Monday, August 2, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Interview with Melvin Lester Newmark - Part 8

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I continue transcribing an interview of my paternal grandfather, Melvin Lester Newmark, conducted in 1987 by a personal historian. My grandfather is discussing starting his own law practice in approximately 1938.


Interviewer: When you opened up your own office alone, where were you located?
Melvin: Also in the Title Guaranty building.
Interviewer: So that was your place?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: Alright, what was life like, you were a young father. Were your hours long?
Melvin: Not too bad. I led a good life. We had a lot of social activity and a lot of friends. We were getting by. You probably thought we were doing great. I don’t know. We weren’t in financial trouble.
Interviewer: Did you have family weekends still with your bigger greater family?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: That continued after you were married?
Melvin: Yes, that continued, but not quite as excessively. But certainly with her parents and my parents.
Interviewer: That was lovely.
Melvin: Yeah, we stayed together until the end.
Interviewer: So, it wasn’t for, let’s see, four more years that your next child was born.
Melvin: Stevan.
Interviewer: What year?
Melvin: Stevan was born October 15, 1942.
Interviewer: Did you stay at the Cates house then? Was it big enough for your kids?
Melvin: Well, let’s see, no, that’s when we were now at war.
Interviewer: How does that effect you?
Melvin: Well, they were already beginning to draft men my age who were not married or with children. But it was predicted that men even with children, I had two sons...perhaps it wasn’t going to be long and I was going to be drafted. My brother, Harold, was already in the service. And my brother, Mandell, was in the service. So I decided to enlist in the American Red Cross. I tried to get into the Navy, or Army as an officer, but couldn’t.
Interviewer: You were too old?
Melvin: No, I think my eyesight wasn’t good enough...So I couldn’t pass the physical. So Morrie Pearlmutter and I were impressed with what we had been hearing about the American Red Cross. So we both wanted to get over to Germany. And this was going to be our way to do it. So we both decided to join the Red Cross. Morrie Pearlmutter is my age, and with two children, two sons. He was then working at -- was he at Olney Advertising or Stix Baer and Fuller? I think he was advertising manager at Stix Baer and Fuller. He quit, and I quit, and we joined the army, I mean the American Red Cross.
Interviewer: Where did they send you?
Melvin: They sent me to New Guinea.
Interviewer: Where did he go?
Melvin: He went to England.
Interviewer: All right, so you had no choice? (pause) What did you do there?
Melvin: New Guinea?
Interviewer: Yeah. In legal services?
Melvin: Well, I was the American Red Cross representative assigned to New Guinea. I was in Port Moresby. I started out in Port Moresby. We had an office where men would come in seeking help on family problems, needing money, needing advice, needing information about things they heard at home, about their wives, or about their families, Al the things the Red Cross people would do, to me now it’s hard to remember, but I developed a reputation as a fairly decent Red Cross Field Director, and later was promoted to Red Cross Area Director. And these titles had corresponding military titles, to enable us to have the right kind of places to sleep, and eat, you know.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Melvin: So I was comparable then to – I guess a major.
Interviewer: So you were living comfortably?
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: So did you stay at Port Moresby the whole time?
Melvin: No. From Port Moresby I went to Biak. I guess I was in Port Moresby for over a year. I was in Port Moresby when MacArthur made that his headquarters. And that was interesting because not only did I have my duties as the Red Cross Field Director, but we already had about fifty Red Cross girls in Port Moresby. And they were delightfully beautifully looking, attractive young girls, and everybody in the army thought if they would become my buddy, they’d get to meet one of those girls. Life was good.
Interviewer: And the climate’s all right?
Melvin: It was hell. It was terrible. Look at my face. I love hot weather. I can live with it.
Interviewer: But it was hot?
Melvin: Sure it was hot, hot as hell.
Interviewer: And what’s Biak?


