WWII Kansan and his P-38 the Jayhawk

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By Gail Lee Martin

Flying with the Photo Reconnaissance Squadrons during World War II, Ralph Martin, a farm kid from Greenwood County, Kansas felt like he was mapping the whole world. Leaving the farm and home in 1941, Ralph went to Wichita to work at Boeing to do his part to help win the war. But after working in a sheet metal department for a little over a year, he decided he would rather fly the planes than cut sheet metal to make them. Even though he had advanced to crew chief in charge of a 16-woman workforce.

Ralph Martin and his plane in WWII.

In October of 1942, this Kansas Jayhawker went to Fort Riley and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. During the flight training that followed Ralph saw a great deal of his own country. Ralph’s hometown weekly newspaper, The Madison News, literally became a bulletin board of information on the men and women in the services for their country, from the northern half of Greenwood County.

The newspaper published the change of address, as the trainees were sent from one area to another. This kept letters flowing from the close-knit farming community and helped improve the morale of the homesick farm kids. The newspaper bulletins made it possible to keep in touch with other friends and classmates in service and scattered all over the world. The paper printed those names registering for the draft, new inductees, those that were killed or missing in action and even complete letters from the service men and women were printed.

Ralph started his basic training January 29, 1943, in Jefferson Barracks, Jefferson, Missouri. There he discovered life in the service was not as he had envisioned when he decided to learn to fly. Ralph related, “Missouri’s winter weather that year was COLD and I had to live in a coal-heated tent with eight other fellows for the next three months. It was a good thing I grew up in a big family. January and February were so cold the water in the bucket would freeze overnight. When standing guard duty we were issued ‘broom handles’ instead of guns. I don’t think we shot a single suspicious person.” Ralph can laugh about it now but it wasn’t laughable 60 years ago.

Photo postcard of Jefferson Barracks from WWII (public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

This experience was followed by a couple of months back-to-school with study in the classroom and flight instruction in a piper cub airplane at the Hershey Barracks at the Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
In July of 1943, he was dispatched to Santa Anna, California for a little more advanced training. In August he was sent to the Mira Loma flight academy in Oxnard, California for primary flight training in a Boeing Stearman bi-wing trainer.

The next three month, including Christmas, was spent in Tucson, Arizona at the Marana Air Force Base, learning advanced flying on a T-6 Texas trainer. Early in 1944, the want-to-be pilot was sent to Williams Field in Chandler, Arizona, which had an enormous year-round swimming pool that made up a little for having to spend his first Christmas away from home. It was certainly different from the snowy Christmas that Ralph was used to back home. Here Ralph’s training included eight hours of flying the AT-9s and ten hours flying the ‘bullet fast’ P-38s. Finally, he was flying the planes of his dreams.

On the ground, Ralph mastered the Commando Training course with the slogans “ Toughening Up Over There” and “Rough’Em Up Over There” giving him the determination to follow through. At the end of his training March 12, 1944, he graduated with the Silver Wings of a 2nd Lieutenant. After completion of that phase of training, Lt. Martin volunteered for Photo Reconnaissance duty, to be sure of flying his treasured P-38s. This even stationed him closer to home at Will Rogers’ Field near Oklahoma City allowing him to at least fly over the old home place in Kansas.

Sightseeing around the United States came to an end in mid-1944 as he finished his training. The Air Force flew Ralph from Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, stopping briefly in Florida, then flying through South America, Africa, and India to Kumming, China. There they joined the 21st Photo Reconnaissance, which was a part of General Chenault’s 14th Air force or The Flying Tigers as they were called. This way of seeing the world was different than the camping, service style, back in the Good Old USA.

During his time in China, this Kansas Jayhawker flew over what looked like the entire world taking aerial photographs as far west as Mandalay in Burma; north to Mukden near the Russian border. In between were strange-sounding names like Nanking, Canton, Amoy, Formosa, Hengyang, Wenchow, and Changsha soon became familiar spots on the pilot’s map. These flights were just a one-man crew flying a P-38 with a camera mounted on the nose and one on each wing tip that took pictures from horizon to horizon. Lt. Martin was one of six American pilots to receive The Chinese Pilot’s Wings from Colonel Tiger Wong, chief of the Chinese Air Force for photo coverage for China.

During 1944 and 1945 this flying Kansan proudly called his P-38 the JAYHAWK and had one painted on the nose of his plane. He explained, “The Jayhawk was the best known Kansas symbol in those days and I thought it would look good and it did. A local Chinese did the graphic of the Jayhawk as good as the original picture I received from home.”

