Yesterday, I wrote on my other blog about my recent discovery that my dad attended intelligence school (aka the “Ritchie Boys” Spy School in Maryland) while he was in the army. If you haven’t seen it, check out “Daddy Went to Spy School.”
The reactions by members of my family were amusing considering the subject matter. While two of my siblings had not heard this, they were, like me, not surprised. I guess because of Grandpa’s Russian background and the visit by the FBI during the fifties, it was always a thought in the back of our minds that there was a lot more to him. I think he would have elaborated, but most of us never asked him.
One of my sisters said my father had mentioned it to her, but she did not know any of the details, particularly why he never worked as a spy after having been trained as one.
Dad and Mark said they thought this had been a fact. It was not news to them. “Of course your father worked in intelligence. Didn’t everyone know this?”
I need to take another trip to the National Archives to see what else I can dig up about him.
When I was growing up, we always had several newspapers in our house: The New York Daily News, The Morristown Daily Record, and the Newark Star Ledger. Grandpa would either walk to a local convenience store several blocks away, or when he got older, he would drive “to the paper store” as he liked to call it. I don’t recall having the newspapers delivered as long as he was able to go on his morning outings.
He would return with the papers and his cigarettes. As you all know, during his later years, he tried to hide his smoking from all of us—particularly his grandchildren—but none of you could be fooled, because you always found his cigarette butts hidden around the property.
Dad and I always had our newspapers delivered in every home in each of the five states where we lived. It was not until our local carrier here in South Carolina continued to forget the dates when we altered the schedule during our vacations that we discontinued home delivery of the local paper and switched to e-delivery of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
I was recently in line at the grocery store behind a woman who was a super coupon whiz like Jamie, which then inspired me to pick up the Sunday edition of the local newspaper in the hopes of scoring a pile of coupons. I had no luck with getting many coupons, but my outing had an unexpected surprise. It was like climbing aboard a time machine.
Suddenly I was my father, standing patiently in line with my Sunday paper clutched tightly in my hands. He’s been gone almost 10 ½ years now, but that day, he had returned. It never ceases to amaze me what song or activity will bring him back, if only for a moment. It was a nice memory.
Although you have all read my book, how many of you know that today is Grandpa’s birthday?Today he would be 99.
There are so many things I would love to discuss with him. I would love for him to read my book and critique it. As hard as I researched it, I am sure there are mistakes, and there are many holes I would love for him to fill.
I would love to know how he and his siblings felt when they learned they were moving to Russia. Was there a lot of anger and sadness in the house? Where did they get the money for the move, and how long did it take for them to prepare for it?
I am interested in learning about the trip from the memory of an old men about what he recalled of his thoughts as a twelve-year-old boy. Who found the apartment in Leningrad which they shared with another family, and how did they get along with them?
In particular, I am interested in learning about how he felt about his very long journey home alone. I would have been so frightened, particularly going on that trip as a twenty-two-year old. Unlike today, he had no way of communicating with his family, which is an experience that none of you ever experienced.
An example of this is happening as I write this. Kelly and Mark are on their way home from Alabama, where they went to pick up the kids who spent the week in Louisiana with their other grandparents. I was easily able to ask Kelly how the trip has been going via text messages (indirectly my invention).
I learned that they have been discussing the fact that Lily is unhappy with her hair, so the two of them have been trading ideas regarding how to transform her—purple pigtails was their decision! Can you believe a two and five year old are discussing hair styles?
If Grandpa were still here to celebrate this milestone, I would tell him that I finally understand so much of his behavior: why we never moved into a bigger house, why he never wanted to go on exotic trips (but I am glad he did not object to Grandma going on jaunts with her family and friends), and why he was always calling someone to right a wrong, such as complain about the noxious odor emanating from the local chemical plant.
I would tell him how sad I am about what I learned about his childhood, particularly regarding the details of what happened to the three members of his family he lost during the war. I would tell him I am proud about how he was able to get himself home, serve in the Army, and then settle down with Grandma and raise five children.
Whenever I think I can’t do something or think life is too difficult, I think of him. That is what I would tell my dad.
Seventy-five years ago, our nation celebrated its last peacetime Thanksgiving before becoming involved in the war. Sixteen days later, Japan surprised almost everyone but my father with the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Pearl Harbor- Did Dad Know)
On that Thanksgiving Day in 1941, my mother was just twelve-years old, so her celebration was nothing like that of my father. She sat down with her family to eat a dinner prepared by her mother, while my father, then a twenty-two-year old soldier, was dining in a mess hall at Fort Dix. Dad’s family was on the other side of the world, and he had not been in contact with them for months. He did not even know if his family was dead or alive.
My Russian grandparents and three of their children were at a train station somewhere in the Soviet Union, which had been their home for over one week. What were they eating that Thanksgiving? Definitely not a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. If they were lucky that day, they feasted on some black bread, perhaps some flavorless soup, and a cup of water.
