Back in 2007, Milt Hackett was kind enough to share these photos with me of the crossing of the equator. At the time, I was just so pleased and excited to get them, that at first didn’t really understand what was going on. Looking at them it appeared to be some kind of fraternity-like hazing on board ship, and the explanation evaded me. Milt’s letter accompanying them did not explain the significance of the day. As I was holding them in my hands, I looked at my hubby and said, “I wish I knew what was going on here. I wish I had something from Billy that would explain this!”
When you put your request out to the universe, sometimes the universe answers.
A few months later, Billy’s sister Lillian died in Illinois. Her family shipped some of her belongings to her only surviving sibling, my Aunt Stella. Among those belongings there was a letter that Billy had sent home, dated January 17th, 1943. Stella knew all along of my affection for Billy and of my research, so she forwarded the letter to me. Upon opening the letter and reading it, I had to sit down and collect myself. He heard my request, he truly did. Otherwise, how did this come to me?
It was 70 years ago tomorrow January 17th, 1943 that Billy wrote this letter home. Here's a precious excerpt:
“Several days ago we crossed the equator. Perhaps you've heard of the ceremonies attending that occasion. The day before we crossed the line Davy Jones and his crew came aboard to serve subpoenas to all Polliwogs (those who had never been across). The next day Neptunus Rex and his court were aboard for the trial. In the court were the Queen and royal baby, three royal barbers, the royal chaplain, the royal surgeons, and the royal judge (Convictus Certainus). Besides these there was a receiving line made up of about fifty other Shellbacks (those who had been across the line before) and the royal imp, with horns, tail and trident.
The imp sought out each polliwog and escorted him to the receiving line, who drove him on hands and knees with fludgeons through a shower of seawater. After the judge had passed the usual decision, we were sent to the royal barbers – now I'm as bald as a bean.
The royal baby was a fat chief petty officer. He had on a huge diaper and had mustard colored gun grease smeared on his belly. Each polliwog had to kiss the royal baby's belly. Next we had massages and facials with fuel oil and graphite. Boy, what a mess.”
Later, when I met Lillian’s son Jim and daughter Lilith for the first time I asked Jim about the letter and how they came to send it to Stella. His response was, “I have no recollection of sending that letter with her things, or how it got there.” So am I being fanciful and silly? Or do I accept it as the gift it was and continue to pursue this project in the hopes that some day we will get to the Kula Gulf, we will film a documentary, get that Medal of Honor for Hugh Barr Miller Jr., and give Strong her place in history?
I think I’ll stick with it. It’s been an awesome ride so far.