Category Archives: Historic Events

A Slice of My Life: Veterans Day Memories, World War II

For most people reading this, World War II is an historic event that seems as remote as the Civil War.  I hate to shock you—but I was alive during World War II. Not only that, I have memories.

Here are a random few:

Handsome men in uniform–including uncles and cousins.

World War II Vets

Uncles Herbert and Bill Anderson and Cousin Frank Fair 1943

This picture shows my Uncle Herbert and Uncle Bill Anderson, both navy men, and my cousin Frank who was the most glamorous of all–a fighter pilot in the Army Air Force. He was incredibly handsome and married an incredibly beautiful young woman.  I thought they were movie stars come to earth in Ohio. The many war movies we were seeing at the Duncan Theater in Killbuck never had stars any more glamorous.

Frank and Ruth Fair 1942

Frank and Ruth Fair 1942

 

Frank Fair, WWII, 1943

Frank Fair, WWII, 1943

Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers

A Blue Star banner with three stars hung in my Grandma Vera Anderson’s window, and Blue Star and Gold Star banners could be seen in many windows throughout town.  Every mother or grandmother got a blue star.  I always thought Grandma should have a gold one, because they were prettier, but I didn’t understand that to get a gold star you had to have lost a son.  There was an organization of Blue Star mothers than grandma attended, too.  The women found comfort together.

Blue star banner

A blue star banner from the Library of Congress photo collection

Protecting New Philadelphia from Bombs

I was not more than three when I begged to go along with my Daddy on his rounds at a Civil Defense Warden. It was a volunteer position, put he had an armband to wear over his overcoat sleeve to identify him, and carried a heavy flashlight, hooded and kept pointed at the ground, as he walked around the neighborhood checking to be sure no light shown out of any window.

Of course, people were also not supposed to be on the streets at night–other than the Civil Defense Wardens. So of course I wanted to be out on the street!  One night I remember clearly, despite my young age, my Daddy relented and I walked alongside him, holding his hand, very proud to be the daughter of such an important person.

Remembering this scene now brings to mind so many of the things about World War II that were unique and that I have not seen repeated in my lifetime.

For one thing, it seems a little surreal that people actually thought that German bombers might be heading for the small city of New Philadelphia in Ohio, and therefore we had to keep the lights out when there was an air raid siren. (Most if not all were practice alarms, I am sure.)

Second, it is a reminder of how united the country was–how everyone felt they had a part to play in defeating the enemy and helping our troops.  People didn’t just cooperate by turning out the lights when told to, they collected tin cans and newspapers, women knitted socks, men and women planted victory gardens so that farm produce could go to feed the fighting men, we sold war bonds at school. The whole country was fighting that war. And it felt very close.

I am happy to report that no German bombs fell on New Philadelphia on my Daddy’s watch.

Raising Rabbits

Besides raising vegetables in the back yard, my parents experimented with raising rabbits. Daddy built a wood framed, wire cage that sat in the back of the garage. He stocked it with a pair of rabbits and they did their rabbit thing. Soon we had a cage full of baby rabbits.  Of course, I thought it was a windfall of pets, but I’m sure that mother and dad had in mind supplementing the meat they could buy with their ration stamps.

I am not sure that my mother had the fortitude to kill the fluffy little critters and cook them. At any rate, the baby rabbit managed to escape the cage, and one day my parents got a call from neighbors asking if their rabbits were missing.  I believe that was the end of rabbit farming at our home in New Philadelphia.

There are other memories–but I have to keep something for next year, don’t I?

 

Veterans in the Family–William J. Anderson

Seabee William J. Anderson

I have listed all the veterans in my family as I find them.  Please pay tribute to them here. (You will also find the names of the people in the family picture below by clicking on that link.) However, I must admit, I have many more veterans to add that I have discovered the in the past year. Those include Charles Morgan, son of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who fought in the Civil War for the North.

Now I would like to focus on one particular World War II veteran, now deceased, my uncle William J. Anderson.

