Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2006 | Features

Nile Kinnick Letters, February 1943

By Nile Kinnick

"A fine time...a wonderful time"
Three Nile Kinnick Letters on an Evening in Boston

Nile Kinnick entered the Navy Air Corps at Fairfax Airport in northeast Kansas City, Kansas, on 4 December 1941, just days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He owned a 1941 Ford sedan, which enabled him to travel home to his family in Omaha for Christmas leave. In February 1942, he left Kansas City for his second training station on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, leaving there for Pensacola just a few weeks later. Kinnick took his ensign's commission at Miami in September 1942. In early January 1943 he arrived at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, his final base before going to sea.

While stationed in Rhode Island, Kinnick spent his leaves visiting Boston and New York, eating in well-known restaurants, attending popular entertainments of the day, and absorbing new experiences. The early February liberty that he spent in Boston prompted several letters to family and friends, including these three collected by University of Iowa emeritus professor Paul Baender as a postscript to his 1991 book A Hero Perished (published by the University of Iowa Press).

Dr. Baender generously shared these Nile Kinnick letters with Iowa Alumni Magazine prior to his death in May 2006. Letters courtesy of The Nile Kinnick Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries.

Letter To His Parents: Thursday, Feb. 4, 1943

Dear Folks,

I am sorry it has been so long since I last wrote, but until I had my day off I figured there wouldn’t be much [time] to write. By rights I should have been off on Monday, but a change in the liberty schedule assigned me Wednesday. I caught a train for Boston Tuesday night getting in there about seven o-clock. After registering at the Statler (I was paid on the 1st!) I walked a few blocks along the Commons to the Parker House where I had supper.

Had the rarest piece of steak in my experience. It wasn’t still alive, but it certainly hadn’t lost its reflexes. It almost jumped off the plate when I pricked it with my fork. When telling the waitress how you want your steak cooked you should always take into consideration how busy the place is. If it is packed be sure and say you want the steak “well done,” and if you’re lucky it may not bleed when you cut it.

Parker House rolls were supposed to have originated at this hostelry. Remember how we used to enjoy them while living in Adel. We put them over the hot air register to make them raise didn’t we?

On my way over from the Statler I noticed that “Springtime for Henry” was playing at the Colonial, starring Edward Everett Horton a Phi Psi of the first water. You will recall that I met him in Cedar Rapids in the spring of 1940 when he had this same play on the road. In fact he asked me to get a date and sit in the wings backstage to watch the performance—all of which I did.

Feeling that I had gotten to know him pretty well, I thought I would be justified in dropping in on him in Boston to say hello. Acting on that impulse I presented myself at his dressing room around eleven oclock after the play was over. Happily enough he remembered me and seemed quite pleased that I had dropped in. In fact I hadn’t talked with him two minutes before he asked if I would like to join a little party he was giving at the Copley-Plaza. After demurring a bit I was very glad to accept.

In the group was Mr. Duffy (his manager) and his wife, Charles Gentry, a prominent dramatic critic from Detroit, and Marjorie Wilson, one of the girls in Horton’s play. I really had a fine time.

Brother Edward Everett asked if I would like a little Lobster Newburg which of course I did, not knowing whether it would be served alive or not, but figuring that I could watch Horton and make out alright. It turned out to be chopped lobster meat in a delicious sauce served on a hot piece of whole wheat toast. Thoroughly enjoyed it; very, very good.

The conversation was a little out of my line, but most interesting. Especially the comment Mr. Gentry and Mr. Duffy had to make on Billie Burke’s play “This Rock” which opened that night. They were both crying for Billie, claiming it was a shame that she ever got stuck with such a play. Probably will turn out to be a Broadway hit?!

After a time I gave Edward the grip and departed. He was very nice to me throughout and expressed a desire to see me again. He seems like a pretty good gent. Certainly he possesses a fine pedigree in his Phi Kappa Psi membership!!

On Wednesday I saw a pretty good musical starring Ilona Massey, who is one beautiful woman. If I am still at Quonset when my liberty day falls on Sunday I want to attend services at the Mother Church. Think it is quite likely that I shall get that chance.

