The Tuskegee Airmen and William J Hughes

My Dad told me that Tuskegee airmen saved his life in World War II. Here is his story.

My Father, William Joseph Hughes was born in 1921. He was eight years old when the Market Crashed. Fortunately, his dad – my Grandfather Harry – was the manager of the huge Standard Oil refinery in Bayonne, New Jersey. They had two homes and except for losing his life saving of over $12 when the local bank folded escaped the worst of the great depression. He started at Penn State in 1939.

After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army Air Corp to fly B-17s. So many college kids enlisted that he had to wait over a year to be inducted. As he waited and then moved through training he became aware of the terrible losses experienced by the B-17 flight crews.   He realized that his chances of living through the war were slim.

In the spring of 1944 he was assigned to the 15th Army Air Corp, 5th Wing, 2nd Bombardment Group, 20th Bombardment Squadron in Foggia, Southern Italy. Just before he showed up, the entire squadron had been wiped out during one mission. He didn’t expect to survive.

Fortunately, 332nd Fighter Group One part of the the Tuskegee Airmen – the all African American fighter group, showed up around the same time. It is amazing that despite the racism of the day, there were still so many blacks who were willing to fight for a country that treated them as second class citizen.

At this time in American history, if you killed a black man in over a third of the states there would be no investigation. And in the rest of the US, there were many communities that banned blacks from living in them.

The mission were the Tuskegee Airmen saved his life went like this.

The 7 planes of his B-17 squadron were flying in their tight box formation, overlapping with other squadrons of the 2nd Bombardment group with Tuskegee fighter flying cap, when he saw a small group of Nazi planes approaching. The Nazi’s had learned that the only way to defeat the box defense of the B-17s was to have a massed attack in formation from one direction. If the formation could be broken up then they could shot down all the B-17s

The B-17s crew’s experience was that the white fighter pilot would wait until they could get behind the Nazi fighters before attacking and some of the B17 would be shot down by the Nazi’s in the process. The Tuskegee fighters were difference, they would always attack the Nazis head on.

So the Tuskegee Airman did their usual and dived toward the attack formation, broke it up and the Nazis flew off.  It would be 15 to 20 minutes before the Tuskegee fighters would be back into position to protect the B17s/  Fortunately, during the fight the Tuskegee airman left two of their members flying cap – just in case.

About 15 minutes later, my Dad noticed another larger group of about 50 Nazi planes approaching from the other direction. It suddenly became clear to my Dad, the first attack had been a feint. This was the real attack and they didn’t have their fighter cap. He was faced with the realization that most likely all 28 planes of his group were going to be shot down. Suddenly, the two remaining Tuskegee airman dove down between my Father’s group and the Nazi’s, they both did a barrel roll and headed straight in the tight Nazi Formation – to a sure death – but they broke up the attack and the 2nd Bombardment Group didn’t lose a plane.

My father realized that these men had – most likely – traded their lives for his. He didn’t see the the 2 Tuskegee fighters go down, but that didn’t matter to him.  If they survived it would be a miracle.  What he did know was that during the course of the war 84 of the Tuskegee Airmen would lose their lives in combat or accidents.  Defending all white B17 crews that had previously looked down on the African Americans.

My father never spoke or tolerated any racial slurs. He actively supported the civil right movement.   Growing up each year we’d go to the Pt. Mugu Air Show where he would seek out the Tuskegee Airman booth and thank them.

My father knew that he owned his life to these heroes. The Tuskegee Airmen didn’t do it to preserve our way of life but to prove they deserved equal rights. In 1944 in many parts of the US they couldn’t vote and if lynched their killers would go free. The impact on my Dad was to turn him into a civil rights supporter.

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941-46. 355 were deployed overseas, and 84 lost their lives in accidents or combat..


The book Bloody Skies: A 15th AAF B-17 Crew: How They Lived and Died Paperback – April 1, 1999 by Melvin W. McGuire describes his squadron’s actions while he was flying combat missions.

Alice Marsh “Nana” Oral History Part 2: Nana Comes to Pasadena

Track 15: War Ends! Where to Go?

Track 16: Arrive in Pasadena

Track 17: Her name is changed

Track 18: In Debt

Track 19: Drops out of school

Track 20: Married

Track 21: South America

Alice Marsh “Nana” Oral History Part 1: Surviving The Genocide

Track 1: Introduction to Interview

Track 2: False Start to Interview

Track 3:  First Things

Track 4: The Troubles Start

Track 5: Deportation

Track 6: Visa for Allepo

Track 7: Money Stolen

Track 8: Staying in a Church

Track 9: Nana Sick

Track 10: Fleeing the Turks

Track 11: Hidden in a rug

Tack 12: Back with Mother

Track 13: Head Shaved

Track 14:  Escapes Massacre

World War I

Erl Melvin Hatch  (b. 01 Apr 1982, d 09 Apr 1927)

My grandfather Erl Hatch served in World War I.  I have not yet located his service record.  He was murdered protecting his mother Violetta Emmons Hatch in 1927.   The story of the case and the early use of finger prints in criminal trials can be found in the article:  Finger Print on Door Knob and a Mother’s Memory of a Voice Identify Murderer

Andrew Conway Campbell  (b 02 Dec 1898, d 08 Apr 1972)

Gayle’s grandfather Andy Campbell served in World War I.  I have only located his draft card.


