Furloughs were a wonderful time for families with someone in the military, at least until their sailor or airman had to leave again. Especially during a world war.
When Delbert and Donald Wilson first joined the Navy in 1934, their parents made them promise not to get tattoos. When they first came home to Dexter, Iowa, on furlough they had no tattoos but had started smoking cigarettes. Their three younger brothers—Dale, Danny, and Junior–loved hearing the stories about the Navy, but were mighty disappointed at their smoking. Donald came home on leave by himself a couple of times, in 1936 and–after Delbert had gotten out of the Navy–in 1938.
Not exactly a furlough, after the Yorktown returned to the Naval Operating Base at Norfolk in November of 1941, having been part of the Neutrality Patrol in the Atlantic, and knowing that it was just a matter of time before the country would be actively at war, Donald and a friend jumped ship and made their way to the Dallas County farm. They captured on film what turned out to be the last pictures of all five brothers together.
Donald’s 1942 Furlough
When Donald finally got back to the Minburn farm from Bremerton, Washington, in late 1942, he told all about the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, and details about the sinking of his ship, the USS Yorktown (CV-5). He hiked through crisp leaves up the “North ‘Coon” river with brothers Danny and Junior, and shot some rabbits, a couple of pheasants, a duck, a quail, and even couple of fat squirrels.
All of the Wilsons drove over to Scars to see the new baby, their first grandchild and Donald’s first nephew.
And while he was home, Don received letters from Seattle with hearts on them from a girl named Rose.
After Don returned to the West Coast, he wrote Dale about his furlough, reporting that all of his brothers were taller and heavier than he would ever be. “I guess I’m the runt of the family.” Don had been surprised at how much Junior had grown in just over a year.
Delbert’s 1943 Furlough After Casablanca
When the USS Maumee arrived at Norfolk from Casablanca in early 1943, Delbert got a leave and surprised everyone at home. There he “took on some good chow,” reported to Dale that the cooked wheat for breakfast was as good as ever (Dale’s favorite), that their parents looked so good, and that Junior had grown about a foot. Junior had a new Speed King, which Del was anxious to try on a fox of his own.
While he was home, Del told the rest of the harrowing story, of running into another enemy–a hurricane on the way back from North Africa, getting separated from the rest if the convoy, and having the ship’s huge mufflers catch on fire from all the sludge in the exhaust lines caused by the engines idling so long. They thought they were goners.
Doris got home to see her oldest brother and hear his stories. Scars came, as well, from their farm west of Earlham. Baby Richard got his picture taken wearing Delbert’s cap. Delbert and Doris also visited at Sam and Darlene’s and ice skated on their pond.
Dale’s Only Furlough–1943
Roswell Army Flying School’s Class 43-B graduation was held Saturday morning, February 6, 1943, at 9:00 in the Post Theater. Dale–commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States–was awarded his silver pilot’s wings. The new lieutenants smoked cigars. Dale spent the rest of the afternoon in his tent. Sick.
After much standing and waiting in line with a big suitcase and two canvas bags, Dale caught a ticket to Des Moines, then a bus to Panther Corner near Minburn. Someone there asked if he was a brother of Doris Wilson, and offered to give him a ride to the farm.
Spats wasn’t too sure about Dale until he changed from his uniform and into his familiar overalls. After visiting Darlene and Sam at their farm near Earlham, Darlene and little Richard returned with them to the Minburn farm. Doris also got home to see Dale. One day Sam, Dale, and Junior ice skated on the bayou, and everyone but Clabe went into town to watch a Jack Benny movie, “George Washington Slept Here.”
“It sure seems good to be home again,” Dale wrote Danny, who had just left for the Army Air Force. When Danny noticed Dale’s handwriting on the envelope, he knew he’d been home. “Boy, I’ll bet the talk at home has changed from the navy to the Air Corps. Boy, I sure wish I could see him. I would have to salute him now if I met him, which, incidentally, I could do very proudly.”
Dale’s furlough was over too soon. On the way to take Dale to the train station in Des Moines, they stopped at the Johnston high school so Dale could see W. D. Clampitt, Dexter’s former superintendent when the Wilson kids attended there. (He and Clabe Wilson had gone to the same country school in Guthrie County, called Frog Pond School.)
