Posted tagged ‘World War II’

History Through the Eyes of a Five Year Old

April 4, 2011

“Do you like being a historian?” asked a five-year old at the local elementary school.  “It’s the best job ever!” I replied with a smile. 

After being asked to speak to the Kindergarten class at a local elementary school about my profession, I became nervous.  How does one explain the job of an historian in language that a young child could understand?  I couldn’t tell them about Charles Tillotson being wounded in the head during his first battle, Antietam, or how Charles lingered three days before succumbing to the inevitable conclusion of his life.  I didn’t want to frighten the children by telling them how sharpshooter Nathan Cook and his brother, William, died within weeks of each other, killed by disease.  When I told them I researched soldiers, would they ask difficult questions that I wouldn’t want to answer for fear of overwhelming them?

“Hello, boys and girls.  I’m here to tell you about my job.  I am an historian.  Can you say historian?  When you say historian, do you hear another word in there?  HISTORY-an.”  I told them my job was to research people and places and tell their stories so the history would be kept alive forever, and that I especially loved researching the history where we lived. 

We talked about James Chamberlin, who was a trooper with the 3rd New York Cavalry.  Did they know the cavalry was composed of the soldiers who got to ride horses?  The Chamberlin Rubber Co. was started after the war by James Chamberlin, who saw many soldiers become sick after being in the wet and cold.  What would the Chamberlin Rubber Co. have made to keep the soldiers dry?  Raincoats!

Kingsley Brownell was a trooper with the 21st New York Cavalry.  He rode a horse, too.  Kingsley was so strong he could lift a bucket full of water over his head.  They were quite impressed with Kingsley’s accomplishment.

“Who goes to Ben & Jerry’s for ice cream?  If you look down the street when you are at Ben & Jerry’s, you can see the Wiltsie Building.”  After showing them a postcard of the Wiltsie Building, I produced a photo of George B. Wiltsie and his comrades.

John Buckley Bacon was called Buckley by his family.  He came here after the Civil War and started a family.  His son, Howard, was a soldier in two wars – World War I and World War II!  “Someday I’m going to be a soldier, and I’ll be in World War I,” said a determined little boy.  Another boy, not to be outdone, stated “My Grandpa was in the Civil War!”

“Who puts gasoline in their cars?”  The children were very excited to see the Vacuum Oil Co. truck, and I told them about Matthew Ewing the inventor and how years later his Vacuum Oil Company became Exxon Mobil.  “My mom works at Shell Oil,” volunteered one little person.  “Hey, that truck is a bank!  I have a bank,” another child piped up.  Then I showed them my 1911 Rochester G.A.R. Encampment souvenir medal, and we talked about it being 100 years old.  “My mom was born in 1972 and she’s still alive.”  I couldn’t help but snicker at that, as did the teacher.

At the end, I held up a painting of the Erie Canal done by my friend, talented artist Rusty Likly.  The kids immediately recognized the landscape, and a discussion ensued about the other buildings they knew along the canal.  The questions came fast and furious.  “Do you use your computer a lot to learn about history?”  “Do you work with someone else?” 

Not once did a child ask if anyone got killed, or ask any other difficult questions.  They were simply excited to hear about our local history and hometown heroes.  My favorite question, however, was asked by a young boy who had been relatively quiet during the entire session.  “Do you like being a historian?”  “It’s the best job ever!” I replied with a smile.

Looking Back While Facing Forward

January 1, 2011

The end of the year brings reflection as we put to rest one year while looking ahead to a new beginning.  I’ll always remember 2010 as an incredible year for my Civil War soldiers project, as well as for the start of some new research projects. 

Martha Jewett & Evan Marshall visit Mary Jewett Telford's grave

In January, I met a descendant of one of my Civil War veterans.  Martha Jewett is the second great-grandniece of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  Martha and her husband, Evan Marshall, drove to Fairport to attend my Illuminated History presentation for the Perinton Historical Society.  After Martha and Evan returned home, we spent a frantic two weeks emailing and calling each other in order to meet the deadline for Mary Jewett Telford’s nomination to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  We will soon hear whether we were successful in our endeavor.

With February came a slight shift in my research, as I began to study the World War I soldiers of Pittsford.  February was also memorable as it was the first time I have formally interviewed a research subject.  Bill Cooper, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, was my assignment.  Bill is a member of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The stories he shared about his military experience and life with his wife, Margaret, were 

Bill Cooper, World War II vet

 inspiring.  I also had the opportunity to meet with Philip G. Maples for the first time.  Phil is the Director Emeritus of the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  Since then, I have volunteered research time to the RMMA, as well as spent time with Phil, who is himself a Civil War researcher and enthusiast.  I proudly headed to school in February to hear my daughter make her first presentation by portraying Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.

