I saw this on another blog I read and was extraordinarily moved by it, having just been through a similar experience of finding out more about my own father’s World War II military service. Peggy Harris never got a straight answer when she asked about what happened to her her husband Billie, a fighter pilot who disappeared in France in 1944. Nevertheless, she remained faithful, constant, and persistent until she finally discovered the truth:
Now, after all these years, she finally knows what really happened to her beloved husband, and she knows he is a man she can be proud of. This is a story about the value of patience, persistence, tenacity, and family history research. In this case, knowing the truth about her family history didn’t just satisfy Peggy Harris’s abstract intellectual curiosity—it helped heal her aching heart.
|2nd Lieutenant William S. Leslie
9 Oct 1943, Age 20
Friday morning I got a long-awaited letter from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in response to my latest requests for my father’s World War II service records. My search was partially successful. It confirmed that I had indeed found his wartime serial number (0-668096) and it also confirmed my long-held suspicion that his complete service records, if they were ever held there, were destroyed in a fire in July 1973. However, the letter also stated that, “[w]e used alternate sources to reconstruct some record data lost in the fire,” and included two copies of a Certification of Military Service that includes his complete dates of service, including a short period as an enlisted man that I did not know about. I am so very proud.
The date of his enlistment conflicts slightly with some other information that I have (ironically, also supplied by the National Archives and Records Administration which oversees the National Personnel Records Center), so I may have to look into this further to make sure the details are correct. Also, although the caption on the original photo of my Dad identifies him as a 1st Lieutenant as of October 1943, I believe he was actually a 2nd Lieutenant at the time. The accident reports I mentioned in a previous entry bear this out.
|Caption on the back of the original photo reads:
“1st Lt. William S. Leslie, 20 years old, Oct. 9 1943”
(Scanned image supplied by William F. Leslie)
This was a big weekend for me. I found my Dad.
Early Saturday morning I received a long-awaited e-mail from Craig Fuller of the Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) website that maintains a database of accident reports involving World War II aircraft. The e-mail contained a link to a page where I could download copies of two reports of two accidents involving my father, William Stewart Leslie, during his pilot training in World War II. The serial number of the “Leslie, William S.” in these reports matches exactly the serial number on a set of dog tags in my family’s possession, so I know this is my Dad. Now that I know for certain his rank and serial number and the group and squadron he was attached to at the time of the accidents, I can use these pieces of information to try and locate more details about his military service.
In the first accident, he was returning to Camp Campbell (now Fort Campbell), Kentucky after a routine cross-country training flight early on the morning of 15 August 1943. He landed about ten feet short of the end of the runway because the sun was in his eyes, and when he landed, the spindle supporting the left landing gear on his Bell P-39F AirCobra broke, causing the landing gear on that side to collapse. The board investigating the accident concluded:
Although pilot did land a few feet short of hard surfaced runway due to the fact that his visual judgment was hindered because he was landing into the sun at 0830 o’clock, it is not the opinion of the board that this fact would have been a factor in causing the landing gear to fail. It is a known fact that landing gear spindles on P-39 Airplanes are light and delicate. It is believed that spindle had Crystallized and cracked.
In the second accident, he was leaving Camp Campbell for another routine cross country training flight on the afternoon of 25 October 1943 when ice formed in the carburetor of his North American P-51 Mustang, causing a sudden and and complete engine failure. The official report reads:
|North American P-51 Mustang|
“After about 50 minutes of flying there was a tremendous backfire and engine failed. Pilot made crash landing, wheels up” in a farmer’s cornfield near Scottsville, Kentucky.
The board investigating the accident recommended “that pilots be directed to use full carburetor heat when atmospheric conditions indicate that moderate to severe icing conditions exist,” and “That WILLIAM S. LESLIE, 2nd Lt. Air Corps, Res., be relieved of all responsibility in this accident.”
I’m relieved to know that in both cases, the investigating boards concluded that Dad did not cause or was not directly responsible for the accident. A pilot is always ultimately responsible for everything that happens on board his aircraft, but apparently in these cases there were mitigating circumstances. A severe enough accident might have caused Dad to wash out of pilot training, which I think might have broken his heart. Dad loved flying.
I admire his persistence, too. One accident is one thing, but after the second one, I would have considered the Quartermaster Corps or the Navy!
