Saturday, December 6, 2014

My grandpa's war stories

My grandpa didn't talk much about his time in the war.  When my dad and I took him to the Great Lakes Naval Memorial Museum in Muskegon MI 5/17/09 (the USS Silversides) he opened up a little bit, pointing out to me where he stood on the ship to fire his guns when looking at a replica that was on display there.  We really enjoyed the trip here but his ultimate goal was to see the LST-393 that is docked in Muskegon.  We were able to take him there the 6/9/11 and then he really opened up.

 We walked the deck of the LST after having explored the interior of the ship.  As mentioned in a previous blog he was insistent on getting into the engine compartment.  He was on oxygen, borrowed a wheelchair, got quite winded and sat down often but he really enjoyed the day.  In this picture he's pointing to the area of the deck where the deck gun he manned was located.  The guns are gone but there are large circular steel plates in their place.  It's unfortunate because we would have loved a photo of him with the gun. 
At the end of our tour a local reporter happened to be on the scene and asked if he could interview my grandpa.  My grandpa had gotten over into a chair so I took his wheelchair while the museum curator and my dad looked on and I videotaped the interview (other than the first few seconds before I realized what was going on).  It's a 24:38 interview that I wish I could post on here.  The audio quality isn't great because it's on a regular camera and there is a lot of background noise, especially given that my grandpa wasn't speaking very loud but it's irreplaceable.

A couple of stories stand out (not necessarily from the interview - stories he'd told me also):

The most vivid story involved the kamikazes.  The repeatedly told the story of a kamikaze that flew into the ship next to theirs.  As he retold the story he added details that he hadn't previously told.  During the visit to the LST in Muskegon he told us again about the kamikaze.  He said the plane was diving right towards their ship.  He said they were firing on him and it seemed "at the last second" that he pulled up, went over their ship and crashed into the ship next to his.  The way he described it and the motions he demonstrated my guess is they shot the kamikaze which caused him to jerk back on the steering wheel.  As he was standing their telling the story he said "I can still see his eyes" as he's flying towards us.  At one time I had found a picture of that LST (he had told me the number).  When I googled it there was a picture of the ship on fire and what I believe was my grandpa's ship in the foreground.  If I can find it again I'll post it here.

The thing that I think haunted him the most was the image of the sailors jumping off the burning ship, many covered in oil and on fire themselves.  He described the charred bodies floating in the water.  It was obvious when he talked about this that it really bothered him.

On a lighter note he'd always giggle when telling the story of his shipmates using the ships crane to steal a Jeep from one of their island stops.  They simply hoisted it onto their ship and down into the hull and then used it to drive around future stops.  He always laughed at the thought of how the person responsible for the Jeep was to explain how it vanished from an island!

He and his shipmates walked the streets of Nagasaki a couple weeks after the bomb was dropped.  He described it as "leveled."  He said there was absolutely nothing alive left, not even a bug.  The only recognizable items were the foundations of the buildings and the heavy duty safes.  When they got into a city where they encountered the Japanese he said they were nothing but friendly to them.

One time his ship took a hit and he recalled the smoke being so thick that he was certain he was going to die.  He said he got on the deck and smashed his mouth around a crack in the deck and breathed the air from below.

I wish I had more stories but he really didn't talk about it.  I remember in the fall of 2009 the History Channel was playing "WWII in HD."  I went over to my grandparent's house to see them and my grandma was at Bingo.  I could hear that he was watching the show in his room.  He came out and sat at the dining room table with me and I told him I'd also been watching it.  He started talking about the kamikazes, started to shake, pulled out a handkerchief and nervously worked it in his hands and then just stopped talking altogether.  It was obvious that he could still see some of the horror and for the most part he just bottled it up for 70 years.  My grandma said it affected his sleep as well but I'm sure he'd never have admitted to it.  So many stories going to the grave........too hard for the storyteller to tell.  

