A Post about Pat

One of the more mysterious characters we’ve read about over the first two years of Elmer’s correspondence is his old flame, Pat. I had a great deal of difficulty locating her – mainly because I didn’t have a last name, and she doesn’t appear in some of the usual suspect places (Elmer’s Cleveland High School yearbook, his neighborhood according to 1940 census data, etc). However, Elmer’s December 27, 1942 letter to his parents contained two important clues: her last name (O’Donnell) and the date she was married (November 28th, 1942).

With that information on hand, it did not take long at all to find her. Doris Patricia (Pat) O’Donnell (born 1922 – two years younger than Elmer) married Ridgley Reichardt at the Trinity Evangelical Church (that should sound familiar – it is Elmer’s mother’s church) on November 28, 1942. Pat’s father, Cornelius E. O’Donnell, once worked as a printer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A cursory newspaper search turned up a lot of information on Ridgley, who was by no means an inferior suitor. Reichardt was a champion speed skater, and by 1943 he and his bride were living in a beautiful house on Longfellow Boulevard. After the war he became a professional dog breeder and show judge. He and Pat won a Best of Breed award for one of their Golden Setters at the Heart of America All Breed Show in 1961.

I wondered whatever happened to Pat as I read through the first two years of grandpa’s letters, and in a strange way I kind of felt bad about Elmer turning her down in not the most gentle fashion nearly 80 years ago. Even though they continued to correspond with, I’m assuming, no hard feelings (she sent grandpa a nice wallet in the fall of 1942), I hoped that it all worked out for her.

As it turns out, it did. She and Ridgley both passed away in 2013 – just eight months apart – and left behind two daughters, three grandchildren, and as of 2013 eight great-grandchildren. They celebrated their 70th anniversary the previous year. If that isn’t a successful love story, then I don’t know what is. According to her obituary, “‘Pat’ enjoyed showing and raising Golden Setters and horseback riding.” It sounds to me like she fared pretty well after grandpa.

I won’t write much more about this because we are now starting to approach that line between historical research and infringing on a present-day family’s privacy. I debated whether or not to contact her descendants, but I opted not to subject them to some weird historian in California asking them about their mother’s or grandmother’s ex-boyfriend before meeting the man she would stay married to for over seventy years. Grandpa never mentioned her to me or to my dad (as far as I know), but in fairness he was twice-widowed and had a couple of long-term girlfriends before he himself passed away. His romantic history is much more convoluted, it would seem, and frankly it’s the sort of thing I never thought to ask him about.

But if one of her descendants ever comes to this blog post after doing a Google search on either Pat or Ridgley Reichardt, my question to them would be: did Patricia ever keep her letters from Elmer? If she did, does someone have them now? And if someone has them now . . .

Can I see them?

One of my favorite scenes from High Fidelity (2000). Later Rob tries to call Alison in an effort to find out why she broke up with him. He ends up speaking with her mother, who tells Rob that Alison and Kevin Bannister only ever dated one another, that they are now married, and that Allison had no other boyfriends. Rob, feeling vindicated that he was not at fault for the breakup then triumphantly exclaims, “Alison married Kevin!”
Alison married Kevin!

Research Trip

Hi folks,
Sorry for being tardy and not posting for a few days. I usually schedule all my posts well in advance, and I left this week free so that I could blog from the road. But if past experience is any guide, research trips are very busy affairs. I haven’t had much time to post since leaving town Monday, and even though I’ve thought of a lot of things to say this is the first chance I’ve had to write anything down.

I have been collecting research material for the Grandpa’s Letters project. Compared to my last major project (Never Caught Twice, which will be released this fall by the University of Nebraska Press), the research paradigm for this one is relatively easy. Rather than having to reconstruct the history of a notoriously under-reported and over-exaggerated crime across half a state and half a century, my current book’s source base is already well-established: my grandpa’s letters, along with my oral interview, other family documents, and several albums full of photographs. I also have my dad and Uncle Richard to fill in the gaps, which is a resource I did not have when investigating nineteenth-century horse stealing. This is a solid, if not excellent, foundation for a compelling historical narrative.

But this source set by itself isn’t enough. For one, I should have my grandfather’s official military personnel file from World War II. It contains a great deal of specific, well-documented information about every aspect of his service record. While getting that, I might as well get the service records of some of his friends on the Chew as well, so that I can give a broader perspective on St. Louis-area reservists before, during, and after the War. Speaking of the Chew, I should have more information on that as well, especially since Grandpa was barred from discussing his ship’s position and activities after the Pearl Harbor attack. I should also do the same thing with the Mink as well, Elmer’s ship from January 1944 until his discharge from the Navy in October 1945.

That is what this trip was all about. On Tuesday I visited the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis and scanned my Grandpa’s service record. I also scanned several others, including a couple of people I’ve discussed before on this blog. This took more time than I thought since these were large files, and since I only allocated a day for this I barely beat the clock to finish the job before closing. But I found a lot of fascinating information . . . stay tuned.

As soon as I was finished at the NPRC I had to Uber back to the airport to catch a flight to Baltimore, where I rented a car and drove to College Park, Maryland. Then on Wednesday I started collecting ship records at the National Archives facility at College Park. Like in St. Louis I’ve been scanning everything I can get my hands on, which is slightly more cumbersome here given that all scans have to have a declassification tag. That said, I’ve collected not only everything I could find on the Chew and the Mink, but after reading the other personnel files in St. Louis I decided to expand my strategy a bit and collect information on those ships on which Elmer’s friends on the Chew from St. Louis later served.

Although this is more work, I am really excited about where this is taking me . . . one of his friends participated in the invasion of Okinawa, while another one helped rescue sailors after the Frederick C. Davis, a destroyer, was sunk in the North Atlantic by a German U-Boat. Yet another served on a ship which played an important role in Operation Magic Carpet, the United States military’s massive post-war plan to bring hundreds of thousands of servicemen home in a matter of months. Of course this project will continue to revolve principally around my grandpa and his experience (which is exceptionally and uniquely well-documented given his letters), but my intention was always to bring other people into the story as well. I believe this is a great way to do just that.

I still have a few things to look for tomorrow, and I should have a few hours to spare. I hope to spend any extra time I have poking around some other collections and otherwise ensuring that this is the only trip out here I have to make for this book (as I promised my family . . . I visited the National Archives in DC several times for the first book). But so far this has been a successful trip.

Given both the blog and a history methods class I am teaching at Sacramento State this spring I may have more to say about both archival visits, what I found at each, and my strategy for tackling the archives. Since I will soon have to lecture my students about this very process it makes sense to start crystallizing my thoughts now while I’m in the trenches, so to speak.

Anyway, I need to get some other things done before I go to bed, but I will write again soon. In the meantime, here is an out-of-context page from grandpa’s service file at the NPRC in St. Louis. This is an important document, all things considered: