75 Years On

Understanding the past through the lives of our ancestors helps give a personal look at history. Documents of all sorts can explain the politics, the employment opportunities, the weather, even what’s on sale at the grocery store, but rarely, if at all, do we learn what our ancestors and relatives thought. Those lucky enough to have letters, diaries or oral history gain a different perspective, but this is uncommon. Most of us have to hold back on the “did he think; did she know” type ponderings, and focus on what story can be told from the records that do exist.

My great-uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl, the youngest of his siblings and one of two children born after the family arrived in the United States, enlisted and served in World War II. At the time of his enlistment in May 1942, he had a wildly successful nightclub, the Empire Ca-BAR-et, and according to the St. Louis Star and Times, had a III-A Draft rating,[1] so the choice to serve came from another reason lost to time.[2]

Researching Irv’s war-time experience taught me a lot about the military, and preparation for war. Irv trained. And trained, and trained. Mostly at Camp Carson in Colorado, and there are some great photos he took out there. Then Louisiana, California, and Camp Butner in North Carolina. It wasn’t until 1944 that it seemed he would end up in the war theatre, and it wasn’t until the Spring of 1945 that he did.

In the coming weeks, I’ll present the research I conducted on the 89th Infantry Division, and specifically the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, as they marched across France, Luxembourg and Germany. The 89th, the 914th (and others) were part of the liberation of Ohrdruf, and they witnessed the aftermath of the atrocities committed there.

Rolling Ahead Publication Map[3]

Irv served more than three years in the Army, and returned to St. Louis in time to celebrate the Japanese surrender while at a “lock in” at his brother’s bar – Carl’s Cocktail Lounge.[4] Irv returned to the nightclub scene himself, operating the Orchid Lounge, and died in 1955.

I interviewed those who knew Irv when he was alive, and no one recalled him ever speaking of his Army experience. I have the documents, I have the photos, and in all of that, I only have these words written by Irv: “No sleep for 3 days & nites.  Mighty tired.  Leichenstein [sic] Germany

Next in the series: Researching the soldier’s story.

Looking for information on

[1] “Kid Regan’s Column,” The St. Louis Star and Times, Thursday, 21 May 1942, p23.

[2] Men with dependents, not engaged in work essential to national defense. This refers, most likely, to Irv’s aged mother, with whom he lived and supported. https://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/conscientiousobjection/MilitaryClassifications.htm accessed 24 Feb 2020.

[3] Map insert, Rolling AHEAD! The Story of the 89th Infantry Division.  Major General Thomas D. Finley and staff, Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division, Hq., USFET, no date. Collection of the Carl Family.

[4] The story of the lock in to celebrate the Japanese surrender was relayed to me by Jack Carl, who occasionally worked for his Uncle Max at Carl’s Cocktail Lounge. Jack was 19 years old in 1945.

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