A WWII Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was on a mission in March 1945 that this Greenwood County farm boy was awarded “The Distinguished Flying Cross.” Lt. Martin flew the first American photo assignment over Nanjing, Shanghai, and Hangchow on the east coast of China. Neither the U.S. nor the Chinese had aerial maps of the country that far east. The Lieutenant flew by the tracings of an old escape and evasive map drawn on silk.

It was an eight-hour flight at the maximum altitude of 35,000 feet to be above the enemy planes. The Japanese could only fly 28,000 feet high and the American photo reconnaissance planes were not equipped with guns. In the non-pressurized P-38 the pilot experienced extremely cold temperature at that altitude. Ralph had plenty of time to wish he was back in Missouri training with just buckets of water that froze overnight.

Lt. Martin’s tour of duty came to an end when the ‘BOMB’ was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At that time Ralph was on a ship in the harbor at Colombo, Ceylon, headed for home, his tour of service was over. When he docked on the east coast near Boston, he knew he never wanted to set foot on another ship, if he couldn’t fly he would stay on the ground. Ralph’s only regret in heading home was leaving the Jayhawk behind.

The adventures of Ralph Martin can be traced along with many other Greenwood County service men and women in three bulging scrapbooks in the Greenwood County Museum in Eureka, Kansas. The scrapbooks were compiled by Ralph’s mother, Cora, from the items she clipped each week from the Madison News.

(This was a cover story published in Kanhistique, April 1996 and a revised version in The Wichita Eagle Friday, November 10, 2000, in a special edition titled, DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.)

Matching Photos

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The photo of my father, Clyde Martin, as a baby has always made me smile. Sitting on his grandfather’s lap, he’s sucking his thumb and frowning. His older sisters are in the picture too but unfortunately, some of the children are cut off at the bottom. The grandparents are Alfred and Marie Kennedy Joy.

Marie and Alfred Joy with their grandchildren. About 1924 or 1925.

I found a companion photo just today. The grandparents aren’t in this newly discovered picture, but there’s Baby Clyde with the same children in the same clothing, sitting on the steps of the same porch. Even the dog made it into this photo.

The expressions on their faces are a great improvement over the previous picture. Since there were only 4 older sisters, I’m guessing that some of the children are their cousins.

Clyde Martin (baby) and his siblings and possibly cousins, about 1924 or 1925.

There are no names on the photo, but the children (in descending age) would be Dorothy, Helen, Vivian, Zella, Ralph, and Clyde. Howard and Charles were born later. The little girl in the ruffled shirt looks very much like Clyde’s daughter, Karen, but obviously is not unless there was some kind of time warp.

Below, you see the grown-up Clyde Martin in 1955 and Karen in the sailor dress. Notice that her sister Cindy has a similar haircut with bangs as the children in the 1920s.

Clyde, Gail, Karen, and Cindy – about 1955

Here’s another picture posted on Ancestry by a 2nd cousin and nicely labeled with names. This gives us the identity of two of the girls and they are first cousins of Clyde Martin and his siblings. That means the girl in plaid, and the three dark-haired girls in the first picture would be the Martin sisters.

Harry and Mildred (Millie) Joy and their daughters Harriett and Louise.

Searching further in my disorganized digital collection of family photos, I found Lorenzo and Cora Martin with their six children. Many thanks to my ancestors for photographing everyone on this occasion in 1925.

I’m glad to finally match all of these up.

Cora and Ren with their children. 1925

Week 2 of the 52 Ancestors Challenge – Topic: Favorite Find

Thanksgiving Wasn’t Always Turkey

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It’s great fun searching out the tidbits in vintage newspapers about our ancestors. Probably it’s more appealing to me as a retired librarian than to the average person. Of course, it’s a lot easier searching for news with my Newspapers.com online subscription using keywords. In my mother’s day, she had to visit libraries and struggle with the microfilm reader. The newspapers were not indexed then, so she would have to scan page after page looking for the family names.

Thanksgiving cartoon by John T. McCutcheonThanksgiving cartoon by John T. McCutcheon 28 Nov 1913, Fri The Coffeyville Weekly Journal (Coffeyville, Kansas) Newspapers.com

Here are some of my finds relating to Thanksgiving.

Harry Joy - ThanksgivingHarry Joy – Thanksgiving 27 Nov 1946, Wed The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) Newspapers.com

This 1946 Thanksgiving is at the home of my grand-uncle, Harry Joy. I found it interesting to see roast goose, pheasant, and chicken on the menu, but no turkey. It doesn’t give his wife’s name, but it is Mildred, also called Millie.