As a sidenote:
I got him added to the Naval memorial:

I also got his picture of the ship he served on onto the Navsource website:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

My grandpa's WWII possessions

I've now blogged about my grandpa's war medals and about his photo finishing/photography during WWII.  There are a few belongings that I got from him that he brought back from the war and I want to get them shared/documented.  Tonight my oldest saw me going through these to photograph him and asked to look at them.  I'm not sure if that was a sign of a spark of interest or not but I'll take it!

This is a flag from Japan from WWII.  My grandpa told me how he got it (I can't for the life of me remember).  I don't believe it was anything as cool as him snatching it from the hands of a Japanese soldier during battle or anything like that.  It seems he was given the flag for some reason.  He always kept it folded up so I've kept it that way as well.  It's starting to show signs of it's age but I'm not sure what to do with it as it's at least 2'x3' and would cost a lot to frame and, quite frankly it's ugly so who'd want to frame it?

This money he brought back came from the Phillipines and from Japan.  There are Centavos and Yen and some of them are in excellent condition given how far they've traveled and how often he'd pull them out to show them to me.  I'm not sure what I'd like to do with them so at this point I'm just leaving them in the envelope he kept them in.  (Hey, it's preserved them for almost 70 years so it's working). 

This picture contains his Navy belt that he wore throughout the war, a wallet he bought in Panama and a shell he brought back from the Phillipines.  At my grandma's there is a box of these shells with a note specifically stating where he picked them up - this shell he gave to me as a kid.  I'm not sure how much he used the wallet but it's worn like he did.  The belt..........I've never unrolled it for fear of damaging it but I feel like there's got to be a better way to store it.  It also makes me feel pathetic because we were the same height but obviously different waist sizes!

My grandpa gave me this dog tag when I was in my early teens.  I really didn't even grasp the significance of what it was until about 10 years ago.  My dad has another set that's on a chain that he got from my grandpa.  I'm happy to have this and am considering if there's a way to get it mounted in the shadow box.  Perhaps I could get the belt mounted in there as well?

The neatest thing he brought back from the war is a Japanese bayonet.  My dad has that tucked away for safekeeping.  I need to work on at least getting a photo of it.  If I can swing that I'll add the photo to this blog post. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My grandfather's "photo finishers" box

My last post I wrote about my grandpa's WWII medals.  I've got another blog idea regarding documenting some of the stories he told me and also another one planned for a few other items (such as his dog tags) that I have.  For now I'm focusing on one item he gave me that I'm trying to determine the future of.

While I was going through the documents that he still had I stumbled on his "Photo Finishers Certificate."

 I asked him about this and he told me that he used to take and develop his own photos during the war.  I've got an envelope with about 30 pictures that he took/developed while at sea and during some of their "landfalls" and he also took the picture of his ship (LST-1022) posted in the previous blog

 He always had this black box in his garage.  It measures 29" long, 15.5" wide and 12.5" deep.  It's made of a pretty solid wood (it's heavy) with metal reinforcement around all of the edges.  It's got a metal handle on each side to help in lifting it.  As you can see, the top appears to be torn up but the top has some sort of leather covering that is indeed cracking and peeling away.  Underneath the leather is the same solid wood that's showing all the way around. 

My grandma is actually the one that told me to take the box out of the garage and take it home (when my grandpa's health had gotten poor enough that he couldn't even get to the garage).  I did end up talking to him about it afterwards and he wanted me to have it. 

My current quandary is that I have this box sitting atop a shelf in my garage.  My garage is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  The box is 70+ years old and I don't want it to get any further damaged.  

My ultimate plan for this box would involve using it to store my genealogy books and papers and almost making it into a piece of furniture, kind of along the lines of a cedar chest.  There are 2 strikes against me if I try to do this:  1)We live in a shoe and there isn't anywhere to put it currently and 2)It's currently quite ugly and I don't believe my wife would want it inside anywhere where it could be seen by anyone but us. 

When my grandpa passed away my grandma was sorting through his papers (he was kind of a pack rat - she even found the original building permit for when he built their house fifty-some years ago).  She found a couple pages he wrote about his time in the war when I asked him to write some of his experiences down for my oldest son.  He never finished them but what he did I've put away for him but later in the same pad of paper she found this:

I'm not sure when he wrote this but I'm suspecting a couple years ago (his handwriting got quite bad - this is about halfway between his normal handwriting and the last things I saw him write). 

