Oral history interview of Elbert Parr Tuttle, Jr.
Oral history interview of Elbert Parr Tuttle, Jr.
Tuttle, Elbert Parr, Jr. 1921-2012
In this interview, Dr. Elbert Tuttle recalls his experiences serving as a United States Marine Corps pilot in the Pacific during World War II. He describes growing up in Atlanta, attending Princeton University, and recalls where he was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He enlisted in the Navy for flight training, but ultimately transferred to the Marine Corps where he flew torpedo bombers, including the TBF Avenger, the same type of aircraft President George H. W. Bush flew in World War II. Tuttle recalls being stationed on Tinian Island and flying to Guam to visit his father who was serving in an artillery battalion there. He recalls his father's service during the war and describes how that affected his own life. He describes some harrowing experiences he had while flying and comments on the effect war has on families.
Elbert Tuttle served as a United States Marine Corps pilot in the Pacific during World War II.
INTERVIEWER: This is David Lowance talking with Dr. Elbert Tuttle, first kidney specialist in the State of Georgia. He trained many of us to practice medicine in his forty to fifty years of service at Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University School of Medicine. And Dr. Tuttle was a fighter pilot in World War II along with his father who was in the Army in the Pacific, and he had the unique experience of spending the night with his father during the Pacific campaign on Guam Island after it was secured. And we’re going to let Dr. Tuttle just talk a little about himself and see where he takes us from there. Dr. Tuttle, I’m going to start off by asking you, you graduated from North Fulton High School in 1938. What was the tone of the country at that time? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, it was very optimistic. Things had not quite yet begun with Hitler’s invasion with Czechoslovakia and Poland, so in 1938 we went off to college and it was a very hopeful and happy time. Atlanta was ideal during the years I was at North Fulton High School. We grew up here; we were not part of the real “Buckhead boys” out in the northern part of the town. But we lived right inside of the county in Brookwood Hills, and my father had built a house there in 1925. And so I went to North Fulton. I went to E. Rivers School just about the time E. Rivers opened up. Mrs. Olestat was the principal at that time. I graduated from E. Rivers and then went to North Fulton. Four years there and then was qualified to go to college after eleven years of high school, whereas most of the other places in the country it took twelve years to get through schooling. INTERVIEWER: Did you go to Princeton? ELBERT TUTTLE: Yes, my cousin Mack Asbell lived with me in Brookwood Hills, and we went to North Fulton together. He was the president of our class, and I think I edited the annual or something. But we went to Princeton together and roomed together four years of Princeton, and graduated just at the time World War II broke out. World War II began December 7th of ’41 and we graduated in May of ’42 and went immediately into the service. INTERVIEWER: Where were you on December 7th, 1941? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, I was riding in an automobile in the hills just west of Princeton and Central New Jersey there. Beautiful afternoon. And over the radio came the word that the attack on Pearl Harbor had been executed. So, from then on in the college dormitories, the yards around the dormitories had bonfires that night. And everybody was—there was no question about patriotism or loyalty, or readiness to volunteer and go. It was just a time when it seemed like there could be no question, but that you had to go. INTERVIEWER: Were you in ROTC at that time? ELBERT TUTTLE: No, I was not in ROTC. INTERVIEWER: So you went on and graduated and then joined the military upon graduation? ELBERT TUTTLE: Yes, I think because of the fact that my father had already been called to active duty in the National Guard—I had made application for Naval Flight Training back in October the fall before the actual war was declared. But they let me go to the University of Georgia for pre-flight training in June when I graduated from college. So, they let us finish our degree. I wasn’t in the ROTC but I had enlisted in the Navy for flight training. INTERVIEWER: How long did flight training last and all that before you were ready to qualify to start? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, it was a complicated path. It went through flying the old bi-plane, bi-planes right down where the airport is now, Dallas and Granbury, and then we went from there to Corpus Christi, and did the single engine training solo flight. And then after graduation from there, still in the Navy, we were allowed to choose Marine Corps or Navy for long term enlistment. And so, because Marines were doing so well in Guadalcanal and they were fighting on the islands in the Pacific, I said, well, I’ll go with the Marines. So, I transferred from the Navy to the Marines, and got my torpedo bomber training, same plane that George H. Bush crashed in, has been on the television recently. I flew the Torpedo Bombers, TBM’s and TBF’s in Fort Lauderdale and then overseas thereafter. INTERVIEWER: When did you go overseas? