Thursday, December 6, 2018

My Father at Pearl Harbor As It Was Bombed, and DNA Discoveries in Genealogical Research: An Account

My father, Benjmain Dennis Lindsey, Jr., at Pearl Harbor during WWII (on left).

This is one of those "personal" postings that seem to have become rarer as I maintain this blog. I'm not sure why I post less and less about my own personal history here, or my family's history. I think I may have been spurred to do so now by two fascinating statements I've read in the past several days about the use of DNA to discover one's ancestry or family history (here and here). As my posting  says, I had a DNA surprise some months back — that is, I learned some information about a family member close to me whom I knew very well as I grew up, which I never expected to find and never set out to find, but which I'm now having to process. In part, because this family member represents a staunchly evangelical — Southern Baptist, in particular — branch of my family, and what I have learned about his life and history complicates that picture to a large degree…. So here goes with the personal posting, about which I'm forewarning you if these aren't your cup of tea:

On this day in 1941, my father went to sleep aboard the USS Pennsylvania at Pearl Harbor, not knowing that he'd be awakened early the next day by bombs that were being dropped on the American military ships in the harbor, and that he'd be wounded by shrapnel from a bomb that exploded on the Pennsylvania. That incident — what he experienced as Pearl Harbor was bombed — was the only part of his WWII years about which he ever talked.

I know next to nothing about his experiences in the war itself, except that he spent those years in the Pacific theater and its campaigns. I don't have his military service papers, and am not even sure how to obtain them.

Due to a DNA surprise several months back, I began to try to piece together — at a micro level — the lives of my father and his siblings Carlton and Helen Blanche in the early 1940s, and found this task surprisingly difficult. We often don't have abundant documentation of what our parents and their siblings were doing as they finished high school and launched their adult lives. We know in a vague sense what was taking place in their lives. But unless they have left us a cache of documents — high school diploma, college acceptance application, copies of first job contracts, etc. — we don't know the details.

My father enlisted in the Marines on 6 March 1941 at Oklahoma City, with his enlistment papers stating that he was living at Sheridan, Arkansas. My grandfather had a store there at that time.

He was honorably discharged at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Califonia, on 1 November 1945. His separation papers state that he attended Sea School, and was a Lt. AAA Gun Crewman during the war. The papers also state that he had graduated from McRae High School in Mount Holly, Arkansas, and after that, worked as a derrickman in the oil fields of Delta Drilling Co., Tyler, Texas, from 1 November 1940 to 1 January 1941. The papers state that he intended to go to college, with an interest in English and journalism, and preferred to settle in south Arkansas, since he considered it home.

Mount Holly is in Union County, Arkansas, on the Arkansas-Louisiana border. My grandparents, who were barely eking out a living farming in Red River Parish, Louisiana, where they grew up and my father was born, moved their family to that county in the 1920s when oil was discovered there and jobs with good salaries were opening up. My father was raised there, hence his high school education at McRae High in Mount Holly, from which his siblings also graduated. The fact that Union County was an oil county would account for his taking a job with Delta Drilling in Tyler, Texas. I assume he graduated from high school in May 1938, since he was born in 1920 — and I may have the graduation program filed away someplace.

I have a picture of my father with his platoon, the 16th Platoon of the U.S. Marine Corps, taken at San Diego in April 1941. I also have a 21 August 1941 letter he sent to his parents from USS Pennsylvania, Marine Detach, c/o Fleet postoffice, Pearl Harbor, Q.H. The letter was sent via his brother Carlton, then living with their parents at 300 Center Street in Little Rock. By 1942, according to the Little Rock city directory, my grandparents had moved to 3023 Marshall Street, and their son Carlton was living with them and working as a clerk for the "US Emp Serv" (postoffice?), according to the city directory. I'm not sure why my Aunt Helen Blanche is not also listed with them. Perhaps she had already begun nursing school in El Dorado with the Sisters of Mercy at Warner Brown hospital.

