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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Letters tell young sailor's story

 •  Shinseki urges job bill for vets

By William Cole

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Gerald Lehman

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When he was killed on the battleship USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Gerald Lehman was just 18. In fact, he had just turned 18.

The Advertiser had a story last Tuesday on the military's use of nuclear DNA lifted from letters he licked to seal and send home to positively identify the Michigan man, whose remains were exhumed from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Those letters, to and from family, tell the story of a teen on a short-lived pre-war adventure as he went through Navy training at Great Lakes, Ill., and then shipped out from California.

They also provide insight into one family's personal tragedy on the day that launched the United States into World War II.

Lehman's niece, Peggy Germain, put together a documentary on her uncle, and in it are portions of dozens of letters that were a lifeline for the young sailor.

Last week's story had a couple examples of the letters that went back and forth between Fireman 3rd Class Gerald George Lehman and his family.

Below is a little bit more of that story and correspondence, which also reveals the uncertainty that immediately followed the Pearl Harbor attack for one Midwestern family and the final knowledge that he was gone.

Feb. 4, 1941, Great Lakes, Ill.

"Dear Folks, Well, I am in the Navy now and sure do like it. ... Sleep in a hammock and they sure are nice to sleep in. (Fell out once). ... Boy have I got a nice haircut. The kids here are swell. They are from all over."

Feb. 5, 1941

"Dear Mom and Pop, Got your card today and was sure glad to hear from you. I thought I was a forgotten man until I heard from you. We went in a gas chamber today and tested gas masks."

Aug. 21, 1941, Long Beach, Calif.

"The weather here is swell. ... Been here almost two weeks now. I don't know when my ship will come in."

Sept. 9, 1941

"I got it nice aboard ship. I'm in the starboard pump room and I work every other day. All I do is turn a lot of valves. ... I am studying to take an exam to be a fireman second class, which pays $54 per month."

Oct. 1, 1941

"We came out of drydock yesterday and went on a trial run for a few hours today. Yes, we are going out to sea any day now. The place we will go is probably Honolulu."

Oct. 12, 1941

"Have been out to sea for about 11 days and we are just out of Hawai'i at present. Won't get a chance to go ashore yet though as we are going out for about 15 days of patrol. ... Can see the island pretty well from here. Large mountains and there is always a rainbow around them."

Oct. 23, 1941

"How is the new dog you got? ... Don't get much chance to go ashore on liberty. May not get a chance to do my Christmas shopping. If I don't I will send money as they take mail off on a plane. Haven't set foot on land since Oct. 2."

Dec. 13, 1941

"Dear Son, We received your letter Monday and sure glad to hear from you and that you had a nice Thanksgiving day. A lot of people have asked about you, which is very nice. ... Well, news is scarce, but keep courage as here in the U.S. of A. we are all for all of you boys that are doing everything for freedom's sake as that (the Japanese attack) was about as low of a trick ever that was done to any country."

Western Union telegram, Dec. 21, 1941

"The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your Gerald George Lehman fireman third class U.S. Navy is missing following action in the performance of his duties and in service of his country."

Western Union telegram, Feb. 17, 1942

"After exhaustive search it has been found impossible to locate your son, Gerald George Lehman."