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Personalized Pens: History in Your Hand

(This page revised April 6, 2019)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


Every pen collector has encountered, or will encounter, pens that have been personalized with their owners’ names. Most collectors, I think, shun these pens. A smaller number don’t care one way or the other, and what I would expect to be an even smaller number seek out personalized pens. This article will not tell you whether you should collect personalized pens; that’s very much a personal choice.

In general, I do not actively seek out personalized pens, but there are exceptions to this rule. When I encounter one, for example, that might have been carried into war by a soldier, sailor, flyer, or Marine, I want that pen. As a student of World War II, I find personal histories and memoirs of those who were on the ground, in ships, and in the air to be fascinating. The quest for pens with these sorts of connections leads me to check on the names I find on my pens, and when I find one that is interesting, I research that person further. Maybe the person did indeed fight in a war, and maybe not. But he or she is still interesting, and although not an important personage still important to those who knew and loved him or her.

This article contains sketches of the lives of about a dozen people, some of whom did great things and others who did not. All of them were ordinary people, living (mostly) ordinary lives, who happened to own pens on which their names were engraved (or scratched). Each of them has a history that deserves to be preserved and remembered.

Except for the first and last entries, the order of the profiles in this article has no particular significance.


Paul Anderson

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a Waterman’s Ideal No 7 “Ripple.” Introduced in 1926, rippled hard rubber, of which is pen is made, was Waterman’s desperate attempt to hold onto hard rubber while virtually all its competitor were switching to the more durable celluloid. Priced at $7.00, the No 7 came with the buyer’s choice of six (soon to be seven) nib styles designated by names of colors and indicated by the color of the band near the cap crown. The blue band on this pen identifies a stub nib. The pen bears the name PAUL L. ANDERSON on its barrel, and it has remained in my family ever since my grandfather bought it in 1927.

Boyhhood photo

Paul Lewis Anderson was born in Somerville, New Jersey, on October 8, 1880, to Edward Johnson “EJA” Anderson and his second wife, Isabel “Belle” Lewis Torrey Anderson, whom EJA had married in 1876, three years after the death of his first wife, Belle’s elder sister Louisa. (Belle, too, was widowed; her first husband had died in 1868 at the age of 29, and she was running a boardinghouse.) Paul was born into a ready-made family: in addition to his parents, residing at 160 Cliff Street in Somerville, were his half-brother Edward Lewis Anderson, 17 years of age, half-sister Louisa Anderson, aged 15, and little Hazel, his two-year-old sister. In his boyhood, Paul’s dress and coiffure followed the current fashion, led by the ringlets and breeches of Little Lord Fauntleroy (photo of Paul aged about five years old, to the left).

Row houseThe family was comfortably situated; EJA was the comptroller of the state treasury, and he was also serving as the state’s fish commissioner. In addition to the house in Somerville, he also had a substantial home in a row house at 210 West State Street in Trenton (shown to the right), to be near the seat of government.

Paul did his college preparatory work at Leal’s School in Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1901, he graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in electrical engineering. For a few years, he actually practiced that profession, but his artistic inclination soon won out. He took up photography in 1907, and by 1910 he had set himself up as a pictorialist, learning the trade under the tutelage of Alfred Stieglitz, who led the Photo-Secessionist movement in the early years of the 20th century. Anderson later had a falling-out with Stieglitz and went his own way. He became an associate of Britain’s Royal Photographic Society and remained an award-winning photographer for the rest of his productive life, showing in galleries throughout the United States and abroad as well as in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Mary Green AndersonPaul met and fell in love with Mary Lyon Green, and the two were married on August 22, 1910, in East Orange New Jersey. They took up residence with Mary’s parents in a large Second Empire house at 36 Washington Street in East Orange, and they lived there, raising daughters Priscilla (born March 18, 1912) and Ruth (born November 28, 1916) there and staying firmly planted even as Ruth’s husband Raymond Collins set up an ophthamology office in half of the first floor.

A DryadIn his later years, Paul became good friends with famed photographer Edward Weston (fl. 1910–1950), and for years the two carried on a friendly argument about whether Weston’s wire-sharp focus (achieved with the best modern lenses of the time) or Anderson’s soft focus (achieved principally through his use of the Struss Pictorial Lens) was better for artistic purposes. Paul won the argument by producing a wire-sharp picture of a dead mackerel on a plate.

James Clerk Maxwell had proven nearly half a century before Paul L. Anderson’s time that color photography was possible (if not simple); but Anderson, like many of his colleagues, preferred to leave color to the painters, insisting that color was a sensual medium while black-and-white was a truly aesthetic medium. Shown to the right is “A Dryad,” which was commissioned to be shown by the Chicago Camera Club.

Paul did not stop with photography. He had always shown a bent for writing, and he became recognized as a better-than-average poet by his college classmates. As an adult, he began writing short stories for outdoorsmen’s magazines. Short stories grew into novels, and in the late 1920s he published a pair of novels about life in a New England prep school. As his daughters grew, he felt moved to show Priscilla, who was studying Latin in high school, that ancient Rome wasn’t as boring as Latin textbooks portrayed it. Over about a decade he wrote several novels, specifically designed for high-school students, featuring life as the Romans knew it. The prep-school tales are all but forgotten, while all but one of his Roman novels are still in print. (His grandson laments the loss of the manuscript for his unpublished novel The Wrath of Ba’al Hammon, set in Carthage.)

Paul was also a better-than-average hand at carpentry and gimmickry. Because he considered sewing machine treadles a waste of effort, he mounted an electric motor on Mary’s machine. The machine and its electric motor were still in perfect working order half a century later.

Paul had been a star athlete in college, playing lacrosse and competing in gymnastics — including the flying rings, now outlawed because of the danger — but in 1954, as diabetes took an increasing toll on Paul’s mobility, the family finally bowed to the inevitable and moved to a less massive domicile in Short Hills, New Jersey. He lived only another two years, dying aged 75 on September 15, 1956. Mary survived him by 17 years. She died at 91 years of age on October 2, 1973. Paul’s legacy lives on in his great-grandson, also named Paul, who developed a flair for photography and continues to sell his work at art fairs in New England.

Alfred Abelson

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a Mabie Todd Swan “Military” pen that was made in New York during World War I. It got the “Military” designation because it is what is known as a trench pen. In a trench pen, ink pellets kept in a compartment at the back end of the barrel were mixed with water in the pen’s barrel to produce ink. This invention eliminated the need to obtain and carry liquid ink, a near impossibility under trench-warfare combat conditions — and forbidden in some cases, probably because fragments from a glass ink bottle could do serious damage to a soldier who was otherwise uninjured by the bullet that shattered his ink bottle. The pen’s broad cap band bears a neat hand-engraved inscription reading Alfred Abelson 6–4–18.

Did Alfred Abelson carry his Swan off to the war Over There?

Alfred's draft registrationAlfred Andrew Abelson was a blue-eyed blond, born in Bodø, Norway, on June 3, 1888. Arriving in the United States on May 19, 1910, he made his way to Duluth, Minnesota, where he found work as a carpenter. His first American residence was at 1014 8th Avenue East, in the home of his elder brother Hans J. Abelson, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1902 with his wife Thale.

Recruitment poster
This poster, or one similar to it, might have influenced Al­fred to join the Army Air Service.

When America raised the call in June 1917 for all men between the ages of 21 and 31 to register for conscription, Alfred, who had not yet taken citizenship, went down on the first day and registered as an alien. His registration form is shown, front and back, to the left. He was called up in 1918, and on June 11, 1918, one week to the day after the date of the inscription on his pen, he was inducted into the U.S. Army. I believe the pen was a going-away gift from someone, possibly a starry-eyed young woman or possibly his brother and sister-in-law. Alfred was assigned Service Number 3451024. After he went through basic training, he was assigned to the 864th Aero Squadron and sent to the Air Service Mechanics School in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was training to work on airplanes when the war ended. He was mustered out on January 25, 1919, so no, he did not carry his pen off to war — but he probably did use it to write letters home during his time in the Army.

