18 July, 2012

18 July 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 513 % Postmaster, N.Y.
18 July, 1945     0930
My dearest Sweetheart –

Again I neglected you yesterday but for a very good reason. I went visiting and was gone all day – and I had a swell time. Yes, I went to see Frank Morse and it sure was like old times. His hospital is Category IV also – but Frank is rated as a specialist – and he’s not certain what will happen to him.

Dr. Frank P. Morse, Jr. with his wife Suzy, after the war.

The biggest surprise though was running into two other fellows – both of whom had spent some time at the Beverly Hospital, a fellow named Bill Pierce, and the other one named Harold Gregory. That, incidentally, was very odd. He was the fellow who replaced me and the day we were introduced – there was a lot of double talk. I got his mail and he, mine – for a long time after I had left Beverly. Anyway, dear, there they were both at the 16th General with Frank – and so we really had things to talk over. I say I had a swell time; I should have added “all in all”. Because when I finally left and headed back here – I was feeling kind of sad. I attended a clinical conference in the p.m., looked the hospital over, etc. – and as usual – what I’ve been missing all these years hit me between the eyes and I feel low. There’s no question about it, darling, that time is irretrievable and that’s all. But I’m kind of resigned to it now and I guess I’ll make up for it in some way or other – at a later date.

I’ll probably visit with Frank again and he may come up for a visit with me for a week-end. Right now his hospital is undermanned and it’s difficult for him to get away. Incidentally – he’s now acting chief of the surgical service – and the job calls for a Lt. Colonelcy and he’s got a good chance of getting it, too. You just have to be in the right spot at the right time to get promoted in the Army – and an AA Bn. is not the right spot. But as Dante used to say, “What the Hell – ”.

Meanwhile I got back and found 3 letters from you, dear, the most recent one – 9 July. One of them gave me a good laugh – your speculating about various spots where we might end up – in the States. And the way you tossed around places like the Walter Reed, Cushing and the Lovell General – is really something, sweetheart. I’ll probably end up in some Dispensary job, the Lord knows where, and so long as you’re with me, sweetheart, I won’t care. You must realize, dear, that by now – in the Army Medical Records, I’m just listed as a Bn. Surgeon and nothing more. They just don’t take us into a hospital and put us to work doing surgery.

But it will be swell, darling, as you say, to have a job at a post and have you living nearby; having my nights off and no night calls. And don’t forget, by the time that all comes to pass – I probably won’t be sweating out an overseas assignment – as so many other fellows are doing now. It’s going to be wonderful being married to you, darling, and I’m sure that we’ll be happy. I’m going to love you so hard and constantly – you’ll love it. Wait and see –

I’ll stop now, dear, and say ‘so long’. Be with you tomorrow. Love to the folks – and
All my deepest love and devotion,


about The Second Halifax Explosion

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in the foreground
Bedford Basin beyond

During the war in Europe, the Port of Halifax and Bedford Basin on Canada's east coast Nova Scotia peninsula had hosted transport ships, tankers, warships of all types, and merchant marine cargo vessels, all supplying materials and personnel for the war effort. They gathered here from all along the eastern seaboard of the United States, as well as from other Canadian ports. Following the resolution in Europe, war continued in the Pacific. While most Canadians returned home following VE day, Atlantic vessels were refit on the east coast for transfer to the Pacific theater. As part of the refit process, all ammunition was removed from ships in port. The ammunition was stored in the Canadian Naval Ammunition Storage Depot at Bedford Basin, just inland from the main port of Halifax.

Throughout the war there was always the fear in this seaport community of a repetition of the huge explosion of the 1917 ammunition ship collision, when, on December 6, the Mont Blanc steamed up from the harbor mouth where she had anchored overnight. Her cargo consisted of TNT, tons of picric acid, and a deck load of benzol drums. About the same time, the Norwegian steamer Imo chartered for Belgian relief purposes, came out of Bedford Basin. At the Narrows, the two collided. The result was the largest man-made explosion prior to Hiroshima, with over 1,600 deaths recorded and the destruction of thousands of homes.

By 18 July 1945 the Bedford Basin Magazine held an inordinate quantity of shells, bombs, mines, torpedoes, depth charges, and other powerful materials. Much of the ammunition was stowed away in the carefully designed and segregated buildings, but of necessity a good deal had been stacked outdoors for lack of storage space, and these dumps extended close to the jetty on the Bedford Basin.

At about 6:30 pm, after daytime workers had already gone homefor the night, an explosion was sparked by a stove left burning in a barge. When that explosion went off the ammunition on the jetty exploded, setting off other stacks of ammunition. The ground shook for miles around, and the jetty and the barge tied alongside disappeared. A high mushroom like cloud rose above the Magazine that could be seen from distances well beyond the populated areas surrounding Bedford Basin.

Mushroom Cloud following explosion of munitions in Halifax

The first explosion killed a night guard, and at about 7:40 pm, just an hour after the original outbreak, there occurred a second explosion almost equal in intensity. After that there was a continuous roll of exploding ammunition of all kinds. The larger blasts could be anticipated about 10 seconds following a flash.

Explosions continue

Finally at about 10:00 pm there was one major crack that really shook the solid steel and concrete federal building, at least three miles as the crow flies from the Magazine. The 30 foot square tower actually rocked back and forth several times on its foundations. Fairly heavy explosions continued to occur regularly until almost midnight when a very heavy detonation took place.

Large flash at midnight

Minor explosions continued throughout the night. Among several big explosions, the largest came at 4:00 am, Thursday, July 19, when a concentration of over 360 depth charges and bombs went up, leaving a huge crater. The shock wave shook foundations, blew off roofs and crossed the broad expanse of Bedford Basin to ricochet through the streets of downtown Halifax, breaking windows alternatively from side to side. Cartridges, the majority of which were four-inch, exploded intermittently well into the next day. The booming, banging, and whizzing went on for several days, but the worst was over.

Storefront glass shattered by Halifax explosion

Fortunately the fire never reached the main magazine housed at the bunker where 50,000 depth charges were stored. In 1995, some 50 years after "The Second Halifax Explosion, the military began to remove some of the ammunition that fell into the harbor and remained corroding in the silt. They used the subtle method of blowing it all up.

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