Archive for the Category »John Lawrence Taliaferro «

My father, John Lawrence Taliaferro, served in the Navy during World War II.  He entered active service on 16 July 1942, in Macon, Georgia and was honorably discharged from the U. S. Naval Personnel Separation Center in Shoemaker, California on 5 December 1945. What a great Christmas present for his family who I am sure prayed for his safe return.

I know from my mother that she met my father, shortly after his discharge. My mom told me that when she met my father, he was wearing his Navy uniform. Maybe he was celebrating – happy to be home from the war.  That was the only story I had that placed my father in the military.  In 2006, my cousin gave me his discharge paper, and from that I pieced together more details about his service in the Navy.

My father held several ratings during service including, AS S2c, S1C, and GM3c. I believe the “S” rating stands for Seaman. The GM is for Gunner’s Mate.  I learned that Gunner’s Mates are responsible for the operation and maintenance of guided missile launching systems, gun mounts and other ordnance equipment, as well as small arms and magazines.   

On his discharge paper under “Qualifications and Certification Held” is Driving Winch, Checking Ammunition; under “Service (vessels and stations served on)” USNB Nav. Mag. Port Chicago, Calif,- USNB NAD, Mare Island, California, and USNAD, Navy # 66; and under “Remarks” Asiatic-Pacific Theatre, Victory Medal, American Theatre, and Point System. 

Obviously, my father completed his tour of duty, and made it home safely. Historically, however, things could have been quite different.

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The Port Chicago Disaster

America was swept into World War II on 7 December 1941. As war in the Pacific expanded, the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, was unable to keep up with the demand for ammunition. Port Chicago, California, located 35 miles north of San Francisco, proved an ideal place for the Navy to expand its munitions facilities. Construction at Port Chicago began in 1942. By 1944, expansion and improvements to the pier could support the loading of two ships simultaneously.

 African-American Navy personnel units were assigned to the dangerous work at Port Chicago. Reflecting the racial segregation of the day, the officers of these units were white. The officers and men had received some training in cargo handling, but not in loading munitions. The bulk of their experience came from hands-on experience. Loading went on around the clock. The Navy ordered that proper regulations for working with munitions be followed. But due to tight schedules at the new facility, deviations from these safety standards occurred. A sense of competition developed for the most tonnage loaded in an eight hour shift. As it helped to speed loading, competition was often encouraged.

On July 17, 1944, a deadly munitions explosion occurred at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago, California. Munitions detonated while being loaded onto a cargo vessel bound for the Pacific Theater of Operations, killing 320 sailors and civilians and injuring 390 others.  Most of the dead and injured were enlisted African-American sailors; Of the 320 men killed in the explosion, 202 were the African-American enlisted men who were assigned the dangerous duty of loading the ships. The explosion at Port Chicago accounted for fifteen percent of all African-American casualties of World War II. 

Source: Naval History & Heritage Command, Navy Department Press Releases, July 16-31, 1944 folder, Box 55, World War II Command File, Operational Archives Branch, Washington, DC.   assessed 8 May 2010.

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What does all this mean? Exactly what did my father do while in the Navy during World War II? Honestly, I don’t really know.  As a Gunner’s Mate he was definitely involved with ammunition.  Was he involved in the Port Chicago incident? It’s very likely.  I know he served on vessels during several major campaigns, the Asiatic Pacific Theatre, and the American Theatre.  He also received the Victory Medal which “may be awarded to all members of the Armed Forces of the United States or of the Government of the Philippine Islands who served on active duty in World War II at any time between 7 December 1941 and 31 December 1946.” (Established by Public Law No. 135 of 6 July 1945.)  Source: U.S. Navy Awards Manual, 1953.

My father, John Lawrence Taliaferro, was discharged on 5 December 1945.  He served in the Navy for 3yrs, 4 months, 19 days.  On his discharge paper under “Character of Separation is “Honorable EE”. While I don’t know the specifics of my father’s service in the Navy, I’d like to think he served his country to the best of his ability, and that he served with pride. I’d like to think that my father, John Lawrence Taliaferro, Gunner’s Mate Third Class, USNR, Served with Honor.

In genealogy we research to find out the Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Those are the basics. But, if you are like me, you often wonder what everyday life was like for your ancestors. What did they do; where did they go; and who did they see. We know that they had to work and take care of their families; deal with the struggles of day-to-day living. Of course, many attended church and school, and were probably involved in community activities. I am in constant search of anything that can shed more light on the daily life of my ancestors, and their extracurricular activities. I have found that historical newspapers are an excellent source for conducting this type of research. You never know what you might find…..and, as they say, be careful what you ask for.

A few days ago while on Footnote.com, I came across this interesting notice in the March 24, 1902, issue of the Atlanta Constitution:

My Taliaferro ancestors have a history in East Point, GA. The WHERE of this story fit with my research facts. Alexander “Alex” Taliaferro was my great, great uncle; son of Miles Taliaferro, my great, great grandfather; brother of my great grandfather John Wesley Taliaferro; uncle of my grandfather John Robert Taliaferro; and great uncle to my father John Lawrence Taliaferro. Alex was born about 1858 in Fulton, GA, and died sometime after this 1902 incident, probably in or close to East Point, GA. That’s the WHO and WHEN. But, WHAT in the world was a “blind tiger” and WHY was Uncle Alex running one?
I had never heard or seen the term “running a blind tiger” before. A quick search on Google revealed the following definitions: Blind Tiger – a place where illegal intoxicants were sold; Running a blind tiger - selling liquor without a license. So, now I have the WHAT. Uncle Alex and his buddies were selling liquor, illegally!!!! As the old folks say..they were running a liquor house. That really cracks me up, especially considering his brother John Wesley and his nephew John Robert were ministers.
All that remains unanswered is the WHY. Why was Uncle Alex selling illegal liquor? Was this a way to make extra money? Probably. Was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe, but maybe not. Or, were dear Uncle Alex and his cohorts just up to no good? Possibly. I wonder if I can find out the outcome of the case. Like so many other questions in genealogical research, the WHY will unfortunately probably remain unanswered. At least I know something about one day in the life of my great, great uncle..Alexander “Alex” Taliaferro. I think I’ll go and have a glass of wine (or two) in honor of Uncle Alex!!

What better subject for my first Wordless Wednesday post than my father-
John Lawrence Taliaferro

Born: 8 February 1921-Cartersville, Bartow, Georgia

Died: 2 January 1970-Decatur, Dekalb, Georgia
Category: John Lawrence Taliaferro, Taliaferro    Tags: ,