After his Army discharge, he returned to his home with Hans and Thale, where he stayed for two or three years, and to his work as a carpenter. On September 3, 1920, he became an American citizen. By 1922, he had moved to 1009 East 8th Street and established himself as a contractor. He married Ida Alette Haagensen, probably in 1924, and as they raised their son Kermit and daughters Alice and Hjordis, the Abelsons lived in a series of homes through the years. In 1930, he was working on a poultry farm as a carpenter, and by 1940 he had restarted his contracting business. When he registered for the World War II draft in 1942, he was working in a shipyard for the Zenith Dredge Company, a harbor construction firm that shelved all work but shipbuilding for the duration of the war emergency.

The final piece of information I have found about Alfred Abelson is a short article from The Daily Plainsman, of Huron, South Dakota. Dated Sunday, September 7, 1958, it reads as follows:

Rain Contributes To Fatal Mishap
United Press International

Alfred Abelson, 66, Duluth, Minn, died in a Duluth hospital early Saturday of injuries received when he was struck by a car at a residential intersection here during a rainstorm Friday night. The death raised the Minnesota traffic death count to 460 for the year compared with 420 at this time a year ago. Abelson was struck down as he tried to dash across a street to get out of the rain, witnesses said. Vincent J. Nowa. 39, Duluth, driver of the car, was not held.


Alfred Lindow

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a Sheaffer Balance Defender, the larger non-Lifetime member of Sheaffer’s military-clip line from 1941 and 1942. It sold for $5.00. Military clips allowed pens to sit low in the pocket so that they would not appear bulky and disarrange the pocket flap, as required by the U.S. military establishment. By extending the clip and wrapping it over the top of the cap so that it mounts on the back side, Sheaffer maintained the streamlined look that had characterized the Balance since its inception a little over a decade earlier. On its barrel, the pen bears the following four-line inscription, engraved by a pantograph following the handwriting on a sheet of paper:

Lindow
U.S.S. San Juan
Sept. 27, 1942
Dec. 26, 1944

Alfred LindowAlfred Earl Lindow, Jr., was born in Houston, Texas, on September 16, 1920, to Alfred and Eva Lindow, of 2308 Russell Street. His only sibling was a brother, Kenneth, who was two years his junior. In the early 1930s, the family moved to 803 West Melwood Street.

Alfred Lindow in high schoolThe Lindow boys attended John H. Reagan Senior High School in Houston, from which Al (shown to the left in his sophomore yearbook photo) graduated in the class of 1938; he then attended Massey Business College. In 1940, Al still lived with his family and was earning a wage as a bookkeeper in a radio shop.

On May 12, 1942, Al enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was assigned Service Number 6247012. After boot camp and training in his specialty, he served in the Pacific Theater. He is shown to the right in a hand-colored photograph taken on his graduation from FC “A” school, the Navy’s training school for fire controlmen. Sent to Pearl Harbor on September 1, 1942, he was assigned to USS San Juan (CL-54), an Atlanta-class light anti-aircraft cruiser then undergoing repairs to a gun mount damaged during the early days of the Guadalcanal campaign. He reported aboard on September 27 as a Fire Controlman 3rd class, part of a team that was responsible for the operation of several types of range-finding equipment and for solving ballistics calculations to control the firing of the ship’s guns.

On October 5, San Juan, returned to the war in the South Pacific. Al’s first action was a raid 11 days later, in which the ship sank two Japanese patrol vessels, taking aboard the greatest number of Japanese prisoners captured in naval action to that time. Some of the prisoners were so bent on achieving an “honorable death” that their captors found it necessary to bind soft padding around their heads to keep them from bashing their own brains out against a bulkhead. After delivering her prisoners to the Marines on Espiritu Santo, San Juan joined the Enterprise task group just in time to engage in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, in which the carrier Hornet was sunk and Enterprise was damaged. San Juan also took damage, from a bomb that passed through her stern, flooding several compartments and damaging her rudder. She remained with the task force as far as Noumea and was then detached for repairs at Sydney, Australia.

Naval rank insigniaThe ship next operated in the Coral Sea, sometimes as part of a carrier task group and sometimes on her own; she then participated in the naval covering action for landings at Bougainville and Kwajalein. In December 1943, she was detached for overhaul art Mare Island, in California. San Juan rejoined Saratoga on January 19, 1944, to cover the occupation of Eniwetok in February. Around April 1, San Juan escorted Yorktown and Lexington in strikes against Palau, Yap, and Ulithi; a week later, she joined the new carrier Hornet to cover the landings at Hollandia. On April 29 and 30, the force struck at Truk, and on May 1, 1944, Al Lindow replaced the rating badge on his right sleeve with a new one as he was promoted to Fire Controlman 2nd class.

The Hornet task group began support of the Marianas campaign in early June, striking at Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima to suppress Japanese aerial attacks while American troops landed on Saipan. Later in the month, San Juan found herself guarding her carrier group during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, in which the American forces eliminated the Imperial Japanese Navy’s ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions. In July, the busy cruiser escorted Wasp and Franklin, covering the capture of Guam with strikes on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima. After a strike on Palau and Ulithi, she was ordered to San Francisco for overhaul. On her return to the South Pacific, San Juan was attached to the Lexington task group for strikes on Formosa and Luzon in support of landings on Mindoro.Weather-torn flag During this operation, San Juan was sent alone to within scouting range of Japanese airfields in an effort to draw out Japanese aircraft by radio deception, but the Japanese failed to take the bait. On December 19 and 20, 1944, the task group suffered badly in Typhoon Cobra and returned to the Navy’s advance base on Ulithi Atoll. Shown to the right is the flag that flew at San Juan’s masthead during the typhoon.

On December 25, as the Lexington task group was preparing to depart for its next mission, FC2c Alfred E. Lindow received orders to report to the Naval Training School at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., for advanced fire control training. He was detached from San Juan the next day.

Al Lindow in his later yearsAfter the war, Al returned to Houston, settled down to operate Houston Restaurant Supply for over 40 years with his father, and got married and raised a family. He and his wife Lucille had four children. He was a 32d degree Mason for over 50 years, served faithfully in the Lions Club, served as president of his neighborhood civic club, and was the general secretary for Sunday School at Garden Oaks Baptist Church.

Al loved gardening and was an avid orchid grower. He played softball and coached girls’ volleyball and baseball, and he and Lucille shared a passion for hunting. He died on January 8, 2014. The photo above and to the left, crooked smile and all, came from the February 2014 newsletter of his Lions Club district.

Lloyd Oehlert

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a Parker “striped” Duofold Junior, a model introduced in 1940. Parker referred to the longitudinally striated pattern, which contrasted with the lateral striations of the then-popular Vacumatic, as Laidtone. “Stripers” came in three colors, Dusty Red, Green and Gold, and Blue Pearl (the color of this pen), plus black, of course, and they were mostly fitted with Vacumatic fillers, although a few lower-priced models were button fillers. (This pen is a Vacumatic-filling model, and its date code indicates that it was made in the first three months of 1942.)

Oehlert and his crewLloyd George “Bud” Oehlert was born on June 21, 1922, probably in Kansas City, Kansas, to George W. and Lottie M. Oehlert of 3730 Ruby Avenue. On September 5, 1941, he married Lola Mae Leven, an Oklahoma native whose family had moved to Kansas City in the 1930s. The groom was 19 years of age, the bride 16.

