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Video Footnotes: Remembering Dad & Honoring His Military Service

Author: John Millspaugh     Date: November, 2017

Shedding Light on Dad's War Experiences

Most of the information about Dad's war experience comes from his service records which have unit assignments, promotions, etc. Knowing unit names and the dates he was with them makes it possible to determine where he was throughout the war. Unfortunately, most of his personal experiences have been lost because he never talked much about it. He did tell Ramona about "living on a large island with an active volcano and cannibals," which was an obvious reference to Bougainville (cannibalism may have occurred there in the distant past.) Two other tidbits Ramona remembers him sharing were: 1) being unaffected by the sea-sickness that plagued many fellow Marines (and happy to eat the food they could not) and, 2) not allowing the serving of beets in our home after the war: apparently, there was a period when all they had to eat was beets.

Marine Corps Unit Organizational Structure

The largest unit in the Marine Corps is a Division. It varies in size but can have as many as 20,000 men. When WWII started, the most battle-ready unit, the First Division, was deployed to the south Pacific. Between August '42 and January '43, this Division took Guadalcanal from the Japanese. The Second Marine Division had been formed in mid-1941 and was first used in the Atlantic to protect Iceland from a possible German invasion. Dad's Third Marine Division was formed in Sept '42 at Camp Pendleton and Dad was an original member (aka a "plank owner.") By the war's end there were 6 Marine Divisions.

Dad's "Ninth Marines" were actually the Ninth Regiment of the Third Division. A regiment has several thousand men and is comprised of smaller units called battalions. Within battalions are companies (~ 250 men.) Dad served in the "wire section" of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, Ninth Regiment ("Ninth Marines"), Third Marine Division.

Notes on WWII Marine Corps Training Locations

The Camp Elliot training camp, where Dad took much of his training before heading overseas, was closed in 1960. Since 1997, it has been the site of the Marine Corps Air Station - Miramar, California.

Before researching the history of the Ninth Marines, I had no idea Dad had spent about six months in New Zealand during the war. A lot of information about the Americans' stay there may be found at https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/us-forces-in-new-zealand. The New Zealand people gave the Americans a warm welcome: many invited men for home-cooked meals, etc. Ultimately, over 1,500 marriages between American boys and New Zealand girls resulted.

The Bougainville Battle

The interview with Bougainville Marine veteran William McDonald was extracted from two longer YouTube videos: Bougainville and Guadalcanal (Part 1) and Bougainville and Guadalcanal (Part 2).

The most readable account of the Bougainville invasion is found in Doan Helms Jr's Bougainville: A Marine's Story. A more detailed, though less personal, account of that battle can be read online at Top of the Ladder: Marine Operations in the Northern Solomons by John C. Chapin

The Bougainville volcano Dad told Mona about when she was young was probably Mount Bagana. which is located within 10 miles of the Empress Augusta Bay assault area. The photo below comes from a 2016 news article that describes recent volcanic activity threatening the area.

Bougainville's Mt Bagana today (Empress Augusta Bay in background)

Dad's Family Tree

The family tree chart below shows Dad's side of the family, going back to his grandparents and continuing through his children.

Dad's Family Tree

Some notes about Dad's family ancestry chart follow:

Dad's paternal grandmother, Selina (Lena) Morgan, was born here but her parents emigrated from England
Dad's half-sister, Marcia K. Loy, now lives in Mexico. Her daughter, Cass Kostakos, lives in Minnesota
Dad's other half-sister, Sybil Millspaugh, married Bill Rose and was mother to his children from a previous marriage but had no children of her own
Not shown on the chart is Hazel Ochletree's first marriage to William H Parker. A photo of their son, Wilbert Parker, alongside Sybil and Dad (when Dad returned from WWII) appears in the video. Hazel said she was a pure-blooded native American of the Cherokee tribe. In her later years, she lived with her daughter Sybil in Albuquerque, NM and Judy had the opportunity to visit her there several times and get to know her better
Ramona now lives in Three Rivers, Michigan and Judy is near Ramona in Kalamazoo. Janet lives in Donaphan, Missouri and John lives in Summit, New Jersey. George is still in Indianapolis
Dad and Gina Marie are buried in Memorial Park Cemetery, Indianapolis. Mom's ashes were spread over Dad's grave when she died in 2002

