Published 12:00 am Monday, November 11, 2013

Lt. Alvin Anderson’s first impressions of Panama were not great, and as he went through four months of secret jungle-fighter training, they would not get better.

For a couple of weeks at a time, Anderson, a platoon leader with Co. A first, and later Cannon Co. of the 158th Infantry, would disappear with other “Bushmasters” into the jungle and learn all manners of survival.

They ate off the land and had only jungle rations from their packs to supplement their diets.

They worked on intricate codes of communications. They camouflaged themselves from aerial observers. They depended on long-bladed machetes as their favorite weapons and as tools to hack through the jungle.

Bushmasters practiced hand-to-hand-fighting, employing tactics from judo to jujitsu.

They also learned to fight with knives and routinely used hand grenades, high-powered rifles and tommy guns.

The men going through this training were once described as “one of America’s most colorful and least known soldiers of World War II.”

Sunburned and with his face peeling Dec. 6, 1942, Anderson wrote to his wife, Faye, that he had been so busy he didn’t know what his name was half the time.

By Dec. 28, Anderson told Faye to address any future letters to him in care of the postmaster in San Francisco. He expected to be shipping out from there to Brisbane, Australia, with the rest of the Bushmasters.

The jungle fighters’ name — Bushmasters — came from the venomous pit vipers of South America.

“I have a job to do, and I’ll do my best,” Anderson wrote to Faye, who was still in her civil service job in Washington, D.C.

Before he departed, Alvin said there were a few things he should tell her:

• He had $10,000 in government insurance with her as the beneficiary.

• He had a $1,500 life insurance policy still listing his mother as the beneficiary.

• His check for December and every month after that should be $150.

• “I have no debts whatsoever.”

Anderson ended that he was sending her a form with all his pertinent information included. “Keep it,” he said.


Alvin lived and trained in Panama for three months — September through December 1942 — and he could never tell Faye where he was.

Her letters to him were mailed to an address in New Orleans. His letters back to her went through a censor and were stamped “Passed by U.S. Army Examiner.”

On his first trip into Panama’s capital city, all Alvin would tell Faye was, “It’s the dirtiest city I’ve ever seen. You can’t imagine how it is.”

He dropped hints other times about where he was. On Oct. 10, he noted his inspection tour “of the most interesting thing in the country, something few people get to see the inside of,” referring to the Panama Canal.

When he was first settling into Panama, things were comfortable. Anderson lived in a private apartment with three other officers.

They had a living room, kitchen, bedrooms and furnishings Alvin was happy with. Outside their windows was a tennis court. A golf course also was nearby.

The Officers’ Club sponsored a dance every Saturday night. This “swanky” club, Alvin said, had 60-gallon barrels of Coca-Cola and beer, a few boxes of candy and a card table.

“If one spends more than 40 cents a day here,” Anderson said, “he’s a spendthrift.”

This wasn’t a place for his new bride, Alvin added.

“You are in heaven compared to this, in every respect,” he said. “I can get along anywhere in the world, but women are different.”


Anderson told his wife little about the strenuous training he was going through. Again, he dropped some hints.

His legs and feet hurt considerably on Nov. 5. He asked her to imagine walking from her hometown of Branford to his hometown of Live Oak with 30 to 35 pounds of equipment on her back.

On Dec. 1, he wrote his work wasn’t difficult, only stressful when he was worried where a shell might land.

Anderson also spoke of constant rain and being away from base for two weeks at a time. He spent a lot of his down time with Lt. Rudolph Thomas, a mess officer and weapons platoon commander.

Thomas was a second lieutenant doing the job of a first lieutenant, Alvin said.

“Lt. Thomas said the captain was very well-pleased with my work,” Anderson added. “He told me himself this afternoon that I was doing a swell job and he was proud of me.”

By Oct. 18, Alvin noted, he no longer was in a nice apartment. Instead, he and Thomas were sharing one room with a cement floor.

For recreation, they could go swimming in the mornings.

“Darling,” Alvin wrote, “If I would get my hands on you right now, you would never get away again. I might even hurt you, I would hug you so tight.”


Back in Washington, Faye’s work hours went from 4 to 11:30 p.m.

She called her office supervisor, Mrs. Miller, her “snoopervisor.” Mrs. Miller took Faye to task for taking a week’s sick leave to be with Alvin in August before he left for Panama.

With her new husband in an unknown land to her, Faye tried to keep busy. She took a 21-hour first-aid course at work. She started all the paperwork to change her name, and she was putting 10 percent of her salary — $6.25 every two weeks — toward buying bonds.

“I never really thought this would happen to me — getting married, and you going off,” Faye wrote, “but I can stand it, as I’ve said before, until we win the war.”

Their wedding announcement had been published in four different newspapers back home in Florida.

Faye enlarged a photograph of her and Alvin standing in Arlington National Cemetery, taken during their week together in August.

She also kept a photograph of Alvin on her dresser so she could see it all the time.


Faye had started a hope chest with two quilts from her grandmother, a crocheted bedspread from Mrs. Poole and two dresser scarves and pillow cases Faye made herself.

There were always things to report of her other daily activities or news from home.

Faye told Alvin when she was going with her friend Dorothy to Hyattsville, Md., to get another gas ration book or listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s latest fireside chat.

Alvin learned from Faye that his sister, Evelyn, had given birth to a baby girl.

“Almost every minute of the day,” Faye said, “I think of you and wonder what you are doing or where you are.”

The weather kept getting colder in Washington.

“You should be here to warm my feet,” Faye told Alvin.

Faye turned 19 in November. “I wish I could have been with you today,” she said, “but you might have spanked me 19 times.”

Meanwhile, she sent Alvin a card on his 25th birthday Oct. 14.

Alvin sent Faye hosiery and pajamas, while she also received fudge and fruitcake from his mother.

“Alvin, the war news in the paper looks encouraging now, doesn’t it?” Faye asked on Nov. 10, 1942. “We are winning in Africa. I hope it will continue that way.”

In September, a young woman named Meredith from Branford was staying with Faye until she could find a place of her own.

“The girl said everybody in Branford that she talked to couldn’t believe I was married,” Faye said.


Faye sent Alvin cigarettes and a lighter, at his request, while he kept asking her whether she would be interested in an alligator purse and shoes.

He had found a place to buy the purse for $38; the shoes, $12.

His mother had set up a subscription to the Tallahassee Democrat for him, so he was getting news from home. In Panama, he had seen only a couple of movies, which included “Beyond the Blue Horizon” and “Eagle Squadron.”

“It shows a person just how little they are in the war,” Alvin said of “Eagle Squadron.” “We are small as an individual but big as a unit.”

He was hopeful, as he wrote Faye Nov. 8, 1942, because a second front had been established.

“No one knows what goes on inside a man when he is taken away from everything he loves by a brute like the Axis,” Alvin said. “We’ll destroy them.”


When Anderson had time to dream he talked to Faye about how their children would look or how big a house they would build.

Sometimes, he would spread out all the photos he had of her on his bed. He always cherished a new photo.

“I could just look at it all day,” he said.

But the war was always close. He told Faye of eating lunch Dec. 13 with the owner of a Chinese restaurant. When the man received a letter during their meal, he started crying.

His relatives’ village had been bombed by the Japanese. Many residents had been killed, including the man’s 17-year-old niece. His mother’s home had been destroyed by fire.

“I could kill a million of them (Japanese) and feel good about it,” Alvin said. “God won’t let them go on like that. We have to fight like we have never fought before.”

As the calendar turned to 1943, Alvin had no idea his turn in combat would have to wait.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.