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, I went overseas in January of ’43 and we went on one of the small aircraft carriers after we checked out to land on a carrier, but I never did that in combat. But we were on an aircraft carrier that went to the Solomon Islands; well, we went to New Guinea and Espiritus Santos where “Tales from the South Pacific” came from. I used to know a “Bloody Mary” down there on the island of Espiritus Santos. And it was true that she had a daughter on an island over across the water there, if you remember the songs and the dances of South Pacific. But it really was like that, it was not torture, it was idealic, it was beautiful country and we sang, flew through the islands and all that. But then went from there up to the Solomon Islands and Bougainville, which was just partially secured at the time. And out of Bougainville flew some guide bombing missions up to Rabaul near Britain, and got a little antiaircraft flack and a few scars on the plane but nobody got hurt. So, from there my whole squadron flew all the way around the Pacific through the Samoa and up to the Kwajalein and Eniwetok and out to the Marianas Islands, which had just been secured. And we were stationed on Tinian there. Now that’s just an hour’s flight north of Guam. Guam was still under siege and my father was there, up in the hills doing some of the land fighting with his artillery battalion that he commanded, in a fox hole up in Guam. And I flew down there one day and landed at the military strip and got a hold of him and put him in the back of my plane, and flew him up to Tinian for the weekend because things were quiet on the island at the time. And he was more scared of flying in the back of that plane with me then he was sitting in the foxhole on Guam. But we had a good visit together, and then he went back and his career was really dramatic. After Guam was secured they went down to Northern Australia and then up to fight the battle of Leyte Gap on the west of Mindanao in the Philippines, did amphibious landing there. And after securing that, they came up to Okinawa. My father was very close to my first cousin from Atlanta, his name was Lackey Maddox, who lived out on Peachtree Battle Avenue. He and Lackey had been in the National Guard together, and Lucky was killed by the Japanese on Okinawa. My father was on a small island adjacent to that when he got wounded, when they came down the hill and threw hand grenades in his foxhole and jumped in, and he fought them off. But he was wounded some. I had already been dispatched up to Iwo Jima with a detachment of six of our planes to fly the patrol around the island up there, to keep the submarines from coming in and sinking all of our supply ships and that sort of thing. And so, I had been at Iwo Jima with my detachment. They told me it was time for me to go, come back to the states. And I said I can’t do that with my father sitting out here in Okinawa. And so I continued to do the patrols around Iwo Jima for a few months after that. And I guess that was maybe April of ’45 and in June I got word that he had been wounded on Okinawa or the little island of Iwashima, and he came back with me. He was on Guam being evacuated back to the states. I said, “okay, I’m ready to come back.” So, I got my flight back and we both landed in the states on the 4th of July of 1945, thinking we would have to go back over after we had a leave. And on August the 15th they dropped the A-Bomb and so the war was over after that. INTERVIEWER: How many combat missions do you think you flew, do you recall? ELBERT TUTTLE: No, I only flew a half a dozen combat missions over Rabaul. The rest of mine turned out, the land-based torpedo bombers flew patrol all around all of the islands of the Pacific that we were occupying to drop what they call “sonar buoy’s” to pick up the sounds of Japanese submarines. And if you picked up the sound then you deployed around the area where the sound was picked up and drop depth charges to sink the submarines or to drive them off, so, we were flying anti-submarine patrol and watching for surface craft and things like that. Most of the time in the South Pacific and around Iwo Jima, but we did a few, another half a dozen controls where we went in with the glide bombs and let the bombs release to go into the caves that were on the side of the mountains there at Iwo Jima. And there was rifle fire coming back and machine gun fire, but no heavy anti-aircraft fire. INTERVIEWER: Counts for me if they are shooting at me. Tuttle, can you tell me something more about your daddy’s injury, I know that he was deafened at the pup tent encounter as he told me one time, and told me