1945 Two Sons in the Sunset

January 4

1945 starts with the world at war, Jack Kavanagh serving in the Navy and the Shop is as busy as it could be. The Kavanagh brothers, Leo and Eddie, have work scheduled on the books through February. Eddie’s wife Annie has joined the Red Cross Ladies Auxiliary to support the war effort, her son and to do anything she can to help. She aids in making bandages and care packages to send off to the boys overseas. She worries so much for Jack that she thought this would be a way to contribute to the cause plus take her mind off her concerns. She still writes him daily though some weeks she packs seven letters into a large envelope and sends them off all at once. She has found out from Jack’s return correspondences that he usually receives the letters in a bulk amount whenever mail call reaches the ship.

February 4

President Roosevelt meets with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Leader Josef Stalin in Yalta, Crimea in the Soviet Union. Over the next week, the end of the war is discussed and preliminary plans made for a post-war Europe. There is much good news on the European Front while the war in the Pacific is still being more strongly contested by the Japanese. Allied troops are closing in on Germany from both sides.

February 14

Ed Kavanagh Junior marries Lillian Fetsch at Baltimore’s City Hall on this Valentine’s Wednesday. Lillian is not Catholic and so they can not marry in the church but the family is happy for the couple and welcome Lillian with open arms. Ed and his wife will live with his parents at 434 N. Lakewood Avenue until they find their own place. Ed has finished his time in the Quartermaster’s Corps and is back to working full time at the Joseph Kavanagh Company. He and Lil head to Atlantic City tomorrow for a long honeymoon weekend.

Ed's Wedding2
Ed Kavanagh Jr. & Lillian Fetsch’s Wedding Picture. February 14, 1945.

February 28

Pratt and Central stays very busy with more ship work and jobs from the alcohol industry. Today, two slop coolers are fabricated for Sherwood Distillery, the customer that purchased the first still from the original Joseph Kavanagh so very long ago. A slop cooler does exactly what it sounds like. It drops the temperature of the slop, the fermenting material that are passed through the still to create alcohol. The Shop’s crew make these all the time and they are quickly rolled and hammered into shape, all the apparatus attached and then are delivered as quoted to Sherwood. It’s a cold last day of February but the work keeps them warm and makes the day pass quickly.

Shop’s Job book entry. Two slop coolers fabricated for Sherwood Distillery. February 28, 1945.

March 6

Leo and Eddie read of the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific, a long bombardment and a very difficult amphibious assault on the island. The US Marines and Navy are finally successful and the American flag is raised in victory. Confidence is getting higher that the war may be ending. The Germans are under assault and squeezed between their enemies while Japan’s network of islands under their influence is shrinking. Eddie wonders where his son is; he knows Jack is in the Pacific now having received letters from his son saying so. He puffs on his cigarette in silence while his brother resumes working on some sketches of a still condenser. He prays for his son’s return safely and as quickly as possible. His wife has missed Jack so much, she’s been fraught with worry. Eddie has always consoled her and assured her that Jack would be fine but he has had the same fears and worries. He wants his boy back. He crushes the butt of the cigarette in an ashtray and calls Globe Brewery. They ordered several custom bolts and they are ready and will be delivered this afternoon.

Shop’s job book entry for March 6, 1945 detailing some special bolts made for the Globe Brewery.

March 10

Jack Kavanagh wanders around the machine Shop on the USS Strickland, checking on different crewman’s jobs and the machines they are using. Due to his experience, he has taken on a supervisory role in the machine shop. A variety of parts are made as shafts, gears and many other pieces need repair and replacement on a ship. They have been re-assigned to the Pacific Front and while on their way, the boys long for home but go about their jobs and do their best to keep their spirits up. They love Liberty and have visited some interesting places and they find ways to enjoy themselves on the Strickland. Still, mostly there are day-to-day duties, the now rare and brief air assaults and the longing for their homes. Once he is off duty, Jack settles onto his bunk looking through his notebook/journal. Jack has recorded some details from his time aboard the Strickland, stops they’ve made, repairs he’s done and a careful accounting of his money. Jack records his pay and any expenditures as well as a few loans. Jack is an industrious lad and not one to spend all of his money on Liberty nor does he need to send money home. He’s not married and lives with his parents so he has begun lending out cash to different fellows. He records these transactions carefully in his book and makes a small bit of interest on each one. His friends are grateful to Jack for being able to “spiff” them some cash until payday and there is no ill will. The other boys do tend to go all out on Liberty and they burn through what cash they have. Jack is different. While the other boys are having a few too many and even getting tattooed, Jack drinks with them but at his own pace. As he told me many times, I don’t have a tattoo because try as they might, they could never get me drunk enough.

