Category Archives: Family and Friends

My Dad in World War Two

georgecklein1940suniformblogImages © Todd Klein.

When World War Two began, my dad and his family were living in Dunellen, NJ, and he was a student at Dunellen High School. In 1942 or 1943 he either enlisted or was drafted into military service, I’m not sure which. He was unable to finish high school, but granted a diploma anyway along with other young men who enlisted. George C. Klein was born on March 10, 1924, and was probably eighteen when he reported for basic training. I’m not sure where that happened. Fort Dix, NJ is a likely candidate, though we have some photos from High Point, NC, so he may have gone there.

georgephyllis1943Here’s George with his girlfriend, Phyllis Derr, home on leave from basic training. They would marry in 1948, after the war. Dad was tall and thin, but had been on the high school football team, so must have been in pretty good shape.

georgecard1943frontAt some point he was sent to this antiaircraft replacement training center in Virginia to train to be a bombardier, and sent this card home to his father, George Senior. “May we see the next one together as civilians,” he writes.

georgecard1943backMy Dad, writing to his own dad, on the back of that card. Unfortunately, his eyesight was not deemed good enough, and he did not complete this training and went into the regular infantry. He was sent overseas I think later in 1943 and served mainly in Germany.

georgeckleinservicebenchblogI think this was taken in Germany, but I’m not sure. My dad’s main duty, as my mom has told me, was to scout ahead of the main force to help determine enemy locations for bombardment. His mother and all four of his grandparents were born in Germany, and while I never heard him speak German, he could understand and speak it well enough to act as an interpreter for the scouts he was with. This was very dangerous duty.

My dad wrote two letters and a card while in Europe. Here’s most of the text of the first one:

November 16th
1944
Luxemburg

Dear Folks,

     This is just a line to let you know I’m fine. I received a box from Phyll today but still no letters from anyone.

     I can tell you now I was CENSORED on that Aachen deal and it was pretty rough. It was just south of there that “Jerry” caught me that time. There was one time back there with a strong wind that I could easily have spit on some of them. That was the time a “Jerry” sniper whistled two rounds close enough to make my hair stand up. I’d sure like to be hunting now instead of being hunted.

     I was telling Phyll that this dampness and cold was sure playing hell with us. I guess rheumatism is setting in. When my hair starts turning gray then I’m going to start asking for a discharge.

     That’s all for tonight. Say hello to everyone for me. My love to both of you.

     Your son
     George   

Some time before this he was shot by a sniper, and probably recovering in Luxembourg when he wrote the letter. He recovered completely and went back to active duty. He received the Purple Heart award given to those wounded or killed in service.

gckleinletter1944p1clipOne or two words are censored from this letter by being cut out of it. Luxembourg is a very small country between Germany and Belgium. My dad is writing about the Battle of Aachen which took place from Oct. 2nd to Oct. 21st, 1944. Aachen was on Germany’s western border, and part of the “Siegfried Line,” the main defensive network there. Much of the city was destroyed and both sides suffered heavy losses. It was one of the largest urban battles of the war and the first city on German soil to be captured by the Allies. The battle ended with a German surrender. “Jerry” was a soldier nickname for German soldiers.

georgecardxmas1944backblogDad sent this note in a Christmas card to his family in 1944, or more likely early 1945.

Dear Folks,

     This may come a little late but we can’t be on time with everything. This is the second Christmas that I haven’t been home for, let’s all hope the next one will see us all together again. Have a good Christmas.

Your son,

George

Dad was still in Germany in August of 1945. The war was officially over, he was in the “mopping up” operation. He sent this letter:

11 Aug. 1945
Bensheim, Ger.

Dear Folks,

     This seems to be one of the last days of World War II and once again our family seems to have come through with almost as much as we went into it with. These have been hard years for all of us, but now that they’re ending it seems that we did learn from them. At least I know I did. I’m afraid if it hadn’t been for the war I’d never have learned to appreciate a swell family like ours and know what it means to have someone back there pulling and pushing and doing just a little praying for you. You and Dad have made plenty of those rough humps pretty easy just by knowing that no matter how things turned out, there’d always be someone back there who would say, “You’ve done the right thing.” There’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned from you that my children will learn from me. Good sculptors leave fine statues and artists leave paintings, but good parents leave ideals, and a human being is a composite of great ideals. People are really what a family leaves behind and [I hope] someday my children look back on us with as much love and respect as I have for you. That’s all for tonight, my love for both of you.

Your son
George

I find this letter particularly moving. It’s the only thing we have written by my dad that talks about his hopes for the future and lessons learned. He never talked to me about his time in the war, and it’s only through these few letters that I’ve come to understand a little of what it was like for him.

While he never talked about his time in the Army, my dad did like to watch TV shows about it, and I watched some of those with him. I wish I had thought to ask questions then.

My dad died in 1978 from lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker from his teen years on. I still miss him.

 

Grandma Klein’s Story

harriettmassarklein16yrsThis is a story about my father’s mother, much of it in her own words. My grandmother, born Hedwig Massar, seen above at age 16, was born in 1900 in Germany. Her family emigrated to the United States in 1905. She never liked the name Hedwig, and around age 14 started calling herself Harriett. She met my grandfather, George Klein, some time around 1919-1920 we think, and they were married in 1921.

Growing up, I didn’t feel as close to my father’s parents as I did to my mother’s family, who we spent more time with, but I knew they loved me and enjoyed visiting me. Recently my cousin, Jody Andreatch, has been putting together a huge photo album/scrapbook for the Massar and Klein families, and looking through it got me more interested in that part of my family history. Among the documents included were pages from a 1981 book, “Grandma’s Story,” one of those books children or grandchildren can give their grandmother that has questions and places to write personal answers. It was given to Grandma Klein around 1981 by Jody, and I found her answers fascinating. They paint a picture of a childhood mostly in Queens, NYC in the early years of the last century, a time that seems like ancient history even to me, and I’m pretty old myself.

