A soldier en route to the Korean War in September 1951 writes about his stopover in Seattle.

  • By Roswell K. Doughty
  • Posted 2/10/2020
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20967
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The words below are from a diary kept by Roswell K. Doughty, a U.S. Army reserve officer about to fight in the war in Korea. Doughty writes vividly about leaving his wife, El, and three children in New York for a cross-country journey to Seattle in a Boeing Stratocruiser, and his five days in Seattle before shipping out for the war on September 27, 1951. The excerpt reflects his disappointment of having to serve in Korea. Doughty already had served extensively in World War II, fighting from North Africa to Germany as an intelligence officer on the front lines. He took part in three beach invasions, spent a winter on the Rhine, and was personally involved in the arrest of Hermann Goering. Doughty's story is told in the book Invading Hitler's Europe (by R. K. Doughty, Barnsley, U.K.: Pen & Sword, 2020 or 2021). This diary excerpt was edited by Reiner Decher, professor emeritus at the University of Washington. 

20 September 1951

Another one of those separations today that are scarcely bearable. El and the children drove me to Buffalo to take the plane for Seattle. In mitigation of the vast wrench that tore at all of us was the fact that the day was beautiful, clear and warm and quiet. It proved to be one of the best flying days of the year as we chased the sun across the continent and lost it just as it sank into the Pacific.

We took off at 10:07 EDT and landed an hour later in Detroit with never a bump except the inevitable one caused in descending. Flight 1 of the Northwest Airlines was scheduled to leave Detroit at 12:05 so I fiddled around the terminal, bought $15,000 worth of life Insurance for 75 cents and mailed the policy and the card to El.

The Stratocruiser for Seattle looked like a deep-bellied fish ready to spawn. She was two-decker with a cocktail lounge in baggage compartment below and 70 seats on the upper tier. Bunks were positioned above the seats for the night flyers who go prone. Service was remarkably good. The Detroit terminal and all others along the route were crowded and seemed more like railroad terminals than air. Soldiers and sailors were everywhere, taking leave their families and heading for Korea.

On this Stratocruiser, the Hawaiian Clipper, life jackets where zipped into the backs of the seats. At each chair was a call button for one of the pretty stewardesses and a button to light a reading beam inserted overhead. In pockets attached to the seat in front where waterproof bags for the sick and such conveniences as Kleenex. Chairs were adjustable and foot-rests assumed several angles for comfort. At intervals the intercom signaled the availability of liquor, either to be brought to the chair by a steward or to be had by a descent down a tight stairway to the lounge. Toilets ranged forward of the wings on either side of the aisle.

We took off for Minneapolis on time and the pilot announced that we would fly at 16,500 feet at 250 mph, arriving in two hours and 25 minutes.

Lunch was included as part of the service. We ate from individual trays placed on cushions in our laps. The intercom announced that we are flying at 18,500 feet over Milwaukee as I ate. Lunch consisted of veal, lima beans, roll, butter, pan-browned potatoes, sundae, and coffee.

I sat with a Mr. Hill, 66 years old and a meat packer from a town 156 miles from Minneapolis. He was just returning from a six months trip to Europe. We talked most of the way to Minneapolis. The glide down from high flights is like a long coast downhill with an occasional bump to make it interesting. Most of the view was obscured by ground haze with occasional openings in it that gave upon a vertical scene that was impressive.

At 1635 EDT we took off from Minneapolis, from which I had mailed another card to El, for Spokane; a five hour trip at 19,000 feet. At 1800 hours, the pilot announced that we were cruising at 14,500 feet at 295 mph and that the outside temperature was 5 degrees below zero. Inside it was warm and comfortable. A displaced Romanian, in the U.S. since 1949 and now in the American army, sat with me for most of the trip.

From 1700 to 1800 hours, we flew through thick clouds. Then it cleared with occasional islands of clouds drifting far below us throwing shadows on the checkerboard farms and mountains far down. A half hour later we flew over solidly banded white masses in which there was no interstice. It was like skimming along over polar regions with varying levels and colors of clouds lending the illusion of lakes, streams and mountains -- snow-covered and barren.

In the plane were some 70 passengers, half of whom were military. Several babies screeched and played along the aisle or were consoled by their mother in the forward compartment.

