The Selective Service System

While at the local branch of the post office, which is tucked away in a shopping center and is primarily just a bunch of PO boxes, I discovered a government form that I’ve never seen before while rifling through looking the collection of stuff there for express mail stickers. It was a Change of Information Form for the Selective Service System.

The post office attracted my attention because someone drove a car into the left-side door and window. The door and window still hadn’t been fixed. Of course, the place is open 24/7 anyway, but it was odd to see it wide open and a door lying on its side inside.

I noticed months back that the stamp vending machines disappeared long ago. There was one at Chemeketa (the community college) and in all of these little neighborhood branches. But no longer. Why I have no idea. Damn inconvenient if you ask me.

Now back to the SSS. According to the file I found online, I originally registered by mail and was entered into the system on April 7, 1992. I had to provide this information — that I actually did register when I was 18 — when applying for Financial Aid at the community college. Instead of wasting money on a stamp, because the paper form isn’t prepaid, which is odd, I decided to change my address online.


WGBH’s Online Archives

While reading the actual New York Times (meaning the paper and ink was in my hands), I read about a project at WGBH, the PBS affliate in Boston, probably most well-known for its electricfying logo accompanied by its theme. It’s called Open Vault and noted as the WGBH Media Library and Archives. It was mentioned in the ‘Arts, Briefly’ section compiled by Rachel Lee Harris (‘Rare Interviews Tell Vietnam’s Story Online‘).


War Slang

Perhaps the most used word of slang during World War I was the term Boche. It is sprinkled throughout Leslie Darling’s letters home. It was frequently used in the Stars and Stripes throughout the war. Harry Truman wrote in a letter to his wife Bess, “I . . . got to France, fired some three-inch bullets at the Boche, went home.” This and other letters are published in the book Dear Bess.
The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume I gives a little background on it and its usage. Defined, Boche refers to a German soldier or, more commonly, German troops or the Germans generally.
The word may possibly originate from caboche, meaning ‘blockhead,’ or from a shortening of the French tête de caboche. The word may occasionally refer to the German language.
It is first cited as being used by the poet Ezra Pound in 1914.

Looking Back: A Reporter Visits France

Here’s some highlights from a transcript of a broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR). It’s from the show Weekend All Things Considered, the Veterans’ Day edition of 2007. There’s a downloadable audio file of the story (“Veterans Day Journey Ends Near WWI Trenches”) as well.

Reporter Naomi Lewin and her friend Brad Wolcott toured the French countryside during the summer of 2007.

“World War I seemed so distant now that most people don’t feel the connection to it. But all my life, I’ve heard my mother say that her father’s two siblings were killed fighting in World War I and that their mother never got over it.”

A woman who knew the mother said that she “always dressed in black . . . mourning for her two lost sons.”

During World War II, some of the men who helped fight for Germany, particularly Jewish men, became targets of the new order. But the mother was undaunted.

“She said, come, let’s go to the Gestapo. I’ll do the talking. And she went in. It was unheard of for a Jewish person to go to the Gestapo voluntarily. And when she came out, she said, it’s all right, they promised me they’d let them go. And we said, what did you say? And she said, I gave two sons to Germany in the war, and you will give me my third one back.”

Lewin noted that  “almost 10 million soldiers lost their lives in the trench warfare so vividly described in Eric Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Remarque, a World War I veteran himself, wrote, “At the front there is no quietness. Even in the remote depots and rest areas, the droning and the muffled noise of shelling is always in our ears.”

Today, in the village of Fey-en-Haye, “all you hear are birds, bells and distant highway traffic.” Nothing in Fey-en-Haye is more than 85 years old “including the church at the intersection of the only two streets. The reason is etched into the side of the church, right beneath the pair of stained-glass windows featuring soldiers rather than saints.”

Wolcott translated the church plaque from the original French: “Situated on the frontline during all of the hostilities, under incessant bombardment, totally destroyed, this village, by its ruins, has gained the gratitude of the entire country.”

Another town, Remeneauville, was completely destroyed, but unlike Fey-en-Haye, it was never rebuilt. “Instead, a canopy of silent woods has grown up around pathways that once were streets.”

Plaques in German, French and English “poke out of undergrowth, marking where buildings once stood. Where a farm was, where the school was, where the wheelwright was, where the city hall was.”

