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World War II letters, 1943-1945
Boxes 2390-2392
Collection Overview


World War II letters, 1943-1945
James M. Brown World War II letters, 1943-1945


Brown, James M., 1921-1998, creator


This collection of letters and memorabilia richly documents the service career of James M. Brown. A scrapbook offers a complete record beginning with correspondence from the Selective Service Board in 1942 and concluding with discharge papers in 1945. In addition to service records, there are newspaper clippings, photographs, and a wide variety of ephemera from Brown's various postings in the U.S. and Europe. A photograph album provides an informal and intimate view of service life. There are photographs of Brown's comrades and their quarters and equipment; some aerial shots of mission flights; views of local people and places (primarily in Italy); most photographs are identified on the verso. A unique item is a handwritten flight log where Brown noted pertinent details from each mission he flew from the Foggia air base in Italy.
There are ninety-four holograph letters written to Brown's mother, Mrs. Mark E. (Marjorie) Brown, and his sister, Bernadette, in San Francisco, California. Letters from February-November 1943 were written while attending U.S. Army Air Corps training in California and Arizona; a few letters from late 1943 were sent from Morocco and Algeria. Letters from January to April 1944 were written at an air base near Foggia, Italy; and those from August 1944 to May 1945 were from bases in Florida and New Mexico. Some letters on stationary with insignia; included are some ephemera. (There is also a group of 20 letters sent to Mrs. Brown from clerics and friends of her son who served in the Armed Forces including Fran Brolan and R. D. "Bob" O'Neill.)
In Brown's letters home we find his unique response to the wartime experience. Initially he tells of the challenge of adapting to life in the service. In addition to details about clothing issued, schedules of courses, and the rigors of army life, Brown comments that "I am getting along fine because I don't do anything. I just sit tight, keep my eyes open and my mouth shut. A lot of fellows are cracking because they just cant stand to take orders and a little verbal abuse. However it doesn't bother me in the slightest to have an officer scream in my face." By the fall of 1943, Brown has completed training and on Sept. 11th he writes: "Yesterday we finished up our gunnery course and got our gunners license. I am now a full fledged killer. Isn't it strange that a peace loving guy like me should be an expert in death and destruction - bombing and machine guns, that's my profession. After the war I guess I'll have to be a gangster."
Describing his arrival in North Africa in late 1943, Brown conveys a sense of adventure: "We finally got to our destination and I assure you that we could smell the place long before we could see it. Ma it was just like the newsreels when we disembarked. All the people and natives were waving and shouting at us as we rode up the streets." Within a month he is stationed in Italy and has begun flying bombing missions. "Today I went on number three. We bombed Rome. I could see the Vatican and Saint Peters sticking out like a sign. To bad that my first visit to Rome had to be under such circumstances."
In March Brown enjoyed some R&R on Capri. "Before I came out to the Isle I stayed a few days in Naples and had some very unique experiences. The first was that I had two cokes something that we havent seen in ages. Secondly the Germans bombed Naples the night I was there. We were awakened at about two in the morning by screaming sirens, guns and falling bombs. Ive wondered what it would be like to go through an air raid. I'd much rather be up in the air than on the ground during one of them. I thank God that you folks have never had to go through a bombing because it horrible. Just to make things complete Mount Vesuvious erupted while we were there."
Brown completed his 50th mission in April. "You know everyone sweats out their 50 missions and anxiously wait for the fiftieth to be over. Well yesterday as we were coming back I'd look out over the sky at all those hundreds of beautiful "Fortresses" flying alongside of me and I got the biggest lump in my throat and I felt just as blue as can be." He returned to the States and was based at several locations before his discharge; letters during this period speak of his concern for friends and comrades. Often he is reminded of his recent experiences as on Feb. 1, 1945 when he writes: "This morning I had to inspect the WAC detachment and all the mess halls on the field. I was just checking up and I find that a year ago today we raided Toulon France and today I'm inspecting WACs. Quite a change eh what."


1943 (issued)


Box 2390: Correspondence. -- Box 2391: Scrapbook, Victorville memorabilia. -- Box 2392: Photograph album, flight log.


n-us-ca -- n-us--- -- e------
Brown, James M -- 1921-1998 -- Correspondence
Bombardiers -- California -- Correspondence
World War, 1939-1945 -- Europe -- Personal narratives, American
World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American
World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, American
United States. -- Army Air Forces -- Biography
World War, 1939-1945 -- Europe -- Photographs


Cataloged 12/13/2001
A third generation San Franciscan, James M. Brown was born on December 14, 1921 in San Francisco. There he attended St. Agnes Grammar School, St. Ignatius High School and the University of San Francisco. He was employed at Meybergs as a sales clerk in the Record Dept. before joining the service as an aviation cadet in February of 1943. He attended pre-flight school at Santa Ana Air Force Base and flight school at Victorville where he was a member of Class 43-12. As a lieutenant, Brown took further training in gunnery school at Davis-Monthan Field in Tucson, Arizona, before going overseas.
In December of 1943 Brown arrived in North Africa and joined the famed 97th Bombardment Group shortly thereafter. As a B-17 bombardier with the 341th Bomb Squadron stationed at Foggia, Italy, he survived 50 combat bombing missions over France, Germany, Greece, Italy and most of the Balkan States during the spring of 1944. For his combat service, he was awarded the Air Medal with nine oak leaf clusters and a Unit Citation. On his return to the United States, he acted as bombardier instructor at the Carlsbad Army Air Field, New Mexico, until his discharge after the Allied victory in Europe in May of 1945
Shortly thereafter Brown began what was to be a 40-year career with RCA Victor. On May 6, 1950 James Brown married Patricia Kathryn Collins and together they raised three children: Mark, Matthew and Kathryn. After retirement in 1985, Brown traveled throughout the world and enjoyed time with family and friends at his vacation home in Healdsburg. He died there on November 24, 1998.
James M. Brown World War II letters, 1943-1945
Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.
Boxes 2390-2392


Photograph albums

Physical Description:

3 ms. boxes (ca. 145 items) : ill., photoprints




Boxes 2390-2392



Copyright Note:

Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.