Sepia Saturday 681. Second in a new series about letters written by my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while in the US Army during WWII.
My dad Norm’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau wrote home weekly while serving in the US Army during World War II (1942-45) – mainly to his mother Mary (Owen) Charboneau back in Otter Lake, Oneida Co., N.Y.
One of Uncle Fred’s letters was written in 1943, a year after he enlisted — and he did what many of us do in January: he put the wrong year. Nevertheless, it was filled with queries about friends and family — and news about who was sending him letters and packages — so it seemed like a good letter to start with.
Somewhere in North Africa, January 12, 1942 [actually 1943]: Dear Mom, Well tomorrow morning makes it exactly one year since I stood out in front of the Remsen School and said goodbye to you and my civilian life. It doesn’t seem that long to me, probably because I have been on the move seeing new sights and traveling in strange country. Received your V letter dated December 1 yesterday.
I am glad Dad, Viv and Owen got a deer. Who shot it anyway, you didn’t say in your letter.
Well so far, I have received the following packages: one from Jean Bastow, two from Hubert and Doris, one from Franny, one from Marion Oley and one from Owen. Then I got the two boxes of candy from Loft’s that you sent (you can send some more of that) and the package from New York with the jams and spreads, and also the box of cookies that you sent the latter part of October. There are packages still coming in by the bag full so we will be celebrating Christmas all the way through the month of January.
Who’s who in Uncle Fred’s letters
Unpacking Uncle Fred’s letters will be a major focus of this blog series. He was six years older than my dad Norm, and they had three older brothers — all of whom lived in or near their Otter Lake hometown.
Uncle Fred’s observations on Otter Lake, the family and their local social network will also apply to my dad’s childhood. This letter gives just a hint. So let’s get started with the preliminary cast of characters that Uncle Fred mentions in this first letter.
- Mom. Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau, my paternal grandmother and Hostess at the Otter Lake Hotel.
- Dad. William Ray Charboneau, my paternal grandfather and operator of the Otter Lake Hotel.
- Viv. Vivian Norton, who owned/operated a store/post office across the road from the Otter Lake Hotel.
- Owen. The oldest of the five Charboneau brothers, Owen Albert Charboneau.
- Jean Bastow. She was a regular correspondent of Uncle Fred’s. In 1947, after the war, they got married.
- Hubert and Doris. Hube Charboneau was the middle Charboneau brother. Doris (Chandler) Charboneau was his wife.
- Franny. William Francis Charboneau was the second oldest Charboneau brother.
- Marion Oley. She was a neighbor and, at 18, the same age as my dad Norman James Charboneau (the youngest Charboneau brother).
One more relative joins the group
Closing his letter, Uncle Fred made a request and asked my grandmother about one of his Owen cousins — so she joins the cast of characters, too.
Remember me to everybody…Your loving son, Fred P.S. Send me some airmail stamps the next time you write. Is my name on the service role in Boonville? How many names are there altogether? I got a letter from Cleo Owen which one of my cousins is she?
- Cleo Owen. She was a daughter of Mary (Owen) Charboneau’s brother Joseph Owen and wife Alma (Mask) Owen (and I am so grateful that I got to meet her at an Owen family reunion in 2011).
In summary, quite a gathering in just one of Uncle Fred’s letters — and one I will write more about in this series. Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder what else Uncle Fred’s correspondence has in store!
Up next, background on Uncle Fred’s civilian and early military life. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the other intrepid bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.
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