Jim Harris

            A shoebox full of history: American Soldiers in the Pacific, Pre-WW I.

            Last week I had a brief visit with an old friend from my days at New Mexico Junior College when she brought a shoebox full of history from her home in Hobbs.

            Elaine Richeson came up to the Lea County Museum with her daughter Melody to donate to the museum two World War II Navy uniforms that had belonged to her late husband Doyle.

            Elaine’s father-in-law, Jack Richeson, had been a soldier in the US Army in the years before World War I, and he had served in 1914 in the several parts of the world.

            Doyle had kept some memorabilia of his father, and among those belongings was a shoebox full of postcards with soldier pictures from the Philippines on the front of the cards.

            A few of the postcards had handwritten notes on them, but many of them were kept just for the island images where a lot of American troops were stationed in the first decade of the 20thcentury.

            To tell you the truth, I quickly got fascinated with the sharp images and wanted to learn more about the historical context for the images and how they came to be in Hobbs, then to Lovington and the museum.  The first time I studied them, I could not stop looking for a couple of hours.

            One other factor that caused me to dwell on the photos has to do with the fact that I have some relatives in my family who are part Filipino.  My brother married the daughter of a Filipino woman, who married a WW II American soldier. So my nieces Lisa and Rachel are part-Filipino, Lisa visiting last year her elderly maternal grandmother in Australia where some of their family members moved from the Philippines after WW II.

            That family connection prompted me to write a couple of essays for the Texas Folklore Society back in the 1980s about Filipino traditions brought to America in the 20thcentury.

            One final footnote to this subject is the fact that over the last few decades of visiting doctors offices and hospitals in Lea County has found me encountering  several nurses and medical personnel who had immigrated from the  Philippines.

            My wife Mary, a University of Southwest Education Professor, tells me that in addition to the many Filipinos in medicine, there are many who are quite a few who are teachers.

            Perhaps that is too long of an introduction to these photos that Elaine has donated to the museum, because they are just plain fascinating images of a world a century ago so unlike our contemporary world.

            Doyle Richeson  passed away in Hobbs in 2012.  I wish I had been able to visit with him about his and his father’s collection of postcards.  Doyle served (1943-1946) in the Asiatic Pacific, spending most of his time on the island of Tulag in the Solomon Islands.

            Doyle’s daughter Melody wrote to me about his communications with his family concerning his war experiences:

            “We have a huge scrapbook – where his mother carefully preserved every letter or postcard he sent back home all the time he was gone.  There are probably over a hundred.  Maybe more.  

            “We read through many of them with Dad a couple of years before he died (by the way, we never even knew this scrapbook existed until then.  He casually asked one evening if we would like to see some things from his time in the Navy.  We said, “Sure!”
            “He went and retrieved this scrapbook from a box in the garage.  Our mouths
just fell open.  He couldn’t believe that he wrote home that often.  At least one for every week, sometimes two, beginning with Boot Camp.   He said the officers must have stood over them requiring them to write home?!  

            “We laughed reading many of them because he used the word “swell” in every paragraph.  The food was swell.  The guys were swell.  The officers were swell.  Some town nearby was swell.  The island was swell.”            Elaine and Melody tell me that the box of postcards belonged to Elaine’s mother with the words “Jack’s War Pictures” written on its lid.  However, mother and daughter do not think Jack served in the Pacific, but in the Siberia.