He undoubtedly intended that this be found and knew that I would want to know more about the box.  I'm sure at some point he told me this information but being younger I never wrote it down and I certainly didn't remember it. 

So fellow family history enthusiasts and bloggers - my question for you:  What would you do with this box?  Would you leave it as is or would you have it 'restored' to ensure it's strength and to fix the peeling top?  Would you repaint it or leave it as it is?  I'm leaning toward trying to find someone would could restore it for me but I'm not even sure where to start on such a task.  Perhaps someone is reading this from Michigan and would have an idea.

I leave you with some photos that my dad found (after my grandpa died) in a canister labeled "WWII 35mm".  My dad got them developed and some of them were pretty neat.  Unfortunately we don't know who the other people in the photos are but the assumption is that he took most (if not all) of them.

 I had seen this "series" of photos before.  I can't remember where he told me this was but I want to say it was Guam and it was an old cave where bones were stored.  My grandpa's in the front in the dark outfit.
 Grandpa is on the left in this one.  There is another one that is much clearer but I don't know who the guys in it are
 I wish we'd have known about this roll of film and gotten them developed before he died.  I'd love to know the story behind this one.  There is some sort of camp in the background. 
 A couple of pictures that I have to assume were taken while he was aboard his ship.  I wonder what mission they were on or battle they ended up finding?  I see an awful lot of ships which makes me think they were getting ready for something. 

The engine compartment of the LST-1022.  This one is important to me because we took grandpa on a tour of the LST-393 that's docked in Muskegon MI 6/9/2011 and despite the fact that he was heavily on oxygen and having trouble walking he absolutely insisted that he get down into the bowels of the ship to show us the engine room.  They had a recording you could play of the engine noise and it was deafening!

Here he is next to the LST-393 engine compartment.  He worked on these engines and was absolutely thrilled to be able to see them again (it'd been 65 years since he was last on one of these ships).  I've got oodles of pictures from that trip.  When the curator found out he had someone that had actually served on an LST aboard he was all over helping us on the tour and making sure that grandpa had everything he needed.  At the end of the tour there was a local news reporter there that wanted to interview him.  Thankfully I was able to turn my camera on and record the interview.  He rarely opened up about the war but when we got him around the ships he seemed to really want to share what he remembered. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My grandpa's "lost" WWII service medals

My paternal grandfather Morris "Jerry" Korstange passed away 12/20/2013 at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.  When I started blogging I was going to start with him but decided it was too fresh.  There is so much I could write but I thought I'd start with  the story of his "lost" medals.

Jerry enlisted in the Navy 1/18/1944 at Grand Rapids MI, just 2 months and 23 days after turning 17.  I don't know what drove him to enlist but he came from a broken home and I personally believe he just wanted to leave.  He did drop out of high school to enlist yet went on to retire as the head building inspector for the city of Wyoming MI so I'd say he did pretty good for himself! 

US Navy Training School, Great Lakes IL 1/1944
He served on the LST-1022 (Landing Ship Tank).  Their job was to ferry supplies (tanks, Jeeps, ammunition etc) and they also participated in the battles (the big deck guns are clearly visible).
Photo taken by M. Jerry Korstange

Photo taken by M. Jerry Korstange

My story for today stems from his attempt to show me his war medals.  He really didn't talk much about his service time but had given me a few items.  One day we got to talking about his medals after I was looking at his discharge papers and noticed them listed.  He had me come upstairs with him to show them to me.  He opened the cedar chest and they were gone.  I won't get into where they went, only will say we all know what happened to them (same thing that happened to his Navy ring amongst other valuables). 

