The New York State Library commemorates the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with an exhibit on the 7th floor, the centerpiece of which is a small but interesting collection of papers left by one Private First Class/later Sergeant Archibald Francis McCaw, who preferred to be known as Fran. (Papers, 1940-1975 [bulk 1941-1945]. Manuscripts & Special Collections SC22657.)
From the memo section of Private McCaw's small five-year diary (on display, with many excerpts), we learn that after basic training he left Brooklyn Army Base for Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the troop transport Republic, arriving on 9/13/1939. He was assigned to Company C of the 35th US Infantry, Schofield Barracks. "It was sure great to begin my time and get it over in a hurry." Little did he know.
Like most diaries, this one is leisurely in nature, with many long lapses. From 1/1/1941, "Not a bad day. Went rollerskating at Wahiawa. Rained some. A hell of a start for a new year holiday." He buys clothing and supplies at the PX, digs trenches, cherishes letters from home, gets bored ("Same as usual today;" "Exactly 10 months on the rock. Nothing Extra & Nothing New"), and enjoys movies. "I went to the show tonight and saw "Down Argentina Way" with Don Ameche and Betty Grable. A swell show and I like the theme song."
From 8/2/1940, "On the Range. Received Radiogram from 'Sis' saying Mother had passed away. Sent Radiogram back. Put in for an Emergency Furlough at once."
And from one week later, "Yes Sir—Exactly 20. Celebrated it by going on Guard." He made up for that later in the month. "Had a beer party at Haliewa Beach. Sun burnt as hell."
The most notable entry is from 12/7/1941. "Japanese attacked the Hawaiian Island at 8:00 this morning. They sure put Wheeler & Hickam Fields in a mess & Pearl Harbor to[o] as the main objective. We'll get 'em."
Afterwards, glimmers of impending conflict emerge. From January, 1942, "Took a Motor Patrol with Sgt. Sellers today as machine-gunner. Left at 1:00 & returned at 4:00. Now 5:25 just called out Combat Patrol. We sure hope it isn't what we think it is;" and "They fired 16" gun this morning and did we make for our holes."
The remainder of the collection includes ephemera such as shrunken V-mail and shards of envelopes; a War Department change of assignment card; a long, funny hand-written poem about military censorship ("Can't have a flashlight to guide me at night. / Can't smoke a cigarette except out of sight. / Can't keep a diary for such is a sin. / Can't keep the envelopes your 'letters' come in"); a handy pocket-sized list of "Possible Enemy Chemical Warfare Agents;" a street map of Hilo, Hawaii; and some Pearl Harbor Survivors Association material from later years. An RPPC (real photo postcard) shows us what uniformed soldier McCaw looked like in his prime, and another of a lad with a two dogs and a cat on his lap may have been a picture from his youth or that of a family relation.
There's also a small memo pad packed with scribbled survival information, such as how to use a compass, Morse Code and map legend symbols, the ins and outs of operating a .50 caliber machine gun, etc. Way at the back after all the blank pages though, there's a section of humorous definitions ("Baby: A tube with a loud noise at one end and a complete lack of responsibility at the other"), most of which are risqué in nature; and there's a long poem in the voice of a female narrator titled "By the Delaware" ("The other night we strolled away / To meet each other by the bay / We strolled along the sandy beach / The whispering water within our reach / The moonlight played upon my hair / As we made love by the Delaware") that by the third stanza would make even a librarian blush.
The heart of the collection is a series of poignant love letters from Fran to his beloved wife Jane back on 228 West Pleasant Avenue in Syracuse, NY. These letters will be rotated each week to get them out of the light, and to shed more light.
From 12/29/1944, "Sweetheart / Hello honey baby, how's my 'wifie' dear? Gee sweet, I miss you so darn much. I received your letters of Dec. 13th & 16th and I'm so happy to hear from you darling. Honey, I'm at another place now. Baby, I love you so much and I want to tell you where I go and my A.P.O. but every time I write a letter I can't send them because I'm either moving someplace or have to write my old A.P.O. so I didn't send them. Please try not to worry sweetheart, because I love you and I'll write to you every night that I can. I wish I would get settled for just a little while honey so I could write you steady for a while then I want them to tell me to pack again to go on rotation [furlough]—it will take me about 5 minutes to pack when I hear that. Do you want to see me dearest? I want to see you so bad honey & hold you….Darling, will you quit work when I come home? I want you to so much….Don't you worry 'chicken', the first Xmas I'm home we'll have a Christmas tree—just you and I—O.k. baby? I'm glad you do think of me because you're the only thing I ever think about and I had a dream last night that we were lying on our bed. It was only a dream but before long it won't be dearest….Well my sweet little wife, I have to say 'Aloha' for now but I'll write more tomorrow if it is at all possible. Remember dearest, you'll always be my one & only. I love you sweetheart. All my Love & Kisses to the sweetest wife in the world. / Your Everloving Husband / P.S. Write soon dearest. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, & I'll always be yours dear. / Fran"
Rounding out the exhibit are a number of books, periodical covers and articles, documents, and ephemerons including the following selections, and a full cart of books on Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Theater will be parked near the exhibit cases and available for checkout.
In closing, the National Park Service chief historian of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the USS Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma Memorials, recently lamented the fact that new generations are increasingly unaware of the events and consequences of WW II. Living memory is rapidly turning into recorded history. That's where institutions such as the New York State Office of Cultural Education come in—through our archives, artifacts, and library holdings—and with the help of staff members who can collect, preserve, provide, and interpret same.
Exhibit curated by Shawn Purcell