What was in the Top Secret envelope that a General had delivered to Bernie? 

The Army Air Force Years During WWII

To see more pictures of Bernie during the war years, click here.

Bernard H. Blieden enlisted in the Army Air Force in April of 1942.

Bernie spoke little about his 4 years overseas.  We do know that he served in the Pacific front and was a navigator on a B-17 and B-24 bomber with the 23rd bomb squadron.  At some point, he contracted malaria.  After that, he became a decoding teacher, but he said he had to teach a lot of the men to speak English better before he could teach them to decode.  We know he had an interest in cryptography as he applied to take a course in it in November of 1944.

We also know he ate no meat during his 4 years overseas as he kept kosher both in and outside of his home.  Did he celebrate Passover or other Jewish traditions while overseas? He quite possibly could have according to this article  about handmade Hadaggahs and Seder menus that were found in the Army, Navy, and Army Air Force camps. Did he experience any anti-semitism because he was Jewish?  It is hard to imagine that soldiers fighting for their country could be singled out for their race or religion, but according to the PBS show, GI Jews:  Jewish Americans in WWII.

There are 2 stories that he did tell:

  1.  One night he left the mess hall to write letters to May and his family.  While sitting under a tree away from the mess hall, the mess hall was blown up.  We have no idea what happened to those inside but we can only guess.
  2. The second story is a much lighter one.  It happened in New Zealand as he was leaving to go into town on a night off.  He was stopped and given a top secret envelope from the general.  “Oh -oh, what could he want?”, he wondered.  He went into a corner and carefully opened the envelope so that no one else could see inside.  What was the message?  The General wanted him to buy him some tennis balls while in town!

What we do know is mostly from the pictures he took to send to his family and to May, and from the letters he sent to his brother, Arthur. His letters stated that the censors were checking and so everything had to be general.  He asked for various supplies to be sent to him and he asked for presents to be given in his name to his mother and his new nephew, Harvey Rich. He also asked his brother to share his news with the rest of the family but to weed out anything upsetting.  In one letter he chided his brother for passing along the actual letters.  He only wanted them paraphrased so that people would not get upset.

Meanwhile, back home, his mother, Gussie, received a letter from the Army Air Force.  She was very upset getting a letter as she feared the worst.  Since she couldn’t read English, she ran over to Reeve’s, her sister-in-law’s, apartment and asked them to read it first and tell her what it said. When they opened the envelope, the letterhead said “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and the letter was just informational.

Here is a brief outline of what we do know from his letters to his brother and from certificates that he received:

1942

  • 1942 – April 24th
    • Enlisted at Fort Jay Governors Island, NY
    • Some of the information on the enlistment record included:  1 yr College, Foreman manufacturing, 5’ 9”, 145 lbs.
  • 1942 – Apr 30th
    • Private Bernard Blieden, Flight 266, Squadron 587, Keesler Field, Mississippi
    • Will be there for a few weeks
    • Postcard to Arthur at 32 Lenox Rd. Brooklyn, NY
  • Completed a Business Letter Writing Course
  • 1942 – May 2nd
    • Keesler Field address
    • Postcard to Art at Lenox Road
  • 1942 – May 5th
    • Keesler Field Address
    • Letter to Art listing what supplies Art should send him
    • Training schedule 6 am to 8 pm with lights out at 9 pm
  • 1942 – May 25th
    • B.H. Blieden
    • 13th S.S., Scott Field, Ill
    • Postcard to “Butch” (Art) at Park Ave
    • A sightseeing day. Everything closed but the USO
  • 1942 – July 18th
    • B.H. Blieden
    • 13th S.S., Scott Field, Ill (Air Corps Technical School Squadron)
    • Postcard to Art at Park Ave
    • “my feet firmly planted on the ground” is that a code between them?  Pop uses this same phrase in other letters
  • 1942 – graduated from Scott Air Force Radio School

Here is a little bit about Scott Air Force Radio School:  

http://www.scott.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/1179089/scott-history-1940s/

Radio operator-mechanics training was the primary mission of Scott Field during World War II. The Radio School began classes in October 1940 in Hangar 1 before moving to another area. With a slogan of, “The best damned radio operators in the world!” the 77,370 graduates were referred to as the WWII “eyes and ears of the Army Air Forces.” The Airmen flew in aircraft and operated command and control communications in every theater of the war.

The 22-week course was comprised of three parts: the radio operating division, the radio fundamentals division, and the aircraft radio division. Students learned international Morse code, and radio-telephone procedures to include radio aids for air navigation, weather reports, facility charts, and microphone techniques. Students also studied tactical radio-telegraph procedures, how to operate a radio when airborne, mathematics, direct current, alternating current, transmitters I and II, receivers and circuit analysis.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the school had approximately 8,100 students enrolled and another 3,650 graduates, so Scott Field was ready for wartime operations when the U.S. entered World War II.

