“You Mustn’t Let It Bother You Too Much”

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On November 23, 1943, a 24-Year-Old pilot named George Rarey, attached to the 379th Fighter Squadron, boarded the Queen Elizabeth and set sail for Britain. Rarey (he hated his first name and never used it) left behind his wife—Betty Lou, who was five months pregnant—and a most unusual background for a fighter pilot. When he was drafted in 1942, he’d been living in Manhattan’s raffish Greenwich Village, practicing the local trade of artist—specifically, cartoonist. He’d never had a driver’s license and was astonished to discover that the Army thought he’d make a good flier.

As it turned out, the Army was right. But he kept his pen and pad with him and recorded every aspect of his service not only in spirited drawings—brisk and seemingly casual, yet full of eloquent specifics—but also in letters to his wife. Here is what he drew, and what he told her, beginning shortly after his arrival in England.

December 9, 1943

Dearest Betty Lou,

. . . The day is putting its flaps down for its final approach and the boys are busying themselves with various tasks near a soldier’s heart. Bill is sewing on a button and bragging about a cold shower he once took. Houghton is in the sack reading a purple mystery novel. Putnam sharpens a hunting knife while Larsen’s heavy regular breathing indicates that he is in the arms of Morpheus (purely platonic, you may be sure). A variety of subjects are being aired, the air being pale blue with the mild expletives that are necessary in hitching the articles and prepositions together in an airman’s banter.

Our foot lockers arrived and we had a fine time unpacking them—almost like Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, those pretty packages have me baffled. I get a kick out of them. You wrapped them for me. In those little boxes is Christmas, real and wonderful. They have all the magic of carols, trees, and the whole works. Thanks, pal, and as this may reach you by the 25th, Merry Christmas!

Betty Lou, I think my spelling is getting worse, probably an indication of the mental confusion that accompanies the life of a celibate. I sho’ miss you, kid. Things are still about the same—lots of ground school and no airplanes. Sure will be good to feel that old prop pulling you along again. I didn’t realize how much I could miss flying....

Love,Rarey

December 14, 1943

Dear Betty Lou,

Just a line between classes—mailed a letter to you this morning containing the current news. Betty Lou, will you send me about three cans of Simoniz wax polish? An airplane that has been waxed is somewhat faster than an unwaxed one. ... I’m still sweating out that first letter—seems like years since I’ve seen you. I can still see your face as we met at the end of the day—beautiful, happy, full of interest and love....

Your little old man,Rarey

December 17, 1943

Dear Betty Lou,

. . . We’ve got an officers’ club started. We’ve a pretty nice room adjoining the mess hall and are stocking it with various commodities. Beer and ale are available any evening from 5:00 till 11:00, and we are accumulating a beautiful supply of scotch, rum, and gin for a Christmas fracas. It’s nice to have a place where you can have a few flagons of stout with the fellas without riding ten miles in a crowded G.I. truck.

There was a movie on the field last night but it was so crowded that we couldn’t get in. Came on back to the shack. The Major was here, and we had a long and pleasant bull session. The Deacon is opening a large Hershey bar, and we are quite excited, our imported stock having been depleted for some time. If some time you tossed a few odds and ends into an old shoebox and sent them along, the troops would receive them with their hearts. We miss cheese and Betty Lou, ripe olives and Betty Lou, crackers of any kind and old Betty Lou—any kind of Betty Lou. I really miss you, you rascal. The food here is adequate and at times almost tempting but there is only one Betty Lou in the world—I’m sunk—I’m actually starved for you, pumpkin. Old Doc Finn is in the same boat, and we often get together and exchange low moans. He is a wonderful guy and the spark of the outfit....

I love you, my darling,Rarey

 

December 20, 1943

Dearest Betty Lou,

Another day of nothing in particular—lordy, but we’d like to have some airplanes! We’re learning a lot but we miss the flying quite a bit. Today was typical—here it is.

As far as breakfast was concerned, we were in the weeds because we grabbed an extra 30 minutes of sacktime. Our first class was at 09:00 o’clock. They are informal affairs, these classes. Lectures by experienced men in our Air Force as well as the R.A.F. Interesting. At 12:00 we knocked off for lunch which consisted of a sort of hash, potatoes, and I forget what else. After about an hour of loafing around the fire in the lounge, back to the old schoolroom. Class was interrupted when a Mosquito night fighter gave us a good buzz job. That’s a beautiful aircraft. We got quite a thrill out of it. I’m beginning to feel like a ground-pounder. School was out at 4:00. Threw on a blouse and then to dinner after two bottles of very good ale in the lounge....

Love,Rarey

December 24, 1943

11:00 P.M.

My darling Betty Lou,