Thursday, November 8, 2018

'What a lucky man I am to have a girl like you'

I often come across World War II postcards and letters written by lonely soldiers to their sweetheart back home. Sometimes they mention that the girl sent the soldier a picture of herself. Such is the case with a postcard I recently found on eBay, and the story behind it is particularly interesting.

Back in those days, taking photos and having them developed was a bit of an undertaking. It was not cheap and not very fast, nothing like today when digital photos can be transmitted instantly.

The card is from James, an Army Private First Class stationed in Alaska, to Marjorie in New York City, (I’m omitting last names for privacy). It's dated 10 July 1944. In the postcard, James gushes about the wonderful photographs he received from Marjorie, and concludes by saying, “Your coiffure is stunningly, enormously attractive. What a wonderful, lucky man I am to have a girl like you.”

Ah, young love. But it turns out they weren’t
Front side of James' postcard.
so young, at least Marjorie wasn’t. She was 44 years old, a schoolteacher doing graduate work at Columbia University in New York City. She lived in Laureate Hall, Columbia's on-campus graduate student housing on West 119th Street in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. The building is still there.

Marjorie was a native of Portland, Maine, held an undergraduate degree from Wellesley, went on to earn a master’s from Columbia, and maybe even a doctorate. Records on indicate she was a teacher in Maine, Connecticut, and New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s, and was later a state personnel officer in Albany, NY.

James is something of a mystery. His Army Service Number appears on the postcard. Usually, that number allows me to find the soldier’s hometown and year of birth in the National Archives' database of WWII enlistments, narrowing down the search, but not so with James. There are gaps in the database, and his record is apparently missing. There were dozens of men with his name in the Army during WWII, so he’s a needle in a haystack.

Marjorie's photo from Wellesley College
1922 yearbook
A bit of luck from a Google search gave me hope of finding more about James, but it was another dead end. The University of Alaska Anchorage / Alaska Pacific UniversityConsortium Library has four letters James wrote to Marjorie, and I was able to obtain copies thanks to their very helpful staff. It’s obvious from the letters that James was well-educated. He had an extensive vocabulary and used perfect grammar. It’s also obvious he was smitten with Marjorie; at least that’s what he wrote. (Who knows, maybe he was like the sailor who had a girl in every port.) Nonetheless, the letters are full of praise for Marjorie’s brains and beauty, chit chat about friends and relatives, and admonitions for her to not work too hard at school. But in all his flowery prose there was not a word that would help identify James.

I don’t know what happened to James and Marjorie after the war, but I do know they didn’t marry each other. She died in 1995 at age 94, still with her maiden name. As for James, he’ll be one of those mysteries I’ll probably never solve.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Finally Found the Randle Family!

For more than five years I’ve been searching for relatives of the four Randle brothers from Neosho, Missouri, all of whom served in World War II. I had just about given up on finding them when out of the blue came an email that solved the mystery.

It all started around 2012 when I bought a postcard written by Ensign Bob Randle, a Navy pilot, to his parents in Neosho. It didn’t take long to find information online about Bob and his brothers, Bill, Durant, and Jack, but I couldn’t locate any family members.

In April 2012 I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Neosho Daily News, asking if anyone had information about the Randles. I got several helpful replies, but they all led to dead ends. During 2016 I contacted a few people on who had ties to the family, but hit more dead ends. I searched all manner of online records, and even though I could identify several family members and tried locating them, nothing worked. I wrote about my fruitless search on this blog in 2013.

In July 2016 I was searching postcards on eBay and, much to my surprise, found one written by Bob’s brother, Durant, in 1944. In the card, Durant mentioned that he had just had a visit from Bob. I bought it. Now I had two Randle cards, but still couldn’t find the family. A few months ago I put the Randle cards in my “too tough” file and gave up. The “too tough” file has a dozen or so postcards where I’ve been unable to find family members.

I’m an early riser. As soon as I get up I make coffee and check email. A few weeks ago, I had just sat down at my computer when this message popped up at 4:55 a.m.:

“John: My children are the grandchildren of Robert (Bob) Randle, Jr. If you're still monitoring this blog I would love to chat with you.”

