When this blog was started, it was based on one man’s journey through World War II as depicted in his daily journal, his autograph book and some photos. Then I started finding other pieces of his time in the Army – souvenirs of experiences he had when not fighting, correspondence during the war with famiy, post-war with friends he made in wartime. I really thought I had it all until I opened a tin box inside one of a storage box and found Al’s ribbons and insignia from the war. That, I thought, was my final treasure. But the search continues off and on as I try to process through boxes he left behind.
Today’s gift from Al has a split personality but was found in the same box. Some of it chronicles the end of the war; the rest provided Al with diversion, a not-uncommon diversion in times of war. First, there are three of the Stars and Stripes newspapers from the end of the war.
Finding these makes me feel good about having saved the Washington Post from 9/11, from Clinton’s impeachment and other historic events.
The next surprise was……………….pictures of nude women. There was this one featuring a lovely woman with the notation, “posed by Marilyn Monroe” . No question about this picture. The four torn-off corners say that this picture hung somewhere. Sorry, I’m keeping it a “family-friendly” site.
Another big surprise, along the same line, was discovering a “girlie” book. The pictures aren’t the surprise – but the entire book is in German. Since Al didn’t read German, I’m thinking the articles weren’t the big draw. The pictures below represent the most modest photos; the others are more Playboy-like. Obviously, this would be the diversion material just unearthed.
A page of the actual German text follows. I have no idea what the translation is.
There are a few more boxes to go. Stand by for more discoveries. Who knows what else will be found.
In a post from June 24, 2012 entitled The GI Bill and Its Impact on Al’s Return, you can see the service medals Al earned during his service in the Army. They indicate where a soldier served during the war. The information came from his service documents, but I couldn’t find the ribbons. In the box recently discovered, many of Al’s medals, ribbons and patches lay waiting to be found.
His medals :
These three ribbons are repeated in the bars he wore on his dress uniform. In trying to distinguish the various ribbon bars, there was much frustration until we realized that some were more faded than others. Believe it or not, these two bars (below) have the same ribbons shown:
If you look closely, you can see a few small stars on the bottom bar, few big ones on the top. The small stars are known officially as “campaign participation stars” or “battle stars”. They represent the number of battles in each theatre, one bigger star representing multiple smaller ones. The European Theatre (ETO) was divided into 19 main campaigns with specific times and geographic areas. For example, the Normandy campaign lasted from June 6., 1944 through July 24, 1944. Any serviceman in that designated area during that time was allowed to wear one small star on his ribbon.
Al also had patches, representing his units. For example, the patch with the large A over the smaller 5, represents the Fifth Army. The Fifth Army was activated in the European Theatre of Operations in 1942, under Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark. The unit played a major roe in Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy at Salerno in September, 1943. Naples fell on October 1st and the The Army pushed on By the time Germany surrendered in Italy, the Fifth Army had experienced 604 days of continuous combat. The triangle patch is from the Seventh Army, which fought and conquered Sicily and Palermo. They participated in the invasion of southern France among other battles, as well.
The patch on the top right represents the U.S. Army European Theater of Operations, whose mission was to prepare for and carry on military operations against the Axis powers. In early 1944, it relinquished its planning and tactical operations functions to the Supreme Allied headquarters. After that, it mainly was responsible for the administration and supply of U.S. troops. Finally, the patch in the bottom right represents the Ozark Division (the 102nd Infantry Division, which was activated in September, 1942, saw 173 days of combat in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns. Because of the Army’s use of replacements in units to fill in for injured or deceased staff, there was alot of mobility in the ranks.
Finally, we have his rank patches. He entered the Army a green recruit and left it as a Corporal.
The top patch is for a Private First Class. The second one was the one he wore longer as a Corporal. The monthly base pay for a “plain” private was $50/month after June, 1942. Once a soldier made Private First Class, pay increased to $54/month. A Corporal’s pay jumped to $68/month. The bars on the bottom patch show longevity of service.
I researched this post through the web and by picking the brain of my father-in-law, another serviceman who served in World War II, who has proven to be a great resource for this project. Still, any mistakes are mine and mine alone, and I’m open to any corrections sent my way.
If you’re stopping by this site for the first time, I encourage you to go to the archives and get a sense of what’s here so far. You’ll follow my step-father through his four years of service during World War 2. Many of the photos contained in one of the recently discovered tins are repeats of ones I’ve already posted. But I thought the ones below do add some new images to his journey through the war.
First, a formal portrait Al had taken as a Private First Class:
I can’t tell if the next two pictures were posed or not, but the first seems to show a GI, weapon at the ready, hidden in a field. In the second, they’ve captured someone.
