of World War II. He worked with two renowned flight medicine researchers and authors, Dr. Greybiel and Dr. Clayton White who later became President Eisenhower's personal physician.
From Pensacola, I was placed in charge of a group of other new recruits and sent to Boot Camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station, Bainbridge, Maryland. As an immature country boy from New Mexico, I learned about tipping the hard way. A tray on the table in the railroad dining car contained some coins, and we simply divided it among us. This didnít go over well with the waiter who demanded the return of his tips left by previous diners. As I disembarked from the train in Washington, DC, I saw Eleanor Roosevelt at Union Station. Then I endured 12 harrowing weeks of Boot Camp. I was then transferred to the Hospital Corps School at Bainbridge, Maryland. I immediately learned that the academic "Honor Man" from each class of 120 Corpsmen could choose his duty station.
This was a hell of an incentive!
Having taken advantage of the incentive, I chose the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland. By doing my job well and staying out of trouble, I fought the battle of Bethesda until my personal Independence Day, July 4, 1946. I had a couple of Navy Leaves and was able to visit my parents once while they still lived in Douglas, Arizona, as well as in Mountainair, NM where Dad served as District Conservationist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. For one leave, I forged some Red Cross papers that allowed me to hitch a ride on a Navy cargo plane as far as Amarillo, Texas where I took the train on to Mountainair.
While stationed at the National Naval Medical Center, I hitched a ride into Washington, DC with Mrs. Cordell Hull, wife of the Secretary of State. When President Harry Truman visited the National Naval Medical Center, I positioned myself at the foot of a vacant bed; the President shook my hand, asked where I was from and politically remarked, Thatís a fine State! And I was in Washington for General Eisenhower's victory parade following Victory in Europe. I took the opportunity to sit in the Senate Gallery and hear issues debated. I was privileged to see and hear many Hollywood stars (mentioned in the letters) when they entertained at the National Naval Medical Center. While stationed in Maryland, I was able to spend some weekend liberties sightseeing in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York City where I ate and slept at USOs. I also volunteered to take a patient by train from Bethesda to Pensacola where I was allowed to remain for about two weeks while visiting Ladd. I traveled to Ft. Monmouth, NJ and visited Captain Tracey Prater who was in charge of the Messenger Pigeon component of the Army Signal Corps. Captain Prater was from Tucson, and I had known of him while living in Safford before the War.
My Navy experiences were positive, useful, and provided more maturity, more education, and some wisdom. My life would have been much different had not WW II occurred. I have no claims about heroism. I was only one of some 12,000,000 military personnel, and I served my country by doing my duty and caring for hundreds of sailors, marines and officers who had been wounded or diseased while fighting for our country. I was fortunate to have two Special Watches with some outstanding Officers. One was Marine Lt. Col. Cosgrove, an Annapolis graduate who was a paraplegic because of a Japanese sniper. The other was Navy Captain Glen Howell who was the U.S. Naval Attachť to Canada, and was from Boise, Idaho. It was a privilege to know them and spend many hours visiting with each. I was a late bloomer and did not get involved in any Navy romantic adventures.
Both Ladd and I eventually earned promotions to Pharmacist's Mate, Second Class. When I entered the Navy, I was paid $54 per month and was receiving $66 when I was discharged. I sent money home every month, and usually sent a few dollars to each of my grandmothers.
Following my discharge on July 4, 1946, I took the train as far as Belen, New Mexico, arriving about midnight. I hitched a ride south to Bernardo, and walked in the bright moonlight the remaining 6 or 7 miles across the bosque-lined valley road, over the Rio Grande Bridge, to the top of the mesa, and north on the dirt road to our home. I removed my white Navy uniform for the last time. The home was in Veguita, where my parents were living in a two-room adobe house with a dirt floor and roof and no plumbing while they were building and developing the New Mexico Boys Ranch. Ladd was already home and was, as he liked to joke, the first boy at the Boys Ranch. So I guess I was the second. The home at Veguita is now a slightly raised mound of melted adobe, but represents the location where a happy and fortunate family was re-united.
A few days later we all went truchas fishing in the Pecos Wilderness Area as we had fantasized in many letters, by packing in to Lake Catherine atop the Sangre de Cristos for a few days. Ladd and I worked at the Boys Ranch for the weeks prior to returning to college that fall at UNM.
I am now the oldest or our clan. My parents and brother Ladd have crossed the Great Divide and gone on to greener pastures, great trout fishing, unbelievable quail hunting, and water-witching heaven.
Nedra Clair Callender joined the U.S. Marine Corps and graduated from Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia in the summer of 1949 immediately after she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of New Mexico. She was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, so she outranked me even prior to our marriage on August 26, 1950 --- and she still does! We have been blessed in every way, particularly by having three outstanding and loving children.
I'm pleased that the enclosed letters remain. Please care for your copies and keep them in the family. They may be more interesting to future generations. You might keep them with the manuscript An American Family: Not Merely A Couple With Children.
Larry J. Gordon
P.S. About 1996, the New Mexico State Game Department refuges and facilities at Casa Colorado, Bernardo and La Joya --- all in the vicinity of Veguita --- were made part of the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Management Complex to honor Ladd for his distinguished contributions to conservation in New Mexico. In a letter to the State Game Commission requesting such a designation, I noted that Laddís roots ran deep in that area even prior to his conservation contributions.