Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Complications of Moving

I'm still here, but moving houses has me pretty preoccupied.  In part, I'm trying to figure out how to keep my place in what I'm doing with the archiving that I have all spread out, and how to safely transport all of it.  In the meantime, perhaps you'd like an interesting picture or two?  The first is captioned, "A little welcome in the P.I." and the second has the caption below.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Thoughts About Racism in This Context (Happy Columbus Day)

One of the things that I am learning a little bit about through these letters from my grandpa during the war is his feelings toward Japanese people.  Let me say right now that my grandpa was not an outwardly racist man in actions or words when I was alive.  However... when I was in junior high I did a little exchange program with some Japanese students - they came to us for a couple of weeks one summer, then we went to them for a couple of weeks the next summer.  We studied Japanese language and culture in between and tried to be somewhat knowledgeable, at least for junior high kids.  It was a wonderful fun and broadening experience that I'm very lucky to have had.  When I came home from Japan I brought my Grandma and Grandpa some little chopstick grandparents as a souvenir.  I don't remember anymore exactly what made me realize this, but it was a little uncomfortable with my grandpa when I gave them to him.  At that point I knew it related to the war (we had gone to Pearl Harbor on our way to Japan, which gave me a tiny bit of context), but I really couldn't understand it yet, and honestly didn't try very hard (and maybe even felt a little exasperated by it - all of my new Japanese friends were so nice and so much like us - what was the problem?).  He didn't talk about the war, and I didn't ask about it.

In a letter from January 14, 1944, my grandpa wrote about one day when his ship was several miles out, and something was swimming up to them.*  They didn't know what it was for a while, so they had their guns trained on it in case it was a Japanese soldier.  (He said, a "Jap," and that they were "tricky."  You can read his words below.)  It turned out to be a water buffalo that they presumed was scared into the ocean by all the warfare on shore, and was now looking for some safe landing (which makes my disney-fied self unspeakably sad, but that's another story.)  It couldn't get on board, so there wasn't much they could do aside from not shooting it (which they didn't).  So on it went, and on they went, amid air raids and being shot at and watching planes dive bomb their fellow ships. 

I have tried to put myself in his shoes in that situation, and it's terrifying.  And it makes me understand yet another destructive element of war a little bit better.  After you have found yourself pitted against another set of people, who are actively trying to kill you, how could you ever stop seeing them as the enemy on some level?  Even if you had all kinds of context to put something like that in, and years passed and peace was realized between your countries, and their grandkids are friends with your grandkids, do those kinds of muscle memories ever really go away?  Is it maybe good sometimes that we as humans don't have a very good collective memory about a lot of things? I would imagine that for Grandpa it was a very conscious effort to be smarter than his body would have him be, if you will.  I haven't thought it all the way around yet, but I'm working on it, and I wanted to write some of it out and hear what you think as well.  

My grandpa was not a racist man, and yet this part of him has always bothered me because it didn't square in my understanding of him.  Now I know why.  I believe I've said this before and I know I'll say it again: The greatest gift of these letters and keepsakes is the chance to see my ancestors in a more human and complete way.  It was brave of Grandpa to let me and others have these things.  It touches me that the lessons I might learn from these things were worth the risk to him that I would get to see him as himself, which was not perfect.  And I am not perfect, so it makes me love him all the more.  And it makes me feel more brave about preserving my things like this for my daughter.  What a wonderful journey this is.

*Sidenote neat thing:  I found a reference to this water buffalo event in another of his shipmate's journals here:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Words I Cannot Imagine Writing

Here is another postcard from Grandpa, but this one is to my dad.  It reads as follows:

Dear Maxie:
Here is a picture of part of Oakland.
I have been there several times.
It look like Daddy is going for
a long ride on a ship and
won’t see you for a while.  Be
a good boy and don’t forget
me.  I’ll be back some day
and we will have a big
time then.  Take good care of
Danny and be good to Mother
and Sister.  Love,

[postmarked from U.S. Navy Oct. 29, 1944]

I read this and typed out the words and thought about my cutie pie kiddo sleeping downstairs and could not in a million years imagine writing these words out and sending them off.  He also wrote one to his other son, who was less than a year old, and I imagine this might be what is in the postcard from the last post, to my aunt.  It's just beyond comprehension.  It makes me wonder how that changes a person - how it changed Grandpa.  I know he was in love with his family, and I know he was ambivalent about the war... I can't quite get the words out right but this is one of many things that really puts World War II in much more relevant light.  This is the best history course I've ever taken.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Little Mysteries At Each Step

The above is a postcard from my grandpa to my aunt (his young daughter) when he was in training.  Does anyone know the right things to try to get this to expose in a way (digitally) that I might be able to read the writing?  Some of my favorites are the letters to the kids, and I'm sure this is just a little note, but I figure it must be fixable... I just don't know how.  That's how all of this seems to go right now.  I know most of the people in a picture, but who is that one guy?  This box of Oddfellows jewelry is labeled as belonging to one uncle, but then why is the name on the certificates someone else's (who I don't know).  I'm starting to understand what Grandpa's ship was doing during the war, but what does a Quartermaster actually do?  The cool thing is that some of these little mysteries are solvable.  I know a bit about what a Quartermaster does now, and intend to learn more.  I may never know who that guy is, but I may take the picture to my aunt next week and she'll know exactly who he is.  It's wonderful having these little wonders in my life.

