Photos: top: Jean and Bob Palmer Jr. bottom: Russell 'Hutch' and Barbara Hutchison
Two guys met in college at the University of New Mexico. They hit it off and became good friends. Russell ‘Hutch’ Hutchison would meet Barbara and Bob Palmer Jr. would meet Jean. The four of them did everything together. It was the establishment of a life long friendship that would have some very defining times that bonded them and their off spring together.
When WWII was upon them, they with the rest of the nation took it to heart to protect their country. Bob and Hutch were civil engineers. As Hutch was with the Corps of Army Engineers he served in the Philippines. Bob joined the Navy Seabees*.
The two men served in the Pacific. Their wives, who had become good friends, stayed in touch, corresponding by letters with them. Barbara and Jean both lived in Albuquerque just blocks away from each other. Frequently, they got together just to socialize, share tears, food coupons, victory gardens and meals - even gasoline when it was available.
Then one day Barbara received a telex from the State Department that Hutch was missing in action and was feared to be captured or killed. This was in 1942. She nor anyone would not learn more until the end of the war. No amount of inquires from Barbara, her parents, Hutch’s parents could produce any information about Hutch.
Can you imagine? Not knowing the fate of your husband for over two years!
The war went on. The tide turned. With the advance of the allied forces, Bob and his division of Seabees came, with horrific sacrifices, to all the battle scenes to rebuild the airstrips, the bridges, the roads and the quarters for the fighting men.
Bob would receive letters from Jean back home about life in Albuquerque, about Barbara and ‘no word of Hutch’.
Fatigue and exhaustion strained every fiber, tendon and every soul and yet, left the mind to ponder when it should have been better to rest but could not, would not. Never! Never let go of life and love and decency. Never! And so, Bob would be taxed with his love for his best friend and the thought that Barbara was worried a hundred times more than he – nay, infinitely times more.
The war was being won. Only in reflection could you look back and discern, yes, these were decisive victories and that it was suddenly going to be over. On Okinawa the allied forces readied for assault upon the main islands of Japan. Russia was pouring into Manchuria suddenly – in eight days annihilating the entire Western Japanese Imperial Army front with its’ learned blitzkrieg. With Russia poised to invade the islands of Japan from an unprotected Western front, Truman threw down the gauntlet.
The war was over.
Bob walked through the medical facilities on Okinawa. What needs were to be arranged?
Suddenly from a group of survivors from the Bataan Death March, someone called out, “Bob!”, in a weak voice, barely audible. Bob turned around and looked at the group of Americans. He looked into each skeletal face, each pair of sunken eyes. He did not recognize anyone. Was it his imagination? Maybe the person had called to someone else. Standing there scanning the faces, once again he hears, “Bob, it’s me!”
Bob steps forward looking at the unrecognizable features of a tortured skeleton among many other tortured skeletons, “Yes”, he says, “Who are you? Do I know you?”
“Bob, it’s me. Hutch.”
With unbelieving eyes, his soul discerns the voice. Bob steps forward. He kneels next to this soul and takes Hutch’s hand in his. Holds it. Looks deeply into his eyes and cries. He leans forward and embraces Hutch. Tears come to Hutch’s eyes in joy and gratitude in seeing his best friend for the first time in years.
Releasing each other from their embrace, Bob leans back and says, “I’ve got to call Jean and tell her. She’ll go over and tell Barbara. Barb, as you can well imagine, is living day to day, waiting.”
… Bruce Hutchison, Hutch’s son, is the godson of Bob Palmer Jr.
Happy Father’s day!
* Seabees were the Navy and Marine division’s engineers – roads, airfields, bridges, etc.