Since August, they had been walking on muddy roads and living in abandoned farmhouses while enduring months of unrelenting rainstorms followed by snow and temperatures plummeting to below zero. Their goal was to reach a train station where they hoped to board a train to take them further away from the constant bombings overhead and Hitler’s ground troops advancing closer to them each day.
So on this Thanksgiving Day in 2016, just for a moment, I will not be sad about not celebrating with my entire family. I will be happy that my mother is still around to enjoy her turkey dinner, albeit two hundred miles from me. My oldest daughter and her family will be eating a traditional New Orleans dinner, complete with some kind of seafood dressing—not stuffing. My middle daughter will be with some of her in-laws not far from my mother, and my husband and I will be celebrating the holiday this year with our youngest daughter at a barbecue restaurant just one mile from The White House. (Now that will be interesting!) They will all be happy, healthy, and safe, so that is where my focus will be.
And just for that one day, I will not think of what will come of our country on January 20.
You all know how I have been having some neck pains and random tingling in my arms and legs during the past few months. Although I am still awaiting an official diagnosis, I believe I did it to myself by spending too much time sitting at my computer. Apparently, there is a correct way to do this, which I did not realize.
This has caused me to have to curtail some of my work, but most upsetting is that I have had some discomfort when holding the kids. This saddens me greatly, and what is more, I realize I share this problem with Grandpa. Unlike him, the cause of my pain were not heroic as his was. Mine were just stupidity and ignorance. Grandpa’s injury happened during the train accident he was in while he was serving stateside during the war—the accident where he switched places with the soldier on the train, who ended up dying when the track crashed through the train trestle.
I found two pages of a letter he wrote to someone at the Veterans Administration in 1989.
In November 1942 I was in a troop train accident in Valdosta, Georgia. I was in the medical corps at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. I was assigned as a first aid NCO to a troop train which left Chattanooga, Tennessee going to Florida.
At Valdosta, George, our train crashed through a wooded bridge and fell over twenty feet into a stream. We had about twelve cars. I injured my back there, but the other men had more serious injuries—cuts and fractures. I applied first aid to every one of them.
At the destination, I was examined and told to see my doctor at Fort Oglethorpe. There, they strapped my back for about ten days.
In 1945, at Camp Beale when I was being discharged, I was asked if I wanted to apply for disability. I asked how long it would take, and they told me about six months. I turned it down, and now I know I made a mistake.
The reason I am writing this letter is that I am seventy years old, and when I hold my grandchildren for a long time, my back hurts. I called the VA because I wanted to know if my back ever gave me any real trouble, could I go to a VA hospital. The consultant on the phone said yes and advised me to apply for benefits.
And that, girls, is all that I have of that letter. I do not know if he ever sent it, nor do I know if he ever applied for benefits. I wish he had because it probably would have helped his financial situation as the breadwinner for a family of seven. But we can’t change the past. It’s just water under the Valdosta, Georgia bridge.
I tried to teach you as much as I could think of while you were growing up, but with three of you, I worry that I taught one of you something maybe twice, and then at least one of you, I missed out on an important piece of motherly wisdom.
Who learned how to sew on a button; who learned how to iron a shirt? I know, from a potentially disastrous observation, that neither Dad nor I taught Casey never to insert a knife into a toaster. Fortunately, we were there to witness her doing this and shrieked in warning.
It turns out that one of the newspapers I read growing up had an etiquette column. Maybe if you were exposed to this, I could have had time to teach you the dangers of placing metal objects in a toaster.
Here is one of my favorites, which explains the proper way for a man and a woman to cross the street together. Please look at the photo, and before reading the caption, choose which photo you believe represents the correct method: Should you grab your man’s arm or should he guide you with his elbow? It’s a difficult decision, I realize. Choose and then check out the answer.
As you have noticed, over the years I have saved a lot of my memories. That is why I loved the idea of creating those memory boxes for the three of you. I have the photos, letters you wrote to each other and Dad and me when you were younger, my high school/college scrapbook, and the photo album Grandma made for me. Additionally, I saved the letters she wrote to me several years ago in response to the memory-jogging postcards I sent to her. What I don’t have, however, are any letters from Grandpa.
I learned from my trip to the National Archives that he was quite the letter writer in his youth—writing letters to his commanding officer, ambassadors at the State Department, and even, it seems, the Secretary of State. Did President Roosevelt hear of the plight of Grandpa’s family? I tried looking for evidence of that at the Library of Congress but came back empty-handed. Could those letters, if they exist, be stored at FDR’s presidential library in Hyde Park, New York?
I guess he exhausted that part of his life when he became a father. Did he and Grandma write letters to each other when he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas before they got married? I wonder. I will have to ask her about that when I talk to her.