  • 1942 – Aug 3rd
    • Written on stationary form Webster Hotel, 2150 Lincoln Park West, Chicago
    • Outlined what he did with his pay, how he paid someone to do KP for him (He forgot to sign the register after an evening out on 2 occasions)
    • Mentioned he wrote to Aunt Reeve about his Chicago Trip and to read it to Mom
  • 1942
    • At “J.B.” Jefferson Barracks, Missouri
    • Letter to Art
    • Scott Field was a Country club compared to this “I am in the Army now” with physical and military training, no furlough
    • Can be shipped out anytime as on an overseas replacement assignment
    • Will be a radio operator and maybe even a flight operator
    • Mind tired from studying so will welcome the physical training
    • Repeat to Aunt Reeve and Uncle Max all but overseas part
  • 1942 – Dec. 11th
    • B.H. Blieden
    • 359 th SS Flt. A (or maybe 9), Jefferson Barracks, MO.
    • Letter to Art at Park Ave
    • Doesn’t want any favors so won’t give Art his commanders’ names. Wants to do it on his own
    • Outlines why they are still there and what is going on to cause that
    • He is not a combat soldier but needs that training to go overseas
    • Wants to take correspondence courses in algebra, trig, physics and chemistry.
    • Wants Art to get his motion picture license renewed
    • Closes with “You know something Butch – I wish we knew each other better, so long for now, Bern”
  • 1942 – Dec. 17th
    • Letter to Art at Park Ave.
    • Letters will now be censored and he forgot code and don’t send him a new one
    • Still in CA (sunshine a myth since foggy) but don’t know for how long
  • 1942 – Dec 17th
    • Letter to Art at Park Ave
    • Forgot to mention in my earlier letter to send me a carton of Chesterfield cigarettes every 2 weeks.
    • We still don’t know where we are going but were issued 2 sets of clothes – one for summer wear and one for winter
    • Keep everyone informed but use your discretion and don’t tell them things you think they don’t need to know
  • 1942 – Dec.
    • Where we are now is where task forces are arranged and conveys sent out
    • Not allowed to leave camp but even if we could, closest town is Pittsburg, CA, a small village of a couple thousand population
    • Will send a long letter of trip here and my impressions
  • 1942 – Dec. 22nd
    • B. H. Blieden, 32323507, 23rd Bomb Sqdn (h), A.P. O. 708 c/o P.M. San Francisco, Calif
    • Airmail letter to Art – Dear Butch
    • Bags packed, preparing to leave for a long trip
    • Was planning on taking correspondence courses but will be shipped out of “J.B.” now
  • 1942 – Dec. 26th
    • Letter to Art at Park Ave.
    • Were supposed to be shipped out but there is a delay but all bags were sent to ship already
    • Was able to buy more cigarettes so now has 5 cartons but please send good quality handkerchief s and socks
    • Practiced going up and down debarkation nets
    • Reminder to send his motion picture license as he gets to run projectors with it
    • Remind Millie to write
  • Where was Pop shipped to? An educated guess is he was in the Henderson Tower area in the Solomon Islands in the Guadalcanal.
    • From the “Henderson Tower” Foreword written by Captain John E. Roberts and Technical Sergeant John R. Dunn and only distributed to those who were stationed in the Region prior to April 1, 1943 (Pop had a copy, so my guess is he was there):

 . . . We have from, necessity neglected, many of the tower men, as well as the CS (radio) operator, maintenance men, and those message scramblers. The cryptos.  None of them will object, however; they have a passionate attachment to their jobs, and a rather self-conscious belief that the glory belongs rightly to the flyers on the “Milk Run” who deliver bombs and bullets to the enemy on a regular schedule.  . . .  The function of the AACS – Army Airways Communication System – is to act as traffic control units in the various military airfields through the United States and in all the foreign theatres of war where United States planes are based. The operation of control towers, point-to-point and air-to-ground radio stations, the enciphering and deciphering of all messages and maintenance of radio ranges and homing devices are all functions of AACS.  AACS message centers keep all interested parties informed of the current status of airplanes in flight, and, in case planes run into trouble of any kind, arrange for whatever assistance may be available. . . .