about having a face to face encounter with a Japanese soldier. ELBERT TUTTLE: Yeah, the guy came down and jumped in his fox hole and he had a long pole, a stick of some sort, and he was jabbing at my father who had been in his sleeping bag in the foxhole, was calling out and this guy was jabbing him with a pole. It gave him a hernia that he had to get fixed out at the VA hospital here in Atlanta when he came back. But one of his detachments there in his artillery regiment, they jumped in behind the Jap and collared him and dragged him out. And I think he was killed. That was the closest he came to hand to hand combat. INTERVIEWER: Well, he described it quite vividly to me and told me there was an explosion somewhere during this encounter. ELBERT TUTTLE: That was the grenade that went into the little edge of the foxhole. They have a little rim so the rain won’t come down, and the grenade was caught in this little rim up around the foxhole and exploded upward, otherwise it would have killed him dead if it had fallen down in the bottom of the foxhole. INTERVIEWER: Close encounters of the strangest kind. ELBERT TUTTLE: Yeah. INTERVIEWER: Tuttle, where were you during Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo in 1942, I think is when it was? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, it was ’42 or ’43.; I was probably still in training at that time. The event in the war that influenced me the most maybe to choose torpedo bombings was the fact that the old original torpedo bombers were responsible for sinking the Japanese ships at the Battle of Midway, and that was the turning point in the war. In other words, from that point on the American dominance was growing larger and no question we were going to win the war in the Pacific after the Japanese large battle ships and cruisers were sunk at the battle of Midway. But the torpedo bombers, which all flew together, right over the bow of these ships that were coming down with the guys just shooting at them point blank as they dropped the torpedoes. That seemed to me to be the, maybe I call it the most heroic kind of warfare that the most effective dollar for dollar that you could do. So, that was why I thought the torpedo bombers rather than the fighter planes would be my choice in the Air Force. INTERVIEWER: Where did you meet your wife? ELBERT TUTTLE: That was after the war when I was a medical student at Harvard. She was a nurse at Children’s Hospital in Boston. In fact, she was an instructor, I was a medical student learning about how you took care of newborn babies. So, I met her there at that time and learned her story, her war story from her. We were married after that. INTERVIEWER: What was her war story? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, before World War II, the nursing profession was mostly nursing aides, and the formal requirements for medical education and technical training were not very well specified. But there was a shortage of nurses in the early World War II that the public health service decided to start a nurses training program. And interestingly enough, they called it the “Get Nurse Corps” and my wife was in the first class of those. INTERVIEWER: Turn it around, turn it over. ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, this is a little cartoon. This is President Roosevelt signing the bill. And they required that the candidates for training graduate from college first, and then go into the nurses training. But it was a very demanding, very compacted period of technical training. And, in fact, they were left taking care of the people in the hospitals in Boston for instance, with no interns or residents in the hospital because they had all been called into the military service. So, they had a tremendous amount of responsibility and did a wonderful job, and learned a great deal during that period of time. And then they graduated and went to the military service. And she never was in any combat service, but she was in this first training group. And it’s interesting that during the course of the years when this was active they trained one hundred and twenty-four thousand nurses. From that time on, nursing has become a profession with specific requirements and criteria for graduation and for certification. And so I thought she was as much a veteran of the war as I was. INTERVIEWER: Why don’t you show us a picture of your wife in her uniform and yourself? ELBERT TUTTLE: Yes, this is a picture of Jenny when she graduated from Cadet Nursing and went back for a little leave visit in Warsaw, Wisconsin, which was where she originally came from. INTERVIEWER: And show us a picture of yourself in your pilot’s uniform there. ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, this was after I had completed my training for torpedo bombers. And as I said, this was the same plane that George Bush flew and I had two crewmen, a tail gunner and a turret gunner, and it was in the turret gunner’s place where I flew my father up from Guam. But that was a clunky old airplane. A pretty big one, and carried two thousand pounds of bombs or torpedo, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that you flew in loops and did combat air fighting with. But my hero during the World War II lived with me in Brookwood Hills and grew up with me, is my first cousin Mack Asbill. And Mack was the president of our graduating class at North Fulton in 1938. And when we graduated from Princeton he joined the ground Marine Corps, and after finishing his training he became the aide to General H. M. Smith, “Howling Mad” Smith, who commanded all the Marines in the island to island fighting in the Pacific Ocean. And Mack was his aide, really his right hand man. I met with them in Honolulu at one time while we were overseas. But Mack had a very responsible job there, and later went on to practice law in Sutherland, Asbill and Brennen. The firm had originally been Sutherland, Tuttle and Brennen, but my father left when he joined Eisenhower’s government as general counsel to the Treasury Department. But Mack’s father added his name to the firm, leaving my Uncle Bill Sutherland and my Uncle Mack Asbill in the practice together, which still is here in Atlanta. But Mack was practicing law in Washington, D.C. and was the president of the Chamber of Commerce there, and had he not died of cancer in the early 80’s, I think Washington D.C. would be different city today as a result of what he would have done, because he was a great public servant too. INTERVIEWER: I think your father and yourself have both been great public servants in my lifetime that I’ve known. It’s been a pleasure to know you both. Would you mind talking a little about this article that your father wrote in 1957, and reading us selected exerpts that you think exemplify what he stood for? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, Emory University gave an honorary degree to my father after he was on the Federal Circuit Court here in Atlanta. And they asked him to give a graduation talk at a graduation of lawyers, doctors, and ministers from the theology school. And he recalled the heroes that had come to his attention both in English history and in American history, and spoke some of that heroism. And also, the guy, the Chinese guy who drove his jeep in combat in the Pacific. And he told his Chinese driver that he didn’t want him driving up to the front lines because he might be mistaken for Japanese. And Nan Chui said, “I go anyway.” And he told him “No, I tell you, I command you to remain here.” He said, “Colonel, I go” and he got in the jeep and started driving. So, that was one of his heroes. But at the end of his talk here, since he was, after referring to John Wesley and to the English lawyer Erskine he said that he thought he had something to say to the new graduates that were just getting their degrees in the professions. And he said, “In these brief moments we have considered the nature of heroism. We have mentioned some of its exemplars, we have pointed out some areas where it’s inspiring force is needed. Is there anything more that needs to be said on the relationship of heroism to the professions? I think there is. The professional man is in essence one who provides service, but the service he renders is something more than that of the laborer, even the skilled laborer. It is a service that wells up from the entire complex of his personality. True, some specialized and highly developed techniques may be included, but their mode of expression is given its deepest meaning by the personality of the practitioner. In a very real sense his professional service cannot be separate from his personal being. He has no goods to sell, no land to till, his only asset is himself. It turns out that there is no right price for service, for what is a share of a man worth? If he does not contain the quality of integrity, he is worthless. If he does, he is priceless. The value is either nothing or it is infinite. So, do not try to set a price on yourselves. Do not measure out your professional services on a apothecary scale and say, only this for so much. Do not debase yourselves by equating your souls to what they will bring in the market. Do not be a miser, hoarding your talents and abilities and knowledge either among yourselves or in your dealings with your clients, patients, students, or parishioners. Rather be reckless and spendthrift, pouring out your talents to all to whom it can be of service. Throwing away, wasted, and into spending it will be increased. Do not keep a watchful eye unless you slip and give away a little of what you might have sold. Do not censor your thoughts to gain a wider audience. Like love, talent is only useful in its expenditure and it is never exhausted. Certain it is that man must eat, so set what price you must on your service, but never confuse the performance, which is great, with the compensation, be it money, power, or fame, which is trivial. The important thing is that in a society of little men, you have the opportunity to be a hero. The job is there, you will see it, your strength is such as you graduate from Emory that you need not consider what the task will cost you. It’s not enough that you do your duty. The richness of life lies in the performance which is above and beyond the call of duty.” INTERVIEWER: Well, I can’t think of a family that has exemplified those traits more than yours. ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, he was an inspiration and we’ve all been proud of being his family. INTERVIEWER: Well, we’re proud of being a friend of yours also. So, we think you’re just as important as he was to everybody in the legal sense; you have been in the medical sense. What do you think about families having multiple family members in the service like you all had back in World War II, and like we saw last week on television where a family of three or four boys were going to go overseas to Iraq? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, it depends on; it depends on what the situation is. I don’t think that abstractly a family ought to make itself vulnerable to decimation by sending everybody to the battle front. In World War II, this was the last war that was so inequitable in the fact that it had to be done that there was no doubt. And my mother sent us all off. She got a little place to live down at the Georgian Terrace Hotel, and everyday waited for the mail to see how we were doing, and hoping things were going to be all right. But I think even she did not consider this to be an inordinate sacrifice or risk to run because she knew that we all were fully committed and dedicated, and there was no question in anybody’s mind that was where we ought to be. So, I think there are people who are left alone as a result of warfare, and if you’ve only got one son, do you send him away? Well, we have to do that if he decides in his own mind that he wants to enlist. And so, nowadays we’re not drafting them, but we are enlisting them. And those who see the value of the patriotism as a member in the combat areas, they are the ones who enlist. So, I think it’s a matter of personal commitment, and conviction that this is the thing that you need to be. INTERVIEWER: Your father was about as strong a proponent of peaceful resolution to ideology differences and cultural interactions as anybody in the history of the United States. Do you think there will be a time in the world where we’ll be able to get the different ideologies together on one working table, where we can settle our difference with the law books as opposed to bullets? ELBERT TUTTLE: No, to be honest with you. he was not an angry man nor a born combatant. He did the combat duty as his obligation, but in actual fact he was very, and in spite of the fact that he was, initially he was a Republican appointee of President Eisenhower to the court as well as counsel for the Treasury Department. But he was not a street fighter. And in fact during the Civil Rights period, was a great supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King. And used his position on the court to try to allow them to express their beliefs and exert their energy in a way that was a non-combatant way. And I rode in the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., in an old Model-A Ford with my son-in-law last month. It was Memorial Day in Washington. And one of the television interviewers grabbed a hold of me and said, “What do you think?” And I said, “Well, World War II was the last time that we could unequivocally all say, this is what we ought to do. There have been pros and cons ever since and I personally think that the heroes of the twentieth century are Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and our South African… INTERVIEWER: Nelson Mandela? ELBERT TUTTLE: Nelson Mandela—as the people who have been the most heroic in their approach to non-violence. And King and Gandhi died as a result of violence, but they never took up arms themselves. And I think my father was really basically a peaceful man. INTERVIEWER: Well, I think he was very much a peaceful man, but that is why my question is whether or not you think that in future generations we’ll have more peacemakers than we will have troublemakers? ELBERT TUTTLE: I pray that will be the case. INTERVIEWER: If you had to choose the most important lesson you got out of World War II and growing up in that era, what lesson would that be? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, I decided while I was overseas in World War II that I preferred not to come back and go to law school, which I had already planned to do in graduating from Princeton, because I was never very great at the dollars and figures and the numbers that went into the kind of tax law that my father’s firm did. I said, I wanted to do something else. And when I came back I took one of these apptitude tests and they said, “Well you are pretty good at solving problems.” So I said, “Well, medicine offers the greatest opportunity to solve the problems, and so I think I ought to go into medicine.” So out of World War II came my switch of profession from law to medicine. And after being so, having such generous support from the G.I. Bill of Rights, I mean the servicemen’s benefits and things like that to go to medical school, I said, I want to come back to Atlanta and work at Grady Hospital for my career, so as to give service back to the community for all that I’ve gotten out of all of this. So, the war itself was really a growth experience for me rather than something that left me hopeless and without faith in humanity. INTERVIEWER: Were you ever scared in the war? ELBERT TUTTLE: Every time I was scared, it was my own damn fault. We were flying all around the Pacific, and on the island of Eniwetok, I was late getting to the flight line to fly along the transport train that we were flying wing on as we went thousands of miles across the water. I ran out and jumped in my plane, and I was so late to get in the squadron and get off that I didn’t put my parachute on. Well, halfway, five hundred miles out at sea, we ran in to a great big front with thunder heads and clouds and lightening and everything going on. And we flew into this totally dense cloud formation, not being able to see each other five feet between the wings. But we just kept on flying and trying to keep as level and as straight as we could. And when we came out of the funnel on the other side, I looked around and I didn’t see any of my buddies on either side of me and I called my gunner in the back, and I said “Bill, where did those other guys go?” He said, “Lord, Lieutenant, you didn’t see that guy that flew by about five feet under our tail?” If that guy had clipped off my tail in the middle of those clouds, me and no parachute, I’d been down dead in the sea. So, that was probably the most, the highest risk I came to having any kind of a bad outcome. INTERVIEWER: Well that’s not… ELBERT TUTTLE: All because I left my parachute off. INTERVIEWER: We’ve got a few more minutes, is there anything that you’d like to be remembered for in terms of your World War II experience, or your father’s or family’s that you’d like to say to future generations? ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, I think we need to look carefully with the morals and ethics that we grow up with to try to understand who we are and what we can do with our lives that are constructive. There are some people who seem to just spend their whole time tearing things down and being in opposition to one thing or another, and to acting in a way that creates chaos instead of order. Now there are many different ways in which you can contribute to order and the fitting together of this whole network of humanity, and if the quilt that you are knitting together gets frayed you’ve got to sew up the connections between the little squares. You’ve got to make your own square as good as you can, and not be in the situation of trying to rip it apart, tear it apart. And this way you build a connection between your square on the quilt of life over here and the people in India, and China. But I think now that I’m coming to feel that I’m not an American but a citizen of the world. And I want to see us look at the whole benefit in the world stand point, ecologically or culturally, economically to try to do the things that are going to make us most productive as the citizens of the whole world these days. It’s sort of amazing that with communication moving the way it does that we are far closer to the people in India and China, and Africa, and Europe today than the people in Massachusetts were to the people in Georgia when the United States was formed. I mean, you had no idea about these people when we formed together. And nowadays, we are in communication all the time. We know, see all details of what is going’s on. The telephones will let us talk to our friends in Italy. The world is now a family, whereas your farm was about all you could relate to back when this country was formed. So, the technological changes have created a whole different atmosphere in the world as a whole. INTERVIEWER: Well, I think you were taught by a master. ELBERT TUTTLE: I think so. INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else you’d like to say? ELBERT TUTTLE: No, I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. INTERVIEWER: Well, Dr. Tuttle, it’s an honor and a privilege to interview you. As I stated earlier, you were one of my professors and did my internship and residency, and got me interested in kidney disease, and you’ve inspired me as you’ve inspired many other people. The same way your daddy inspired lots of people. So, our generation is forever in your debt. ELBERT TUTTLE: Well, it’s been a pleasure and a wonderful life, I’ll tell you.
World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Pacific Ocean
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American
Grumman Avenger (Torpedo bomber)
Bush, George, 1924
Tuttle, Elbert Parr, 1897-1996
Smith, Holland M. (Holland McTyeire), 1882-1967
United States. Marine Corps
Grady Memorial Hospital (Atlanta, Ga.)
TBF Avenger (Torpedo bomber)
Digital Library of Georgia