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1942 or 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, 1942 or 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

World War II Family 1942 or 1943

World War II Family 1942 or 1943 gathered in Killbuck Ohio home of Guy and Vera Anderson. William J. Anderson is seated on the right hand side in his Navy blues.

 

Uncle Bill served in the United States Navy as a “SeaBee”–C.B., Construction Battalion, in the islands of the South Pacific roughly between 1943 and 1946. In 1942 or 1943 he and other relatives gathered at the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Vera and Guy Anderson in Killbuck, Ohio. He was probably at the end of his initial training period and would be shipped out to the Pacific in December 1943.

William J. Anderson Change of Address Card

Not only does this give me some interesting information about Uncle Bill, but it also highlights when my own family moved from Ames Iowa to Chicago Illinois during the war.

As for William J. Anderson, we learn that in December 1943,  he is with the 12th Specialists Battalion,  Company B-2. He holds the rank of EM 3/C, and his ship is in the Pacific–fleet post office San Francisco.  What does all that mean?

For one thing, it means that the nagging question I had as a five- and six-year-old was finally going to be answered.  We never knew where my uncles and cousin were in the Pacific. Once one of them sent us a souvenir book with pictures and maps showing Pacific islands, and I was convinced (having read too many Bobsey Twins mysteries) that they were sending us a secret code through the book to tell us where they were. I puzzled over it throughout the war, but never learned their locations.

Part way through the war, the Navy created Special Construction Battalions (also called Seabee Specials) for stevedores and longshoremen who unloaded ships in battle zones.  According to a history of the Seabees, the 12th Specialists were trained initially at Camp Peary in Virginia for three weeks and then in Port Hueme in California for six weeks before being shipped out in 1943, arriving in January 1944 at the Russell Islands in the Pacific. After unloading ships in the Russels for sixteen months, the 12th Spec. Battalion left its base and arrived in Okinawa on May 21, 1945.

Seabees emblem.

Seabees emblem.

William J. Anderson Dog Tag

I recently found Uncle Bill’s dog tags, and then saw this picture of him wearing the dog tag as he stood on a tropical island.

I have not been able to find what the meaning is of the serial number. If you know how to decode Navy serial numbers, please let me know.  If you are looking to decode an army serial number, Amy Johnson Crow comes to the rescue here.   However, I did learn that the “O” is for blood type, and the T 6/43 means he got a tetanus shot in June, 1943. I am not sure why he is USNR (Navy Reserve), but that may explain the earlier date of 1942 on the pictures of the family gathering. He would have a sailor uniform if he was in the reserve.

History of the 12th Special Battalion

Uncle Bill’s cheerful demeanor hints that this was probably the first post in the Russels, because the next post was not a piece of cake. Okinawa saw the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific, and the 12th was still there when the Japanese surrendered  in August 1945.

From Wikipedia: “Between the American landing on 1 April and 25 May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes.”

The Seabees arrived at a most unwelcoming time of year, as Wikipedia graphically describes.

“By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested hills and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese and American bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey

You can see a film of the battle of Okinawa at the History website.

It is probably just as well that we did not know he was on Okinawa. Weh worried enough just listening to the radio news of the war, and seeing the newsreels that followed the features at the movie theater and reading screaming headlines. Had we known he was on Okinawa during that horrible battle, I don’t know how we would have coped. For that matter, I don’t know how HE coped, but he seemed to come through just fine.

William J. Anderson Life Details

The Rank on the change of Address card is EM 3/C, which means Electrician’s Mate, third Class.  While I know that Uncle Bill was proficient at fixing electrical things after the war, he was also handy at a great many chores.  His stories of the war, on a par with the tales in Catch 22,  indicated that he spent more time making deals with incoming ships to get good whiskey and special food for his commanding officer than working on wiring. But the Navy does not have a ranking for Finagling Deal Maker.

This information from the history of the Seabees makes me doubt the dating of the picture of our family and other pictures of Bill in his uniform as 1942, because the change of address specifies December 1943.  That would indicate that the pictures with the family would have been taken in 1943 near the end of his training, rather than 1942.

