Posted in Family, Genealogy, Historical Sites

The Trip To Nowhere

Young men seek adventure especially when they are living in a small town, out of school and out of work. That’s true today and it was true in the past. The particular adventure story I’m going to tell you took place in 1937 (my estimate) and one of the young men was my father, Vernon R. Knight. He and his friends, J. V. Averitt, Charles E. Covington, and Hugh Dickson, set off to see the country in an old car that belonged to one of them.

Vernon R. Knight

My father never talked about this trip. The only way I knew about it was through a conversation with my aunt, his sister, after his death. We were going through some old pictures. We didn’t know where some of the pictures were taken so we asked her about them. She said, “Those must be from the ‘trip to nowhere.'”

Aunt Sissy went on to tell us about how my father and his friends took an old car and headed west. They drove as far as they could on the money they had, and then they stopped and found work. One place they worked was in the oil fields in Texas. When they had enough money, they started out again.

Somewhere along the road my father bought a camera. This old style camera, that expanded when you opened it up to expose the lens, was always in a drawer in the dining room along with an old photo album. As kids we would take out the camera and examine it with the natural curiosity of children. We would also take out the old photo album and flip through the pictures, amazed at what our parents looked like when they were young.

Hoover Dam

The first pictures in the album from the “trip to nowhere” were taken at Hoover Dam (known as Boulder Dam at the time). These helped me date the trip. Hoover Dam was completed in 1935. In 1936 the water in Lake Mead was high enough to begin electrical generation. It took some time for water to fill Lake Mead. In my Dad’s pictures, the lake is almost full so I am guessing it was a year or two after completion of the dam.

J. V. Averitt and Charles Covington at Hoover Dam
Lake Mead
Hoover Dam Spillway from electric turbines
Lowering Loaded Flat Car at Hoover Dam

 

The next pictures find our young men in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. At that point they would have been along Route # 66. J. V. Averitt told his son, Phil, about how many times they had to patch the tires on the old car. Back then, tires had inner-tubes, that held the air, inside the outer tire. If the tube got a hole in it, they would take the inner-tube out, patch it, then put it back inside the outer tire before re-inflating it.

The next group of pictures are landscape shots. My father probably took them because the terrain was so different from what they were familiar with in Tennessee. These are pictures of the desert alongside the road, possibly in Arizona or New Mexico.

Only a couple of the pictures featured any of the young men. My Dad apparently didn’t want to take pictures of people. After the photos of the desert there are no more pictures from this trip. Did he run out of film? Maybe, but I don’t know.

The only other thing I remember seeing from the trip was a card my Dad sent to his mother to let her know he had made it to the Pacific Ocean. I’m not sure where the card ended up.

I treasure the pictures and this little bit of history about my father when he was an adventurous, young man.

Posted in Family, WWII

New Year’s Eve 1941

What was it like on New Year’s Eve 1941? Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor just three weeks before, followed by attacks on the Philippines, Guam and many other places in the Pacific. Germany and Italy had declared war on us. Prospects for the new year looked bleak.

It wasn’t as though we weren’t aware of the wars raging in Asia and Europe but strong pacifist sentiment fueled the belief by many that the United States could stay out of these wars. Until December 7th, 1941. Then everything changed.

Vernon Knight with his mother, Bessie, and his nephew, Norman.

My father had just turned twenty-seven, was married but had no children. I imagine he was debating whether to enlist or wait until he was drafted. I doubt my parents did much celebrating that New Year’s Eve.

My father’s younger brother, was in the National Guard. He’d joined a Calvary Unit to make some extra money and ride horses on the weekends. The National Guard was nationalized in 1940 so by New Year’s Eve 1941 he was already in the Army and stationed in far from home.

My father-in-law, who would later fight his way across Europe, was still in high school in 1941. I imagine he and his family worried about whether the war would last long enough for him to have to serve. Of course, it did.

Paul Whitaker in high school.

My mother’s sister and cousins lived in Sitka, Alaska, at the time. I remember reading a letter her cousin wrote in early 1942 which gave some insight into their thinking early in the war. She was concerned that they may not be able to travel home to Tennessee that year. She mentioned the possibility of an invasion by the Japanese but didn’t sound too worried.

No one knew what would come in 1942. So many lives would change and change rapidly. Although many celebrated the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, there must have been a lot of apprehension about the future. We know what came next. They were still in the precipice staring into the unknown.

Posted in Family, Old Movies, WWII

Communications With Loved Ones During WWII

In today’s age of technology we have a variety of ways to instantly communicate with our loved ones, even those who are serving overseas in the military. We have cell phones that allow us to communicate by phone call, by text, by social media apps like Instant Messenger, Snap Chat or Instagram. We can even communicate face to face using programs like Skype.

