Decoration Day, GAR, Spanish American War,WW I Doughboys march in Parade. Touring Cars. American Legion
Sister Florentia wants a full report from each student on our experience in the 1930 celebration of the day we now call Memrorial Day. .
Copyright 2013 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
Requiescant in pace.
May they rest in peace.
The title word, "Patriotism," in the title of this chapter does not do full justice to the extra-academic encouragement we received at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Perhaps, "citizenship preparation" would better express some of the non-classroom endeavors we were encouraged to join. The Sisters wanted us to be good citizens.
Veteran's groups were prominent in Brockport. The recent war of 1914-1918 left young persons puzzled when their elders occasionally talked about their service experiences and especially about those who did not come back. In Mr. Dobson's Rexall drugstore up over the big mirror behind the soda bar, I would often gaze at a black and white photograph of a younger Dobson who had lost his life in a U.S. submarine tragedy. The VFW post in the village was called the Rodney Dobson Post.
Mrs. Harsch was a regular babysitter for Sis and me. She was a great storyteller in the evenings before bedtime. Her trip on the train to Chicago was my favorite. Sometimes Rosalie Harsch, Mrs. Harsch's daughter, who was studying to be a teacher at Columbia University, would take her mother's place. Rosalie would tell us a little about her father. There was a Harsch Crisp Seaman Post No. 179 of the American Legion in the village and I finally figured out that Mr. Harsch, and the other two men, had gone to World War I and had not returned. Rosalie furnished some fragments like this on her father that her mother never discussed.
Mrs. Harsch could make apple fritters. She also had currant bushes and brought us currant jelly that she made. Sometimes we would stay at her house. She had a sewing machine with drawers that contained all sorts of curious gadgets that fascinated me.
In the publication, "The Town of Sweden Sesqui-Centennial Celebration 1814-1964," there is reproduced a placard sponsored by American Legion Post No. 179 that lists, among other names of servicemen who served in World War II, the names James Dunn, John L. Hazen and Ralph L. Wallace. They were among my contemporaries in Brockport who did not return from service. I knew all three. Jimmy Dunn attended BVM a year or two before me. He lived on Centennial Drive, one of my later walking routes to the new High School. Leas Wallace lived just south on Main Street from the South Avenue intersection. John Hazen, son of my Doctor John Hazen, lived just north on Main Street from South Avenue. He went to the U.S. Military Academy, graduated, departed for Italy and was killed in a mortar attack just hours after he had arrived at the front. There will be no Dunn-Hazen-Wallace post of any national veteran's organization to remember their names so I decided to do that here.
Patriotic holidays were special events at BVM. These were celebrated at school the day before the day we had off. The only other day we had off during the school year was the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. That Michael was the patron of our pastor, Father Michael J. Krieg. The sisters assigned special projects for Armistice Day, November 11, celebrating the end of World War I, for both Lincoln and Washington's birthdays in February, and for Decoration Day celebrated on May 30 each year. My favorite was Decoration Day because I could anticipate the town parade.
Some years there would be a day set aside for a school-wide patriotic event that was not in the annual calendar of holidays. One such year we practiced a ceremony for receiving a new American Flag. Mr. Mulhern, a veteran and the Postmaster in Brockport, whose son Marvin was in my graduating class, arrived with a contingent of Legionnaires. From the Grade 1-4 student body I was chosen as the pupil to give the acceptance speech and from the Grade 5-8 classes, Betty Jane Elliott was chosen as the representative to speak. Sister Florentia, by then the Principal, and Mr. Mulhern gave short talks. Betty Jane was next and I could see at once that the whole speech had departed from Betty's mind. Nothing came from her lips. Sister Florentia did not wait a second and moved her glance to me. We had rehearsed about a dozen times. The Sisters always wanted to be thoroughly prepared. I had the capacity at that age to listen to words and repeat them back verbatim. I gave Betty's speech and then my own and no one in attendance could have detected any glitch in the proceeding. Now, given that instant recall is no longer my forte, I keep the Missal open at Mass when I am the Lector or Cantor. That sense of obligation, inculcated by the Sisters, to stay alert to the current event has never left me.
That flag event was held in the school library. This was a tiny room and most of the attendees for the event had to stand out in the hall. There were not many books in our library. I read them all. There were no "classics" that I remember. All the Victor Appleton books were there. These included the Don Sturdy series and the Tom Swift series. In the former, "Don Sturdy in the Tombs of Gold" stands out. It gave me nightmares but I loved it. "Tom Swift and His Talking Picture Machine" was my favorite in that group. There were comparable book series for girls. I read them, too, but I did not broadcast the fact. Closest to being a classic, I guess, was "Wild Animals I Have Known." A great book by Ernest Thompson Seton. I did find out later that "Victor Appleton" was a pen name.
