For Memorial Day weekend… some sketchy family history — especially for the cousins I’m connected to on Facebook, including grandchildren of the soldier on the right.
These two very handsome guys in uniform are my dad, Bob, on the left, and his brother, Lester. I think it was taken in 1943 or ’44. My dad had been in training in Kansas through the last half of 1942. At the time of his discharge in 1945, he was part of the 15th Army Air Force, which had been based mostly in Italy, according to online records. For some reason, I always thought he was stationed in England, since he talked about visiting Scotland, where his mother was born, and never talked about being in Italy. But we never did talk about the war much. Maybe that’s what this blog post is really about — talking to your parents, asking questions about their lives — or being prepared to enjoy little mysteries when you go through their boxes of memories years later.
Alas, I also never thought to ask my father or uncle how they came to get together overseas, or exactly where these pictures were taken. Or maybe I did and just forgot the answers. I suspect the snapshot was sent home with others, including the artistic-looking faded sepia one of a building with a clock-window and weathervane. It is just identified as “a church” in a note on the back, and as the scene of my dad’s picture with “Rocky” — not an inconceivable nickname for uncle Lester, although not one I remember hearing. I wonder if his grandchildren and great-grandchildren ever hear of him being called that.
I don’t know what Lester’s military unit or rank was. Dad’s stripes had to do with working in an Army Air Force photo unit. I imagine the church photo is a snapshot he took. (The note on the back also says “I like this. And you?”)
Dad died of lung cancer 30 years ago last month and Lester passed away eight or nine years later. My father never talked much about his military service, but he still loved to take pictures — although he had no luck finding a photography job in his hometown after the war. Instead, he went back to the nightclub, hotel and restaurant work he had been doing in civilian life.
(His bar-tending experience is probably what “qualified” him for the photo lab training — mixing liquids, handling inventory, record-keeping and cash transactions, getting along with people under pressure. Making them laugh may not have been part of the military job-description, but I bet it helped. It kept him going in peacetime, too… including his college years, which started at age 43 — pretty unusual back then!)
Among other pix he left behind is one showing him in a flight jacket standing on the wing of an airplane, with a huge piece of camera equipment on his shoulder, maybe a camera used to take aerial mapping photos. And then there’s the humorous photo-shoot of him demonstrating <a href="http://www.stepno.com/oldblog/2003/11/11.html" title="2003 blog post about dad's photo feature about incorrect saluting” target=”_blank”>how not to salute, which was published in the Kansas airbase magazine, Salvo, and which I’ve written about before.
Bob and Lester’s older brother, Norman, stayed home to take care of their mother — and became the first in the family to graduate from college and law school. I think their youngest brother, “K” (Clarence), was in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. Luckily, they all came home safely to Western Massachusetts, married and raised families. By the way, in case the youngest brother’s son or grandchildren see this, I understand his nickname was inspired by the tag-along kid-brother in the “Moon Mullins” newspaper comic strip, who was named “K.O.”
(Along with the Salvo reference, “Moon Mullins” helps me meet my old-newspaper-guy goal of having occasional references to newspapers and magazines in this blog, so that I don’t have to change its name.)