Letter to Cathie from Ford Killen



Letter to Cathie from Ford Killen


Writes some literary philosophy and mentions receiving many letters from various correspondents. Describes his location and reminisces about acquaintances and family. Interrupts letters and goes on to describe activities. Writes that he would like to write a book and outlines plot. Follows long rambling reminiscing about old flame and flight across the Atlantic in B-24.




Temporal Coverage



Eight-page handwritten letter


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San Antonio

Sept. 25, 1945

My darling Cathie:

“Untold want, by life and land ne’er granted, [underlined] Now, Voyager, [/underlined] sail thou forth, to seek & find.”

Honey, Walt Whitman wrote those lines, from which Olive Higgins Prouty took the title for her famous best seller, “Now Voyager”, which I have just completed, after hours of complete joy & undivided interest, and to me it is greater than Margaret Mitchell’s – with no disrespect to Mrs. Mitchell, because I think she is truly a genius – “Gone With The Wind.” But what a nice title for a book, and a nice source from which to derive a title. I don’t know if you’ve ever read this book, but it is one I can highly recommend, & I believe you WOULD like it.

But let me not wander onto subjects of a literary nature, when I have much nicer things to try to convey to you. Today – (we have no mail call on Sundays, so my letters piled up,) I received an unprecedented stack of letters (18) from about half a dozen correspondents. And they came from the four corners of the U.S. – from the great North West (Washington state), to New York, to Lousiana, [sic] to California – East, North, West & South, also your letter No 4, from England. Not bad for a “buck” Sgt. in one day, but I pity my fingers after I have written a reply to everyone of these epistles. One day last week I penned 8 masterpieces & wound up with a severe case of


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Writer’s cramp, but it was worth it, because I never get tired of writing, & as long as my friends will comply with a retaliation, or rebuttal, I will be perfectly pleased.

Outside – on the grass –

The heat in an upper story of a two-storied barracks is unbearable, so out into the shade created by the building. These barracks are really nice – every one of them made of white (or grey) stucco (plaster-like) and each barracks has its individual bath, shower, central heating system (why that was installed here in San Antonio I shall never know – because as the city advertises itself – it is where the “sunshine spends her winters. They tell me it rains twice a year, & I believe it. I have seen little (& very little at that) just once since I’ve been here. Such a contrast to England’s weather where it [underlined] doesn’t rain twice a year, [/underlined] but [underlined] twice [/underlined] a day. I’d give anything for a small bit of that climate I [underlined] USED [/underlined] to curse. I suppose it is no more than human nature to desire those things which are forbidden us momentarily. And when we finally get it we long for what we’ve just been removed of –

Do you remember Armstrong (remember he was dark haired, very quiet, & wore glasses – a math. professor from Texas?)I received a letter from him today. He is with the 36th Sqdn. yet, 4,000 miles away, in Tacoma, Wash. You remember Chilek, I know. He was the blonde-haired one you called Bob, I think – used to run around with “Mr. Moto” I received

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a note from him also, and he ALREADY IS A CIVILIAN, and so is BILL BLAISE – Ann’s old flame. The slightly (very, I should say) bald one. It was good to hear from Chilek. He’s a nice guy. Said he & his wife were in New York City the day the official Jap surrender was announced, and what a time THAT CITY had.

Poor old Robin, Big-Noise, & the rest are still sweating out a boat-ride in England. I was darn lucky to get to fly home. It shouldn’t be too long before I should be out of here. I have 89 points & only 80 are needed for a discharge. And to think that I haven’t spent 3 years in the forces yet, & am not too old, and have no physical handicaps, as yet, from the war – I consider myself darn lucky. Both my brothers are safe, & soon will be on their respective ways home – one from France, & one from Tokyo. My oldest Brother, Ben, who spent 3 years in the Infantry in the Pacific (and those are the guys who really had it rough, doing the actual fighting) said that before he came home he would probably see Tokyo. His prophecy came true! But in October he sails for home (it says in the papers his outfit is scheduled to sail at that time) and my bro. in France hopes to be home by Christmas. And I should be a civilian long before then. Know what I’ve decided to do. Go either to New Orleans or New York, rent me a hotel room, get me a case of Scotch & about a dozen cartons of cigarettes, lock myself in & write my book –

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between hangovers of course. If the book sells, I will consider myself already a genius, & don’t need the education a university can offer; if it doesn’t sell, to college I go! It’s too late to enroll [sic] in the Fall semester, as the mid-term semester begins in January. I should have sufficient time by then to complete my “Masterpiece” – if I buckle down.

My best friend’s mother has almost demanded that I come to N.Y. to do my writing. She is a colorful [sic] character herself – an orchestra leader, also a farmerette. She owns a large estate up in the mountains & has thousands of chickens, and she’s married to an Englishman, (born & reared in England) but they don’t get along very well – she’s too independent & he expects her to play wife to him & mother to his kids (each had been married before & had several kids) I’ll possibly settle in the East – in New England, or somewhere North. I can’t stand the torture of the Southern climate any longer.

Cathy (I mean Cathie) I had some snaps made while I was home which came out better than I expected. I only had 1 print made because I was afraid of the results. Now I’ve sent the negatives back & will have several reprints made. When I receive them I will send you a print of each – that is if you think you’re strong enough to bear the brunt of a shock they will, undoubtedly, afford you. If you have a garden you may put them there to keep the crows away.

