By Anne Reilly
Today (June 6) is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The commemorations taking place on the beaches and in the cemeteries of Normandy draw our attention to the importance of remembering World War II. A recently processed collection of letters in the Cecil County Historical Society’s archive offers a window onto the experiences of Americans at home and abroad during the war. These letters were all received by Morton Field Taylor (1916-1998) between 1941 and 1946. His correspondents include servicemen writing from England, France, India, North Africa, and the Philippines, as well as friends living and serving in the States.
Morton Taylor in uniform, Easter 1944
Affectionately known as “Mort,” Taylor was born on March 24, 1916 in Aikin, Cecil County, Maryland, where his father, William Lackland Taylor, worked as telegraph operator for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Taylor graduated from Tome Institute, a preparatory school for boys in Port Deposit, Maryland, in 1937, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree (with a major in English and a minor in speech) from the University of Maryland in 1942.
Due to health issues, Taylor was not drafted into the U.S. Army until August 20, 1943. He entered the service at Camp Lee in Petersburg, Virginia, and then completed basic training at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Here he became close friends with Hardy B. Smith (“Smitty”) and John R. Trickett (“Johnnie”). In a letter from September 1943 Taylor described training and life in the barracks to his parents. “We march here, there, and everywhere,” he wrote. “The balls of my feet are like 2 big blisters.” Yet he was thankful for the “swell guys” he had met. “We kid one another a lot—for a sense of humor is quite useful in living this life.”
Morton Taylor, Hardy Smith, and John Trickett at Aberdeen Proving Ground, 1943
Following training Taylor stayed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, serving first as an administrative clerk in the Ordnance Department and then as a classification specialist. In 1945 he was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he remained until he was discharged on March 17, 1946. His friends from basic training, however, were sent overseas. The men continued building their friendships through correspondence. In July 1944 Smith wrote to Taylor from Assam, a region in northeastern India: “You lucky devil, so you’re still in the good old States, are you? Well if you know what’s best for you, you had better stay there as long as you can because it’s not exactly a picnic over here.” Despite hardships, Smith did enjoy some aspects of his time overseas. He reported on entertainments held for the servicemen, including a “swell party” given by the American Red Cross on Christmas Eve 1944. “An English Officer read the Christmas Carol and Santa came and gave each of us a nice stocking with things,” he wrote. “After he left we had a swell buffet supper consisting of cold turkey, and chicken, cranberry, cookies, cake, pickles, fruit salad, fruit, nuts, rolls, and coffee. Wasn’t bad either.”
Trickett, who was from Washington, D.C., had married and had a baby before he entered the Army. In April 1944 he wrote to Taylor from England, noting how much he missed his wife, Jane. “Got a letter from her yesterday and felt like somebody sent me a million bucks…Hope this damn war is over soon so we can all go home where we belong.” At some point in the summer of 1944 Trickett was sent to France, although it is not known if he was among the troops who landed on June 6. In August he wrote to Taylor describing the exhilarating atmosphere in the liberated country: “Nothing too good for G.I. Joe here. Cider, wine, cognac!!—Can’t put it into words, pal. Really, Mort, you don’t know what you’re missing. Elkton can’t hold a candle to this place.”
The majority of Taylor’s correspondents were friends he had met through the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at the University of Maryland. They often addressed him as “Dad,” a nickname given to him because of his premature balding. Letters from these fraternity brothers usually included reminiscences of parties and dances that the friends attended before being separated, as well as descriptions of their stations, although details on specific locations were censored.
Chuck Weaver, Howard Elliott, and Morton Taylor in Baltimore, December 1943
One of these fraternity brothers was Howard E. Elliott, Jr., known as “Howdy,” who graduated with Taylor in 1942. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and began training in Florida. By June 1945 he was stationed in the Philippines and reported to Taylor, “All in all it’s a pretty good deal over here. In fact I’m living a lot better than we did in the States. Four of us have just completed building our abode which has just about everything except running water. There are movies practically every night and plenty of books to read which by the way I have been going at most avidly. We also get a cigarette and beer ration which are most ample.” On September 2, 1945 he expressed his feelings on the unconditional surrender of Japan: “Well—it’s finally happened—signed, sealed, and delivered today on the USS Missouri. It’s really too good to believe in fact at first I was tempted to doubt its authenticity. It’s good to know that at last it’s all over and one can start to make tentative plans.” He looked forward to returning home and toasting Taylor at the Belvedere, a grand hotel in Baltimore.
Taylor also kept in touch with female friends and most of the letters from his male correspondents included advice about girlfriends. One young woman who prompted a great deal of discussion was Loretta French from Oklahoma City. Taylor met French in 1942 when she was visiting Maryland. At the time she was dating Taylor’s friend Samuel H. Tucker, Jr., who graduated from Tome Institute in 1939. By October 1942 Tucker was training with the Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, and his relationship with French was over. Taylor must have developed a serious interest in French shortly after she and Tucker broke up because in December 1942 his friend Frank Tyson, another Cecil County man, gave him some advice about her: “I do think that you and she should get married before you come into the army or some kind of service. If you are married, and happy, that means a lot in the service to a person. And if you are sure you love her, and she loves you by all means get married, why not? …If you are not sure, wait until after the war.” Perhaps intending to take this advice, Taylor must have written to Tucker about the situation. Tucker assured his friend that he was no longer in love with French, but cautioned him that she was rather fickle. He declared that the war had changed his perspective on women. “I have picked up new ideals as to what type of person I want for a mate,” he wrote from a pre-flight school in California. “A person to love, to live with, to share hardships with along with happiness; a person to be a pal, one to guide me, to keep me inspired to be a real man, and give me the desire to make good for her.” In February 1945 Taylor spent a weeklong furlough at French’s home in Oklahoma City. On Valentine’s Day 1945 she wrote to him, “You are about the sweetest most thoughtful person I know.” But by May of that year she had married another man. Taylor never married.
Loretta French, 1945
After the war Taylor was employed as a civilian member of the Center Commander’s staff at the Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, Maryland. He settled down in Perryville and became a member of the Cecil County Historical Society in 1946, serving at various times as recording secretary, trustee, curator, and president. Until his death in 1998 he remained a faithful volunteer, and he trusted that his letters—the record of his and his friends’ service during WWII—would be preserved here for future generations.
Reading these letters enables us to learn about the experiences of Americans at home and abroad during World War II. Through them we can also trace the bonds of friendship. Corresponding provided a way for friends to remain in touch in uncertain times. “If this war doesn’t end soon, many past relations will certainly be severed,” Howdy Elliott wrote to Taylor on July 20, 1945. “Here’s hoping ours won’t alter Mort—I sure would like to keep in contact with you—notwithstanding our constant moves.”
The finding aid for the Morton F. Taylor World War II Collection is available online here.
- – - – -
Anne Reilly is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Delaware. This spring she processed the Morton F. Taylor World War II Collection for a course in the Museum Studies Program.
The Author, Anne Reilly, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Dept. of History at the U of DE working with the Taylor Collection.