The message was from Debbie Randle, whose ex-husband (also named Bob Randle) is the son of the Bob Randle who wrote one of the postcards. Debbie lives in Florida.

I fired off a response and asked Debbie to call me. When we talked, she explained that she and a relative had been working on family history. The relative was searching the web and stumbled across my blog post from 2013. She told Debbie about it, and Debbie was able to contact me through the blog. I put the postcards in the mail to her the same day, and sent her a large batch of Randle family information I had gathered during my search. All four Randle brothers have passed away.

Debbie sent me some photos of Bob, including a couple in his pilot’s gear. My wife commented that he looks like a movie star. Those photos are attached.

Guess it’s time to dig out my “too tough” file and take another look. Maybe they’re not so tough, after all.

Durant Randle's postcard (above and below)

Bob Randle's postcard (above and below)

Bob Randle

Bob Randle Looking Like a Movie Star

Bob Randle in the Cockpit

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ardath and Kenneth Moore -- the remarkable couple behind a WWII telegram

Sometimes I find an item from WWII that could become a valued family memento, but there is no family left. Such was the case with a telegram I found today on eBay. It led me to the story of a remarkable couple from the Greatest Generation.

The telegram is dated May 15, 1944; sent from Camp Shelby, Mississippi; addressed to P.H. Diles in  Groveport, Ohio; and signed “Ardath” (no last name). The message read:

Arrived safely – have room close to camp bus line – possibility of working and living on post – tired but happy – letters soon – don’t worry – love – Ardath.”

It took a little sleuthing, but I figured out who “Ardath” was. Here is the rest of the story.

Ardath was Ardath Adale Adams Moore. She was 20 at the time she sent the telegram. Her husband was a soldier, Kenneth F. Moore, 22. They had been married a little less than two years at the time of the telegram. Her obituary says she earned a B.S. degree in animal husbandry, but that wasn't the end of her education, as we shall see. 

Ardath and Kenneth Moore

The telegram was addressed to a man named Pearl Diles in Ardath’s hometown of Groveport, Ohio. Pearl and his wife, Lucy, were in their late sixties. Lucy was Ardath's grandmother, and Pearl was her step-grandfather. The young wife was letting the folks back home know she had arrived safely to be with her husband.

Ardath and Kenneth were married August 16, 1942, and he entered the Army 13 days later. I suspect he had received his draft notice and they got married before he reported to the Army. At the time of his enlistment he had one year of college. After the war he earned a doctorate in agronomy from Ohio State and taught at Ohio State and Clemson University. He fought in Europe during the war, and his obituary said he was awarded a Bronze Star medal. Ardath's telegram was sent three weeks before D-Day.It's likely Kenneth shipped out for Europe not too long afterward.

But that’s just the beginning of their story. Ardath died August 5, 2014, and Kenneth on September 28, 2015, in Ormond Beach, Florida. His obituary in a Daytona Beach newspaper recounts their remarkable career together after he retired from teaching:

He returned to Springfield, Ohio where he became CEO for an agricultural trade school at Clark County Technical Institute. While he was there, he met a pastor, Mr. Edgar Aleshire. Mr. Aleshire hired them to tend his afflicted daughter, Bobbie. After some time the winters got too hard on them so they moved to Daytona Beach in 1971. After Mr. Aleshire and Bobbi passed away, Kenneth and Ardath went back to school and each earned A.S. degrees in nursing and as registered nurses they worked with several doctors in this area. Kenneth and Ardath provided a Christian Clinic for more than 10 years, helping indigent people with medical needs. Ken's caring for others began early in his life as he and Ardath took in many needy students when they were in college.

Kenneth and Ardath were married on Aug. 16, 1942 and at her passing in August, 2014 they were eleven days shy of their 72nd anniversary. Kenny and Ardath served Daytona Beach First Baptist Church in the Baptist Ministry for more than 20 years. He is now a charter member and Deacon Emeritus of Providence Church in Ormond Beach.

Ardath and Kenneth were honored in 2005 with a Points of Light Award, given by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in honor of their work with the free clinic. In addition to running their free clinic, they reared seven foster children. They also survived a terrible ordeal in 2001. They were attacked and robbed while visiting Tampa, and both were severely beaten. According to a newspaper report: “Kenneth Moore, 79, suffered a dislodged eardrum, some hearing loss, seven fractures on his face, jaw, and collar bone, and damaged teeth. Mrs. Moore, 77, had damaged teeth and a severely bruised face that required surgery.”

