(left to right: Alice Baldwin, Tom Baldwin, Vici Griswold, Bill Griswold)
This photo was in the scrapbook that my mother made about my parents’ first years of marriage BK — before kids. When I was a young girl fascinated by weddings, I asked to see Mama and Daddy’s wedding picture. She showed me this photo — two happy couples, both of the men in leather flying jackets. And she told me the other man did not come back from the war. He has always been a symbol, to me, of the uncertainty of life and the sacrifice of war. This is my Memorial Day tribute to two WWII American fighter pilots: Bill Griswold, who died in 1942, and Tom Baldwin, who died in 1981.
My father and mother, Tom and Alice Baldwin, were married, Jan. 8, 1942. It was a double wedding with Bill and Vici Griswold. A month and a day after Pearl Harbor, these two couples rushed to get married before the men went off to war. They were both pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Four days later, Daddy, 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Baldwin, and 2nd Lt. William Griswold boarded a troop ship for the South Pacific.
Here are excerpts from Lt. Baldwin’s journal, which he kept on board ship, and his letters home.
Postmarked Mar 8, 1942 but written in mid-January
I am being very optimistic when I write this. It is as tho’ there will be an opportunity to mail it soon. My urge to write it now is prompted by a rumor that we will soon pass a mail buoy[?] (whatever that is; I think it is a gag) and letters from home had better be ready.
The trip thus far has been very pleasant. We are very crowded, but everyone realizes that and makes allowances for it. Joe, George, Bill Griswold, & I are in the same room. We also share the same table in the dining room.
It was just a week ago that we were so suddenly awakened at 5 in the morning and I had to hurry away. It wasn’t easy to leave you there. The words “El Camino” will, I think, remain with me always; & even tho’ I don’t know what it means in Spanish, it represents a brief period of boundless happiness to me. Truly it was a “honeymoon cottage” for me.”
Postmarked Jun 19, 1942
While I was enroute to here I saw some of the boys I knew back home. Gris & Joe and George are still together and getting along fine. Gris has had quite a lot of mail from Vici but Joe has sort of been left out….
Postmarked July 2, 1942
You keep mentioning Hepford and I’m sorry I can’t be of any help. When I saw Gris I asked him about Hepford but he didn’t know. I thought Bill might know because they were right good friends.
Dated August 2, 1942 (censorship rules had been relaxed to allow dates in letters home) Postmarked August 14, 1942
… I am wondering if you have continued your correspondence with Vici. If so you undoubtedly have heard the bad news about Bill. I only learned of it a few days ago. Just in case she hasn’t written you I will be more explicit. He was killed in an automobile accident about the second week in June. I learned of the unhappy event in a letter I just got from Joe. It was a terrible thing, and I certainly feel sorry for Vici….
There is something about this place that reminds me of Christmas time in the South. Which brings to mind the experience Dad had when he first went away to school and had such a hard time explaining the customary way of celebrating Christmas back home. Get him to tell you the story. I’m sure you will enjoy it.
In the same envelope, postmarked Aug 25, a note from Elizabeth Baldwin, Tom’s mother, addressed to Alice and her sister-in-law, Julia Baldwin. They were roommates in St. Louis while they attended secretarial school.
Notice in Tom’s letter he speaks of how it sounds where he is. Julie, tell Alice how you children used to celebrate Christmas with your fireworks. Evidently he is where shooting is going on.
Dated Aug 17, 1942; Postmarked Oct 13, 1942
As you can perceive, the censorship regulations have again been changed so that we can give our whereabouts at least to the extent of saying “somewhere in New Guinea.” We can’t tell anything about it nor how long we have been here, nor how long we are likely to stay. But I will say that we have been here long enough for us to long for Australia. The living conditions aren’t bad. As a matter of fact, conditions are considerably better than we expected, but I would settle for any place other than New Guinea.
Tom Baldwin returned from the South Pacific in the summer of 1943. He was stationed in Venice, Fl., as an instructor in the flight school there. After the war, he never flew again and he rarely talked about the war.