The New York State Library commemorates the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with an exhibit on the 7th floor, the centerpiece of which is a small but interesting collection of papers left by one Private First Class/later Sergeant Archibald Francis McCaw, who preferred to be known as Fran.
From the memo section of Private McCaw’s small five-year diary, it is learned that after basic training he left Brooklyn Army Base for Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the troop transport Republic, arriving on 9/13/1939. He was assigned to Company C of the 35th US Infantry, Schofield Barracks. “It was sure great to begin my time and get it over in a hurry.” Little did he know.
The remainder of the collection includes ephemera such as shrunken V-mail and shards of envelopes; a War Department change of assignment card; a long, funny hand-written poem about military censorship (“Can’t have a flashlight to guide me at night. / Can’t smoke a cigarette except out of sight. / Can’t keep a diary for such is a sin. / Can’t keep the envelopes your ‘letters’ come in”); a handy pocket-sized list of “Possible Enemy Chemical Warfare Agents;” a street map of Hilo, Hawaii; and some Pearl Harbor Survivors Association material from later years. An RPPC (real photo postcard) shows us what uniformed soldier McCaw looked like in his prime, and another of a lad with a two dogs and a cat on his lap may have been a picture from his youth or that of a family relation.
There’s also a small memo pad packed with scribbled survival information, such as how to use a compass, Morse Code and map legend symbols, the ins and outs of operating a .50 caliber machine gun, etc. Way at the back after all the blank pages though, there’s a section of humorous definitions (“Baby: A tube with a loud noise at one end and a complete lack of responsibility at the other”), most of which are risqué in nature; and there’s a long poem in the voice of a female narrator titled “By the Delaware” (“The other night we strolled away / To meet each other by the bay / We strolled along the sandy beach / The whispering water within our reach / The moonlight played upon my hair / As we made love by the Delaware”) that by the third stanza would make even a librarian blush.
The heart of the collection is a series of love letters from Fran to his wife Jane back in Syracuse. These letters will be rotated each week to get them out of the light, and to shed more light.
Rounding out the exhibit are a number of books, periodical covers and articles, documents, and ephemerons including the following selections, and a full cart of books on Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Theater will be parked near the exhibit cases and available for checkout.
The exhibit is curated by Shawn Purcell and will be on display until the end of December.
Photos: Fran McCaw, and Fran McCaw’s diary entries (provided by the New York State Library).