Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Cavour Langdon McMillan: No Time To Be Scared

Minneapolis native Cavour Langdon McMillan served as a navigator and bombardier with the 396th U.S. Army Air Force Bomber Squadron in the Pacific from 1943 to 1945. He wrote candidly to his parents, Mabel and Howard, Sr., and to his younger brother, Howard, Jr., about his combat experiences and his changing perspectives on the war. View original letters.

Letter Excerpts

Jan. 31, 1944

Darling Mom and Pop,

For the first time in 2½ weeks I feel clean. It started raining cats and dogs, and everybody started running around stark naked getting a fresh water bath. Lord how wonderful I feel now. Usually to clean up, we have to [sponge] bathe out of a bucket with brackish water or go into the ocean. Soap doesn't work; it clogs up in the hair and is quite exasperating. I feel like a new man now.

Well I have five missions under my belt, and one cut the skin on my hand. That's a laugh. I cut my hand on a gun in a fight with some Zeros, the Doc sees it when I get on the ground, puts some iodine on it, and a week later the Col. (Gp Commander – Col. Bywater) presents me with the Purple Heart. Frankly I was quite embarrassed. Also I have the Air Medal coming up. I hope you read the papers and keep up on the news of the Central Pacific Front. The Navy seems to think they are the whole show down here. But we do most [of] the work. I'll tell you a story that you won't believe when I get home. Don't think I'm shell shocked when I tell you – for I saw it with my own [appalled] eyes. Tain't nice. Peace [it's] wonderful. Would that I were a 2nd Lt. in the U.S.A. and not a 1st Lt. with a couple of Theatre Ribbons in combat. People who say that they wish they were in combat are either goll darn fools so stupid they should be dead or they have never been to combat. Me I never want to see salt water again when I hit the States. Or the Navy.

It's funny but a person's reactions are the same the first time one goes over a target as they are the fourth or fifth. Your mind turns into a concrete mixer with each grain of sand a different thought – and none of the future. The past. Dad your talks to me about my rotten marks at School. "Reporting" to you, Mom, after coming in from a date with Fran, Jess, Chi, Mary (my god I hope someone's left when I get home. – Yes, you can jump at that conclusion you've already reached.) I'm sick of worrying about religion and some other things that pose as rather pregnant problems – Nuts.) (Hope I don't drive her to drink.)...I've kicked my self a hundred times for each mistake I've made when I see that target loom out of the water. And brother, sister, Pop, and Mom, my rather lard-like tail is really sore. I don't know what happens; maybe a kid grows up in a hurry when he sees flak from Jap guns – or German – turn the water into a white froth 20 or 30 feet under your plane. Once I even considered making a mistake in navigation to keep from getting the outfit shot at. Then you get mad. I took those planes in on that target right on the beam. And we blasted the h*** out of it. It was a d*** good mission and I got more satisfaction out of that trip than I can remember getting out of a hundred in a math test.

The most pressing problem down here, now, outside of worrying about the Navy and the weather, is how long are we going to be in this h*** hole. The Japs are no longer a problem in the air and not much of one on the ground (meaning their AA [Anti-Aircraft] gunners.) The heavies, they catch only the big stuff. We catch every thing from pistol bullets and coconut trees to their "long toms." I wished the general – swell guy that he is – would go with us on a rough mission.

One thing we have here is rather decent living quarters. Tents with floors, mattress, sheets, pillows, and fairly decent chow. The officers chipped in $10 a piece, bought an ice box, a record player, 100 records, and at least 100 books. Technical to lewd. Also enough canned fruit juices to last for 3 or four months if we don't get [piggish] about it.

I am enclosing a picture of myself in a rather business like mood. Notice the 7th Airforce patch. My hat is rather dirty from Foamite that I got on it putting out a fire in a B-24 (on the ground). I may get the Soldier's Medal for that one. Saved a pilot and an engineer. Was recommended for it. It may get stopped in higher quarters. Don't give a d*** whether I get it or not. But I would like to have something to put a few people about my age in their place. I hope the family is all in one place when I get home for then I can speak my piece once and for all. And then forget it.

