Seventy years ago today, my grandparents and newly married parents faced a foreboding task, one that was shared by just about everyone in America with a young man of draft age in the family.
On January 23, 1943, they climbed into Dad’s Model A Ford and drove the five blocks from their home down Chicago’s Washington Boulevard to the draft office, where my Dad’s ten-year younger brother, Frank Ebner Gartz, would officially report to begin the training to become a navigator for the Army Air Corps in World War II.
The photo to the right is the first “Gartz Family Photo” that includes my mother. Taken just two months after my parents married, and one week before Ebner was drafted, my guess is that my grandmother wanted a family picture with the “new Mrs. Gartz” as part of the family before her youngest son left for training.
I know the dates of both photos because each was labeled, but the car photo had more than a date. Coming upon it, I saw only an unremarkable old car parked on a snowy street, with no identifiable people. But it was on the back where I learned the critical event this photo documented.
Prior to finding the photo of the car, Blitzbuggy had only existed in family lore. My father had probably told us what vintage the dear little car was, but it hadn’t stuck in my memory. Dad’s notes not only identified the car—its year, model, and make—but also recorded the contribution Blitzbuggy had made to one of the pivotal events of the 20th century—and our family’s connection to it.
Here are his exact words—in italics (my comments are in brackets. Parentheses are his):
January 23, 1943
Ebner’s drafting. Saying farewell. Grandma [Dad’s mother] in Blitzbuggy (1929 Model A Ford). Lil [my mother] on right side. [Only the back of her coat and hair are visible.]
In front of the Draft board
4748 W. Washington Blvd. Chicago, Ill
Frank Ebner, (ABE-ner) Gartz, born May 14, 1924, was my grandparents’ youngest son. His middle name was taken from my grandmother, Lisi’s, maiden name, one you’ve read in numerous past posts.
The photo reveals a familiar Chicago winter scene: the snow is piled on the sidewalks, and greystone apartment buildings, typical of the city, form a backdrop. The entire atmosphere of the photo–its blurry focus, the gloomy, colorless weather, the faces of the two women in the photo hidden or indiscernible, the lone black auto on a strangely empty street–create a visual metaphor for the emotions of a family about to send its youngest off to war.
This date also started a flurry of letters back and forth between Ebner, as everyone in the family called Frank, and his family and friends. I hope to post excerpts of several of the letters, on or close to the day they were written. So keep tuned.