A couple of years passed and I stumbled on a message board post by someone inquiring about replacing lost medals.  I went to the website, printed and filled out the necessary paperwork and made the necessary copies, but got a return letter stating I needed him to sign for them (what do they do when the veteran has passed away and a descendant wants to get the medals)?  I resubmitted everything and was confident he'd be getting his medals by Christmas 2004.  Christmas came and went, then spring and even summer and nothing.  I made some phone calls and ended up speaking to a horribly nasty woman who rather curtly told me that my grandpa was one of thousands asking for replacement medals, that they were on back order and it would be another 6 months to a year.  I explained to her that his health wasn't good and I wasn't sure he'd live long enough to see them (thankfully he lived another 10 years).  She made it clear to me that wasn't her concern.

I was discussing this situation with a coworker one day and they mentioned that they knew someone that worked in Senator Carl Levin's office and that he had a liaison who's job it was to deal with veteran's affairs.  I figured it couldn't hurt so I called his office.  I was greeted very pleasantly and given clear instructions on what I needed to do to get their help.  I mailed them the necessary documentation and within 3 weeks the medals arrived!

My grandpa was thrilled to see them.  He got them made up into a shadowbox complete with the above picture of his ship.  He made sure to attach the envelope the medals were in to the back of the box and include that he wanted me to get it.  (I wrote his name and room number on it when he was at the Veteran's Facility as my grandma and I hung it in his room during his short stay there).

 It's hard to get a good photo of the shadow box but here's a picture of what the board looks like:
This will someday be mine but for now I'm happy to let it hang in the spare bedroom at my grandma's house, above the flag case with the flag presented at his funeral and a framed photo of the picture above, the 17 year old who went off to war.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

So much tragedy in one family..........

I see I've been slacking on my blog lately.  I've been working a lot and enjoying what I can of summer.  My genealogy time has been spent on the Familysearch family tree and today I switched gears to the ancestry of my mom's paternal grandmother Hilda Kraai Hugmeyer (1900-1985). 

As I think I've mentioned before Hilda's brother Willis was a grandfather of my cousin Mary who is to credit for much of the research and articles that have been found on our mutual Kraai ancestry.  This family experienced an awful amount of tragedy between the years 1893-1922.

Hilda's father Albert Kraai (1870-1940) was the son of Jacob Kraai (1843-1930) and Dewurtje Siersema (1849-1902).  It is said he spent some time at Pine Rest and after writing this I can see why. 

Photo found in the photos of Albert's youngest son Robert Kraai (1917-2006).

Back row left to right: Kate, Sena, Henry, Thomas and Albert.

Front row left to right: Grace, Jacob, Frances, Dewurtje and Mary.  The small daughter in the front is Bessie (born 1888 - the photo isn't dated but I'm guessing 1890-1892). 

On 5/20/1893 Jacob's nephew Thomas Kraai (son of his brother Frank) died after falling down an elevator shaft:

On 3/24/1902 Dewurtje committed suicide by jumping headfirst into the neighbor farmer's well: 
Holland City News 3/28/1902
On 12/30/1906 Dewurtje's uncle Sakom Dogger was struck and killed by a railroad car (photo obtained from Sakom's great grandson Al Dogger (1942-2010):
Holland City News 1/10/1907
Sakom "Simon" Dogger
On 7/30/1917 Jacob and Dewurtje's son Henry shot himself in the head (photo courtesy of grandson Hal Franken 1928-2010 - obituary from the Holland Sentinel 7/31/1917):

On 7/11/1921 Jacob's brother Liebertus "Lambert" Kraai hung himself:
Holland Sentinel 7/13/1921
A nephew of Jacob (son that Liebertus was worried about) did die in the service 4/6/1922:
Holland Sentinel 4/3/1922
In spite of all of this tragedy Jacob lived to the ripe old age of 87, passing away at his daughter Sena's home 10/11/1930 (obituary source/date missing but date written on bottom of obituary is unlikely):
Every family has some tragedy, be it murder, suicide, accident or a child's untimely death but the Kraai family seemed to suffer more than most I've researched. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