The guests included their daughter, Harriet, who was married to Theoren Miller. The Joys younger daughter, Orvetta was there also with her husband, Morris Yeager. I’ve no idea about the Morrison and Vaught families and how they connect.

Clyde Martin's parents spend Thanksgiving with them in El Dorado.Clyde Martin’s parents spend Thanksgiving with them in El Dorado. 24 Nov 1959, Tue The Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) Newspapers.com

This 1959 Thanksgiving brings my grandparents, Charles Lorenzo and Cora, from Emporia to El Dorado for the holiday meal. Again, it is without turkey. Maybe Dad had been hunting while laid off work, but I don’t remember eating duck, quail, and prairie chicken. I would have been about 9-years-old. How many quail and prairie chickens would it take to feed six children and four adults?

Usually, the company handed out turkeys to the oilfield workers at Thanksgiving. Sometimes they just gave them a bottle of whiskey which probably was a big hit with the young single men, but was a big disappointment to those with family to feed.

Here are some more family stories about Thanksgiving:

1920s Couple

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Here’s a photo that I wish I knew more about. What I do know is that the solemn couple is Ed and Bessie Bolte. Bessie is my grandmother’s sister, so one of the Vining siblings. The hairstyle and dress make me think this is from the 1920s. Probably it is in Teterville, Kansas, an oil boomtown where my Vining, McGhee, and Bolte relatives gathered during that era.

Men’s clothing don’t seem to change enough to help with dating photos, but Bessie’s short, crimped hairstyle and short dress help me set this in the 1920s.

I’ve delved into Bessie’s life a few times. You can read more about her in these.

Below is the blog challenge photo that reminded me of the photo in our family album.

Sepia Saturday (20 November 2021)

In the Army Now

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In participating in the Sepia Saturday picture challenge, I rummaged about hunting a photo of soldiers. I’d already shared this one of my mother’s cousin. You can read more about Ralph Vining’s fascinating life here.

Ralph on the motorcycle handlebars

It was a good match for the photo prompt that showed a moment of light-hearted camaraderie among soldiers. I’m guessing the Sepia Saturday picture features British soldiers, while my family photo shows American troops. Still, they are both probably from the same era, World War II.

Women’s History Month – Unknown Women

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Sadly, many families have a stash of unlabeled ancestor photos. They end up wondering, “who are these people?” Sadder still, some end up tossing them out when they get discouraged over identifying the mystery photos.

The ones I’m sharing here today are women’s photos sent to me by my distant DNA cousin. Our connection is through the Ellison/Martin/Skaggs lines but these ladies could be sister-in-laws or daughter-in-laws with different surnames. I’m hoping that by sharing these here and mentioning the locations for the mystery photos that someone will recognize them.

My connection to those surnames is a 2nd great-aunt, Upha Martin whose mother was Sarah Ann Ellison. Upha, also called Effie, married Henry Talbot Skaggs.

The photos show 3 women with dark hair and a long, straight noses. The photos are from different locations. The older woman is in Abingdon, Illinois. The middle-aged woman is in Eureka, Kansas. The youngest dark-haired woman poses with a man (possibly a brother), and another young woman who is blonde. There is no location given for that one.

It doesn’t seem that these are all the same woman. The westward progression of the family was from Abingdon, Illinois to the Emporia, Kansas area and later in Oregon. It would be more likely if the younger woman was in Abingdon and the subject grew older as the family progressed west.

The eyebrows on the first woman are not a good match for the second, younger woman. Possibly, they are mother/daughter or aunt/niece or in some way related.

I did a reverse image search using Tineye but found nothing on the Internet that matched any of the three photos. I’ll leave them here and hope for some revelation in the future. For now, they are unknown, but I know they deserve a place somewhere on our family tree.

Many thanks to Effie Skaggs great-grandson,

Dean Presnall, for sharing these photos with me.

Women’s History Month – Ruth’s Gingham Dress

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A newspaper advertisement in the 1921 Kansas City Star reminded me of my grandmother and a dress she had. It was the time when hemlines were on their way up and it was acceptable to show a little of the ankle. Women were no longer constrained by the bustle or hoopskirt of earlier generations.

gingham dresses with wide collars, 1921gingham dresses with wide collars, 1921 24 Jan 1921, Mon The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) Newspapers.com

The picture of Ruth Vining in her plaid dress with a white collar dates to 1918 or 1919 as it was sent in a letter to Ruth Vining’s brother Albert in France. Apparently, gingham and wide collars were the style for several years. In that era, many women of modest means had only a few dresses.

