Frank P. Hathcock Letters
While each of Frank’s letters contains unique details or observations, they also convey principal themes born from his wartime service. Some are tied to his hopes for a productive life after the war, many recall the pleasures of home, others are anchored in his daily experiences, and a few capture his thoughts for lasting peace to overcome causes of global conflict.
Frank never ended a letter without professing his love for Tennie, how he missed her, and how much she meant to his life. Some letters began with that vow and wove his heartache throughout them. In his world—without cell phones, Facebook, emails, or television—his letters became powerful expressions of his longing for her.
He often reminisced about the enjoyable pleasures of life at home, either with Tennie or with her parents. He compared at length standard GI food with the biscuits, fried chicken, and black-eyed peas so famous in East Texas kitchens. He frequently asked Tennie to send him some other “comforts of home”: cigarettes, chewing gum, Kodak film, clothing, and books he liked.
But other themes, less endearing, permeate his letters. He constantly mentioned unrelenting loneliness that dogged him day and night, even though he had fellow barracks-mates all around him. When he fell into these troughs of loneliness, he recounted examples of his own behavior that might have saddened Tennie; he wrote that he knew he had been wrong and that he would make it right when he returned to her. Bouts of loneliness occasionally kept him from joining some of his unit’s recreational activities. His remedies: to go for walks, read a book, study French, or simply write another letter to Tennie.
A partner to his loneliness was boredom, the bane of existence for most soldiers. The ebb and flow of his duties in the CAD left him periodically with no pressing responsibilities. Then requests would come with new, “do-it-now or hurry-up-and-wait” orders. For example, there were instances where Frank and his unit were asked to move barracks’ furnishings from one side of a camp to another, often without explanation. Boredom would then set in once again.
He wrestled with constant feelings of uncertainty. There was uncertainty about where he would take basic training; when furloughs would be approved; the timing of being shipped to the European theater; whether he could be assigned to the CAD; when he would receive letters from Tennie at mail call; and most of all, when he could finally embark on a ship and return to the United States. As an organized and meticulous individual who prided himself on planning and details, the uncertainty inherent in dealing with the Army’s plodding decision process was a daily thorn in his side.
But Frank always kept his focus on building a new life after the war. With a background in hotel management and extensive business and social connections in Nacogdoches, he was constantly considering new options. Should he find the capital to buy or build a hotel? How profitable would be its coffee shop? What would be the interest rates for borrowed money? Could he order books on hotel management to read when not on duty? How would Tennie help him with his business plans? He was positive that he would return home, in one piece, and ready take the reins of a new venture.
Frank was also an adventurer, not willing to waste his Army days staying in camp. On one occasion, he arranged a visit with Tennie in New York for several days before he shipped overseas. His excursions included notable cities in France, including a lengthy furlough in Nice. In Germany, he drove to Stuttgart and explored the stunning, lavish home of the Bosch family, founders of a manufacturing conglomerate that still exists. On other occasions, he visited families he had befriended in France or simply toured nearby towns and villages. In most cases, he chronicled his forays in detailed, engaging letters to Tennie. He traveled with his camera and regularly requested film for it; his letters, however, contained none of his photographs.
His relationships with the Army and its officers were fair, respectful, and even-handed. He quickly perceived good leadership qualities in his superiors, yet quietly noted those whose behavior was challenging. He viewed General George Patton, for example, as a skilled commander but a difficult man off the battlefield. Frank considered one lieutenant to whom he reported as having mental problems, perhaps a form of PTSD. At one point, he wrote a lengthy, well-organized letter to the Stars and Stripes’ editor, voicing his concerns about deteriorating relationships between the U. S. Army and French civilians.
Finally, Frank expressed hope for the world after the war’s end. His letter of February 6, 1944, written from Fort Custer to Tennie, began with a pensive longing for her, but his thoughts soon turned to the global future: “When the last shot is fired; when the last poor devil is buried; when all the widows, mothers, brothers, and sisters have dried their tears, we can start over. . . . There is so much good in people of all nations that it is a dirty shame that a comparatively small number of crack-pots can so work on the good people that they will go out and kill each other by the thousands. . . . but there is a chance that they will learn that no one wins in the long run.” In other letters, he mused about nations’ efforts to unite and sustain peace that would surely follow the Axis powers’ defeat.
(Written by William R. McLeRoy)
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Biographical / Historical
In 1925, Frank’s sister Laura was named most popular girl in Palestine High School by her fellow students. Both she and Frank reportedly planned to enter University of Texas in fall 1925.
Frank arrived in Nacogdoches in 1933 and became manager of a downtown hotel. He met Tennie at the town’s Little Theater when he was cast in the same play with her and later married her in 1935. On September 2, 1943, he enlisted in the U. S. Army at Tyler, Texas, for the duration of American involvement in World War II. His enlistment record showed three years of college education. His Army Serial No. was 38200521.
As his military service was ending, Frank wrote Tennie on October 21, 1945 from an Army camp three miles outside Antwerp, Belgium and skeptically reported rumors that his unit would ship out the next day to the United States. He speculated that he might be out of the Army by November 11, but that his discharge would more likely be between then and Thanksgiving. Just in front of that letter, however, was his very short note to Tennie indicating he would sail October 28, 1945 on the Victory Boat “Stetson”; consequently, the actual date of his departure is uncertain, given the order of his letters in the paper box.
Following his return to Nacogdoches after the war, Frank became owner and manager of the Superior Oil Co., a distributor of Phillips 66 products. He hired local college students in his oil business as he had done while a hotel manager. Frank loved golf and was an avid player at Piney Woods Country Club in Nacogdoches, eventually enticing Tennie to take up the game.
In addition to his business activities before and after WWII, Frank was also involved in community civic affairs. He was installed in 1938 as Secretary-Treasurer of the Nacogdoches Junior Chamber of Commerce. Frank participated in the 1938 Rotary International Convention in San Francisco as president of the Nacogdoches Rotary Club. While there, he decided to form the Nacogdoches Rotary Anns for Rotary member wives. In 1939, he attended a meeting of East Texas hotelmen in Tyler. He was elected president of the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce in 1948 in recognition his accomplishments as a local hotel manager and civic leader for 15 years. Later that year, he was among eight Nacogdoches County citizens scheduled to meet with Gibb Gilchrist, president of Texas A & M College, “concerning the retention of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Substation No. 11 in Nacogdoches.”
Frank ran for city commission in 1950 and was elected mayor of Nacogdoches on May 6, 1953, serving a four-year term. He was also on the city commission for a total of six years. He was among top sales leaders in 1952 to raise $500,000 to build an $800,000 community hotel in Nacogdoches; it eventually became the Fredonia Hotel. Frank died September 18, 1964 in Nacogdoches and was buried the next day.
(Written by William R. McLeRoy)
- Guide to the Frank Hathcock Letters
- Linda Reynolds