During World War II, as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was assigned to the 335th Bombardment Squadron (shoulder patch below, to the right), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), in the 8th Air Force. Bud served as a bomber pilot, flying four-engined Boeing B-17G “Flying Fortress” aircraft. He is recorded as having flown 15 different aircraft on 19 combat missions from January 23 to April 17, 1945, all of them over various targets in Germany except the last, which was over Aussig, Czechoslovakia.

335th BS patchAt the end of the war in Europe, Bud Oehlert also flew two more aircraft on “mercy” missions (CHOWHOUND 1, May 1, 1945, flying Little Joe (tail number 48667) to carry food to The Hague; and REVIVAL MISSION 2, May 19, 1945, flying The Red Fox (tail number 48269) to bring POWs back to the U.K.). The aircraft under which he and his crew were photographed in the picture to the left, bearing tail number 2102455 and the name Screaming Eagle, was assigned to the 335th Squadron, but there is no record that Bud ever flew it as pilot. In this photo, Bud is at the right end of the front row; he was at that time the plane’s copilot.

Lloyd Oehlert retired from the USAAF as a captain. Before he went to war, he had been a welder; on his discharge, he returned to Lola and went to work for a food service machine company. Together Lloyd and Lola raised five daughters and one son. 1960 found him working as a superintendent for the KC Bolt, Nut & Screw Company.

Lloyd was a lifelong Roman Catholic. He died on September 11, 2010, in Bucyrus, Kansas, and he is buried in Queen of the Holy Rosary Church cemetery there. His beloved bride followed hin in death by three months, passing away on December 8, 2010. She is buried beside her husband of 69 years.

Postscript

I no longer own this pen. In July 2018, I gave it to my longtime friend Mark R. “Buzz” August to celebrate his promotion to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force.

august

Mark is a command pilot with more than 3,500 flying hours in the T-37, T-1, C-130E, C-130H, C-130J, C-12J, and UH-1N aircraft. He was involved in supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. From June 2007 to June 2008, as commanding officer of the 37th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base in Japan, he supported three combatant commanders, and he has also served in several other critical command positions. From June 2012 to June 2017, he was the Assistant Deputy Director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration for Air Mobility Command. As of this writing, Mark serves as Commander, 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Charles McNicol

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

StickerThe pen above is a Sheaffer Balance Valiant, the larger Lifetime member of Sheaffer’s military-clip line from 1941 and 1942. It sold for $10.00, and that should perhaps have been a clue that its owner did not fight in World War II. Military clips allowed pens to sit low in the pocket so that they would not appear bulky and disarrange the pocket flap, as required by the U.S. military establishment. By extending the clip and wrapping it over the top of the cap so that it mounts on the back side, Sheaffer maintained the streamlined look that had characterized the Balance since its inception a little over a decade earlier. To indicate that its products conformed to military requirements, Sheaffer affixed to the inside of its box covers the paper sticker shown to the right.

McNicol's homeCharles Aloysius McNicol was born on February 28, 1873, in East Liverpool, Ohio, the youngest of seven children of Patrick and Ellen McNicol. Both of his parents were Irish immigrants, and Patrick worked in the manufacture of earthenware. Charles followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a superintendent for the Standard Pottery Company of East Liverpool. He worked for Standard until he retired.

Until 1902, Charles lived in his family’s home at 23712 Fifth Street; in that year he stood up in St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church to marry Rebecca Kenney, who was a year or so his senior, and the couple moved to 667 Lincoln Avenue. Their new home was the left half of the duplex shown in the photograph to the left (photo © 2015 Google, Inc.). And therein lies a tale. Over the next few decades, the McNicol residence moved to 669 Lincoln Avenue, the other side of the duplex, and then to 669B, indicating that the building had been cut up into apartments. 669B was on the upper floor, at the back, sharing with 669C the entrance on the side of the building. The 1940 census lists their address as “669 Third Street.” There is a Third Street in East Liverpool, but there is not now, and never was, a 669 Third Street.

When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Charles was 44 years old, too old to be required to register for conscription. Later registrations, however, included men of his age, and in September 1918 he registered. His registration form records that he had gray eyes and brown hair.

On December 23, 1934, Rebecca died, leaving Charles a widower. Between then and 1940, he remarried; his second wife was the former Anna Cora Speaight, a spinster who was two years older than her new husband. In his 74th year, Charles left her a widow, on June 23, 1946.

Hugh Cowden

Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a Parker Vacumatic Shadow-Wave Junior in green. It was made in the third quarter of 1938. The Vacumatic, which had premiered in 1933, was an innovative pen with an ink capacity roughly twice that of competing pens of its day; and with its dramatic Art Deco styling that featured alternating clear and colored celluloid striations, it was very attractive. It remained in production until 1948, although its ink capacity steadily declined as a result of design changes to streamline its shape and engineering refinements to keep it from leaking in the user’s pocket when taken up in an airplane.

Chicago Symphony Brass EnsembleHugh Alan Cowden was born on April 9, 1915, in London, England, to Alan and Lee Cowden. As a youth, he learned to play the French horn, and when he came to the United States in the late 1930s, he took up residence at 2718 Morris Avenue in New York City and began to put his musical ability to good use. He applied in April 1939 for a Social Security card, a necessary step before taking a paying job, and then became a professional musician.

In March 1941, Hugh joined the band of the 69th Regiment of the New York State Guard, and he remained on the regiment’s roster until mid-August 1942. In 1945, he moved into an apartment at 270 Huntington Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts, and became a member of the horn section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, remaining there for two years. In 1947 he married Lillian Elvera Nelson, of Natick, Massachusetts. 1951 found him seated as assistant principal horn for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — he preferred to play fourth horn — and also holding down a slot as the horn player in the Chicago Symphony Brass Ensemble, a quintet. He is in the center in the photograph shown to the right.

When the National Broadcasting Company disbanded Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1954, most of the ensemble’s members formed a new orchestra, the Symphony of the Air. By that time, Hugh and Lillian had returned to New York, and their son Alan was born in Levittown. Hugh was part of the Symphony of the Air’s 1955 Asian tour under noted conductors Walter Hendl and Thor Johnson. His last major gig was a turn from 1956 to 1963 in the orchestra for the long-running Broadway musical My Fair Lady. During the remainder of the 1960s, he freelanced in the New York area; he is recorded as having played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and Paul Lavalie’s Band of America.

With sons Alan and Hugh, and daughter Sara, Hugh and Lillian settled into their later years in Haleiwa, Hawaii, on the north shore of Oahu, where Hugh died in April 1988. After Hugh’s passing, Lillian N. Cowden, whose passion was weaving, moved to Bensalem, Pennsylvania, where she died in 1997. Both are buried in Beechwood Cemetery, in Hulmeville, Pennsylvania.

Aurore Decelles

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is an Eversharp Skyline Demi, made in the 1940s. The Skyline, designed by noted industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, led the pen world out of the Art Deco era and into the streamlined 1940s. Almost immediately after its introduction, America was drawn into World War II, and the Skyline, produced in myriad style variants, became immensely popular. It was advertised in magazines and on quiz shows, and seen in the hands of everyone from the lady at home to the soldier writing home from a combat zone.

Chase Mill, American Woolen CompanyAurore I. Decelles was born on June 8, 1897, the second of eleven children born to Antoine and Parmelia Decelles, of Oxford Road in Dudley, Massachusetts. Her parents, who were married, both aged 20, on May 6, 1895, were both French-speaking immigrants who had come from Canada, Antoine Decelles, a shoemaker, in 1876 and Parmelia Pellant, who was by the time of her marriage a machine operator in a fabric mill, in 1889.

