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Ethlyn "Skipper" Bookwalter
Los Angeles and Hollywood were preferred liberty destinations for Marines stationed at Camp Joseph H. Pendleton in Oceanside, California. First Lieutenant Jack Lummus and Major John William "Tony" Antonelli had become good friends after Jack reported to Marine Raiders and Major Antonelli's command at Camp Pendleton on June 25, 1943. Their close friendship continued after Marine Raiders were disbanded at the end of 1943, and Tony was assigned to the new 5th Marine Division as Commanding Officer of 2nd battalion, 27th Marines, and Jack as Commanding Officer of Company F, 2nd Battalion. They spend most of their liberties together. Major Antonelli would later write, "He (Jack) was one of those junior officers with which a Commanding Officer could enjoy familiarity and informality of friendship and yet retain each others respect at all times."
Jack, Tony and other Marine officers often met at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel, north of Hollywood Boulevard at 1714 North Ivar Avenue. On most liberties plans were made in advance. Accommodations were reserved and shared to save money. Dates were made, or blind dates arranged. After Jack and Skipper met, Jack, Skipper and Tony, and his date, would often dine at the Knickerbocker before joining their friends at popular nightspots like Slapsy Maxie's or Florentine Gardens in Hollywood.
On liberty in Los Angeles in February of 1944, Mary Brown, a mutual friend, arranged a blind date for Jack with Ethlyn "Skipper" Bookwalter. Skipper grew up in New York City, graduated New York University, worked a year in radio in NYC and migrated west to work as a radio actress in Los Angeles. She pursued acting a few years, but gravitated to the business end of the industry representing radio artist.
One blind date, and Jack and Skipper discovered the relationship they both wanted. Jack was smitten with Skipper, and Skipper was head over heels in love with Jack. From the first date until Jack shipped out on August 12 they were together whenever Jack had liberty. Skipper would later write to Jack's sister Thelma Wright, "And I understood how he felt—from the very beginning—I guess we just about always understood each other.... From the day I met him I loved him."
On Friday, August 11 Jack phoned Skipper at her office to say "goodbye for a while," and at dusk on Saturday the liberty ship USS Henry Clay cast off her moorings and moved out into San Diego Harbor turning west to join convoy lines steaming westward to Hilo, Hawaii, Territory of Hawaii and Camp Tarawa.
On August 22 Skipper received cards from the Fleet Post Office giving her Jack's new mailing address. She wrote two V-Mail letters to him on the day the cards arrived:
"Hardly seems possible you have reached your destination yet. Even though it was eleven days ago that you phoned to say "goodbye for a while".... I was really heartbroken that I didn't get to say goodbye in person to you, but I'm so grateful that you were able to reach me at the office.... It's difficult to part under any circumstances but you can just picture me—trying to be so cool and collected on the surface while inside I was holding back the tears.... I wept on Austin's shoulder until he reminded me I was taking all the starch out of his nice clean shirt. Then I had to laugh—and soon regained my composure. Then I realized I hadn't even told you on the phone that I loved you—but I had promised to wait for you—what a gal I turned out to be. You know I love you—you big lug—even though you are every inch a wild Indian and of course I'll wait for you."
When Jack called Skipper on the 11th he gave her the mailing address of his sister, Thelma Wright, and asked her to write Thelma. Skipper wrote Thelma on that very day, and received a reply on August 21, and they continued to correspond.
Jack and Skipper nurtured a loving relationship through "Naval Censor" with almost daily correspondence. In Jack's letters to Thelma he wrote fondly of Skipper, and teased his sister, accusing her of pushing him into marriage. But Jack was hooked. Thelma knew it, and Jack knew that she knew it.
In November Jack delegated the important task of shopping for his first Christmas gift to the "Skip" to his "Sis." And being the doting sister, Thelma was determined to make a good impression for her "Bud," and carefully selected a tasteful white robe from Neiman Marcus in Dallas. Under the tutelage of Stanley Marcus, Neiman Marcus was the Mecca of good taste, quality merchandise and personal service in Texas. The courteous salesclerk that assisted Thelma's purchase for Jack took responsibility for gift-wrapping, insertion of a personal note from Thelma and mailing to Skipper in time for Christmas.
The 5th Marine Division was assigned to Camp Tarawa for almost four and one-half months. During this period Jack shared a tent with four other officers. Inside the tent on a shared table on Jack's side of the table, he kept an eight by ten photograph of Skipper. She would later write: "Your mother is precious to want my picture. I'd love to send her one. The one I'm sending is almost exactly the same as the one Jack took with him, it was taken at the same time just before I had met him, and when my hair was longer."
Of the many letters Skipper wrote to Jack, one of the more poignant returned in his personal effects was a single page, page 11 of a radio script from the "Ginny Simms Show." Ginny sang "I'll Walk Alone," and Skipper added a few lines expressing her love for Jack.