March rang in another opportunity to interview a Battle of the Bulge veteran.  This time it was Ed Kinnen, also a   member of Rayson-Miller.  Ed and his wife, Ellen, graciously invited me into their home so I could talk with Ed about his World War II service.  We share a common love of genealogy, and I was happy to hear them speak of their children and grandchildren and the importance of sharing the family history with them. 

Lynda Skaddan & Jane Andersen, Telford descendants

The next few months went by in a blur as I once again collaborated with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson for our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  Theo X. Rojo, who researches the men of the 13th NY Infantry and the 22nd NY Cavalry, contacted me in May and we have spent much time emailing back and forth regarding those units and others.  June was the pinnacle of excitement.  I gave a tour at Greenvale Cemetery for the Perinton Historical Society members.  I was so pleased to meet Cheri Branca, one of my online friends and fellow Find A Grave contributor, who attended the Greenvale tour with her husband, Matt.  Jane Andersen and Lynda Skaddan, descendants of Robert Telford, made a special trip to Fairport with Lynda’s husband Ray so I could meet them at Mary Jewett Telford’s grave to discuss her life.  Mary was wed to Robert’s younger brother, Jacob Telford.  In June, I also had the opportunity to meet Norman and John Henry Miller, who are the nephews of Henry L. Miller.  Henry was killed at Belleau Wood during World War I.  Norm and John are not only veterans themselves, but they come from a long line of men who served their country, beginning with their great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Henry L. Mueller.

Throughout the rest of 2010, I gave a presentation for the American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899 and discussed the 

John and Norm Miller at the grave of their uncle, Henry L. Miller

early history of the post and its members.  Audrey Johnson and I hosted another tour of the Pioneer Burying Ground in October, and I started a Facebook page for Illuminated History.  However, I think the biggest thrill has been meeting the veterans’ descendants and other researchers, both in person, by phone and online.  I spoke by phone with John R. Bacon, grandson of WWI & WWII Lieutenant Colonel Howard Bacon and great-grandson of Civil War vet John Buckley Bacon, after emailing back and forth for several years.  I spoke with veteran David Retchless about his military service, as well as those of his brother, father and uncle.  Tyler Emery, the current owner of the Retchless military memorabilia, and I have corresponded via email and he has graciously shared photos of the contents of the trunk he owns.  At the Pioneer Burying Ground tour, I met Gail and Marilyn, the daughters of World War I vet Raymond L. Hulbert.  I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lloyd F. Allen’s daughters, Betty Anne and Katie, as well as his granddaughter, Elizabeth.  Dr. Allen, like his friend and neighbor Howard Bacon, had also served in both World Wars.

2010 was an extraordinary year.  Thank you for your interest in my project, and your appreciation for these veterans.  With your support, Illuminated History will continue to shine the light on these heroes for many years to come.

Henry L. Miller, Lost at Belleau Wood

October 29, 2010

He was supposed to be a farmer, like his father.  But when the United States entered the Great War, Henry L. Miller felt a patriotic duty to join the fight.  Henry enlisted in Co. M, 49th Infantry of the regular Army, on July 26, 1917.  Soon thereafter, he transferred into Co. M, 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division and began training in Syracuse.  Little more than one month later, young Miller shipped overseas.

Henry L. Miller was born in Perinton, New York, on April 23, 1895, but moved to Pittsford, New York, at an early age.  The third child of Charles and Reka Miller, he was their first son.  Three more daughters and another son, Norman, later joined the Miller family.  Dorothy, Henry’s youngest sibling, was just 9 years old when he went overseas.  She must have been so proud of her big brother.  Henry no doubt smiled as he received the packages of letters from his sisters and brother which sporadically reached him somewhere in France.

The letters Henry wrote home most likely inspired both pride and fear in his parents.  Henry wrote of life at the front.  He mentioned the six weeks he had spent in the trenches before being allowed a short period of rest.  He talked of going “over the top” of the trenches to pitch headlong into the thick, German artillery fire.  Somehow, Henry managed to survive.  Then came Belleau Wood.

On June 6, 1918, the Marines stationed with the 23rd Infantry sustained casualties of 31 officers and nearly 1,100 men.  The 23rd Infantry also lost many good men, including Henry L. Miller.  Four weeks after the Battle of Belleau Wood, the Miller family received official notification that Henry was missing in action.  It took another three weeks before Charles and Reka Miller were formally notified that their son, Private Henry L. Miller, had died at Belleau Wood on June 6.  Henry was buried in France and would remain there for three long years until his parents could bring him back to Pittsford.