I have only one very small note that Grandpa wrote to me—just one single run-on sentence that he wrote on my graduation card from high school. I wish I had more, but at least I have something.
Was I the only one who did not know about Grandpa’s trip to Russia as a boy? Uncle Dave sat down and made the video which showed the photos on the ship, so did Grandpa tell him the details that day? Did he tell Aunt Ar when they took the trip to Russia together? Uncle Mart is interested in history, so did he know?
I am thinking about it today, because on this day in 1931, Grandpa’s family was arriving in Europe from New Jersey after a week-long journey on a surprisingly luxurious ship—the Berengaria—which was built as the replacement for the Titanic.
The sea was rough during half of the trip, with a lot of wind and rain. Grandpa, his brother Pete and their mother got quite sick one day. Although travel in third class was not luxurious and they did not have a bathroom in their cabins, the dining room was quite nice and they were able to enjoy several movie days at sea.
Their ship arrived first in Cherbourg France at 4:00 in the afternoon to discharge some passengers and pick up others. From their ship they were able to see a French fort, some sea planes, a submarine, and several of the ships which had also from left New York. That must have been fun to see.
They took a short ride across the English Channel to Southampton, England, which is the same port from which the Titanic left. Dad and I took a train there from London last year and went to a museum, which had a replica of Grandpa’s ship. His family probably traveled on those same tracks to London, where they spent five days before the next leg of their journey.
I was surprised to learn that they were able to tour the city, visiting all the typical tourist sites of London such as the House of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, and Hyde Park. It was nice to see that my grandparents were able to give the family this nice little vacation before the big move to Leningrad, which I am guessing did not go over well with any of the kids.
Dad and I were able to see the hotel where Grandpa’s family stayed, which was in a very nice area of London. The hotel has not changed much from the outside (we saw a photo of the hotel at a nearby library), but it has now been converted into apartments.
They left London on the morning of December 23, traveling by train to the port city of Hull, which is on the North Sea. From what I learned based upon the diary I found, the rest of the trip was not as much fun except for Christmas Day. On that day, they spent the afternoon walking around the city of Copenhagen, where they were allowed to buy some candy.
They spent two very rough days at sea on a very small Finnish steamship, and everyone got sick. Even the dishes were rolling off the tables. Having been on several cruises where a rough day did not even approach that, you can just imagine how awful that must have been.
The trip ended in Helsinki, Finland on a very snowy and windy day. They disembarked the ship, walked around the city and bought some souvenirs before boarding a train for a thirteen hour ride to the Soviet Union. By 6:00 on the evening of December 29, they had arrived at a hotel in Leningrad, eighteen days after leaving their home in New Jersey. Were they scared, excited, or just too tired to feel anything?
For all of us familiar with U.S. History and our family history, today’s thoughts should be expected. This is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. We all know about Grandpa’s repeated story that he learned of the attack six months earlier when he was passing through Japan on his way home after living in Russia for ten years.
He traveled across the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway and then took a Japanese steamer from Vladivostok across the Sea of Japan. When he reached Japan, he boarded a train to Tokyo, and then a bus to Yokohama.
The bus driver got lost, so Grandpa asked to be dropped off at a police station for directions. The legendary story is that when one of the officers at the station learned Grandpa was an American, he warned Grandpa to leave Japan as quickly as possible because the Japanese were going to “boom boom” the United States.
After Grandpa’s ship docked in Honolulu, he went ashore to purchase some newspapers and was approached by a United States Intelligence officer named Sullivan, who was inquiring about troop movements Grandpa may have seen while on the Trans-Siberian. Naturally, Grandpa was anxious to pass on his news, but he never knew if he was taken seriously by Mr. Sullivan.
On the day of the attack, Grandpa had been in the army for one month. He was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, enrolled in a sixteen week medical training course. The rest of his family—his parents and three sisters—were at a train station in Yaroslavl, which was about 400 miles southeast of the city where they were all living when Grandpa left. The family evacuated in mid-August when their city was attacked by the Germans. The traveled on foot until they were finally able to reach a train. My grandparents were sixty-three and fifty-five at this time, and my Aunt Nancy was pregnant. At the onset of the journey they encountered heavy rains which made travel on the roads impossible, and then winter set in, with temperatures as low as -40 degrees. I cannot imagine the hardships they endured!
Grandpa’s family had not been in contact with him since he left, so they did not know he had been drafted or if he had even arrived back in New Jersey. How different from our world of instant communication where we become impatient when we cannot reach someone quickly enough!
The question today is whether Grandpa’s story was true. I did a lot of research and learned that reports surface each year on this anniversary stating that President Roosevelt, like Grandpa, was not surprised by the attack. One of the researchers at the National Archives told me he believed the story, telling me that many of the Japanese were aware of the plans. So what do you all think?