1943

  • 1943 – Feb. 12th
    • Arrived after a short trip by ship but not allowed to say where – only west of the international date-line and a bit south of the equator
    • If qualified may be made a flight operator on a bomber
    • Make sure my insurance is paid up, as they say “this is it”

WWII rmy Air Force Flyer
What the pilots and navigators wore
(Photo taken at the Palm Springs, CA, Air Museum)

  • 1943 – March 27,
    • B. H. Blieden, 32323507, 23rd Bomb Sqdn (h), A.P. O. 708 c/o P.M. San Francisco, Calif
    • Letter to Arthur at Park Ave
  • Received a Certificate of Proficiency in Automobiles
  • 1943 – Sept 7th
    • B.H. Blieden, 20th airways command squad, APO 708 v/o PM. San Francisco
    • Letter to Gussie at Lenox Road
    • “Dear Mom and Doc, Hello, it’s better than nothing at all, Bern”

How did the Jewish GI’s celebrate the High Holidays?  Was Pop still in the South Pacific or was he recovering from Malaria?  Here is a description of how the Jewish soldiers celebrated:   Day of Awe in the Pacific .

***** Could this be when he had Malaria?  He always told me by the time he recovered his group had moved on and he had to join another unit.  Notice the change in address  above from March to Sept.

***** Could this be when he was sent to New Zealand for recovery?  I read that is where the wounded and sick were sent to recover.  Again, note the change of address below

  • 1943 – Sept 15 (approx.)
    • Pvt Brn H. Blieden, 149th AACS Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San Francisco, CA
    • Dear Doc at Park Ave
    • What was so interesting in my last letter that you forwarded it to Uncle Abe in MO
    • I am being made fun of for sleeping in a chair I made when I am really reading a book
    • They also say I can sniff out a chow line and can get there while sleeping
    • Talks about Bresk-Litovsk in Poland as a very important seaport
  • 1943 – Oct 16
    • S/ SGT Brn H. Blieden, 149th AACS Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San Francisco, CA
    • Sent some Army jokes to Arthur
  • Received a Certificate of Proficiency as an Automobile Electric Technician
  • Guard Duty
    • Although not dated, here is a list of Bernard H. Blieden’s turn at guard duty
WWI PAcific Front Guard Duty List

 

 

1944

  • 1944 – May 10th
    • Letter to Arthur at Park Ave
    • SGT Brn H. Blieden, 149th AACS Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San Francisco, CA
    • Please buy Harvey a birthday present from me
    • Take Mom to see Oklahoma and maybe Uncle Max, too. I will repay you
  • 1944 – May 27
    • S/ SGT Brn H. Blieden, 149th AACS Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San Francisco, CA
    • Letter to Arthur
    • Poem about Uncle Sam
  • 1944 – June
    • SGT Brn H. Blieden, 149th Airways Command SQ  Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San Francisco, CA
    • Letter to Art
    • Please send me headlines so I can read about invasion
    • Make copy of my picture for May. It is the best one in 2 years
    • Best wishes in your new office
    • Love, Bern
  • 1944 – July
    • SGT Brn H. Blieden, 149th Airways Command SQ  Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San Francisco, CA
    • Letter to Doc and Mom addressed to Gussie at Lenox Road
    • Have received your letters but haven’t been writing much
    • Received one from Candidate M. Rich from New Orleans. Will answer that soon
    • I only write to the usual’s – you both, May and Millie
    • I sent 2 packages. Did you get them both
    • The weather has been pretty nice
    • Excited about what the Russians have been accomplishing. Maybe the war in Europe will be over in about 30 days
    • Send pics of you both
  • 1944 – July 26th
    • I am sorry for not sending my usual weekly letter lately.
    • I am in A-1 condition according to the draft board but really I have not changed much
    • Received letter from Manny with his new address. Mickey writes frequently and of course, May writes daily.
    • Mama, go to Atlantic City for a few weeks. You must be lonely without Millie and the baby.
    • Harvey is a fine-looking grandson. Give him a kiss for me.
    • Love, Bern
  • 1944- Aug. 9th – Authorized to drive a specific list of vehicles:
  • 1944 – Aug 21st
    • Letter to Arthur
    • S / SGT Brn H. Blieden, 149th Airways Command SQ  Det   4, APO TOR c/o PM, San
    • Please don’t forward my letters to the family – too many mistakes in them
    • Just verbally tell them what is going on
  • August 12, 1944, Bob Hope entertained the troops on Solomon Island.  Did Pop get to see this, was he in the hospital recovering from Malaria, or was he already in New Zealand?
  • 1944 – Aug. 31st – awarded a Good Conduct Medal
  • 1944 – Nov. 14th  – signed up for cryptography courses and was cleared to take them

1945

  • The Second World War in Europe ended with the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, but both May 8 and May 9 are celebrated as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day.
  • 1945 – Aug 17th
    • Restricted order from Ft. Dix NJ
    • Bernard Blieden placed on 45 day leave for recuperation
  • 1945 – Aug 14 Japan surrenders to Allies
  • 1945 – Sept 18th – home and got married
  • 1945 – Oct 2 – leave over
  • When was he officially discharged?

(some of the photos that May sent him while he was overseas)

After the war was over, he received a Certificate of Appreciation for War Service from the Army Air Forces signed by General Henry H. Arnold.