Henry L. Miller

“Hero’s Body Arrives” touted the local papers.  Henry L. Miller was home.  On September 11, 1921, the remains of Henry Miller were interred at Pittsford Cemetery.  He was laid to rest beside his grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Lussow Mueller.  The military honor guard that oversaw the burial were members of a one-year old American Legion Post known as Rayson-Miller Post 899, so named after Homer Rayson, who was killed in action in October, 1918, and Henry L. Miller.  This year, the Rayson-Miller Post celebrated their 90th anniversary. 

The Miller family of Pittsford has a proud history of military service.  Beginning back in the Civil War when Henry’s grandfather, Henry L. Mueller, fought for the Union with the 8th NY Cavalry, the Millers have had over 15 family members serve in the armed forces.  These Miller men have served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and in the Persian Gulf.  Something tells me Henry L. Miller would be extremely proud of such a legacy.

In the Works

June 23, 2010

E.J. Tyler Post 288 banner, Pittsford, New York

Now that my Pittsford and Greenvale Cemetery tours are over, I’m working on some exciting projects for the summer and fall. 

First is the booklet I’m writing about the charter members of American Legion Rayson-Miller Post 899.  The Post was organized in 1920, taking over where G.A.R. – E. J. Tyler Post 288 left off.  One of the charter members, Howard R. Bacon, was a son of Civil War soldier John Buckley Bacon.  The booklet will also commemorate the two men after whom the Post was named – Homer Rayson and Henry L. Miller.  In conjunction with the booklet is my October 30th presentation for the Rayson-Miller Post, which is open to the public.

In October, I will once again pair with Pittsford Town Historian Audrey Johnson to give a tour of Pioneer Burying Ground.  Despite the inevitable rain, discussing the pioneers of the town is always interesting.  Soldiers of nearly every conflict from the Revolutionary War through World War II are interred at the Pioneer Burying Ground.

Also in the works is a research project for the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  I am in the process of culling the Rochester City Directories and census records in order to produce a comprehensive list of nurses in the Rochester, New York area from the Civil War through World War II.  Using newspaper reports and genealogical sources, an article I’m writing will feature the love story between a Civil War doctor and a nurse.  A second article is about a Rochester nurse who was accused of insanity…all because she chose to give away her personal belongings to friends instead of the family members she despised.

There are plans for the continued illumination of Civil War nurse Mary Jewett Telford.  She was an amazing woman with an incredible story to tell. 

It  looks as if it will be a busy summer.  Just the way I like it!

Exciting Illuminations to Come!

February 23, 2010

Although it has been over a month since I last posted, don’t think I am slacking off.  If anything, I am busier than ever planning more illuminations!

  • On Wednesday, I will interview a World War II veteran about his experiences during and after the war. 
  • Thursday’s agenda includes a meeting with the Pittsford Town Historian to discuss various research avenues.
  • I’ve been contacted by a local author who specializes in archives.  He wants to discuss the possibility of co-authoring an article with me about the Civil War.  My appointment with him is on Saturday. 
  • My tour at Pittsford Cemetery, co-hosted with Audrey Johnson, has been scheduled for Saturday, May 15, at 10:00 a.m.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of my old friends, and meeting new ones as well, as we delve into the lives of our local Civil War soldiers and other Pittsford notables.
  • Another cemetery tour, for the Perinton Historical Society, has just been scheduled for Tuesday, June 8, 7:00 p.m., at Greenvale Cemetery.
  • I am hard at work writing an article about Civil War nurse and Woman’s Relief Corps charter member Mary Jewett Telford for an upcoming issue of the Perinton Historical Society’s newsletter, the Historigram.
  • Genealogy is a daily part of my life.  If I am not researching my Civil War soldiers, then I am working on the genealogy of my friend, Floris A. Lent.  Amazingly, Floris has many Civil War soldiers in her family.  She is also related to Dr. Robert O. Wilson, a Methodist physician who was in Nanjing, China in the 1930s during the Nanjing Massacre. Not only that, Floris is also related to Susan B. Anthony on both sides of her family.   Some people have all the luck!

In the coming weeks and months, many changes will occur on Illuminated History.  Although my heart remains with my Pittsford Civil War boys, I will begin to illuminate other local history as well.  My research into the Perinton Civil War soldiers will be shared, as will my interviews with local World War II veterans.  I’m very excited to illuminate local history for you, and I welcome your comments and suggestions.  Please feel free to post a message on Illuminated History, or email me directly at vprofitt@rochester.rr.com.


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