After work, Eddie drives Jack to a Navy recruitment office and Jack enlists in the United States Navy. Jack is a 19 year old boy and he’s afraid but not too afraid to do what is expected of him. Eddie takes his time on the way home, not anxious to see his wife’s reaction. He assures his son everything will be okay but it will be tougher for Annie. She is heartbroken with concern and fear for her youngest son, her baby.
Jack Kavanagh takes a train to Chicago to attend the US Naval Training Program in Great Lakes, Illinois. His parents escort him to the station and a bitter tear-filled goodbye is said between Mother and son. A tight squeezing hug from Annie, a pat on the back from Eddie and Jack boards the train. He tries to put the farewell behind him and face what is ahead. He’s pleased to be joining the Navy; he loves the sea, having visited Ocean City, Maryland several times in his youth. He loved the ocean and the beach, he loved the water. It seemed the best fit, plus he heard the food was better. He arrives with a large group of young American boys not sure what to expect or what to do. They are quickly processed and it’s time for chow, beans and bread. Jack was not impressed but he eats it along with the rest of the boys and they are assigned to several weeks of training in Navy specific rules and regulations as well as their areas of expertise. Jack will be attending Metalsmith School which suits him very well after apprenticing and working as a coppersmith for three years. At the Shop, a cold day is spent finishing a copper dome for a condenser from National Distillers. Copper sheet is heated and then pounded into shape, the dome made by one man with a wooden mallet underneath the sheet while two use brass hammers from above. It is completed by lunchtime then delivered and installed in the afternoon.
Jack finishes his training, becoming a Metalsmith 1st Class and he is assigned to the USS Strickland(DE-333), a destroyer escort. The destroyer escort is a smaller battleship used primarily in support or to defend convoys of ships both commercial and military. Early next month, Jack and the rest of the crew will take a train to San Diego, California from which the Strickland will begin its maiden voyage
The crew of the Joseph Kavanagh Company work busily through a Saturday morning in anticipation of the weekend. Ed Kavanagh Jr. is particularly antsy to get out of there; he and his new girl, Lillian Fetsch, have entered a jitterbug contest and they need the practice. He met her a month ago and they have been dating steadily since. The crew work a half-day and Ed and the rest take off into the Spring afternoon sunshine, most to spend the day with family, but Ed and Lil will have a night of dancing and music.
The Strickland is launched on its “shakedown” voyage and heads to Bermuda. After passing all its basic tests and maneuvers she heads to Norfolk, VA. They receive mail call in Norfolk and Jack is shocked and thrilled to have a large bound stack of letters, all from his Mother. As he flips through the envelopes, it becomes clear that his mother has written him nearly every day. He finds the oldest postmark and rips that one open and reads it. The letter is word from home, his Mother’s love and wishes for his safety. He quickly reads it and moves on to the next. Each is a little different with brief updates on the family including news about Ed dating Lillian and the weather in Baltimore. Several of his bunk mates comment on the large pile of letters and kid Jack that he must have a lot of girls. He says just one, my Mother, then he winks and grins as the cabin breaks into laughter.
The Strickland heads to the North Atlantic as part of a convoy protecting sixty merchant ships. This is their first real military mission and Jack knows he is very far from home now and getting farther away each day. His thoughts often move to Baltimore, his family and the Shop. The Shop is still humming along with a lot of ship work and their standard distillery and brewery jobs.
Jack and the crew of the USS Strickland reach Gibraltar safely with no contact from the enemy. So far, Jack’s service consists of early rising, bad food and a day of machining and making spare and replacement parts for the ship. He is fine with the early mornings and the long working days but the food leaves a lot to be desired. So much for the Navy having better food or if it’s true, then he seriously pitied those Army boys.
The Luftwaffe attack the Strickland when it passes into the Mediterranean Sea. As they sail past Algeria, the Germans attack with bombing and torpedo runs. Jack sees his first combat action of the war. The attack occurs early in the morning and most of the crew are awakened from their bunks by the sound of guns and explosions. The rest are at battle stations and the fighting is furious for a few minutes. Jack moves to the machine shop where he works along with his fellow metalsmiths and they wait for instructions. The metal room is a cacophony of explosions and crashes before it all goes quiet and the air raid ends as quickly as it started. The Strickland successfully protected the convoy, taking no damage, and repelled the German assault. Despite all of that, the young Navy boys are shaken up because it was their first time. Jack and his fellow crew members will grow accustomed to the sound of battle from inside the belly of a ship.