World War II

William Joseph Hughes

Served in the 15th AAF B-17 20th Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group, 5th Wing, Amendola Air Base, Foggia, Italy  The book Bloody Skies: A 15th AAF B-17 Crew: How They Lived and Died Paperback – April 1, 1999 by Melvin W. McGuire describes his squadron’s actions while he was flying combat missions.   His brother Gerard served in the Navy.

Mary Ann  Hughes

Served as a Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in Washington D.C.   Was one of Admiral Halsey’s Washington D.C. based secretaries.  Her focus was on creating the historical record.  She interviewed the men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima for the pentagons historical record.  Her brother Dick served in the Navy.

Gaylord Landon Campbell

Gaylord joined the U.S. Army 24th division in Hawaii.  He was on his way to participant in the invasion of Japan on VJ day. He served at the end of WWII from 1946-1947 and in the Korea War 1950-1952.



Revolutionary War

Heman Hatch (b. 01 April 1747, d. 05 May 1801)

Heman served as a Private in the Revolutionary War as part of the 2nd Connecticut Light Infantry Regiment.  His son, Heman Hatch Jr (b. 14 Jun 1767, D 26 Dec 1843) was a fifer in the unit.

He saw action in the New York Campaign, Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown and the Battle of Monmouth.

Nathaniel  Tucker (b. 15 Oct 1744, D. 26 Mar 1796)

Enlisted July 6, 1775 in a Plymouth Mass company of infantry, discharged Oct 19, 1780.  Saw action in Massachusetts and New York.

Heman Hatch Jr married (22 Oct 1798) the daughter of Nathaniel Tucker (Vodocia Tucker b 04 May 1775 d 05 May 1840).  Their grandson, Charles Lycurgus Hatchserved in the Civil War on the Union side.

Civil War Service

I have found the following information about my Ancestors’ Civil War Service

Charles Lycurgus Hatch (Born: 12 Feb 1931, Died 1910?):

Charles L Hatch enlisted on 09 Nov 1861 as a Private in the Union Army, Company K, 10th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.  He was wounded at Chaplin Hill and taken prisoner at Chickamauga.  I believe he escaped as he was mustered out on 03 Nov 1864,  the others taken captive were liberated from their POW camp in March 1865.

The 10th Wisconsin Infantry was organized at Camp Holton in Milwaukee, mustered into service for three years on October 1, 1861, and traveled to Kentucky during November and early December. During the war it moved through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. It participated in the battles of Perryville, the Atlanta Campaign, Chickamauga, the siege of Chattanooga, and the battle of Kennesaw Mountain. It was mustered out on October 25, 1864, at which time re-enlisting veterans and new recruits were transferred to the 21st Wisconsin Infantry. The regiment lost 244 men during service. Five officers and 91 enlisted men were killed. One officer and 147 enlisted men died from disease.

A detailed account of the regiment is available here: Detailed actions of Wisc 10 Infantry regiment

Isaac Jacobus Emmons (Born 15 Feb 1815,  Died 15 Feb 1886)

16 Feb 1965 enlisted as a Private in the Union Army, Company G, 49th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.  Mustered out on 8 Nov 1865

The 49th Wisconsin Infantry was organized at Camp Randall in Madison between December 24, 1864, and March 5, 1865. It left the state for St. Louis, Missouri, on March 8, 1865, just a few weeks before the war ended. It moved to Rolla, Missouri, on March 13 where its services included garrison and guard duty until August. It then moved to St. Louis, where it mustered out on November 8, 1865. The regiment lost 54 men during service, all from disease.

A detailed account of the regiment is available here: Detailed actions of Wisc 49th Infantry regiment

Charles L Hatch’s son Melvin Hatch married the daughter of Isaac Emmons.  Their son Erl Hatch served in WWI.

Alice March – Oral History

The Armenian Genocide – Nana’s Oral History Tapes

Note:  This article was written by Jenee Hughes (My Daughter) for a class at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA.   I have only corrected the spelling of Nana’s birth first name and added photos.  Nana is the term that all her grand children called her.  I was fortunate to get to know Nana after I married Gayle in 1981.  Gayle and I attended Lake Avenue Congregational Church where Nana has been attending since she arrived in Pasadena in December 1920.   I miss the little old lady from Pasadena …. and her AMC Gremlin.

Jenee’s article follows.  The original version is on her website.

