Discover Vintage America - JULY 2020
Using items to honor our past
by Corbin Crable
As my parents went through a lifetime of keepsakes in my grandparents’ basement recently, the pieces illuminated a greater portrait of my grandfather’s service to the country he loves. Just as importantly, they painted a portrait of decades of the history of the country we love, too.
Having been moved into a local nursing home, my parents were faced with the monumental task of sorting through the items that my mother’s folks had amassed over their 74-year marriage (and counting!). The items we found mostly related to my grandfather’s Naval service (he served on the U.S.S. West Virginia toward the end of World War II), and they fascinated all of us.
We had been collecting Naval memorabilia to gift to him for years. Several years ago, on a trip to San Francisco to see a friend, I visited a local bookstore and stumbled upon a penant bearing the name and image of Grandpa’s ship. The penant had to be at least 70 years old and in deteriorating condition. I offered to buy it, but the owners instead gave it to me, with a message to thank Grandpa for his service to our great country. I framed it and gave it to Grandpa on one of the last Christmases we were able to spend with him in his home. What an incredible stroke of good fortune.
Now, my parents had recently uncovered a host of other items from Grandpa’s years in the military, each one of them helping me to better understand not just a dear member of my family who served his country, but also to understand that country itself.
One of the most interesting pieces from World War II – a small envelope full of Japanese government-issued Philippine fiat peso notes (currency printed for use in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation; many Filippinos called the Japanese currency “Mickey Mouse money”). One of the two-peso notes bears multiple signatures. It turns out, Grandpa and a handful of his shipmates all signed the bill, almost as if they knew the historic significance of the moments in which they so often found themselves. Also included in that same envelope were several military payment certificates, used by the U.S. government to pay soldiers in foreign countries after the end of World War II. Though they are worth little, these currencies have plenty to teach us about life in the years preceding and following the second World War.
Nestled among those pieces of paper were two much more fascinating finds: a one-dollar bill signed by Georgia Neese Clark, the first female treasurer in American history; and a one-dollar note signed by U.S. President Harry S Truman himself. Both signatures have been authenticated.
Also among the items found – two American flags showing 48 stars on a field of blue, the items predating the admissions of Alaska and Hawaii to the Union. My father plans to display them in his office.
All of these things don’t just tell me about a period of my grandfather’s life; they are tangible pieces from America’s history to be admired and treasured. I’m thankful Grandpa and others had the foresight to keep them and to pass them on. The importance of hearing stories of Americans from our past is heightened as so many veterans die, but the items they leave behind can tell stories as well.
This Fourth of July, I hope you and your family can reconnect with some of your own family heirlooms, reflect on what they mean to you, and feel thankful for the roles that those who came before you played in the history of America.
Corbion Crable can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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