Lucy Vining Bolte and Ruth Vining McGhee with their mother, Nancy J. Vining.

The price in the advertisement seems quite affordable, but Ruth would have depended on her husband’s earnings as a soldier in the U.S. Army. She might have earned a little from taking care of the chickens and selling the eggs to the local store. Since she married right before her husband, Clarence Oliver McGhee, went off to France, I’ve always presumed that she lived with her mother while he was overseas.

The dress appears to be in soft colors and I always imagined the plaid to be soft pinks, yellows, and greens. At this time, there’s no way to know the actual color of the dress. Even her hairstyle looks similar to the sketch in the ad, with the puff of hair on the forehead. About this time, women were starting to have their hair bobbed. Ruth lived in a small Kansas town named Tyro, so I don’t know if she was that progressive or if her hair was long and twisted up in a bun at the back.

Women’s History Month – Lois Joy Leslie

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Lois Adelaide Joy was the third daughter born to George Washington Joy and Dacy Richards. Lois’ younger brother, Alfred Joy was my great-grandfather. She was born September 25, 1867 in Vinland in the eastern part of the new state of Kansas.

Lois Adelaide Joy (from the collection of Dick Joy)

Her older sister, Mary Frances Joy, died when Lois was just one. More sisters were added to the family and some boys too. The family moved to nearby Eudora when Lois was three. When Lois was eight, her mother died after giving birth to another baby girl, Ella Susan Joy. Lois left school after the 8th grade (according to the 1940 census).

Three years after the death of her mother, her father remarried and so a new baby came along two years later. That completed the family. Since Lois was 13-years-old by then, she probably helped take care of her little half-brother, Stephen Garfield Joy.

At 18, Lois married William Leslie whose nickname was Willie. He was 8 years older than Lois. I don’t know if the photo below is from their wedding or later on in life.

Lois and William Leslie’s Children

  • Lloyd Rodger LESLIE
  • Vernon Dee LESLIE
  • Vera Justina LESLIE (called Tina)
  • Alfred Willie LESLIE
  • Bessie LESLIE
  • Alonzo LESLIE (called Lon)
  • Dolly LESLIE
  • Ruth LESLIE
  • James Arthur LESLIE
  • George LESLIE

There were some sad times in their lives. Bessie only lived 3 months and Dolly died at birth and the last baby (George) died at the age of 5 months.

The picture below shows their first four children. You can read more about this picture in an earlier blog post. Tina, the girl standing in the photo, died suddenly at age 14. The oldest boy lost a finger in an industrial accident at age 17. In WWI, their oldest son, Lloyd Rodger Leslie, served in an Ambulance Company in France. What a worry that must have been.

Left to Right; Tina, Alfred, Vernon & Lloyd Leslie (photo from the collection of Dick Joy)

The 1925 Kansas census gives a glimpse into Willie and Lois’ later life. They were living in the Kansas City area and 65-year-old Willie lists his profession as grocer. Their 19-year-old son, James, is living with them and lists his work as railroad coach cleaner. William Leslie died on Christmas Day that same year, leaving Lois a widow at age 58.

Lois Adelaide Joy Leslie died in 1947 at age 79.

Read More About the Joy Family

Women’s History Month – Sarah Buckland

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I set to work today sorting out the Sarah Bucklands on my family tree. They were really confusing me, so I’ll separate them out here with some sources relating to their lives.

Sarah Smith Buckland

Sarah Smith is my 4th great-grandmother. Her father, John Smith, and her mother, Ruth Kernes were both 30 at the time she was born in 1738 in New Haven, Connecticut. She married Alexander Buckland on October 1, 1760, in her hometown. They had nine children in 17 years. She died on July 19, 1823, in Ellington, Connecticut, having lived a long life of 85 years, and was buried there.

Sarah Buckland (daughter of Sarah Smith Buckland)

Little Sarah lived just 5 years, dying the 19th of May in 1769. She was buried in the Ellington Center Cemetery in Tolland County, Connecticut.

Source: Connecticut, U.S., Hale Collection of Cemetery Inscriptions and Newspaper Notices, 1629-1934

Sarah Buckland’s gravestone from Find-A-Grave

Sarah Heath Buckland (daughter-in-law of Sarah Smith Buckland)

Sarah Heath, my 3rd great-grandmother, married Erastus Buckland, the son of Alexander and Sarah (Smith) Buckland. He was born on April 2, 1774, in East Windsor, Connecticut. Erastus and Sara Heath married on June 8, 1798, in his hometown. They had 11 children in 16 years. He died on November 28, 1820, in East Windsor, Connecticut, at the age of 46, and was buried there.

