As Michael Savoy, 46, read through his late father’s World War II diaries, he met “a guy I never knew” and felt grateful for his service to the country.
You feel like you’re looking into someone’s secrets, their innermost thoughts. Even though all the World War II mementos that James Savoy carefully selected were meant to be seen, he saved them for himself and for his family. Not for others.
These diaries, medals and sentimental trinkets each tell part of the story about an unforgettable time in his life. After the war was over, he kept them in his top dresser drawer for years. His wife didn’t know they were there until after he died. Looking through the box was a window into his youth.
James Joseph Savoy helped build and preserve the country, and the way of life, I was lucky enough to be born into in 1943.
Thousands of families must have collections like this, kept in a box, a drawer, a closet. For Savoy’s son, Michael, 46, the 12-by-8-inch box, “Jim Savoy Memories,” has been a new way of getting to know the father who died at age 57, when Michael was 18.
“I read the diaries and I see a guy I knew, my dad, but not this guy I am reading about here,” he said.
The diaries – two small, black, government-issue notebooks – draw you in. The first entry is Dec. 23, 1942, the day he filled out a Navy application at a U.S. Post Office in Boston.
“Whether it was a mistake or not, I was soon to find out,” he wrote. “I did.”
The last entry: Feb. 8, 1946. “Civilian, out, thank God,” and then, “That’s all brother. There ain’t no more.”
James Savoy was just 17 when he enlisted, like many were then, but he already knew how to organize his thoughts and wrote well, without self-consciousness, with a sense of proportion. No self-pity here. The medals (Asiatic-Pacific campaign, American campaign), coupons, dance cards, a Long Island Railroad ticket “to go see Jean” all add to the picture. Rosary beads, dog tags, a-cut-out silhouette of “Betty” at Revere Beach. All saved.
At the very bottom of the box are black-and-white photos, mug shots, of Savoy as a young seaman in a white T-shirt, muscular, lean, a pleasant smile. “Entering a new life now,” he wrote when he was sworn in Jan. 5, 1943. They tell of pride, fear, boredom, new friendships, good times on leave. A typhoon; a train wreck; the explosion and fire on board the USS Monterey where he was shipmates with future President Gerald Ford; men dying of food poisoning – matter-of-factly described.
Occasionally, there is “God, but it was terrifying to watch” or “Happier than ever before in my life.”
The military mileposts stand out. The scorecard from “my first attempt. to shoot a gun, range 100’,” with 42 of 50 bulls-eye hits. The coveted Jeep driver’s license. Finally passing the U.S. Navy swim test, “the first time I ever swam the full length of a pool” in 1945. Many others are about leaves and girls. A Liberty card, a dance invitation to the YWCA canteen in Brooklyn, brochures from roller rinks, “my favorite sport.” Descriptions of holidays, either “heaven” or “hell.” Girls who were “swell,” with mothers who “sure knew how to cook.”
One of seven, Savoy had a rough childhood after his father died when he was 8. His mother remarried; the stepfather was abusive and the youngster found refuge at his friend Mac’s house, whose family welcomed him like a son. All his life, he gravitated toward others who offered friendship. He had a sense of humor and liked to listen. “He always said he should have been a psychiatrist,” his wife, Muriel Savoy Moloney said. “He liked to try to figure people out. He always liked to be needed.”
With Pearl Harbor, the call came and he answered. He served, saw things he didn’t forget and, in his way, shared them in these two small black books. Like others in his generation, he didn’t talk much about the war, except in short, often humorous asides. Now, 65 years later, his story still bears telling.
Reach Sue Scheible at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159. Read her Good Age blog on our Web site.