The questions and answers in the book are scattershot across time and topics, but I decided to put Harriett’s answers together to make a more complete narrative, combining some, adding small bits of connecting material where necessary, and putting my own comments in where warranted. This is mainly of interest to her family, but I thought some readers of this blog might also enjoy it. Here we go. Sections in italics are by me, the rest is nearly all in Harriett’s own words.

GRANDMA KLEIN’S STORY

I was born at home in Edigheim, Germany on November 5, 1900 at six o’clock in the morning. I was 6 pounds 2 ounces with green eyes and blond hair. My full name was Hedwig Massar, named after my mother’s sister. I didn’t like my name so I changed it to Harriett after I got out of school. I learned to walk when I was one year old, I was two years old when I talked. I looked like my mother.

I did not know or ever see my great-grandparents. I don’t remember my grandparents well. They stayed in Germany. I remember a few things about my grandmother. She was always selling bread. They had a bake shop. I also remember the walnut tree my grandfather had in his back yard. I sat under that tree and ate walnuts till I got sick and threw up. Then I got a licking. We were always with them for Thanksgiving until we came to America in 1905. Continue reading

Alaska 2001 Part 2

alaska-092Concluding a selection of my favorite pictures from our Alaska trip slideshow, recently reconstructed on my laptop. Denali and central Alaska this time. From the final stop on the cruise in Juneau, we flew to Fairbanks, where we took a train to the entrance to Denali National Park. From there, we rode on this bus to the foot of the mountain. Continue reading

Alaska 2001 Part 1

alaska-067

In June of 2001 Ellen and I went on a two week trip to Alaska, a group tour with Lindblad. The first week we were cruising the inland waterway on Alaska’s lower coast aboard the ship Sea Lion, above. The second week we were in interior Alaska mainly around Denali. In 2003 I put together a slide show with captioned pictures, about 160 of them, to show on my first laptop. In the years since, that show has become jumbled and some pictures went missing. The last few days I’ve been restoring it, and since the pictures are now back in order, thought I’d put some of my favorites up here. This post covers the first week, the second week will be in part 2.

Lindblad is a tour company that focuses on nature, and their small 62-passenger ships in Alaska are perfect for that. You get much closer to nature in a small ship, they have many expert guides and naturalists aboard, and we loved our experience with them. They’re very expensive, but we felt well worth it. Continue reading

Weekend Getaway Photos

roeblinginnThis past weekend we did spent two nights on the upper Delaware River in northeastern Pennsylvania, staying at the 1870 Roebling Inn, above, a very fine bed and breakfast. The weather was not great, cloudy and with some rain, but we had fun anyway.

bridgefrombankThe inn has property right next to the river, and from there you can see the aqueduct bridge built in the 1840s by John A. Roebling, most famous for his design of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is the oldest Roebling bridge still standing, in Lackawaxen, PA.

bridgeviewA closer look at the bridge showing the stone abutments intended to fend off ice in the winter and some of the wood beams holding the roadway.

toddellenbridgeEllen and I on the walkway, a composite of two photos that don’t quite line up.

bridgeroadThe most interesting thing about the bridge is that it was built for canal boats, and was originally filled with water and part of a canal system following the Delaware and other rivers connecting the coal mines of Pennsylvania and navigable parts of the Delaware further south. It’s now open as a one-lane car bridge from PA to New York State. The original woven wire cables made by Roebling are still supporting the weight of the bridge. We enjoyed walking across and back and reading all the informational signs.

eaglesBack at the Roebling Inn, this pair of Bald Eagles were our neighbors the first day we were there, sitting on a dead tree not far from the Inn. This area supports many Bald Eagles in the winter, where they can catch fish in the river unless it freezes over.

zanegreyhouseJust down the street on the river is the Zane Grey Museum, which we enjoyed touring, also an information center for the Upper Delaware preserve. I read a few Zane Grey novels as a teenager, and enjoyed them, but was never a big western fan. It was interesting to learn that Grey, like many successful creators, was obsessed with his work, often writing around the clock in his study to finish one of his many novels. He was also quite a good artist. Illustrations he did for his first book (not a western) were on display. Grey was also a worldwide traveler-explorer, fisherman and travel writer, as well as the initial author of the newspaper strip “King of the Royal Mounted” based on one of his books. Comic book versions of the feature were on display. Grey only lived here a few years, but owned the house all his life and is buried here.

bethelwoodsmuseumAbout a half hour drive north is the Museum at Bethel Woods, site of the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, with lots of great exhibits and video clips about the festival, its creators, the musicians who played, and the 1960s in general.

toddwoodstockForty-seven years later, I finally made it to Woodstock! Where is everybody? In the summer of 1969 I had just graduated from high school and was preparing for my first year of art school. I had a summer job that was needed to provide money for school, and I didn’t know anyone who was going to Woodstock. When I saw the film a few years later, I felt like I’d missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but looking back at it now, I’m guessing I wouldn’t have had such a great time if I did get there between the crowds, lack of food and facilities, torrential rain, and other hazards, but I still kind of envy those who were present.

After our sightseeing we spent some time visiting Ellen’s family near Wilkes-Barre, PA, and stayed overnight with her sister Ann’s family in Newton, NJ, where I’m writing this. We’ll be home and back to work tomorrow after our fun and too-brief getaway.