I’ve received permission from Debbie Bloom, Manager of the Walker Local History Room at Richland County (SC) Public Library to reproduce this photograph of Columbia, South Carolina’s Main Street as it appeared before 1900, with the old city hall building in the background and to the right. The original photograph was given to the library by Security Federal Savings and Loan Association of Columbia. The digital image is part of the library’s Flickr stream and Local History Digital Library collections. I’d like to thank Ms. Bloom for allowing me to reproduce the image and for her enthusiastic support of my genealogical research.
This photo has come to mean a lot to me even though I’d never seen it before a few days ago. As I explained in this post, my maternal great-grandfather Joseph R. Allen, was the auditor for the city of Columbia during the 1890s. He worked in that old city hall building. When a fire destroyed the building on the night of 30 March 1899, he went into his burning office and risked his life to retrieve valuable city documents. When I went looking for an appropriate image for that previous blog post, I found this picture. Since it was part of the library’s collections, I wanted to ask permission before posting it, and that’s how I met Debbie Bloom. Doing family history research is one thing, but when you can find a visible, tangible reminder of your ancestors and the worlds they lived in, and make new friends in the process, that’s really something special. Thank you, Debbie Bloom.
Attention, historians, genealogists, residents of Columbia, South Carolina and anyone else with an interest in the history of South Carolina’s capital city: Minutes of meetings of Columbia City Council during the 19th century are now available online. The first volume of minutes covering meetings from January 1883 to September 1886 is available for viewing here. Other volumes will be available over time..
I learned this from Debbie Bloom, Manager of the Walker Local History Room at the Richland County (SC) Public Library. We were discussing my maternal great-grandfather, Joseph R. Allen, who was auditor for the city of Columbia during the 1890s. I’ll be checking through those minute books periodically to see how often “Pappa Joe” pops up. The digital minute books are part of the South Carolina Digital Library, a collaboration between major libraries across the state..The digital minute book pages are hosted by Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina.
These are scanned image of the original handwritten pages, not transcriptions, so those not familiar with 19th century handwriting styles (like me) may find these books challenging to read. There is a table of contents with meetings arranged by month and year, and there are links for individual pages in the minute book. Manipulating the image viewing application to view a particular portion of a page may also be a little tricky at first.
Nevertheless, these pages could be a gold mine of information for anyone who wants to know more about historic Columbia. In these pages, important decisions in the city’s past were recorded as they were made by the people who made them.
While organizing my paper files and records this weekend, I found a gem that I had previously overlooked: a photocopy of a newspaper article from 1899 describing a heroic act by one of my ancestors.
According to my mother and my uncle, my maternal great-grandfather, Joseph R. “Pappa Joe” Allen (born about 1866) was the auditor for the city of Columbia, South Carolina in the 1890s and a Major in the South Carolina Militia (which later became the National Guard). A fire on the evening of 30 March 1899 destroyed the city hall, but Pappa Joe went into the burning building and risked his own life to retrieve valuable city records. To see a photo of Columbia’s Main Street as it appeared some time before 1900, with the old city hall in the background, click here. The explanatory notes accompanying the photograph mention the fire that destroyed the old city hall. The image is part of the Richland County (SC) Public Library Flickr stream and Local History Digital Library. I’d like to thank Debbie Bloom, Manager of the Walker Local History Room at RCPL for being so courteous and enthusiastic in granting permission to post the link. You can find her blog, “The Dead Librarian,” newly added to the blogroll over there on the right
In 1999, my uncle Eddie sent me a photocopy of the original newspaper story about the fire (probably from a microfilm reel) as reported by The State, Columbia’s leading newspaper, in their morning edition of 31 March 1899. I found the photocopy hard to read, so I put it aside and largely forgot about it—until Sunday
I still found the photocopy hard to read for a variety of reasons: parts of it were illegible, and the original newspaper broadsheet must have been much wider than standard, U. S. letter sized sheets of paper, making it difficult to copy the story legibly. I decided to read and transcribe as much of the article as I could, and once I started, I found it a fascinating and sometimes unintentionally amusing piece of cultural history. Even though the events it described were tragic, the highly overwrought, florid, and sentimental 19th century language and writing style sometimes make it hard for a modern reader to take the story seriously. Here, for example, are the original headlines and the opening three paragraphs. I retained the original spelling and punctuation:
