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Father's Day

There was a certain poignancy to the stories told during the recent 80th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. The strength and grace of these vets, frail with age, reminded us that this is a special moment in time when memory is slipping exclusively into history.  These narratives are now becoming a legacy left to us. We keenly sense our responsibility that we have become the story-tellers and our own time is growing shorter to pass these tales onto the next generation.

The stories Kathy and Barbara shared with each other were the domestic stories – enlisting, good-byes, shortages, ration cards, and waiting for letters in the mail -- while carrying on the daily chores that kept life going at home. In honor of Father’s Day, we have chosen to tell the story of how our dads, who both served in World War II, met our moms.


by Barbara Anne Radtke

My dad, Conrad James Radtke, was known mostly as Conkey to his friends.  He enlisted in the Navy after high school and was accepted into the Navy V 12 program. From public documents I learned it was an officer training program.  This program allowed him to pursue his education in architecture while serving. His school placement was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, RPI, in the state of New York.

On an Easter Sunday, while he was at RPI, Dad and a few friends decided to go to Albany because there was an Easter parade.  My mother, Anne, and her two sisters, dressed in their Easter finest, also went to the parade.  As the story goes, my mother spied a sailor climbing a 13 ft high statue of General P. H. Sheridan, a Union officer in the Civil War.  My mother took a photo and the crew of the three sisters, Dad, and his friends watched the parade together. 

My mother and her sisters invited the men back to their family home where my grandmother Lilly was cooking Easter dinner.  As the young people filled the living room with chatter and Dad played the piano, my grandmother silently took the ham, for which she has paid many dear ration coupons, out of the oven and hid it in the basement.  We are not sure why, except she must have thought these three young men would devour it and her plans for left overs would be dashed.  Finally, Grandmother asked the men to leave, but my dad gave my mother his address at RPI and asked her to send him the picture of himself on the statue.  When my mother got the photos developed, she conferred with her mother about sending it to Dad.  My grandmother hesitated because they had not been properly introduced.  Remarkably, my dad’s last name was the deciding factor. Apparently, men passing through ports used fictitious names.  My grandmother could not fathom that the last name of Radtke could be fabricated and she relented, saying “Send him the photo.”

As for my dad’s side of the tale, he walked with his disgruntled friends to the bus stop and took down the name and number of the street. While his friends complained that they had been summarily dismissed by my grandmother, Dad claimed that he vowed to return because “I am going to marry that girl one day.”

As the war intensified, the V12 program was phased out. My dad shipped out as a gunner on a merchant marine ship carrying supplies to the troops off the coast of Africa. In one of the ports, he bought a beautiful, hand woven basket at a bazaar.  When he got home, after the war had ended, he proposed to my mother by giving her the basket with a diamond ring in a small box nestled within.

Like a Jane Austen novel, the engagement had economic ramifications.  My grandmother was a widow and a single mother of five children, two of whom were still in school.  My mother’s salary contributed to the household budget and its loss threatened the financial stability of the family.  My mother continued to work after she was married until I was born, and her salary continued to support her birth family as my dad’s salary supported them and his mother.


By Kathy Hendricks

I never considered my father a man of spontaneity. By the time I was born – the fifth of six children – he was in his mid-forties and a well-established businessman. That’s why his account of meeting my mother for the first time always amused me. On that eventful day, he was in a hurry to get to work at the family business and then realized he had left his slide ruler at home. Circling back, he encountered a small group of women paying a call to his mother. Among them was a 19-year-old dark-haired beauty who was visiting with her mother from St. Louis. Wasting no time, he asked her out on a date. The next day, he drove her to the summit of Lookout Mountain – a 7300 foot mountain located 12 miles out of Denver and gravesite of Buffalo Bill Cody. Given my father’s notoriously bad driving and the unpaved roadway, it must have been quite the excursion. Thus began a long-distance courtship that lasted two years and culminated with their wedding in the fall of 1931. Home movies, shot on 16 mm film, show them kissing playfully as guests around them raise their glasses in multiple toasts.


Albert “Al” Seep was born in Denver in 1903. The oldest of six children, he possessed the orderly nature of his German ancestors along with a streak of independence. After leaving Cornell University with a degree in engineering, he drove across country to Port Angeles, Washington, where he worked in a sawmill for several months. I think it must have been a way to delay his entry into the business run by his father and uncle and which he would eventually take over. A more sober act of spontaneity occurred at the start of World War II when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps without first telling my mother. As father to three young children, he was kept stateside where he helped to oversee a supply depot. Like many veterans of wartime, he rarely talked about his experience. Instead he told and retold the story about the forgotten slide ruler and the day he first met Nellie, whom he always referred to as “my bride.” When he died at the age of 89, there was no question about which story we would tell at his wake. We even found the slide ruler among his things, which provided the perfect prop for an enduring love story.


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