Jack Kavanagh’s Navy diary entry. A list of some of his shipmates and the money he had lent them. USS Strickland. 1945.

March 20

Allied troops cross the Rhine River in Germany and move closer and closer to Berlin while the Russians approach from the East. The Germans are caught between the two forces. What has been a long slow war in Europe finally seems to be reaching its climax and its end.

April 12

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies, succumbing to polio. Vice President Harry S. Truman becomes the 33rd President of the United States. The news spreads quickly over the radio and the papers are full of the shocking story. The Kavanagh’s grieve with all Americans and experience several days of a nation-wide shock. Roosevelt was in his fourth term and having served as president for twelve years, he carried the nation’s trust whether people supported his policies or not. The Kavanagh’s voted for him and gave him a great deal of credit for ending the Great Depression. Truman is not very well known and he was an outsider in the Roosevelt administration. The country and the Kavanagh family mourn for FDR and will pass that trust onto Truman who must take on the ominous mantle of leading a nation and winning a war.

April 29

The end of the war in Europe seems closer by the day. Today the radio issued a report that former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had been captured and executed by his own people. Americans hang on every story and tidbit from the war, watching as the Allies take these final measured steps to victory

May 8

Today becomes known as V-E Day(Victory in Europe) as Germany unconditionally surrenders to the Allies and the conflict in Europe is at an end. It is revealed that German leader, Adolph Hitler committed suicide over a week earlier in his bunker, leaving his subordinates to handle the surrender. The United States is mad with celebration and relief. The Japanese are still fighting in the Pacific so there is still war but peace in Europe is welcomed as a just victory for the world. The Kavanagh’s celebrate with the rest of the country but their enthusiasm is tempered by their concern for Jack who is now involved in the fight against the Japanese.

June 13

The Shop rolls on with work lined up for over a month in advance. Leo and Eddie’s crew are working six days a week including a half day on Saturdays. The mood of the country including the Kavanagh’s and crew is very upbeat. They realize that the war is not over but defeating the Axis in Europe has buoyed everyone’s confidence. It’s a hot summer day but the breeze is cooling. It cuts through the front garage door of the Pratt Street building and is a soothing relief to the Shop’s workers. They work on their standard distillery and ship parts but also a fountain is made today. Holes are drilled in copper sheet which is then turned into tube. That same tube is curved slowly into a circle and becomes the sprayer tube of the fountain, controlling and releasing the water flow from it. This is standard coppersmith work and absolutely standard to the Joseph Kavanagh Company.

July 4

Independence Day is celebrated at 434 N. Lakewood Avenue by the Kavanagh’s. Eddie and Annie have invited Eddie’s parents, Joe and Johanna, and his brother, Leo and his family for a cook out. Hot dogs and hamburgers are grilled and the family takes the short walk to Patterson Park to watch fireworks in the warm humid evening. Leo and Maymie’s daughter Mary is there and Ed Jr. and Lillian, of course. Three generations of the family celebrate liberty and the end of the war in Europe. The party is fun but for Annie, with all of them there, Jack’s absence is even more obvious. There is still war in the Pacific Ocean and Jack is in the Navy. She is happy to have family around but Jack is her baby and she misses her son. After the family leaves, Ed Jr. and Lillian head out for the night, Eddie sits at the kitchen table reading the paper while his wife deals with the after party mess. He knows Jack is on her mind.

