|Pratt Main Street today. Hotel room is still there.|
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.