The Strickland returns to New York and continues escorting convoys back and forth for five months. The ships sail across the Atlantic, then into the Mediterranean Sea. They rarely see any action on the way back to the US but are sometimes harassed by German planes and submarines when they approach European waters, and the pass through Gibraltar is particularly hairy. Jack is adjusting to life at sea and he does love the water so there is a small silver lining. He misses his hometown, his family and his friends but he is seeing some of the world with stopovers in England and France so far. They have yet to have a weekend of Liberty but the boys are all looking forward to getting off the ship soon even for just a few hours. The scuttlebutt has them getting a weekend of R and R in England this summer.
Operation Overlord begins on what becomes know as D-Day. Allied troops begin the largest sea to ground assault in history. The Axis are dug in deep but the US and British troops will not be deterred and they establish a beach head. The invasion of Europe is on as over 150,000 Allied troops land at Normandy led by Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight Eisenhower. The Germans had received coded transmissions stating that the attack would be at Calais, France but it was a ruse and by the time the Nazis had realized it, they were unable to stop the Allies. The nation listens on the radio and reads the newspapers with a collective baited breath, desperate for any and all details and praying that this is the beginning of victory and peace.
The USS Strickland is handling some convoy duty mainly in the Mediterranean now and Jack’s days are usually filled with machining and mechanics. The officer on duty is well-trained and a good sailor but he is no machinist according to Jack. He has quickly seen that Metalsmith Kavanagh has skill and experience working metal and has placed Jack as a “go between” himself and the crew. Jack divvies the work between machinists, fabricators and welders, about twenty men total. Even at the young age of twenty, Jack has an eye for talent and a keen understanding of metal work. The system works well and Jack shuffles between machines and crew to be sure the parts they are making are finished properly and as fast as possible. Many things can and do go wrong on a ship, especially one at war thus a machine shop on board comes in very handy. Custom fixes of tanks, shafts and pipes all pass through the Strickland’s Shop as well as a steady stream of stock parts they make. Jack does give thought to the Shop at Pratt and Central while he works in the bowels of the destroyer escort. His duties are familiar but in a strangely unfamiliar environment. Jack and his fellow sailors have by now made the adjustment to sea life, but working in a metal shop on the type of jobs he’d be doing at the Joseph Kavanagh Company is strangely eerie to Jack.
As has been said before, August is the cruelest month for a smith. Excessive heat and humidity along with torch work turns the Pratt and Central building into a hot box usually for the entire month. The crew deal with it as best they can, drinking water and stepping outside for a smoke once in a while. It’s hot outside but it feels like a relief to stand out in the fresh air for even a few minutes. Today, they finish a 30” tubular condenser for Carroltown Springs Distillery and then ship it on its way. This one is an easy install with the Shop furnishing fittings and the Carroltown’s workers will install it themselves.
Paris is liberated by the Allied forces combined with Free French Units. It is the best news yet from Europe. Progress is being made by all accounts but freeing Paris, one of the Continent’s Grand old cities, is a boost to Americans reading and listening at home.
The Shop’s crew are finishing an order that is to be freighted to Philadelphia for the Navy Shipyard there. Eddie watches carefully as two large pump-chambers are hoisted up by a block and tackle and swung into the Shop’s truck. Two men stand on each side to support it and finally heave the chambers into the truck. Mr. Funke and Mr. Vincent will transport the chambers and a few other parts to the train station and send it on its way. Eddie thinks back to not so long ago when he did most deliveries, installs and would, certainly, have taken care of any runs to the train station. His mind then wanders to where his son is. Where is Jack in this wide world? He assumes still in the North Atlantic or Mediterranean based on the last letters they’ve received. He shakes it out of his thoughts as Funke approaches for final instructions. Eddie dispatches him and returns to the corner office in the Shop to get back to work.