My great grandmother on my Mom’s side, Alice Marsh (nee  Aroosaig Samercashian), lived through the Armenian genocides in the Ottoman Empire, from 1906 to 1919. She died when I was still an infant, but I have been lucky enough to be able to hear her tell her life story, on the oral history tapes she recorded in 1982.  
I wrote an abridged summary of those tapes for an Asian Studies class I took (where the teacher was kind enough to let me fudge the definition of “Asian immigrant”). I’m sharing it here so that others can hear her amazing journey.  I’m proud and amazed to be part of her legacy.

Alice Marsh’s (nee Aroosiag Samercashian) Journey to America

Abridged Summary of Oral History Tapes, compiled and analyzed by Jenee Hughes, February 3, 2011

Aroosiag Samercashian’s first memory was of bullets. Hadjin, the remote mountain village that she lived in, was under siege by Turks whose goal was to murder all the Armenians in the town. Her mother was combing her hair in the American orphanage they had taken refuge in, when a bullet landed at her feet. It was just the beginning of an incredibly arduous journey, which would eventually lead her and her family to America. In 1982, seventy-three years after that, Aroosiag (now named Alice Marsh and living in Pasadena, CA) would recount the story of her life and her journey to America to a CSUN student taking an ethnic studies class, recording it on tape for posterity.

Aroosiag Samercashian was born in 1906, an ethnic Armenian in the highlands of Cilician Armenia. Her father was an assessor who worked for the government, and her mother was a teacher, employed by American missionaries in their hometown. Both parents were from Hadjin, a “resort town” in the mountains, far from any sort of industrial work.  Her mother lived in Hadjin with the children, but her father had to live and work in the city.

In 1908, the Young Turks and some Armenian revolutionary groups overthrew the Muslim sultan of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in a bloodless revolution. They attempted to establish a constitutional government, though the regime never stabilized.  As part of this government, though, for the first time, the predominantly-Christian Armenians were allowed to own guns.  Muslim Turks were uneasy about this, so when the former sultan called for a coup to regain Turkey for Islam in April 1909, they were more than willing to oblige. Masses of ethnic-Turkish Muslims descended upon towns in Cilicia, burning villages and showing no mercy to any Armenians they found.  Many villages were wiped off the face of the map in a matter of days[1].

In Hadjin, there were some American missionaries who refused to leave the town, one of whom eventually wrote and published a firsthand account of their experiences. The Turk’s fear of the repercussions of killing Americans, combined with the steadfast resistance provided by the men of Hadjin, protected the town to some extent. The invaders were never able to breach the town wall, but they threw torches at thatch roofs to burn down buildings, and shot anyone they could. The villagers telegraphed for help, and finally, after a week of siege, during which all the water sources into the town were dammed and all communication wires cut, a regiment of the Young Turk army came to stop the carnage. The resident Turks of the town were appointed by the army to be a police force.  Under their idea of justice, all able-bodied Armenian men in the town were arrested and put into the dungeons of Crusader-era castles[2]. One of these men was Aroosiag’s uncle, who, after three years in the dungeon, was released, and went to America. He would eventually be her sponsor to travel to America.

After the siege, life in Hadjin continued. From age 4 to 7, Aroosiag went to the American Protestant School, which was taught in Armenian, by Armenian teachers. When she was 7, the Turkish authorities shut down the school. , an American Missionary who was running the school, questioned the Turks on why they were doing this. According to her memoirs, they replied, “You can tax and re-tax an illiterate Armenian and impose upon him as one chooses. He sighs but cannot help himself and one can do as he pleases. Educate this same man and when thus treated he asks for an explanation or proves that this is unjust.” [3]

In 1914,  rumors reached Hadjin of the huge war starting in Europe. The American missionaries left Hadjin, to return to America, deciding that the threat of WWI erupting nearby was too much for them.

In 1915, the Turkish gendarme (police) started deporting the Armenians who survived the Hadjin Massacre.

In September of 1915, when Aroosiag was nine, it was her family’s turn to be deported.  Her father had survived the massacres in the city where he lived, and was being held for deportation there. Her family was told to bring everything they owned—but only what they could transport on foot to Aleppo, Syria—over 200 miles away, through the desert. Possessions that were deemed too valuable were taken by the gendarme for “safekeeping”. (Her mother, who was a wedding-dress seamstress, saved all her good cloth by stuffing it into the mattress they took with them.)  Their house was boarded up, and Aroosiag, her mother, and her sister (Miriam) began to walk.

The journey through the desert started in September, and ended in January 1917. They went through many places where there was no water. Many people died of starvation or dehydration.  At one point, Aroosiag herself almost died from dehydration.  Her mother went begging for water from the rich Armenians, who had carts to carry things, offering everything she owned just for water.  They turned her down, because they didn’t have enough for themselves.  She was saved when they happened upon a muddy puddle, which they filtered with a cloth.

Every evening, at 5 or 6 o clock, her family would put up their tent (which they also had to carry all day).  They had no men, so they had to do it all themselves (Armenian families are patriarchal, leaving her family at a distinct disadvantage). They ate (if they were lucky), sang the hymn “Abide with Me” in Turkish, and went to sleep. They were woken at 5am every morning by Turkish gendarmes, who yelled, “Get up! Get up!” and knocked down the deportees’ tents. The family packed and folded their tent, getting everything ready to carry for the next day.

