Monday, August 14, 2017

Whatever Happened to Dick Slocum?

On my way back from a recent conference in Boise, I stopped at a little thrift store in Uniontown, WA, to stretch my legs and look around. A plastic bag labeled "Old Record from Military Man to Family" caught my eye. I bought it.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, indoor

The record came in a custom mailing envelope from the American Safety Razor Corporation and was postmarked from San Francisco, California in 1942. Addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Slocum in Priest River, Idaho, and with a return address of simply "Richard" it was obviously a something a son had recorded as he went off to war in the Pacific Theater. The graphics of the envelope and the record itself are interesting. Men and women, soldiers and civilians, link arms around the record, showing unity of purpose. Above their heads are the slogans "Buy Stamps" and "Buy Bonds."

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling

The back of the disc features "Authentic scenes of Gem Blade reporters making thousands of free voice-o-graphs throughout the nation."

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling

The Museum of Obsolete Media tells us that Voice-O-Graphs was "a recording system about the size of a telephone box that allowed people to record their voices directly onto a phonograph disc." Developed just before the Second World War broke out, companies like Gem Razor hit on the idea of providing free recording booths at military training centers, along with "reporters" to help soldiers use the unfamiliar technology. It is not clear how many soldiers recorded their messages in this way, but from the prevalence of these recordings on Ebay and the like it must have been tens or hundreds of thousands. The recording machines became popular novelty items at carnivals and the like into the 1960s. Today, roots rocker Jack White has a restored 1947 Voice-O-Graph at his Memphis Record store, where patrons can record their own discs for $20. (You can listen to some of these modern recordings at the link.)

“ Soldiers of Hispanic descent were integral in the war effort overseas and at home. Special Services soldiers stationed at the Los Angeles Port of Embarkation during World War II made a difference in the morale of soldiers...
Hispanic soldiers at a Voices of Victory mobile recording studio in Riverside,
California. Image courtesy of the National Archives.
So what about our Richard Slocum and his record? I wondered if it was even playable, and if I had any gear on which to play it. The record itself reads: "Play this on any phonograph--Use any needle." Sounded encouraging. I have a turntable that has settings for 33 and 45 rpms, both of which proved too slow. With a finger assist to speed it up, however, I was able to play the record so that it was perfectly audible. Check it out!

"Hi Mom and Pop! Boy it sure is swell down here, we're having a fine time." Dick begins. "I guess you won't have me home this Christmas but we'll be home next anyway, so what's the difference?" He mentions some fellow sailors from his hometown (he calls them and himself "kids") and sends well wishes to friends and relatives. "I'll be seeing you whenever I get my first leave. So long." he concludes. The recording is brief and poignant. He is so young, so optimistic. It is as if the war is a lark to him, and he has little idea what he is entering into.

So what happened to our young blue jacket from Priest River? Unlike the last time I tried to follow up a local boy setting out to the Second World War, I am not sure. Richard Slocum is a more common name than you might think, and I am really not very skilled with and similar resources.

So I ask you, Dear Readers, what happened to Dick Slocum? Where was he deployed? Did he survive the war? Marry and settle down? And does he have surviving ancestors, who might like to hear this record? Anyone want to take a crack at telling the rest of the story?


James Harrison said...

Does trivia like this matter anymore when destruction of artifacts is on the loose?

I'm to the point of abandoning the support of archives. What's the point? I have my own collection of very rare museum-quality ephemera; but now I look at those carefully arranged files and stacks with half-hearted enthusiasm.

It's a national shame when an orange-faced, combed-over real-estate peddler turns out to be our premier defender of unpopular speech and its champion of preservation. How did we ever abdicate the high ground like that?

World turned upside down.

heregoes said...

Mr. and Mrs, W. L. Andrews announce the forthcoming marriage of their daughter, Miss LaRee Andrews, to Richard E. Slocum, son of Mr. and Mrs.' Jack Slocum, formerly .of Priest-River, Ida. ' .:....;.;' The ceremony will takp;place at'the homo of the bride's parents on Aug. 12. '''-"•-. Mr. Slocum has recently .been discharged from the navy, having served 40 months, most of them overseas
From an online search Salt Lake Tribune Sunday July 28, 1946

Larry Cebula said...

Thanks, Heregoes!

James, I agree with you about the Orange National Disgrace. But archives are not being eliminated. I work for the Washington State Archives and we have a staff of dedicated, innovative people. We will continue to preserve records of Washington's past through this administration, and the next, and...well, as long as there is a State of Washington.