Tag Archives: World War II

Gobsmacked!

I am absolutely blown away. In writing my autobiography, or a couple of memoirs, whatever-the-hell-it-is I’m doing, I’ve found it necessary to do some research to confirm things like locations, relationships, personal history, even a little genealogy.

I’ve never been big on family history, but I’ve been told or have heard things throughout my life that fill in a few blanks. For instance, as far as I know my paternal grandfather was an orphan from Poland who settled in (what I grew up knowing as) “The Ukraine.” His last name, as my father spelled it, was Wladofsky. My mother’s maiden name was Moldofsky and, since the suffix “sky” means “from”, I’m pretty sure that means her family was from Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the southwest. There is also a town in the far east of Poland, right on the border of Ukraine, called Wlodowa. It’s conceivable that’s where Wladowsky (Wladofsky, Wladovsky) comes from.

Regardless, as I’ve said I haven’t really been terribly interested in discovering much of this. However, I have on occasion attempted to search the database of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to see if I could find anything. I’ve not been successful, until today.

The real irony here is that I haven’t found anything about my paternal grandparents or my maternal great grandparents (my maternal grandparents where born in the U.S.) but I finally found a listing of someone. It’s not an immigration record, though. It’s a record of my father returning to New York, via Dublin, Ireland from a Murmansk Run during WWII. He was born in Chicago, but quite high school to join the U.S. Navy and was deployed aboard the U.S.S. William H. Webb.

All these years I thought he was aboard a United States Navy vessel, but I know now he was part of the Navy referred to as the Navy Armed Guard. These were small detachments of sailors who manned the guns on merchant ships. I believe the William H. Webb was a merchant ship outfitted with guns that were manned by the 29 sailors aboard a vessel which also included 41 merchant seamen. My father was the lone radioman.

Here’s what is said about the Navy Armed Guard: “The U.S. Navy Armed Guard was a service branch of the United States Navy that was responsible for defending U.S. and Allied merchant ships from attack by enemy aircraft, submarines and surface ships during World War II. The men of the Armed Guard served primarily as gunners, signal men and radio operators on cargo ships, tankers, troop ships and other merchant vessels. Disbanded following the end of the war, the Armed Guard is today little known or remembered by the general public, or even within the Navy. But without the courage and sacrifice of the men of the Armed Guard, victory in World War II would have been much more difficult and taken much longer.” https://www.armed-guard.com/.

He seldom talked about it, but when I was a child I learned early not to be near his arms when waking him up for dinner. He came out of sleep ready for action. I always “knew” the reason, but never felt it quite as clearly as I do now. I’m attaching a portion of the document that’s the very first thing I’ve ever encountered about his service, other than a certificate he received on February 23, 1944 upon their vessel crossing above the Arctic Circle which I’ve had since his death in 1984. I had to fight back tears. I’m still getting goose bumps.

I don’t expect to suddenly go off in a full-blown genealogical search for my roots, but I have found a few other threads I’d like to pull on. I must, however, ensure it all serves my greater purpose, which is finishing this book (whatever) of mine fairly soon. Certainly before the end of next year.

PS – His name before he and my mother changed it when they got married, was Isadore Edward Wladofsky and he was a Radioman 3rd Class aboard the William H. Webb, all of which is included in the full document of which I’m sharing only a part.


Manzanar & Toyo Miyatake

In the Spring of 2018, my wife’s niece arranged for a few members of the family to take some portrait photos. She chose the studio of Toyo Miyatake, a photographer who was imprisoned in the Manzanar concentration camp, during World War II. My wife is Sansei (3rd generation Japanese-American) and grew up on Monterey Park, CA, where most of her family continues to reside. The studio is currently being run by his son, Archie, who took some wonderful pictures of my wife, our daughters, and her mother, sister, and niece.

Caption on photo reads “War Relocation Center – Manzanar, California”

The studio is in San Gabriel and it’s filled with lots of photos taken by Toyo and Archie and I snapped some pics with my phone to share. I didn’t get around to doing anything until now, for reasons I’m incapable of reciting. Nevertheless, here they are. In looking for information on Toyo and Manzanar, I came across the Densho Encyclopedia, which has this to say about their work:

From the Densho Encyclopedia’s website:

The Densho Encyclopedia is a free and publicly accessible website that provides concise, accurate, and balanced information on many aspects of the Japanese American story during World War II. It is designed and written for a non-specialist audience that includes high school and college students and instructors, multiple generations of Nikkei community members, confinement sites preservation groups, amateur and professional historians, librarians, journalists, documentarians, and the general public.

The Encyclopedia is thoroughly cross indexed and articles are linked to relevant primary and secondary materials from the Densho archive and from other websites that include still and moving images, documents, databases, and oral history interview excerpts as well as standard bibliographical sources.

https://encyclopedia.densho.org/about/
Caption on left reads, “Manzanar Spring 1944”

The history of America’s treatment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII is a stain on everything this country is “supposed” to stand for, yet rarely seems to be able to provide. It was the result of racism and chauvinism, of nationalism and white supremacy. It set the Japanese-American community back years, if not decades, especially for those families whose property was stolen by white citizens who remained behind. Some were able to reclaim their homes and farms, but many didn’t. Toyo Miyatake was imprisoned here in California, at Manzanar. Here is what the Densho Encyclopedia has to say about his time there.

From the Densho Encyclopedia’s website:

The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar. While there, Miyatake met and began a longtime collaboration with Ansel Adams, who wanted to capture candid photos of people there; the two men later published their work together in the book Two Views of Manzanar. Miyatake’s groundbreaking Manzanar photographs have also been featured in a 2012 exhibition at the Eastern California Museum called “Personal Responsibility: The Camp Photos of Toyo Miyatake.”

https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Toyo_Miyatake/

The collage I’m sharing, below, is of Archie recreating one of his father’s more iconic photos. He was able to find the now grown men who were originally pictured in Manzanar and bring them to the site for the shoot. I think the photos are pretty self explanatory, but the second row has the money shots, IMO.

Manzanar then and now!

I’ll share three more photos I took while we were there. The photo on the left is of a portion of the front of the studio, where much of Archie’s work is displayed. It was there I saw large photos of people like Condoleezza Rice and Vin Scully, in addition to many others. The center photo is of Archie shooting photos of my family, which consisted of my wife, my MIL and SIL, along with My SIL’s daughter (our niece), her grand daughter by her other daughter (deceased) and our two daughters. The photo on the right is a collage of photos Archie took at the wedding of “Uncle” George Takei and Brad Altman. Click on any of the pics to see a larger version.

Aaaand . . . since I’ve mentioned George and Brad, I have one more photo to share, below these three. On September 19, 2019, Linda and I attended a talk at The Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, in Hollywood, where George was discussing his newest book, “They Called Us Enemy.” We purchased a copy and, while waiting in line to get it autographed, Brad walked through the line greeting everybody. We got a nice photo with him. Here’s how George’s book has been described:

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s-and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future. In a stunning graphic memoir, Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon-and America itself-in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/12579768

Linda, Brad, & Moi

Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety on November 7th of this year.  He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I’m reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother often came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


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