Sacred Heart Roman Catholic ChurchBy the time Aurore was a young woman, her family had moved to 3 Wall Street, in Webster, Mass­a­chu­setts. Aurore went to work as a weaver (loom operator) in the Chase woolen mill in Webster (shown in postcard to the left), and she appears to have remained in that occupation for the rest of her working life. The Decelles were a close-knit Roman Catholic family; Aurore and most of her siblings lived in their parents’ home well into adulthood, and when Aurore’s sister Marie married, her husband and, later, her children lived there, too. They all attended Sacred Heart Church (shown in postcard to the right), on East Main Street.

Aurore Decelles never married. She continued to live in the Wall Street house after her mother died in 1952, and so far as I can determine, never moved away. She died at the age of 91 on April 6, 1989, one of the millions upon millions of unremarked people who each contributed a tiny share in the building of America.

Cyril Buranich

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Partial newspaper columnThe pen and pencil above are a Parker Vacumatic Shadow-Wave set in Jet Black, made in the second quarter of 1939. The Vacumatic, introduced in 1933, was one of Parker’s most successful models, featuring striking Art Deco styling and a pump filler that provided for a huge ink capacity. In 1937, it received a makeover, losing a little of its vaunted ink capacity as it became more streamlined and a little less Art Deco in appearance. This particular set has what is known as a “jeweler’s band,” a cap band design that appeared on pens made for sale through jewelers rather than through the usual pen and stationery trade.

Cyril Buranich's Navy ID cardCyril Buranich was born on March 31, 1922, to John Buranich, a coal miner, and Theodosia Solomon Buranich, who lived at 414 Columbia Avenue, Atlas, Pennsylvania. His name is recorded in the 1930 U.S. Census as Kirilo, but he seems to have been Cyril everywhere else. He was the fourth of the six sons who followed their elder sister Anna into the world. John and Theodosia were both of Russian descent and had immigrated to the U.S. from Austria in 1904.

The Buranich boys were athletically inclined; Cyril and at least two of his brothers played baseball at Mount Carmel Township Senior High School, while at least one more of the brothers was well known on the basketball court. Cyril himself, or Cy, as the newspapers of the time named him, was a wiry youth, weighing only about 140 pounds and standing 5 feet 512 inches tall. A pitcher who sometimes played shortstop or second base, he continued playing baseball after graduating in 1939, joining the Indians, a team in a semi-pro league in the area. The Mount Carmel Item referred to him repeatedly as the Indians’ ace hurler; in two starts around the end of June 1939, he fanned 17 and 19 batsmen, respectively, in the latter game allowing only two hits while himself reaching base safely twice as described in the newspaper column shown to the right.

Wreckage at USNAS Pearl Harbor

Scene of destruction at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941. The aircraft at left is a PBY-5A Catalina, an amphibious patrol bomber that was used primarily for search and rescue, known fondly as a “Dumbo.” The aircraft at right center is an OS2U Kingfisher, a float plane used as a catapult-launched observation plane aboard battleships and cruisers.

Three of the Buranich sons went off to war. Joseph enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1934, served his term, and was discharged; he then re-enlisted in March 1939. During World War II, he served in the 342d Infantry Regiment in Europe. Wounded in action in the Ruhr Pocket on April 10, 1945, he succumbed to his injuries three days later. Cyril enlisted in the U.S. Navy on the day after Christmas in 1940, and Nicholas enlisted in the Navy on June 7, 1942, immediately after the Battle of Midway. Cyril trained as an aviation structural mechanic, and his first assignment sent him to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, where he was received on July 27, 1941. He survived the Japanese attack on the morning of December 7, 1941, and served at Pearl Harbor until January 9, 1943, when he was transferred to the Naval Air Station at Midway Island.Reunion photo By the end of September 1944, he had returned to Hawaii, to an assignment at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, on the northern shore of Oahu. By that time he had risen through the ranks to Aircraft Machinist’s Mate First Class, and by mid-1945 he had been promoted to Petty Officer Second Class. That promotion would have happened at about the time the photo shown to the right appeared above the fold on page 1 of the Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, Item’s April 25, 1945, issue. (Cyril is standing, at the right side of the picture.)

After World War II ended, Cyril remained in the Navy, finally retiring in 1955 after having served at several dirtside bases and on two aircraft carriers, USS Intrepid and USS Saipan. Upon his retirement from the Navy, he promptly turned around and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. As a Technical Sergeant, he served in Automatic Test Systems, then with the Northeast Air Command, and finally with the Strategic Air Command. He retired for the second and last time in 1960.

Following his retirement from the Air Force, Cyril immediately jumped into a slightly new line of work at Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn College), where he mastered a vocational course in office machine servicing.

Cyril Buranich never married. After college, he returned to the Mt. Carmel area and lived there until 2006, when, having outlived his parents, all of his siblings, and many of his fellow members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors’ Association, he passed away at the age of 84. A lifelong Russian Orthodox Christian, he is buried in the family plot, in the cemetery of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Mount Carmel.



Edwin Coyle

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a Parker Vacumatic Standard in Black, with a Visometer barrel, made in 1933. The Vacumatic, introduced in that year, was one of Parker’s most successful models, featuring striking Art Deco styling and a pump filler that provided for a huge ink capacity. Although it is difficult to see in the capped photo, the signature E. A. Coyle is engraved on the barrel.

Edwin Coyle's high-school senior photoEdwin Alexander Coyle was born on July 30, 1890, to William LeMoyne Coyle and Mary Emma Kearns Coyle, of 149 Dithridge Street, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he was born, his elder brother Dickson was three years of age; and when Edwin was four, William Junior joined the family as the third of the couple’s three sons. William Senior was a wealthy real estate broker; he and Emma were in the city's Social Circle.

After studying for nine years at the Haverford Grammar School, Eddie was sent for his college preparation to the prestigious Lawrenceville School, in New Jersey. Active in hockey, basketball, and football, he acquired the nickname “Dutch.” He also participated in the Philomathean Society, and as a senior he served as the business manager of Olla Podrida, the school’s yearbook, from which his senior photo (to the left) is taken. By the time of his graduation in 1909, his family had moved twice, first to 415 Neville Street in Pittsburgh and later to 4274 Wallingford Street. There was one more family move after he returned from Lawrenceville, to 817 North Negley Street, where the Coyles were living when Emma became a widow in 1911 with William Senior’s death from congestive heart failure. By then, Eddie was a student at Cornell University, from which he graduated in the class of 1913.

After college, Eddie became a mechanic for the Buick Motor Company in Flint, Michigan. He was a quick study, and he soon accepted a position as a salesman, selling primarily Kelly-Springfield trucks, for the G. T. Overbold Motor Sales Company. 1916 found him in Plattsburgh, New York.

Captain Edwin A. Coyle, American Expeditionary ForceOn November 6, 1916, Edwin A. Coyle enlisted in the New York National Guard and, because he was a college graduate, was commissioned as a second lieutenant. His unit was called into active service on May 5, 1917, and assigned to duty at Fort Niagara, New York, on May 8. He served in the Army until honorably discharged on May 10, 1919. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in August 1917 and sent with the American Expeditionary Force to France, where he received further training, and in December he was assigned to Company C, First Battalion, 166th Infantry Regiment, 42d Division (the famed Rainbow Division). He first went into combat on July 15, 1918, in the Fourth Battle of Champagne. At Chateau Thierry on July 18, he discovered a wounded doughboy in No Man’s Land. The soldier was paralyzed and was in the field of fire of a German machine gun. Lieutenant Coyle summoned another soldier, and together they carried the wounded man to safety, fortunately receiving no wounds themselves in the process. For his gallantry, Lieutenant Coyle was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross by his regimental commander. Soon after, he was promoted to Captain and transferred to Company A, which he led in the Battle of St. Mihiel in mid-September 1918 and then in the Meuse-Argonne campaign, which lasted until the Armistice. Along with many others who served in the First Battalion, he was profiled in a 1919 book called Rainbow Memories, by First Lieutenant Alison Reppy, his battalion’s intelligence officer, from which the photograph to the right is taken.

