Today at my workstudy job, I was flipping through alumni files when I glimpsed what looked like an old postcard. It took a few seconds to register, so I had to go backtrack a bit to find the file. It was labeled, typed, "Conrad Rose, WW II," and then in handwritten blue ballpoint, "Alumni - DEAD."
This was a little weird - there's a separate series of filing cabinets for the files of deceased alumni, so I pulled it out to file it properly. And yeah, of course I wanted to check out that postcard, so I started looking through Conrad's file.
It just became the most interesting story.
Conrad was born in Howell, Indiana, which seems to be or have been a small town near Evansville. He graduated from Reitz High School (where he was a "football star") and Evansville College (which later became the University of Evansville, where I go). I'm not sure when he graduated - he wasn't in any of the yearbooks I looked in, but based on his year of birth (1906), and the fact that he was also able to graduate from the University of Kentucky in '31, I'd say he was here in the late '20s. From there, he went on to coach football at Georgetown. This is all pretty much from an obituary.
Then World War II started, and this is where the file gets amazing. Apparently, when his brother died in the 1960s, his brother's widow sent all these papers to the college - WW II correspondence and old photos. And Conrad just suddenly came to life
He was stationed in the South Pacific. In the postcard to his brother and sister-in-law, the one that caught my eye, with a B-25 bomber on the front, dated 7-2-43, he describes being promoted to sergeant and living in New Guinea: "This island is mostly all jungle, rich in mineral + vegetation of all sort, but I wouldn't give a yard of the U.S. for acres of any other country I've been in."
Later, he closes by saying, "Drop me a line sometime, and write to Mom. She worries more about you than me I believe." At the top, there's a stamp indicating that it was approved by a censor.
But by the next year, he'd die. He died, and his mother actually had to ask
what happened to him. She waited two months and go no word
on how he died. On January 30, 1945, she got a response that ( stated the facts. )
The next month, Mrs. Rose finally received official condolences. This is the most amazing letter of all - it's from Douglas MacArthur. I'm sure it's a form letter of sorts, but I liked the prose so much that ( I wrote it all down. )
In April, Mrs. Rose wrote to her surviving son and gave him the original MacArthur letter for safekeeping, but kept the one from Barnes because it had more detail about Conrad. She stated, "...if I live I shall bring him back to his country for which he died and was counting the days until he could come home. I can't get over it, it seems..." She then went on to talk about how she would be compensated $37 a month for the rest of her life by the U.S. government.
Conrad's body did come home, possibly in 1948, and was buried in Oak Hill cemetery. I think by then, his mother had passed away.
And after reading all this, I just had to put my head down and catch my breath, because Conrad Rose was so, so human. There was a picture of him clowning for the camera in a cowboy hat and spats - spats - and people called him Connie and he misspelled 'chief' and his mother loved him. He was real and human, and it is suddenly very hard to deal with life and death when you remember that people are human.
Then I changed his label and carefully filed him in the deceased cabinet, where I know probably no one else will ever look at him again.