The “Streetcar Series” is played with the St. Louis Cardinals defeating the St. Louis Browns, four games to two. It was the Browns first and only American League pennant. Teams throughout the league are losing players to the draft and the talent level is rather depleted. The Cardinals are fortunate as star player Stan Musial has been lucky and not drafted. Musial alone doesn’t make the difference in the World Series but he has a big impact on winning the pennant. The Kavanagh’s follow the season and the series closely but with a little less enthusiasm than they normally have. The war and worries about Jack temper their excitement even for baseball but it is always that welcome distraction from work and the daily grind.
The Junior World Series is played in Baltimore and the Kavanagh’s are very interested in this one. The International League Orioles defeat the American Association Louisville Colonels and the family follows and roots the team on to the championship. Baltimore’s fans are passionate and in a frenzy when the Orioles take the pennant and local anticipation of the match up is at a fever pitch. Fans come out in droves and the Junior World Series outdraws the MLB World Series this year and the City is jubilant and celebrates with the club as they parade through town surrounded by cheering crowds. Major league baseball team owners take note of the rampant fan base that Baltimore has.
The USS Strickland is transferred to convoy duty in the North Atlantic now steaming between London and New York with no more trips to the Mediterranean. Jack is homesick as are most of the crew so this news is good news. They will be returning to New York more frequently now and there are hopes of Liberty and R and R but merely being in an American port will lift their spirits. It will be home if not their homes. They were rewarded with their first liberty a week ago in London. The crew including Jack were excited to see the sites and most of all to get off the ship. At the Shop, Eddie is finishing a bid on a brewery repair. He’s double checking his numbers and prices before calling in the quote. The crew are as busy as they can be. Ship parts are made and a fountain is being fabricated today as the work keeps coming. They are working five full days and a half-day Saturday. It’s what Leo and Eddie prefer. If they are doing that, they are making money and things are going right. Eddie’s mind drifts to his son, Jack. He has no idea where he is. The letters his son has written have told them they were sailing to Europe, but Eddie has no specifics. The Atlantic is a big ocean and he assumes his son is somewhere on the Atlantic but is not sure.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt wins an unprecedented fourth term to the presidency defeating Thomas Dewey in a landslide. The Kavanagh’s were staunchly Democrat by now and voted for Roosevelt though with more trepidation this time. The war is going on and it appears to be going well but no end is in sight and the family worries for Jack. They hope FDR and the Allied leaders can find an end and get to it soon.
Jack lays in his bunk reading his mail. His mother writes every day. Now that the ship has been at sea long enough, letters and anything from home become precious commodities. Jack has a large stash of letters from his Mother chpck full of details about things going on in the States, Baltimore anyway. Sailors and soldiers want to hear from home more than almost anything else. Jack is an industrious young man and is asked for his letters from many of his crew mates. He is more than happy to oblige charging only one cookie to read two letters. Several nights a week, the sailors receive four cookies for their dessert and because of his letters, Jack is able to stock up on cookies pretty well. In Baltimore, the Shop on Pratt and Central is spending a busy Tuesday finishing a job for James Distillery. It has been an ongoing repair and replacement with today a condenser being completed. Leo and Eddie are glad to see this one go out the door as it has been an ever-changing sequence of modifications to the existing distilling system but the customer is rewarded with a good strong product. Still, the Kavanagh’s are ready to move forward while the rest of their crew are laboring away at some pump chambers, valves, elbows and fittings for Navy ships. The Shop is staying busy, never missing a step this year.
Eddie and Annie are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at 434 N. Lakewood Avenue. Eddie’s parents are there, Joe and Johanna as well as Ed Jr. and his girl, Lillian. The dinner is delicious with all the holiday standards of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and parsnips. All ate their fill and the meal was very pleasant if not a little quieter than usual. After some pie for dessert, Young Ed and Lil are gone, out for a night of dancing and fun. Annie and Johanna are sorting through leftovers and cleaning up the kitchen while Joe and Eddie listen to the latest news on the radio.
“There are a lot more to put away this year. More leftovers. I should have expected it. Jack is always such a good eater and he loves Thanksgiving.” says Annie as she frowns down at a plate of parsnips that is still half covered.