William J. Anderson would have been thirty-eight years old when he shipped off to a Pacific Island. That seems old for a warrior, but I read in a history of the Seabees that the average enlisted age of those construction battalion workers was thirty-seven. They were paid $140 a month, which made them one of the highest paid groups in the military.

Military life was not entirely foreign to Uncle Bill, as I described in this story about him in post-WWI civilian camp.

My other uncle, Herbert Anderson, was also a Seabee, as was my cousin, Robert Anderson.

They all came home safe after World War II, although Robert Anderson stayed in the Navy as a career.

I thank them all for their enormous contribution to our Nation during World War II.

 

How I am Related

Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of

Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the sister of

William J. Anderson

Why Chautauqua County, Jesse Morgan?

When I ask a question like “Grandpa Jesse Morgan, why did you go to Chautauqua County and why did you move to Ohio?”  a lot of people just shrug and say, “You’ll never know.”  I love challenges!

Answering the Basic Questions

Just as in journalism, family historians are constantly seeking What, Who, Where, When. But the all-important Why is the most difficult thing for us to find when the ancestors are long gone and did not leave a journal or letters to explain their actions.

The Who, What and Where

Last week, I concluded that Jesse Morgan moved to Ohio because of the encouragement he received from a nephew, Aaron Purdy in an 1835 letter addressed to Jesse at Volusia, Chautauqua County, New York. Ironically, as my great-great grandfather, Jesse Morgan, was moving to Ohio, Aaron was giving up his grocery store in Holmes County, Ohio and taking off for the Pacific Northwest.

In searching for motivations for Jesse’s relocations, I found answers in a very unlikely place. I had searched birth dates for Jesse’s children to see where he lived when they were born, and looked for the cemeteries where they were buried. I had looked at the family of Mary Pelton, his first wife and where they lived. I had read portions of a history of Chautauqua County, a history of the Morgan family and a portion of a book about the Pelton family.

Taking time off from genealogy research (I thought) I was reading the historical account of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She traces the backgrounds of the three men who worked most closely with Abraham Lincoln.  As I read about William H. Seward, who became Lincoln’s Secretary of State, a location jumped out at me: Westfield, Chautauqua, New York. Volusia, the place where Jesse was living in 1835, was a hamlet within the town of Westfield.

The book, Team of Rivals, introduced me to the housing boom in Chautauqua County and the Holland Land Company.  Perhaps that boom is what took Jesse there.  His wife-to-be had lived in the area on the Pelton family farm close to the nearby town of Sherman, so it is likely he met her after he moved. I may never know what Jesse was doing there.  Was he speculating in land? Was he teaching–a sometime later occupation? There was a Westfield Acadamy founded the year that he probably moved to Westfield, so I can speculate that he may have gone there to teach, and met his wife there.

Holland Land Company

Map of Western New York from late 18th or early 19th century,including land owned by Holland Land Company.

 

The Holland Land Company was an investment company owned by investors from Amsterdam. The original landholders never left Amsterdam to see the vast country they acquired in New York and a bit of northern Pennsylvania. One of the many towns that evolved from that original purchase was Westfield, Chautauqua County, New York.

Although the land company and its successors who bought smaller portions of the properties were generous in their terms, sometimes charging no down payment at all, I was interested to learn that settlers complained that interest was too high and a serious revolt developed. This unrest by settlers seems to be a foreshadowing of Jesse Morgan’s fate.

The first settlers of Westfield came from Pennsylvania, just as Jesse did. In 1801 two Pennsylvania men had purchased the land that would incorporate the new town and in 1805 the first post office was established and by 1803 there was a school.

The WHEN

Mary Pelton’s father  moved his family to Cuyahoga County from Oneida County in 1827, and Mary and Jesse Morgan’s first child was born in 1830, so they were probably married in 1829.

Jesse and his first wife lived in Westfield before they moved to Ohio in roughly 1837.  Their four children who survived to adulthood were born in Westfield in 1830, 32, 34 and 36. What drew him to Westfield from his father’s home in northwestern Pennsylvania?  And why did he leave?

