No one knew it at the time, but September 11, 1945, was red-letter day, a day of rejoicing to come in the home of Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Hilley*, the little town of Sidney, Texas as well as Comanche County and the rest of the country. Why, you might ask? Because yet another World War II POW was alive and coming home! For you see, it was on this day that Lt. Gayle Hilley, a Japanese POW for over three years, wrote a letter to his parents to say that he was coming home!
Written from aboard the USS Goodhue, the letter was printed in the Comanche Chief, and I can’t help but tear a bit as I type the old missive, almost able to feel all of the emotions that Mr. and Mrs. Hilley must have felt that day as three years of Hell were almost at an end…and I can’t even start to imagine those of those young men caged for years.
I wish I knew exactly what to say and how to say what I’d like to in a letter like this but I think I’d rather tell you later when I get there and I’m coming- I know it seems like a dream to all of us- but I’ll be there. It’s not going to be long either. There’s nothing made yet that can get me there fast enough.
They liberated us on the 8th of this month and we left the hills the next day, arriving in Yokohoma early yesterday morning. We were then taken over by a bunch of nurses and doctors who treated us like kings- by the way, that’s the attitude of everyone so far, they can’t seem to do enough for us- and gave us processing, clean clothes, etc. spent the rest of the day trying to find someone who would fly this group to Manila and didn’t give up until about noon today. So now I’m on this ship. We sail early tomorrow for Manila. I don’t know why, but we do.
I think you’re in for a big surprise when I get there. I believe you’re expecting me to come back thin as a rail and generally emaciated. You’ll see the same old Gayle that left except that his hair is a lot thinner; he’s older in lots of ways, and also changed quite a bit in man and mannerisms. I’ve been eating day and night since this show ended and it’s been American food since the 2nd and even before that I was in much better shape than others POWs…
Dad, you oil up the guns and rest up some; we’ve missed a lot of our hunting we’ve got to catch up on. Mom, I was expecting you to feed me up on all of that good country food you have there, but I believe the Army is going to beat you to the draw.
Goodbye now. I wish I could think of a lot more to say, and there is a lot to tell, but not in letters. You’ll never know how much I’ve missed all of you. That includes the entire family from Mom and Dad down to all of the children including my namesake and Boots’ newest…We have one of the closest families that I know of and, by George, let’s keep it that way. I’m looking forward to a big family reunion, and I do mean a big one.
If you can think of any way to contact me (which I don’t think will be possible) letters, telegrams, cables, etc. don’t fail to do so
All of my love to everyone.
Here is a list of the most amazing things I’ve run into: On learning the war was over…seeing the Stars and Stripes raised over a Nippon prison camp…my first sight of Americans in uniform…food falling from airplanes…riding on a train with enough room to sit down comfortably…on hearing an American band and seeing an Army General and shaking his hand…hotcakes with jam for breakfast…American women, some darn good looking…ice cream.
Just to show you how our perspectives often change according to what life throws at us, I want to include bits of a letter written by young Hilley before his capture. It was written from the Phillipines.
This is the fourth day at this place, and we dislike it more as the days pass. We are living here at Fort McKinley now, just temporary until they finish our flying field. Our quarters here are very inadequate, being an old building full of beds for us to sleep in and nothing else. This part of the world is not really civilized yet.
Manila is the filthiest city you’ve ever seen. The streets are lined with street urchins and beggars- there’s always the odor of horse manure in the air…
This being a long way from home is pretty hard to take as you can well imagine…
Somehow, I feel sure that no one could have imagined what was yet to come…
God bless them all, and may God continue to bless those brave men and women who stand between us and the ones who would do us harm.
(In 1939, it seems that Arthur Gayle Hilley was set to follow in his druggist father’s footsteps. I found this photo. He is pictured here with the U.T. Pharmaceutical Association.)
*A.A. Hilley was a druggist and a farmer in Sidney, Texas.