Charles ‘Bud’ White of Little Silver gets his first look at the Barefoot Bulletin in decades. Below, page one of the August, 1945 edition, dated five days before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The entire set of bulletins is now archived online. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Seventy years ago, just about halfway through what was then proving an epic war fought on multiple fronts around the globe, a bunch of “the boys overseas” began getting mail from a Red Bank woman named Margaret Rullman.
They all knew her, or knew of her: she was the wife of a prominent surgeon in town. And she knew all of 29 of them, or their families. Each of her recipients was an original member or connected to the Barefoot Yacht Club, an informal gang of river rats who had been sailing, skating and hanging out on the Navesink River for the past decade, since they were pre-teens.
Rullman – aided by Katherine Lippincott, mother of one of the boys, and Louise Sayre, whose daughter Barbara was the group’s only female – called her monthly missives the “Bare Foot Bulletin” in their honor, later shortening the first two words into one. The initial edition went out in September, 1943, and began with a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees:”
I think that I shall never see
An outfit like the BFC [Bare Foot Club]
A group that did in summer wear
A nest of seaweed in its hair…
Then Rullman got right down to the business at hand, which was letting the boys elsewhere know what was going on at home while also keeping them current on what their companions around the globe were doing in the war effort – information gleaned from their own letters sent stateside.
Over the next 29 months, including six editions after the war’s end, Rullman delivered the homefront news in snappy, affectionate, ‘you remember this guy’ prose that belied the awful carnage and heartbreak of war.
Charles ‘Bud’ White, now 90 years old and living in Little Silver, was one of the Barefooters, on Navy Patrol Craft Escort 856 in the South Pacific, far from his home on Red Bank’s Elm Place, when the letters started arriving.
He pulls the names from memory: Borden “Brub” Hance. Barlow Lippincott. Arnold Schwartz, longtime owner of a Plymouth dealership in Red Bank. Henry Pope, “who always came in last” in sneakboat races the club held out of its club, located at what’s now Riverside Gardens Park.
“We were all born in the early ’20s,” White said, “and we were all ripe for World War II.” Several were killed, but the Barefooters “came out pretty lucky, as the percentages went.”
Aboard warships in the Pacific, at posts in the European theater and elsewhere around the globe, soldiers and sailors opened their mail to a find a newsletter from home packed with updates about their buddies, their beaus and life on their beloved Navesink.
This is from the second edition, in October 1943 (click to enlarge):
Line after single-spaced line, issue after issue, amounting to hundreds of news items: who won a boat race; who got married and had who as her bridesmaids; who ran into who and where. Here’s a snippet from the “Iz Zat So” section of the November, 1944 edition:
The September 1, 1945 issue reported on the merriment that followed news of the war’s end. “The loudest whooper-uppers were the seventeen year olds who were waiting for greetings from the President,” it said.
It also included this paragraph:
In keeping the “boys” connected to their pals and their community, the letters constitute a breathtaking record of their time. White got a glimpse of the whole collection just once, at a reunion of the Barefooters held in 1982 on a steamboat on the river. Or maybe it was the one Henry Pope held at his house. Either way, he remembered it having a powerful impact.
“These letters meant an awful lot to us,” White said, even when the newsletter reported “who got shot up or killled. Mrs. Rullman was our communication with back home.” He called the collection, “another Red Bank Register.”
Rullman died in 1983. Her obituary in the Register included a paragraph about the “communication network for Red Bank area servicemen, including members of the Bare Foot Yacht Club,” that she maintained via the newsletter. She had lived for the prior 60 years in a house at what’s now the Bluffs development on West Front Street, adjacent to Riverside Gardens Park.
White, who raised four children while working in the appliances division of Westinghouse, is long retired, and volunteers his time in the medical library at Riverview Medical Center.
But until redbankgreen interviewed him two months ago, he was unaware that the letters had been published online by the Rutgers Oral History Archives. They’d been donated by Gladys Lippincott, Katherine Lippincott’s daughter in law.
redbankgreen was there as White got his first real look at the letters, his eyes growing damp with emotion.
“Nothing, not $20,0000, could make me happier than to see these letters again,” he said. “That was my youth.”