Sarah Heath was born on April 19, 1775, in East Windsor, Connecticut. Her father, Stephen Heath, was 24, and her mother, Sarah Polly Osborn, was 20. Sarah Heath Buckland died on October 21, 1850, in her hometown, having lived a long life of 75 years, and was buried there.

Sarah Marie Buckland Bower (daughter of Sarah Heath Buckland)

Erastus and Sarah (Heath) Buckland named one of their daughters, Sarah Maria Buckland. She was born on March 28, 1804, in East Windsor, Connecticut. This Sarah married Sidney Bower in 1836 and they had two son. Sidney died in 1854, leaving Sarah widowed. His will listed the property he owned such as the home lot and some meadow land, as well as details like 1 hog, 1 cow, 1 gold pen, $360 in the bank (which was quite a bit in those days).

Her mother, Sarah Heath Buckland was living with the family in 1850. In the 1870 United States Federal Census, Sarah Bower lists her work as tailoress and the value of her estate as $4,200. Ten years later, she was living with her son, John.

Sources: Find-a-Grave, North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000, Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915

Sarah Buckland Bower - deathSarah Buckland Bower – death 05 Jul 1892, Tue Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) Newspapers.com

Women’s History Month – Charity Bourne Blair

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This month, I’ll be featuring women from my family tree for Women’s History Month. I’ll launch this with my fourth great-grandmother, Charity Bourne. Her parents were William Bourne and Rosamond Jones (called Rosa). I wrote earlier about their burial place in Virginia.

Charity had a long life for that time, dying at age 83 on July 13, 1860 in Grayson County, Virginia. Her gravestone can be seen in the Blair Cemetery in Cliffview, Carroll County, Virginia.

Photo by a descendant, Nuckolls.

She was born the 7th of November in 1775 in Grayson County, Virginia where her parents were among the first settlers. Here’s a little bit about the early history of Grayson County and the Bournes. There’s a photo of the log barn belonging to William Bourne. I’m amazed at the size of it and that it was still around in 1950 to be photographed for this story.

William Bourne's barn and early Grayson County history.William Bourne’s barn and early Grayson County history. 11 Jun 1950, Sun The Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia) Newspapers.com

Here’s an excerpt from the clipping above: “When Grayson County was formed from Wythe County in 1792 there was, of course, no courthouse. The first court held in the county was held in 1793 in William Bourne’s barn near Spring Valley. As the court sat in this barn which was constructed of white oak logs with pine siding and cedar shingles, a group of civic minded squires got together and made plans to ‘fix upon a place for holding courts.’ It seems according to the Galax Gazette that the court ‘fixed upon a place known as Rose’s Cabins.’

Then progress took hold. Three gentlemen, Charles Nuckolls, Flower Swift, and Philip Gaines conveyed 100 acres of land to the cause. Streets and lots were laid off and in 1794 a log courthouse was constructed. Since a jail was needed to back up the judging that went on in the courthouse a structure was built of logs fitted tightly together. Huge hand-forged nails were driven into the logs so closely together they gave the effect of being almost solid metal. The place was named Greenville but the post office was called Grayson Courthouse.”

Also in 1793, Charity Bourne married John Blair. John Blair was the son of Thomas Blair (who came to America from Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland) and Rebecca Andrews. His parents came to Chestnut Creek and acquired large tracts of land where his father, together with Matthew Dickey, manufactured iron. John was an only son and inherited most of his father’s land and became “the wealthiest and most influential man in the county. For years he sat in the Legislature but was defeated for re-election in 1842 by John Carroll.” 

John and Charity lived at Blair’s Forge near what is now Blair Depot in Carroll County, Virginia. The couple had 9 children between 1794 and 1818.

Polly Blair
1794–1895

Rosamonde Bourne Blair
1799–1875

Thomas Blair
1799–1876

Rebecca Blair
1801–1879

Lorenzo Dow Blair
1807–1862

Celia D Blair Jones
1807–1896

Elizabeth H Blair
1812–1901

Algernon Sidney Blair
1815–1904

Lucinda Blair
1818–1886

Sources

  • Pioneer Settlers of Grayson County, Virginia By Benjamin Floyd Nuckolls 1914
  • Ancestry.com
  • Find-A-Grave
  • Newspapers.com