Prelude to War; 1939-42
I don't want to talk of your days in the war just yet. It's just too depressing. So, let's go back a bit. There must have been some happy times in the long stretch of days before you were deployed to Europe. Amongst global turmoil and the prospect of a possibly dismal future, did you feel that it was time to celebrate what you could, while you could? You must have realized that at some point you would end up in the thick of it all - must have felt the harsh reality of just how very precarious the future was. I'd like to believe that, for you, this was a time of life, laughter, and love. It's a sad but true fact of human nature that the closer we brush with death, the better we are able to celebrate life.
So, dear Dad, I ruminate and speculate about your thoughts and dreams and the fabric of your life. This was your time, not mine. I am an interloper, a visitor looking in from the outside. I am the curious adult, grown from a child that waltzed into your sphere long after your war life had ended.
It's an odd thing looking back at your life through the puzzle pieces I am left with; photos, memos, little bits of family history and lore - all woven together with what history tells us all of that time - a history that was, of course, written by the victors. No war of any era could be as righteous and heroic and noble as history would lead us to believe. War is never so Hollywood, so diametrically black and white. In its final summation, war is simply another term for the collective and gory struggle to reign supreme as the most proficient and ruthless butchers that humanity has ever seen. War is every shade of gray in the spectrum, and every shade of blood red. To think otherwise is to be a master of self-deception. This, I will teach my children well.
In the year 1939, you graduated from the Air Corps Technical school's Primary Photo class. Private Lloyd E Davis. You had a passion for the camera, for the images brought to life by film. Your stepfather shared his skill with you, and I'm sure that you also emulated the father you never knew, the father that you tragically lost to tuberculosis when you were still a tiny boy. Your father was an early lover of this new thing called photography. What magic it must have seemed back then! I still have his cameras and his negatives - and all of yours too. Thank you for keeping them safe with such care all those years. The cameras are all here where I can see them in a row on a shelf in the bookcase with the glass doors. They are a a tenuous but real connection that I have to both of you; my father and my grandfather. There is the Kodak box camera, manufactured sometime before 1900, and next to it is another Kodak, the one with the bellows from a decade or so later. On a separate shelf is your large Speed Graphic from the 1940's, and there is also a shelf for the 50's Brownie and the others. They are all precious to me.
Ah, but I ramble. Sorry. We are here to talk of you.
Photography opened a door for you. It was something you loved, and something you were damn good at. By early 1941 you were already a rising star, a Corporal, and a sassy one at that. Other ranks soon followed, one after another in rapid succession. The photo of you with the cigar in your mouth as you stand behind the studio camera is one of my all time favorites. You defy the forthcoming war with sheer irreverence and wit.
War. I would love to be able to know the thoughts that spun through your head in those days. A hint from you, I suppose, is the undated news article I found pasted in your now yellowed and crumbling scrapbook. The author speaks passionately against the US entry into the world war. For whatever reason, this article was the one and only you deemed important enough to place in your scrapbook, where those solitary words are surrounded by pages and pages of images. Barrett's prose is vivid;
Men will meet deaths that lack dignity and lie in grotesque heaps that mock the beauty and the power of youth.........................Young girls will grow old over night. Romance will hang on a distant strip of barbed wire or vanish in the reeking mud of some famous victory. Children will be born who never will know a father - and many of them will bear no father's name......
I found a reference that Barrett also lectured at US Army Air Corps events. Is it possible.... did you hear him speak? I wonder.
On November 2nd, you married your Kansas hometown sweetheart while surrounded by family and friends, the rank of Staff Sergeant now visible on your sleeve. It was a simple wedding, carefully planned. A yellowed clipping from the local paper is charmingly rife with details;
"Miss Helen Hudson played Schubert's Ave Maria at the piano.... The Rev. Robert Gray read the double ring marriage service....The bride was lovely in a gown of white satin made princes style........
Using the remainder of your one-month leave from duty, you left for your honeymoon to Colorado and the Garden of the Gods. It must have been wonderful to escape to such a remote refuge. It must have been such a relief to be surrounded by the beauty of nature instead of the constant murmurings of war, war, war.
Just one month after your wedding, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Our country was now officially and irrevocably at war, and the honeymoon was over for everyone.
So off you both went to a new home together in Tacoma, which was now the likely mainland target for Pearl Harbor part 2. How reluctant you must have been to take your new wife from her safe haven in Kansas to that highly vulnerable western shore. You were stationed at McChord Field, home of the Fourth Air Force: the primary air defense command of the entire western coast. Constant antisubmarine air patrols flew from McChord in search of any hint of the Japanese. Not the best time to bring Bonnie to make a new home, but what else could you do?
By this time you were Chief of Photography at McChord field and had risen to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Just a few months later your sleeve read Technical Sergeant.
Sometime during that cold and uncertain winter your first daughter was conceived. On October 11, 1942, Bonnie gave birth to Diana Sue Davis. It is impossible not to notice in the picture that you are now Master Sergeant Davis.
After the baby came, you knew it was time to move them to safety,so just before Christmas you sent Bonnie and your tiny, new-to-the-world daughter back to Kansas and family and safety. You were able to spend some scant amount of time with your family before your return to duty on the west coast. The picture below makes me grin. Taken during a military outing in Kansas, it shows a Bonnie that looks quite capable of taking car of herself if need be. And look at you - Technical Sergeant Davis! And on up you go......
So much I never knew. It's a pleasure to meet you, Dad.
'Till next time,
Your loving daughter
Next in the series; Part 3, Eye in the Sky
WWII timeline 1939- 1942
September - WWII breaks out in Europe when Germany invades Poland. USA declares neutrality
November - Jews in Poland must now wear an identifying star on their clothing
June - France surrenders to Germany. Beginning of the Nazi occupation of France
October - Warsaw Ghetto built
May - The Blitz of Britain
December - Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. The US officially enters WWII
February - Roosevelt signs order requiring US civilians of Japanese descent to be contained in "relocation centers"
April - Doolittle Raid on Tokyo - first US attack of the Japanese mainland
May - Bataan Death March; Japanese force captured American and Filipino troops on a torturous walk to prison camps
June - first reports of Jews gassed in death camps
June - The "Pledge of Alliegiance" is adopted by the US Congress
July US Army forces fly first missions in Europe with the British Royal Air Force
In this series;