In 1835, according to Team of Rivals, William H. Seward was hired as the manager to handle the legal details of land transfers and moved into a  rented house in Westfield, where he also ran the land business with five clerks. That means that William Seward and my great-great grandfather Morgan might very well have known each other, since Seward’s time in Westfield (1835-1838) overlaps Jesse (1829-1837). The “pleasant village” as Seward’s wife described it, had a population of just under 3000 in 1837.

The WHY

I knew that something gave the restless Jesse reason to depart for greener pastures around 1837 or 1838. The reason became clear when I learned about a terrible recession, known as the Panic of 1837, that hit the booming housing developments of Chautauqua County very hard. William Seward had no sooner established himself there with a job with the Holland Land Company, than property sales plummeted.

This “panic” of 1837 brought widespread misery in its wake–bankrupt businesses, high unemployment, a run on banks, plummeting real estate values, escalating poverty.  “I am almost in despair,” Seward wrote home.  “I have to dismiss three clerks…”

From a letter by William Seward in fall, 1837, quoted in Team of Rivals.

Panic of 1837

US Whig poster showing unemployment in 1837

This family of a tradesman parallels Jesse’s family in 1837–two boys and two girls.

  • Father: I have no money, and cannot get any work.
  • Little girl: Father, Can I get a piece of bread.
  • Boy in blue: I say, Father, could you get some Specie Claws? (A play on the “Specie clause” by which president Andrew Jackson mandated that payment for land be in gold or silver rather than bank-printed paper notes)
  • Boy in brown: I’m so hungry
  • Mother: My dear, cannot you contrive to get some food for the children? I care not for myself.
  • Man at door: I say, Sam, I wonder when we are to get our costs? (Poster words: Warrant, Destraint for Rent.)
  • Posters on the wall show Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Jackson had been president during the lead up to the panic, and the unfortunate Van Buren, inherited the panic, which started five weeks after he took office.

In the midst of this great recession, largely driven by land speculation, Jesse joined the large movement into the new state of Ohio. His interest in Westfield continued, as I have a photocopy of a letter sent to him  in Ohio many years later from an old friend in Westfield that outlines the economy.

To Be Continued

As you will see as I continue the story of Jesse, his move to Ohio did not solve his financial problems.  Again, I am not sure what he intended to do in Ohio. Mother thought that he taught at Keene Academy in Coshocton County and that is where he met his second wife, my great-great-grandmother Mary Bassett Platt, but as I look at the documents that possibility is looking less likely.  Jesse and his first wife’s infant son (who probably died as an infant) was born in Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio.

Mary Bassett Platt’s first husband died in 1833 in Killbuck, and she received letters addressed to Killbuck, so there is no record proving that she went back to her home town of Keene to teach in the academy after her husband died. Because the records of Keene Academy seem to have disappeared, I have to say her teaching at Keene and meeting Jesse  could be a possibility, unproven.

Note: If I ever go on a research trip to Westfield, I can stay in the William Seward House which is now a Bed and Breakfast Inn. According to one account, William did not actually live in that house, but purchased it and oversaw (by mail) its remodeling by his brother Benjamin who succeeded him as land agent from 1838 to 1840. Furthermore, the Inn was saved from destruction, by moving it, so it is no longer even in the same location as the original mansion/land office.

Notes on Research

Federal Census, 1830, Chautauqua County, New York. 1820, Oneida County, New York, 1850 Marrion, Oregon Territory.

Letter from Aaron Purdy to Jesse Morgan, August 7, 1835, photocopy in author’s possession

James Morgan and his Descendants, by Nataniel Morgan, 1869, Hartford: Case, Lockhard and Bernard, available on line at archive.org

Genealogy of the Pelton Family in America, J. M. Pelton, 1892, Albany: Joel Munson’s Sons Publishers. Available on line at archive.org.

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005: New York: Simon &  Schuster Paperbacks

History of Chautauqua County, New York: from its settlement to the present time, Andrew White Young, 1875, Buffalo: Matthews and Warren. Available on line at archive.org