1942: Uncle Fred rides the waves during WWII

Sepia Saturday 690Tenth in a series about letters from my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while he was in the US Army during WWII.

Frederic Mason Charboneau circa 1942.

After enlisting then completing WWII basic training at Ft. Niagara in Youngstown, N.Y. — a process that began in January 1942 — my paternal uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau shipped out for Europe.

He was not alone. The scale of departures once the US entered WWII was monumental, as illustrated in the photo below.

New York Harbor was Uncle Fred’s likely departure point and he, too, may have marched up Fifth Ave. on his way to the ship.

Uncle Fred wrote his first letter home (below) while still on a transport ship steaming across the Atlantic. Barred from discussing military matters or troop movements, he focused on family.

First letter home

Riding the waves, August 16, 1942: Dear Mom, I wrote one letter and then found out that I had so much in it that would be censored that I decided to tear it up and write another one.

Well first of all, if I could tell you where I am and where I am going, I could write a pretty good letter, but as I can’t I will have to do the best I can.

Well, I didn’t hang around very long from where I called you that day and right now I am quite a ways from there.

Massed infantry units march up Fifth Avenue in June 1942. Madison Sq. Park is at left and the Flatiron building in the background. These troops left a couple of months before my Uncle Fred for service during WWII.

A hint about Welsh relatives

I am fine and feeling good and hope that everything at home is going along alright. I suppose by the time this letter reaches you everything will be pretty quiet and the summer business all over with. Norman will probably be started in school again and Dad running the bus again as usual.

How is “Unc” and his family coming along? Everything’s still peaceful. I hear Bud is going to Syracuse University to learn to be an officer. Well, all I can say is that I hope he gets along all right.

I wish you would write about once a week. I will do the same as much as possible also number your letters so that I can tell if I get them all and I will do the same with mine.

If I get a chance, I will call on some of Pop’s relations although they will probably be hard to find after all these years.

Well, I guess that is about all for now. I will write again soon. The main reason I’m writing now is to let you know that I’m still well and happy. — Your loving son, Fred

Cpl. F. M. Charboneau, 32211022, Hq. Btry., 431st Sep CA Bn (AA), A.P.O. 1278 c/o Postmaster, New York, New York. Letter Number One

Details to come

In his letter Uncle Fred mentions Norman (my father), his dad (my grandfather W. Ray Charboneau), “Unc” (probably my grandfather’s brother Tom), Bud (Tom’s son) — and Pop (my grandmother’s Welsh father, Francis Hugh Owen, who was apparently still in touch with family back home in Wales). And he signs it with his military designation.

The next post will discuss some of the details in this letter from Uncle Fred — including information about his Army rank and unit.

Up next: Unpacking Uncle Fred’s first WWII letter home. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the other intrepid bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “1942: Uncle Fred rides the waves during WWII”

  1. Somehow my computer doesn’t show grey type very well…so I skimmed the letter which was too light for my eyes to read. It does sound as though he became part of a huge crowd, where his own identity practically was lost, as many soldiers have to endure. No wonder they felt homesick!

  2. The logistics of moving men and military equipment in 1942 was not much different than it was in 1917, or even in 1776! Once the draft call went out, the troop forces became much larger than the navy and merchant marine could handle. Marching was easy. It was no simple thing to refit a cargo ship to carry troops and their gear. And of course there was the danger of submarine attacks to consider so the ship convoys had to make the crossing together. For a young soldier it must have felt overwhelming to enter into this gigantic travel machine. And imagine the poor censor officer having to read thousands of soldiers’ letters and postcards!

  3. That must have been a bit tricky writing home to let folks know he was okay without divulging any information about where he was or was going, or what he was doing in regard to military action. Numbering their letters was certainly a good idea – someone must have clued him. Good deal.

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