Not so during World War II. In the 1940’s the most used form of communication was the letter. Yes. Actual hand-written, paper letters. Many a romance blossomed through letters written over the long months and years of separation.

The telephone did exist, but long-distance telephone calls were expensive. You couldn’t dial the number and have your loved one answer, not if you were calling someone out of town. You had to get a long-distance operator and have her place your call. Yes, I said “her” because all the telephone operators were women. This wasn’t a wartime thing. Women were always used for telephone operators.

It would have been rare and extremely expensive to place an overseas telephone call during the war, although these were possible due to the undersea cables. But they were very limited. Roosevelt may have called Churchill in England but the average person could not call up their son stationed over there.

Another mode of communication used in the 1940’s was the telegram. Western Union operated telegraph offices in practically every town in America. If someone wanted to send an urgent message to a loved one far away, say a son stationed at a military base in another state, then they would go to the Western Union office and send a telegram. Western Union employed delivery boys or girls or older men to deliver telegrams from the telegraph office to the addressee’s home or office. Mickey Rooney earned an Academy Award Nomination for his role as a telegraph delivery boy in The Human Comedy. It is a little known film well worth watching.

Although telegrams could deliver joyful news, like the birth of a baby or a loved-one’s pending arrival, telegrams often conveyed bad news, like a death, so many people dreaded receiving one. The U. S. Government used telegrams to notify families when a soldier was killed, wounded or missing in action.

Telegrams and telephone calls weren’t instantaneous but, for the time, they were quick forms of communication. On the other hand, letters could take anywhere from days to weeks to reach their destination. Mail sent to soldiers or sailors overseas might take two weeks each way. And they might not arrive in the order they were sent. Pretty hard to carry on a conversation at that rate. And if the mail bag was blown up or sunk the letter never got to its intended recipient.

The military devised a method to both speed up the mail and to cut down on the bulky shipments. They called it V-mail or Victory Mail. The person at either end would write their letter on a special, V-mail form. After mailing the V-mail form would be photographed and put on microfilm. The microfilm would be transported overseas, to Europe or Australia or wherever, and at the other end the microfilm would be printed. This printed “V-mail letter” would then be delivered to the addressee.

So be glad you live in this modern age of instant communication. Or maybe not. Back during World War II when you wrote a letter you had to think about what you were going to say, weigh the words your loved on would read far away on some battlefield or home worrying about you. The letters were often saved and cherished for years, especially love letters from someone special far away.

My mother saved a box of letters my father wrote to her during World War II. Reading them not only told me about the events of the time but also gave me insight into who my parents were as young people, their thoughts and feelings. It’s the kind of thing this current generation won’t have thanks to our various technological modes of communication.

Posted in Family, History, Old Movies, WWII

“Meet Cute” during WWII

In the movie “The Holiday” (2006), Eli Wallach’s character explains to Kate Winslet’s character what a “meet cute” is in the movie business. “It’s how two characters meet in a movie,” he says. In other words, it is the scene where something brings the hero and heroine together and often the chemistry between the two is evident from the start.  In Romantic Comedies the writers try to make the meeting something awkward or unusual or “cute.”

Holiday (2006)
Eli Wallach and Kate Winslet

The term isn’t used as often when referring to novels, but romance novels always have a scene where the hero and heroine meet. There is a “meet cute” scene even if it’s not “cute.”

When I hear how couples met during WWII, I imagine the “meet cute” scene. I go on to ask what brought them to this point in their lives and how did their relationship develop into lasting love. Many had challenges such as parental disapproval, religious differences, physical separation due to the military, differences in social status or simply their own uncertainties. These challenges create conflict within the love story. Yet the challenges are overcome.

In real life the initial meeting may not seem so dramatic. Yet to those involved, it was life changing. My in-laws met on a blind date and, incredibly, married twelve days later before he shipped out. I wrote a post about Frank Towers who met his wife-to-be at a church social held for soldiers far from home, a social he didn’t want to attend. I wrote in another post how Irving Grayson’s future wife saw him showing off his skills at a skating rink. All these are “meet cute’s.”

In my novel, Kitty’s War, the hero and heroine first meet when she pulls him from the surf and saves his life, which is less of a “meet cute” and more of a dramatic encounter. Their second meeting is the awkward, unsure moment we think of as a “meet cute.”

Of course, plenty of couples knew each other before the war started. Maybe they went to school together or lived in the same town. Even in these instances, the war accelerated their desire to get together and see where their mutual feelings took them.

What makes these meetings during WWII unique? Many couples would never have met if it hadn’t been for the war. Servicemen trained far from their homes in different places across the country before going overseas. Other men and women met while serving overseas in the military. Even defense plant workers moved from their home towns to cities where factories and shipyards had geared-up for wartime production. In these places far from home, lonely men and women found each other. And the war added an element of urgency to the romantic relationships.