Returning to western Pennsylvania after his discharge, he took a position as an insurance broker for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. On June 4, 1919, he married Alice Gertrude McChesney; they settled at 5829 Northumberland Street, where they lived for many years. Edwin and Alice had two children, Robert McChesney Coyle, born in 1920, and Edwin Alexander Coyle, Jr., born on the day after Christmas in 1922. Sadly, Edwin Junior died 11 days later of a cerebral hemorrhage complicated by apnea.

Although Edwin did not serve in the military during World War II, he registered, as most American men were required to do. His draft registration card, filled out on April 27, 1942, bears the signature that proved to me that the Vacumatic was his pen.

Signature from pen
(Signature highlighted for visibility)
Coyle's WWII draft registration
Alice Coyle died on July 3, 1957. On April 15, 1958, Edwin remarried; his second wife was Jenifer Mary Lesslie Barbour, who had been widowed in 1942. Edwin widowed Jenifer for a second time on March 28, 1963, and she followed him into death the following December.

John Durkovitz

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pen above is a WASP Clipper, the signature model of the Wasp Pen Company, whose name was an acronym of the initials of the Walter A. Sheaffer Pen Company. Wasp was a sub-brand of Sheaffer, and Sheaffer used it as a testbed for the Vacuum-Fil plunger filling system. This plunger-filling pen was made in about 1940, and it was given to John Durkovitz in 1941 by his some of his fellow citizens in Exeter, Pennsylvania.

John Joseph Durkovitz was the first child of Michael John Durkovitz and Mary Anna Doban Durkovitz. Michael had come to America from Slovakia, which was then part of Austria-Hungary, and had settled in Pittston, Pennsylvania, where he took a job as a pump runner in a coal mine. He married Mary on November 18, 1918, and John was born on April 6, 1919. He was followed into the world by Michael John, Jr., in 1921 and Anna Mary in 1923. By 1930, the Durkovitz family had moved to 9 Memorial Street, Exeter, Pennsylvania, where they lived for many years. Sadly, Michael Senior became ill in July 1937 and passed away in October at the age of 53, just as John was starting his senior year in high school.

Durk's draft registrationArmy unit insigniaIn 1941, with the clouds of war looming over America, John was among those called up for one year of service to their country. On June 4, he was inducted into the U.S. Army in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Assigned Army Serial Number 33023224, he survived boot camp, was trained as a mortarman, and was assigned to the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, the “Red Dragons” (unit insignia to the right). The 2nd Cml Bn was equipped with the 4.2-inch M2 rifled mortar, which was capable of firing smoke, high explosive, and phosphorus bombs as well as gas bombs (which would be held in reserve to be used in retaliation should an enemy use gas on American troops).

December 7, the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called “a date which will live in infamy,” plunged America willy-nilly into the maelstrom of war. On that day, after having spent two long days returning from maneuvers in North Carolina, 2nd Cml was bivouacked in a wooded area of a military reservation near Bowling Green, Virginia. Sometime after midnight, a jeep came down the road. Its passenger, an unidentified officer, met with Colonel Egbert F. Bullene, the battalion commander, and 20 minutes later Bullene climbed up on the bumper of a truck to deliver the bad news to his men. “All of us who had been drafted were standing there thinking the same thing,” John recalled. “We could forget about our one year conscription. We were going to be in for a long time.”

After further training and a certain amount of infighting between officers in the higher echelons who understood the combat value of the big mortars and those who didn’t, 2nd Cml was finally given its chance and shipped to Africa in the build-up to Operation HUSKY, the Allied invasion of Sicily. On the night of July 9/10, 1943, John Durkovitz, nicknamed “Durk” and wearing the stripes of a staff sergeant and, on his right shoulder, the subdued version of the 2nd Cml unit patch (right), found himself in a landing craft, being delivered to a beach on the southern coast of the island.Army unit insign ia On July 11, Durk and his comrades watched helplessly from the beach as 144 Douglas C-47 transport airplanes carrying troops of the 82d Airborne, in a classic case of bad timing, arrived over the beaches while an Axis air raid was in progress. The aerial convoy came under fire from one trigger-happy naval gunner, whose fire set off a fusillade. The U.S. Navy shot down 23 of the С-47s, damaged another 37, and sent eight scurrying back to Africa without having dropped their sticks of troops. Some of the doomed planes came screaming in across the beach so low that many of the mortarmen hit the ground, fearing for their lives. Fortunately, no planes crashed into them; but this tragic “friendly fire” incident cost 318 American casualties, including 83 dead. It was not a pleasant introduction to war for the men of the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion.

Fold3_As the Allied forces battled their way across Sicily, it became apparent that the big 4.2-inch mortars often made the difference between a successful assault and failure. (Unlike the ordinary heavy artillery, however, the men of 2nd Cml were in the thick of the fighting, not several miles behind the front line.) General George Patton declared in a written order that no division under his command would thenceforth go into battle without a chemical mortar battalion attached to it, and he was not alone in that sentiment.

After the liberation of Sicily, Durk and his unit landed at Salerno and fought their way to Cassino. They were in the thick of battle all the way to Rome, proving that the battalion motto, “Flammis Vincimus” (We Conquer with Flame) had not been chosen in vain. After the fall of Rome on June 5, 1944, they were tagged for Operation DRAGOON, the August 1944 invasion of southern France. Time and time again, the commanders of infantry units they supported with their highly mobile “heavy artillery” fire wrote that 2nd Cml had been critical to the success of their operations. On into Germany they clawed their way. One of their last actions was to capture the town of Traunstein, where the chief of police was the father of Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. So far as is known, this is the only instance of a chemical mortar battalion capturing a town, and without firing a shot, no less. It is also the only known instance of one liberating a future pope.

durk_june_wedding_annThe 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion’s worst unit action of the war, although not its most difficult or deadly, was participation in the liberation of Dachau in Bavaria, where John Durkovitz witnessed horrors that no person should ever have to see, including an emaciated prisoner whose face lit up like the sun when he saw John. The man took a few tottering steps toward Durk and then stopped. His expression went blank, and he fell to the ground. When Durk reached him, he was dead.

By war’s end, Durk had been promoted to the highly responsible position of First Sergeant, D Company, handling the day-to-day operation of the company, whether in combat or not, and he had forged a close and lasting relationship with Company Commander First Lieutenant Paul J. Eldredge. The image to the left is a hand-tinted family photo taken after Durk returned from Europe.

Separated from the Army on October 2, 1945, Durk returned to civilian life in Exeter and went to work in construction. He also found his soulmate in a beautiful Exeter native named June Augusta Williamson, a bookkeeper only three months his junior. She lived at 63 Penn Avenue, just around the corner from the Durkovitz home, and they had gone to school together before the war. The two were married on the bride’s 29th birthday, June 26, 1948, in St. Cecelia’s Church, and they remained lifelong members of the parish. They took up residence in June’s home, where they lived with her mother, and brought daughters Janet and Jeanne into the world. Durk changed careers, becoming a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and finding a good job with the local telephone company. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and he frequently participated in the parish life of his church, participating in committees for this and that — including the Special Awards committee for the church women’s annual card party in 1961. June became a hairstylist, operating a small salon in their home at 143 Mason Street, where they had moved as the need for more space grew with their daughters.

LogoAfter retiring, Durk joined the Independent Telephone Pioneers Association, a volunteer organization dedicated to serving communities where independent telecommunications companies operate. John Joseph Durkowitz passed away on February 6, 2001, in a hospice house in Exeter. June Augusta Durkowitz survived her husband by 16 months, passing away on June 7, 2002. The are buried together in St. Cecelia’s Cemetery in Exeter. Their daughters are both happily married.

