Discovery of the Diary
In the winter of 2002, I was sixteen and a sophomore in high school. My grandfather, William “Bill” Hale had passed away in late December. That spring my parents and twin sister and I drove out to Chicago to help my grandmother move out of the house. In the stuffy and dusty attic my sister and I shuffled through boxes of family memorabilia and an accumulation of years of old garage sale finds. My grandmother, raised in the Great Depression, kept everything that had the potential to be useful so the job of clearing out the attic was quite a challenge. There wasn’t much of any significance in all the boxes and piles until we started pulling out Nazi armbands and other war related artifacts. These finds were both thrilling and somewhat frightening. These items were the real-thing, souvenirs taken by my grandfather while he served on the European front.
That spring in my American History class we had just learned about WWII. I had always been a history buff and loved looking at history books and finding historical treasures. The 1930s and 1940s were always the most interesting to me so the serendipitous discovery was a moment of connection to my yet untapped passion for history research.
Tucked away in the forgotten attic, my sister and I uncovered a small pocket-sized notebook. Although the tattered notebook was difficult to read, my mother recognized her father’s distinctive handwriting. Later that day after finishing some sorting and cleaning we took a closer look at the little notebook. Having just learned about major battles during WWII and recognizing some of the things mentioned, my parents and I determined the diary was kept by my grandfather during the “Battle of the Bulge” in the winter of 1944. Written as a kind of ongoing letter to his wife, Georgia, the diary accounts some of the daily happenings at the time and reaches to an emotional place, expressing the sentiment that Bill did not think he would survive the current circumstances of the war.
Significance of the Diary
This diary, though small and brief was my first encounter with a primary document and all the more special because it was written by someone I knew and loved. We made photocopies of the diary for each person in the family to have but now it is available, with respect, in digital form.
It is not until you set your eyes upon the notebook or hold within your hands the meaning and the history behind the artifact that you understand the importance of such treasures. It takes a personal experience and a connection with the document to learn the value of the man and the importance of the service he and others committed to and the sacrifice that many made with their lives. In accounts like the one shared in this diary you can see that records are not only a physical place where history is held but also a place where history happens.