Johanna turns to her daughter-in-law replying, “Well, it was a delicious dinner. The turkey was perfect and next Thanksgiving Jack will get to enjoy it all.” She smiled but it felt like she was fighting to do so.
“I can’t even imagine what kind of Thanksgiving he’s having on that ship. I just know they are not feeding him properly and what about Christmas? What kind of Christmas dinner do they have?” She shakes her head then pauses a moment. “I’m so afraid he won’t come back, Mother.” Annie covers her eyes with a dish towel as she turns away from Johanna. “He’s such a good boy and I know he’s smart and I know he’ll be careful but I can’t stop being afraid for him. He’s my baby boy.” She slips into soft tears as she squeezes her eyes tight.
Johanna turns to her and looks into those eyes, “Listen Annie. Our Jack is going to be okay. I don’t know when or how but they are going to win this war. I know they will and I, for sure, know that Jack is coming home. You hear me.” She placed a reassuring hand on Annie’s shoulder and continued, “One thing I know is Jack is going to come walking through that door one day soon.” Sweeping her hand to point to the door that looked over the back yard and alley. “He will come right through that door. I guarantee it, dear. He will.” The two slipped into a hug with Annie nodding her head emphatically.
The Kavanagh’s attend Sunday mass at the Visitation Convent. They spend the day with Sister Mary Agnes(Aunt Anna) and she is thrilled to hear the latest news. Ed and his girlfriend Lillian are getting married. Ed proposed on Thanksgiving night and she accepted. They are to be married on Valentine’s Day of next year. She congratulates Ed and is pleased to meet Lil and the family is very excited especially with so much wrong at the moment, a wedding is a pick-me-up for them all.
The Christmas Party at the Joseph Kavanagh Company is held this Friday and it is a more somber and smaller affair than in years past. The Kavanagh’s invite fewer customers because it seems more of a time for family and good friends. Those customers who they have known for years and deal with regularly are there as are the Shop’s crew. There are heaping platters of ham and turkey with assorted side dishes, a few pies made my Johanna and beer and rye whiskey. The family does have something to celebrate and look forward to next year because Ed Jr. is marrying Lillian Fetsch. There is much hugging and back slapping for young Ed and welcoming words for Lil. Apart from the impending nuptials, the talk is about the Shop and the holiday but soon morphs into discussion of our American boys at war. The enthusiasm for the war has been tempered now with a realistic understanding of how many lives may be lost in this conflict. The news is mostly good with France freed and the Japanese seeming to be on the run in the Pacific. The party goers toast our troops and our great nation then pray for an end to this war. Joe leads them all in song and despite the worry hanging over them all, they welcome Christmas and prepare for a New Year. The volume of work at the Shop has kept up steam through the entire year and there is a month’s worth of jobs to start 1945. The business is doing well and there is a wedding next year. The Kavanagh’s need only two things to make things perfect. An end to this Second World War and the safe return of Jack.
The USS Strickland is docked in Plymouth, England for a few days to observe the holiday. A large Christmas dinner is planned and sponsored by the Junior Red Cross of Kearny New Jersey High School. There is Western Maryland turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and more. The sailors are thrilled at the prospect of a real holiday feast especially after almost a year of Navy food. It is a boisterous dinner with joking and kidding each other. Jack sits with his bunk mates and chats; he does observe there are no parsnips which puzzles him. They speak of war; they have heard that France has been liberated from German occupation and take this as a good sign that things are going well. They talk excitedly of the delicious meal before them but most of the talk is of the US and how to get back there. These young men have a wonderful night and for a while, it feels like they are home, but as it closes, they know that they are not. They miss their families, friends and their country. They are far from home and they still have no idea when they will return.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is re-elected as the President of the United States. The Academy Awards are held at Grauman’s Chinese theater for the first time with Casablanca winning Best Picture. The Office of Strategic Services or OSS is formed and will later become the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA. Harvard Mark, IBM’s first computer is dedicated. Smokey the Bear first appears in United States Forest Service Ads. “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” premiers on radio. Joe Frazier, Diana Ross, George Lucas, Frank Oz, and Richard Belzer are born.
There are 48 states in the Union.
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