Wolcott noted, “The woods have taken over. There’s something incredibly peaceful about the way the woods come back to what was a pile of ruins.”

The trio also visited a German cemetery and noted how spartan the cemeteries of the defeated were compared to the victors.

Here, the waist-high gate is gunmetal gray, and the lawn is flexed with wildflowers wafting through the air, the sweet scent of linden trees and the gentle clank of farm machinery from neighboring fields.”

Jean-Charles de Belly, a young historian who works for the local municipal government, serves as a guide for anyone interested in the area’s World War I battlefields and memorials.

“This is very important for us to explain to the new generation, and my generation, that the young American people come here in France and died in France for the liberty of French people,” de Belly said.

“You know, so many of them helped win the war, and then didn’t make it back,” Lewin said.

The full transcript is available.


A Massive Catalog of Microfilm

On April 8th I sent a message to the South Dakota Department of Human Services using the DHS website contact form.

I am looking for any records relating to my great uncle’s stay in the Yankton State Hospital. His name was Herman Fromke (1890-1961). My grandfather Oscar Fromke had him committed for some reason, but it was his sister Hattie Fromke and her husband Rudolph Noeldner who somehow had him released.”

Today Brenda Aman of the Medical Records Department at the South Dakota Human Services Center replied.

. . . I am not sure that I ever replied to you saying that I would work on some research into your question about your great uncle, Herman Fromke.  Upon checking our old card files, I do not find a card for Herman Fromke.  If I am unable to find a card for him, I am unable to look up any of his records.  That does not mean he was not ever a patient here, but that is the only way we have to identify his medical record number, which is the way our records are microfilmed.  So, unless you have a different way his last name could have been spelled, I am sorry, but I am unable to provide you with another other information at this time.  Sorry!”

We then began corresponding via email in real time:

I don’t know of any other spellings that were used, although my mother has said that is spelled FROEMKE in Germany. But records I have found from that era in Germany have it as FROMKE. I don’t know of any aliases he, or the family may have used, but Herman’s mother’s maiden name was LENTZ.”

I asked if the microfilm was in chronological order, at least somewhat. Brenda responded:

We have 1700+ rolls of microfilm, and it is basically in chronological order by date of discharge.  The rolls have many patients on each roll that were filmed chronologically by discharge date of that year.   I’m not sure what the first year was that they started microfilming, so it is impossible to know where to start looking if we don’t have a number.  The microfilmed records are not available anywhere but here due to confidentiality regulations for patient records; however, we do have a South Dakota State Statute that allows us to release information of deceased patients to their nearest living relatives.”

Note that I also posted this on the Fromke list as part of my near obsession with having backups of backups. I try to have some sort of redundancy system for my notes, which usually means posting things in multiple places and saving some copies in various email accounts. For more information on redundancy check out these Wiki pages on engineering and information theory. Information theory is important to me because of its relation to quantifying material. In my case this mostly refers to historical information, ranging from pure genealogy to biography and creative nonfiction writing.


The Château-Thierry Monument

Time Will Not Dim the Glory of Their Deeds
— Pershing inscription on the monument

The Château-Thierry Monument in France is about 54 miles east of Paris and four and a half miles southeast of the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, where Leslie Darling is buried. The majority of it was designed and overseen by Paul Phillippe Cret. It was dedicated in 1928.

Once again author Judith Dupré offers some great insight and sources in her book Monuments: America’s History in Art and Memory. She provides the words of many of the inscriptions, listing small battles and engagements that I’d never heard of before: Grimpettes Wood, Vaux, Missy-aux-Bois, Belleau Wood, Juvigny, Mézy, Noroy-sur-Ourcq-Sergy, Seringes-et-Nesles, Vierzy, Le Charmel, Bazoches, Fismette, Berzy-le-Sec, Trugny, La Croix-Rouge Farm, and Torcy.

According to Gilles Lagin, a Frenchman with a serious interest in World War I, La Croix-Rouge Farm is the likely place where Leslie Darling was fatally wounded, though he would actually die in the 117th field hospital. The Price of Our Heritage, written by the chaplain of the 168th Infantry, records that he was injured by machine gun fire near Forêt de Fère. I am wondering if La Croix-Rouge Farm has anything to do with the American Red Cross.