Melvin: Biak was even hotter. It was in Indonesia. You never really hear of it. It was bad.
Interviewer: Why did they set up there?
Melvin: Well, we were already moving closer to the Philippines.
Interviewer: Moving north.
Melvin: Yeah, we were moving north, to take over the Philippine Islands. So I spent about two years
Interviewer: Did you ever get home?
Melvin: Yeah. And then, MacArthur, always looking for ways to gain the public favor, began sending some GIs home. They were GIs who had spent enough years there anyway, or was sick, so the Red Cross was going to have to have somebody to escort them. So I was assigned to escort a group who were being sent home. The group could be 1500 or 1000 on a ship. My duties was to give out games, and do things like that.
Interviewer: It wasn’t hard?
Melvin: No.
Interviewer: How long is the trip over? Or back?
Melvin: Took me six weeks.
Interviewer: To the West Coast?
Melvin: Yeah.
Interviewer: And did you go over from the West Coast, also?
Melvin: From the West Coast going over, we went by ship, and it was only 21 days. Coming home it was a loooong trip. It was a hard trip.
Interviewer: So what year is this that you get home?
Melvin: '44? Yeah, I think when I got home the War in Europe was..
Interviewer: No, that wasn’t until '45 also.
Melvin: That’s when I got home.
Interviewer: Do you get to stay home?
Melvin: I get to stay home. Sto then the question is should they send me back or not? Because the War in Europe was over with,
Interviewer: But not in Asia.
Melvin: Now we’re talking about dropping the bomb, and what’s going to happen. And all of a sudden I think the A-bomb comes out.
Interviewer: And you’re safe from returning.
Melvin: I don’t have to go back.
Interviewer: And your family rejoices.
Melvin: Oh my god.
Interviewer: And, so for three years you didn’t see your family?
Melvin: A little bit over two and a half.
Interviewer: That was pretty long.
Melvin: Yeah, it was long. My children were growing up.
Interviewer: Without you. Did your wife stay in your place, or did she move back home?
Melvin: She moved back with her parents. And they took care of her and the kids. And I was a stranger to the children, naturally, my little son Stevan
Interviewer: You had to have reentry
Melvin: Sure. Sure. I had to reestablish the relationship. But that was done. We were able to get over that. And what did I do? I went right back to the law practice. And where do I open up? I go in with Victor Packman, in the Arcade building. I guess I stayed with Victor Packman and Earl Barris – the three of us were together and we were going to form a law firm. [Victor Packman said no.] So Earl and I became partners. Our firm then was Newmark and Barris. For what, about ten years. We were in the…
Interviewer: The Arcade building.
Melvin: No, we left the Arcade building. Victor was there. I think we opened our office, what’s the building on the corner of Eighth and Olive?
Interviewer: We’ll just say Eighth and Olive. So, happily for ten years?
Melvin: Yeah, Earl and I were partners.
Interviewer: Then what happened?
Melvin: During that time we moved our offices to the Railway Exchange building. Because when we started out in the…I gotta think of the name of that building, you know it as well as I do
Interviewer: I know, but…is it the Equitable Building?
Melvin: No, it’s still a well-known building.
Interviewer: We’ll come back to it.
Melvin: The Blumenfeld brothers, we were in their office. One of them had already died. That firm was growing. And they decided to move out here to Clayton. We didn’t want to move with them. We thought it was ridiculous to move out here to the country. So Earl and I moved to the Railway Exchange building. And then we decided after a few years that we weren’t made for each other as partners, so we just simply ‘lived together.’
Interviewer: But had separate business arrangements.
Melvin: That’s right. But we were in the same suite.


1) I'm a little surprised my grandfather doesn't discuss his younger brother, Mandell, being killed in the war here.  He did mention it earlier in the tape, but he spent a couple months with Mandell in Biak, in November and December of 1944, so it would have been natural for him to mention that.

2) I may be reading more into the conversation than is there, but it seems like the interviewer bringing up "the weather" in Biak was a means of steering the conversation away from the "Red Cross girls," who my grandfather wanted to discuss.

3) The US Custom House and Post Office is on the corner of 8th and Olive, and may be the building to which my grandfather refers. Since it seems to have ceased serving as a courthouse in 1935, and the Post Office only took up the basement and first floors, in the 1940s there would have been a lot of room for offices. However, he may also have meant one of the other three corners.

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