The Lady in the Locket
When my grandfather, Clyde Pendleton, died in 1965, a naval button that opened as a locket with a photograph of an attractive young woman was passed down to me. The woman in the photograph, however, is not my grandmother. Who is the lady in the locket? Throughout his life Clyde stuck to the story that the locket had been tossed to him from the sea by a dying sailor. His wife of 32 years, Ella, did not dispute the story.
Many of the stories that the seafaring Clyde told throughout his life should be taken with a grain of salt. Tall and slender with black hair, Clyde took great delight in a well-played practical joke. An electrician by trade, he once rigged up a box in a friend’s camp bathroom with the words “For Men Only” painted on the top. Opening the box triggered an elaborate series of lights and bells that flashed and clanged throughout the small camp – undoubtedly causing much embarrassment to a curious woman. Surely his brown eyes twinkled every time that box was opened.
It turns out that Clyde had another wife who he divorced shortly after he joined the Navy at the start of America’s entrance into World War I. Could the woman in the locket be Erma Isabella Young whom he married in 1911? His July, 1917 draft registration card indicates that he was married. Since he did not marry his second wife, my grandmother, Ella until 1921, it is clear that he was still married to Erma when he entered the Navy in August of 1917. However, wedded bliss was not in the cards for Clyde and Erma. By December of 1917, the couple were in the midst of divorce. Copies of several letters handwritten by Erma to the Navy are in Clyde’s naval record complaining that “he has left me and has not given me any support since Dec 3, 1917. As he is trying to unwed me for an Other [sic]. I shall have to call on the Navy Dept for support under the Act Off [sic] Congress Approved Oct 6, 1917 with the allowence [sic] which the government will add.” A subsequent letter from Clyde (apparently written by an attorney) to the Navy explained his actions: “During the middle of December 1917 I caused an action to be brought in the County of Hancock, State of Maine against Erma B. Pendleton, praying for a divorce on the ground of improper and adulterous conduct. . . .At regular intervals of time I gave her a reasonable and suitable allowance of money . . . In that my wife has acquired adulterous propensities, refused to live at the domicile which I established and maintained for her, took therefrom a considerable proportion of the furniture and household appurtenances that were my separate and sole property, and appropriated the same to her own use and comfort, I have, acting under the advice of counsel, refused to longer support or contribute to her support.”
It is a possibility that the photograph could be the adulterous Erma, but since it appears that they had a nasty divorce the question arises, why would Clyde keep a picture of her for the rest of his life? And why would Clyde’s second wife approve of him keeping the locket? Clyde served his entire naval career on the troop transport ship, the USS America. On one ocean crossing, the ship was involved in an accident during a storm with another ship in its convoy, the USS Instructor. The bow of the Instructor was severed and the ship sank in less than 10 minutes. Thirty-one men lost their lives – perhaps the locket really was tossed from the sea by a dying sailor. The mystery remains.