It takes patience and perseverance to uncover family histories. This became more real with the recent passing of my dad’s only sister, Eleanora Birau Daly. I’m grateful I was able to spend precious time with her. But I forgot to ask her a few more questions and now it is too late….😢
It is hard to just focus on Earl’s WWII service as I roll out his letters. So let’s expand things for a post. It will help me then zoom back on Earl’s service.
Bill’s parents dates of service and marriage: Earl Lees was inducted on April 29, 1942, in Pittsburgh, PA. He was Honorably Discharged on September 7, 1945. Ruth Lees (nee Brunner) started her Army service on February 1, 1944, and was honorably discharged on February 12, 1946. They met and married after the war on May 10, 1947. Their faces are aglow! And to think they were both serving in World War II just two years prior!
Bill’s dad, Earl, was the youngest of three sons. At the time the United States entered the war, on 12/7/1941, Earl was 25 years old. We don’t know much about his life before the war. Just a few interesting tidbits. He shared how his hard life was after his father asked him to move out, upon graduation from High School. He told us he hopped on trains, and traveled out west, looking for work. Some details are in his eulogy, posted here. He was asked to come back home and help care for his father, diagnosed with oral cancer. More later.
Debbie’s dad, Lawrence Rijnovan, enlisted on December 11, 1942, and was honorably discharged on May 19, 1944. He was 18 at the outbreak of the war and was 19 when he enlisted. Her parents married on August 12, 1944. Lawrence had a brother 18 months older. Their mom remarried years later, then had her only daughter, Eleanora. More later.
Bill’s mom, Ruth, was 20 and Aunt Posey was 19 at the outbreak of the war. She and her sister attended nursing school upon graduating from High School. They became Registered Nurses and then went to work in the same hospital. They were both Supervisors in the hospital when they volunteered to join the Army. They said they were a “package” deal so to make a long story short, they served together! She was about to turn 23 when she was officially registered. Her sister was a year younger.
With these dates now as our framework, we need a review of WWII. Especially now putting their ages into perspective.
“World War II, fought between 1939 and 1945, is considered the largest armed conflict in human history. It fought in six continents and over all the oceans, resulting in over 50 million deaths including the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. World War II pitted the Allies against the Axis. The Allies include the US, Soviet Union, and Great Britain while the Axis included Germany, Italy, and Japan. The root causes of the war were the military ideologies and the expansion policies of the Axis groups. The weak response by certain European democracies to the fascist aggression and the non-involvement of the Americans initially gave the Axis power an upper hand in the war.
US Entry into the War
“At the beginning of the war, the United States remained politically neutral and did not appear to support any group. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was doing everything possible to make his country prepared for what he considered an inevitable involvement in the conflict. He felt that his country’s security was threatened by the war and decided to provide assistance to the Allies without formally taking part in the war. In November 1939, President Roosevelt persuaded Congress to review the arms embargo that had been included in the neutrality law to allow for the selling of arms to Britain and France. Fearing that the British would surrender following the fall of France in June 1940, the president pushed for a major military reorganization and began providing assistance to the British in the form of the Lend-Lease. In this arrangement, the US would lend supplies to the British and the payment would be differed.
“The US official entry to the war came as a result of the bombing of the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. The US was carrying out a successful embargo against the Japanese at the time. During this period, the Japanese closed in on China, forcing them to seek war supplies from the US. In 1940 and 1941, the US government extended support to the Chinese to purchase war equipment and began tightening restrictions against the Japanese. The Japanese imported about 90% of oil from the US and became desperate when the embargo was put in place. They felt that the lack of oil would paralyze their involvement in the war. Refusing the US demand to stop the attack on China, they felt that war with America was becoming increasingly inevitable. Their strategy was to strike first and picked on the American fleet in Pearl Harbor. The following day (December 8, 1941), after the bombing of the fleet, the Americans declared war on Japan, marking their formal entry into World War II. It entered into an agreement with China to fight the Japanese. Soon after, Germany decided to support its ally and also attacked the US. The Americans faced war both in Asia and Europe.
Bill and I are proud of our parents’ service during WWII. We are learning more about them as we did through their letters, paperwork and search old pictures. We hope to pass their legacy down to our grandsons, Earl and Ruth’s grandchildren and to all family members who remember them. They all were beloved!
No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he is vigilant in its preservation.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur
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