As for my income tax, Gus, I believe I would like to handle it this way, if it sounds ok to you. I’d like to send you the figures, have you compute the tax, file the report, and instead of paying the amount, put it into U.S. war bonds. I fear that I’ll have to pay around $150 this year, and on a smaller income than last, too. Could avoid it entirely on the past twelve months salary if I were married, couldn’t I? Well, its an idea.

$1314 – total pay, as cadet and officer.
___54 – 1 ½ months pay as a seaman
$1368 total.
$500 – personal exemption.
50 – contribution to church, charity, etc
-- -- earned income deduction
_____-- -- other?

Hope you can make out from the above figures.

Hardly flew at all the past week, bad weather keeping us down. Did get in one hour of gunnery in which I think I did better. However, the tow pilot dropped the sleeve in the drink, and we didn’t get a look at it. Hope some results appear pretty soon—and believe that they will.

In answer to your queries, mother, I received the quarterly, the interesting article from the Register, and my room is fine. I got to stay in the best part of the BOQ contrary to my original expectations. I also heard from Mr. McCown.

A letter from Tait expressed sincere gratitude for my sympathy and suggestion, though he didn’t indicate he was going to act on it. He may though, his wife is on her way out according to the doctors. I wrote him again and sent an article from the Journal.

Am trying to think of something for which you can use the other $25 you were going to put in a bond. Unless I let you know in a couple of weeks to ahead as you originally planned.

Enclosed is $155 in money orders and checks. Please deposit for me.

Must close now—I have the duty tomorrow. Give my best to grandma.

Much love,

P:S: How is Geo & his basketball team coming along? Wonder why I haven’t heard from Ben. Wrote him some time ago.

Forgot to mention that I had lunch at “Ye Old Union Oyster House” in Boston. Had some wonderful oyster soup and a delicious crab meat salad sandwich—goodnight.

Letter courtesy of: The Nile Kinnick Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

Letter to Robert Hogan: Sunday, Feb. 14, 1943

Dear Bob,

It is just as well that we cancelled our Sunday night engagement in New York when we did, for a rearrangement of the liberty schedule set my day-off back to Wednesday. Or have I already written you that fact? Trust that Jeanne isn’t miffed by our withdrawal. There really wasn’t much we could do about it. Had intended to drop her a note of apology, but, with typical laziness, finally decided your letter would capably do the job.

Two weeks ago I spent my liberty in Boston. Got in there about 7:30 PM Tuesday night and while strolling by the Colonial Theatre I noted that Edward Everett Horton was playing in “Springtime for Henry.” That billing roused fond memories. You may recall that I met “Ed” at a Phi Psi party in C.R. in the spring of 1940, that he asked me to bring a date and watch his play from the wings, which I did.

Recalling all this I thought I would be justified in dropping backstage after the performance to say hello. Happily, after three years he still remembered me and seemed rather pleased that I had presented myself. In any event not two minutes had passed before he asked me to join him at a little party he was giving at the Copley-Plaza! With proper decorum I demurred briefly then readily agreed.

Had a wonderful time—met Paul Draper the dancer, a couple of famous dramatic critics, and dined on lobster Newburg which was a novelty to me, and better yet delightfully palatable. Just don’t know, old boy, whether I’ll be able to associate with the hoi polloi any more or not.

Last Thursday I was in New York again. Spent most of my time in the company of my brothers girl who is stationed there as a Wave. Mighty refreshing to visit with someone so recently out of the midwest.

Assuming that the present liberty schedule will continue to prevail I shall have the following days off in which we might meet again. Next Friday, the 19th; Saturday, the 27th; Sunday, March 7th; any date after that would be too close to sailing time. Why don’t you pick a time convenient to you, & we shall tentatively plan on it? At worst I can be in New York by 9 or 10 oclock the night before. Agree perfectly, nay, insistently, that we do something besides visit the bars this time.

My best to you, Robert, and let me hear from you.

Your Valentine,

Letter to James L. George: Monday, Feb. 15, 1943

Dear Jim,

It sure was fine hearing from you again and good to learn that you are still in the U.S.A. It isn’t that I fear for your safety in the battle zone, but rather the dangerous excitement it would cause among the native women.

I prize your letters highly, fond Jamie, and this last was one of the best, however, there is a little matter of legibility. As far as I can figure out, any word over two syllables you form by a long jiggly line which might be anything. As long as our correspondence isn’t being censored let’s not bother with code or hieroglyphics.

Read with much interest the lengthy description of your duties and responsibilities. Cannot think of anything worse than being mess officer. The guy in charge of the dining hall here never goes around unescorted, for reasons which you can readily guess. When I first came on this station the food was very fine, but since all this rationing went into effect it has become pretty sad. For awhile we got butter only every other day, and the meat offering was alternated between sausage and “weinies” (or weenies), or however you prefer to spell it. The usual cynical observation is—“well, I suppose its all going to the armed forces.”

Letter courtesy of: The Nile Kinnick Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries

As for my own squadron duties, it won’t take long to tell. My original assignment was as assistant engineering officer (the Navy has a remarkable faculty for misplacing its men) which I managed to exchange for assistant navigation. Then a few days later when the “exec.” learned that I had been a double A in football he made me athletic officer. You are well acquainted with my views on exercise now that my pigskin career is over. The upshot of the matter is that I’ll give the boys a key to the gear locker, but from there on they are on their own. My own avowed theory for health & vigor is plenty of sack time with maybe a little walking thrown in to stimulate the circulation. This should not be overdone, however.

Do you remember the banquet Phi Kappa Psi threw for Edward Everett Horton in Cedar Rapids in the spring of 1940, and how he asked me to bring a date and watch his show from the wings—all of which I did? Well, when in Boston on liberty a couple of weeks ago, I noteced that dear old brother Eddie was headlining the same play, “Springtime for Henry” at the Colonial Theatre. Just for the devil of it I decided to go backstage after the performance and say hello. Happily, he remembered me and even seemed pleased that I had dropped in. Within two minutes he had asked me to join a little party he was giving at the Copley-Plaze. With perfect Phi Psi decorum I demurred briefly then gladly accepted his invitation.

It proved a novel and interesting evening during which I met a couple of famous dramatic critics, Paul Draper, the dancer, and, at Horton’s suggestion, dined on lobster Newburg—a dish which as a mess officer I am sure you are familiar with. In the company of one of the dramatic critics was a lovely little creature from the cast of “Springtime for Henry.” After Everett and I had left, in fact twenty minutes after I had been in bed, this same critic called me on the phone and said, “This is Charlie. Come on down to such & such a place, Midge and I are putting one on.”

Heartthrob from the silver screen, John Barrymore died in 1942, less than a year before Kinnick's reference to him.

Had it not been so late and I so sleepy and comfortable, I would have hastened to join them. For at the rate Charlie was consuming double Scotch & sodas he would soon have been under the table, and I should have been free to show Midge why the public need not mourn the loss of John Barrymore. As it was I mumbled no thanks, and rolled over and went back to sleep.

While your love life flourishes I am forced to admit that mine withers. Still hear from Bibba & Celia occasionally, but the flame flickers low and the distance is great. Had hoped to woo a truly lovely girl in La Jolla before the year is out, but I guess Pettit & Hobbs have told you of her marriage. When this war is over and I return to the midwest, just where I shall begin to look for a spouse, I don’t know.

Now about this creature—I helped you to gracefully (?) extricate yourself once before, but I may not be on hand when you need me this time. Watch your step, sonny boy! Girls easily get strange ideas about romance & matrimony on the slightest provocation as their college days come to an end. Especially where such a notable “catch” as yourself is involved.

Your speaking of 3 drinks being your limit leads me to believe word has reached you of some of my escapades. After a year and a half of mild & infrequent revolt against the general opinion that NCK was a man of unassailable character I have now terminated my brief tippling career. Just thought I would let you know privately for whatever it is worth.

Don’t think we’ll sail before the latter part of March. Hope you will write again in the meantime. Give my regards to O’Meara, Meg, Bowlin, etc.

Best of Luck, Jim,


Letter from a photocopy in The Nile Kinnick Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries