My new friend Betty Monroe came into Buck’s a little while back. She sat next to a photograph on the wall and there she saw her father looking back from a picture taken in 1918 when he was mule skinner (archaic term for a mule wagon driver) for the army. On Nov. 11th, 1918 he with 30,000 of his comrades posed in the shape of the U.S. Emblem for a photo at Camp Custer in Battle Creek Michigan. Thomas Mole shot a series of ten photos all on patriotic themes using the ten’s of thousands of soldiers who were about to be sent to the European theater. On the day the Emblem was shot the shooting stopped in Europe. All ten are available from the Library of Congress. They were posed with artificial foreshortening in that there a few dozen men in the first rows and progressively more to the back making it look as if it was shot from a much higher place than the actual 70 foot tower Mole used.
The crowd at Ft. Custer was the largest in the series and it is in this picture that Betty saw her father. She says she can locate him because he is right next to one fellow who was goofing with his hat as are many if you look closely. Very like in high school when a few of the fellows are always trying to ruin the group photo. That makes sense. Most of these young men were just out of high school.
Betty and I looked at some of the letters her father wrote telling of the Great Influenza Epidemic which swept through the military camp in Georgia where her father did his basic training. After the war fizzled Betty’s father returned to farming, married and raised a family. His daughter became a nurse and married her grade school sweetheart who eventually ended up In Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th 1941 “A day that will live in infamy forever” according to President Roosevelt. Betty’s husband was on the Oklahoma, a ship that was bombed so completely that it quickly rolled over. Her husband was on an upper deck at the time and was thrown into the water, from there swimming to shore. Betty said that the survivors were allowed to send two postcards home telling their families they were alive. She still has hers. Some 30 years later the Oklahoma was raised and some of the seamen’s lockers were opened. There they found Seaman Monroe’s locker and in it a well preserved photo of Betty’s at her high school graduation.
Today Betty’s a spry and engaging resident of Mt. View and after retiring from nursing tells me that she reinvented herself as a painter and world traveler. She has painted many hundreds of stunning paintings and been to 57 countries, so far.