Theodor Tschopp Family in 1942
Theodor Tschopp family (about 1942)
L-R: Dad, Erwin, Grandpa, Paul, Grandma, Ruth, Alfred, Oscar, Herbert

Grandpa and Grandma Tschopp came close with owning a farm before the great Wall Street crash in September and October of 1929. The destruction of Grandpa’s cattle due to hoof and mouth disease combined with the Great Crash forced them to become tenant farmers. They would have nothing to do with banks for almost 30 years and certainly had no credit.

Around Iowa and Benton counties they went, until 1938, when Grandpa began working for John Bellon in Fairfax, IA. Commuting in those days was not too common yet Grandpa traveled to Fairfax to work for John until they were able to move there.

John Bellon owned a lot of property in Cedar Rapids and he convinced Grandpa to move to Cedar Rapids and maintain those properties. Together with other carpentry work Grandpa could find, they would be much better off. So, they moved to 420 Eighth Avenue S.W. This home was expensive rent-wise and was very small. Then they moved to 8xx or 9xx Ninth Avenue S.E. This house also was too small and not that nice. So, they moved to 424 Ninth Avenue S.W.

John Bellon told Grandpa he should buy a house. Grandma and Grandpa could not afford a down payment and they had no regular income with which to make payments. Buying a house was out of the question until John made Grandpa an offer he couldn’t refuse: Grandpa would get no more maintenance jobs unless he bought a house from John, no money down, at about 1% interest and they could make payments whenever they wanted!

At the time Grandpa was almost 43, Grandma was 41-and-a-half, Teddy (Dad) was 19 and worked with Grandpa building houses, Herby 18, Erwin 16, Al almost 12, Oscar 9-and-a-half, Ruthy 8, and Paul almost 4. Taking John Bellon up on his generous offer, the family bought a house. On December 7, 1941, while the forces of the Empire of Japan were preparing and executing their attack on Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii, the Tschopp family moved one last time. On that December morning, the big boys helped move furniture out the back door of 424, across neighbor Davis’ backyard to the back door of 416 Ninth Avenue S.W. On December 8th President Franklin Roosevelt gave his famous "Day of Infamy" speech and the US entered World War II.

Both Dad and Uncle Herb decided to avoid the draft and enlist in the Navy because they felt that, if there was a time when a guy could sleep, he’d at least have a bunk and clean sheets to sleep on. At this time many of the Midwest recruits chose the Navy perhaps because they had no idea of what it was like to be at sea.

Dad returns to CR from visit with Uncle Herb
Dad returns to CR from visit with Uncle Herb
June 26th, 1942 - Dad visits Uncle Herb in Detroit
June 26th, 1942 - Dad visits Uncle Herb in Detroit

Herb wanted to enlist a year earlier when he had turned 17 but his parents were required to sign for him and they wouldn’t. After Pearl Harbor Grandma decided to sign for him because he would have to go soon in any event, so Herb enlisted before the end of December 1941. He went to Navy boot camp and then was sent to River Rouge Plant (Ford Motor Company) where the plant had been converted into making tanks and other equipment for the war. He was assigned to the troop transport, USS Thomas Jefferson, and went to Africa for assistance in the Sicily, Italy, and southern France invasions and for positioning troops for the D-Day invasion. Herb was invaluable as he knew German and could conduct interviews with German prisoners. He was later reassigned to the USS Tolovana to refuel ships in the Pacific.

October 7th, 1942 on May’s Island, Cedar Rapids, as Dad prepares to leave and enlist in the Navy
Dad - October 7th, 1942 on May’s Island, Cedar Rapids, as he prepares to enlist in the Navy

On March 15, 1942 Dad met Julia Rose Snoble at a movie theater in downtown Cedar Rapids. She was working as a domestic for a family on Bever Avenue when she went on a double date with her cousin Dorothy Jerman, Dad and his brother Erwin. Initially Julia was more interested in Erwin but soon Mom and Dad began dating. During the summer of 1942 Dad hitch-hiked to Detroit and the River Rouge Plant to visit Herb.

October 7th, 1942 on May’s Island, Cedar Rapids
Mom - October 7th, 1942 on May’s Island, Cedar Rapids

On September 12th, six months after they met, Mom and Dad officially became engaged to be married.

Dad celebrated his 20th birthday in July 1942 and, knowing the draft was taking 21-year old’s and some 20-year old’s, he enlisted in October 1942. On October 9th he and several other men from Eastern Iowa went to Des Moines and were sworn into the United States Navy as Apprentice Seamen.

On October 11th he arrived at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. As it was the only Navy boot camp at the beginning of the war, the Great Lakes facility experienced some significant back-ups. The enlistment and induction process included a routine physical for everyone and Dad ended up in the Naval Hospital almost immediately (phimosis). Treatment involved circumcision and a lot of waiting so he did not leave the hospital until November 1st. The hospital stay separated Dad from the guys he came in with, company 1323, but there was nothing to be done about it since the doctors unilaterally decided if any condition warranted surgery and then simply ordered that it be done. The Navy also sent recruits to the dentist, provided a full range of inoculations, and provided sex education films.

It is obvious from these letters that they provided the "lifeline" of the day between folks. Telephone calls and telegrams were rare so most people had a wide range of friends, acquaintances, family and others that they wrote to on a regular basis. It is also interesting, but perhaps not surprising, that the apparent frequency of his letters decreased over time. It also must have been difficult on these sailors to inhabit two different worlds - the day-to-day experiences in a theater of war and the letters back-and-forth to the family he left behind.

The letters were originally compiled and transcribed by Judy (Tschopp) Wiley and Linda (Tschopp) Blank