Memorial Day: Tommie’s Last Letter

DSCF1037   G. D. Williams © 2014
gdw photo


There is one thing about this planet traversing the cosmos which is constant—war. War never seems to be satisfied with the blood trophies of its innocents.

Over the centuries, parents, especially mothers, have sent their sons off to war. Mothers looked out their kitchen windows or front porch waiting, praying that their son or sons will come back from over there.

As history has shown in such tragic pictographs, many mothers stand at those windows knowing their beloved child will never grace the supper table again. For many their beloved child is lost somewhere at sea, in the jungles or an unmarked grave.

At the same time it is a special honor to serve one’s country. My family tradition has military members all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

My father was a U. S. Marine wounded at Iwo Jima. He came home to his mother and father.

One son who did not return home to his mother, father and sweetheart was Lieutenant Thomas Ross Kennedy, signal corps officer, from Maricopa, California. Maricopa is located in the southwest corner of the San Joaquin Valley.

Maricopa was one of the early oil boom towns of the late 1890s and early 1900s. With jobs aplenty many fathers moved with their families to work the oil fields. The famous “Lakeview Gusher” was heralded across the continent as the rivers of black gold poured out tens of thousands of barrels of the ancient life which once flourished abundantly on this pristine earth.

When Tommie was born in 1922, the oil boom was fading and the population was dwindling. With the Great Depression just around the corner, this young boy grew up in harsh conditions.

The town known as “The Gateway to the Sea” may have helped foster a desire in the young man. At one time every young man wanted to traverse the sea for high adventure and visit exotic locales.

As the 1930s dragged on, war was in the air. Europe was a cauldron once again as Germany flexed its muscles.

In the Pacific Japan was preparing for war as well. Their strategic maps and plans included the control of their region of the Pacific.

Tommie joined the Army. Eventually, he found himself in the Philippines. The Philippines was of vital military importance to the USA as well to the Japanese who wanted to control it.

Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma of the 14th Japanese Imperial Army was determined to capture Corregidor and thereby control Manila Bay. The harsh and bloody battle for Corregidor waged on as American and Filipino troops held out against the unceasing onslaught of General Homma’s forces.

Tommie was captured at Corregidor in May 1942 and survived the infamous Bataan Death March. For the next three years as a POW he saw his comrades transferred or die in the harsh conditions of what was the brutality of war.

On two photographs which he still carried, he wrote a letter to his parents. It was a farewell message because Tommie was dying, and he knew his time was very short.

Here’s the letter:

On one photograph he wrote:

Enroute Japan: Jan. 18, 1945

Momie & Dad,

“I am writing this so that you will know exactly what happened and won’t be like so many parents. I guess I really made a mistake in not listening to you & coming over here.

“If I could only have been killed in action, it’s so useless to die here from Disentry with no medicin. Walt & Bud went to Manchuria Sept ‘42. We have been here since Dec 13 from Manilla. Bombed twice from 2 ships, on the 3rd now. Use my money to buy a turkey ranch so you will always have some place to always go.

“Also give both sisters liberal amounts & see Gary has a Sport model auto his 1st year hi school. Also nieces are always best dressed. Write: Mary Robertson at Houtzdale, Penn. Her son Melville died of disentry on the 17th of Jan. with his head on my shoulder. We were like brothers. He was buried at sea somewhere off the China coast.

“Tell Patty I’m sorry, guess we just weren’t meant to be happy together. I weigh about 90 lbs now so you can see how we are. I will sign off now darlings and please don’t greave to much. These are my bars & collar ensigns. The medals are Walts, please see his mom gets them. I’m not afraid to go, and I will be waiting for you.

All my love,
Tommie Kennedy”

On the second photograph he wrote

Momie & Dad:

“It is pretty hard to check out this way without a fighting chance but we can’t live forever. I’m not afraid to die, I just hate the thought of not seeing you again.

“Buy Turkey Ranch with my money and just think of me often while your there. Make liberal donations to both sisters. See that Gary has a new car for his first year hi-school.

“I am sending Walts medals to his mother. He gave them to me Sept 42 last time I saw him & Bud. They went to Japan. I guess you can tell Patty that fate just didn’t want us to be together. Hold a nice service for me in Bksfield & put head stone in new cematary. Take care of my nieces & nephews don’t let them ever want anything as I want even warmth or water now.

“Loving & waiting for you in the world beon.

Your son,
Lt. Tommie Kenendy “


Tommie wrote two letters because he wanted to make sure at least one of them would find their way off the POW “hell ship” and find its way home. Other POWs became the repository of their comrades’ personal belongings after they died. They made the sacred promise that they would find a way to bring these precious treasures to their respective recipients.

I guess you can tell Patty that fate just didn’t want us to be together.” “Tell Patty I’m sorry, guess we just weren’t meant to be happy together.”

I am sure Tommie thought often of the girl back home. In his case it was “Patty”. Perhaps, she was a childhood friend or a high school sweetheart.

Patty, like so many young women in the 1940s, lost her young man to war. Generations of brave soldiers perishing on the battlefield or POW camps always leave an indefinable mark of sorrow.

Tommie died and was probably dumped overboard like so many POWs. The oceans of the world have been stained often with the blood of the innocents.

His grave is unmarked. The sadness of war is that the young never had the opportunities to pursue life.

On this Memorial Day say a thank-you to a veteran or visit a local cemetery where a flag or a memorial stone marks the hallowed ground where a life was lived and fought.

G. D. Williams © 2014

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The Sacrifice of One

This video, The Sacrifice of One, is about a daughter who has written letters to her fallen, heroic father since she was young. She tells him of her trials and joys as she grows up. She remembers her father and shares her memories with those around her. She marries, and she introduces her husband to her father. Then one day she comes to the cemetery with her young daughter to introduce her father to his granddaughter.