Years ago I ordered my grandfather’s World War I naval record from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. I doubted that there would be much of interest except for perhaps a medical record and his rank and duties during the war (much of which I already knew). I was SO wrong. Right in the middle of the 50 page document were three progressively nasty letters from his soon to be ex-wife and a drama that unfolded page by page. The first was dated February 11, 1918 complaining that he had left her and had not given her any support since December of 1917.
On March 1st she sent another letter to the Secretary of War reporting that she had flags that her husband had taken off of one of the ships that he worked on and that he had come to retrieve them and she didn’t give them to him. [When the US entered the war in 1917 several German ocean liners were caught on this side of the Atlantic, commandeered and refitted as troop transport ships. My grandfather worked as an electrician to refit these German ships.] She said he threatened to make trouble for her and that he “forbid the Navy Department to give me my money.”
On March 4th she wrote another letter in response to the Navy’s letter requesting more information so that they could identify her husband, again asking what she should do with the German flags that he had taken off the “Aughtenfelt [Ockenfels] – the first boat he worked on.” She also mentions that he also took a “coniator [?] and a Broneator [perhaps brominator?].” It appears that she was slyly trying to make trouble for him.
By March 22nd the Navy had found my grandfather among the ranks of the ship USS America and sent a letter to him through his commander.
My grandfather’s reply (clearly written by a lawyer) was priceless.
And it was accompanied by a character reference from the local Deputy Sheriff.
The Navy, in their infinite wisdom, washed their hands of the matter.
Two morals to the story:
1. Run, don’t walk, to get your ancestor’s military record.
2. Don’t commit adultery.