A Catskill Catalog: March 31, 2010
When I was a kid, I had a record – vinyl, 33 and a third, long-playing – called “Great Moments in History,” or something like that. (I also had a complete set of small plastic statuettes of the 34 Presidents of the United States, but that’s another story.)
Since these historical moments had all occurred since the invention of phonograph recording, many, history to me, were memories to the grown-ups of my parents’ generation. One, that has stuck with me, was a Sunday afternoon broadcast of a football game from Yankee Stadium. “We interrupt this broadcast for a special announcement. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.” In the living room of my mind, a lazy December Sunday was suddenly, and brutally, spoiled. America was at war.
Margaretville, and the other little villages of the Catskills, must have been particularly sleepy that Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. After all, winters in the mountains are tough. Skiing had yet to make the resorts and hotels that catered to summer guests truly year-round attractions. Skiers, who did come on winter weekends, got off the train at Phoenicia. If that radio broadcast could penetrate the mountains, listening to a football game might have been welcome Sabbath respite for many a Catskill Mountain farmer.
One such farmer was Ney Todd, who lived up Dry Brook. His farm was just beyond the old Dry Brook Methodist Church, on the right-hand side of the road - when you head up the valley - just across from the junction with Todd Mountain Road. Ney and Nellie Todd were a hard-working farm couple, managing a herd, drawing a life from the land. A proud farmer, Ney wore his barn boots whenever he came to town. Guess he wanted you to smell his work’s reality.
Ney and Nellie had reason to take personally the news of the attack on America’s pacific fleet. Their son, Bill, was stationed in the Philippines, a soldier under the command of General Douglas McArthur.
Bill Todd was a 1939 graduate of Margaretville High School. An intelligent, happy and up-beat kid, Bill had excelled in music and prize-speaking while in high school. The prize speaking was particularly important to Bill. He entered and won several public speaking contests. He was going to be a lawyer some day, after his hitch in the army, a college education and law school in his plans. “Right Hon. Wm. L. Todd,” Bill signed his friends’ yearbooks.
Sometimes our worst fears materialize. So it was for Ney and Nellie Todd. The following Wednesday, they received a telegram. William L. Todd, of Dry Brook, was killed in action on December 8, 1941, in the Philippines, the day after Pearl Harbor. He was the first kid from Delaware County to be killed in World War II. At least 110 others would follow.
And most were kids, 18 to early 20s, at least at the beginning, before the country was fully mobilized, and the armed forces dramatically expanded.
Donald Baker was the only son of Harold and Sadie Baker. He lived in a house on Margaretville’s Main Street, across from today’s Catholic Church. He was killed in South Carolina while training to be a fighter pilot. Donald was just a few years out of high school where he had been a left-handed hitter on the baseball team and a runner in track.
In 1930, Kodak ran a promotion to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, giving away free a Kodak Gold Seal box camera to any kid who turned 12 that year. Donald got one of the last available cameras at Kelly’s Drug Store, now Miller’s. Spreading the photography bug to a whole new generation of kids was the goal of the promotion. I wonder how many thousands of kids who got that camera at the beginning of the 1930s, like Donald Baker, lost their lives at the beginning of the 1940s. A lifetime of photographs not taken.
Freddy Myers was the son of Margaretville’s longtime barber, Fred Myers. A kid with a great tenor voice, Freddy’s been described as a good baseball player and a great basketball player.
Serving with a bomber group in the Air Corps, Freddy’s plane went down over the Caribbean and was never found.
Junior Hill’s father, R.G., was editor of the Catskill Mountain News. The Hills lived on Margaretville’s Chicken Hill. Growing up, Junior was the other kids’ first choice to play quarterback in pick-up touch football games, his passing touch the best in the village.
A navigator in the Burma Theater of war, Junior Hill took an incoming rifle shot in his airplane’s cabin. Grievously wounded, he was somehow able to navigate the plane back to base. There, he died. Junior Hill was awarded the Silver Star.
Everett “Bus” Paine was killed on D-Day. The son of Warren Paine, Bus and his family lived next to Margaretville Central School in a house that has since been demolished. An Airborne trooper, Bus was dropped into Normandy by parachute and killed in the largest land invasion in history.
Hard to imagine. So many dead. Now their generation dwindles, the last World War II veterans are in their 80s and 90s. They ask from the rest of us one thing: remember their childhood friends. Remember the kids who didn’t come home.