Evangeline Hondzinski

wat_nurse Magnifying glass
wat_nurse Magnifying glass
wat_nurse Magnifying glass

The pen and pencil above are a Waterman “Nurse’s Set,” made in late 1940 or early 1941. The marbled ivory color was thought better suited to nurses, who were then virtually all women, than the plain white color that was used for doctors’ pens. (Unfortunately, the celluloid of which these pieces were made is prone to discoloration by the sulfur compounds that internal rubber parts give off.)

U.S. Rubber plant in Naugatuckhondzinski_setEvangeline Josephine Hondzinski was born on October 29, 1921, in her grandparents’ home at 117 Woodbine Street in Union City, Connecticut. Her father, Severyn Hondzinski, 24, was a 1915 immigrant from Raciaz, Poland; and her mother, Anna Zapatka Hondzinski, 18, a first-generation American of Polish heritage. Both of Evangeline’s parents were production workers at the United States Rubber Company, first in Ansonia, Connecticut, and then in the Naugatuck footwear plant depicted by the contemporaneous postcard to the left. They took their new daughter home to 53 Shelton Avenue in Shelton, Connecticut, across the river from Ansonia. In a few years, the family moved back to Union City, to a new home at 12 Lines Hill Street that was owned by Evangeline’s grandparents. She was in her early teens when they moved half a mile to 17 Hopkins Street, still in Union City.

Evangeline, nicknamed Vange, was the Hondzinskis’ only child. As she grew to adulthood, she briefly attended St. Mary’s School in nearby Derby before transferring to the Prospect Street School in Union City. After graduating from Naugatuck High School in the class of 1939, she earned a certificate at the Junior College of Physical Therapy in New Haven. This pen and pencil set was given to her on her graduation from the Junior College.

Victor Neff in 1936In 1941, Vange took an office job at the Waterbury Clock Company, where she soon found herself contributing to the war-bonds effort. On December 25, 1943, she married another only child, Waterbury native Victor “Vic” Neff (shown to the right in his high-school senior portrait), a precision toolmaker also working at Waterbury Clock, who was four years her senior.

Victor Gniazdowski, later Victor Neff, was born on January 26, 1918, to Alexander Gniazdowski, who had changed his surname to Neff, and Stella Osowski Neff. Both of Vic’s parents were Polish immigrants; neither had completed school beyond the eighth grade, but Alexander had found a good job as a tool setter in a machine shop. Vic had grown up in Waterbury, attending the Sprague Grammar School and graduating from Crosby High School in the class of 1936, and after completing a course in tool and die making at the Scovill Manufacturing Company, he had attended the University of Connecticut (Waterbury Campus).

Fountain pn Magnifying glass

Engraved cap bandVic was a towering beanpole, six feet three inches in height, and a skilled and enthusiastic outdoorsman. He was a good fisherman and a fine softball player, and, as a former winner of many state tournaments, a handball opponent to be reckoned with. He was also a musician and had played banjo during his teenage years as a regular member of the Bandoleers Country Western Band. The black pen above, a Sheaffer “TRIUMPH” made in 1942, was Vic’s. Like Evangeline’s nurse’s set, Vic’s pen was personalized — in the form of an engraved name on its cap band, shown to the left. Vic demonstrated the resourcefulness so characteristic of his trade when the nib, a wraparound design, split along the seam on the pen’s underside: he restored his pen to working order by soldering the nib back together without destroying the plastic material underlying it.

Navajo jewelryEvangeline Hondzinski and Victor Neff were married in Evangeline’s parents’ home on Hopkins Street. In the midst of war, there was no time for a honeymoon trip, but they made up for that in 1947, when they traveled across the country, visiting Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara. When they went to the Grand Canyon, Vange insisted that they stop at the nearby Navajo reservation, where she fell in love with turquoise jewelry. Her fondness for the beautiful blue and silver wearable art never faded, and she had an extensive collection by the end of her life. On the way home, they took the southern route all the way to Key West, where they caught a boat and sailed to Havana. Vange recalled later how they loved to dance to Latin music!

Returning home to Hopkins Street, they settled in and continued to live there until 1963, when they built a ranch house at 120 Timothy Road, in Naugatuck. Vic continued working at Waterbury Clock (which was renamed in 1944 to become the U.S. Time Corporation) and also founded his own pen-part business, the Van-Dorr Tool and Manufacturing Company, where Vange assumed the role of treasurer.

Like both sets of their parents, Vic and Vange had only one child: born on December 17, 1949, a daughter named Severine, who early on displayed a remarkable talent for music. She received degrees in music from Columbia, Yale, and Princeton, and a diploma in piano from the Juilliard School of Music. She later taught as a Fulbright Scholar at Moscow State Conservatory, a Visiting Professor at China Conservatory in Beijing, and at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna. Vic and Vange had developed an incurable love of travel, and throughout their life together they traveled to Tokyo, Taipei, Beijing, Bangkok, Moscow, Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, and Vienna. They listened to music and danced in every city, and they always relished hearing about all their daughter‘s musical adventures. In 2015, Severine, by then the author of four books on the composers Arnold Schönberg and Igor Stravingky, retired from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was the Eugene Falk Distinguished Professor of Music. She is married to Joel Feigin, a retired professor of music from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

PTA pinThrough the 1950s, Evangeline was a distinguished member of the Parent-Teacher Association (lapel pin shown to the right) at the Prospect Street School, which she herself had attended some 30 years earlier and where Severine was then a student. Vic interested himself in affairs of the city and could often be found at meetings about new construction. They lived at 120 Timothy Road until 2004, when they moved to Pittsboro, North Carolina, to be near their daughter.

A lifelong collector of antique dolls, Evangeline Neff passed away in Pittsboro, North Carolina, aged 87, on March 18, 2009, leaving part of her doll collection to the Doll and Miniature Museum in High Point, North Carolina. Her husband Victor survived her by less than two months. Unable to go on without his beloved Vange, he passed away in Graham, North Carolina, on May 14, 2009, at the age of 91.

This biography was co-authored by Evangeline Hondzinski Neff’s daughter, Dr. Severine Neff.

Lester Rolf

Mechanical pencil Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Pen set case

The pen and pencil above are a Morrison Patriot U.S. Army service set, made probably in mid-1942. The Patriot was made to look “military,” but it did not comply with military regulations and could not be carried clipped in a soldier’s uniform shirt pocket. Service sets got around the problem by being sold with leather carrying cases; thus, they could be carried relatively safely in a barracks bag or a backpack. At the time this particular set was made, the Patriot was being fitted with an untipped steel nib, and the amount of wear this pen’s nib exhibits tells me that the pen’s owner made good use of his pen. The cap-crown U.S. Army crests have been removed, possibly at the same time he scratched the name Les M. Rolf into the barrels of the pen and pencil, to reduce the chance that a glare of sunlight might give away his position to an enemy observer.

30th Division patchNewspaper clippingLester Melvin Rolf, who almost always went by Lester M. Rolf, was born on February 13, 1920, in Holland, Wisconsin, to Bernard “Barney” Rolf and Anna Van Vreede Rolf, of Hollandtown, an unincorporated part of Holland. He was the seventh of nine children, of whom only the first and fifth were girls. (The first child, Anna Marie, was born in 1903 and lived only seven days.) The Rolfs were a hardworking farming family, devout in their Roman Catholic faith. As he grew up, Lester doubtless spent many long days working on the family’s farm.

On September 2, 1942, while still living in Hollandtown, he was enlisted in the U.S. Army as a “selectee,” meaning that he was drafted, and was assigned Army Service Number 36262624. His enlistment record shows that he was single, stood 5’ 10” tall, weighed 161 pounds, and had put one year of college under his belt after graduating from Kaukauna High School in the class of 1940. He became an infantryman and was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division.

