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Letters from USS Juneau sailor could come to city

Wanamaker received copies of historical documents Thursday

Posted: October 7, 2012 - 12:07am
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Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker has received a package of copies of letters originally sent by a sailor on the doomed U.S.S. Juneau (CL-52), months before its sinking in 1942, to a neighbor, he said Friday.

The copies were mailed to Wanamaker, an Army National Guard veteran, by the daughter and son-in-law of the late Winnie Blohm, the woman who received about 15 handwritten letters from sailor William George Meeker Jr. of Harrison, N.J. during World War II.

Blohm’s son-in-law, Ray Testa, told Wanamaker in an email that his wife Mary wants the historical documents to go to Juneau.

“I talked to my wife and she would like the original letters to be eventually displayed in Juneau,” Testa wrote. “It would be great to locate the family to make them aware of these letters, but she really wants them to be put on display in a permanent home for public viewing.”

Wanamaker said that any number of institutions, city and state, could house the letters, though he suggested the Juneau-Douglas City Museum would be best suited.

“Depending on the focus of these letters and the material and the focus of the institution, the City Museum may be the very best institution, because it fits in with their focus,” Wanamaker said.

Jane Lindsay, director of the City Museum, said Friday afternoon that she had not yet seen the letters and only learned about them when Wanamaker emailed her Thursday. But she said that “they sound really interesting and very valuable, and we are very interested.”

“At this point, it sounds like a wonderful find that Randy is bringing to the attention of the city,” Lindsay said. “It’s valuable history, and we’d love to take a look at the information, but we haven’t seen it yet.”

The U.S.S. Juneau was lost during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. It was sunk by Japanese torpedoes on Nov. 13, 1942 — just one week after Meeker’s last letter is dated. Only a handful of crewmembers survived the ship’s destruction, the harsh elements and repeated shark attacks while awaiting rescue (http://bit.ly/QQDx1E).

Meeker was not among the survivors. Wanamaker said he plans to look into just how he died.

“We know that he’s one of those who went down,” said Wanamaker. “We don’t know if he’s one of those that survived in the water.”

With the 70th anniversary of the Juneau’s sinking approaching next month, Wanamaker and several other members of the community, including former Mayor Bill Overstreet and Port Director Carl Uchytil, are working toward a fitting remembrance for the ship and its crew in the city for which it was named (http://bit.ly/RH4E2b).

The letters are another set of artifacts that could be displayed to illuminate the Juneau’s history, Wanamaker suggested.

“These letters, the original letters, will have research value,” said Wanamaker. “Copies like this can be put on display inside plastic things so that the public can look at them, but the original letters have to be kept safe.”

While the letters passed through wartime military censoring to prevent sensitive information from getting out, Wanamaker said it is clear that Meeker saw some action during his first — and last — few months at sea.

“If I were a naval officer trying to figure out how a battle went, I’d want to read what this guy managed to put into his letter in vague references,” Wanamaker said. “They all passed censor. They were all censored. But it’s evident that he was referring to some actions.”

Wanamaker added, “It’s a wonderful piece of history, and it brings to life somebody that we really didn’t know about before.”

The original documents may not arrive in Juneau in time for the Nov. 13 anniversary, according to Wanamaker, and how they would be transferred and transported to Juneau has not yet been determined.

“It sounds like, to me, it may take more than a few weeks,” said Wanamaker. “But to get the process underway is definitely something that we’re going to start right away.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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