They forgave their attackers. After they recovered from their injuries, the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau coordinated a free return visit to Tampa, including Busch Gardens and other attractions.

Although they reared seven foster children, Ardath and Kenneth had no children of their own. Their only survivors were his sister and a niece. Her obituary is here and his is here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

'Linda is as mean and sweet as ever'

It’s been hot this summer, even by Las Vegas standards, so I’ve spent more time than usual at the computer, looking at WWII postcards on eBay and finding other ways to waste time. My indolence paid off with the discovery of a positively fascinating postcard.

The photo on the card, postmarked April 9, 1943, depicts Main Street in Pratt, Kansas.  Someone had written on the photo, “This is our room,” with an arrow pointing to a third-floor window in the Hotel Calbeck. The town of Pratt was the site of Pratt Army Airfield.

The return address on the card and the “Free” frank were written in one person’s handwriting, while the message and the recipient’s address were in a different hand. The return address was Private Albert C. Watts, and the card was addressed to Miss Elizabeth Uekman in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The message read:

“Dear Elizabeth: Well, here we are in this big city. Ha ha. It is rather nice though. We are moving into our apartment in about an hour. Linda is as mean and sweet as ever. Will write more when we are settled. Love, Ann, Watts, and Linda.” (Mr. Watts went by "Watts" at that time.)

In the hundreds of WWII postcards I’ve looked at, a handful were written by a soldier’s wife. I was intrigued by the reference to “Linda,” who was “as mean and sweet as ever.” Could Linda be the daughter of Private Watts and his wife, Ann? Is she still living? If so, could I find her in case she wants the postcard?

I started by searching the National Archives database of WWII enlistments for Albert C. Watts. There were five men by that name. One of them was from Arkansas and was married. I figured he was probably the one I was looking for. He was born in 1920.

I then searched the web for men named Albert C. Watts who were born in 1920. I found an obituary of Albert C. Watts, born 1920 and passed away in 2006 in Charleston, SC. The obituary said he was from Arkansas and moved to Charleston in 1956 as a store manager with S.H. Kress & Co. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ann, in 2003. Among his survivors was a daughter, Linda Watts Brown of Beaufort, SC. It seemed I had found the “mean and sweet” Linda.

After a good bit of searching and many dead ends, I finally found a phone number and called Linda. She’s a former math teacher, been married more than 50 years, and has 10 grandchildren. She was very sweet and not the least bit mean. When I read her the card, with the date and the recipient, she confirmed that the card was indeed written by her mother. We had a pleasant conversation, and she followed up with an email:

“I am so thankful to you for finding this. My daughter has bought it and it will be here Thursday and will be framed and put in a place of honor in my home. My dad was in the retail business with S.H. Kress. When the war started, they put him in charge of opening the PX even though he was only 22 years old. They later moved in with a family who owned a dairy. I think they had a one room apartment. All of this is flooding back into my memory of what they told me. I wish my dad was still here to share in this amazing story of the postcard. I don't know where it has been these many years.”

It turns out that the addressee, Elizabeth Uekman, was Ann Watts’ aunt. Linda has no idea how the card ended up being listed on eBay by a large-scale postcard dealer in Charleston. I suspect that the aunt gave the card back to Linda’s mother after the war, and when Linda’s parents passed away the card somehow got away from the family. (I’ve seen many cases where a family keepsake disappeared, including a postcard that was lost in a flood and reappeared 60 years later, and a Silver Star medal that was stolen by a caregiver.)

Albert Watts would have been among the early military personnel at Pratt Army Airfield. Construction on the base began in 1942, and the first prototype B-29s started arriving in the summer of ’43, right after Linda’s mom sent the postcard. The base was short-lived, closing in 1946.

I checked Google street view for a current image of Main Street in Pratt, Kansas, and was able to find almost the same view as was depicted from 1943 on the postcard. The Hotel Calbeck building is still there, but it’s no longer a hotel. You can see the window where Albert, Ann, and Linda stayed.

Pratt Main Street today. Hotel room is still there.