A few weeks back there was a forecast of snow and I got my hopes up way too high about the prospect of missing work. I’ve gone on the record saying snow days never lose their novelty and probably get better with time. At 32 years of age the thought of getting the day off work excites me more than getting to touch a boob and living in DC I knew it wouldn’t take much accumulation to get the job done. If there was an inch or two on the ground I could probably expect a call telling me not to bother coming in.
Unfortunately none of this came to pass. I mention it though because yesterday I experienced the second best thing to happen in the life of a working professional….a work field trip. Anyone who spends most of their day stuck in a cubicle can appreciate my zeal for any opportunity to escape their normal internment. If I was offered the chance to visit a hog rendering plant or paper mill I would have been just as excited. My trip was going to be a bit more exciting than that because the office gang and I were headed to the National Archives in College Park, Md.
Prior to arrival we were instructed to come up with something we’d be interested in researching prior. This is a colossal task when you have access to a preposterous amount of historical records, and possess an inquisitive mind. I figured I’d look up something nice and weird but my imagination failed me. I didn’t look up any conspiracy stuff either (although I did procure a research pass to the archives so I can always go back and watch Betamax tapes of the Zapruder film).
I decided to look up stuff about my grandfathers both of whom served in WWII. Not very original but sometimes you work with what you have. The biggest lesson I learned yesterday is that finding stuff at the archives is a pain in the butt. For starters you need quite a bit of information just to get started. For instance my paternal grandfather all I knew about him was he was part of the 489th Bombadier Group. Well that group was comprised of separate squadrons, and then squadrons are broken down further into individual and their respective air crews. All I knew about gramps was that at one point he was stationed in Newfoundland.
My other grandpa was a little more promising. The guy is still kicking at 90 years young so I called him up and pestered him for some information. I asked what unit he belonged to all those years ago and he told me the 756th Tank Battalion 3rd Army under Patton in Salzburg, Austria. He’s pretty sharp but can ramble at times. When I asked for more details he started in telling me what church he went to in town. While I was impressed he could still remember that it didn’t do me any good, but I had enough to start my search.
I was really hoping to find was a mugshot or similar photos of these old timers, but I was disappointed to learn most of these no longer exist. The archivists only keep the photos of big-wigs such as colonels and their ilk. I did find some pictures of his unit taken in Austria around the time he was there, and there’s one guy riding an armored vehicle who resembles grandpa if I squint and use the entirety of my imagination. In another there is a crowd and maybe, just maybe, grandpa is milling around among the throng.
(Sidenote: while in high school I had a history teacher who was something of a doofus. He was a war re-enactor and had been an extra in the movie Gettysburg. One day he unfurled a panoramic photo featuring tens of thousands of extras, points to a dot among the crush of humanity, and proclaims “there I am!”)
All in all my time at the archives was pretty interesting, and let me tell you they don’t fuck around when it comes to security. They don’t have any high speed guys working but but when it comes to weird ass rules there was no shortage. For instance you aren’t allowed to bring in your own notebook or any pens. Instead they provide pencils and paper. I had been scribbling notes on a loose piece of paper and I had to put it in a diplomatic satchel before leaving the room I was in. It was a small price to pay though for pretending to be scholarly for a day.