My father's August 1941 letter to his parents states that he had been in port at Pearl Harbor for some time, and had gone to Honolulu, Waikiki, and Haleiwa on a liberty. He speaks of the beauty of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the beach at Waikiki, as well as of the large groves of palms loaded with coconuts. The letter ends with my father telling his family that after he had been on board about 3 months, he could take tests for private first class, which would increase his pay to $36 per month.

I have a number of photos of my father at this time, enjoying the beaches of Hawaii with other soldiers.

A 27 July and 31 August 1941 list of passengers aboard the USS Fanning shows Private Benjamin D. Lindsey Jr. aboard. The ship sailed from Long Beach, California.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, about which my father told my brothers and me stories as we grew up — stories of what he had seen and experienced — he wrote a letter on 15 August 1942 to his brother Carlton. The letter was sent from the Pennsylvania at Pearl Harbor, c/o the Fleet Postoffice in San Francisco. Carlton was at Hdqrs. Det. 2nd Btn., 117th Infantry, Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

The letter states that my father was thinking of his brother (whom he addresses as "dear Bud") because Carlton was to take exams on that day to get back into the Air Force. It also says that my father hoped to take tests to join the Naval Air Force. It further indicates that my father had had a letter from their sister Helen Blanche asking him to write her boyfriend in Alaska. This was Lee Compere, son of E.L. Compere, an adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard whom Helen would marry in January 1944. My uncle Lee wrote and gave me a copy of his detailed memoirs of his WWII experiences.

My father's August 1942 letter to his brother also speaks of his desire to be made corporal. At some point I believe he was made a corporal and then sergeant, and then demoted when he got into a fracas of some kind involving another officer — a fight. During his war years, he engaged in boxing contests as a "featherweight," he sometimes told us sons.

The term "bud" or "buddy" is one that has cropped up in American culture often at wartime or when the nation is on one of its recurrent military binges, reflecting the buddy system of the military. The popular song "My Buddy," from 1922, was revived during WWII and became a hit, being sung by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Kaye, and others.

A list of members of the Marine Detachment aboard the USS New Mexico sailing on 9 January 1943 and 21 February 1943 shows my father aboard. In April 1943, he was on a Marine muster roll for the USS West Virginia, Co. E, barracks at Pearl Harbor and also listed in the Marine detachment of the USS New Mexico, fleet post office in San Francisco.

A 20 February 1945 letter he sent his parents has no envelope or indication of from where he was writing. It notes that his unit would leave for the west coast on the following day and that he needed money. He asks his parents to send him the War Bonds he had left at home. The letter also notes that he would write his parents and send an address when he got to Camp Pendleton.

Seven days later, he sent his parents a letter from Co. B, 1st Trng. Bn., 2nd Inf. Trng. Reg., M.T.C.-S.D.A., Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California. This says that my father had arrived at Pendleton the day before and was happy to be back in California. He had come by a monotonous 5-day train ride. En route, he had gone from New Orleans to Shreveport through Coushatta, his and their birthplace, but the train was going so fast at that point, he could not recognize anyone, although he yelled from the train. He was on train 2, and notes that train 3 came through Memphis, Pine Bluff, Fordyce, and Camden. My father's letter tells his mother that he would be sending a telegram the following day, and when she got it, she would see why he had done so. The letter reiterates that my father was broke, and needed the war bonds.

And that's it — all the close documentation I have of my father's WWII experiences before and after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, other than photos taken in Hawaii during his time there. He came home from the war in 1945, married my mother in Little Rock in June 1948, and graduated from Hendrix College in June 1951, going from there to law school in Little Rock, and getting a law degree.

The photos above and below are three of many I have of my father from his Pearl Harbor days. I have no idea who the other soldiers in the photos are. My father is the man on the right in the photo below.

B.D. Lindsey and fellow soldiers, Pearl Harbor, WWII (on right).

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