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Where We Were When FDR Passed Away

3:48 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

USS Lacerta (AKA-29). The Lacerta was an Artemis-class attack cargo ship. (photo: Wikipedia)

Ray Owings, age 91, and Letty Owings, age 89, recall their memories before and after April 12, 1945, when US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) passed away. FDR was elected for four consecutive terms, and remains the only president ever to serve more than eight years.

Letty shares:

When Roosevelt was elected in 1933, my mother didn’t have voting rights, or at least that was how the culture viewed things at the time. At that time and in that community, women did not vote, even though legally, they could. My dad and my grandfather rode together in the buggy, to vote. My dad voted for incumbent Herbert Hoover, because Hoover was the popular candidate in the small German farming community where we lived, in Missouri. But then, FDR got it.

In the coming years our lives became one leader, and one direction, and that direction was the war. When Ray got his orders in 1944, he brought me a dozen roses, to tell me. I ran out of the house to greet him. But, I was wearing slacks, and my mother followed me, irate, because she did not think that a man should see a woman wearing slacks. That is how our world has changed.

I was in front of the wind charger radio when I heard of FDR’s passing.

Ray was in the Pacific.

Ray shares:

In Fort Pierce, Florida in 1944 I was training a boat group of 160 men. They thought I was mean. I thought they were the dregs, but they turned out to be good. In December 1944, I got my orders, and we reported to the USS Lacerta. She was just being finished and they were loading stores in Norfolk, Virginia.

We cleared Norfolk on January 18, 1945 and sailed to Cuba and then the Panama Canal before heading to Pearl Harbor where we loaded hospital crew and cargo for Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands. There is so much water in the world. On February 23, 1945 we crossed the equator and the international date line at the same time. On February 27, we arrived in Guadalcanal, unloaded cargo and picked up a group of Marines: a 155mm Howitzer artillery group, for the Okinawa invasion.

We departed Saipan on March 27 and began to prepare for invasion. On April 1, we unloaded Marines from Guadalcanal onto the west side of Okinawa, where they joined others. There were kamikaze and also, kamikaze boats around us.

The marine group on the beach needed ammunition desperately, and we lowered Lacerta’s boats to deliver the shells. A typhoon was close to us, the water was real rough, with 10-12 foot waves, and we were the only boat group at that time to be unloading. It was difficult in the rough seas, but we were able to do it.

We departed Okinawa on April 9, 1945 for Saipan, and on our way there, we heard on the ship’s radio that Roosevelt had died. When we arrived in Saipan on April 20, I learned by a signal sent to the ship, that my first daughter had been born, in March.

Letty adds:

There was a time when right and wrong all got changed, a time when the rules of war and the international laws all went up in the air and generals fought with one another about how to fight.

Prior to this and during the Great Depression, a man, a poor man, approached my grandfather, another poor man, at a farmers’ gathering. Radio was a recent invention. The man asked a question. It was not a question about finance. The man asked simply, “Can you help me understand the world?”

1945: It Wasn’t Just The Poverty

8:40 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

USS Lacerta (AKA-29). The Lacerta was decommissioned in March, 1946, upon her return from the Pacific theater. (photo: wikipedia)

1945: It Wasn’t Just The Poverty

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
- Mark Twain

There was a time in our history when everything changed. People did not know what to do. There were no classes on how to raise children. Everything in the world had vanished and no one knew what to replace it with.

There was a time when right and wrong all got changed, a time when the rules of war and the international laws all went up in the air and generals fought with one another about how to fight.

There were no rules, no guidelines, for the farmers, for the industrial workers or even for the newly rich. There were no norms. No one fit in anywhere.

Poverty was everywhere. But it wasn’t just the poverty. It was the confusion.

Prior to this and during the Great Depression, a man, a poor man, approached my grandfather, another poor man, at a farmers’ gathering. Radio was a recent invention. The man asked a question. It was not a question about finance. The man asked simply, “Can you help me understand the world?”

Family At Last: 1946-1949

by Letty Owings

With the USS Lacerta back from the Pacific, Ray’s discharge could only be a matter of when and where. His parents thought it would be neat if he reenlisted, but I did not consider that an option. I had waited quite long enough for us to begin life as a family. The Lacerta went all the way down the West Coast from Seattle, through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast to Norfolk, Virginia. Ray’s trip through the canal convinced him that someday we would do that together, which we did a few years ago.

Ray had one health issue he wanted to have taken care of before he left the Navy and that was tonsil removal. When he was a kid, some family doctor removed his tonsils in such a botch job that they grew back. Free surgery in Norfolk would delay him a few days. I was not about to wait. With June in my arms, I talked my brother into a drive to Kansas City to the train station. Again the family considered me impatient and foolish, but again their worries did not deter me.

Service people coming home from the Pacific and Europe jammed every train car. They were dead asleep in the aisles and even on the floor in the women’s restroom. Many of them were coming home to wives and new babies, so June became a star attraction. They looked at her and wondered what their own babies might be like. In Cincinnati, I left one train for another and had some time to wait. I lay down on a bench, dead from fatigue and holding June next to me. Next thing I knew a man was shaking me. He assumed I was between trains and that mine might be leaving the station. His assumption was correct, so eternally grateful to him for shaking me out of my deep sleep, I ran for the departing train.

Our meeting in Norfolk I remember little about except that spring was in the air in February, and June took her first steps reaching for daffodils in a park. For our return trip, Ray was able to get me on a service aircraft. Of that trip back to Missouri, I remember how miserably cold it was in Chicago where we were shifted here and there. Also I recall June crawling up and down the aisle in the small plane with service men holding her and playing with her. She was dirty as a pig when we arrived. Back in Kansas City I stayed with Ray’s Aunt Beulah and Uncle Alfred for a few days. June had not one stitch of clothes that were sanitary to wear, so we pinned Alfred’s undershirt on her. He was about a size 46, and she was a tiny size one.

Ray went through Great Lakes Naval Station to muster out. That is when our life as family began in earnest. He had only three years of college and needed to get back to the university forthwith. The problem was that so did thousands of other returning service men. Since the GI Bill provided some benefits, returnees who never considered higher education went to universities and colleges by the droves. We could not find a place in Columbia, so we rented a farmhouse in the country outside of Wellington. Ray took a job as principal and math teacher at a tiny high school in Henrietta, Missouri.

We bought an old pickup truck to get to and from. The house we rented had no indoor bath or anything that fancy, but we were glad to have it. We planted a garden and raised some chickens. Soon I was pregnant again and we felt even more of an urgency about Ray’s finishing his degree.

End Note: The woman sharing this excerpt of her story is my mother, Letty Owings.

The quote, “It wasn’t just the poverty. It was the confusion” belongs to her.

She emphasizes this clarification and identifies this theme as central to the Great Depression, the war, and the post-war eras. She believes that we are currently in a time of great confusion where the question “Can you help me understand the world” is appropriate.