With 2011 marking the 70th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War II, the Library of Virginia undertook a concerted effort to collect the papers of the war’s veterans. Members of the “Greatest Generation” or their families donated a wealth of extraordinary materials consisting of letters, diaries, photographs, reminiscences, military records, and other items. These collections document the contribution of Virginians to the war effort both at the front and at home. One of the most interesting items was lent to the library for copying by Clinton Davis of Staunton—a yearbook of one of World War II’s most legendary outfits, the Tuskegee Airmen. His father, Ralph H. Davis, served at the Tuskegee Airfield throughout World War II as a mechanic.
The senior Davis, born 5 February 1915 in Providence, Rhode Island, often did odd jobs and ran errands for pilots and airport personnel at the original Providence airport near his uncle’s farm. Payment or reward for his work would often come in the form of airplane rides, which Davis would turn into lessons. He soon earned his private pilot’s license, and on a list issued by the Commerce Department in January 1939, Davis was the only African American pilot from Rhode Island. World War II began in Europe later that year, and in 1940 the United States began preparing for involvement by … read more »
It is rare for anyone to be directly involved in an event that can be labeled, without exaggeration, a turning point in world history. The recollections of those who have done so take on a special significance for the rest of us as we try to imagine how it must have felt to be part of an extraordinary moment in time. As archivists, we can only hope that these recollections are recorded and preserved before memories fade and entire generations pass away.
Today, on the 68thanniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, one of those voices speaks through the June 1944 diary of Douglas J. Raymond (1921-1994), an acting petty officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. A native of Rosemont-LaPetite-Patrie, Quebec, Canada, Raymond became a United States citizen and resident of Virginia after the war. While keeping this diary, he was serving aboard the destroyer HMCS Saskatchewan providing anti-submarine protection for the landing forces.
Raymond’s widow, Mary, donated the diary to the Library of Virginia last July. In a note she tucked in with the little book, she apologized for her late husband’s spelling, saying that it was more phonetic than technically correct. No apologies are needed, as the diary is an honest, sensitive, and exciting account of what a 23-year-old man saw, thought, and felt in the midst of intensely stressful circumstances.… read more »
On 5 October 1942, the United States District Court in Norfolk, at the request of the Navy, condemned 50,000 acres of land in Fauquier, Prince William and Stafford counties in order to enlarge the Marine base at Quantico. Two days later 650 families learned that they would have to vacate their property within 20 to 60 days! I learned of this story when I processed the records of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Development, Division of History.
In September 1942, the Virginia Conservation Commission’s Division of History and Archaeology, under the direction of Dr. Hamilton J. Eckenrode, began a war records collection program. Unable to continue the Division of History’s historical marker program because of wartime rationing, Eckenrode sought to “record the history of the Old Dominion’s war effort while the history is still fresh in the making, rather than wait until after the war when the events and details would be more obscured.” The Conservation Commission began a correspondence program in which a non-salaried correspondent from each locality sent reports about local war activities and local effects of and reactions to the war.
In March 1943, Mrs. Mary B. Thompson of Stafford County submitted to the Commission the “Story of Stafford Evacuation” by Elizabeth Russell Powers. Approximately 350 families lived in the 30,000 acres of condemned land in Stafford County. Powers described … read more »
In late 1943, Leona Robbins was 12 years old and living in Norfolk, Virginia. Her neighbor and close family friend, Army Lieutenant Charles Field, was headed overseas, where he would be stationed in Norfolk, England. Field suggested that Leona and her friends pull together some toys to distribute to the children there. England had been at war for over four years at that point, and the deprivation and danger faced by its citizens was considerable. Leona responded sympathetically, gathering some dolls and toy cars for the children.
Lt. Field delivered the package to the junior school in the village of Carbrooke, Thetford, Norfolk, in March 1944. Headmistress Mary Norton and each of the children in her class wrote Leona letters of thanks and introduction. Miss Norton spoke highly of the American soldiers, who had thrown two separate Christmas parties for the children the previous December: “They spoilt our children, and consequently are very popular! I honestly think this last was the best Christmas our children have had since 1939.” The students also drew pictures, including some of a christening ceremony they had for the dolls (naming one of them Leona Mary).
The correspondence continued for a little over a year, with each side sending letters and small gifts. The letters show typically curious children, wanting to compare ages, schools, recreational activities, and vacation schedules with … read more »
For this week’s Veterans’ Day-themed post, I am going to depart from our usual practice of focusing on images, documents, and stories that Library of Virginia archivists uncover as we process collections. Instead, I would like to share the story of Cecelia Graham and how a chance conversation with my wife led to the emotional discovery of the World War II Separation Notice of Cecelia’s father.
The Virginia World War II Separation Notices was one of the first collections I processed at the Library of Virginia; it contains approximately 250,000 notices for World War II veterans discharged between 1942 and 1950 (with the bulk between 1944 and 1946) who sought employment in Virginia. A disastrous 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed a large percentage of Army and Army Air Force records in federal custody for veterans discharged between 1912 and 1960. The LVA’s collection of separation notices became invaluable to Virginia’s servicemen and their families after the fire.
These records have been part of the Library’s archival collection since 1950 but they were in no order and the Library did not have the resources to process them. I recognized the importance of the collection and, being young and impatient, I was determined to do “something” about it. That “something” turned into the largest filing project in the LVA’s history. … read more »