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Collections ( Military History )

Captain O.C. McDavid World War II Letters

Number of Items: 238 items

This 238-item digital collection of World War II-era correspondence, dating between 1943 and 1945, focuses on Captain O.C. McDavid’s tour of duty in the Pacific Theatre of war.  These letters consist of his letters to family members and their letters to him.  Many of his letters home are illustrated with cartoons and drawings, thus providing visual interest to Captain McDavid’s descriptions of army life.  

As with much wartime correspondence, censorship of operations and engagements with Axis forces allow only scant details for those interested in the minutiae of South Pacific strategy.  Instead, what emerges in these letters has to do with McDavid’s observations of foreign cultures and how they relate to the struggle for the South Pacific.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, McDavid was sent to the South Pacific. During his Army service he was stationed in New Guinea, the Gilbert Islands, a chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in the South Pacific, and in the Philippines. In New Guinea, Captain McDavid was placed in charge of establishing village governments with local populations and building infrastructure to support sanitation, security, and healthcare, and his duties were similar in his other postings. The locations where Captain McDavid saw service figured directly in the Allied advance to take territory occupied by the Japanese and to gain staging areas for U.S. forces to move forward.

O.C. McDavid, born in Ruth, Mississippi in 1911, began what would become a newspaper career during his high school years by sweeping floors in the print shop at his hometown’s Enterprise Journal.  His responsibilities grew to include running the print shop as well as writing, which resulted in attending high school part-time in order to pursue his newspaper career full time.  He became the city editor and political reporter at the Jackson, Mississippi Daily News.  McDavid joined the National Guard and received his federal induction prior to America’s entry into the war.  Following earlier camp deployments, he was sent, in August 1943, with the 31st “Dixie” Infantry Division, for training at Fort Pickett, Virginia.  The 31st was composed of Guard soldiers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.  Earlier, McDavid had been tapped by his commanding general to edit a weekly camp newspaper, The Dixie, which bore the name of his infantry division.  The 31st left Fort Pickett in March 1944.  Sailing out of Newport (now Newport News), Virginia, the division arrived in New Guinea in late April.

Following the war, McDavid returned to the newspaper business, becoming managing editor, then managing editor emeritus of the Jackson Daily News.  Upon retirement in 1981, he devoted his time to painting and metal sculpture.  McDavid earned the George Ohr Public Service Award, which honors Mississippians who have supported crafts as art.  He died on March 12, 1998, in Jackson, Mississippi.  The following year, the Mississippi Press Association established an annual student journalism conference in his name.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Captain O.C. McDavid World War II Letters

Civil War Letters

Number of Items: 174 items

This digital collection of more than 150 Civil War-era letters contains correspondence from the M.L. Calk, W.D. Lowther, and William W. Edgerton letters. Calk and Lowther were Confederate soldiers from Alabama and Texas, respectively, while Edgerton was a Union soldier from New York. The collection is made up of personal correspondence during the war. Calk and Edgerton both correspond with family members, while Lowther writes to his fiancée.

Martin L. Calk was a member of the 23rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Confederate Army. His regiment was formed under the command of Colonel Franklin K. Beck on November 19, 1861 at Camp Wilcox, near Montgomery, Alabama. Calk served with the 23rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment in both the Kentucky (September-October 1862) and Vicksburg (December 1862-July 1863) Campaigns.

W.D. Lowther, the second Confederate soldier, served in Company D, 2nd Texas Brigade, 17th Consolidated Regiment. This company was attached to Colonel George M. Fluornoy's 16th Texas Infantry Regiment of Major General John G. Walker's Texas Division when the latter officer relieved Brigadier General Henry McCullough.  During the time Lowther is writing, the 12th Texas Division, often referred to as “Walker’s Greyhounds,” was attempting to repulse Union forces in Arkansas and Louisiana in order to rout the U.S. Army’s efforts to cut off Texas from the rest of the Confederacy and interrupt its considerable supplies from reaching east into the southern states.

William Wilberforce Edgerton, a native of south central New York, was a private with the 107th New York Infantry Regiment (Campbell Guards).  Following a station at the defenses in Washington, he saw action in numerous campaigns, starting in Maryland with the Army of the Potomac’s XII Corps, 1st Division, 3rd Brigade at the 1st Battle of Antietam as part of the Maryland Campaign (September 4-20, 1862), and, in Virginia, the Chancellorsville Campaign (April 30-May 6, 1863) and as part of the reinforcements sent to aid the Army of the Tennessee for the Chattanooga Campaign (October-November 1863).  Finally,  Edgerton saw action as part of the Army of the Cumberland’s XX Corps, 1st Division, 1st Brigade in the Atlanta Campaign (May-September 1864), the Savannah Campaign (November-December 1864), and the Carolinas Campaign (January-March 1865).  The 107th New York Infantry Regiment was mustered out in Washington on June 5, 1865.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries Special Collections in the M.L. Calk Civil War Letters, the W. D. Lowther Civil War Letters, and the William W. Edgerton Civil War Letters.

