Monday, August 6, 2018

It Was 1941

As with so many things, one thing lead to another.

I read of someone who was a Rear Admiral, and it was further noted the rank is equivalent to a two-star general, a Major General. I know there are four levels of flag rank for the Army, Air Force and Marines, ending with a full, four-star general, but if a Rear Admiral were a two star, what happened to one-star? A Rear Admiral is the first level of Naval flag rank.

This only attracted my attention because one of my father's older brothers, George, was a career naval officer and retired as a Rear Admiral. I do remember when he was buried in Arlington in 1968 he got a 19-gun salute. I said to myself, yikes, two more volleys and was the president.

The whole Rear Admiral query sent me to the website developed by his son's wife. George Jr. was also a career naval officer, and retired as a Commander. Janice assembled an array of information of dates and photos that I still sometimes reference.

It turns out that prior to 1981, a Rear Admiral was considered equal to a Major General. After 1981 two levels were instituted, lower and upper Rear Admiral—one and two stars. A Vice Admiral would be three stars, and equal to a Vice General.

If finding this out ended there, there is no posting. But along the way I came across the NYT society page of November 7, 1941 (Friday) where it was described that my uncle and his bride to be were the guests at a New York party hosted by Dr. Harrison I. Cook.

That would be his first wife, Mildred Martens, the daughter of the Martens family that started Mount Airy Lodge, a once thriving resort in the Poconos. As told by my father, the Martens were Hungarian refugees who started the resort from a small motel.

The column in the Times starts with the headline: Mildred Martens Is Feted at Dinner; sub-headed, She and Fiance Lieut. George De Metropolis Are Guests of Dr. Harrison I. Cook; Bride-Elect is Hostess

Their party is the lead to a summary of several parties that were held the night before, on November 6,  1941. There is no photo, but the guest list is given. My grandparents, George's parents were there, his older brother Angelo and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Martens, numerous other people who I don't know, some of whom are other naval officers and I assume the ones who held the archway of swords in the photo I remember of George and Mildred leaving the Hellenic Greek Orthodox Cathedral on 74th Street, off Second Avenue on Sunday, November 9.

My uncle's youngest brother Jimmy is not listed as a guest, nor is my father, Ted, who wasn't married at the time. There is one guest described as Dr. Thomas Gavaris. Now Gavaris is my grandmother's maiden name, and she had a brother Tom, but he wasn't a physician. He owned a luncheonette/candy store in Perth Amboy that I remember visiting, Tom's Sweet Shoppe, a name that I'm sure today would not be used.

My great-uncle Tom's name precedes the name Dr. and Mrs. Reginald O.B. Queenan. Perhaps he got a social standing promotion through a typo.

There are 25 other names listed aside from the recognized names. Covering an event like that must have been be a bit of a reporter's nightmare with all those names and initials to get right.

My oldest cousin Connie tells me of being a flower girl at the wedding. Her father, Angelo, was the oldest of the four brothers. My uncle George (also my Godfather) was born in 1909. His wife Mildred was born in 1902, therefore older. I sometimes find it hard to think of anyone born over a hundred years ago as once having been young. But I'm sure my 1940s birthday creates the same feeling in others these days.

Another piece of family history is that the famous picture used in the Mount Airy Lodge ads for decades is that of Mildred. The bathing suit/beach ball photo could be counted on appearing every Sunday in the NYT travel section. The ad became so iconic pop artist Roy Lichtenstein created a pop-art poster of it in the 1980s.

My wife and I once stay at Mount Airy in the 1970s soon after we were married. It was a very popular resort at the time. I remember a giant oil painting of Susanne Martens behind the reception desk. She was the wife of John Martens, the couple who built the resort up from a tiny motel/resort.

The society page notice is found family gold—at least for me.  Just think that on a weekday there was space devoted to social events. Aide from the word "feted" in the headline there are other wording conventions that you would not see today. Mildred is referred to as the "bride-elect." George is referred to as "the bridegroom-elect." Married women are Mrs. and plural single women are Misses.

My uncle and Mildred did not stay married for long. I don't know the full story, but just think of the date of the notice: November 7, 1941. The next 7th of a month the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and the world is forever changed.

My uncle spent the war commanding destroyers in the Pacific. I have no idea what leave he got, but he and Mildred parted ways with no children. My uncle remarried in 1951 and started a family with Maria Clarke.

But for one moment in 1941, the bride-elect and the groom-elect were feted in the Trianon Room of the Ambassador Hotel in NYC.

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