Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Letters from Bob: A GI Re-Entering Portland Life in 1945

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Letters from Bob: A GI Re-Entering Portland Life in 1945

Article excerpt

BOB HICKSON, JR., was a bright, gregarious youngster doted on by his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and older sisters. He walked to Fernwood Elementary in Portland, Oregon, then Grant High School (class of 1939), swam at the YMCA on Sandy Boulevard, went to summer camp at Spirit Lake at the base of Mt. St. Helens, played piano, served as an altar boy, and sang a clear, sweet tenor in the choir at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal church in the Hollywood district. After high school, he took a few courses at Multnomah College and then, at the age of nineteen, enlisted in the Oregon National Guard.

In late summer of 1940, Bob reported to Camp Murray, south of Tacoma, Washington. His love of driving soon found him at the wheel of camp trucks and jeeps, and his love of music found him searching out the chaplain so he could assist at services and play piano or organ. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, Bob became part of the regular army and was transferred to nearby Fort Lewis. Many of the men he trained with at Fort Lewis, including his brother-in-law, George Donnell, fought in the Pacific theatre, but Bob applied for Officer Candidate School in Red Bank, New Jersey. He trained from March through May 1942, but failed to earn a commission. For the next three and a half years, he was stationed with the 41st Signal Corps in England and France, where his extreme nearsightedness, engineering aptitude, and skill at cryptography and teletype kept him behind the lines.

Bob met twenty-year-old Millicent Feakes, known as Micky, at a dance only two weeks after arriving in Liverpool in July 1942. He was immediately smitten. Micky was a British Signal Corps soldier and was stationed in London at Queen Anne's Gate during the Blitz. Bob wrote home, asking his mother to buy a wedding ring set. The two young soldiers were finally married in February 1944, in Micky's family's flat in Liverpool.

At war's end, both Bob and Micky filed for discharges, waited for their demobilization orders, and worried about how soon Micky would be able to go to America. The wait could be considerable. About 60,000 of the 100,000 British brides of GIs were still waiting for "Bride Boat" passage at the end of the war. The women were a low national priority in both countries, often reviled in England for choosing American GIs as husbands when British men would soon to be home again, needing wives. And when the women arrived in the States, many faced additional hostility from American women, who had been waiting for their men to return. It was a lose/lose proposition that many did not anticipate when they fell in love with American soldiers stationed in England. *

In September 1945, Bob boarded the Queen Mary and left England for home. Two months later, Micky learned that she was pregnant, which meant that she could have to delay booking passage until after the baby was born. Bob's father, Robert E. Hickson, Sr., petitioned his military friends and political acquaintances, including Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, to intercede and facilitate Micky's passage to the United States so the baby could be born in America.

As he waited for Micky's arrival, Bob Jr. wrote letters to her in Liverpool, where she was living with her family. He described his life in Portland and his new work as a driver for the Portland Traction Company. Portlanders still suffered from shortages, but they were optimistic after years of wartime rationing. Movies were an affordable source of entertainment, and public transportation was enjoying a heyday--a boon that would soon decline as manufacturers reoriented their production lines to meet growing civilian needs for cars, clothing, and furniture. Returning GIs and their young families filled the acres of post-war housing at Vanport City, a city that had been quietly built in the early years of the war along the embankments of the Columbia River. And many had to live, at least temporarily, with relatives. …

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