My 3rd great grandfather William Hogmire

I wish I knew more about William and wasn't even sure when I was going to write about him but I just had an interesting contact with a woman trying to join the DAR who had links for everything she needed except the link for her ancestor David Hogmire, William's brother.  I provided the only documentation I could come up with and I think it's going to be enough for her to be able to join the DAR and that makes me happy.  The woman from the DAR that's helping her told me that the SAR (Sons of the American Revolution) will accept a proved DAR application so now I'm considering doing that myself.  So, William is fresh on my mind.  This land record (starting on the bottom right corner and continuing for a couple of pages) clearly shows William and his minor siblings having a special guardian, who was acting on their behalf to sell land that belonged to their father Samuel, who had inherited it from his father Jonas Hogmire.  Given that William's marriage record and death certificate don't list who his parents were his is as close to documented proof as I'll ever get of the connection that I know is there.  Samuel Hogmire land record

When I interviewed my grandpa Hugmeyer he remembered his ancestry back to William and his wife Elizabeth "Libby" Langs but didn't know of their parentage.  Interestingly one of the ways I can prove William and David to be brothers is the double wedding they had, 12/5/1869 at Arlington, Van Buren Co MI.  They were married by their stepfather Aaron Russell and their mother Elizabeth and sister Caroline served as witnesses.
 William was born the 19th child of the previously blogged about Samuel Hogmire 10/15/1845 at Avon, Livingston Co NY.  According to his obituary the family moved to Van Buren Co MI when he was 10 years old.  I find the family in the 1855 Livingston Co NY census but by 1860 they are living in Arlington so they moved sometime between the two.  In the 1900 census he's living in Bear Lake, Manistee Co MI.  I'm unsure how or why they ended up in Bear Lake (Libby's family was in the Traverse City area and most of William's stayed in Van Buren and Kalamazoo Co) but I think his sons both got lumbering jobs up there and their parents may have joined them.

My grandpa remembered a man coming to play checkers at his grandparents house and that the man "looked like he was 100 years old" and he thought that was his great grandfather.  Once I started researching I found several online family trees that listed William passing away in 1945.  I was amazed that my grandpa had been right again until I found that William died at Bear Lake 1/30/1919, 10 months before my grandpa was born.  This was one of the first instances I had in genealogy that taught me to verify the work I find online.  He's buried in an unmarked grave at Fairview Cemetery in Bear Lake, in a plot owned by his son Cassius's wife's parents (odd, yes).  The old man ended up being his great grandfather Jacob Kraai, from his mother's side. 

Other than the information from his obituary and census records indicating he was a farmer and an all around nice guy I know nothing about him.  I did stumble on a couple photos of he and Libby when I called Barbara Hugmire Terry, the only granddaughter of their other son Frank.  I drove up to Howard City and met with her at a restaurant and she supplied me with these photos of him.  She passed away unexpectedly about 6 months after this visit so I thank my lucky stars that I called her when I did.  I think I could have learned more from her than I did but I wasn't very good at asking the right questions back then.  I'd have never found these pictures without that visit.  I called one of her sons after I discovered she'd passed away and he reassured me the photos would not be tossed.  There are a couple of other photos that I'll post to their related blogs when the time comes.       

William with his wife Libby on the right

William with Maude, wife of his grandson Harold Hugmeyer

Monday, June 9, 2014

Samuel Hogmire and his stories

Ok, for my last blog I put raw numbers out there, numbers I obtained via census records, obituaries, cemetery transcriptions and oral interviews with descendants.  I have corresponded with and met more Hogmire descendants than any other family line of mine.  One of my best genealogical connections came via a 2nd great granddaughter of Samuel's sons Andrew and Conrad (one of the previously mentioned 1st cousin unions named Betty Jane Hogmire Horton.  I had emailed the Bangor Michigan "town historian" who pointed me in Betty's direction.  We emailed back and forth very often and I visited her at her home several times.  We had lunch and traipsed through the local cemeteries and she shared so many photos, documents and stories that I can't write this blog without mentioning her and giving her the credit for much of what I've discovered or built off.  I also need to mention her cousin Carol Joyce Hogmire Ankney who was my very first Hogmire related email.  She passed away too soon to collaborate much with her but she and Betty spent a lot of time together doing this in the era before computers.  They went to courthouses in New York and Maryland and visited distant family there.  I wish I had someone to do that with now. 

