Saturday, October 1, 2016

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Lives Cut Short

Continuing my sharing of Dad's memoirs, today's offering is his section he titled "Lives Cut Short," rather grim memories of young men who passed far too young.

"Smitty Aldrich lived at the Sheridan Park Housing Project during the 1940’s. When he was young he played high school football, and he hurt his leg during a game. He limped when he walked for the rest of his life. But Smitty loved sports, and he always found time to coach the project boys football team, and the girls baseball team.

"This photo shows the 1947 Sheridan Parkside football team. The names of the upper group are; Chuck Hark, Dick Tobin, Don Woods, and Dick Strickland. Those on the bottom group are; Bob Hark, Tom Murphy, Tom Woods, Herb Woodruff, Bob Willet, Ronnie Knowles, Harry Summerville, and Kenny Miles.

"Tragedy was to enter the lives of two of the team at an an early age.

"Don Woods was liked by everyone. He was handsome, a good athlete, and a natural leader. A few years after this photo was taken Don went into the U.S. Army. The United States was at war in Korea, and Don was sent there. He, along with over 30,000 other young Americans, died there. Such a sad ending for such a fine man.

[Found on "Corporal Wood was a member of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was Killed in Action while fighting the enemy in North Korea on August 27, 1951. Corporal Wood was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal." Corporal Wood is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Kenmore, NY.]
Don Wood's yearbook photo
"Harry Summerville was also on the 1947 Project football team. When he was younger, he was a member of the Boy Scout Troop I belonged to. The troop meetings were held at the Sheridan Parkside Administration Building. When Harry grew older, he bought a car, a 1935 Ford Coupe. One day Harry got into an accident and he was hurt so bad he almost died. When he came home from the hospital he was paralyzed and could not speak. Occasionally Harry’s father would bring Harry to the station. I felt so sad that I could no longer talk to my friend. Mr. Summerville decided to scrap Harry’s '35 Ford, and I bought the grill and other parts to install on my '35 Ford convertible since they were better than what I had on my car. Time passed, and eventually I lost track of what happened to Harry.

"Smitty Aldrich was older than the rest of us, and he worked for a construction company as an oiler. His job was to provide gas, oil, and lubrication for the equipment at the construction site. Construction work during the winter usually slow in those days, so Smitty would go on unemployment. Then he would spend part of the day sitting in the office of our service station talking to our customers, many of them being the young group that lived at the project.

[Smitt E. Aldrich appears on the 1940 Tonawanda, NY Federal Census with his mother Elizabeth and step-father George Balling; he was age 20 and worked as a stockeeper. He had three years of high school. The 1920 census shows Smith with his parents Smith and Elizabeth Aldrich living with Elizabeth's brother Henry Redman.]

"Ronnie Oates lived at the project, and came from a large family. I was In the Boy Scouts with his brother Harry Jr., and had worked on a construction job with his father. Like the rest of the family, he excelled in all sports. Ronnie was quiet and well liked. One day not long after he got his driver's license he stopped in at the station when Smitty was there. Like most young boys, Ronnie did not want to talk to others about his problems, but while talking to Smitty he told him about a lump he had on his groin. Smitty told him that he should go to see a doctor right away. Ronnie went, and the news was not good. He found out he had Hodgkins disease. Before long, Ronnie became very ill. One day I went to see Ronnie at his home to see if he would like to go with me boating on the Niagara River but his mother said he was not feeling very well. There was not a cure for Hodgkins disease in those days, and within a few months Ronnie died. Ronnie was greatly missed!
Dave Valetich
"Dave Valetich loved to play baseball, and he was very good. His father spent many hours throwing the ball and practicing with him. They lived at the project next to where my future wife, Joyce, and her family lived, and I often saw Dave and his father playing ball in their yard. I don’t know what disease Dave had, but he too never lived to become an adult because he too died, leaving a grieving family.

[Dave appears on the 1940 Federal Census in Kenmore, NY Census, age 7, living with his parents Sylvester and Helen.]
Dave Valetich's yearbook photo

"Mr. Shorten was a good customer at the station. He lived at the housing project and worked for a railroad company. He had four boys; one of them named Dick and I had been in the same troop in the Boy Scouts. Mr. Shorten’s other boys were Fred and Weldon, who were twins, and Bill, who was the youngest.

"Bill went to school, and after school, he worked at a horse riding stable. The stable was on Military Road, near the Tonawanda City line, about a half mile north of our station. The stable was owned by a short, powerfully built man named Jimmy Rhodes. One day when I was pumping gas, Bill walked by on his way to the stable. Bill’s father often came to the station with his boys and I had talked with them many times. When Bill came in with his father, we often kidded each other. So on this day, when Bill walked by, he hollered some smart remark, and I answered back, then he went on his way.

"The next day I heard he was found hanging from a rope at the stable where he worked. The police said it was suicide, but no one believed that. He had no problems at home or school, and he and his father had made plans to travel out west after school let out for the summer. Mr. Shorten said they could ride the train free, since he worked for the railroad. Mr. Shorten never believed Bill committed suicide. He said he thought Bill had walked into the stable and saw something he was not supposed to, and was strangled, then hung with a rope to make it look like a suicide. The police said they thought Bill made a noose playing around, then hung himself by mistake. After Bill’s death, Mr. Shorten would sit on the railroad track and watch what was going on at the stable. Not long after, Jimmy died and the stable closed."

[The 1940 Federal Census for Tonawanda, NY shows John and Catherine Shorten with twins Frederick and Welson, Richard, and William who was age 1. William was born in 1938 and died in 1954 age 15.]

"The picture at the right is of Fred Shorten, one of Bill’s twin brothers. It was taken at the housing project where they lived."

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