“Europe is just the start, Annie. The war over in the Orient will be finished soon too. I’m sure of it.” Eddie says to Annie reading her face.

“I’m more worried now than ever, Eddie. The war over there is different than Europe. It’s all these islands and it could take a very long time. We know it will be a lot of Navy fighting and what if they invade Japan? I worry for him.” Annie pauses and shakes her head in frustration. She stands from the table and puts the last of the dishes away.

Eddie unwraps a stick of Doublemint gum, “I know it’s different with these islands but the US and the rest can focus completely on Japan now. It won’t take long, Annie. They will have some plan cooked up. I’m sure. They have had meetings. I am sure they have some great strategy or plan to bring peace to the rest of the world.”

“I know they do.” Annie turns to face her husband, “but I am allowed to worry for Jack and I can’t help it. I want him home. That’s all. He’s been gone too long and I want him home. Whatever they do, I hope it works fast. I want this over fast and I want him home.” She finishes, her eyes dark with sadness but not with tears.

Eddie steps to her and places his arms around her waist, “Let’s pray whatever it is works fast.”

July 27

The USS Strickland is conducting a series of exercises in preparation for the invasion of Japan. They arrived in Pearl Harbor several days earlier and set to readying for an assault. On this Friday night, some of the crew are on Liberty in Hawaii. What will likely be the last one they are able to enjoy before setting off for Japan. Jack draws the short straw and has deck guard duty from 10 pm to 2 am. The men are required to return by midnight and they do, signing in to mark their return. They are all in a festive mood and several are certainly intoxicated. Still off duty, they return to their bunks below deck. Jack stands at his post looking into the darkness when one fellow who is particularly drunk returns to the deck. He takes several steps toward the gang plank as if he was about to leave the ship. Jack quickly steps forward and informs him that he should know he can not leave the ship after returning. He has to stay. That’s the rules. He becomes belligerent and tells Jack he’s going, no matter what. Jack draws his service pistol and tells this crew member that he can not go. The seaman turns on his heel and heads back down the stairs and enters the galley. He pulls open drawers and finds a knife. This time when he climbs onto the deck, he waves the knife around and makes it clear he intends to leave. He wants another drink. He steps toward Jack and lunges forward. Metalsmith 3rd Class Jack Kavanagh has only fired his pistol in training but he has been trained. He pulls the trigger and shoots the crewman in the left shoulder. As the sailor collapses, alarms are sounded all over the ship. Jack is questioned and when the details are sorted out, the wounded crewman is patched up and taken to the brig. Jack is shaken up but he knows he did the right thing. He is congratulated by his superiors, the officers assuring him he did his duty and the rogue sailor will be prosecuted under military law. Jack returns to his bunk at 2 AM for a very fitful sleep. His first and only direct man-to-man combat is shooting another sailor.

An entry from Jack Kavanagh’s Navy Diary with several sketches of ship parts and sections that were repaired and replaced via the ship’s machine Shop. 1945.

July 29

The Strickland’s crew are restless and worried but they are kept busy in training, now sailing in the Pacific. If Japan is invaded by the Allies, it will take a great deal of men and the cost in lives could be significant. Jack and his crew mates know this and they face the reality that is set before them. Japan has not surrendered under heavy bombardment by American planes and is determined to ride it out. Each of the young Navy boys on the ship prepare, in their own way, for whatever could come. Perhaps influenced by the events of two days ago or merely the fear he feels, Jack writes a letter to Mr. and Mrs. America in his Navy diary, a letter he assumes will never be read unless he is killed. He does not finish it but he reveals what is on the crew’s minds. Home. They long for it. They fear this war and the next step in it. but more than anything they miss home. For now, they drill and practice in anticipation of an attack on the Empire of Japan.

Jack Kavanagh’s Navy Diary entry. A letter to Mr. and Mrs. America about what he and his fellow sailors were going through and how they longed for home. August 1945.