Her mother, every night, would try to find someone from whom to rent a donkey to carry their mattress and tent for the next day.  One night, she was unable to.  She sent her two daughters ahead with another family to the next town, to look for someone to carry their things.  The sisters arrived in Baab, Syria, and waited for their mother, but she didn’t come for days.  Their mother finally showed up several days later, absolutely exhausted.  She had ended up carrying everything herself: mattress and tent and everything they owned.

One day on the trek, Aroosiag, her mother and her sister shared camp with people from the town where her father had been deported from.  Her family had been hoping for a reunion, but everyone said they hadn’t seen her father that day.  Aroosiag and her family didn’t find out until a year later that he had died in that very camp, the day before.  His friends from the other town knew his family was coming, wanted to spare them any more tragedy, and buried him there before they arrived (Burial was uncommon, since deportees didn’t have the strength to spare to dig graves, but the Armenian tradition of not wanting to being the bearer of bad news overrode this[4]).  Without knowing it, and without being able to say goodbye, the family spent the night next to his grave.

Her mother, while in camping near Baab, discovered that her cousin had married an Arab woman, and thought she might be able to get a visa to go to their town: Sephira, Syria.  She spoke fluent Turkish, and went to the government building there, masquerading as a Turkish woman to try to get a visa.  The man there gave her one, and she practically ran out the door. As she ran away, he called out the door: “Lady! Lady! Come back! Come back!”  She was worried he was going to take away her visa, and she continued running. When she got to camp, she looked at the paper, and realized he had forgotten to sign it. She went back, and he signed it, and they had a laugh over it.

The family went to Sephira and moved in with her cousin, his Arab wife, and their two children.  At this time, her mother found out that the American Missionaries who had left their village had sent money for her to Aleppo. She left Aroosiag and her sister with the cousin, and went to Aleppo to pick it up.  She was successful, but caught typhus on the journey.  When she arrived back to Sephira, she was almost too weak to speak. She gave the money to Aroosiag’s elder sister, and told her to keep it safe.  Soon after, she was left bedridden and delusional. Her sister hid the money pouch under her mother’s pillow, figuring this was the safest place for it. She touched it every night to check it was still there it.  Aroosiag and her sister played with their Arab cousins, but were not given food or water by their Arab aunt.   They only got what food their Arab cousins were able to sneak away for them.

Eventually, Aroosiag’s mother got better, and asked where they money was. Her sister gave her the pouch, but when they opened it, it was filled with rocks.  The aunt had stolen the money, and used it to feed her children, while still not allowing Aroosiag or her sisters to have any.  Though mother was still very weak, she decided it was time to leave, saying there was no place for them there.

They decided to go to Aleppo, which was considered a safe haven. However, when they arrived, they found the Turkish gendarmes were deporting everyone from there too.  They went to a church, but there was no place to hide there. They stood there, out in front of the church, everything they had in the middle of the street.  Next thing they knew, someone came to them and said “Reverend Eskigian has an orphanage, and he is the one that helps people like you.” They went to his house, but he wasn’t home. His wife sent them to a cold room in the back of the house.  They were hungry, because they had had nothing to eat or drink for a long time. They “just sat there, shivering”. The reverend had gone to Der Zor, where a million and a half Armenians had been massacred, to get the orphaned children there and bring them to his orphanage.

When he came home, his wife tried to get him to eat before he went in the back room.  He asked if anyone was in the room, and she said yes.  He went in, saw them shivering, cold, and told his wife “You’ve got to feed those people”.  They ate well for the first time in weeks.

He took them to a house across the street from the church, where he was keeping some people.  He offered to take children to the orphanage, but Aroosiag’s mother, having already lost a daughter in the Hadjin Massacres, didn’t want them to leave her sight. So, they stayed in the little house.

Aroosiag got sick with typhus, and had to be taken on a horseback ambulance to the hospital.  Her mother was running behind horse-drawn cart, trying to keep up.  She came to a bridge, and realized she didn’t know where she was going.  According to Alice Marsh years later, her mother “heard a voice saying, ‘Who gave you this child? What are you doing?’ She stood there, and said ‘Lord, pardon me. Thy will be done’, and she turned back” to take care of her other daughter.

Aroosiag was in hospital for ten days. No one was allowed to visit. Her sister found out where she was, and brought oranges, but they wouldn’t give them to Aroosiag (The nurses took them and ate them themselves).

