“We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….” – Paul and Linda McCartney
In the fall of 1978, shortly after our marriage, I was introduced to various members of my bride’s family. While our families were different in many ways, they were inherently the same, causing the young family historian in me to take note about who was who with regard to my wife’s relatives. One of the relatives to whom I was introduced was “Uncle Albert.”
I should mention that have I never actually met Uncle Albert. I never shook his hand or spoke with him. However, Uncle Albert was to become one of my most poignant and memorable “brick walls.”
We just learned that Albert was born in November of 1915. He looks to have spent some of his early life in an orphanage with his mother’s circumstances remaining unknown.[i] By 1924 his mother “Grace Dahl” had answered an ad in the Oakland Tribune to work in the household of my wife’s grandfather, John B. Pouget, of Napa, California.[ii]
My mother-in-law Pearl Pouget recalled that she and the other children had already chased off some perfectly good housekeepers, and that she and the other children were not especially kind to this newest one. This latest housekeeper happened to bring with her a young son by the name of Albert – she would become the new Mrs. John B. Pouget, making Albert a part of the family.
Suffice it to say that Albert had some trouble fitting in. I am sure everyone tried, and before long Albert and Pearl even had a new baby sister Lois to share between them. About 1940 things still weren’t going too well for Uncle Albert, so he joined the Navy. Albert didn’t know it then of course, but he wouldn’t be coming home. Albert would be at first designated as MIA, and then presumed deceased when his body was never recovered from the war in the Pacific.
My wife Nancy was a little girl in the 1950s and 1960s. She grew up listening to Albert’s mother, now her grandmother, and watched Mrs. Pouget dust the picture of Albert in his military uniform. Nancy watched her grandmother as she reflected on the Purple Heart medal given to her son. Nancy’s grandmother passed away in the late 1960s leaving my wife to wonder, just who was Uncle Albert? With the whereabouts of Albert’s picture and his Purple Heart (still) unknown, had she just imagined all of these things?
By the 1990s my mother-in-law had few recollections of her step-brother “Albert Dahl.” Pearl was just rueful that she had not been more kind to the young man who had never come home from the war.[iii] And for the past 40 years, my wife Nancy has asked her family historian husband to “Please find Uncle Albert…..”
Now, I know I’m not going to find Uncle Albert. Albert died in the Pacific. But like my wife, I have wanted to know just who was he?
Yet I had nothing to go on. I combed through census records. I looked at them repeatedly to find any mention of an “Albert Dahl” in Napa, California – heck, for that matter anywhere in California. I simply had no luck. The same was true for military files. I’d find an “Albert Dahl” or two, but they would never quite fit. I back tracked through pension record payments, but the fire of 1973 had destroyed so many of these that this was also another brick in the wall.[iv] I kept thinking maybe Albert’s name wasn’t “Albert” after all – that perhaps he used his middle name – and wherever I looked I found 40 years worth of nothing.
Then the brick wall started to crumble. Serendipitously, it was Memorial Day weekend and I was perusing old editions of the Oakland Tribune (on an entirely unrelated matter) when I discovered the clipping at right:
I think I scared poor Nancy when I yelled out “I’ve found Albert!” Once a brick wall starts to crack, the wall can quickly crumble. In finding this newspaper notice I realized that I had been looking for a man using the wrong surname – a surname for Albert that no one had ever before recalled. We had found Uncle Albert.
Albert, of course, is still missing, but he will always be our personal hero. For Nancy and me it has always been about getting to know this young man was whose life was so brief, and who gave up so much. “Albert E. Schroer” is memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines along with 36,286 others, missing in action.[vi] [vii]
You are not forgotten Uncle Albert, rest in peace.
[i] The Oakland Tribune, 30 July 1921, 19, refers to “Albert Dahl,” age 5, at the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland, California.
[ii] The Oakland Tribune, 10 December 1923, 24.
[iii] Family recollections of Pearl Pouget Bloodgood (1918–2008), step-sister to Albert Schroer.
[iv] “The National Personnel Records Center Fire (12 July 1973),” The American Archivist, 37: 4, October 1974.
[v] The Oakland Tribune, 1 January 1942, 6.
[vi] American Battle Monuments Commission, www.abmc.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Manila_Booklet.pdf.
[vii] Findagrave.com memorial no. 56757651.