The 30th Infantry Division was sent overseas in February 1944. It trained in Britain until June, and it arrived at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 11, 1944, five days after the commencement of the Normandy invasion. During Operation COBRA in July, the 30th Division (shoulder patch shown above and to the left), which one writer called the “workhorse of the Western Front,” fought in the bloody liberation of St Lô. (Ninety-five percent of the town was destroyed in the battle, prompting one soldier to remark, “We sure liberated the hell out of this place.”) In early August the 30th broke a major German drive to Avranches in brutal fighting at Mortain.

120th Regiment patchOn September 17, 1944, the 120th Infantry Regiment (shoulder patch shown to the left) passed the Siegfried Line, crossing into Germany; but it was suddenly recalled to Belgium on December 17, in response to Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein (Operation Watch on the Rhine), the previous day’s massive westward German thrust, striking through the Ardennes toward Antwerp, that initiated the Battle of the Bulge.

Purple HeartOn January 18, 1945, during a thrust southward from Malmédy, in Belgium, the 120th engaged in an advance over the 590-meter heights of Wolfsbusch to the east of the Malmédy-St Vith road. The 1st and 3rd Battalions disposed of two enemy patrols and reached their objective with little difficulty other than an off-road slog through deep snow; but then the enemy launched a sudden counterattack from the south with six tanks and about 100 infantry. The Americans drove the Germans off, but not without taking casualties, among whom was Staff Sergeant Lester M. Rolf, who was KIA (killed in action). The photo above and to the right appeared in a Green Bay, Wisconsin, Press Gazette article reporting his death on February 10.

During his service, Lester had been awarded the Expert Infantryman’s Combat Badge, the Expert Rifleman’s Badge, and the Good Conduct Medal. His death earned him a Purple Heart. His body was returned to the United States on November 19, 1947. He was celebrated the next morning in a requiem mass at St. Francis Catholic Church in Hollandtown, Wisconsin, and laid to rest with full military honors in St. Francis Cemetery.

Wilbur Snow

Mechanical pencil Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Engraved cap bandThe pen above is a Sheaffer Lifetime Autograph II, made in 1945 and priced at $20.00. A very special pen, the Autograph featured a cap band and clip made of solid 14K gold to allow for engraving that would not darken over time as would happen with gold-filled furniture. This example was personalized to be presented to Wilbur Snow by the membership of the Dallas Graphic Arts Association, then entering its 13th year, on his election as the association’s president. Wilbur was obviously pleased by the gift; he soon bought the matching $10.00 Autograph pencil to go with it. The pencil’s band bears Wilbur’s initials, W.E.S., in a style that does not match that of the engraving on the pen.

Wilbur Snow's high-school senior photoWilbur Edwards Snow was born on February 24, 1899, in Blakesburg, Iowa, to farmer Sidney Charles Snow and his wife Bertha Cohagan Snow. He was the Snows’ second child, having followed his sister Lela Cosette into the world by four and a half years. When Wilbur was eight years old, Blakesburg had a population of 326 souls, his family was living at the corner of Hickory and High Streets, and he wanted a 1,000-shot air rifle and a water pistol for Christmas; but if that was too much, Santa need not bring the water pistol. Three years later, with the population grown to 344, Sidney was working as a salesman in a hardware store, and Wilbur was also earning his keep as a newsboy for Blakesburg’s weekly paper, The Excelsior.

In 1910, typhoid fever killed 4,637 people in the United States. In September, it tried to kill Wilbur Snow. First diagnosed as malaria, the disease failed to respond to quinine; Wilbur’s doctors, realizing what they were dealing with, settled for caring for the symptoms, and Wilbur recovered over the course of a month or so.

Throughout his four years at Ottumwa High School, Wilbur Snow (shown to the left in his senior photo) stood out in the crowd. A tall, handsome, blue-eyed blond, he played cornet in the school orchestra as a freshman and as a junior; he played baseball all four years, captaining the team one year; he played football and basketball for two years each; he was a member of the Commercial Club one year; and he presided over the Clean Life Club as a senior.

As Europe, and then the world at large, went to war, the United States tried to remain aloof. But when America joined the fray, Americans rose in their numbers to go Over There and fight the Hun. Having graduated from high school in the spring of 1917, Wilbur signed up on July 27, 1917. After boot camp, he was assigned to a cavalry squadron (left photo below, winter 1917-1918), trained, and sent off to France. Although the U.S. Army had horses in France, American commanders would learn — the hard way — that this was not the kind of war in which cavalry could play a significant role, and it is doubtful whether the horses were used for much more than pulling wagons, caissons, and field guns. The troops, when they were not in combat, could relax in their camps behind the lines, as Wilbur and his tent mates were doing when the right-hand photo below was taken in the summer of 1918.

Wilbur Snow on a horse Wilbur Snow and his tent mates

Patriotism was running high in America in 1918. In Ottumwa, Iowa, the high-scholl class of 1919 devoted a page in the school’s yearbook (shown to the left below), the Argus, as a tribute to graduates who had gone to war. Wilbur Snow’s name was prominently displayed at the top of the center column, but there wasn’t a photo of him in uniform.

ottumwa-argus-1918-european-war-wilbur-snowPatriotism was running high in America in 1918. In Ottumwa, Iowa, the high-school class of 1919 devoted a page in the school’s yearbook, the Argus, as a tribute to graduates who had gone to war. Wilbur Snow’s name was prominently displayed at the top of the center column. It appears that Wilbur was wounded in the war, but I have not succeeded in finding out how or where. After the war, he came home and found work in the printing trade, establishing his home in Denton, Texas, and becoming a printer at the McNitzky Company. There was a reason for his choice of Denton, a young feminine reason named Robbie Mack Harper. Robbie, the daughter of the late Wallace M. Harper and his widow Mattie W. Harper, was a graduate of Denton High School and had completed three years at Denton’s College of Industrial Arts. The two were married in “an exceptionally pretty” ceremony on the morning of June 23, 1920, in the home of Robbie’s mother at 1402 Elm Street in Denton. After a wedding trip to Wilbur’s family home in Ottumwa, the couple settled down at 1 East Sycamore Street in Denton.

3236-Milton-AvenueWilbur was good at his trade, and he soon found a better job as an assistant manager for the Bennett Printing Company, in Paris, Texas, about 120 miles northeast of Dallas; this change also brought about a change in residence, in 1924, to 186 South Main Street in Paris. He remained with Bennett for the rest of his working life, advancing to various sales positions and relocating, first to 1105 Polk Street, Apartment 3, in Amarillo (1925) and then to 305-1/2 Virginia Avenue, also in Amarillo (1926). The Snows had a daughter while they lived in Amarillo; Martha Lou Snow was born on June 4, 1927, and in November the family moved again, to 1509 Taylor Street. The beginning of 1930 found them at 815 Sunset Terrace, still in Amarillo. Six months later, they had moved up the street to 1018 Sunset Terrace.

They had finally found a place to stay, and they lived happily at 1018 Sunset Terrace until 1937, when Wilbur’s job called for yet another move, to 3448 Rankin Street in Dallas. They put down permanent roots in Dallas as Wilbur went to work in Bennett Printing’s home shop, and that is where they lived, but not on Sunset Terrace, until Robbie died on January 15, 1975. (With Martha Lou happily married on June 15, 1957, life found them living in a charming cottage for two at 3236 Milton Avenue, shown to the right, image © 2018 Google Inc.) After he lost Robbie, Wilbur moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he died on November 5, 1985. Wilbur and Robbie are interred in adjacent niches at the Chapel of Our Saviour Columbarium, in Colorado Springs.