She had an Armenian doctor, who despite many physical deformities was one of the most outstanding doctors of those days.  After ten days, she was feeling better, and decided she wanted to go home.  The doctor agreed that she was well enough, and let her leave. She was very weak, shaking as she stood up, but began to walk to horse cart “taxis”. She stood there, shivering, and a man with a cart approached her, asking where she wanted to go.  She told him, “Home.” He asked, “Where is your home?” She replied, “I don’t know, but it’s across from the church.”  He asked, “What church?”  She told him that she didn’t know.  The man took her anyway, because she promised to give him four mettalik (a denomination of currency) if he brought her to her mother. Miraculously, the man took her straight to her house.

A few days later, the Turkish gendarmes found them, and were going to deport them to Der Zor (where the bulk of the massacres were taking place).  One of the Turkish secret service men (an undercover supporter of the Armenians) said that the church across the street was a good place to hide.  They went into the church, but didn’t know where to hide.  Aroosiag’s sister noticed that a few people had gone upstairs, but never came back.  Aroosiag and her family followed suit, and they found everyone hiding in a secret false ceiling/floor.

When the Turkish gendarmes arrived, they couldn’t find the Armenians.  The leader was banging on the walls, screaming “Where did they go? WHERE DID THEY GO? Where did they disappear!? Were they angels?! Did they fly to heaven?!” The gendarmes decided that they couldn’t have actually left the building, and decided to wait them out.

Aroosiag and the sixteen other people hiding in the church eventually got very hungry.   When it got dark, friends on the outside(including some Turkish friends from Hadjin) sent them bread by strings, and let them know if the guards were still there.  This continued for quite some time, but eventually, the gendarmes got tired and left.

They all went back to the little house, and made sure there was a watchman on top of the church at all times, to ensure that they didn’t get caught by surprise again.  One day, the lookout forgot to go up, and they were caught.  They had to escape.

Her mother sent her daughters to Reverence Eskigian’s girls’ orphanage.  She did so under protest, but realized it was the only way to keep her girls safe.  She had a friend who was a principal of a boys’ orphanage, so she went to work there as the head cook, using her visa to masquerade as a Turkish woman.

Aroosiag (10 yrs old) and her sister (15 yrs old) were in the orphanage for quite a while, until Reverend Eskigian got typhus and died.  While Eskigian was president of the orphanage, the Turks couldn’t come and take any girls.  The moment he died, the Germans opened the doors so that the Turks could come in and take girls.  Aroosiag and her sister were out in the yard, when a big wealthy Turkish man came. He pointed to Aroosiag, and said, “That is the girl I want!” (It was not unheard of at this time for Turkish families to adopt Armenian girls, raise them as Turkish, and marry them off to one of their sons).

The orphanage staff told him that she had a mother, but he didn’t care: “Mother or Father, I don’t care; that is the girl I want!” He had to go get permission from someone at the boys’ orphanage, where Aroosiag’s mother was working.  She caught wind of the plan, but could do nothing about it.

The next day, he came back with the men who could give permission for him to take Aroosiag. When they were at the front door, Aroosiag’s sister rolled her in a rug and stood up the rug in a corner. When the men entered, they couldn’t find her.  The Turkish man was very angry, and they searched the whole place.  He left empty handed.

Her mother, having gotten news of the near-adoption, begged the boys orphanage’s principal to let her daughters stay with her, promising they wouldn’t be much trouble.  He finally agreed.

Things were fine for a time, but one day, Aroosiag was out in the yard, playing with the principal’s younger daughter, who she’d gone to school with in the old country.  A woman who came to the boys’ orphanage saw her, and decided she wanted to adopt a girl instead. Specifically, she wanted to adopt Aroosiag. The principal couldn’t say no, because everything was under German control then.

Aroosiag was very distinctive looking: she had long black hair past her waist and big black eyes.  The principal’s solution to save her from adoption was to make her unrecognizable. He had four people hold down her arms and legs, and shaved her head.  She was screaming and crying the whole time, but when the woman came back later that day, she didn’t recognize Aroosiag.  The principal told that woman that Aroosiag’s mother came and took her back, so she wasn’t here anymore.

Soon, that orphanage closed too.  It was a little before WWI Armistice was signed.  The British had taken over a Turkish fort in Aleppo, and had invited all the Protestant Christian Armenians to take refuge there. People were coming from the villages all over Syria, getting word that the war was going to be over.

When Armistice was signed, they opened a school at the Protestant church where Aroosiag’s family went. Her mother wanted her to go to school, so she could become a teacher.  So, she started to go to school.  It was quite a walk from the fort to the church, and she had to go through an Arab marketplace, the layout of which changed almost every day. It was very dark, and a little scary, but she had to go through it to go to school

One Friday, not long after school started, she got to school, but there were only two or three people there.  The custodian’s daughter came in and told the children, “Go home, there is a massacre going on.”

The Armenian refugees were selling their wares at a flea market, in direct competition to the Arab marketplace.  This eventually sparked a riot that became a massacre. According to Aroosiag, “these Arabs … killed a thousand Armenians that day, in that market, and went into homes even,” when they knew Armenians were in there, and pulled them out and killed them.