“The Clock” (1945) with Judy Garland and Robert Walker is a good movie example with a “meet cute” in a train station. A soldier on 48 hour leave in New York City meets a girl in Pennsylvania Station. The two fall in love before he ships out.

The Second World War caused a great mixing in our population. Millions of men and women moved all around the country during the war. Most had never traveled very far from home.  They were exposed to different cultures, different scenery and different climates. My mother told of eating Italian food for the first time while renting rooms from an Italian family in Florida. My father-in-law saw the ocean for the first time when he sailed across the Atlantic to fight in Europe. Raised in New England, Frank Towers trained in the humid heat of Camp Blanding, Florida. They had so many unique experiences.

During World War II, many young Americans found love in unexpected places. Just imagine all the different “meet cute” scenes.

 

Posted in Family, Friends

Cooling Tower Implosion

I usually write about World  War II, but this month I decided to veer away from my usual topics for something more current. On June 16 we attended the implosion of the cooling towers at St. Johns River Power Park where we used to work. My husband and I both retired from SJRPP after working there over 20 years. JEA, co-owner with FPL, invited the retirees to attend the implosion as VIP’s. It was quite and experience. Very sad but also thrilling to see, especially up close where we were sitting.

These 464 ft. towers have been in place since the 1980’s cooling down the water used in two coal fired boilers so that the water could be recycled – water to steam to produce electricity, then steam back to water to be reused. They have been a familiar part of the skyline to everyone in the area. It only took 12 seconds for these huge concrete icons to come down.

Watch the videos on the local TV stations – Action News Jax, News For Jax, another on Action News Jax.

I took a series of still photos. See below.

 

Posted in 276th AFA, 30th Infantry Division, Family, WWII

Christmas 1943 – Where were they?

Many of us associate December and WWII with the famous Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. I was wondering what was going on the year before, in December 1943. We had been at war for two years at that point. Where were the people and units I’ve written about with Christmas 1943 approaching?

On December 19, 1943, my father-in-law, Dewey Paul Whitaker, and the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion boarded a special train at Fort Riley, Kansas, for the Tennessee Maneuver area in Middle Tennessee east of Nashville. They had been at Fort Riley for battalion tests after training in Camp Phillips, Kansas. They arrived at Gallatin, Tennessee and from there they moved to a bivouac area in a meadow near Hickman, Tennessee, where, in the pouring rain and mud, they celebrated Christmas 1943.

My Dad, Vernon R. Knight, arrived at Moore General Hospital near Asheville, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve. This was his first hospital post after completing training in rehabilitation therapy at Camp Grant, Illinois. From a letter to my mother dated December 24, 1943, (his birthday), he wrote of the loneliness and disappointment he felt at being away from home for Christmas.

My Uncle D. T. ( Boots) Knight was in Camp Roberts, California, where the 947th Field Artillery Battalion had been stationed since December, 1941. The battalion had originally been part of the National Guard activated in late 1940. After two years in California they spent Christmas 1943  preparing to ship out. On December 28, 1943, the 947th Field Artillery Battalion moved to Camp Stoneman to prepare for departure, and then, on January 9, 1944, the battalion sailed from San Francisco on the USAT Seaflasher, destination New Guinea.

My Dad’s cousin, Herman Connell, was working in Bowling Green, Kentucky, after dropping out of high school. No doubt he traveled by train down the line to his hometown of Paris, Tennessee, and spent Christmas 1943 with his family. He would turn eighteen the following spring and join the Army. In March, 1945, he was killed in Germany.

At Camp Atterbury, Indiana, Frank Towers had reported to the 30th Infantry Division. He and his bride, Mary, celebrated Christmas in Indiana as the division prepared for shipment overseas. Through final training at Camp Atterbury, the division coalesced into a fighting unit before moving to Camp Myles Standish near Boston in February, 1944. After a short stay in Boston, the division sailed for England.

Christmas 1943 was the second, and in some cases the third, Christmas away from home for many of our military after the United States entered the war in December 1941. Those I’ve written about here were finishing training and would soon depart for battlefields overseas. Some would be home for Christmas 1945, but some would not.

We should all remember those serving in the military all around the world this Christmas. Like their counterparts in World War II, they are lonely and missing their families back home during this holiday season. Pray for their safe return so they can spend future Christmas’s at home with their families.

 

Posted in Family, Friends

Nostalgia

Our lives are divided up into phases and seasons, so it is only fitting in this fall season that I should wax nostalgic. So many memories of times past swirl through my head. Memories of both good times and bad, times of contentment and times of upheaval.

These memories brought to mind a poem that I came across years ago and committed to memory. The words can apply to so many times and places in my life. They seem to fit my mood today.

Into my heart an air that kills
  From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
  What spires, what farms are those?
 
That is the land of lost content,
  I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
  And cannot come again.

By A. E. Housman, "A Shropshire Lad"