Tag Archives: Orville Nile Charboneau

1942: Family details from Uncle Fred’s first WWII letter

Sepia Saturday 692. Eleventh in a series about letters from my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while he was in the US Army during WWII.

At the bottom of his first WW II letter home, my paternal uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau signed with his US Army rank, service number, and assignment, which helps identify his specific service.

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

Corporal Frederic Mason Charboneau, Hq. Battery, 431st Separate Coast Artillery Batallion (Anti-Aircraft) during WWII (c. 1942). Scan by Molly Charboneau

Civilian translation: Cpl. (Uncle Fred was a Corporal when he went into the Army), Hq. Btry. (he was assigned to the Headquarters Battery, likely due to his clerical expertise), and he was part of the 431st Sep CA BN (AA), a Separate Coast Artillery Battalion (Anti-Aircraft).

I was surprised to learn that Uncle Fred was attached to the artillery, because his great grandfather Arthur Bull (my second-great grandfather) had served with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery during the US Civil War. I wonder if Uncle Fred knew.

As his mailing address Uncle Fred gave APO 1278 in care of the Postmaster, New York, New York. APO stands for Army Post Office, through which service members’ mail would be forwarded to their location – a process that did not always go smoothly as the war progressed.

Snapshots of life in Otter Lake

Apart from providing his military designation, Uncle Fred discussed family matters in his first Aug. 16, 1942, letter – which formed a snapshot of daily life in his Otter Lake hometown.

“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,” he wrote.

His brother Norman (my dad) had just graduated high school in 1942 as valedictorian of his class (see clip below) and was indeed headed to “school again” at Clarkson University. Norman was the first in his family to go to college.

Rome Daily Sentinal, April 26, 1942.

The “summer business” he mentions is the Otter Lake Hotel, which was operated by my grandparents W. Ray and Mary (Owen) Charboneau and traditionally wound down for the season at the end of summer.

Uncle Fred also mentions his dad (my grandfather) “running the school bus as usual.” My grandfather Ray and his brother Orville (aka Tom) bought a school bus together, painted it red and stenciled “Charboneau Brothers” on the side, according to my dad Norm.

On weekdays, Dad said, Ray would drop children at school in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day. In between Tom, who was a letter carrier, used the bus to deliver mail. The entire enterprise was typical of the makeshift job market in the Adirondacks back then.

Surprise reference to Welsh relatives

One other family history item caught my eye – an intriguing reference to our Welsh relatives back home.

My paternal grandmother Mary came from a large Welsh Irish family in Baltimore, Md. In the summers, her Welsh-born father Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen (aka Pop) would come north to stay at the hotel for several months.

Ruins of a castle in Denbigh, Wales. According to Owen family lore, Denbigh was the birthplace of my Welsh great-great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen in 1863. Source: Walesdirectory.co.uk

Before Uncle Fred enlisted, there must have been discussions with Pop about whether he’d be stationed in England and might be able to connect with Pop’s family in Wales — because Uncle Fred mentioned this in his letter.

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

Whether he found them or not, I don’t know. But it’s certainly tantalizing to think about.

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

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