Story by Danny Reagan, appearing in the Abilene Reporter-News, Sunday, May 28, 1995
This photograph of Backie Reagan and Bennie Mitchell was taken on August 1, 1945, in Big Spring, Texas, right before he headed back to California to rejoin his ship. While on the train back, the atomic bombs were dropped.
Fifty years ago, the war in the Pacific was still raging.
The Americans were island-hopping closer and closer to the Japanese homeland, and an invasion -- perhaps claiming a half million or more casualties -- was a real possibility.
Amid the death on the battlefront and the upheaval at home, the uncertainty of the times
and the fragile nature of relationships, two people still had a chance of falling in love during War's Last Summer.
At the age of 17, just two credits shy of graduation, tall and lanky Bascom "Backie" Reagan dropped out of Big Spring High School to join the Navy in 1942.
The youngest of four sons of early city residents Bascom A. and Eugenia Reagan, he was the first of the family to head off to war. He signed up for two years, but like many of this comrades-in-arms, the length of the war would dictate his stay.
Backie left the states on Dec. 15, 1942, as seaman second class serving aboard the U.S.S. Trenton, a light cruiser.
Two years prior to that, he had met Bennie Pearl Mitchell of Eastland at the wedding of his older brother Richard to Bennie's aunt. They barely noticed each other then, and much to his surprise, she wrote him a letter on Dec. 18, just a few days after he had shipped out. His first letter back to her was on Jan. 23, 1943, shortly after her 15th birthday. She was a sophomore at Eastland High School.
The letters that survived from early 1943 were friendly and most businesslike. Backie's contained descriptions of his ports of call, and Bennie's detailed news about the homefront and relatives, and -- most importantly -- high school football scores.
"How are things back in Texas?" Backie wrote in the fall of 1943. "Have they changed much in the last couple of months? I never hear much of what's going on back in Texas. I am coming back there one of these days, never to leave again. I
would give anything to see a good football game right now."
Bennie was doing her patriotic duty writing men she knew in the service. She not only gave Backie and probably others local high school football scores, but she let them know she cared.
"Dear Backie, I haven't heard from Richard in over a month, but I imagine he is pretty busy right now. I worry, of course, but I always heard no news is good news. I'd rather he would be fighting the Germans than the Japs any old day, though. But everyone can't have his every wish granted, and I've been pretty lucky so far, more than most people -- especially all those boys like you who would just like to be home right now."
As Backie had told her early on, "letters always make me feel better" -- a sentiment no doubt shared by servicemen everywhere at the time.
As the war wore on, their letters became more and more personal as they drew closer to each other despite being a half a world apart. In the summer of 1943, Bennie told him about going steady with a guy in Eastland who was about to leave for the Army. By October of that same year, though, that other guy was forgotten and all her letters to Backie were marked SWAK -- (sealed with a kiss).