As for my finances. I suppose my allotments are coming in okay and so forth. I hope you are taking care of my taxes. I don't want to have any of those hanging over my head when this war is over. The total amount that I have spent in 2½ weeks down here is $3 and a quarter – the former to pay [off] a bet and the latter to get a hair cut. H***, even cigarettes are free down here.

Well I guess I had best call a halt to this letter.

Wishing I was there.

1st Lt AUS-AC

A.P.O. 240 R

How about a letter. Haven't had one in 5 weeks.

In a letter to his younger brother a few days later, Langdon McMillan answered questions about combat, and addresses the emotions he felt on each mission.

February 5, 1944

Hi Kid,

Well, it seems that we will get no more holidays. "This is it," as they say. And now I am really fighting. To answer any of the obvious questions first: Yes, I have seen and fought with Japs, in their deathly beautiful Zero type pursuit planes. The Zero is good for stunting but that's all. Their pilots are not so hot. Been on missions? Yes, I have. I wished I could tell you the number but that's a military secret (now they tell me). Have I seen any Japs? I cannot honestly say yes or no. I think I have, but I'm not sure. You see we don't see much of the target, Just the general area. It's a proven fact that those [Japanese soldiers] are all in foxholes or are rather well [entrenched] behind guns when we go over. They are like rats, who go into a hole and have to be dug out of the ground. That's the characteristic that made them so tough at Guadalcanal, Attu, Tarawa, and Makin.

I don't know what has been your worst scare in your born days, Howard. I was scared back in the States, when I almost cracked up my red chariot, when I took a dive off my horse going over a jump, and when an engine went out on our plane doing patrol out of Sacramento. But kid, never in my whole like have I been so scared as I was the few minutes before we got in our planes to go on our first mission. Then when we first saw the target, that was just as bad. Then the water turning white just under your plane – I had one ambition then. It's the action the Air Forces call "Getting-the-H***-out-of-Here – Fast!!!" Lord! What a bunch of reactions. Your stomach (ask Parsons if I spelled that right) tried to digest the tongue; your heart takes a definite header for your [rear], and your mind is the d*****est array of memories. That latter includes everything from paddling a canoe to camp, to skeet at Hotchkiss [School, in Lakeville, CT], and dancing with Franny at Woodhill. I never realized that I had done so much to regret and so little to be proud of. I guess the best thing that I ever did was letting the various masters at Hotchkiss and Father coerce me into graduating. That, however, is more a victory of patience on their part than of my mind over their subjects. After first seeing the target and those momentary qualms, I started working and was so busy that I didn't have time to be scared. To be frank with you, I forgot all about it. I know one USAAF gun barrel that had to be junked, however. I really burnt it up I fired so fast and long. That isn't good gunnery. And then the reaction set in when I got back on the ground. Thank the boy [Bacchus], the Doc was there when we landed with a very stiff – 2 paper cups full – of Bourbon. I got drunk as a Lord on just that.

And, Howard, it's the same on all raids. The same scares, qualms, and reactions. If I were to get 99 missions (God spare me that) my reactions would be the same. Scared? – H*** – Yes – and, brother, so is every man in this Squadron and every other Squadron! Believe me!

I have been given the Purple Heart for cutting my hand in a fight with some Zeros one day. I didn't want it and told the Doc so. However, I has it. Mother has the pictures or will have them by the time this gets to you. Also, I have been recommended for the Air Medal. When I'll get that God knows.

Say, kid, how have your mid-years come out? – Good I hope. You have made me look sick there at Hotchkiss, and I am really glad of it. Thank Gosh some one in the McMillan Clan can make a good showing. Keep it up, kid. Don't rest on your laurels, it's a good start. Do good work now and college will be a breeze.

By the way I'm a 1st Lt. now and have been for over a month. I'm a flight navigator. Have led a mission or two and so far so good.

Well I must close now, Kid. Be good Keep up the good work. Be seein' you.

As always, your brother

Here is my New Address
1st Lt. Cavour L. McMillan, 0-734720
A.P.O. 240 - 396th Bomb Sqdn. (M)
c/o Postmaster, San Francisco, Cal.

P.S. Thank the Duke for the Xmas card he sent me. – Let Doc Weiler and Mr. Mac read this if you want, & don't forget Pop.


McMillan, Cavour Langdon, Langdon Family Papers, 1860-1955. Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts Collection.