Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

As we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms, I find myself thinking about my dad. It seems odd to even imagine that he once wore a uniform, because it was so far removed from my experience with him, and he never talked about it. He served in the military - two different branches - near the end of World War II, but only for a couple of years or less. From what I could piece together, he left high school and enlisted in the Civil Air Patrol when he was 17. Perhaps after he turned 18, he transferred to the Navy, and trained as a submarine radio operator. After he had passed away, I found a battered, blue leather folder among some of his papers, and it provided me with a fascinating look into his life during that time.

This is a picture of the contents of the leather binder. The papers are so yellowed and thin, I hardly dare to unfold them. One letter, upper left, verifies that my father enlisted in the Civil Air Patrol Cadets, an auxiliary of the Army Air Force, in early 1944. It says that he "served under the Squadron capably and with outstanding ability and initiative." I think this was my father's recommendation letter that got him transferred from the Air Patrol and into the Navy.

My dad's buddies. Unfortunately, I can't pick him out of this photo - unless he's the one crouched down on the left and a shadow obscures his features. Still, I get a sense of the camaraderie of the soldiers. How young they all seem. In this packet of papers, there's also a photo of my dad's best friend at the time, signed "Good Luck. Ed."

There were four blank postcards, all the same. The wording at the top of the picture reads "Signal Practice and Instruction," and at the bottom, "U.S. Naval Training Center, Sampson, N.Y." This is where my dad attended boot camp, and he must have gotten a stack of postcards to send to his loved ones.

This letter, from the U.S. Navy Recruiting Station, Madison Ave., New York, New York, contains his orders to active duty, dated 7 November 1944. It contains these instructions:
1. You are hereby ordered to report to the U.S. Navy Official at the Pennsylvania Station on Eighth Ave. New York, New York at 9:00 P.M. Thursday night, November 16, 1944 for active duty and transfer to a Naval Training Center. You will report to the U.S. Navy Official at the incoming train board between tracks #5 and #17.
2. When you report you are advised to bring only $6.00 in cash and toilet articles. Do not bring extra clothing other than what you will wear.
3. No provisions have been made for relatives and friends at the railroad station. Say goodbye to them at home and report to the station alone.

This is a valentine, colored with crayons, that my dad received during boot camp from his little sister Marlena. Her girlish cursive signature is on the back. She must have been less than ten years old at that time.

This is part of a letter, scrawled on the back of an envelope. The envelope was mailed to my father on February 10, 1945, and was sent by my mother, who was at that time his girlfriend - probably containing a valentine card. The letter on the back is in my dad's cursive handwriting, and is not complete. I remember my mother telling me that when my dad was 'courting' her, that he used to write drafts of letters, so that the finished product would be perfect. She told me that, over the years, she had accidently come across several of my dad's drafts and cherished them even more than the resulting letters and cards.
This one reads, "I hope you will forgive me for not writing to you as I had promised time and time again, but it will be different from now on. I think you know I took my boot training in Sampson from the card I sent you. Boy! That is just one big period of concentration. The only way I got a leave during the ten weeks was to graduate from high school on January 19. I had four days then and my boot leave came up the next week, so you can imagine how swell it was for me to be on the loose once more. My only regret about it all was that I didn't see you during that time..."

My dad's career came to a halt when it was discovered that he had a loss of hearing in one ear (something he had for the rest of his life) and he was honorably discharged. I guess you can't work as a radio operator with only one good working ear. World War II was over at that point, and my dad re-entered civilian life, married my mom, and the rest, as they say, is history. I am grateful to him, along with the countless others, who bravely served, protecting my right to live freely in this great country of ours.


Mrs4444 said...

My dad, too, served at that time. They did what they needed to do, and they felt honored to serve their country. Those cards/letters/documents are a treasure.

Andrew Scott Turner said...


I love stories about people finding old letters and photos. I get goosebumps

Evansmom said...

What a moving post. My dad also served in the military during WWII. How wonderful that you have these items.

claudia said...

My dad served as well. He is still here, and as your father, does not talk about it. I know little of what he did then. I do know he flew, but not overseas.
Wonderful tribute to your dad and all the others who have served!

Anonymous said...

Happy Memorial Day!

Vegas Princess said...

What a wonderful treasure trove of momentos of your dad! Both my grandfather (WWII) and father (Vietnam) served in the military and they have told me stories or their time but never any details. I wonder if one day I will find such a cache of keepsakes that will allow me to better understand their experience.

Tonjia said...

they were so grown up at such a young age, werent they?

My parents married very very young. And my dad served in WW II also.
He was in the "army air corp" which was later named the US Air Force.

What amazing keepsakes! I am so happy that you have them.

Robin said...

great post! i love reading and hearing about WWII generation - i guess because that was MY parents' generation.

wonderful memories and keepsakes of your dad and how great to pass them along to your kids.

American in Norway said...

Ahhh.. THat is so sweet... makes me all teary too. I hope you can scan copies of exerything... they are such special memories... & the photo... You know you can fix it so that you can see his face/features.... (let me know if I can help you with that) -Tressa

Corrine said...

Amen, Sistah!
Thanks to all the Vet's for our freedom!!!

Dave King said...

I have to agree with Mrs4444. These things are a treasure, as I know from my dad's service. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Nichole said...

how cool to have that history :)

Shellie said...

That is so cool, all those mementos. My dad served in the Korean war :) He got engaged to my mom by mail. Good for all of them. It takes a lot of courage to turn your life over to military service, even for a time.

Joanie M said...

My dad was also a radioman on an LST ship in WW II. Even his handwriting looks like your dad's!

Sarah Laurence said...

What a beautiful Memorial Day post. The old documents and images were fun. Too bad about your dad's ear.

Merrily Down the Stream said...

Zee cards - zey are beeootiful! my question is: What IS to question about being obsessed with serial killers, polygamists and the Sham Wow Guy?

Old Centennial Farmhouse said...

Wow...all I can say is WHAT A TREASURE! And a wonderful heritage that is yours. I revere men like your dad, quiet in service to their country, returned home, made a decent life for their families without ever thinking anyone owed them anything, never even thinking that someone would want to hear them talk about it. An amazing bunch of men and women! I honor them.

Kelly Lei said...

Ahhh.. THat is so sweet... makes me all teary too. I hope you can scan copies of exerything... they are such special memories... & the photo... You know you can fix it so that you can see his face/features.... (let me know if I can help you with that) -Tressa