It was a welcome thing to find that high flights are really above the weather and simply glide along without a quiver. The monotone of the propellers and the vibrations of the great cabin varied but little. It was easy to become mesmerized by the thunder. At times, when the clouds are far below and the sun struck light from the motor nacelles, it seemed as though we were hovering in midair.

Dinner was served at 1900 hours EDT as the sun shone brightly above the horizon by a quarter span. We had an aperitif of minted grapefruit, fried chicken, peas and noodles, tea, bun, tossed salad with Roquefort dressing that was delicious -- all at 19,000! At the time we have been gliding through and over cloud banks for hours. To keep pace with our progress and even to anticipate it I set my watch back 4 hours [including the switch from Daylight to Standard times] to 4:17. We were due in Spokane at 5:40 PST.

At 1630 PST we flew over Great Falls, Montana, according to the pleasant voice of the pilot. It was easy to wonder what course the pilot would it take if he had to come down through the fleece bank for a forced landing.

At 17,000 feet we came upon cleared air over the Rockies which are certainly majestic even from above. A stewardess pointed out Glacier National Park off to the right of our course. The mountains were dusted with snow at their peaks which stood above the clouds in some areas. At 19,000 feet, huge timber stands at the base of the mountains look like a thick piled rug or heavy lawn. We touched down at Spokane at 1738 PST after a tremendously long glide that brought a humming to my ears.

We stayed at Spokane but 15 minutes and as we started off again. The sky wore the heaviest coating of colors I've ever seen. Instead of the light touch of color of most eastern sunsets, it appeared in broad, bold bands of gold and red, yellow and purple and blue, with the peaks of the Cascade ranges giving its lower edges a serrated, ancient look. We had to climb fast to 13,000 feet to hop over the Cascade Range and even at that height we could look down a few hundred feet to snow sprinkled, aged crests, lonely and evil looking in the twilight, like snags waiting to trap an unwary wing.

Off to the left rose Mt. Adams and nearer, vastly more significant, loomed Mt. Rainier. It was quite near and seemed to stay that way even after we crossed the main hump of our route and took the quick descent into the valley where Seattle lay on the edge of Puget Sound, whose gray waters caught the last glimmer of light as we coasted downhill to the airport. It was a perfect ending to a magnificent flight over the North Western states. Purple, brown and mottled mountains, snaggle-toothed and ancient, had seemed to gnaw at the ending day, hastening its departure. These were scenes out of a child's fairytale in the magic of the first Pacific Sunset I had ever seen. There was also an uneasiness and sadness under the surface of exciting moments for each mile was one further away from where I wanted most to be. A Lt. Sam Hilu -- a Syrian -- sat with me from Spokane on and we both admired the unusual sunset. He goes to Korea as an artillery forward observer.

We touched down at 1903 hours PST just about 12 hours after my departure from Buffalo. I had at least been in the air of many more states than I have ever seen. Most were hidden all the way. It gave me new perspective of this country of ours and I liked what I knew. We drove to the Olympic Hotel in a limousine and there I took a room for one more night of civilian living before returning to the military.

21 September 1951

Arose 7:30, had breakfast in the Grill Room of the Olympic Hotel and visited the library to fill in some of the many blanks on Seattle. Learned that it, like Rome, is built on 7 hills, the highest of which is Queen Anne. It has a population of 476,000 and its highest altitude is 514 feet above sea level. It lies along Elliott Bay, part of Puget Sound, and is inland 128 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It extends between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, which are joined by two canals. Four large railroads connect Seattle with the east and southwest. Local industry depends on lumber, fishing and agriculture. Olympic Mountains to the west. Board sidewalks in steep areas. There are many nationalities represented in population attracted by types of industry.

Thousands of houseboats along lakes and canals. 1951 is the centennial year. First settlers established Alki point. Alki is Chinook jargon meaning "by and by."

The Great Northern Life building is a good vantage point from which to see the city since it has an observation tower on its 27th floor. Situated near the Olympic Hotel on Seneca between 4th and 5th avenues. The Smith Tower building is the tallest one in Seattle standing at 42 stories with an observatory and Chinese room on the 35th floor. Pioneer Square at 1st Ave. and Yesler Way is the site of the first settlement.

A popular visiting spots is Ye Old Curiosity Shoppe at Colman ferry dock where shrunken Jivaro heads, carved elephants 1/32 of an inch in size, a 13-foot crab from the Yellow Sea, Chinese Dog, the Lord's prayer on the head of a needle (pin) and a 67 lb. snail are among the oddities on view.