Aroosiag had to walk through the Arab marketplace to go home to the fort, which she knew would be dangerous, but she had no other choice

Years later, she would recall: “As soon I got to the entrance of the downtown… I stopped. I saw blood running down, right in the middle of the street. And the Turks and these Arabs, had Armenians here and there, and beating them, “Armenian! Armenian!” and killing them. So, right then and there, I said, ‘I’m not going to got to the fort’. I’m going to a friends’ house—Aigian’s, I’m going to the Aigian’s house. I had to cross the street and walk about a block or so and reach their house at the end of the street. It was not open; there was a little wall… So, I cross the street just shivering, just petrified to see if they were going to see me, because they were right there!  I passed there, and nobody saw me. The Lord made them blind; shut their eyes. I rushed up there, went to door, and knocked on the door. “Who is it?”  My name was Aroosiag, Morning Star, (my mother took it from the bible)… He opened the door, said “Alright!” Great big rocks, he had against the door. He pulled me in and shut the door again. That was in the morning. I stayed there until five o clock. I said, “Ohhhh, I’d better go, my mother is going to be so worried.” He said, “No, we’ll wait until all the bang-bangs gone.”  So they fed me, they took care of me. I was crying. I supposed I was about 11, or a little over eleven maybe.”

When all the noise stopped, they opened the door, and saw British and Hindu soldiers guarding the wall that you had to climb over to get to the fort.  The Aigians knew English, and taught Aroosiag her first words in English: “My mother in there!”

She told the guards this, and they understood her. They took her hand, and walked her up to the gate of the fort.  They unbarred the door, and as it opened she saw all her family waiting for her, crying with happiness that she was alright; her mother, sister, sister’s fiancé, two aunties, all “just crying”.

From there, according to Aroosiag, “things were okay”.  There was an orphanage that had opened up in the capital of Cilicia. Her sister’s fiancé, Jeremiah, had been offered a job there, as had her mother.  They went, and lived there for two years.

One day,  her family received a letter, saying that the American missionaries had found out the war was over, and that they and all the Armenians came back to Hadjin. The letter said that Aroosiag’s mother she could have her job back, and said to send Aroosiag there as soon as possible so that she could learn English at the Hadjin’s girls’ school.  At the same time, Aroosiag’s uncle had sent them a letter, telling them to “come right over” to America.  It had long been Jeremiah’s dream to go to American, and as the only male in the family, it was his decision. There were many arguments, but eventually it was decided that Aroosiag would be traveling to America to live with her uncle and her auntie Rebekah.

Her uncle, after spending three years in a dungeon for defending Hadjin in 1909, had left Armenia, correctly predicting that the worst was yet to come. He went alone to Argentina, South America, then emigrated to Syracuse, New York in 1914.  He was one of 6533 Armenian men and 7785 Armenians of any gender to enter the United States during that year.

When in New York, he sent for his immediate family to join him from Armenia.  If my calculations are correct, they arrived in 1915, leaving Hadjin just before the deportations.  In 1915, only 982 Armenians entered the United States, since most Armenians in Turkey were actively prevented from leaving the country. This is apparent when you realize that Armenian immigration dropped 83% from 1914 to 1915[5].

The immigration numbers would remain low in 1916 (only 964 Armenians), 1917 (only 1221 Armenians), 1918, (only 221 Armenians), and 1919 (only 282 Armenians) [6].

In 1916, they all moved to Pasadena, California.  He had six children: Harrem, Agnes, Florence, Dan, and Sam, and Robert.  Agnes had had a twin sister, Alice, who had died before they went to America. When Aroosiag came over in 1920, he said, “Your name is no longer Aroosiag, it’s Alice, and you’ll be my new daughter now”.

Aroosiag was one of 2,768 Armenians who came to America in 1920, a year before immigration quotas were established by the “Three Percent” Immigration Law in March 1921.  This law said that the number of immigrants to the United States between June 3, 1921 and June 30, 1922, could not exceed 3% of the immigrant population from any given country, as counted by the census of 1910.  No provisions were made for refugees, so this meant that only 2,757 Armenians could come during that time[7]. After that, the Armenian borders opened up, but immigration into the United States was restricted (which I’ll go into a few paragraphs).

She arrived at Ellis Island after taking a boat to America.  Aroosiag (from here on out referred to as Alice) was incredibly seasick, and had a particularly thorough medical examination, but she was found healthy enough to enter the country.

She hopped on a train, and arrived in Pasadena the day after Christmas: Sunday, December 26, 1920.  She was fourteen years old.

Her aunt and uncle had gotten her lots of presents to open, and were so excited to see her.  Her cousin Agnes was singing in the corner when she arrived, a song that she’d learned from the evangelical preacher who had just visited.  Agnes, like the rest of her siblings, spoke little to no Armenian.  Alice spoke no English, but she learned the song, and they both sang together.

The day she arrived, she went to Sunday school at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, attending the 15-year old girls’ class with her cousin (even though she was fourteen). She would attend that church until the day she died.