On December 26 Jack wrote his last letter from Camp Tarawa to Thelma:
"Here it is a day after Christmas and a day set aside for all hands in the Bn to recuperate and believe me after seeing some of the fellows this morning they certainly need it. Must have been pretty wet out for most of them. As for me, I chose to go down to the beach along with five other officers rather than stay in camp and celebrate. We had our usual good time fishing, hunting and just taking it easy among the palms and soft ocean breeze ... its really great down there, and I enjoy it more each time I go ....
"Have you heard from Skipper?... Most every letter I get from her (and that's pretty often) she has something to say about you, how nice you must be etc. the way you write your letters. I told her wait until she meets you and then she could really appreciate you and Sue. She's one swell kid, and I'm sure you will enjoy knowing her one of these days."
On February 9, 1945 Jack was aboard the USS Highlands, and wrote his last letter to Thelma and probably his last to Skipper before going into combat:
"It's been a long time since you heard from your long legged brother.... I needn't explain why I haven't written.... Our outfit is aboard ship and going into combat—just where and when I can't say.... Don't get excited if there is a delay because I'll write the first chance I get when we are ashore. There will be lots of work to be done before we have everything secured and little time for writing.... Take good care of yourself and say an extra prayer for your bud."
On D-day, February 19, 1945, Jack was in the first wave of assault troops to land along the 3,500-yard length of east beach on Iwo Jima. He landed at Red One, which was the second of seven 500-yard landing sections northeast of Mount Suribachi. The amphtrac (LVT) with Jack aboard touched beach a few minutes after H-hour, 0900. As the battle raged over the eight square mile island Jack took the time to write two letters to his family in Ennis, Texas, and two letters to his sweetheart Skipper Bookwalter in Los Angeles, California.
Skipper believed Jack had made it through the fighting on Iwo Jima until late Friday evening on March 30. At approximately 11:50 p.m. she received a telegram from Marine Corps Headquarters, Washington DC. It was an "EXTRA GOVT DUPLICATE OF TELEGRAM DELIVERED" to "MRS ANDREW J LUMMUS" at approximately 6:07 p.m. on March 30. It began, "DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU...."
On Saturday evening, March 31, distraught with grief and unable to sleep, Skipper managed to compose a telegram to Jack's mother and family.
On Wednesday, April 4 Skipper wrote a letter to Thelma:
"Your letter which arrived this morning is as sweet and precious as any letter ever could be. You are so like Jack in so many ways Thelma. Your gentleness and kindness to others in the midst of your own deep grief … The loss of our Jack is still unbelievable.... And as you said, if only we could have been married—even just a little while. It would have helped.... he talked of his commanding officer (Tony Antonelli) … and that he was going to be best man at our wedding, so you see, darling, he had that inner faith too, that he would come home to us.... I was so confident that after receiving the two letters from Iwo that Jack would come thru alright.... One lovely thing to remember is that our love was as near perfect as anything on this earth could be. All my memories of Jack are precious treasures. Something no one can ever take from me. And he's as close to my heart right now as the first day I met him."
On May 8, 1945 Major Antonelli wrote a letter to Jack's mother:
"My Dear Mrs. Lummus:
"I was not only his Commanding Officer, I was one of his closest friends. Jack and I spent most of our liberties together ever since he joined my command in June of 1943.... He had an extraordinary disposition, a shrewd way of making and keeping friends. He was always considerate of others, more than anxious to help everybody and anybody. No matter what his orders were he carried them out with cheerfulness, thoroughness, and rapidity. He did this not once or twice, or in order to impress people, but always. He was sincere.
"The Marine Corps is proud to have had Jack as one of its Lieutenants. We thank you for giving us such a distinguished person. We feel his loss and we join you and your family in your bereavement.
"I'm sending a copy of this letter to Lyn Bookwalter of Los Angeles, who I know was very much interested in Jack."
Jack's two living sisters, Thelma Wright and Sue Merritt, adored Jack. They were an important part of his life, and he was an important part of their lives. He wanted them to know and love Skipper, and in return, Skipper to know and love his sisters, and all members of his immediate family.
Thelma and Skipper became pen pals, and continued their correspondence over the next three to four years. Thelma gave birth to a baby girl on Tuesday, October 15, 1946, at 3:09 p.m. at Saint Joseph's Infirmary in Houston Texas. She named her baby girl Jacklyn after Jack and Ethlyn "Skipper" Bookwalter.
Sue and Skipper met in Los Angeles after Sue's husband Tommy received an early discharge from the U.S. Army Air Force. Sue and Tommy had lived in Los Angeles and California from the time of their marriage in 1936 to middle to late 1942. They had purchased a lot in Los Angeles to build a home, and returned to tie up loose ends, and sell their lot before making their home in Fort Worth, Texas. While in Los Angeles they visited in Skippers home, and met many of her friends. When Sue and Tommy returned to Texas, Sue, like Thelma, began corresponding with Skipper.
Skipper married 14 or so months after Jack's death, but again heartbreak disrupted her life. Stan, her husband, died suddenly and without warning from heart failure. She later remarried, but the second husband was not as understanding as Stan, and resented Skipper corresponding with Jack's family. Correspondence slowed and stopped, and Jack's mother and sisters lost touch with Ethlyn "Skipper" Bookwalter.
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