Original settlers came to Seattle by wagon train from Illinois under the leadership of Arthur A. Denny. The first shipment of lumber left Elliott Bay early in 1852.

Seattle was named after the chief of the friendly Duwamish Indian tribe.

Asa Mercer sailed to New England in 1864 to bring back a boatload of women for wives of settlers, most of whom were bachelors.

Hydroelectric power of Skagit River highly developed. Puget Sound Naval shipyard at nearby Bremerton. Also Sand Point Naval Air Base. A bridge in Lake Washington is longest floating bridge in the world, 6.5 miles [sic! 6,627 feet actually].

I set out from the library down the precipitous walk toward the piers of the harbor. Sidewalks are constructed with raised ridges to assist footing. Near the bottom of the slope I found a steep stairway leading down to their perimetral [Military definition: a fortified boundary that protects a troop position] street over which a new viaduct was in the process of being built. A donkey engine was driving piles while 100 foot derricks lifted heavy beams into place. A passenger train came slowly down the track in the street while the salt scent of the Sound, which lapped at the wall on the west side of the street, brought memories of Portland, Maine.

I crossed over and took a picture of the Sound from between piers and down the street a way, I found Ivar's Fish Bar, where a number of businessmen and women were lunching on the wharf in the sunshine. A block further south was the Ye Old Curiosity Shoppe but I had a filet of sole before going into the tourist's pitfall.

There were fish marts on all sides and the smell of fresh fish was strong; 10 and 20 pound salmon on ice looked clean and tasty and the collection of fish from many waters was colorful and unexpected. In one window a live seal, gray and white swam in endless circles around a confining pool. There were other oddities in successive windows as I passed. At the Curiosity Shoppe, which is more like a cluttered museum than a shop, the inevitable Siamese twin calves were in the window together with Eskimo and Indian artifacts, Samurai swords, wooden masks, totem poles and a zillion gems and half gems of a trading mart.

After the Curiosity Shoppe I mounted the hill to the hotel, checked out, caught a cab driven by a woman and reached Fort Lawton at about 2:30. Checking in was a fairly simple matter and I was soon in my quarters: room 15 of Bldg. 521. Immediately I ran into Capt. Burges who told me that Major Mac Duffie had been turned down on his hardship discharge and was already here. Also Hank and Claudia Caruso were present and accounted for as well as Van Natwick. I spent the remainder of the day with John [Burges], dined with him at the officers club.

We played some pool and I found that John had spent a wasted youth. He is a good cue artist. After television I hit the sack, slept almost at once. Still had the feeling that maybe this was all a bad dream but it obviously isn't, so I must make the best of it. I am glad not to have put myself in the position occupied by those trying to escape. If they miss, they'll suffer mentally.

22 September 1951

No breakfast, oriented 0830. Had my footlockers brought to my room and repacked everything. Lunch with Van Natwick who left for Sumner immediately after. Later in day went to Seattle with John and arranged for Claudia Caruso's plane ticket to New York. Then walked around town, took in a show and went to the Outrigger Room (Hawaiian) of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel for a couple of drinks after looking over Skid Row. Bought a paper in a hotel there and believe the woman at the counter gave us a come-on for reefers. Got out again fast. Narcotics a big problem in Seattle.

Hawaiian Room a scenic spot with a name for serving fantastic drinks. One, a seeming favorite, is served in the low bowl-like glass with a gardenia afloat. Others served in coconut shells. Kept out of pilikia [a Hawaiian word meaning "trouble"] by drinking only cognac.

During a stop at the Northwest Airlines office I picked up a magazine called "Japan" and for the fun of it I'm going to put down some of the place names mentioned in it to see which of them I shall see in Nippon.

24 September 1951

Rainy and overcast. Slept until 9 then to the officers club then with Natwick for light breakfast of coffee, donuts. Received a letter from Ralph Gamble, Congressman, that had just about stumped me. He wrote "there is and has been much discussion in Senate and House as well as in the cloakrooms between members of the Congress who had heard just such stories as yours. There is an honest desire to right the wrongs but we can't all be admirals and generals though many of our members think they are. To say we must depend upon the military makes us sound like weak sisters, and maybe we are, but we have to give them what they ask for within reason for the most part in the legislative matters as well as appropriations, and rely on their judgment.

