Friday, March 27, 2015

16. Another War at Home

Nancy’s brief entry for September 11 in her 1944 diary revealed that while we were still fighting the axis in World War II, we were also fighting a war against a highly contagious disease growing up in Gettysburg:
School was supposed to start today but was postponed ’til next Monday    because of polio. It should have started last Tuesday.”
Poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis, was the most feared disease of our childhood, often leaving those who were infected with an inability to function. It was, and still is, a highly contagious disease. 

In August of ’44, as Nancy and I were preparing to enter eighth grade in Gettysburg, the county medical director delayed school openings and closed our only public swimming pool. Children were not permitted in public places including the movie theaters, stores, church services and Sunday School.  At first, it was reported that the ban applied to children under sixteen, but later, medical authorities announced that children who were sixteen must adhere to the restrictions. 

The initial school ban in Gettysburg went into effect on August 21, but when no new cases of polio occurred in the County, health authorities lifted the ban and school was to begin on September 11. Then a new case of polio was discovered, and as Nancy’s diary indicates, school was postponed again for another week. 

Nancy’s diary also suggests that she continued to be active, working in the family Victory Garden, playing games and roller skating with friends or riding her bike on the Battlefield.

The polio epidemic peaked in 1952 when 58,000 cases were reported in the United States. Today, polio vaccines developed in the Fifties have eliminated the disease in all but a few countries around the world.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

15. Letters to Nancy from the Front

In previous posts, I wrote that Nancy and I grew up in Gettysburg during World War II, a global event that dominated the front pages of local and city newspapers from 1941 through 1946. Last week, I mentioned, with regret, how the war became personal when Gettysburg residents in the service were reported killed, wounded or missing in action.

The war came home to Nancy in a very special way when she received letters from her uncle, Chaplain John Strevig who began writing to her when he was with US forces in North Africa. In a letter written from Tunisia in 1943, he wrote about his experiences in Africa, specifically Morocco and Casablanca.

Nancy and I toured Morocco and Casablanca in 1998, and during our brief visit we never realized that we may have walked where Uncle John had walked fifty-five years before we did.

In February 1944, Uncle John wrote a long letter to Nancy from “Somewhere in Italy” in which he described the sites and sounds of that country including Mt. Vesuvius. There, Uncle John obtained a small piece of lava which he sent to his niece, We still have that piece of the historic site today. 

One brief note from Uncle John was hand written while he was assigned to the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion in Italy. It read:
“I am on Anzio Beachhead. Plenty “hot” now - lots of shelling. Not many safe places. Lovingly, Uncle Johnny”
Uncle John survived heavy fighting at Anzio and he survived until World War II ended in May 1945. After the war, Uncle John was stationed in Germany before returning to the United States where he continued to serve as chaplain at various Army bases until he retired from the service. He ended his career  in the ministry serving Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania churches.

On May 30, 1953, Nancy and I stood before Lt. Colonel John R. Strevig in Trinity Evangelical and Reformed Church in Gettysburg where he participated in the ceremony in which Nancy and I were united in Holy Matrimony. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

14. Summer of 1944 in Gettysburg

During the summer between seventh grade and eight grade at Lincoln School in Gettysburg, Nancy and her parents were doing their part to support the war effort. She often  helped her father in their Victory Garden, then worked with her mother to prepare the produce for canning or freezing,

In the Forties, the freezing compartments in refrigerators were small, so people rented large freezers at a local locker and froze their fruits and vegetables for later use. In her diary for 1944, Nancy notes that she and her father picked a bushel of green beans, then she and her mother prepared the beans for the locker.

During the summer of 1944, I earned money thinning peaches for local growers in the early spring, picked sour cherries in June for the Ortanna or Musselman’s Canneries, then picked peaches for the growers in August.

On hot summer days, we  swam at six foot deep Jack’s Pool where the ad slogan was “A daily dip, that’s our tip.”  Picnics were  popular, and both Nancy’s family and mine loved to go to Caledonia, Marsh Creek and the Narrows on weekends for picnics and outings.  

Our activities in the summer of 1944 were trivial compared to what was happening in World War II.  The front pages of our local and city newspapers were filled with news of the success of U. S. and British forces in Italy, the Soviets in Eastern Germany and Army and Marines in the South Pacific. Unfortunately, the victories at the front were always won at a cost.

On August 9, the front page of the Gettysburg Times reported on these Adams County residents killed, wounded or missing in action (MIA): Sgt. John Felix killed in action in France; Archie Feeser killed in South Pacific; Charles Smith wounded in France; Cpl. Merrill Topper wounded in South Pacific; James Harness wounded in Italy; Donald Price MIA in Italy; Eugene Clapper, MIA in France and Private Maurice Small, the oldest of five brothers from Gettysburg in the service, MIA in France. 

When World War II ended, well over a million men and women from the United States were killed, wounded or missing in action. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

13. Culp's Hill: Playground and Burial Ground

Where I grew up on East Middle Street in Gettysburg, I could look out my front door and see the rolling hills of farmland owned by Henry Culp during the battle in 1863. On the second and third days of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Culp house and barn, which were behind Confederate lines, were used as temporary hospitals. 

A prominent feature of the farm was a hill southwest of the farmhouse which was held by Meade’s army each of the three day battle and anchored the right flank of the Union line. When we were growing up in Gettysburg, Nancy and I often hiked the grounds surrounding Culp’s Hill. 

My earliest participation in team sports in Gettysburg was on a small plot of ground on the Culp's farm just across the street from my house. Neighborhood boys would meet there on weekends or after school and play touch football in the fall or softball in the spring. We often played until the streetlights came on or until we were called for dinner. 

“Brother against brother” is a phrase often used by historians to describe the division of families in the Civil War, and one example of that slogan involved Henry Culp’s nephews, Wesley and his brother William, both natives of Gettysburg. As they grew up together, both brothers explored and hunted on Uncle Henry’s property including the woods on Culp’s Hill. 

In 1858, Wesley’s work took him to Sheperdstown, Virginia, and in 1861, he and his friends joined the 2nd Virginia Infantry. Two years later, he returned to Gettysburg with Lee’s army and was killed on or near the hill where he had hunted with his bother William. 

When the war began, William Culp enlisted in the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment in the Union army. William, who considered his brother a traitor, survived the war, and never spoke of him again. 

Culp’s Hill and the Culp farm property were our playgrounds growing up in Gettysburg. For Wesley Culp, his playground became his burial ground, and his brother became his enemy.