Private Motheral Bonner’s Scrapbook
During the fall semester of 2016, Lisa Marie Mazenko a senior history major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, served as a collections intern at the Birmingham History Center. During that time she processed over 650 recently donated artifacts including an interesting scrapbook of a World War II veteran. The following short essay about that scrapbook was written for this blog by Miss Mazenko.
A beautiful beige scrapbook recently donated to the Birmingham History Center documents the military life of Private Motheral Bonner. Before enlisting, Bonner was an insulation worker, with no formal education beyond grammar school. Bonner was thirty-two years old when he enlisted on the tenth of April, 1944, for whatever the duration of the war might be plus an additional six months. One of his first military actions was to apply for dependency benefits for his wife Rosealee, whom he had married on the twenty-ninth of July in 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Inside the scrapbook is a certificate announcing Bonner’s completion of an eight-week medical technician course in El Paso, Texas, on the tenth of October, 1944. There is also a graduation program from the school for medical department technicians at William Beaumont General Hospital. Bonner was assigned to the 28th Medical Regiment which served the 68th Station Hospital in Paris in 1945.
One of the more touching pieces in the scrapbook is a sheath of V-mail addressed to the Bonners from SG Cooley. Dated the twelfth of January, 1944, part of it reads: “Got a little card from you folks and mighty glad someone remembers me, cause it looks like my Uncle Sam has plumb forgot me. They got me stuck way out here in the Central Pacific…” This exchange would seem to contradict the popular media myth that all American soldiers during World War Two were enthusiastic patriots.
On a more humorous note (or not, depending on your point of view), the scrapbook contains two important newspaper clippings. The first is an article describing the daily life of GIs after the end of the war was declared, while they awaited being shipped home, with a handwritten note in the margin which reads: “This has been my kind of life for the past few months.” The second clipping is a short poem written by a one PFC David Ross which contains the line, “V-J Day’s here, well, lovely, fine—I’ll see you all in ’69.” Both of these newspaper clippings illustrate the frustration and boredom experienced by thousands of American troops stuck overseas, often for longer than a year, as they waited for transport home.