Hidden in Plain Sight

On the back of my great-uncle Dale’s World War II draft card was a complete hidden gem that I had completely overlooked. I had assumed it was just a plain old WW2 draft card where the goodies are all on the front – their address, employer, person who knows your address, etc., so I never really paid much attention to the back of Dale’s card. Last night, I think my eye balls about popped out of my head when I read the reverse of Dale’s card.

Let me back up a sec for new readers. My great-uncle Dale has been notoriously hard to document. I have always assumed it was because he was a merchant marine and just missed being enumerated, had no land records to his name with transient employment, and he was single with no dependents. He’s been a real humdinger to trace. But awhile back I got lucky and found him in 1930 in Montana, arrested for armed robbery. I even got the bonus mug shot from those records and an accompanying news article to describe his crime in detail. So, in searching for Dale, I thought I had pretty much ground to a halt…. and then …

I flipped over his card and saw this …

“Known to this institution as: Daniel W. Shea.” The “institution” being the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. What? Wait. Who is Daniel W. Shea? At first, I thought this must have been indexed incorrectly, and flipped back and forth several pages to see if it belonged to someone else. Nope. It sure seemed to belong to Dale. So I went searching in the newspapers.

From the Santa Maria Times (California), 4 Feb 1939, page 1, column 6.

Apparently, in Santa Monica during early February 1939, Dale (aka Daniel Shea), was drunk off his rocker, swaggers up to the post office clerk, did the whole “finger-as-a-gun” trick and told the clerk to “Pass over the business or I’ll fill you full of lead.” The clerk, not believing he is in any real danger, simply ducks down behind the counter and the other post office workers call the cops. Dale/Daniel flees the post office and then a few minutes later, attempts to rob a motorist who just simply drove off, unconvinced by his finger gun. WHAT?! When the cops apprehended him, he was, of course, unarmed and they booked him on “suspicion of intoxication and attempted robbery.” Robbing a post office is a federal crime so it’s no wonder that Dale was in the U.S. Penitentiary! Apparently, he didn’t learn a thing from his 1930 arrest in Montana for armed robbery.

However, I am baffled by his draft card a bit. The back says the date of registration was 18 October 1940 in Lewisburg, PA, but the stamp for the local board says Los Angeles, CA, 1 November 1940, which is where he was reportedly living/working at the time of the 1939 robbery. So did he get out and his card was sent back to LA with him? I’m just confused a bit on the logistics of where he was and when. It’s such fresh, new information though that I haven’t had time to really dig into this alias of his yet.

Eventually, armed with this new information, I’ll be returning to Dale Stewart sometime in the near future when I have more time. Right now, I’m “on the clock” for my certification and that’s my first priority. Dale will have to wait a bit longer but golly, I’m sure fascinated by him and his life.

However, it did remind me of a powerful lesson today – CHECK BOTH SIDES! You never know what information is hidden in plain sight. Remember in September when I searched the whole cemetery for my grandmother’s headstone in dismay because I couldn’t find it but was delighted to find her brother’s? My grandparents were on the BACK of his stone. I was literally standing right there and didn’t look on the back and missed them completely. Duh. AND, on my mother-in-law’s maternal grandfather’s draft card we learned, he was missing a finger from a work accident. You never know what gems are lurking on the back of draft cards, headstones, contracts, etc. so just flip it. FLIP IT.