John C. MacPherson, Jr. was seventeen years old when he joined the United States Navy. Over the next seventeen months, he wrote a number of letters to his family. The letters were signed with John’s many names: Sonny, Foo, Butch, and Goofer. But in most cases they ended with two common phrases: “God be with us always” and “Love, Your Son Butch”. These simple phrases emphasized the deep love of God and family that he not only carried for his whole life, but passed on to his children.
Helen MacPherson, John’s mother kept many of the letters and when she passed away, John came into possession of the collection. This collection included many pictures taken before and during his service as well as bulletins and newsletters from various commands he served at. Shortly after John died, I found the letters and asked my Mom if I could borrow them. In looking through the letters, I learned a lot of things about him that I had never known before. One of the most surprising things I discovered while transcribing them was how much we were alike at that age. I have tried to remain neutral in any opinions or judgments while writing this because I felt like I wanted to give every individual reader the opportunity to frame things in their own way. My epiphany was how his experiences related to my own and those of my brother Tom. The chapter that has yet to be written will be how the newest member of MacPherson’s Navy will someday view his own experience.
This project has taken several years and incorporates some additional background history to try and place things into context. The saddest part of this project is the realization that there were probably several thousand letters from his Mother, Father, Sister and others that did not survive. The only letters to him that survived were those that were returned to Boston. Each of those letters are clearly identified. Several of them were from John’s father. Other than stories from Mom and Dad growing up, this is the only glimpse I have ever had of the man who was my Grandfather.
There are also letters from others in John’s life. Those letters help to complete the picture of the family and friends from that period. Budd Rupp is particularly featured in several chapters since he played a key role in the MacPherson family life. Budd’s life touched three generations of MacPherson Navy men and his witness to the power of God is both inspiring and motivational.
John’s letters have been transcribed as close to the originals as possible. In some cases, I have had to guess not only words but names. I inherited one of John’s strongest traits: we both have a very unique style of spelling and handwriting. Since I have done most of the work on a word processing computer, there may be a few times where spell check beat my efforts to remain true to the original. Half way through the project I switched over to a newer software version and found that some words were automatically correcting themselves after I had tried the original spelling. While I apologize for any inconsistency, I also recognize that it is not so important how a word is spelled as how it is meant. In that arena, I believe that I have stayed as close to the true path as humanly possible.
In my eyes, John was a hero in every sense of the word.
When his country needed him, he went. To understand the nature of his service, it is important to understand the nature of the world around him when he enlisted. In order to do this, I have focused on three different stages: “Boot Camp Life”, “Going to War”, and the “On the Frontier” his service and experiences during the postwar period while serving in the Philippine Sea Frontier..
On March 7, 1945 the Allies established a bridgehead at the Bridge at Remagen. The bridge was still intact despite the German’s attempts to stop the unceasing flow of men and materials towards the Third Reich. The headlines from that day were: “Troops are across the Rhine!” On March 8, John started his own journey to become an American Blue jacket, a journey that his own father had taken during the Great War and his sons and grandson would take in years to come during the Viet Nam conflict, the Cold War and in both Gulf Wars. To the best of my knowledge, no one in any of the four generations ever fired a shot in anger, but each played a role in conflicts that stretched over the greater part of a century.
The first part of the book, “Boot Camp Life” is about his time at Camp Sampson in upstate New York.
I wrote most of these words in letters to Theodore MacPherson while he was in his own Boot Camp at Great Lakes Illinois in 2005. The second phase, “Going to War” is about John’s journey to the Philippines and the surrender of the Japanese forces. This portion was written as a journal and focuses on the activities that were occurring around him as he left for the Pacific. Finally, the third part of the project “On the Frontier” is about his service while part of the Philippine Sea Frontier and the events that were happening back in the states (particularly Pittsburgh and its suburbs) that would affect his future.
I have listed the references for the supporting material in the last part of this project. Although this version will be printed as is, it comes with a warning to future “editors”. Many of the pictures come from sources that appeared to be open and without identifiable copyright. But I made a decision to include them anyway since I felt they would be educational in nature and because I was not sure how long I would have to finish. One of the things I share with John and Helen is a heart that is not as reliable as it once was due to a heart attack and open heart surgery. But I assure you that that same heart is really in the right place and I wanted to share this story with you while I still had time.
Here is a biography of John that he completed late in his life. While it included many notable achievements, it was not all inclusive of the many organizations and people he touched in his life. First and foremost, John remained a lifelong volunteer who never hesitated to help his fellow man.