The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Columns

July 31, 2011

Carol Stark: Looking for owner of this found ‘memory’

JOPLIN, MO — As hard as we might try, we can’t wish ourselves back to May 21. Going forward is a daily battle for the survivors of the May 22 tornado. And while the storm has robbed them of their homes, their possessions and in some cases, their loved ones, it should never be allowed to take away memories.

Mary Reavis, of Joplin, found one of these “memories” in her yard last week and sent it to our newsroom, hoping we could put it back into the hands of its owner.

It’s a yellowed letter written on stationary stamped “Ordnance School, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.” The bottom part of the letter has been torn away, leaving it devoid of a signature. But the words conjure up a picture of a young soldier who misses his sweetheart very much.

Dated Nov. 3, 1942, the letter says:

“I received your letters today and sure was glad to hear from you. I also received a letter from your mother. Three in one day.”

The soldier quickly turns the letter to details of his latest payday.

“I got paid Sat., but I am broke now. I got $24.55 and I paid for my pictures, bought your birthday and stayed in Baltimore.”

At this point, the much-folded letter has torn. But, there’s more on the back.

“There are four platoons to a company, four companies to a battalion and 1,050 men to a battalion. These men all eat from one kitchen and we have two companies that are not in our battalion that eat in our kitchen.

“So, there you have an idea of what we have to do in one kitchen.

“Here comes Fibber and Molly on the air. I get to hear them now they come on here at 9:30.

“Oh, yes, I saw in person here at the camp, Red Skelton.”

And then it ends. I found it a fascinating bit of history. I’m sure it means much, much more than that to the owner.

According to the Aberdeen Proving Ground website, the United States government took formal possession of the land at Aberdeen in 1917 and began building areas where it could proof-test field artillery weapons, ammunition, trench mortars, air defense guns and railway artillery.

The mission of the proving ground was later expanded to include the operation of an ordnance training school and the developmental testing of small arms.

Four departments were set up for the testing process: proof, service, administration and military. However, just as the newly reorganized Aberdeen Proving Ground was effectively performing its wartime testing missions, World War I came to an end on Nov. 11, 1918.

When World War II was launched, the need for testing grounds forced the government to add acreage to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Seven thousand acres, which extended the proving ground almost into the town limits of Aberdeen, were added in 1942, as were 1,800 acres when Spesutie Island was acquired in 1945. During the war, personnel grew to a peak strength of 27,185 military and 5,479 civilians as all fields of research, development and training expanded.

According to the website: “The technological contributions of Aberdeen Proving Ground to the war effort include the world’s first digital computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC), the first man-portable antitank weapons system (the Bazooka), and the first system-wide practical applications of Statistical Quality Control. These sophisticated theories were devised by the Bell Laboratories and were first applied through Ordnance materiel procurement contracts in World War II. A sociological change of significant proportions which was shared with industry in general was the large scale introduction of women in the Aberdeen Proving Ground workforce in otherwise completely nontraditional roles.”

I hope we can find the owner of the letter as it is linked to a time in history we never want to forget. Please call me at 627-7278 if you think this “memory” is yours. Until then, I’ll keep it safe for you.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email cstark@joplinglobe.com.

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