Wednesday, March 6 at 7pm Book Talk with author René Armstrong: Wings And a Ring: Letters of War and Love from a WWII Pilot - When René Armstrong's husband found a box of 295 letters in a junk store, he had no idea the profound piece of history in his possession. Thus began a journey to discover who these two young people were who met on a blind date, communicating to each other over three years in the only way this era could afford - through love letters that encompassed two continents. Enhanced with official, now declassified government documents, the love story of J.R. and Elnora unfolds as he writes to the love of his life from the jungles of New Guinea.
Rene’ Palmer Armstrong was born and raised in Texas City, Texas. She is a two-time cancer survivor. Upon turning 60, she retired from a regular job to write and make hand-crafted jewelry. She is now fulfilling a life-long dream of traveling while promoting her book.
Since the book's release in September 2011, Rene' has presented at the National Museum of the Pacific War, libraries, book clubs, galleries, book stores, service organizations, and Chambers of Commerce. The book was selected for Baytown's Sterling Library's "One Book One Baytown" summer read event. She appeared on the Great Day Houston television show and has been interviewed on radio. In August 2012, she was a featured author at the Experimental Aviation Association's Air Venture Show in Oshkosh, WI.
She will be sharing some rarely-seen historic film footage of the 345th Bomb Group and will talk about the daily life of a WWII pilot in the jungles of New Guinea.
The letters below are from Rene’s book Wings and a Ring:
SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 1944
Methinks you are tearing your hair out again, but the truth of the matter is that I have been in Sydney for another week. I may sound like a lucky man, but the truth is, I was sent there. I didn’t ask to go.
I suppose I may as well tell you why, as you probably will find out sooner or later. You’ve heard that song “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer”? Well, that’s me, and oh how I prayed. We really had it bad, but I was extremely fortunate and only got a few small scratches on the back of my legs. Some weren’t so fortunate. We crash-landed and some fun. Oh well, I’m alright—I was in the first place, but they said, “You need a rest.” Who am I to argue?
I had a great time as usual, but not so much money. The weather reminded me very much of Houston, and the mosquitoes were tough there too. We rented a car and dashed wildly all over town. We were really good driving down the left side of the road and the steering wheel and gearshift on the wrong side of the car. We would sail down the street and if anyone got in our way we would yell, “Look out—Yank driving.” One taxi cab driver really gave me a laugh. He gave me one of the wildest rides I’ve ever had, and when I asked where he had learned to drive like that, he answered in a very Aussie accent, “Oh, I’m from Texas.” I knew you would have really appreciated that.
I wanted to go swimming while I was there, but the beaches were having an epidemic of sharks and they don’t really appeal to me. They are man-eaters, and they come right onto the shore. They are only about fifteen feet long. Not exactly goldfish.
I did see a very good show while I was there. It was Best Foot Forward with Lucille Ball. I suppose you have already seen it, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I also was able to see Bing Crosby in Dixie. I’m not much behind, am I?
An odd thing happened to me while I was there. When I was in California, I met another boy in the Air Corps and a Lt. in the Navy. We used to have a good time together in the bar of the Senator Hotel in Sacramento. That was before I left the West Coast. Believe it or not, I was in the Australia Hotel in Sydney, and I saw both of them coming over to meet me. Small world, isn’t it? I really didn’t do a great deal while I was there. Just drink beer and eat to my heart’s content. It’s wonderful.
What I’d like to know is where you have been. I haven’t had many letters from you at all. I suppose moving had something to do with it. Good Lord, but I’ve missed you, Elnora. Even in the big city, I couldn’t get my mind off of you for an instant. You can imagine how much I think about you up here. Every time I look at your picture, I could slug myself for not having married you before I left.
My pretty, how could you make me fall so in love with you? Of course, I’ll have to admit it was my own free will. Anyhow it’s done, even if it took a war to do it.
I think I’ll close, dear, as it’s very late. I have so much to tell you—mainly how much I love you and how lovely you are. I’ll write again tomorrow and more too. Night, darling. I love you with all my heart—
Always, J. R.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 1944
Another month, and another pay day. I drew my usual $100 and, as usual, I have no place to spend it. Never did I think that I could be in a position like that, but I have been for quite a while. I do manage to get rid of it quite easily in Sydney—spent two months pay in a week. Quite a system, isn’t it?
The mail has really been messed up the past few days. No one seems to be getting any, and I can’t say that it pleases us. I should receive quite a batch in the near future.
We had quite a time at the picture show the other night. The film broke several times, and the sound gave out once or twice. Just when things were going smoothly, the air raid alert sounded and we had to black out. It lasted about thirty minutes, but no planes came over. By the time the show was over it was nearly midnight. Oh yes, I forgot to mention it rained intermittently during the proceedings. Some fun.
This has really been one exciting day. The morning consisted of finishing a book I began several days ago, and during the afternoon I played volleyball and cards. Took a shower, ate supper, and here I am. Next thing I know I’ll be talking to myself. Don’t know what I’ll do this evening. I guess I’ll have to dig up something to read.
If you are worrying about your income tax, think about me. I think I have a pretty good-sized exemption because I am overseas, but I’m not too sure. I should have married you and used you for an exemption. Now that’s a cold-blooded thing to say isn’t it?
I’m at a loss for anything to write this evening. I’m more prone just to sit and daydream. I was thinking just now about how lonely I used to feel some evenings in Greenville. I don’t know why I detested that town so. I’ll never forget that New Year’s Eve there. I’ve never felt so lost in my life. Perhaps I should have been better off drunk, but for some peculiar reason I was sober. Then after a day’s flying, we go to eat supper and the club would be filled with officers’ wives. It was really a very pleasant place just before I left. I’m through will all that, and how well I realize it now. All I want is to look forward to seeing you at the end of the day. Come a Saturday night, and we’ll go to the dance together. You’ll get to know many other girls just like yourself, and the days won’t be long either. We won’t have to make so many wishes, and just have a beautiful time. Pretty good daydream isn’t it, but it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. That’s why I like it.
There is quite a golf game going on outside. They have one left-handed club and all the boys are right-handed except one. They have fun anyhow as the game consists mainly of arguments.
I guess I’ll close, darling, and start my search for something to read. I’ll probably have to canvass every tent in the area. Night, darling, I’ll write more later on, or didn’t you know?
Always—my love, J. R.