Florence Avenue School Yearbook - 1958

I was just playing around trying to figure out how to show a bunch of scanned historical photos using YouTube.  So, here, for what it's worth, is the UN-COPYRIGHTED 1958 yearbook of the 8th grade graduation class of Florence Avenue School, Irvington, NJ.  Looking back at these faces from a vantage point of more than 50 years had me teary eyed.  How cute all those little boys were.  How sweet the girls.  They remind me of my own grandchildren and their friends. We wuz innocent.
The video, consisting of page after page of photos, is quite long because I moved over all the pictures slowly.  I could have used Photoshop to create separate jpg files of each scanned photo and then created a slide show on YouTube with 2-second shots.  That would have made a much shorter video.  (Reminds me of the old adage about writing:  "I didn't have the time to make it short.")  Click here to enjoy when you  have the time.

Saved from Antietam by a Musket ball at Bull Run

Today (Sept 17)  is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam in 1862.  The newscasts are full of statistics outlining the unprecedented casualties.  My great-great grandfather William A. Shute (1832-1903) was not among them.  In fact, he was one of the lucky enlisted men of the Massachusetts 13th Infantry Regiment (Company I) who did not even see action in that battle, thanks to a musket ball that hit his leg just two weeks earlier (August 30)  at the Second Battle of Bull Run.  That little mishap, which cost him his lower left leg, may have saved his life by sparing him action on the infamous "Cornfield" of Antietam.  According to a website covering the history of the 13th, 
 "They are up early the morning of the 17th and are the second brigade to advance to the Miller Cornfield.  General Hartsuff is wounded early on during the advance while doing reconnaissance, so Colonel Coulter leads them into the fight, Major J. Parker Gould commands the 13th troops.  They stand their ground under a heavy fire for 30 minutes before retiring to the rear to replenish their ammunition.  301 men go into the fight, 165 come out, for a loss of 45%.  26 men are killed.  
Sometimes, what seems like bad luck -- a wound that leaves you an amputee at age 30 -- turns out to be a life saver.  You just never know.

Here's what happened to William A. Shute at 2nd Bull Run and in the days, months and years afterward.  (For a complete history of his regiment's doings up to that point, see 13thMass.org ).  He was hit by the musket in the left leg right above the foot. He fell and lay on the battlefield for three days until he was rescued and brought to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C.  During that period, his wound became infected, and he spent his waking hours picking maggots out of the puss that formed in the wound.  Later, he was told by the doctors that removing the vile maggots was a mistake.  They might have controlled the infection by devouring the bacteria.  He also ministered to another soldier nearby who was more gravely wounded.   (Years later, that other soldier became a U.S. Senator, and in a speech in Marlboro, he told the story of being saved by a Marlboro soldier named Shute.  William A was in the audience and rose to greet the Senator.)

Somewhere either en route to or at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Shute's leg was amputated 8 inches below the knee. He left St. Elizabeth's for home, and mustered out with a full disability,  in June 1863. (Pension was $3 per month at that time.)  He returned to Marlborough, Massachusetts, and continued to build his large family of seven children, living at 3 Elm Place.  One of his daughters, Jennie Shute, married a man named McDormand and moved to Washington D.C. William A. and his wife Fanny (Tarbell) Shute spent a year in Washington D.C., in 1898, where he worked for the War Pension Bureau.  He returned to Marlboro and died there in 1903 of "cancer of the stomach."

This story comes to us from two sources.  Our father, Bill Lovell, spent many happy days in Marlboro visiting his maternal Grandfather, Walter Dwight Shute, (1859-1927), William A's oldest son.  Walter D told Daddy the stories about his own father's days immediately after being wounded, of helping the other soldier, and of being called out years later in the speech given by the U.S. Senator.  Other details -- of the wound itself, of the pension, and of his work in Washington D.C.-- come from the Civil War Pension Records, housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Alas, those records are not available on-line (at least not yet), but I have photocopied them for some enterprising descendant  of William A Shute and William E. Lovell, who might one day lay claim to the role of family historian.

My Dad's Role in the Liberation of Dachau: His questions answered, too late.