And on a completely different note, my family and I are moving houses in the next month, and so posting has been light and may continue to be light.  I'm not really sure.  But don't worry, I'm still here, and I promise I have a huge stack of letters and pictures and odds and ends still waiting to be explored, so there will be much more to come.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"My Highest Ambition"

I found this tonight and really wanted to share it.  On the back Grandpa wrote, "Just a little daydreaming by 'Pop' De Vore on one of those 'uncomfortable' afternoons in the Pacific."  Next step: figure out who "Pop" De Vore is and share this with him and/or his loved ones (he is the artist, not my grandpa)!  He must have been on Grandpa's boat, so that's a great first clue.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

These Moments of Connection are the Best

 This whole family archive ride is such a wild one sometimes!  I have been on a vacation visiting the hub's side of the family, so I've been out of the groove of these archives and was a bit reluctant to dive back in because I can get so lost in it all.  However, dive I have, and I am having such fun again (and once again totally lost in a good way)!

I've been going through more WWII letters to and from Grandpa, and will be for some time I think.  The first thing I scanned tonight was a letter from January 1945, which Grandpa wrote after the biggest battle his ship participated in, and after not receiving mail for two months. Imagining what that might have been like is incredibly difficult for me (as I just now run downstairs to soothe my kiddo as she sleeps and kiss my husband).  To me, my grandpa was not a violent or macho person or even one to mention his war experiences particularly, so it's strange to read his accounts of things and hear the necessary hard edge that I would imagine he would have to have gained quickly to get through it.  That, too, must have been strange for him.  And then in the next line after describing his war duties, he reminds my grandma of how much he loves her and misses everyone.  I am incredibly grateful to get to witness the nuances of his experience and personality at the time. 

As I was pondering all of this, the next document I came to was a timeline of sorts of his ship, the LCI (R) 226, which was a Landing Craft Infantry rocket ship.  I didn't even know that much at the time, but do now because as soon as I started reading his timeline I started googling.  I almost lost my mind for a moment because as soon as I started searching I was finding pictures of his ship, other people's timelines of the ship, and other odds and ends like that.  I could actually compare his timeline with some of the others and see them match up.  I can't quite recapture why exactly it blew my mind, but it was a really wonderful moment of connection that has come to be one of my favorite things about going through these archives.

This was the first thing I found:
That's his boat!!

I'm still a little amazed, and not feeling fully coherent about why this is so exciting, but for now I'll work on it in my head some more, and leave you with another picture.  The first picture was of the crew of  the LCI 226 on August, 1945.  This bottom picture is of the Illinois contingent, with Grandpa's caption for names.  Grandpa is the oldest of the bunch (most likely), standing on the far right.

[Reads: Illinois members of the crew of LCI (R) 226.
Left to right:
Back row - Hurley - Chief Pharmacist Mate.
                  Warwick - Ships Cook 1/c
                  Goodwin - Quartermaster 3/c
Front row - Zelinski - Seaman 1/c
                   Hoffman - Fireman 1/c

Taken aboard ship somewhere in The Philippines, April 21, 1945.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Living by Our Wits Since the Early 1900's

We had our family reunion on Saturday and it was wonderful to see everyone and I did get a few answers from my Aunt and Great Aunt, with the results of the answers to come later.  I also was entrusted with some more treasures to scan and catalog, which is always exciting.  Until I get the huge box of stuff home and look at another stack of pictures, some labeled, some total mysteries, and... phew.  This is going to take a while.  I have some funny things that I've found that I thought you'd like too.  One has to do with Uncle Dow again, but I need more time to get that all scanned.  The one I have for you today is a picture with an inscription from my Grandpa G on the back.  Here's the picture and the inscription, with transcription below:

Ed Boles was a cousin of my grandmother (your great-grandmother) G.  He was a hobo who would come to our house occasionally to see Grandma G who lived with us.  He was intelligent, well-travelled, well dressed, and adverse to hard work.  He lived by his wits.

A cousin at the reunion told me that Grandpa told a story about how Ed would buy bars of soap, cut them up into smaller pieces, wrap the pieces in tin foil, then sell them as spot remover until he was run out of town.  The story makes me think of Harold Hill, which makes me like cousin Ed.  I don't know what happened to cousin Ed. tells me he was born in 1872, but I don't have information about his death, and I don't know what the story with the sign is - is this a photo studio or a real train or what??  Any guesses?