I’ve just come back from afternoon mail call - & feel a little disappointed that I didn’t get any. But with this mornings sum total, I have no

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kick coming –


Since beginning this seemingly ill-fated epistle, I have been to the P.X. [symbol] for a couple of bottles of beer; I’ve had chow (supper); and I’ve read 60 pages in Col. Robert L. Scott’s “God Is My Co-Pilot” – the true story of a man who was “too old” – 34 (so the gov. told him) to go to war. Non-fiction. Everytime I go to the library I select a fiction, and a non-fiction because I’m partial to stories & adventures that are true. At one time I used to think I’d like to write the all-American classic from pure imagination, but my first effort is going to be a plunge into the autobiographic world – people tell me I’m too young to write one; that I must wait until I’m old & then write my memoirs, but I say – baloney! I’ve had enough experiences since I’ve been in the Army – of every nature, gay, tragic, ordinary, to fill a dozen volumes. So if I make a hit with my initial effort, I shall, more than likely, follow up with a sequel. As my “great” work of fiction – a novel I’ve had in mind a long time. You read “The Yearling” – the poor people of the everglades in Florida? Well, my brain conceives a plot involving a wild young girl brought from the everglades by a philanthropic fellow from New Orleans – to learn to read, & to write – because she is very beautiful – of Spanish & Irish ancestry – black eyes & raven hair of the Spanish, & smooth white skin of her Irish father (you know Florida WAS settled by Spanish (Ponce de Leon finally


[symbol] P.X – Post Exchange – (base store) – you know though, I suppose.

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came there searching for his fountain of youth) Ponce de Leon sounds French, but I think [underlined] he [/underlined] was Spanish. It doesn’t matter.

The story will relate how she changed from a sweet, demure, innocent young girl, with a puppy-like devotion for her benefactor – to a scheming, heartless, shrewd wench, after she realizes what effects her beauty and personality have on men, until she completely wrecks the life of her [indecipherable word], driving his wife to suicide, and one of his sons to his death through her scheming and lying.

But I’ll wait & send you a copy if I ever complete it, and let you pass judgement. I got this idea when I was spending a Christmas holiday in Florida in 1939 – in the balmy, tropical climate, away from the icy snows of winter. I was visiting an uncle’s relatives, when I met this girl. She [underlined] WAS [/underlined] of Irish & Spanish descent, & she was very beautiful, AND illiterate. I felt sorry for Martha (she was past 30 then) and her family was ashamed of her. I remember it was Christmas day, so I decided to take her to the movies. She knew she was unwanted, and when we got out of the car (there was a queue) and I started to the end of it, but she, poor girl started on up to the box-office. So we were separated, and when she saw me going the other way she figured I was ashamed of her – (I wasn’t Cathie – sorry for her, but [underlined] not [/underlined] ashamed) She caught up with me, & told me I didn’t have to go with her; she’d understand. I told her not to be foolish; that in the cities you HAVE to go to the end of the line (queue) & wait your turn. She told me that in this small town you didn’t. I finally persuaded her to believe I wasn’t ashamed of her, & we saw the movie. And I’m glad I did – I’ll be happy to my dying day that I did handle this

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situation with tact, & restraint, & that I didn’t blow up & leave her there, for it wasn’t long afterwards that she died. When I’d go to Florida (I used to go every year) I’d invariably take her a load of gifts. Usually I’d buy her a fairly expensive Yardley makeup kit, & boxes of candy, because living so far from civilization, she saw these “luxuries” only at Christmas. The last time I was there I gave her a nice Houbigant set with powder, talc, soap, cologne, perfume, etc. – in a nice satin-lined case (she had never even seen anything so nice, much less to really own one) and when I left she told me that whenever I returned – if it were 20 years she’d still have it.

So I got to wondering what it would be like to take her back, give her a private tutor & get her educated in basic fundamentals – not everything - & turn her loose on New Orleans society. I could never do this, but I dreamed of it, and presto! I figured out just what would happen – I invented all kinds of escapades for her in my mind – and the idea for a novel was born. So my great classic won’t be entirely fiction after all.

So much for that. It’s growing pale around me, and lights are beginning to bob up here ---- and there, the sky is battleship grey, and a few acquamarine [sic] clouds fringe the horizon, a lone B-24 (Liberator) drones overhead (bringing back memories (over)

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of my flight across the Atlantic; there is an acrid smell of burning waste in the air. Occasionally a G.I. – dressed in his summer gabardine uniform passes, headed for the P.X for a beer or ice-cream soda, or to the theatre, or service club. Immediately aft of our barracks is a large frame built of timbers, across which is hung G.I. laundry – limply, and blowing slightly in the evening breeze. Now the barracks are bright with light, and from one of them comes low, soft music, of a dance band. This is truly the saddest part of the day – neither light, nor dark, when Mother nature rings her curfew and tells the day to prepare for bed, but the day – reluctant to admit it must gather her treasures and make way for a different shift, lingers just as long as it is possible, until other father night creeps in on her, shoving her out of sight & mind for a few hours. When she departs, though, the day is gay & not sad, because she knows that in a very short time she can return & play a similar trick on her rival. I hear several G.Is barking like Wolves. Undoubtedly they have spotted a pretty girl & are howling their approval.

Now it is so dark that I have difficulty writing a straight line, so I’ll bid you fond adieu, hoping I haven’t bored you with all this chit-chat. You barely guessed your fate when you made friends with a potential author, to whom 5,000 words are a puny beginning, did you, darling?

So I’ll say, Goodnight my love & may the time be short, & the Gods favorable, [sic] until I can see you again – As Always

“Always” Yours, Heathcliffe




F Killen, “Letter to Cathie from Ford Killen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 20, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/39854.

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