[T]he Château-Thierry Monument and ten others of its kind, joined by at least seven hundred smaller commemorative markers, monuments, and plaques, hold an important piece of American history that is far removed, much as the soldiers were, from home.”

Dupré mentions the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.

Its central image is the poppies that ‘blow between the crosses, row on row,’ that mark graves of those who ‘short days ago . . . felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved.’ The blood-red poppy, the Flower of Forgetfulness, grew wild on the European battlefields and became a symbol of the war.”

Some of these poppies are growing near a statue of a doughboy commemorating Oregon soldiers near the Veterans’ Affairs building on the Capitol Mall in Salem. I visited the area a few years back to shoot black and white and color slide film for some photography classes.

The monument is “just west of the town for which it is named, sits atop Hill 204, as it was referred to on battle maps, and commands a wide view of the Marne Valley. To cobble together the twenty-five acre site, the ABMC, aided by Cret, had to negotiate the purchase of numerous small parcels of land on which the monument stands.”

The limestone memorial stands in a quiet forest of chestnut trees . . . Architect Elizabeth Grossman has observed that the memorial’s pyramidal design, which builds upward in a series of rectangular setbacks, formally reiterates the hill on which it is built, as well as the stoic commitment to what was achieved by the armies that battled there. It consists of a narrow double-colonnade structure that rises above a long terrace. The east face, situated before the expansive countryside where the battle(s) took place, features a massive carved eagle and shield, as well as a map showing American military operations in the region.”

“Two allegorical figures carved in deep relief on the west façade honor the friendship between France and the United States.” Designed by Alfred Bottiau, the two female figures are clasping hands. One has a large shield, the other a long sword. Bottiau also worked on the Aisne-Marne American Memorial.

The memorial also records some of the military history, in French and English.

In late May 1918 the German army made a surprise attack along the Aisne River and advanced rapidly toward the Marne. Allied reinforcements were hurriedly brought up . . .

On July 18 the Allied troops began a general counteroffensive against the whole salient in which the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32nd, and 42nd American Divisions, most of which served under the I and III Corps, took a brilliant part. This offensive was a complete success . . . Of the 310,000 American soldiers who fought in these operations, 67,000 were casualties.”

An “orientation map” gives an idea of where significant battle sites are located relative to the monument.



I remember seeing a copy of Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky while I was rehearsing for a show at the community college theater. It was Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues, and the man who was portraying the drill sergeant had been reading it and brought it along. I have been meaning to read it ever since. Of course, my backlog of books it huge. Kurlansky also has a short book for kids called The Story of Salt. There’s an extensive Wiki page on salt and another on sodium chloride, NaCl.


Ben Sira, Jewish Poet

Here’s an interesting selection from what’s known as the Apocrypha in Protestant circles. It’s from Ecclesiasticus, also known as Sirach. It was written by a man named Ben Sira. This book is included in Catholic versions of the Bible, but not in most Protestant ones. I discovered it while thumbing through a copy of Monuments: America’s History in Art and Memory by Judith Dupré at Borders a few days ago. It’s in a section on the Tomb of the Unknowns on page 104.
Let us now sing the praises of famous men,
our ancestors in their generations . . .
Some of them have left behind a name, 
so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory;
they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born,
they and their children after them.
But these also were godly men,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten . . .
their offspring will continue forever,
and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace,
but their names live on generation after generation.
— Ecclesiasticus 44: 1, 8-10, 13-14

What I Learned at Borders Today

I was just at Borders Express in the downtown mall and came across a book which mentioned the Solovetsky Monastery in Russia. Images of the place are just extraordinary and, then to learn that it is in such an inhospitable land whether the weather or the politics, makes it a remarkable story. The monastery was converted into a gulag. OrthodoxWiki has a page on it. And here’s a fascinating site focusing on the history of the islands from ancient times to today, including as a Soviet prison and labor camp.

The book Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945 by Jon Savage may have some potential to get insight into what the young of previous generations were thinking and doing. Savage has written a lot on this subject, so I hope it’s not just a bunch of recycled material from his other books. He seems to have an obsession with the Sex Pistols and the Brit music scene of yesteryear.