There are organizations whose vigilance extends to keeping our state separate from any church. Stars and crosses are forbidden in holiday displays on state owned property. In our times today, a man named Barry Lynn will be on a TV station on a moment's notice if the station senses a church and state issue. His appearance decrying prayer in schools will be shown so fast that I sometimes feel that each TV station has a video tape of him ready to go. The Sisters love of their country was one of my most vivid memories of Parochial School. We pledged Allegiance to the Flag. We sang the Star Spangled Banner. We recited the great Whitman poem, "Oh Captain My Captain", while tears rolled down everyone's eyes. If all the subjects the Sisters taught had to be rolled up into one, it would have been called "God and Country."
I was perhaps eight years old when my family would let me attend the premier event of the year in Brockport, the Decoration Day parade. I was absolutely on my own and took full advantage of the complete freedom I was given on that day. I was a boy transfixed.
The parade came up High Street to the town cemetery next to the Brockport Cold Storage building. The cemetery was beautiful, freshly mowed, with plenty of trees for shade. I took a position on an embankment outside the wrought iron fence just short of the gate where the parade turned into the cemetery. There was a drum and bugle corps to help keep the marchers in step. Then came open touring cars, seven or eight passenger cars with no top.
Illustration 8 - Open Touring Car
Pictured in Illustration Eight is an open touring car with its top up. For parades in good weather the tops folded down behind the back seat. Very old men with beards would be riding in cars like these. They were wearing fore and aft hats with white strings hanging down. These men were in the GAR, for Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans. Right behind them came marching men, some of whom limped a little and had a hard time keeping step. Their uniforms were a little rumpled looking and they carried no arms. They were Spanish American War veterans. Then came a marching band with full complement of instruments and players in good looking uniforms and metal hats. Immediately following this group came squads of men, whose ranks abreast were dressed off smartly. These men kept up a brisk marching step. Like their band they were fully uniformed with metal hats, and rifles on their shoulders with fixed bayonets. These men had just come back from World War I.
The parade turned into the cemetery, the marchers stopped and stood at parade rest, and a squad of riflemen fired three volleys. This was followed by taps played on a bugle, a real bugle, not a trumpet.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the fields, from the hills,
From the sky.
Rest in peace, soldier brave,
God is nigh.
Those words are listed in most references as "Anon." Anonymous or not, I have the Sisters to thank for teaching them to me. Too many of the men they honor remain anonymous. Years later it was my duty to lead a squad of sailors into a cemetery in Oran, Algeria to lay to rest one Seaman Foley who had been a fire controlman striker in my Gunnery Department aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Edison. Navymen do not bear side-arms very often. We were completely respectful and somber and I had borrowed a military manual to help me give the right commands. But we were not precision sharp militia that gray day in 1943. Our rifle volleys did not sound as a single shot but had a little ripple movement effect and our bugler was trying to regain a skill he had set aside to join the Navy. Otherwise, though, I was reminded of Decoration Day at Brockport New York's town cemetery about 1928.
It took a few years after 1928 for me to develop enough perspective to enable me to identify the men in the parade groups. All I knew then is that they were soldiers. The American Flag that flew over the Cemetery was full of holes. I assumed then that it was a battle flag that had been scarred by shell fire. Or that maybe the volleys from the riflemen passed through the flag.
Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, was school day off and Sister had made sure that each pupil knew exactly the route and time of the parade. We could anticipate that Sister would ask for detailed oral reports.
It is disappointing to report that I visited that cemetery during a 1997 trip to Brockport. It has become pretty run down and the trees are completely gone.
The Cub Scouts and then the Boy Scouts had strong patriotic attractions for me. "Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful" introduced virtues with overtones of patriotism. In fact, Parochial School, the Ten Commandments, and the Scouts all meshed together to form a positive path for a young boy's life. The fact that these came from diverse origins was never a question for me in those days. I know I needed every virtue enhancing discipline available to offset some surely base instincts I knew I had. The Boy Scouts tested me in ways that Parochial School did not.
I entered the Cub Scouts at the first possible age, which I believe was eight or nine. I was being groomed for Scouts through a family friendship with Mr. Hiler, one of three brothers in the village who took an interest in young boys. Somehow, I actually joined the Cub Scout Den of Mr. .Reichle, a History teacher at the High School. That den convened once per week in the gym of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Both Mr. Mr. Hiler and Mr. Reichle were outstanding leaders. I think I joined Mr. Reichle's Cub Scouts because he invited me to join. I soon discovered that Mr. Hiler was upset because I had not joined the Cub Scout group that was connected with his Boy Scout troop. None of the details here are important except the one of loyalty and doing what was expected of me. I never could figure out how I got into the bad graces of a man I liked because I did something he had not anticipated. There were plenty of times that I did not live up to expectations because of my perverse nature but this was not one of those cases.
Eventually I got into the Boy Scouts and made it to Star Scout, short of the Life and Eagle Scout level. To achieve the First Class Scout badge required a 14 mile hike. All roads west of Brockport led to Holley, New York. I departed with a group that headed west out Holley Street in Brockport. I never personally verified the distance but was informed that Holley was about six miles from the Brockport village limits. We camped in an empty field near Holley in pup tents we carried with us. We slept on the ground, our tents having no base flap. That meant rag weed, rubbing my nose in my worst enemy. By morning I was into a full stage asthma attack and still had to walk home. The last segment was up the hill on Brockport's Main Street past the Hazens, underneath the railroad to the Rowe Coal yard. Main Street in Brockport going south is a series of uphill levels. I was completely exhausted and had to stop in front of Jubenvilles just short of the Capen Hose Company at Park Avenue and Main. My Dad came by in a car. I was never so glad to see him and I gratefully accepted a ride the rest of the way. I'm sure I was a few tenths of a mile short of 14 miles. After a night of wheezing those asthma attacks would level off. Morning brought me to Monday, and back to school.