The last three are just pictures of the unit at work and some on the town. I like seeing what’s in the truck. Do you see the guitar?
Still researching his ribbons and badges; I’ll post them soon. Thanks for stopping by.
Its been a very long time since I posted anything here because I felt that I had used all the material I had and carried Al’s story through to the end of what I could honestly know.
But today, today is a Red-Letter Day! We have a charity truck coming to pick up donations, so my husband and I have been sorting through boxes and looking for items to pass along. In one of the boxes that I thought contained my son’s car parts, I found a treasure trove of Al’s memorabilia. There are three metal tins. One contains still more photographs; some at war, most at home. One contains certificates of course completion of classes at the business college he attended. It also holds a testament to his great religious faith. The New Testament is there, along with a Roman Catholic missal and much more. The Whitman’s candy tin, when I finally opened it, contains Al’s World War II metals and ribbons….and his compass! I never could understand how he had kept a journal, address book and photos and not his insignia and awards. They’ll take a little time to sort out but I look forward to fleshing out some of the details of Al’s War. I hope you’ll come back to learn more along with me.
Besides education, other issues awaited Al upon his return from the war. Life had gone on for his sisters here at home. They had gotten jobs, and experienced life without big brothers looking over their shoulders. His sister, Isabel, worked in the small wares department of the Budget Shop, and was making $14 week. His two sisters, Isabel and Jeannette had a trying relationship with some other family members. Then, there was a family house that was sold. The sisters believed that the proceeds from the sale would be split equally among all family members after Al and his brother, Bill, returned home. Actually, the girls felt that Al and one other brother had put more of their own money into the house (and furniture), and felt that perhaps they should have gotten a larger share. Much to their surprise (and anger), they discovered that some of the family already had their shares and that some family members were not to be included.
There were other issues that had impacted the family during the war. The girls got by on their meager salaries plus whatever allotments were sent home by their brothers (remember that their father died shortly after Al joined the Army, Apparently, at some point the allotments from the brothers stopped and it took almost six months to get it straightened out. And one brother stopped sending money when he got engaged and quit supporting the sisters.
Another returning veteran talked about another aspect of returning home from the war. “It came to me as a great surprise that there were few civilians who asked, “What did you do during the war?”. “Most family, friends, relatives and acquaintances never asked”. And as I mentioned previously, Al told me the same thing. If my children hadn’t asked questions of his time during the War, we would have never known about his time. Maybe his long membership in the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) gave him the outlet he needed, or maybe at that time, Americans , men especially, were not so into analyzing such things.
In the prior post, we followed Al home and watched as he used the G.I. Bill to go to college. At National Business College, he pursued a Commercial Science degree. He took courses in accounting, auditing, income taxation, shorthand, typing (keyboard skills if you are under the age of 30 and reading this). The degree met the educational requirements to sit for the Certified Public Accounting exam in Virginia.
After graduation, Al spent 39 years as co-owner and secretary of GE McDaniel Roofing and Sheet Metal in Roanoke, Virginia. Besides roofing, they manufactured and installed sheet metal is needed in buildings for duct work and other needs.
In his spare time, he continued to play baseball and coach youth teams. He did not take advantage of the G.I. bill to purchase a home, perhaps because for awhile, he continued to live with and take care of “Auntie”. When he did move out, it was to an apartment. While he had a social life, he chose not to marry until 1976. He told me that he was pretty happy and settled as a bachelor, but his friends started telling him that he should marry so there’d be someone to take care of him as he aged. Then one day, his cousin and her friend stopped by to visit him. His cousin introduced her friend, my mother, and they began to see each other. They dated about a year before they married.
This concludes my story of Al’s War: One Man’s Journey Through World War II. I don’t know if there’s a right way to conclude a blog, but I will just say, “A big THANK YOU!” to my fellow Bloggers who followed along, who supported the effort and asked questions along the way. I said in the beginning that I was hoping this would lead to a museum that would value these original documents but nothing has seemed right yet. I think I may transform the blog into a photo book and make copies for my children. Al passed away on April 11, 2007.
If you’d like, you can find me at my other blog, Facets of Lucy a much more varied collection of posts.
Once Al made it home and through the Christmas holidays, decisions needed to be made about his future. When Al left Roanoke to serve in the Army, he was employed by Hercules Powder Company in Pulaski, Virginia. He worked with a crew of three weighing powder, putting the powder in sacks and sewing the sacks,and operated an electric sewing machine.The powder plant,straddling the New River, was the largest plant ever built in that area. Obviously, Al also went through a lot of training in the Army. He’d attended the Coyner Electrical Company in Chicago, in addition to military specific technical and operational training on weapons. He’d also developed leadership skills as the head of his unit (the guys called him Granny). He’d been promoted; at the time of his separation, he had attained the rank of Colonel. So when Al returned home, he needed a new direction.
