It was with great interest that I belatedly read your blog entitled ‘Remembering Young Lives Cut Short on a Hot Alabama Day’ (dated August 9, 2006). It was particularly interesting as I was with my mother at the time, whose father (my grandfather) was the RAF pilot Frank Marhoff who you refer to in your article. It was quite strange but pleasing to see that someone on the other side of the world, who neither knows our family nor is connected to it, has taken notice of a grave that only one of us has ever been able to visit.
My mother was three years old when her father died in that plane crash and so far she has been the only family member to visit the cemetery in Montgomery, a lifelong ambition which she finally managed to achieve in 1988, some 47 years after he died. In 2005 when I was in the USA to write about the visit of the England national football (‘soccer’) team, I did myself toy with the idea of breaking off from visiting family in New York to fly down for a couple of days, but was unable to get it into my schedule. Maybe I’ll get there one day. I would certainly love to see it as the graves look beautifully set in your pictures.
My mother was interested to see all the flowers around the grave and your explanation of how they are cared for, as during her visit in 1988 the grave looked quite different – either it was before the flowers were added, or it was the wrong time of year, but she was certainly impressed by how it looks now (or at least last year, when you took the photo).
Just out of interest, out of the many graves there, why was it that you focussed my grandfather? I’m always interested in these chance happenings.
Just to fill out the picture a bit in case you’re interested, after my grandfather’s death in 1941 my grandmother never remarried and brought up the two girls referred to in the newspaper cutting by herself. She emigrated briefly (for two years) to Australia in the 1950s, before returning to the UK and eventually relocating to the Cambridgeshire area of England to be near my mother in the early 1970s. She died in the early Nineties. Had my grandfather lived, he would now have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, plus one more on the way, as my first child is due in January. It’s strange to think that a life cut so short has so much that comes from it. But I guess cemeteries like the one in Montgomery are full of such stories.
I have a box of photos of my grandfather in Alabama and my mother has all the letters he wrote home from before his death. We even tracked down a Pathe newsreel clip that features him briefly during his training in the US. Plus we also have a photograph of him meeting Jack Dempsey while in the States, as featured in the clippings you linked to your blog. At least there are a few things to pass down to my first child alongside my mother’s few early memories of the man. One way or another, Frank stays alive in the family.
Many thanks for writing your article and spending some time visiting my grandfather’s grave.
And in reply to my request to publish his e-mail:
By all means share the email – the whole thing has cheered my day up. I didn’t post it all as I thought it might clog up your blog with too much information for the wider world. However, I’ve just posted another comment because of a bizarre coincidence. I was looking at the below link with my wife after showing her your blog. After noticing the date on the headstone, she pointed out that it would be the anniversary of his death today.
Being a writer like yourself, I’ve always found the story of my grandfather very interesting – even though it’s a very ordinary story. He was among the first shipment of RAF trainee pilots sent to the US to train to fly, but he didn’t die a war hero, he wasn’t special to anyone outside his family, but he’s always been a big part of our family’s life and history. My grandmother certainly never got over him and my mother still thinks about him regularly.
As a child I grew up fascinated by the photos of him in his uniform on the base in the US and the picture of him with Jack Dempsey. It all seemed a million years away from our lives. My other grandfather fought in the First World War (and lived to tell the tale), but in some ways I thought that the idea of Frank travelling so far away to the US (and being pictured with big American cars in the background, alongside strange looking American road signs) was in some way more alien than the idea of my other grandfather fighting in Ypres. I’m sure one day I’ll write about it myself!
All the best,
Note: if you click on this link, you will see a photo of Frank's grave, which was posted less than a month ago. I suppose another story lies in the photographers who post these photos.