Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saluting the Veterans in Our Family Trees

With gratitude for their service, today I'm saluting some of the many veterans from my family tree and my husband's family tree.


Let me begin with my husband's Slatter family in Canada. Above, second from left is Capt. John Daniel Slatter of the 48th Highlanders in Toronto. He was my hubby's great uncle, an older brother to hubby's Grandma Mary Slatter Wood, and he was a world-famous bandmaster in his time.

At far left of the photo is Capt. Slatter's son, Lt. Frederick William Slatter, who fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge during WWI. Third from left is John Hutson Slatter, grandson of Capt. Slatter, who enlisted in the Canadian military in the spring of 1940 for service in WWII. At far right is another of Capt. Slatter's sons, Lt. Albert Matthew Slatter, who served in Canada's No. 4 Company of 15th Battalion and then in the 48th Highlanders of Toronto. (Albert was the father of John Hutson Slatter.)

Grandma Mary Slatter Wood had two other distinguished bandmaster brothers active in the Canadian military early in the 1900s: Henry Arthur Slatter (who served in the 72d Seaforth Highlanders of Vancouver) and Albert William Slatter (who served in the 7th London Fusiliers of Ontario).


In my family tree, a number of folks served in World War II. Above, 2d from left in front row is my father, Harold D. Burk, who was in the US Army Signal Corps in Europe. His brother, Sidney Burk, also served during WWII, stationed in Hawaii. And I've recently written a lot about my aunt, Dorothy Schwartz, who was a WAC and received the Bronze Star for her service in Europe. My uncle, Dorothy's brother Fred, was in Europe serving with the Army, as well.

Meanwhile, my mother, Daisy Schwartz, was busy selling war bonds in NYC and corresponding with maybe a dozen GIs to keep their spirits up. When Mom wrote the historian's report for the Farkas Family Tree association at the end of 1943, she reflected the entire family's feelings about their relatives fighting for freedom.
For the coming year, the earnest hope of all is that 1944 will find the Axis vanquished and our boys home. All that is unrelated to the war effort must be sublimated to the present struggle to which some in our group have pledged their lives. The rest of us pledge our aid. The Allies will be victorious--God is on our side!

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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Family History Month: Sgt. Schwartz, "The Woman Behind the Man Behind the Gun"

Excerpt from my aunt's published letter in With Love, Jane by Alma Lutz
The year was 1943, and my aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was only 23 years old when she arrived in England as a WAC. She wrote home to a friend about her feelings as a servicewoman and her satisfaction at having a meaningful role in the war effort.

Auntie Dorothy's letter was one of several dozen included in With Love, Jane, a compilation edited by Alma Lutz, a "leader in the fight for woman suffrage and equal rights" (quoting Vassar College's biographical note).

Happily for me, the interlibrary loan system enabled me to put my hands on a copy of this 199-page book, published in 1945.

Carefully turning the pages, because the binding is a little wobbly after 72 years, I read my aunt's thoughts about being in the Army during WWII and her pride at being "the woman behind the man behind the gun." 

Here an excerpt from the first half of Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz's letter as printed in Alma Lutz's volume. And to borrow my aunt's words--you're darn right I'm proud!

Dear ___,

It is close to 0400, Army time; in anybody's time, when life is at its lowest ebb. I'm not writing because I'm unable to sleep. I'm writing during a pause in my work, for my shift is from midnight to 0730, and I'm writing because of a real desire to talk to you. This is the only way it can be done, for we are thousands of miles apart and I can't call you over the phone and hear your low, clear voice reaching me across the miles . . . But I can see you so well in your letters, I know you can read into these lines my own facial expressions, my movements, my very tones, and that you will understand full well what I am trying to say.

I don't know what it is like outside since I came on duty, for my job is to stick at this desk no matter what happens and not leave it. But probably it is deep, dark night with heavy, low clouds, and the thick mist which obscured everything more than a foot away is burdening the earth. You can believe everything you read or see in the movies about English mist and fog and rain--none of it can be exaggerated. It isn't always like this. I guess I've seen every kind of weather at every hour of the day or night by this time, and England would be beautiful to me whatever the weather.

England! Even now, when the initial excitement has long since passed off, when we have been here long enough to have settled down completely--even now, I say, to use "England" as a return address is still startling at times. And how I revel in this piece of fortune! To be able to visualize myself finally and easily as the woman behind the man behind the gun--could any dream come true be more satisfying? You're darn right I'm proud.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Military Monday: Is This Dad's WWII Jacket?