Israel Shreve Revolutionary War Letters, 1768-1894

Number of Items: 76 items

The 76-item digital collection consists primarily of letters written to and from Colonel Israel Shreve from 1776 to 1793, with the bulk of the correspondence taking place from 1777 to 1780. Written while Shreve was Colonel of the Second Regiment of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War, the letters are between Shreve and other officers in George Washington's Continental Army – including General George Washington himself.

The collection also includes correspondence between Shreve and his family members, as well as hand-drawn maps, meeting minutes, extracts from General Orders, and handwritten legal documents.

Israel Shreve served as both Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel of the Second New Jersey Regiment in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The 2nd N.J. Regiment fought at the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777, and at the Battle of Germantown on Oct. 4, 1777. The troop also spent the cold winter of 1777, short of clothing and food supplies, with Washington's troops at Valley Forge.

In 1779, Shreve and his regiment joined Major General John Sullivan in his campaign against the Tory-allied Iroquois Indians; Shreve was appointed commander of the expedition's base at Fort Sullivan at Tioga. Colonel Shreve retired from the army in January, 1781.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Israel Shreve Collection.

Lt. Robert B. Fulton USS Houston Letters

Number of Items: 47 items

From August 17, 1941 to February 17, 1942, Lt. Robert B. Fulton corresponded regularly with his parents from aboard the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), which was sunk on February 28, 1942. After the sinking, the USS Houston’s surviving crew members were made prisoners of war. Fulton’s letters home written prior to the sinking make up the heart of this digital collection. It also includes homefront letters and documents, and cards made in a Japanese POW camp during Fulton’s captivity from 1942-1945.

Fulton’s letters home provide insight into the experience of a naval officer on the USS Houston during the build up to war in the Pacific, and during the conflict’s early months. Fulton describes daily activities on the ship, excursions and picnics, and the mounting tension in the area. Censorship prevents him from relaying the whereabouts or engagements of the ship. Equally interesting are the colorful greeting cards he received in POW camp.

Robert B. Fulton was born in Burlington, Vermont. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy from  1928 to 1932. Following his graduation, he served on various cruisers and destroyers. Fulton attended the Naval Postgraduate School and MIT, earning an M.S. in Marine Engineering in 1941. On August 28, 1941 he became Assistant Engineer of the Houston, flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the declaration of war on Japan by the United States, the USS Houston became part of the combined American-British-Dutch-Australian force (ABDA). On February 27, 1942, the ABDA fleet caught up with a large Japanese force. During the Battle of the Java Sea, the Japanese sunk the Dutch cruisers H.M. de Ruyter and H.M. Java and three destroyers.

On February 28, 1942, as the Houston and the HMAS Perth, an Australian light cruiser, attempted to leave the Java Sea, they encountered a Japanese force in what became known as the Battle of Sunda Strait. The Perth was sunk by four Japanese torpedoes, and the Houston was sunk shortly after. Of her 1068 crew members, 700 perished. The survivors were taken prisoner by the Japanese, most sent to prison camps in Burma to become slave labor for the Burma-Thai Railway.

Along with other officers, Fulton was sent to a POW Camp in Japan in June 1942 for interrogation. Fulton spent most of the duration of the war in Zentsuji POW Camp in Japan, where conditions were less harsh than those in Burma. He was liberated from Rokuroshi POW Camp in Japan on September 7, 1945.

Following the war, Fulton continued to serve in the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of Rear Admiral. He has been an active participant in the USS Houston Survivors Association/Next Generations for over 60 years.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Cruiser Houston Collection.

 

Source: Robert B. Fulton Collection, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, The Library of Congress 

Marine Bombing Squadron (VMB-613) Photographs

Number of Items: 141 items

This digital collection documents the daily life of members of Marine Bombing Squadron 613 (VMB-613) in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Subjects include not only crews with their planes, but also leisure activities, departments posing for photos together, and several views of the home base. In all, the collection contains 141 black and white photographs.

Marine Corps photographer and former Houstonian Clell Thorpe took the squadron’s pictures on a Pacific atoll in the Marshall Islands; the exact location was not identified due to wartime security measures, but it was probably Kwajalein Island. Thorpe served as a Marine Corps photographer documenting the activities of Marines in the South Pacific during World War II.

While a handful of aerial shots capture VMB-613 planes patrolling the skies over a convoy of warships, most of the photos provide a glimpse into the Marines’ everyday lives away from combat. Basketball, ping pong, volleyball, and baseball are just a few of the recreational activities displayed. In addition to finding images of the barracks, the officers’ club, and the mess hall, viewers might be surprised to see that the base was like its own mini-town, complete with a dentist, bakery, barber shop, carpenter shop, library, post office, and even a police shed that doubled as a laundry service. Two photos show classic horror movie star Boris Karloff, on hand to perform with one of the many USO tours.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Clell Thorpe World War II Photographs.