Mr. Clampitt introduced Dale to his senior class and asked him to say a few words, and also walked out to the car with Dale to greet Clabe and Leora and ask about the others.
They stopped at Bishop’s Cafeteria to pick up Doris from work. Dale in uniform wowed the other waitresses, and on the street WAACS saluted him since he was now an officer. It was the only time his parents saw one of their sons return a salute.
After Dale boarded the train, his family waited to watch the train pull out of the station. Steam boiled up and almost kept them from waving their poignant goodbyes.
Danny’s Furloughs–1943 and 1944
Danny Wilson was sent to Iowa State Teacher’s College for College Detachment Training. The cadets were given a short leave Easter weekend in 1943. Danny rode the bus to Des Moines, and got to spend less than twenty-four hours at home.
After earning his commission and wings in 1944, Danny got a furlough, arriving in Iowa at the Boone train station. He caught a ride as far as Ogden and called home about 2:00 the morning of April 19. Danny had planned to do some plowing for his dad, but it rained and rained. Then a telegram arrived canceling the rest of his leave, ordering him to be at Salinas, California, at noon May first instead of the ninth.
The day Danny left, Wilsons took snapshots of him with Spats and with his folks. Leora–wearing Danny’s wings on her coat as well as Dale’s–took a snapshot of him with his sisters. He held eighteen-month-old Richard in the crook of his arm like a football, and Doris was tucked behind Darlene and Danny so her “condition” wouldn’t show.
During the picture-taking, a meadowlark’s song rippled from a nearby fencepost. Danny remarked that the meadowlark was his favorite bird. He left for California April 27, after just eight days at home.
Junior’s Furloughs–1944 and 1945
Leora spent Christmas Day, 1944, writing letters. “Clear and cold,” she told Danny. “Junior came yesterday about 10:30 A.M. Came walking in from Perry. He gave us hints in his letter we received on Friday that he might get to come, so we looked for him at the train Sat. night. Junior sure looks good. We are having a good visit, going to be too short.” Clabe and Leora had just bought an acreage a mile from Perry. Their youngest was their first son to get to see it.
They drove over to Darlene and Sam’s farm near Earlham, where Richard enjoyed his Christmas toys. The temperature dipped to fifteen degrees below zero. Junior and Clabe would have taken a long hunting trip if Junior had had more days at home.
“Will be wonderful when all you boys are home together!” she wrote Danny. She could imagine her sons all telling of their experiences, and the rest just enjoying their reunion.
Junior also wrote Danny before catching the train in Des Moines. He had to be at Aloe Army Air Field, Victoria, Texas–where he was in Advanced Training–before midnight the 30th. They were to start flying the AT-6, then P-40 Warhawks.
Their folks were looking good and were keeping him well fed, he reported. The “ranch” was a pretty nice little place–good soil, house was pretty good.
Wilsons took their youngest son to leave for Texas on a bright moonlit night. The moon was so bright that the snow sparkled.
“We were sure lonesome when Junior left,” Leora wrote Danny next, “Just like when any of you are home and go so far away—will be so wonderful when you can be at home.”
Junior got another furlough in March 1945, after he had graduated and received his pilots’ wings. His parents had just learned that his brother Danny was Missing in Action in Europe. Dale was still MIA in New Guinea.
Junior sure enjoyed being at home. He hiked all the way south to the old Minburn farm, seeing Jack rabbits, cottontails, and snakes. He’d taken his automatic rifle along but didn’t use it. It was hard to celebrate his wings with two brothers missing.
Leora wished he could stay home. All of their boys. “That wonderful time is coming!”
When Junior’s train left Des Moines just after midnight, he was bound this time for Waco, Texas.
Furloughs were wonderful times for Clabe and Leora, having their sons home for a little while. It had never been just the two of them since about a year after they were married. They were glad to stay busy as it kept their minds occupied.
Otherwise, they worried. About Donald, in combat in the Pacific. Now about Danny, Missing in Action.
And Dale, wherever he was.
The Wilson family story is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.