Another family tale, of WWII

By | November 27, 2017

On Quora, the answer site, a question was recently posed: “During World War 2, soldiers were in their 20s. What happened to people who were in their 30s? How did they contribute to the country’s defense?” I took the opportunity to tell a short story about one such man – my father, Warren Eveland . I thought that his tale might provide illumination of sorts. He was quite a guy, and had quite a life (I’ve written about him on previous occasions.)

At the outbreak of the US part of the war in 1941, he was 37 and working as the Director of the Territory of Alaska Health Laboratory. He was a microbiologist, with an MPH from the University of Michigan. (My mother was the Juneau Office of the Americanized Red Cross; she was a social worker. They had at that time been married almost two years.) He had actually been in the Army for a couple of years during the 30s, but had been honorably discharged, and took a reserve commission as a lieutenant. He was, of course, called up immediately – and then the Army sent him right back where he was working, because he was basically the only one who knew what was going on in the lab; the only difference was that he now wore a uniform to work.

My mother was transferred by the Red Cross down to Camp Roberts in California, where they needed a social worker. But after a few months, they sent her back to Alaska, since she also had unique local knowledge. As an Army spouse, she really wasn’t supposed to be in Alaska since Father was also there, but the Red Cross said they would work it all out. In the meantime, Father and Mother were able to get together on weekends in a hotel in downtown Anchorage. Mother once commented that of all the couples who were signed in as “married” at the front desk, they were probably actually the only ones who really were; she said it felt like she was having an affair with her husband. As a result of this affair, I showed up rather unexpectedly. Once she was definitely pregnant, Mother was discharged from the Red Cross and shipped out of Alaska; she got to ride in a DC-3 mail plane from Seattle to Chicago, four months pregnant and bouncing around on sacks of mail. Amazingly, I survived.

A year or so later, once the war was in full swing, Father was needed by the Army for his microbiology skills in another capacity. They were setting up a series of POW camps for German and Italian prisoners in Utah and New Mexico, and he found himself as the and in chief sanitary officer for a group of several camps. That’s right; his master’s degree in public health qualified him to supervise the digging of latrines by various Germans and Italians. This lasted well beyond the end of the war, because he couldn’t leave until the camps were emptied. Thus, he was one of the last Army people to be discharged, not until early 1947; he had at least risen to the rank of major by then. Father’s stories about the days in the POW camps were quite entertaining.

What he really wanted to do was stay in the Army and have them send them to medical school, where he had always wanted to go. Unfortunately, he was some three weeks over the age limit that established for that program. By way of compensation, the Army did take him back in and send him to get his PhD in microbiology. He then served until he had to retire at the age of 55 in 1959; at that time, he was the second most senior colonel in the U.S. Army (the Medical Service Corps in which he served was prohibited by law from having any generals in it.) He went on to a second career as a professor at the University of Michigan in the School of Public Health where he had originally studied, finally retiring from there in 1975. He had quite a fascinating career mixing military service with science. Growing up as an Army brat was definitely a mixed blessing for me, but that’s another story. I was fortunate that my father was one of the least military Army officers that you could imagine. As a result of his obligations, I was well over 3 years old before I even met my father. At least he did come home, unlike the fathers of a number of my friends.

A long and rather rambling answer to the question, and only the tale of one man – but N=1 case studies can be helpful on occasion. My uncles who were a little younger than my father could provide more cases; they also had interesting careers with both military and civilian elements, but those are stories for another day.

(And yes, I never called my parents anything but “Father” and “Mother”. Just a family peculiarity I suppose.)