Did this ever happen to you?  A beloved older relative asks you to do something that's relatively easy to do.  You say, "Sure!" and then promptly forget about it.  A few years later, that relative is gone forever.  The opportunity to fulfill your promise is lost.
If such a thing never happened to you, let me assure you that the unfulfilled promise haunts you.  That's where I have been since my father's death in 1994.  I let him down.
My father's request stemmed from his experience as an army infantry grunt in World War II, which I briefly relayed in a previous post.  He found himself in France in January 1945 with the 42nd Rainbow Division (7th Army) as part of the final push of Allied forces across Germany.  His regiment attacked into southern Germany, taking Wurzburg en route to liberating the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in April.  Along the way, he suffered  battle fatigue and spent a few weeks at St Johann, Austria in a rear-echelon hospital.  When he returned to active duty in late March he was temporarily assigned to guard duty at the regimental headquarters, and (as he would say) by the grace of God he was discovered to be a good reader of maps by the regiment's company commander, Captain Starr West Jones.  He was rescued from more front line duty by the good Captain Jones and spent the rest of the war in the headquarters company, still on the move, but not running, crawling, or walking under constant fire with an M1 and a full pack on his back.   For this our dad was forever grateful.
We know all this about Daddy because he was a prolific letter writer, except for the month and a half he spent in front-line combat.  Once at company headquarters, he had access to a typewriter, and we have three loose-leaf binders full of his World War II letters.  He also told us many bedtime stories about his life in the war.  We little girls loved his bedtime stories and we each remember them with slight differences in detail.  As I look back, they often included a life lesson, and I am sure that he edited them for children's minds.  Nevertheless, between the letters and the stories we each have felt we knew what it was like for him to be an unprepared, underweight, undertrained buck private on the front line of the war.
So... what about that favor Daddy asked of me?  Well, I live in the Washington D C area, and soon after the  National Holocaust Museum opened in 1993, he re-told  the story of his drive through Dachau in the back of a troop truck during its liberation.  As in his previous tellings, he emphasized that he had hidden his eyes the whole way for fear of crying at the sight of the dead and dying prisoners, particularly if any of them were children.  He did not want to be branded a weakling, especially given his shameful (to him) breakdown in full combat a month or so earlier.  All he knew was that he had been ordered into a truck at company headquarters to ride through the camp along with the rest of the company.  Nobody told him why or what they were supposed to do there.  He thought that the new Holocaust Museum might have information about the specifics of the liberation of Dachau.  He asked me to go the the Museum and try to find out exactly what his company was doing there.  THAT is what I never did.
He died a year later not knowing.
Here's where the benefits of sharing family histories come in.  A couple of years back I spent a day or so organizing Daddy's letters into protected loose-leaf binders, reading as I went along.  In two letters Daddy described the "incomparable Captain Jones" (his life saver) with such verve and fondness that I thought it would be fun to try to find the Captain's descendants and share the letters describing him.
Google led me to the Captain's obituary (yr 2000), which mentioned the names of his sons.  I contacted one of them through Facebook about 2 years ago, and he answered that he would be interested in seeing the letters.  So, I uploaded them to this blog and then sent the link to the son.  I never heard back.
Wonder of wonders (i.e., Google wonders!)  about 8 months ago I received an email from a Starr Jones  -- a grandson  -- who had Googled his Grandfather's name and found my blog post.  He asked whether any other letters had mentioned his grandfather.  Unfortunately no, but through emails with grandson Starr I learned that our Captain Starr West Jones had written an autobiography in 1988,  Hello, God. Can we Talk? He offered to send me a copy, but I found a used one on Amazon.com for a few bucks and bought it right away.
I was not disappointed.  The book contained a detailed account of the movement of his regimental headquarters Company, 42nd Rainbow Division, from late in 1944 until the end of the war.  And, it solved the mystery of the truck ride that my father made through the camp.
Here is Captain Jones tells us in his book:
(p. 128) "In April of 1945 our Allied troops were rolling back the Nazi war machine toward what we expected might very well be a desperate "last stand" in the Bavarian Alps.  Advance units of our 42d Division had blitzed into Munich with the mission of liberating the prisoners of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachua (sic).  I was with the main elements of our division, moving rapidly to linkup with them at Munich....(p.135)... The next day we received orders from the division commander informing us that all troops should visit Dachau to see at first hand the unbelievable horrors that man had unleashed upon his fellow man.  So I sent most of our headquarters company that day, with my executive officer in charge.  The remaining men would carry on the necessary functions of the company and I would go with them to the concentration camp the next day.... (p.136)...Some of the men were so emotionally thunderstruck by what they had seen that they could only shake their heads in disbelief and their voices choked when they tried to describe it.... (p137)...But I did not get a chance to see first hand, because the next day our unit was on the move again..."
So, THAT is what my father's ride was all about!  A ride intended solely to witness the horrors of the camp and be a witness to history.  My father had hid his eyes for fear of being branded too soft, and saw nothing.  Yet, his fellow soldiers were not immune from the very emotions that Daddy so feared.

My son-in-law, a life-long student of history, recently told me that General Eisenhower himself ordered that every possible person, and the press, see the camps at first hand, as soon as the Allies liberated them, in order to avoid denial stories in the future.  I just checked through google, and (as per usual when it comes to history) my son-in-law is correct.  Here is a link to Eisenhower's own recollections.  General Eisenhower's rememberance.

Eighteen years after his death, I solved my father's mystery for him.  Thanks to Starr Jones III, the Captain's grandson, for this little gift no matter how late. (And thanks to Google, and Facebook, and Blogger, and of course the internet, without which none of these findings would have been possible. And even now, my own son-in-law has added to my understanding.)

Veterans' History Project

An op-ed piece in the Washington Post in March 2012 urged citizens to help the shrinking number of World War II veterans still living to record their stories before it's too late. John McNeill, a professor of history at George Washington University wrote movingly of the diminishing opportunities to get veterans' stories down in audio or video.
The article thrilled me, because I had recently finished interviewing and digitizing the story of my Bethesda friend, David Eden, M.D., who served as a young medical officer in England and Europe from June 1944 to May 1946.  Researching his stories gave me a better understanding of what it meant to be a young doctor at the time, and how his experience influenced the rest of his life.  They are available for public viewing (with his permission) on YouTube.  Here's the PlayList for Dave Eden.
The Washington Post article mentioned the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.  That project gives veterans and their families the opportunity to donate materials and interviews.  The requirements are stringent -- for example, no photocopies, only originals.  Our father's letters home from Europe (7th Army, 42nd Rainbow Division, France, Germany and Austria) document the concerns of soldiers on the line before, during and after VE day.  One of his daughters has the originals.  The others of us have carefully made photocopies.  The letters fill three large loose-leaf folders.  But...are we ready to give up the originals to the Library of Congress, where they may molder for future generations?  That will make for good talk at family get-togethers.