George Frederick never saw his only child. The Army Air Force pilot was flying over New Guinea during World War II in November 1943 when his son Clinton was born. George Frederick was killed four months later during another mission over the South Pacific.
Yet Clinton Frederick believes he understands his father as well, if not better, than many offspring can know a parent.
In 2002 during a trip to New Jersey for a family wedding, Clinton Frederick unearthed several trunks in his grandparents’ former home where his cousin Mary Anne lived.
The trunks contained, among other things, more than 100 letters George Frederick wrote to his mother from various venues during the war.
“I think I’m a better person and know him better through his letters than I might have even if I had met him,” Clinton Frederick said. “It’s scary because from his letters I learned we are very similar. He liked to travel, and so do I. He respected other people’s religious beliefs, even if they differed from his. I took the same stance while in college.”
Clinton Frederick, born in Kansas and retired to Scottsdale after a long career as a certified public accountant, took the letters and added a cornucopia of historical data and his thoughts to write “WWII — A Legacy of Letters: One Soldier’s Journey.”
The tome puts a face on many of the the events surrounding the Pacific Theater of World War II as George Frederick battled through New Guinea and into the Admiralty Islands.
Clinton Frederick was born Nov. 24, 1943, while his father fought the battle of Shaggy Ridge in New Guinea.
George Frederick was killed March 30, 1944 at age 29 during another New Guinea mission.
A chilling letter George Frederick wrote to his second wife, Cleo, on July 21, 1943 from New Guinea — about four months before his son’s birth — read, in part, “When you read this letter, I will be either missing in action, killed or captured . . . You will wonder why I have written this. I wonder myself, but last night I lay thinking what if I should be killed? Would Cleo know my mind was thinking about our future? I have no premonitions of being killed . . .
“I will meet you again, someday, in a home that will be far nicer than any we could have here on earth. So don’t grieve, just think that I have gone away for a little while and I’ll see you again.”
The letter wasn’t in the stash Clinton Frederick found; Cleo put it in a safe-deposit box because her other correspondence from her husband was destroyed during a house fire in December 1945.
Clinton Frederick recalls seeing the trunks containing letters and Japanese swords, parachutes, and other war paraphernalia when he was a child.
“Discovering that letterfilled trunk was a gift in so many ways,” said Clinton Frederick, who admits having a lifelong interest in World War II. “Those letters answered so many lingering questions I had not only about my father, but also about the realities of war.”
He reveled at the discovery, sorting through letters and artifacts with his cousin after they brought the trunks out of the attic.
“As I pulled the letters out and Mary Anne read them and all of a sudden she said, ‘There’s your father, he’s a war hero,’ I was elated.”
Clinton Frederick said his mother didn’t talk much about her husband. If he asked a question, she’d answer. It was always what a fabulous man his father was and not much about the war. He posthumously received the Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart; he was nominated for all but the last before his death.
Cleo Frederick, 90, said the news of her husband’s death was initially depressing.
“It was hard to keep my emotions in check but you live on,” she said during a telephone interview from her home in Fort Scott, Kansas. “I tried to be as brave as I could for George.”
Regarding the book, she said she’s proud of Clinton and glad he wrote it. With failing eyesight, she listened to the book on a CD her son recorded.
“I didn’t know he was that much of a journalist,” she said. “What he wrote was the way it was. He didn’t stretch the truth at all.”
Clinton Frederick said he wrote the book for his three daughters and the entire family.
“I wanted people to know George’s story and the best way to do that was in a book,” he said. “There are similar books but I think a lot of anecdotes mixed in with history sets it apart.”
Such as when George Frederick writes about Navy gunner John V. Lindsay, who volunteered to work with Air Force troops. Lindsay was elected mayor of New York City in 1966.
“(That) makes me wonder sometimes what life would have been like if my father had lived,” he said, “but then I believe in destiny — and it is good.”
Another is a March 13, 1944 letter where his father wrote: “I can now say I took part in the war for sure. I was in the assault wave and immediately as we landed I rushed out with another officer and we got credit for the first two (Japanese soldiers) killed. I got them both and have some souvenirs off of them to remember the occasion by.”
Clinton Frederick has two Japanese rifles and a samurai sword. He wonders if these were the souvenirs his father meant. One rifle has 14 notches in it, as if it were a marksman racking up his kills.
George Frederick’s last letter was dated March 26, 1944 and postmarked the day he was killed. Clinton said he chose not to use it in the book because it repeated some previous information.
“I was a CPA for 30 years. I never realized I could do this,” he said with a chuckle. “I pursued the wrong career.”