Having mentioned my Dad and the Capen Hose Company in one sentence brings up my Dad's own association with Brockport's volunteer fire fighters. Although the Capen Hose Company was in our end of town and enjoyed the distinction of always having the most modern pumper, Seagrave's mostly, the volunteer fire company that attracted the most Irishmen was the Harrison Hose Company at the main downtown fire station. Dad became a member of the Harrison Hose Company. Typical of young boys, I found this connection of great interest. The Harrison Hose truck had classic lines, a ladder on each side of a long-bed truck with a powerful looking engine up front and room for two men in the open cab. The downtown fire station had four or five bays. Its center entrance led to "city hall", I was told. My only visit there was to hear my Uncle Vin who had come back to town to make a political speech for Governor Roosevelt. There was another pump company down there along with a hook and ladder company. If memory has not completely deserted me, the pump company downtown was called "The Protectives." Volunteer fire companies enjoyed almost as much "mind share" in small towns as veteran's organizations. Brockport was no exception and I am sure Dad was proud of his association with Harrison Hose. For each fire you did not get to you were "fined" $2.00 by your volunteer company. With Dad's drinking, he did not make many fires. I can recall that he was meticulous in paying the fines.
Illustration 9 - My Dad was a Fireman
I should have added the YMCA to the list of organizations that have melded together in my mind as virtue building. The Scouts organized a weekly bus trip to the Arnett YMCA in Rochester and Sister promoted our participation, furnishing a list of Parochial School scouts interested in being part of the winter program. The object was to teach us all to swim. Captain Henry Jensen of the Rochester Police Force was our teacher. He was a big strong man and even if that had not distinguished him from 50 scrawny legged little boys, the fact that he wore swim trunks and we did not would make it clear who was in charge. And was he ever in charge. It took a little money even in those depression times to be included with the group. We went in a School Bus at night. The driver was a "volunteer." Captain Jensen knew of the financial sacrifices and made it his personal goal that we should swim. He not only taught us how to swim but how to administer the American Red Cross life saving technique practiced then. He taught the Buddy System and he enforced it. The foregoing activity was extracurricular to our Parochial School education but was aggressively promoted by Sister. Those were early life lessons I never forgot. They would not have been a part of my life if I had not been in that Parochial School.
One Armistice Day event in 1931 was not on local calendars. In the dim haze and slight drizzle of that November 11th evening, I went out on our back porch and saw the sight of my young life. It was the U.S. Navy dirigible Akron fishing her way back from Akron, Ohio to her Navy base at Lakehurst, New Jersey. By the term "fishing her way", I mean that she was up in what we later called "instrument flight conditions" for which she was not configured nor for that matter was the nation configured at that time. So her Navy pilot/commander was using the south shore of Lake Ontario to try to get east of the weather band. I read later in a booklet, " A Resident's Recollections" by Lloyd Klos, on Rochester and more particularly that author's adjacent community of Irondequoit, that the Akron spent over an hour circling Rochester before determining that the weather was good enough to make it directly to Lakehurst. Several other Nativity school classmates had also seen the great airship. Sister simply suspended regular recitations the next day while every shred of information available on dirigibles was shared during school hours. A couple of years later the Akron was lost in the Atlantic Ocean. Only three men survived. Her commander was lost. It was not long after these events that I saw Jack Holt, a famous movie star of those days, in a film called "Dirigible." The story was about a rescue attempt at the South Pole. An exploration group that had made it to the pole encountered grief trying to get back to base camp from the pole. A terrible blizzard overtook them. Then, the one man they relied on for navigation could not continue with the group and had to stay behind. Another man who believed he could rely on his own sense of direction in place of navigation took over. The climax came, when after harrowing days in the blizzard, the party arrived not at base camp, but back where their trek had begun. That movie gave me nightmares for weeks afterward.
As it developed in later life, for practical reasons and not patriotism, shortage of money being paramount, I entered the Naval Academy in 1939. This was a year before the draft was extended by one vote in the House of Representatives. I served on active duty as a regular naval officer until 1956 and on reserve duty, continuing as a naval aviator, until I was involuntarily "retired" at the retirement age of 55 as a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. The war in Viet Nam was by then a dominant military personnel factor. I received a notice from the Draft Board in Palmer, Massachusetts, to report for induction. I had been in military service for 40 years. They were pretty desperate for manpower. When I went out to Palmer to see them (and they saw me), they found out why I had never previously been processed in the draft. They relented and let me continue in retirement.
My Times With the Sisters and Other Events, 134 pages, ISBN 0966625110; can be ordered through your local bookstore. Cover Price is $9.50.