Uncle Franklin

Cori’s excellent reminder that “Memorial Day isn't about hamburgers, beer, and friends — it's about remembering what it took to ensure that we could have hamburger, beer, and friends” got me thinking…

Our parents used the mantle above the fireplace in the Ancestral Betz Home in Camden, NJ for immediate family pictures – nearly the entire space was filled with various school portraits of my brother, sister and me.  (The only exception was at Christmastime, when they’d come down and the Nativity would go up.)

In fact, there was only one picture that wasn’t one of us children, a faded sepia-colored photo of a young sandy-haired man in a dress-shirt uniform.  That man was my mom’s older brother.  My uncle Franklin, a man I never met.

At the time of America’s entrance into World War II, my uncle had had signed a contract to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies.  But when the war started, he enlisted, volunteered for submarine duty and was assigned to the USS Herring (SS-233) as a motor machinists mate.  The submarine had successful tours in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

On its last patrol, The Herring had torpedoed four Japanese vessels, but was sunk off the Kuril Islands on June 1st, 1944, losing all hands.  My uncle was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart.  He was 21 years old.  The Herring was never recovered.

My mother didn’t talk much about her older brother – mostly saying that he knew how to make everyone laugh – but you can tell that she looked up to him so much (mom was a teenager when the war started) and thought of him often.

One story she did tell was that her mother had come to them one morning and said that she knew that Franklin had died because she had seen him in a dream crying out for her amidst flames and steam.  So, no one seemed very surprised when the “Navy Car” pulled up to the house to inform the family some weeks later.

So, while I certainly plan on enjoying this holiday weekend, I will spend a little time saluting the sacrifice of my uncle Franklin, who I saw every day in our living room and would have loved to have gotten to know.

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12 thoughts on “Uncle Franklin

  1. That's a neat story. I had a great uncle who died while serving in WWII. He was also on a ship but died of dental problems and was buried at sea.

  2. What a chilling story. My heart hurts for your grandmother who had to deal with such a horrifying premonition and loss. I was lucky…both my grandfathers were in WW II but survived. I have an uncle who survived Vietnam also but he would NEVER talk about it. You can tell how it changed him. Thanks for sharing so we can all reflect on the great sacrifices out veterans and their families have made for our freedom.

  3. This is a great tribute to someone who died serving his country. Thanks for sharing the story and saluting your uncle.
    Twenty one….that's so young.

  4. What a nice tribute to your uncle! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I'm so glad for he and so many others like him who were willing to pay the ultimate price for our freedom.

  5. Your article touched my heart as I am the youngest of 8 children. My oldest
    brother, George William French was crew member when the Herring was sunk.
    I was only 4 yrs old at the time but many pictures and memories of him
    were shared by my mom.

  6. I love this story, Steve. My dad, for reasons unknown to me, rarely spoke of Uncle Franklin. I have a sepia-colored photo of him as well. And every time I walk by it, I thank him for his sacrifice. I, too, wish I had known him.

    PS: little by little I am reading your posts. I love it.

    • D — I wonder how much your dad remembered Uncle Franklin? He was probably pretty young when he went off to war. If you have the capability, I’d love for it if you could scan that photo of Uncle Franklin and send me a jpeg. I’ve tried to get Barb to do it, but she’s errr — a little technology challenged… :)

      • After my dad passed, we found letters Franklin wrote to grandmother. In one of the letters, Franklin told my dad he could have/use his baseball shoes. My (very) limited knowledge of the human condition tells me those shoes were too big to fill, as my dad was the next oldest son. Those letters have since gone to Uncle Bob. I loved sitting and reading those letters – yes, they were sad, but they were a part of my (our) family history. I still wonder why on earth my father never shared those with us – especially me – I was always bugging him with questions about the loss of his brother and the war that took him from his family at such a young age. Perhaps it was just too sad.
        YES, I will surely send you the pic ! I haven’t been technology challenged since 1997 ! Shoot me an email and I will reply with a jpeg of the pic.

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