FLAMES SPREAD WITH SPEED OF PRAIRIE FIRE.–Columbia’s City Hall and Opera House Totally Destroyed–DARING CITY OFFICIALS SAVE SOME OF THE VALUABLE RECORDS–Telegraphic Communication Cut Off for Several Hours—Firemen’s Splendid Work Prevents a General Conflagration in the Heart of the City—The Complete Story.Columbia is today and for the time being a city without her electric fire alarm and police headquarters, fire alarm bell, opera house, Postal Telegraph office, armory, veterans headquarters, lodge rooms, public library and police courtrooms, not to mention the business houses lost. For a time last night it looked as if the most important section of the business centre [sic] of the city was to be laid in ashes despite the heroic and untiring efforts of the firemen to check flames that spread with the startling rapidity of a prairie fire. At times it seemed inevitable that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property was going to ascend in smoke, for the wind blew strong south by southwest and the shower of red hot embers was continuous and alarming.Not since the historic visitation of Sherman to Columbia has the capital of South Carolina seen such a conflagration as that which cast a lurid glare over the heavens for two hours last evening and sent millions of glowing embers hundreds of feet into the smoke-filled air, only to descend with the picturesqueness of one of Pain’s most beautiful fiery showers. There have been fires here, perhaps resulting in as great a money loss, but none have equalled [sic] the display of last evening.Columbia’s city hall building at the corner of Main and Washington streets has been completely destroyed by fire: it is now a great heap of ruins and in the smouldering [sic] pile are the ashes of many valuable records and plenty of other costly property, including a collection of theatrical scenery that it has taken years to accumulate. As a result the city is temporarily without her fire and police systems and many other inconveniences to the public will result.
The article goes on at great length to explain the history and condition of the building, and the way the fire was detected and fought, but only much later does the writer explain that the cause of the fire was unknown:
It may have been a cigarette stump thrown down by some of the stage hands, or it may have been a defective electric wire, or a match nibbled by a rat. No effort to ascertain the origin has been of any avail.
The difficult problem was the saving of the absolutely necessary city rec[ords?] . . . auditor deserves the thanks of the city. Mr. Allen got to the building before any water was thrown and immediately entered the auditor’s office, got all of the auditor’s books and papers and all of the city clerk’s that were not in the safe, the tax books and minute books running back for a period of 10 or 11 years, carried them to the front of the building and threw them through a window of the council chamber. While there the smoke was almost stifling and the heavy weights from the bell tower fell tumbling within 10 feet of him, but nothing daunted he remained long enough to accomplish his purpose and crawled out the building on a ladder placed over McKay’s back door. He was repeatedly urged to come down but he remained long enough to finish throwing the balance of the books out of the back window. But for Mr. Allen a great many valuable records would have been lost.
|My usual method of tidying up!|
A few entries ago, I mentioned that I had a miscellaneous mishmash of paper files of various kinds from various sources, all containing useful bits of genealogical information, and no idea how to organize them. I think I’m making progress towards getting things under control. In this article, Kimberly Powell, the “Guide” or expert on genealogical topics over at About.com suggests a simple system of folders in different colors (or with different colored labels) with a different color for each surname or family group being researched. I had bought a hanging file box and a set of folders in various colors, so this seemed to make perfect sense.
On my Dad’s side of the family, I chose red for the Leslies, orange for the Leatherwoods, and yellow for the Moffatts. On my Mom’s side of the family, I chose light blue for the Roberts, darker blue for the Allens (I happened to have folders in two different shades of blue), and green for the Neubauers. I know I said I was going to focus my attention on the Leslies, but I have miscellaneous documents pertaining to all these families, and I wanted to make sure they were all filed and accounted for.
Since I have several folders in each color and surname, I can begin by keeping all the documents for one surname in one folder, but as the research continues and I accumulate more documents I can subdivide the documents and place them in different folders depending on the types of documents I have: e. g., birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, census records, wills, letters, etc. For example, I have miscellaneous Leslie documents in the main red Leslie folder, but also have documents relating to my Dad’s military service in a separate red Leslie folder. I also have separate a separate folder for documents pertaining to my genealogy software and a folder for blank pedigree and family group charts in case I need them.
I like the folders with slots in the edges for adjustable plastic tabs with paper inserts. You should be able to find these at any office supply store. You simply write a label on the paper insert, slide it into the plastic tab, and slide the tab into the slots on the folder. The tabs can be easily adjusted or staggered so that you can easily read the label on the folder no matter where it is in the file box.
After a weekend’s work, I have just about everything filed and sorted. I know what goes where. This system seems logical, uncomplicated, and easy to use. If you have any suggestions about how to improve the system, please let me know by leaving a comment or sending an e-mail.