Although Henry Joseph Adam was sixty years old when the United States entered World War II, he made the decision to apply his skills as a carpenter more than fifteen hundred miles from home at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon.1 This was one of several emergency shipyards established during wartime that oversaw the construction of numerous Liberty and Victory ships.2
Henry ventured to Oregon in 1942, although he was not there continuously; his wife of thirty-seven years, Melanie, remained at their home in Iowa.3 However, we know that Henry was in Portland in June of 1943 when he mailed the following letter:
red your letter last night and it seam funey to me to here of so many people dying sent i left. i just got back from supper i was out to cool and here it is quarty to eight so will send you my first check rent i got sick and it leave me purty short you ask me what i am doing well i send you the slip of the copany witch i am with and i is house prog work and i am in side setting up book case and kitchen cabinet and thresh hold and it is a snap so far. and the Boos pick me up right at the door so that make it fine i leave here at half past 7 and we get back about 5.75 and by the time i get to cool it is 6.00. well Mealane i will send you my driver licin so you get me a new one and i wish you would send me the last MWAR so i can go and play cribag with the man that live in the back room that old lady say you aught to be out here now to see the purty flowrs and so many it rain every day a little bit and the night are fine so i guest that about all i think of so good By and good luck
I don’t have the impression that Henry had occasion to write many letters in his lifetime. His spelling errors are numerous, and at times humorous – for one, his wife actually spelled her name Melanie, not Mealane! However, his apparent lack of practice in spelling and grammar is understandable for a hardworking tradesman of the era. After spending his early years in Massachusetts surrounded by so many relatives of French Canadian descent that he had no reason to speak English until he entered school, Henry moved to Iowa where he spent the remainder of his childhood on his father’s homestead. He did not attend school beyond eighth grade, at which point he likely entered the workforce.3 By the time he was thirty, he had settled on carpentry as a profession.4
A carpenter Henry remained until his death. On 28 March 1944, Henry suffered a fatal heart attack in Long Beach, California, where he had been a resident for less than a week.5 He had likely pursued work at the US Naval Dry Docks, later the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, as the United States was still in the throes of World War II. His letter, written less than a year prior to his death, documents this final chapter of his life.
Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
1 “Henry J. Adam,” undated clipping, ca. March 1944, Sioux City [Iowa] Journal; Adam Family, privately held by Melanie Frick.
2 “World War II Liberty Ships and the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation,” USA Military Medals (http://blog.usamm.com/story-world-war-ii-liberty-ships/ : accessed 15 June 2015).
3 “Henry J. Adam,” undated clipping, ca. March 1944, Sioux City [Iowa] Journal
4 1910 U.S. census, Woodbury County, Iowa, population schedule, Sioux City Ward 1, enumeration district (ED) 175, sheet 21-A, p. 1920 (handwritten), dwelling 420, family 626, Henry Adams; digital image, Ancestry.com(http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 June 2015), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 429.
5 Los Angeles County, California, death certificate no. 2744, “Henry J. Adams,” 28 March 1944.