August 6

The United States drops an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. In July, President Truman approved the use of four atomic bombs on Japanese cities if the Empire did not surrender. Despite efforts from the Allies to engage Japan in serious peace negotiations, the war is no closer to an end. At 8:15 am local time, Colonel Paul Tibbets and the crew of the Enola Gay released the bomb and the detonation was successful. A blinding flash of light and heavy shock waves are the result as the initial implosion was overwhelming, equaling twelve kilotons of dynamite. Fifty thousand people die in an instant and another thirty thousand die within days. The world changes.

August 7

Leo and Eddie enjoy a smoke after lunch in the small Shop office. The crew have ten more minutes, then Eddie will be out and getting them back to their tasks. For now, the Kavanagh brothers discuss this atomic bomb that the US used on the Japanese. It’s a big bomb it seems. Bigger than any ever before, a bomb that can destroy a city. Eddie is all for anything that keeps his boy safe. Dropping bombs on cities sounds better than trying to land on them. They do wonder at how so much power and destruction can be put into a bomb but they know it’s science and a new discovery of a source of power. This may just be the tip of the iceberg.

August 9

The US drops a second bomb on a Japanese city, this time Nagasaki. Japan has shown no signs of capitulating and the response is the dropping of “Fat Man,” the second of the US nuclear devices. The devastation is as it was at Hiroshima and the Japanese have no choice but to surrender. At least another forty thousand people die in Nagasaki. The eventual death toll from the two nuclear bombs is approximately 150,000 by the end of the year.

August 14

The war is over and peace is at hand as Japan unconditionally surrenders, the Emperor making a live broadcast over the radio. Today is V-J Day (Victory in Japan) and the country is jubilant, the Kavanagh’s included. They know it is over and Jack will be coming home. They don’t know when yet, but the fighting is done. Annie is more relieved than she’s ever been and she can’t wait to hug her son when he gets back. The nation goes into a frenzy of celebration from coast to coast. Almost as one, Americans cheer our boys and their safe return. World War Two comes to a close and the work of divvying up the peace and planning the future soon becomes vitally important. The Allies post-war work will decide the status of the world for the next fifty years.

August 17

The Shop is working overtime on a 24 hour emergency repair for United Distillers of America. Twelve hour shifts are run for three men until the job is completed. The still has failed and was leaking and the customer needed this done immediately. Union over time wages of $1.50/hr. are used and the U.D.A. is charged time and material for the job which involves replacing twenty-three perforated plates in the still itself. It’s a hot day to work such long hours but the crew push through it. This is what they are trained for but their first choice for overtime would be March or October.

Shop’s Job book entry. Emergency repair for United Distillers of America. August 17, 1945.

September 12

The country is still riding high with excitement at the end of the war and the Kavanagh’s are no different, but they still have the Shop and the day-to-day. Peace puts a smile on most people’s faces even as they work through their normal jobs. The Shop enjoys a warm Fall day of heating, hammering and bending copper. Pump chambers are made for ships, several orders for spare distilling parts are dealt with and three men fabricate a stair rail. Brass moldings are heated carefully then slowly bent around wooden blocks to achieve the railing’s shape. It’s a meticulous job but one that a skilled coppersmith can handle easily. The beat goes on in this year at the Joseph Kavanagh Company.

October 2

Jack and the rest of his crew mates are still celebrating in their hearts the end of the war. When the news hit that Japan had surrendered, the ship bursts into a raucous party. The officers do their best to keep the men in check and attending to their duties but the joyful spirits are tough to quell. They still have jobs to do and there are many things that need to be done after a war. The Strickland continues escorting Navy and commercial ships around the Pacific. Today they arrive in Tokyo Bay to see for the first time, the land of their enemy, the nation that attacked the US and that we have fought against for four years. The Strickland accompanied three merchant ships from the Marshal Islands on their way to Tokyo. Jack looks at Tokyo from the deck of the ship and it is overwhelming to finally be here but not to be at war. They will not have to invade, the fighting is over but still, he stands staring at the place he most dreaded to see. The US is victorious and Jack is proud of his country and the part he and his fellow sailors played, but he has had enough. He wants to go home. He wants to go back to Baltimore.