This morning I woke up to an unexpected surprise, in the form of an email from a gentleman in New England. He wrote:
"I recently bought an old military field coat with the name H.D. Burk and B4446 written in it. Some basic research tells me it's from a Harold Burk who was born in 1909 and enlisted in the Army in 1942. A quick Google search also returned a link to your blog...Does this sound like the correct Harold Burk?"
My Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978), enlisted in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton, NY on March 7, 1942, 75 years ago this week. I took out Dad's dog tags and sure enough, the number matched!

I wrote back to say "yes," this sounds like Dad. The handprinted name looks like his writing, and I felt a pang just looking at it. I asked how this gentleman, Mr. G, went about researching the jacket. He sent me to the WWII US Army Enlistment website, which contains info on nearly 9 million people.

At left is the search box from the site, where I did what Mr. G did--I entered the laundry number (part of Dad's serial number) and his surname. Up popped a few details about Dad's enlistment. I had already documented his service, using his discharge papers, among other sources, but now I have another resource to try when researching other ancestors who served in WWII, thanks to Mr. G.

(Try it for any of your ancestors who served in WWII! Even if you don't have a serial number or laundry number, go ahead and fill in other details on the search form, then weed through the results.)

My Dad served in Europe with the 3163d Signal Service Company, as a clerk, and spent April of 1945 in Paris after the liberation. He's the serviceman on the right in this photo at a bistro.

Mr. G gave me more info about the jacket: It's an M-1943 Field Coat, which became standard for the Army during the war, especially for soldiers in colder climates. How my Dad's survived all these years, and in such great shape, I can't imagine.

What a wave of emotion seeing Dad's WWII jacket and handprinted name, and knowing that the collector, Mr. G, wanted to find out more about the man who wore it seven decades in the past.

I'm grateful to Mr. G for getting in touch, especially as this fits in nicely with my Genealogy Go-Over, reexamining documents and artifacts with an eye toward telling more stories about my ancestors. Thanks to Mr. G for permission to post his photos of Dad's jacket!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Saluting My Family's WWII Veterans

During World War II, a number of family members served in the military. I'm proud and grateful for their service!

Above left, my father Harold Burk (1909-1978) was a personnel clerk and Technician 5th grade in the 3163d Army Signal Service Corps, supporting combat troops in Central Europe and Germany.

Above right, Harold's brother, my uncle Sidney Burk (1914-1995), was (I believe) serving on staff for the Judge Advocate General in Hawaii during WWII.

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001), shown in the news clipping at right, was a sergeant in the Women's Army Corps and received the Bronze Star for supporting bombardment forces in Belgium, France, England, and elsewhere in Europe. The story of her harrowing wartime voyage across the Atlantic with hundreds of WACs and British military is here.

Her brother, my uncle Frederick Shaw (1912-1991), was an Army staff sergeant who trained troops in a number of Southern installations from 1943 to 1945.

In addition, cousins on both sides of the family were in the military. Thank you!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Treasure Chest Thursday: Edgar James Wood's WWII Newspapers

My late dad-in-law, Edgar James Wood, held onto several newspapers with historic WWII headlines. Above is one of my favorites: On August 15, 1945, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced PEACE across its entire front page.

Another issue he saved is from the Chicago Sunday Tribune of August 26, 1945, as U.S. forces prepared for the occupation of Japan.

As we prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, I'm glad Ed saved these papers in such good condition for decades and decades.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Treasure Chest Thursday: Who's the General on This War Bonds Wallet?

The Gen Do-Over is a great time to look at every artifact related to the family tree.

My late father-in-law Edgar J. Wood kept a number of items from the World War II era. In addition to items like war-time fuel limit posters (donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society earlier this year), he held onto this handsome leather war bonds wallet.

It was given away by the Carnegie Body company of Cleveland, Ohio, whose name is stamped on the back. Since Ed was an insurance adjustor, he certainly had a lot of contact with such companies in the course of his work.

On the front is an image of what looks like a four-star U.S. general.

Who is he? - SEE BELOW!

I imagine his face was familiar to the men and women of America some 70 years ago.

Any ideas?* Two answers came right away, including one from the WRHS: This is almost certainly General MacArthur. Makes sense, doesn't it? He's so young in this image. By the end of the war, he looked a lot older...

UPDATE: This wallet has been donated to the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA, where it will become part of the artifact collection related to General MacArthur. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: From the In-Laws' Attic in Cleveland

My late father- and mother-in-law (Edgar James Wood and Marian McClure Wood) held onto this WWII poster for decades, and it remains in excellent shape. Hubby remembers it being stored in the attic of their Cleveland Heights home during the 1950s. They took the poster with them when they moved in the 1970s and moved again in the 1980s. We just asked the Western Reserve Historical Society if it would like this as a donation.*

*UPDATE: The historical society said yes, and it is getting the air raid poster above and the fuel ration notice at right. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 3: Clues Are Everywhere

This is the week for conducting research and I'm doing a bit of it even as I continue inventorying those 19 archival boxes of family photos and documents sitting in my home office.

Tonight I inventoried one of the boxes holding papers and photos of my father, Harold Burk (1909-1978).

For instance, I picked up this photo of Dad in WWII, given to me a few months ago from my first cousin, who got it from our uncle, Sidney Burk (1914-1995). Research shows that Sidney enlisted in the Army a few months after his older brother Harold enlisted in 1942.

I turned the photo over. No caption, no writing. Dad did write on the backs of some photos, just not this one.

Still, I pulled out my trusty magnifying glass and checked the back more carefully. There, in the upper left corner, was a very faint impression of an old-fashioned postmark. See the photo below. By turning the photo this way and that under strong light, I could make out the year: 1942. The photo had been mailed to someone in the family, and the strength of the postmark penetrated the envelope and left an impression on the photo!

Research shows Dad enlisted at Camp Upton, NY on March 7, 1942. I also have his $10,000 National Service Life Insurance policy, issued on April 1, 1942.

Looking at the uniform and the place, I conclude this is Dad in basic training somewhere in the south.** He must have had the photo taken and mailed it to his brother, either at home in the Bronx or wherever his brother was in basic training.

Clues are everywhere. When I log this photo in my inventory list, my source for dating it will be the official government stamp showing the year :)

** Further inventorying in same archival box turned up a different photo of Dad in same uniform, same time--with a studio name stamped on the back. It was taken in Miami, FL.

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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thanksgiving, Nov 22, 1945 in Shoemaker, CA





Ruby Wasserman, who wrote dozens of letters to Mom while in the US Navy, sent her this menu from the U.S. Naval Training and Distribution Center in Shoemaker, California.

Ruby was a little doubtful before dinner . . . he wrote: "Many a time when we were told that the food was going to be exceptionally good, it turned out to be terrible. I hope that it is not true in this case." Later he continued in this long letter: "It was delicious in all respects. I had some of everything, and right now I am still eating some of the nuts I got. Next year I hope to be eating turkey as a civilian."

For anyone doing genealogical research, the names of the top officers listed in this menu are:

O.M. Forster, Commodore, USN, Commander
J.M. Bloom, Captain, USNR, Chief Staff Officer
H.V. Moon, Lt. Comdr., USNR, Commissary Officer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

September 1945: Big Strikes in Big Apple

One of the letters written to my Mom comments on her apparent mention, in her letter, of the big elevator operator strike of September, 1945. According to the book Working-Class New York, this was a huge strike of elevator operators, maintenance people, doormen and others, a strike that brought business in the Big Apple to a virtual halt. Time also covered the strike, quoting both NYC Mayor LaGuardia and New York Governor Tom Dewey on their successful efforts to get labor and management back to the bargaining table.

In those days, self-service elevators were practically non-existent, so having the operators go on strike meant no elevator access to offices and showrooms on high floors in tall NYC skyscrapers. On the other hand, because of mandatory wage freezes during WWII, many workers were anxious for raises, and the strikes reflected this pent-up frustration.

The Empire State Building, having been accidentally hit at the 78th floor by an airplane in July, 1945, was just getting back to normal when the strike posed new problems for commercial tenants and their visitors (not to mention mail carriers). I wonder how many office workers climbed 20 or 80 or even 90 sets of stairs to go to work every day? One story tells of a big group of stockbrokers (on the 31st floor of the Empire State Bldg) ordering sandwiches and giving the delivery person a $75 tip for walking up all those stairs!

Interestingly, my Mom's friend in the Navy writes that there are plenty of strikes in San Francisco, the big city closest to where he is stationed. He also mentions major fires in the area, the result of prolonged drought. "You will probably see pictures of the fires soon in the newsreels" he writes, since at this time the major news outlets were newspapers, radio and newsreels shown in movie theaters.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Idle Gossip Sinks Ships

Over the years, Mom saved dozens and dozens of letters from a few close friends and relatives. I'm still transcribing a few every day. Just looking at the envelopes is an education in history. The envelopes of letters sent by one friend, writing from an Air Corps training camp in Goldsboro, NC, are stamped "IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS." The dates are late 1942 through mid-1943. The stamps are purple with an eagle holding its wings high and the phrase "WIN THE WAR."