Nana 15 Years Old

Alice March – 15 Years Old – Taken in Pasadena 1921

Her mother immigrated the year after Alice did, with Alice’s sister’s family in tow (consisting of her sister, Jeremiah, and their newborn baby).  They arrived in Pasadena on December 30, 1921. They were part of a huge flood of Armenian immigrants: 10,212 Armenians entered the country during 1921, and at least 8000 of those arrived after the 3% Quota Law expired in August[8].

Her brother in law, Jeremiah, had said, “Even if I die, I want to go to America”.  His body was taken out of the house on January 30, 1922.  He was 24 years old, and had been in the country for less than a month.  Her sister was left widowed with a baby at age 22.

Their uncle had borrowed $2000 from the bank to bring them over.  Like the Armenian immigrants we read about in “Our Oriental Agriculture”, he had been “pretty thoroughly fleeced…by the banks” (pg 121), who gave him an unreasonable payment schedule. Everyone in Alice’s family had to work to make money to pay them back in time. Her mother went and stayed with a woman who needed someone to take care of her. Alice worked as a mother’s helper, and her sister worked as a housekeeper.  They all found their jobs through the church.

At one point, they had paid off $1300 of the debt, but had $700 left, and the deadline was drawing close.  They didn’t know what they were going to do.

There was an immigrant Armenian man who came on the same boat as her mother and sister, and “couldn’t get over how people could love each other like her family did”.  When they left the boat, the man asked them to write, because he wanted to stay in touch.  Things got busy, and they never got the chance to write. He tracked them down, and wrote them, saying that they lied because they said they would write.  Her mother wrote back a letter, apologizing and explaining that since Jeremiah had died, they hadn’t had the chance to write. He wrote that he wanted to come to them to help.  He was a bachelor, and very much wanted to join their family. Alice’s sister wrote back, saying that he shouldn’t come if he was just coming for her, but that California was a lovely place, and that he should come for California if he wanted to. They continued writing back and forth for about two years, and he came to Pasadena to ask Alice’s sister to marry him. She accepted, and he paid the $700 they owed.

From the moment she arrived in America, even before the rest of her family arrived, Alice was very, very excited to go to school and learn English. However, she noticed that her aunt and uncle were speaking English “kind of funny”, when the children were talking together, it was a different English. She told her uncle she wanted to be in the first-graders’ class, because she wanted to learn good English, not “street” English.  He accepted her request, and sent her to the neighborhood school (Longfellow’s school), where she towered over all the seven year olds in her class. Dr. Hettson, the principal of the school, came to her uncle, and said that it wasn’t fair to her and the smaller children for her to be in that class.

So, they sent her to a school for the “backward children”: Wilson School at corner of Morongo and Walnut.  There were “great big boys and there; colored, black”. She remembers one black girl named Baisy, one Mexican girl named Lucy, and many white girls even bigger than her.

Her teacher, Miss Rude, was a “great big fat teacher”.  However, in the three months that Miss Rude taught her, she reached the 5th grade level, and was able to transfer back to Longfellow.

At Longfellow school, they placed her in 6th grade; but she soon skipped 6th grade to go to 7th.  For seventh grade, she went to junior high at Marshall Jr High, also known as John Muir Jr High and Wilson Jr High, at the corner of Walnut and Las Robles.

Edward and Alice March Wedding

Edward and Alice March Wedding

She went to school until the 9th grade, when her mother got sick.  From that point on, she started working in the home, and eventually met an Armenian man from Argentina named Edward Marsh (formerly Marashlian).  They got married, and had four children, one of whom was my grandmother, Joyce Agnes Campbell (nee Marsh).   Alice Marsh died just a few months after I was born in 1987.

Hearing her story via oral history tapes, I’ve got a much better grasp on how difficult it was to immigrate here, but also understand how much opportunity America offered her.  Her story is rather unique in that she never had a country to go back to (Reports that Hadjin had been reclaimed by the Armenians were false, and if they’d gone back there, they would have been unwelcome). America immediately became Alice Marsh’s home, and the hardships she and her family endured here allowed them not only to live a better life, but to have a life at all.

Note:  The two part cNana Oral History is on these pages:

Alice Marsh “Nana” Oral History Part 1: Surviving The Genocide

[1]Terjimanian, Hajop; “Californian Armenians: Celebrating the First 100 Years”; published in 1997

[2] Lambert, Rose; “Hadjin, and the Armenian Massacres”, published in 1911

[3] Lambert, Rose; “Hadjin, and the Armenian Massacres”, published in 1911

[4] Vartan, Malcolm; “The Armenians In America”, Published 1919

[5] Vartan, Malcolm; “The Armenians In America”, Published 1919

[6] Yeretzian, Aram Serkis; “A History of Armenian Immigration to American with Special Reference To Conditions In Los Angeles”; Published as a USC graduate thesis in 1923.

[7] Yeretzian, Aram Serkis; “A History of Armenian Immigration to American with Special Reference To Conditions In Los Angeles”; Published as a USC graduate thesis in 1923.