Dad and crew on deck of USS Strickland
Crew of the USS Strickland on its deck. Water damaged . Jack Kavanagh is crouching down second from the right. 1945.

October 10

The Detroit Tigers win the World Series, defeating the Chicago Cubs in seven games. The Tigers were led by third baseman Eddie Mayo and pitcher Hal Newhouser, the latter besting the former in a close contest for Most Valuable Player of the American League. Newhouser led the A.L. in wins, strikeouts and earned run average to capture the Pitching Triple Crown. The Cubs won ten more in the regular season than Detroit and were led by National League MVP Phil Cavarretta, their first baseman. It will be the Cubs last World Series appearance for over sixty years. The series was a close one with Newhouser pitching a complete game victory in the deciding contest. The Kavanagh’s followed the series, rooting for the Tigers due to the Ty Cobb connection and it was much easier to relax in their favorite past time this year once the war was over.

November 24

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is spent visiting Sister Mary Agnes, Leo and Eddie’s sister Anna, at the Visitation Convent on Roland Park Avenue. Her parents, Joe and Johanna along with their sons and families celebrate Mass with her and spend a chilly but pretty Fall day on the grounds. She tells them about her teaching and her students, more and more she is sure that God’s calling was not only to serve but to teach. Aunt Anna is very joyful that her prayers for peace in the world have finally been answered. They speak of the Shop and the family, so much has happened this year with a wedding and now Jack’s eventual return. They visit Aunt Anna every month and they have grown accustomed to the rules of the order. The Visitation nuns are cloistered and in many ways it is very solitary but Anna always stays close to her family, writing letters frequently in addition to these visits. The Kavanagh’s are a close group and do all they can to keep it that way.

December 20

Jack Kavanagh receives the news he and his crew mates have been waiting to hear. They are just about finished their escort duties in the Pacific, and in January they will sail for San Diego, California. They will be going home. These young brave men are boys again as they find out the news. To a man, they cheer and hug each other then quickly dispatch letters to their loved ones. “We are coming home.”

December 24

The Shop’s party is a joyous one this year because the war is over and Jack will be coming home. He will muster out early next year, and the family, especially his mother, are thrilled that he is safe and wait anxiously for his return. The Kavanagh’s, customers, employees and friends party a little harder during this holiday. Peace and good will toward men really means something this year for them. The usual quick cleaning and decorating transforms the dirty Shop to a festive hall complete with tree. There is ample food, drink and song for all, perhaps even to excess but this year it’s understandable. Leo and Eddie are both in their fifties now and have looked into the future for their families and the Shop. They know they are on the back end of their time there. Years ahead of them but not nearly as many as are behind them. Before they know it, this place will fall to the next generation and the brothers will need to give thought to it. Eddie in particular considers that as their time passes, so soon shall it be his two sons’ time. Ed Jr. is a good coppersmith but he lacks discipline and doesn’t take the job seriously enough for his father, but Jack, he has learned his skills quickly and does take the job seriously while still enjoying it. He genuinely likes what he’s doing and it shows in his labor. Eddie can’t wait for Jack to be home. He wants both his boys with him at the Shop where they belong. The Kavanagh’s greatly enjoy this year’s Shop party and at the end when their father and grandfather, Joe leads them all in “O Holy Night,” his family and all present sing with added vigor and renewed hope for more than a Merry Christmas but for a very Happy New Year.



Harry Truman is the President of the United States. The ball point pen is invented. Sylvester the Cat appears on film for the first time. Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel premiers on Broadway. The United Nations is formed. Jackie Robinson is signed to a contract by the Triple A Montreal Royals. The US and the Soviet Union divide Korea at the 38th parallel essentially establishing North and South Korea. Henry Winkler, Steve Martin, Carly Simon, Diane Sawyer and Divine are born.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Dad & Navy cronies on Liberty having a beer
The crew of the USS Strickland on Liberty. Metalsmith 3rd Class Jack Kavanagh in the back holding up a beer. 1945.

To read prior posts, click the Table of Contents Link below.

Table of Contents


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