New Blog, Site Updates, and Moving to the Country (Gonna Eat a Lot of Peaches)

Hi folks,

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve started posting again. One of my goals has always been to find some way to put all of my grandpa’s letters on here so that they can be publicly available. Since I’ve been busy writing elsewhere lately for school, work, and my book project, I decided that I might as well start posting the letters here, one after another. With that in mind, I have started posting these letters exactly 80 years after they were written.

Envelope, Letter, Elmer to Parents, March 4, 1942
This letter is exactly 80 years old today . . .

At some point I will have to backtrack and post all of the letters that predate March 1, 1942, but that’s a problem for a different day. In the meantime, I will simply post scanned pictures of each letter, along with an audio recording in which I read the contents of that letter. For a variety of reasons I want to avoid having to transcribe them all, at least for the time being, but since I want these letters to be accessible to anyone who is unable to read them I am also including the audio narration below each letter. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to to enhance their accessibility.

I have also made some changes and updates to the website. For instance, I took out the “Teaching” section and replaced it with a “Media” section in order to highlight some of the reviews I’ve received and interviews I’d done for Never Caught Twice. I’ll try to keep this site up to date. Meanwhile, if you are a student, you can contact me via the “Contact” form on my page or via my institutional email (hint: it is in your syllabus 😉).

I also removed all of the previous Grandpa’s Letters blog posts. I did not do this out of meanness or insecurity, but rather because I have started the process of marketing my manuscript to publishers and I don’t want my old posts to suggest that my book is merely a physical instantiation of my blog, which of course it is not. But even so, I have made a lot of updates, additions, corrections, and other changes to my previous drafts . . . I would much prefer that everyone read the book when it comes out and, as my grandpa would say, “get the straight dope,” rather than pinball back and forth through an arcade of outdated posts. I appreciate everyone’s interest in these month-to-month installments, which were instrumental in establishing this blog and spreading interest in my grandfather’s story. However, it is time to turn my attention away from the old blog and back toward putting these letters out there so that anyone, anywhere can access them.

I hope to have some announcements in the not-to-distant future about the book, its progress, and its destination. Exciting things are happening on that front. In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy reading my grandpa’s actual letters—the straight, straight dope, one might say—and that you and all your friends and loved ones are safe in these uncertain times. And since it would be weird to write a big blog post without any kind of picture, here’s a shot of my Eva’s Pride peach tree budding. I planted a small orchard over the winter, and this little guy is the first to emerge from dormancy. Come by in five years if you want plenty of fresh fruit!

Anyway, take care, stay tuned . . . and Slava Ukraini!

Matt

The First Pearl Harbor Memorial

If someone were to ask you where the first Pearl Harbor monument is located, what place would you guess? Honolulu? Washington, D.C.? Perhaps someplace in Arizona?

If you didn’t come up with “Swansea, Illinois,” then you wouldn’t be alone. Erected in 1942, just months after the Japanese attacked, the monument sits on a small cemetery plot beside a busy road in metro St. Louis. Located about twenty miles east of Saint Louis, and over 4,000 miles away from Oahu, Swansea does not contain a naval base, an airstrip, or much else of strategic value. What it did have, however, was a sad and terrified family whose members were losing hope. George E Hoffman’s namesake nephew was a sailor aboard the Chew, and he was reported missing along with several others following the attack. By February, his grieving uncle commissioned a large monument to be erected in his nephew’s honor and for all the other dead and missing servicemen at the Messinger Cemetery.

The monument is one of the newer stones there: the oldest grave belongs to Anne Lyon Messinger, who died in 1842. Her family’s gravestones lie behind a black iron fence near the back of the site. Nearby, W. Albert Issacs lies beneath a modest, well-kept gravestone. Issacs died on August 1, 1863, while attached to Company I of the 117th Illinois Infantry. The 117th was stationed in Memphis at that time, so it is likely that Issacs died of a non-violent cause (like disease).

Nearby, Hoffman’s much-larger monument turned out to be at least partially premature. During the months following Pearl Harbor, Hoffman was one of thousands of men whose whereabouts immediately following the bombing raid were unknown. By the time the memorial was dedicated, however, Hoffman had been found alive and well. Nevertheless, the monument’s dedication to all those who died and sacrificed during America’s “baptism by fire” was among the first to pepper a mourning nation’s growing cemeteries. Today the monument is flanked by several other memorials for more recent wars. A few feet away, just beyond a pair of small stone obelisks that mark the entrance to the cemetery, a busy highway disturbs the quiet, a perpetual symbol of time passing along just as those who perished cannot.

If you are ever in the region, it’s worth checking out the memorial and the surrounding cemetery. I visited with my family last December, and although it took a little while to venture out there from the Missouri side of the river, it was well worth the trip.

The first Pearl Harbor monument in Swansea, Illinois.