Friday, January 10, 2014

My Father's WWII Photos Were in an Box in My Garage for Five Years and Why You Should Talk to Your Parents About Their History Before It's Too Late

I moved to Seattle from Southern California (Redondo Beach) in 1989. My father, Leonard Rudoff, and stepmother followed in 1990, moving to Bainbridge Island (a 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle).

My father died in 1994, and in 2000 my step-mother moved from their house to an apartment. I ended up with numerous boxes labeled, "photos" that I stored in my garage, unopened. Every so often over the years, I opened one, finding photos of my immediate family and cousins, some of the photos going back to the late 1800s and early 1900s (more on those in a later post). There were also the two handguns (again, for another post). But the best find were my father's photos from his time in the US Coast Guard from the waning days of WWII in 1945 until 1946.

In April 1945, at age 17, he forged his parents' signature (as he was under 18) and joined the Coast Guard. He served on the USS General H. F. Hodges, a troop transport that traveled around the world from May 1945 to March 1946.

You can see evidence of his travels in the picture to the left with the turbaned Sikh behind him (taken in Calcutta/Kolkata).

There were over 200 photos, all black and white, and in the small format of 2" x 3". They were not in the greatest condition, curled and stuck together, but I was able to separate them and send them off to be scanned. My father had talked about his time in the Coast Guard, but, my brothers and I had no idea that these photos existed.

Here's the USS General H. F. Hodges in the Suez Canal:

Which brings me to say - talk to your parents (and other relatives) about their history, the interesting things in their life, or even the banal things - how school was, who were their friends, etc. My father came down with lung cancer in 1992, was treated, but it had metastasized, and he died in 1994. Before he died I realized that I never asked him many things about his life, and he was too far gone to ask.

Which means these photos leave me with more questions than answers. The questions that are (mostly) answered are where the photos were taken. The questions that aren't answered are about life on the ship, who his friends were (the sailors that appear repeatedly in the photos must be his friends), their stories, what was it like being away from home for the first time in his life at 17 at sea, in Italy, India, Egypt, New York.

Here he is, on the left:
"Dec. 1945 Port Said, Egypt USS GEN H.F. HODGES Leonard Rudoff, Jerry Howe, T.J. Kushmeider, Frank Rizor, hanging around the fantail"

During his life, although my father didn't talk extensively about his time in the Coast Guard, I knew it was an experience he remembered fondly. These are the stories I remember:
  • Forging his parents signature on the enlistment papers.
  • Randomly choosing answers on a multiple choice test at a class at UCLA that he wasn't going to finish before he was inducted into the Coast Guard.
  • After shore leave in Manilla, returning to the ship in a landing craft full of drunk sailors, one of whom released the front ramp sinking the craft. Luckily, another landing craft was behind them to fish them out.
  • Never being in combat, but being very close to it.
  • When the ship was decommissioned in Seattle in 1946, getting in trouble for wearing the wrong color socks (this was something he told one of my cousins).
  • The sword he bought from a Marine, taken from a dead Japanese soldier. Here's the blade and guard:

Below is a selection of some of the photos. A few had descriptions written on the back. Those are quoted in the captions.

The ship:

(That's ice on the water.)

The crew:


"Oct. 1945. Atlantic Ocean. USS Gen. H.F. Hodges. T.J. Kushmeider, and Ray Winters, way back aft, at the fantail"

"15 Nov. 1945. Red Sea. USS Gen. H.F. Hodges. (left to right) Whitely, Duval, Kushmeider, and Howe; Taking time off during noon hour, hatch #6"

This is Dick Whitaker (identified in other photos). Note that he's holding a camera.

"Dec. 12, 1945. Suez Canal. 'Red' Duval, T.J. Kushmeider, and L. Rudoff; looking over the canal."

"Nov 10. 1946. Mediterranean Sea. (left to right) Jerry Howe, Maurice Richert, Ray Winters and Paul Buccell."

"Nov. 18, 1945. Suez Canal. (from left to right) Jerry Howe, Red Duval, and Ray Winters looking at one of the small canal stations."

"L. Rudoff & Dick Whitaker. Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Dec 45" This was the only photo in a different format, probably from a photo booth. 

I had no luck in finding any of the named sailors on the internet. The youngest still alive would be in their 80's.

Places Visited:

Leaving San Francisco (Coit Tower can be seen):
"San Francisco 10 May 1945." After shakedown training, General H. F. Hodges sailed from San Francisco 10 May 1945 with over 3,000 troops and a contingent of Army nurses." 

New York:

Note the Empire State Building in the skyline.


Statue of Andrew Henderson Leith Fraser (a British governor of Bengal) at Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, 1945. Leonard Rudoff on right. Link to recent photo of statue.

The entire collection of the photos can be found on my brother Matt's Flickr page. (Note: there are a few of cremations in Calcutta that some may find disturbing.)

The Photographer:

The final thing to say about these photos is, did my father take these pictures? He was a photographer throughout his life, and a decent one. Obviously, someone else took the photos with him in it. But the rest? If you look at the crew photos that have him in it, it's pretty obvious they weren't posed, so there must be another photographer. Above, there's one photo with a friend of his (Dick Whitaker) with a camera, so he knew someone else who took photos. But then, another person and another camera took the photo of Dick holding his camera - was this my father and his camera?

The descriptions on the back of some of the photos was either typewritten or in handwriting. There are few written in block letters that could be my father's writing, but most are written in a cursive that I don't recognize, and much neater than I would expect my father to write.

So, if at least some of the writing on the photos isn't my father's, are these photos my father took? With his handwriting being so hard to read, maybe that would would explain the typewritten descriptions, and I suppose he could have recruited a friend to help with the others. Perhaps that's reaching too far to say my father was the photographer. Maybe some of photos are ones he took and other ones were taken by a friend. There's a prideful desire to claim these as my father's work. But unfortunately, there's really no way to know at this point.

But it doesn't matter much to me if he took these photos or not. These photos revealed a part of his life that I knew little about, and that is what is important.

Some other notes about the General H. F. Hodges:

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