Showing posts with label WACs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WACs. Show all posts

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Ask an Archivist!






































In a recent entry, I told how I discovered that a letter written by my Aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was included in With Love, Jane, a compilation of correspondence from WWII servicewomen edited by Alma Lutz.

As shown in the table of contents at right, Sgt. Schwartz's letter was on p. 104, one of more than a dozen contributed by "Indispensable WACS."

My aunt's letter began with the salutation: "Dear ____" and had a vague date ("1943").

Who, I wondered, was my Auntie writing to? And when did she actually write the letter that wound up being printed?

I did an online search to find out more about Alma Lutz, and learned that her literary notes and other papers were in the archives of her alma mater, Vassar.

You know what I did next, right? I picked up the phone and called the archives, leaving word about my request for more information about the author's contact with my aunt.

An hour later, I had a return call from the archives! They were delighted to do a quick search for materials from my aunt. And an hour after that, I received an email from the archivist, attaching the pdfs of two V-mail letters from my aunt to Alma Lutz. (Thank you, wonderful archivist! No lengthy wait, no fee.)

You can see the second of the letters to Alma Lutz at top, in which my aunt claims not to remember who she was writing to, not even the approximate date of that letter.

As the archivist said in his email to me: "So, while I can't solve the mystery of 'Dear Blank,' I hope that I can at least provide a little context for its inclusion in the final volume."

The V-mails did indeed give me more background about my aunt and her wartime activities. Now you know why I suggest that researchers go ahead and "ask an archivist."

NOTE: For more "Free or Fee" tips for genealogy, please see my special page here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Military Monday: "650 WACs Defy the Subs"

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was one of 650 WACs in WWII who sailed aboard the RMS Aquitania from New York City on July 8, 1943, arriving at dusk a week later in Gourock, Scotland. It was a risky voyage because the ship sailed alone, without a convoy, under absolute secrecy. They never knew when a German submarine might follow or attack.

RMS Aquitania in Southampton, England
Before the trip, the WACs were held incommunicado at Camp Shanks in New Jersey (guarded by MPs) until they were taken by train to the ship. As historian of the WAC Detachment of the 9th Air Force, Auntie wrote that the WACs "enacted an Ellery Queen radio mystery drama concerning the importance of being security-minded."



Doris Fleeson's article is the cover story


Famed war correspondent Doris Fleeson sailed along with Auntie and her fellow WACs, as well as hundreds of British military personnel. Later that year, Fleeson's long article about the voyage was published in Women's Home Companion as "650 WACs Defy the Subs."

In reading Fleeson's article, I was struck by her mention of "gangplankitis," which she says is "the fear of boarding a ship that might be attacked. Men soldiers have succumbed to it. Sometimes they are hospitalized. Sometimes they are carried aboard. The Wacs entirely escaped gangplankitis."

Once the Aquitania docked and the WACs disembarked, they were met by dignitaries including US Army Captain Sherman, who told them: "You are here safely. The safety of the troops to come depends upon your discretion." Quite a solemn welcome to WACs who would help the Air Force coordinate bombing of enemy targets.

The oral history of Mary Williams Elder was another good source of info about what it was like to be aboard the Aquitania as one of the 650 WACs.