USS Houston (CA-30) Photographs

Number of Items: 354 items

The heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) traveled the world during peacetime, served as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet during World War II, and was tragically sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Battle of Sunda Strait. More than 350 black and white photographs from the 1920s to the 1940s tell the incredible story of the Houston and her crew.

Named for the city of Houston, the USS Houston (CA-30) was launched in 1929 in Newport News, Virginia, a celebratory occasion well-represented in the collection. Many photographs depict the new Northampton class cruiser in various ports or at sea during early cruises, including visits to the Houston Ship Channel. Other photographs capture individual officers and crew members and depict life aboard the ship. 

The ship’s most famous passenger was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took four cruises on the Houston during his presidency to relax and enjoy deep sea fishing. Photographs in the collection show Roosevelt fishing from a smaller vessel, even catching a shark.

In 1942, following the United States’ entry into World War II, the Houston became part of the multi-national American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) force in the Pacific. Led by the able Captain Albert H. Rooks, Houston participated in the Battle of Makassar Strait and the Battle of the Java Sea before being sunk.  Due to the wartime need for secrecy, only a few photographs exist from this period.

Of the 1068 crew members on the Houston when it was sunk, 368 survived and became prisoners of the Japanese. Many were forced to work building the Burma-Thai Railway, 79 more dying in the process. Photographs document the POW camps, the deplorable conditions endured by the POWs, and the evacuation of POWs at the end of the war in August 1945.  

The original materials are available in UH Libraries Special Collections in the Cruiser Houston Collection.

USS Houston Blue Bonnet Newsletters

Number of Items: 251 items

The Blue Bonnet was the shipboard newsletter of the USS Houston (CA-30), a World War II-era heavy cruiser named for the city of Houston. The newsletters chronicle events both on and off the ship, providing an insider’s view of the lives and thoughts of the sailors on board. Although not all issues are available, the collection includes nearly 250 multi-page newsletters from 1933-1941, arranged chronologically.

Contents include ship news and general military news, sports updates for the ship’s teams, editorials, notes about the ship’s journeys and whereabouts, humor bits, sea chanteys, poems, and photos of the ship and some of its distinguished passengers, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Published by the ship’s company, each edition specifically names its reporters and editors, customarily on page two. Interestingly, each edition also states the ship’s location at the time of publication – for example, “Asiatic Station,” “Mare Island Navy Yard, California,” and “At Sea, Hawaiian Area.”

The Houston was sunk in 1942 during the Battle of Sunda Strait, and her surviving crew members were taken as prisoners-of-war. The Blue Bonnet was revived after the war by the USS Houston Survivors Association and Next Generations, and issues from the 2000s may be viewed online at their web site.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Cruiser Houston Collection.

William Slough USS Houston Letters

Number of Items: 30 items

The William Slough USS Houston Letters contain letters sent from William Slough, S1C, to his family from 1934-1936 while he served on the USS Houston (CA-30). The collection also includes copies of Slough’s “Crossing the Line” document and subpoena, a photograph of Slough in his Navy uniform, and one letter from a shipmate to Slough’s family. These letters provide a glimpse into both the day-to-day life and the larger concerns of a sailor in the years before World War II.

William Slough was born on May 19, 1914, in Missouri but later moved to Texas, where he lived before joining the Navy. He started his service on May 15, 1934, just a few days shy of his twentieth birthday. His first letter in this collection, sent to his mother, is dated May 27, 1934. In the letters, Slough talks about spending time in the sick bay, his supplies and equipment, training, and leisure activities. He worries about his family, money, romances from home, promotion, and trouble with officers. He also talks about learning to love travel and his plans for the future, which include a career in the Navy and putting off marriage. Slough married in 1939 and had two children. He died in Victoria, Texas, on Dec. 9, 1991.

During the course of these letters, Slough is a Seaman First Class. In addition to serving on the Houston, a heavy cruiser, he also served on the USS Cowpens (CVL-25), an aircraft carrier. He served in World War II and reached the rank of Chief Warrant Officer, and after the war he continued in the Navy Reserves for 20 years. Slough was proud to say that with his service, every generation of his family had served in the United States military, beginning with Matthias Slough in the Revolutionary War.

The USS Houston was commissioned on June 17, 1930, and became the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet in 1931. In 1933 the Houston left the Asiatic and became part of the Scouting Force, based in Long Beach, California, and most of Slough’s letters originate from California. During the 1930s the Houston also hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an avid fisherman, for four leisure cruises.

The Houston returned to the Asiatic in March 1941, and following the attack on Pearl Harbor served in the Pacific theater as part of a multi-national force. On February 28, 1942, as the Houston and the HMAS Perth, an Australian ship, attempted to leave the Java Sea, they encountered a Japanese force in what became known as the Battle of Sunda Strait. The Houston was struck by torpedoes and began to sink, prompting an order to abandon ship. Seven hundred of the 1068 crew members perished. The surviving crew members were taken prisoner by the Japanese and were held until they learned of the war’s end on August 16, 1945.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries’ Special Collections in the Cruiser Houston Collection.