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.