I miss Betty dearly.  The first time I met with her I brought out my laptop and went to updating her family in my tree.  For some reason I had her in my file as Elizabeth and she was adamant that I understand that she was "no way, no how" Elizabeth.  It was the first of many good laughs I had with her.  When her daughter called to tell me she had passed away I was sitting in the parking ramp getting ready to come into work and it was literally a punch to my stomach.  I had just been emailing with her.  She sent my son a quilt she made for him and she wanted us to come down for a visit so she could meet him.  She absolutely adored children and talked about her great grandchildren more than I've ever witnessed anyone do before.  There was nothing she wouldn't have done for them.  Anyway, I digress.........

Samuel died 71 years before Betty's birth so these stories may or may not be historically accurate but they are fun to relate. 

For years Betty tried to get a burial location for Samuel.  She'd done extensive work on the Bangor area cemeteries and hadn't found him.  The sextant of Hoppin Cemetery said there was a male buried in an unmarked grave next to his oldest daughter (who's grave was marked) but her husband was buried on her other side and his grave was marked as well.  One day Betty had a friend that took her to a "medium" who told her she could communicate with someone from the past.  Betty said she didn't believe in this "hooey" but she said sure "I want to talk to my grandfather Sam Hogmire".  The medium asked what she wanted to know and Betty said "I want to know where he's buried".  The medium said "he says you stomped on his grave and said God **** it, I know he's buried here somewhere!" which of course the medium could not have known Betty actually did do while at Hoppin Cemetery.  This story gave me goosebumps and is the basis for my locating his burial there on findagrave.  She said when she asked more questions the medium said he said "I don't want to talk to you" and stopped talking.  She said she told the medium to tell him that his descendants love him and that was the end of that conversation. 
Samuel's son Jonathan who was always known to be quite dumb but quite wealthy (if you follow the findagrave links from Jonathan through his daughter Ada and to her husband Eli there is a write-up indicating they had a thousand acres and slaves and that Ada had a maid).  It is said that Jonathan's nieces and nephews would ask "uncle Jon't, how'd you get so rich?" and he'd answer "I'm not smart but I sure am crafty".  As of this writing Jonathan has one surviving granddaughter who is 95 years old.  I took Betty to meet her a couple of times and they were enjoyable trips. 

Samuel's daughter Rebecca's family was said to be quite wealthy too.  Betty took me past a large home down the street from Southard Cemetery which was said to be Rebecca's home.  Rebecca's descendants all, I mean all had servants or maids in every census record I could find.  I find it hard to believe with that much money that there are no photos of her - I just need to find who has them.

Samuel's daughter Eveline married William Slocum.  It is said that when the Civil War broke out he insisted on enlisting and joining the battle.  Eveline begged him not to go and then when he said he was leaving she told him she'd "make him regret it for the rest of his life".  It is said that while he was off to war she bore 2 children with one of the negro workers on the farm.  I'm not sure if he was hired help or a slave but her and William's youngest son Christopher who was born in 1864 was listed as either "black" or "mulatto" on all the census records and that carried on through his children.  It would appear that William raised Christopher as his own.  I never found record of a 2nd child.  

Sometimes Betty would speak of Samuel using the word "scoundrel".  She said his children didn't like him and pointed to the fact that he was buried in an unmarked grave and the fact that he left his son Daniel in charge of everything.  In his will he leaves Daniel and his stepmother Elizabeth as guardians of his minor children but doesn't really leave the impression that he abandoned his children in his will.  She also made mention that "something happened during the war of 1812 - he returned home early and nobody was sure why".  I haven't explored the possibility that he served in that war but his children wouldn't have been old enough to even know that happened so I'm not sure how that could have been related.   
I'm not sure where Betty got the will from but it would appear that it was at least signed by Samuel (the handwriting of the will is better handwriting than the actual signature so I think someone else wrote the will. 

I'm not sure that I believe in psychic mediums either but if I ever get the chance to experience it I may try to reach out to Samuel.  He and his family certainly have provided me with stories and mysteries that I'd love to get a chance to discuss :).