Helen Frisz

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

The pencil and pen above are a Parker “51” set. The “51” was the signature model of the Parker Pen Company in the 1940s. This pen and pencil were made during the second quarter of 1944. They are both somewhat unusual: the pen is a wartime double-jewel model, and they have amber-colored cap jewels. Both are personalized with the initials HFF engraved in the cap indicia, and the set was probably given to Helen to celebrate her 25th birthday in that year. It has remained in the family’s possession ever since.

PortraitSPARS recruiting poster Helen Frances Frisz was born on November 13, 1919, the third of nine children born to Valentine George Frisz of south Second Street in Vincennes, Indiana, and his wife Marie Louise Wassman Frisz. Valentine was a second-generation businessman operating a vegetable farm in a two-acre greenhouse where tomatoes flourished in the summer and leaf lettuce in most of the rest of the year. His father, John Godfrey Frisz, had been called “Indiana’s Lettuce King,” and the family was well known in the business and in the town. During her preschool years, Helen was a typical semi-rural child who played around the house and yard with her siblings and cousins. The photo to the left shows her at age seven with her younger brothers Valley (Valentine, Jr.) and Bob. Daughter of a strongly Roman Catholic family, she spent her first eight school years at Sacred Heart School, in her own parish, after which she attended St. Rose Academy, a Roman Catholic high school in Vincennes, graduating in June 1937.

After high school, Helen worked in her family’s household, but when the United States went to war she began to feel a need to serve her country (and incidentally to see some of it beyond the small area in southwest Indiana where she had grown up). On March 25, 1942, she volunteered for military service. She was inducted into the Spars, the women’s branch of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, in November or December, very soon after the Spars were established by law. (The name comes from the Coast Guard’s combined Latin/English motto, “Semper Paratus Always Ready”). After “indoctrination” (boot camp) at Hunter College in New York City and SK “A” school (training for the SK, or Storekeeper, rating) at the Coast Guard training station in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, New York, she was sent to Seattle, Washington, where she served until she was discharged on December 22, 1945, with a rank of Storekeeper First Class. The photo to the right below was probably taken on her graduation from boot camp, before she went to SK school.

helen_f_hauckOn her return to the civilian world, Helen resumed her former social life and her duties in her family home. On June 3, 1946, in Sacred Heart Church, Vincennes, she married the recently discharged Army Staff Sergeant John Aloysius Hauck, a third cousin whose family had spent summers with hers at the Shades of Death, a resort park owned by John’s grandfather Joseph William Frisz (known to his family as J.W.), and with whom she had kept up a wartime correspondence that, if judged by the letters, cards, and photos they exchanged, was by no means casual. The two rented a cottage at Deer’s Mill, near the Shades, for the summer, and when John returned to college as a junior that fall, they moved into Quonset-hut student housing at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Wedding photo Their first child, Barbara Ellen, was born the next spring. John graduated in June 1948 and joined his father in the Hauck Insurance Agency in Crawfordsville.

In 1954, Helen and John, with daughters Barbara Ellen, Kathleen Ann, and Rosemary, moved to a larger home at 18 South Church Street in Clermont, Indiana, where they were living when their last two children were born, John Walter just before the end of the year and Patrick Joseph eleven months later. In June 1957, their marriage ended in divorce, and Helen became a single mother. For several years, she supported her family as a housecleaner. She later drove a school bus and worked in the cafeteria at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg, Indiana, where she had resettled herself and her children in 1958. When she retired, she was the cafeteria supervisor. For many years after her retirement, she worked as a volunteer in the Brownsburg Public Library, cherishing the annual commendations she received in acknowledgement of her service.

On January 20, 1967, Helen stood proudly by as her eldest daughter Barbara Ellen Hauck became Barbara Hauck Binder, to whom I have been happily married ever since. She subsequently saw three more of her children married, Kathleen in 1971, John in 1985, and Rosemary in 2004. Patrick, the youngest, was married in 2013, but Helen was not able to attend that ceremony.

Helen Frisz developed Alzheimer’s syndrome in her 80s, and she died at the age of 94 on October 24, 2014, in a Brazil, Indiana, nursing home. She was buried in her Spars uniform, with full military honors carried out by members of the Coast Guard and a salute fired by members of the American Legion, in Calvary Cemetery, Vincennes, Indiana.

Afterword

Pen collecting is a wonderful hobby, but when it comes right down to it, isn’t it really about meeting people with whom you share a common interest? Here, in the form of personalized pens, are several very real people I have met, through my research or in a more personal way, people with whom I share a common appreciation for pens (and, in some cases, other common interests). All of these people, or the people who loved them, cared enough about their pens to have the pens personalized, forever to be linked to their first owners. To me, this is something very special.

But most vintage pens are not personalized. Even if the vintage pen that has been passed down in your family is among those that aren’t personalized, it surely has a history. Although you might never know everything, or even very much, about its previous owner or owners, you are but one stop along the path of its journey through history. Share the story of your pen to enkindle and nourish in future generations not only a love for the pen itself but also a love for the untold stories that live within it.

Postscript

From an email that I received in April 2019, I learned of a fascinating string of coincidences. A reader wrote to tell me that his father’s World War II service record was similar to that of Alfred Lindow, about whom I have written in this article. How similar? You be the judge.

Had I not met Al Lindow through his pen, I would never have met Phil Barrieau through his son. It’s all about the people.

Notes:
  1. The article reported Alfred’s age incorrectly. A shorter article published the previous day in the Winona Daily News, of Winona, Minnesota, reported his age correctly as 70, also giving the time of the accident as about 8 p.m. on the Friday and the time of Alfred’s death as about 1 a.m. Saturday morning.  Return

  2. Typhoon Cobra, also known as the Typhoon of 1944 or “Halsey’s Typhoon,” was the U.S. Navy’s designation for a tropical cyclone that struck the United States Pacific Fleet in December 1944. Given inaccurate information, Admiral William Halsey sailed Task Force 38 directly into the center of the storm, which capsized and sank three destroyers, costing 790 lives.  Return

  3. From 1921 to the present, an Air Force airplane’s full serial number consists of the last two digits of the fiscal year in which the plane was procured (not when it was built), a hyphen, and the plane's serial number among all planes procured during that fiscal year. The plane’s tail number is the last digit of the year plus the annual serial number, without a hyphen. Thus, Little Jow Eagle’s tail number 48667, derived from its serial number 44-8667, indicates that the plane was the 8,667th aircraft procured by the USAAF during the 1944 fiscal year.  Return

  4. Atlas, Pennsylvania, is a CDP, a Census Designated Place. CDPs are created by the U.S. Census Bureau to simplify the task of visiting certain areas and enumerating their residents. Politically, Atlas is part of Mount Carmel Township.  Return

  5. Olla podrida, literally “rotten pot,” is a Spanish stew made from pork and beans and a wide variety of other meats and vegetables, often including chickpeas. The meal is traditionally cooked for several hours in a clay pot and served as a main dish.  Return

  6. At some time after the 1930 U.S. Census was taken and before 1936, when Victor graduated from high school, Alexander apparently changed the family’s surname to Neff, as recorded in both Victor’s high-school yearbook and the 1940 Census, but he continued to appear in city directories until at least 1967 as Alexander Gniazdowski. (He died in 1970.)  Return

  7. Hitler chose the name of the operation, “Watch on the Rhine,” in an attempt to deceive the Allies — should they happen to discover the troops, armor, and supplies being moved into the Eifel region — into believing that the operation was defensive in nature. The assault came as a complete surprise as a result of misinterpreted intelligence, not because of the operation’s name.  Return


The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. I owe a debt of gratitude to Mike Kennedy, whose diligent and skillful research discovered much of what I know about Hugh Cowden, and to Michael Pakaluk, who studied under Mr. Cowden and provided even more information about him.

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