Sepia Saturday 695. Thirteenth in a series about letters from my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while he was in the US Army during WWII.
In WWII letters home to his mother, my fraternal uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau would ask about friends from his Otter Lake, N.Y., hometown who had gone into the service – such as this query in his Aug. 25, 1942, letter from Somewhere in England:
Have any other fellows come over that I know that you have heard of. Where is Gilbert now? Also is Claude still at Camp Upton? How does he like army life. He is probably used to it by now if he isn’t he should be.
Uncle Fred’s mom — my grandmother Mary (Owen) Charboneau — knew who he was talking about, but 80 years later, it’s a research challenge to figure out who they were. Still, they were important to Uncle Fred, so I decided to try – starting with Gilbert.
Searching first for Gilbert
Beginning with what I knew, a first name “Gilbert,” a location “Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.” (where Otter Lake is located), and an estimated birth year of “1918” (the year Uncle Fred was born), I did a quick Ancestry search.
The first name at the top of the results was Gilbert C. Hammond, a name that sounded familiar – maybe from one of my dad Norm’s stories about his Otter Lake childhood.
Checking the 1930 U.S. census, it turned out that the Hammonds lived near the Charboneau family in Otter Lake – when Gilbert was 11 ,Uncle Fred was 12 and my dad Norm was 5. This had to be him!
He registered for the draft on Oct. 16, 1940, and enlisted on April 9, 1941 – nine months before Uncle Fred. Gilbert’s occupation was “clerks, general,” the same type of office work Uncle Fred did.
Searching next for Claude
Next, Uncle Fred asked about Claude, who was at some point stationed at Camp Upton. I tackled Camp Upton first and found it was located in Yaphank, N.Y., on Long Island — where the Brookhaven National Laboratory is now located – and was used as a military training center during WWII.
Then I searched Ancestry for a first name “Claude” in “Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.” with an estimated birth year of “1918.” The second result was Claude R. Chandler – a surname I recognized. My paternal uncle Hubert Charboneau (one of Uncle Fred’s older brothers) was married to Doris Chandler. Could this be her brother?
I checked the 1930 U.S. census and Claude, then 17, was indeed the older brother of my Aunt Doris, then 13. The Chandler family lived in Woodgate, N.Y., not far from the Charboneau family’s Otter Lake home. Claude registered for the draft on Oct. 16, 1940, and enlisted on June 22, 1942 – five months after Uncle Fred.
Virtually reuniting childhood friends
Uncle Fred must have felt odd having to write home from England to ask about Gilbert and Claude, two childhood friends who once lived nearby. But he can’t have been alone, since so many young men were shipped off to war all at once, losing touch with one another in the process.
What a pleasure it is to virtually reunite them once again in this blog post – with my thanks to those in the genealogy community who have digitized and transcribed the records that make these family history discoveries possible.
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