On this Veterans Day 2015, I am remembering the grandfather I knew as a boy, and reflecting on the military service he rarely, if ever, spoke about with family.
About every other summer vacation, my mother would load everybody into our Ford Ranch Wagon to make the long drive north from Los Angeles to San Mateo, a suburban town about 20 miles south of San Francisco. I loved those visits. Occasionally, my grandfather would lead my brother, sister and I into the garage and let us use his tools to build stuff out of pieces of wood and metal from the scrap box next to his workbench. That wasn’t the only box out there.
One summer, while making an airplane out of an old broomstick handle and some sheet metal, I noticed it.… Next to the scrap box, and right on top of a stack of old Army footlockers and a well used canvas tarp, sat a medium size black metal box, unlocked. With a rather amateurish show of nonchalance, I asked, “Uh, Grandpa? What’s inside?” Nothing. Hmm, mental note, must investigate mysterious black metal box.
Later… I discovered that inside the metal box were lots of interesting things. “What does Grandpa mean, ‘nothing’ ?! Look at all this cool stuff!” There were inside a Colt .45 automatic, Colt service revolver (holstered, very cool, but way too big around my waist), binoculars, map case, compass, all in sturdy brown leather cases, and lots of other amazing things. Naturally, it all made me wonder what was inside the footlockers and steamer trunks, too. I would need to ask Grandpa about that when he wakes from his nap!
Not sure exactly when, but my grandfather gave me his field compass and leather map case. Still have them. My brother got the binoculars and some old artillery shells, including one that still has the missile on it! He still has those, too.
Years later, after both my grandparents had passed, I joined my mother in her parents’ garage where I had spent so many hours playing, building, snooping as a kid. Mom was going through their belongings. I remember seeing a bunch of old patches and lots of papers. Mind you, Mom is a conscientious contributor to the local recycle center. “Get rid of it! We don’t need it.” Not that we knew the significance of it all at the time. Thankfully, we did save many records.
I asked about the tools and sidearms. The gardener took those. What?! Ah, but, that’s a different matter, and not my mother’s doing.
I didn’t realize the compass was World War I issue until about 15 years ago when I began researching my grandfather’s military service. Stamped on the back was, “US Army Signal Corps 1918.” As for the leather map case, it contains four original World War II maps of the Japanese home island of Honshu. He used those when he landed at Wakayama Bay in September 1945. As for all the old patches and papers, we resigned ourselves to the consequences of our Grand Purge many years earlier.
But, through research, we found out everything eventually anyway and with the extraordinary assistance of so many engaging people — from the Post Historian at Ft. Shafter, Hawaii, to the Chef de la section des archives historiques in Vincennes, France, and lots of people in between, including the archivists at the Pennsylvania State Archives, and, National Archives and Records Administration. With their help, we now know in great detail about a career of selfless service spanning three decades and two World Wars.
Ironically, my grandfather tells us about some it himself through letters home we found reprinted in local newspapers, and through his field messages and operations reports we found among official records of the First and Second Divisions.
Click on the link below to read the condensed story of my grandfather’s experiences with the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919. Then-Lieutenant Ross served with three famous infantry divisions — the 42nd “Rainbow” Division; the First Division (Regular); and, the Second Division (Regular). He saw combat in the first American-led offensive operation of the war, the Battle of Cantigny, then went on to earn six campaign stars: the Montdidier-Noyon, Aisne, Aisne-Marne, Saint-Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne campaigns and Defensive Sector combat (Marbache). Included in his record, but not as obvious from these campaign names, is front line combat service at Chateau-Thierry and Blanc Mont while attached to the Second Division.
Please click on this link for the article from the Fall 2014 issue of The California Nugget, the bi-annual journal of the California Genealogical Society:
(Reproduced with permission from The California Nugget, Volume VI, Issue 2, Fall 2014. Copyright © 2014 by the California Genealogical Society. All rights reserved.)