Intern Post: What Drew Me To This Project

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Michael being welcomed into the National Guard after taking the Oath of Enlistment, 7 June 2013

My project will focus on my grand-uncle, John Patrick “Jack” Francis, particularly his time spent in the United States Marine Corps during World War II and how he lived his life after the war.

Who I Am

Before explaining what made me decide to explore this topic and how I intend to conduct my research, I should introduce myself and my experience with historical scholarship and the military.

I have always been proficient in the study of history and have enjoyed it more than any other academic subject. After spending my first year at St. Francis College as a film production major and longing to take classes in historical studies, politics, and foreign cultures, I switched over to the History program at the end of my freshman year and since then have gotten exactly what I was looking for in a college education.

Several of my relatives have served in the military, including my dad, who was in the U.S. Navy from 1982 to 2011 and retired a Captain. I have never had anyone pressure me into a military career, but I knew from a very young age that I wanted military service to play a role in my life.

Once I reached my sophomore year of college, I began actively looking at joining the military as a commissioned officer. After exhaustively researching every branch of the armed forces and their commissioning programs, including the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and Officer Candidate School (OCS), I chose to apply for Marine OCS.

I initially picked Marine OCS because it was the most competitive military commissioning program to enter (acceptance rates are currently around 15%) and the most challenging to complete. Further, I admired the strong sense of tradition and camaraderie that the Marine Corps has and wanted to compete for the chance to be a leader in such a prestigious organization.

Beginning in December 2012, I started meeting with a team of Selection Officers and fellow applicants twice a month for physical training and mentoring sessions. Then in March 2013, almost on a whim, I got in touch with a recruiter for the U.S. Army National Guard. I was extremely impressed with the National Guard’s mission of safeguarding both individual states and the United States as a whole as well as the professionalism of the soldiers I met in the New York National Guard’s units.

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Private First Class Michael W., United States Army National Guard (New York) and Captain Francis M., United States Navy (retired)

Despite my deep admiration for the Marine Corps, I came to the conclusion that the National Guard had the most of what I was looking for in a military service and I enlisted as a Private First Class with the title of Officer Candidate on June 7, 2013. I will begin Army Basic Training once I have finished my degree and attend National Guard OCS immediately afterwards.

Who My Uncle Was

What fascinated me about researching my Uncle Jack’s military career was the fact that it is shrouded in mystery. Like many veterans of the Second World War, Jack refused to talk about his experience in the war and went about his daily life as best he could when he got home.

However, in a rare and fortunate twist of fate, a few years before his death in 1999, my uncle opened up to my dad about his time in the South Pacific. Jack had seen my dad grow up from birth and at the time was watching him advance through the ranks of the Navy. He needed to tell someone about his wartime experiences and knew that it was most appropriate to tell a close family member who was also a veteran of the “Navy-Marine Corps Team.”

The most difficult part of this project is that I personally know very little about my uncle. If I ever met him in person, I was far too young to remember and I’ve had limited contact with his surviving relatives. I’ve always known that he had served in the Third Marine Division from 1941 to 1945 and was a combat veteran of the South Pacific’s “Island Hopping” Campaign. Beyond that, most of my knowledge about his life came in the form of anecdotes that I never really took the time to analyze before now.

Since Madeline’s excellent introduction of the NYG&B interns of 2013, I have discovered that several of the facts on my biography section concerning this project are actually incorrect. For example, while my Uncle Jack did grow up in Greenwich Village, NY, he did not take part in urban renewal projects there. Rather, during the Great Depression, he was a volunteer with the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He spent several years working on various construction and conservation projects in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Like many other WWII veterans who also served in the CCC, he credited the outdoor experience he gained in the field as important preparation for military service.

Further, I was always under the impression that after he left the Marine Corps, Jack worked for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Service (NYSDOCCS). However, I learned only yesterday that he was actually employed by the New York City Department of Corrections (NYCD) for over 20 years before retiring a Deputy Warden. It is amazing what facts you will learn about your family members when you start to actively search through their past as opposed to just passively listen to stories at family gatherings.

Why I Am Exploring This Story

I chose to research this topic as an independent researcher for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society because I have always been interested in military history, particularly the stories of individuals who have served in the military at various time periods. This interest has intensified ever since I joined the military and I now view the preservation of military history as a duty of respect to those who have gone before me. However, what finalized my decision to research this particular member of my family who served in WWII was a strong personal memory that I had while attempting to formulate a project thesis.

The memory that drew me to this project was of when I was preparing for a run with my fellow Marine Officer applicants on a bright, cold April morning at SUNY Maritime. Several members of our group were talking about family members who had previously served in the Marine Corps and the military in general.

When I brought up my uncle’s service record, another candidate, who had previously served 4 years as an enlisted Marine and was looking to get back into the service as an officer, told me “if you ever find his DD214 (the discharge certificate given to all military members documenting their time spent on active duty- particularly any combat or overseas service and awards and medals earned), you should frame it and hang it on your wall. That man was a real Marine when it counted the most!”

That level of praise from a Marine who had been stationed in some of the same places where my uncle had fought several generations earlier stuck with me and immediately came to mind when I was selecting a topic for my independent research project at the NYG&B.

My Research

In researching this project, I intend to use both primary and secondary sources as well as public and private memory. Areas my research will cover include World War II; Marine Corps history, especially the 3rd Marine Division; the history of the CCC; accounts of American veterans following the war; and the New York City Department of Corrections. While documenting my uncle’s service in the Marine Corps, I intend to find documents such as muster rosters, ship movement orders, casualty records, and his DD214 form. If necessary, I will contact organizations that will likely have these records, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. If it is possible, I will also call the NYCD public affairs division to see if they have any public records on Deputy Warden John Patrick Francis. Finally, I will also reach out to my cousin, Jack’s daughter, who still lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, to find out as much as possible about what it was like to grow up in post-war New York City.

-Michael

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