Like so many other returning veterans, Al decided to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to get an education. By February of 1946, he’d made his choice and enrolled at the National Business College in his hometown of Roanoke.
There is a series of correspondence between the Veteran’s Administration and Al, and between the VA and Al’s school. All of this ensures that his benefits are in line with the G.I. Bill. The first letter (below) is from the VA giving notice that they’d been notified of his enrollment by the National Business College (NBC) and itemizes relevant benefits due him.
As a student, the G.I. Bill also would pay Al or any other single veteran in his circumstances $65 in subsistence pay monthly while he was in school. If the veteran had dependents, the subsistence allowance increased to $90/ month. But, actually, Al did have a dependent. As you may have read early on, Al was born in 1922, the son of an Lebanese immigrant (although his father had been born in Syria). His parents raised a large family. Al was one of the youngest children. His mother died early and his “Auntie” helped raise them. She was a strong Lebanese woman who raised them with set moral values and strong opinions. For example, she didn’t want the boys to marry any woman who was not Lebanese. He said he made the mistake of bringing a non-Lebanese woman home once and she was not well-received. Since he wasn’t drawn to any of the Lebanese women he knew and because he loved and respected his Auntie, Al stayed single until after she passed away. His first and only marriage took place when he was 54. Al applied filed a claim for his Auntie as his dependent. The correspondence about this states the applicable provision of the G.I. Bill, and the rules around it.
So, thanks to the G.I. Bill, Auntie is taken care of and Al is enrolled at school. When he graduates in 1948, he will have a degree in Commercial Science (with Highest Honors). While in school, he participated in the Business Science Society and was on the basketball team and the baseball team. I include a few photos from the school below. The students look so carefree, and yet you know the young men particularly have seen things and had experiences that must have been hard to put behind them.
The above ribbons were earned by Al in his three years of service in the Army. His Honorable Discharge certificate is below:
When Al left Roanoke to serve in the Army, he was employed by Hercules Powder Company in Pulaski, Virginia. He worked with a crew of three weighing powder, putting the powder in sacks and sewing the sacks,and operated an electric sewing machine. Obviously, he went through a lot of training in the Army. He’d attended the Coyner Electrical Company in Chicago, in addition to military specific technical and operational training on weapons. He’d also developed leadership skills as the head of his unit (the guys called him Granny). He’d been promoted; at the time of his separation, he had attained the rank of Colonel. So when Al returned home, he needed a new direction. Enter the G.I. Bill.
What was the G.I. Bill?
The United States has a history of taking care of its veterans. An exception to this would be after World War I, when soldiers basically got a ticket home and no more. Later, protests led to legislation passed which paid “bonuses” to the veterans. For World War II, the government tried to plan ahead. The (to me scary-sounding) National Resources Planning Board studied projected post-war manpower needs which helped frame the legislation. Education was the main thrust but not the only benefit. When the bill, which was officially named the ” Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (better known as the G.I. Bill of Rights or the G.I. Bill) was put to a vote, it passed unanimously in both House and Senate. It was signed into law by FDR on June 22, 1944. Among the benefits of the G.I. Bill were:
- Education – $500/year for education which covered tuition, books and supplies plus $65/month subsistence allowance.
- Loan Guarantees to buy a farm, home or business
- Employment services
- $500 million for VA hospitals
- Unemployment services – deemed the “52-20 Club” because unemployment benefits for veterans was $20/week for 52 weeks.
Who qualified for these benefits?
From the actual legislation: “Any person who served in the active military or naval services after September 16, 1940 and prior to the termination of the present war, who is discharged or released under honorable conditions…provided further, that he served 90 days or more, or was discharged within such period by reason of an actual service- incurred injury or disability and provided further, that his education or training was impeded, delayed, interrupted or interfered with by reason of entrance into such service.”
What were the results?
The educational benefits were a huge success. Some colleges and universities had doubts (like the president of Harvard) about the quality of students these veterans would be. They turned out to be excellent students and the worries were proven unfounded. Within 7 years (it expired in 1956, eight million veterans had taken advantage of the educational benefits.
By 1955, there had been 4.3 million home loans as veterans bought 20% of all new homes after the war.
The least used of all benefits was the unemployment services. Most veterans went quickly back to work or school upon their return.
Exceptions include disabled veterans who didn’t feel they benefited (one reason for the VA hospitals), women (who were considered not eligible) and hispanic and African-American veterans who felt discriminated against in college admissions.
All in all, the G.I. Bill was considered a great success and has been renewed/updated a few times since.
The next post will look at how the G.I. Bill helped Al make the transition home.