This is part of a series that over two years will follow the story of my father in World War II 75 years ago. I did this five years ago in the series Following the 10th Armored, but I have been doing more research and expanding the ideas. The beginning posts will set the stage for the events of 1944 and 1945 when he was in Europe as part of the 10th Armored Division's 80th Armored Medical Battalion.
• January 1, 1942At one point in my planning for this series I thought about calling it “Buddy’s Wars”, “wars” being plural. I have a hunch that there was far more going on behind the scenes of my dad’s life than any of us will ever know. In earlier posts I have given some of the clues, slight though they be. They include his “running away from home” at age 35; his seeming intent on joining the Army and lying about his age so it would happen; the family memory of something to do with a German flag; the unusual mentions of the person I knew to be a one-time girlfriend. Sure I may be reading into all this from my own background in mental health and psychology, but the signs are there.
Well, this is new year’s and it is a stormy day. It snowed and then it rained. Harold did not come home for lunch, so it has been a long day. Harold did not come home all night and I am just sick he is starting the new year in a bad way.
- Diary entry, Beula Keller Lehman
Dad, of course, wouldn’t have been the first to join the Army as a way of either escape or growing up. But he wasn’t a kid. He was an adult with a profession and a business. We will never know what it was that finally broke in 1940 when he lied about his age and registered for the draft. I kept the word war in the title as singular since it is all parts of his greater war. World War II may have finally given him something that he had been looking for.
I hope so, though he never talked about it with me.
As I said in the previous post, my dad was drafted and reported for duty in January of 1941. Where he went other than Camp Blanding in August. He was obviously then sent on some type of extended leave and by January 1942 was back home in northern Pennsylvania. As grandma’s diary entry says above, it was not a comfortable time for him. “I am sick he is starting the new year in a bad way” would indicate that Beula was worried, again, about her youngest child. It didn’t end with that. Over the next three months there were a number of posts about Harold, more than in any previous diary.
• 1-Feb - Harold did not come homeAnother memory surfaces; another of the myths of my father. At one point I was told that he got angry with his girlfriend and slashed her tires. In mid-January Beula had noted that dad was together with that girlfriend. That was the first such entry where they were together. Then this shows up in the diary a month after those six nights.
• 2-Feb - Harold did not come home last night nor for lunch today
• 3-Feb - Harold did not come home last night. Today at 1.15.
• 22-Mar - Harold did not get up. He did not get come home until 6.30 this morning. And I am just sick.
• 23- 27 Mar - [He came home late 6 more days in a row.]
• 13-Apr - Harold did not come home until 2.30 and he did not come home for lunch. So I am not doing a darn thing. He was out last night cutting tires.It was said so matter-of-factly, but with more than a little anger. “I am fed up,” Beula seems to be saying. “I am done trying to get anywhere with this son of mine.” I wonder how she knew what he was up to? I know that the girlfriend’s mother, as well as the girlfriend herself were friends of hers. It wouldn’t be unheard of in a small community like Jersey Shore for half the town to know by nightfall the next day. Twenty-some years later it would be just as difficult for either my brother or myself to get away with anything without being found out.
Then there was one more entry about this…
• 14-April - Harold did not come home last night. Came in at 1 went to bed. He is working tonite. But gee I am sick. I don't see how I can stand it any longer….and then silence about any problems. Things began to look up. No problems are mentioned after that. In the few times he is mentioned, dad shows up as doing things around the house, being home, being a dutiful son. I will continue to do digging into newspapers of the time to see if there was anything ever reported on this, but I doubt it. Something, however, made him change. I doubt it was the anger or fears of his mother. Perhaps it was a run-in with the police about it. Perhaps it was his own fear of what he had done.
Then it was time to go.
On July 15, 1942 the 10th Armored Division was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia. Ten days later Harold got the notice that he was to return to service twelve days later. The progress of my dad back to the Army and into World War II shows up ever so clearly in Beula’s diary beginning just eight months after Pearl Harbor.
• 6-Aug - Took Harold to the station. Left for New Cumberland. Gee I do miss him.This is the first time she consistently refers to Harold as “Buddy.” It was an almost unused nickname up to this point. Here and there she referred to him that way, but most of the time it is by name. She mentions him as Buddy only two more times in September and then as Harold for the rest of the year. He will become Buddy almost entirely from then on. Through the end of the year, and the war itself, there will be many references to letters, cards, and boxes going back and forth. I wish I had even a few of those letters. But they are long gone until postcards at the end of the war.
• 14-Aug - Harold called at 7 saying he was leaving New Cumberland tomorrow.
• 15-Aug - Harold called from Washington- he is leaving for Georgia. 28 of them going.
• 20-Aug - Got a letter from Harold. He is at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
• 29-Aug - Gee but I am lonesome. I miss Buddy.
• 1-Sep - O gee I am so homesick. Wish I could talk to Buddy.
Buddy’s war has taken on a new direction. He is in Georgia with the 10th Armored Division as part of its organic medical battalion, the 80th. For the next thirty-seven months World War II will transform him into the man I knew. His parents, Beula and Bill, and his siblings Carl and Ruth will be at home.
In November grandpa fell off a box car onto a flat car at work and hurt his wrist. (He is 66-years old.) A couple weeks later she writes:
• November 26, 1942 (Thanksgiving Day)She then writes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that even with both Carl and Ruth around, she misses Harold. It won’t be the last time.
It is a lovely day and we are alone. But we are thankful we are well. Having a roast chicken.
- Diary entry, Beula Keller Lehman
• December 24, 1942
Looking for Harold.
• December 25, 1942
Looked for Harold. I am disappointed.
- Diary entries, Beula Keller Lehman