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Letter offers glimpse of pre-attack Pearl Harbor

Although yellowed by age, the 68-year-old letter from a youthful sailor to high school junior Patricia White in Astoria reflected the concerns of the young.

"I received your letter the other (day) so will do my best to answer it before we put out to sea," wrote Navy coxswain Paul Branham, USS Maryland, Pearl Harbor, to White. "I went over to town last nite to one of those native shindigs. No more of them for me. I don't think I will forget it if I live to be a hundred.

"I went with a gunner's mate and he lost both of his front teeth," he added of what apparently turned into a brawl involving sailors on liberty in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The date was Dec. 5, 1941, two days before the Japanese launched the attack that drew the United States into World War II.

Branham was based on the USS Maryland, a battleship that was hit twice by bombs but survived the attack and the war.

The young woman, now Patricia "Pat" White Rodermund, 84, of Medford, brought the letter to the Mail Tribune after reading a story in Monday's paper about Phoenix resident Bob Bangs, 89, who had been aboard the Maryland during the attack. Pearl Harbor survivor Bangs was a metalsmith and diver aboard the Maryland.

"We never corresponded after the war started — I had only gone out with him once," Roderman said of Branham, who was also from the Oregon coastal community. "I wonder whatever happened to him."

Her family left shortly after the war started. She graduated from Grant High School in Portland and later married Richard "Dick" Rodermund, who would become an FBI agent. The two were married for more than 50 years when he passed away in 2003.

She said she kept the letter from Pearl Harbor because of its historical significance.

"The way things look now we might get to come back in Jan for a couple of weeks," Branham wrote. "That is if we don't have to put out for the Far East."

Noting the ship was based at Pearl Harbor, he added that it was in the harbor about a week each month.

"We're the flagship of the battleships over here so we (are) on the move most of the time," he wrote, adding, "When the war is over we could really write a book of what we go through."

He was apparently referring to the war already under way in Europe, unaware that war would be erupting in the harbor in less than 48 hours.

The remainder of the letter indicates the sailor was smitten by the young lady back in Astoria.

"Don't forget there is a coxswain over here that thinks you're tops," he concluded.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Patricia White holds a letter she received from a former flame who was with the Navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941. The letter was written two days before the Japanese attack on the island. - Bob Pennell