REMEMBERING OUR PAST by Henry Wallhouser
Maplewood’s military photos once again see the light of day
You’ve got to have a good reason to want to visit a certain tiny storeroom deep in the basement of Maplewood Town Hall.
It’s got a rough red brick wall on one side and a line of musty shelves on the other loaded with old files and miscellaneous memorabilia.
It's not a great place to go. And it's in sharp contrast to spaces elsewhere in Town Hall, all kept spic-and-span.
But it’s where the Maplewood Committee for Servicemen and Servicewomen keep its files, which include – importantly – a collection of photographs.
Those old photos recently became a subject of interest when Committee members remembered there was a photo album containing the pictures of servicemen and women who were in the armed forces during World War II. While some of the photos were snapshots, most were professionally taken.
Why not let the public have a look? True, there were only 147 service-member photos in the album – a long way from the nearly 4,000 young men and women from Maplewood who served during the war. But they represent a significant reminder of the contribution Maplewood made to the 1941-45 war effort.
The Committee gave the album a close look and decided that with a little restoration and gathering of scattered photos, it could be put into presentable shape.
Who put the album together? It is a legacy of the original Maplewood Committee for Servicemen, organized early in 1942, just 40 days after the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor. The job of producing an album was given to the Committee’s Woman’s Branch, which wrote requests for photos to new recruits. So why are so many missing? Young service members wrote appreciatively about the attention they were getting but doubtless had more pressing things to do than sending photographs.
The Committee was chaired by Edward Austin and numbered some 200 volunteers, many of whom turned out daily at a special space provided in Town Hall. They made weekly mailings of packages to service members including snacks, reading material and writing kits; identification bracelets and money orders for birthdays.
The committee has continued to function for 78 years, excluding inactive intervals after WWII and the Korean War. But the support it gave to local service members during WWII was remembered a few years ago by Robert H. “Bob” Grasmere, long-time Maplewood mayor. He called its work “monumental,” writing that this was “one of the most remarkable patriotic efforts in the entire nation.” High praise from a World War II veteran himself.
The photo album, no longer gathering dust in its Town Hall storeroom, has been presented to Maplewood’s historic Durand-Hedden House, where it is undergoing final restoration overseen by Durand-Hedden’s president, Susan Newberry, and her vice-president, Marilyn White.
As we’ve said, the album is far from complete. One might wish that it came a little closer to the thousands from town who served. But a new foreword to the album puts it this way: “Although the 147 servicemen and women pictured in the album represent a mere fraction of the Maplewood residents who were in the armed forces during the war, the photos can be both a remembrance and a reminder of all those young men and women from town who served their country.”
The album is to be made available for the public to view at Durand-Hedden House.
Henry Wallhauser’s parents, George and Isabel Wallhauser, were members of the original Maplewood Committee for Servicemen. His mother also served as the committee’s correspondence chair during the Korean War. His father later served on the Maplewood Township Committee and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.