Millspaugh: From Germany to Indianapolis in 8 Generations

1)   Mathiaas (aka Matys/Mattice) Millspaugh (1700-1769) was one of 3 brothers who emigrated from Germany in the early 1720s. In German, the family name was "Melsbach" and the brothers came from the Neuwied area near the village of Melsbach. Mathiaas settled in Ulster County, New York where he farmed his own land. He married Anna Bosch in 1721. His son...
2)   Peter (aka Pieter or Detter) Millspaugh (1726-1761) was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church of Montgomery, New York in 1741. He married Susannah Comfort in 1747. Peter's son...
3)   Benjamin Millspaugh (1750-?) was born in Montgomery, NY and married Maria Mingus there in 1791. He served with the 4th Orange County New York Militia during the American Revolutionary War. His son...
4)   Peter Baxter Millspaugh (1775-1855) was born in Montgomery New York. He was a farmer and member of Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Thompson Ridge, NY. In 1799, he married Hyla Duryea. In 1820, the family was living in Butler County, Ohio and by 1830, they were in Franklin Co. Indiana. Peter is buried in Mt Carmel, Indiana. His son...
5)   Virgil Millspaugh (1810-1849) was born in Butler County, Ohio. He was in Franklin County, Indiana by 1836 when he married Mary Ann (Mary Jane?) Hayse. Virgil's son...
6)   William Pierson Millspaugh (1841-1920) was born in Franklin County. He was a farmer and served with the 37th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War. He married Jennetta Gregg in 1868 and they were in living in Indianapolis by about 1880. His son...
7)   William A. Millspaugh (1869-1908) was born in Franklin County, Indiana and came to Indianapolis with his father. He married Selina Morgan in 1892. In 1900, he was working as a moulder and living at 2320 W Michigan St. His son...
8)   George Pierson Millspaugh (1893-1947), Dad's father, was the first Millspaugh in our family line born in Indianapolis. He served with the US Army in France during the First World War (see Nov 1918 newspaper article)

Mom's Family Tree

Mom's Family Tree
Mom's Family Tree

Some notes about Mom's family ancestry chart follow:

Dorinda Atkinson was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky and married Carl Sims there in 1895. Their daughter, Eugenia Mae Sims, was also born in Kentucky. Dorinda divorced Carl and brought Eugenia Mae to Indianapolis around the turn of the century. In 1912, Dorinda married Thomas Cosby (also from Harrodsburg, KY) and they were together until her death in 1953. Tom was a foreman for American Can Company at the Stokely Van-Camp plant across the street from his home. We kids knew Dorinda and Tom as "Grandma and Grandpa Cosby."
In 1918, Eugenia Mae married Finlay Lawson and their daughter, Norma Jean Lawson (Mom), was born in 1920. Finlay and Eugenia Mae divorced about 1925 and Eugenia Mae married Pete Belcas in 1937. Pete was one of four brothers who emigrated from Thessaloniki, Greece. We kids knew Pete and Eugenia Mae as "Grandma & Grandpa Belcas."
Pete and his brother, Gus, ran a Greek restaurant ("Marathon Cafeteria") at 338 Massachussets Avenue for many years (see photo below.) Gus and his wife Theano ("Aunt Theano" appears in the "1950-1955" chapter in the video) returned to Greece when they retired some time in the early 1960s.
Mom's father, Finlay Lawson, apparently had little contact with her after the divorce from her mother, Eugenia Mae. He ended up terminally ill in a hospital near Buffalo, New York, where he died in 1942.
Finlay's mother, Solona Pearl Higbie, had divorced Emery Merton Lawson by 1930 and was married to George Sharp and living in Buffalo, New York. (This is probably why Finlay, who came from Indiana, ended up in that area.) Records indicate Solona went by the name "Pearl Sharp" during this period. She occasionally returned to Indiana for visits and the three oldest of us remember her as Grandma Sharp. I only vaguely remember her but Judy says she remembers that Grandma Sharp didn't seem to enjoy kids much.
Edward F. Lawson (not on chart) was Finlay's older brother and we knew him as "Uncle Ed". A photo of him (with Mom and Grandma & Grandpa Belcas) appears in the video (chapter "1955-1960".) Ed's wife was named Belvie and I remember her being nice to us. Ed & Belvie had a son named Lowell who went by "Buddy."
Both Mom ("Norma Jean") and Grandma Belcas ("Eugenia Mae") went by "Jean" most of their lives.

Old Photos of Mom's Family

The photo below was probably taken around 1915. Standing left and center are Tom and Dorinda Cosby. The older lady, to the right of Dorinda, is probably her mother: Mary Hendren Atkinson (1848-1923.) At bottom right is Dorinda's daughter (from her first marriage to Carl Sims), Eugenia Mae Sims. The two other young people kneeling may be Mary and Clarence Powell, Eugenia Mae's first cousins (Dorinda's sister Maggie's children.)

Tom & Dorinda Cosby (standing, left & center), Eugenia Mae Sims (kneeling right)

This studio photo of Finlay and Eugenia Mae Lawson was probably taken about 1925.

Finlay and Eugenia Mae Lawson

A nice photo showing three generations of Mom's side of the family is below. Taken about 1928, it shows Mom (Norma Jean Lawson, front), her mother Eugenia Mae Sims (right) and her grandmother Dorinda Cosby (left.)

Three Generations

After divorcing Finlay Lawson, Eugenia Mae Sims (below right) married Peter Belcas (below left) in 1938 and they were together until their deaths in 1981/82. They adored each other - Eugenia labelled the back of Peter's photo "My Darling." They had no kids of their own but spent a lot of time with us grandchildren. They traveled annually to places like New York City, and often brought home little souvenirs for us kids.

Peter and Eugenia Mae (Jean) Belcas

For many years, Pete worked with his brother Gus at his restaurant, the Marathon Cafeteria on Massachussets Avenue not far from Monument Circle. I believe he met Eugenia Mae when she worked there as a waitress.

Pete & Gus Belcas at the Marathon Cafeteria about 1960

A couple of the oldest photos shown above came from a scrapbook that Grandma Belcas (Eugenia Mae Sims) put together early in the twentieth century. Very few of the photos in the album were labelled but some of the people in them are easy to identify: e.g. Eugenia, Dorinda, Norma Jean, Tom Cosby, and Finlay Lawson. But many other people, some of whom were obviously dear to Grandma Belcas and might be our relatives, cannot be identified. I scanned/digitized many of these old photos and they can be viewed online here. The photos have captions but Google Photos doesn't show them unless you click on the "i" (info) icon at the top-right of the page. Clicking on the info icon will display the "info panel" to the right of the photo and the photo's caption is at the top of that panel. Once you've got the info panel showing, you can page left & right through all the photos by clicking on the "<" and ">" symbols on the left and right sides of the photo. If you have ideas about who some of the unidentified people are, you are welcome to leave comments online.

Homes and Neighborhoods: Then and Now

The main, 7-story building of the Stokely-Van Camp plant on South East Street survives (photo below.) As of 2017, it houses offices of the GRM Document Management Corporation. Sadly, Grandma & Grandpa Cosby's property, where Ramona played with her doll in '44, is now the site of an industrial parking area.

Stokely Van Camp Office Building, 1944 and 2017

From 1945 to 1950, our family lived at 3551 W Michigan St (left side of gray duplex in below photo) while Dad's father George lived next door at 3559 with his second wife Hazel and daughter Sybil. Ramona remembers the houses shared the driveway but had separate garages behind. Judy once painted the walls in Grandpa George's garage (as high as a 4-year old could reach)

Family Home (1945-1950) at 3551 West Michigan St

Acknowledgements

Thanks to my wonderful siblings, Ramona, Judy, Janet and George for providing old photographs and stories and for reviewing earlier versions of the video

Thanks to my wife, Grace, for her constant encouragement and tireless editorial help through more iterations than any spouse should have to endure!

A special thanks to Judy for her genealogical research into the family. Her work on comprehensively documenting all of our ancestors has greatly informed the making of this video

Another special thanks to my son Michael for many invaluable tips on making the video more professional looking and enjoyable to watch

Related Links:    Remembering Dad Footnotes Soundtrack Bougainville Interview Guam Documentary Millspaugh Homepage