"If we get any remedial action to correct the injustice done the Reserves, it will come too late to help in most individual cases, I am afraid, and perhaps too late to save the Reserve Corps." [underlining his.]

The part that knocks me over is that he dismisses the Reserve almost parenthetically. Nuts. I wrote him back at length and stressed congressional control of the military and the need for a reserve. Also requested assistance.

Drew full field equipment and got it ready. Mailed china and bell to El and bought supplies at PX.

25 September 1951

Coffee and donuts with Van at 9:30. Drew $390.10 and then took out laundry and films. Talked with Col. Kotzebue, chief Washington Military District and learned that all voluntary units are in for 24 months. He couldn't tell me of the status of a unit like 301st which received no pay prior to entry in active duty.

Dinner with a Capt. Glidden from Bangor, Maine, who is on EAD and was last at Fort Benning where his wife is living. Drew dog tags and played more pool in evening then watched dance at the club. Found a new word in a novel, "acromegalic." Weather cleared today and became colder.

Some impressions of Fort Lawton: the fort is located on abrupt hills north of the beach of Seattle. In addition to its function as a POE, it is the center for military reserve training for Washington. Its roads are precipitous and its buildings on terraces which may be reached by wooden stairways or the winding roads. Its buildings are of temporary nature except for the original brick edifices of the old Coast Artillery Post it once was.

Administration is carried on quietly and without fuss. There are few restrictions or limitations. We simply sign the bulletin board twice a day. Rank is low in general throughout permanent party. Even so, things seem to get done without fuss or feathers.

To the west from Magnolia promontory one gets a view of Puget Sound while below to the east are the houses, canals and inlets of Seattle's bedroom sector. It comes as a surprise that there is very little snow in this region each winter due, no doubt, to the proximity of the Japanese Current and, inland, the Cascades and Rocky Mountains which combine to form a special weather belt for the area.

26 September 1951

Up at 9 and breakfast with Van. No news yet on our shipment date but it should be posted soon. Already packed for going aboard. May go to Seattle today for a last look around.

Played pool with Caruso in AM. Then took off for Seattle with Van in early afternoon. We drove in with a Lt. Powers and got out near Frederick and Nelson's department store where Van wanted to visit the antique shop. I cussed him all the way and then was the only one to buy anything. I purchased a camel bell for use in calling the children. It had been marked down over the months from $30 to $6.50 so it was a fair buy. I had it shipped to El at Mamaroneck. Then we visited a bookshop where I got The Medici by G.I. Young, The Portable James Joyce with notes by Harry Levin and The Holy Sinner [1951 book by Thomas Mann]. We had haircuts later at the Henry Building barber shop and went to the Olympic where I placed a call to El at 6 o'clock and got through in less than two minutes.

A Mrs. Bunker had come in to see Van so I met them in the Marine Room of the Olympic for cocktails. Her husband is the former president of Frederick & Nelson, a Marshall Field store. We chatted for an hour when Mrs. Bunker left and Van and I struck off for a place which he told the taxi driver "lies somewhere behind the Mayflower Hotel and has a neon sign that says 'Restaurant.'" Some direction. But we made it and ate at "The Pit" which served excellent food.

Returned to camp at 9:30 and learned that our shipping date was up and Van was flying. I am to go by ship as CO of troops. We will be oriented at 1400 tomorrow and must have our trunks at TO's office by 1500. Glad I called El when I was in Seattle. Am very sorry Van is not to go with me.

27 September 1951

Breakfast with Van at 9:30 after a poor night's sleep. Stayed up reading The Catcher in the Rye, which is a hilarious book of a 16–year-old boy, caught off balance by life's demands and yet full of perceptual depth that makes him seem older. Fired from school for the fourth time, he takes off on a wild three-day bender in New York in which the gamut of errors and predicaments is almost endless.

Picked up laundry and got footlockers to Transportation to be shipped in hold. Lunch at the WAC dining hall where we had steak. Then Burgess and I played a game of pool and I returned to write letters. Oriented at 1400 hrs. Given tags for personal and luggage, and firearms, certificates regarding assumption of CO's job, no liquor aboard, goods being shipped etc., and changes of address to go to ... 301st and Camp Rucker. To meet with voyage staff at 0900 in front of building 541.

... and on to Korea, unhappily.

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