[8] Mahakian, Charles; “History of the Armenians In California”, Published as a UCB graduate thesis in 1935.

Finger Print on Door Knob and a Mother’s Memory of a Voice Identify Murderer

This is article I found about my Grandfather – Erl Hatch – murderer’s trail. 

Finger Print on Door Knob and a Mother’s Memory of a Voice Identify Murderer, 1930

A blurred finger print, and a mother’s memory of two short sentences spoken in correct English by a strange voice more than three years ago—one just before and the other just after her son had been shot to death by a bandit—proved sufficient recently to hold Percy Harry Eberly for trial on a murder charge.

1930-eberly-percyMunicipal Judge Russell ordered Eberly held without bail to await Superior Court trial for the murder of Melvin Earl Hatch at midnight on April 9, 1927.

The finger print was found the day following the murder, by Police Sergeant Fredrickson on a closet door where the bandit had locked Hatch’s father, Dr. M. A. Hatch, since deceased, while awaiting the return of Hatch and his mother to their bungalow home at 2149 Echo Park avenue.

The mother, Mrs. Violet Hatch, testified that she is the operator of the Lonesome Club at 936 1/2 West Seventh Street, and that she was in the habit of returning to her home about midnight with the night’s receipts, which on that occasion amounted to about $400.

Reaching her residence, she said, she found the door locked, and called her husband. He unlocked the door, at the same time warning her that an armed robber was present. From behind her an instant later a masked man enunciated the command: “Give me that bag.”

She handed over the bag, which contained the money, she declared, and called to her son, who was coming from the garage, to stay away. Instead, he dashed up the steps in an attempt to grapple with the intruder. As he reached the top step the bandit dropped the bag, turned and fired one shot. Young Hatch collapsed. Ordering: “You lie there and don’t try to get up,” the robber fled to his roadster and disappeared.

A neighbor, Charles Freemen, 1615 Cerro Gordo street, fired a shot after the fleeting machine, he testified, which apparently failed to take effect.

On July 1, last, Eberly was surprised by officers as he slept with a .45-caliber revolver under his pillow. He was not arrested for the murder of young Hatch, however. He was detained because police believed him implicated in robbing a bank messenger of $2,130 a few days before.

He was placed in the County Jail and in due time was held to answer to the Superior Court on the robbery charge but still no inkling of his possible connection in the murder came to light.

1930-barlow-howardThen, one day about a month ago, Expert Lieut. Howard L. Barlow, F. P. E. of the Los Angeles, California, Police Department, was comparing finger prints of prisoners with those docketed as clews in unsolved crimes of the past and came upon the blurred print taken from the closet door of the Hatch home three years ago. The old print matched with those recently made from Eberly’s hands. The police then called Mr. and Mrs. Hatch.

Eberly, with other prisoners, was placed behind a screen through which voices penetrated but through which faces could not be distinguished. One by one the prisoners spoke a few words and when Eberly’s turn came, Mrs. Hatch said: “That is the man; I could never forget his voice or his face.”

Later, face to face with the suspect she reiterated her conviction that he was the murderer of her son.

Mrs. Hatch testified that the bandit’s voice remained in her memory because she was surprised that he used correct English.

Young Hatch died next morning from the effects of the bullet, which struck him in the abdomen, police and autopsy surgeons said. Finger Print Expert Barlow identified the print found on the door by Fredrickson as that of Eberly. Eberly’s attorneys, Joseph and Frank Ryan, offered no defense.

Eberly also is facing Superior Court trial on five robbery charges, on which he was bound over.

In court, Mrs. Hatch said that she was held up recently when returning from her club, and robbed of $250. The robbery took place as she emerged from her garage after putting away her automobile, she said.


1. “Finger Print on Door Knob and a Mother’s Memory of a Voice Identify Murderer”, Finger Print and Identification Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 6, December 1930, pages 16-17. 

The Los Angeles Lonesome Club

Note:  I found this post on the WordPress blog “Paradise Leased” It’s about the Los Angeles Lonesome Hearts Club which my Great Grandfather Melvin Hatch MD started.  Paradise Leased is a website by Steve Vaught about Historic Hollywood and Southern California Architecture, History, People and Travel.  Original post can be read by click the title.

“Are You Lonesome Tonight?” – The Los Angeles Lonesome Club

Posted on December 15, 2010by 


Some day soon, and it’s probably already happening, kids will be asking, “Daddy, what was life like before Facebook?” And with great wonder in their eyes they will inquire, “Was it true that if you had 500 ‘friends’ you actually would have had to have met them?” Shocking as it may seem, social networking did exist in the antediluvian age before computers, it was just done a little bit differently. But then as now, making genuine connections with others could be a difficult, if not seemingly impossible task, whether one lived way down a country lane or in the very heart of a major metropolis. And then as now, many were deeply lonely.

00013780In 1921, one such lonely soul was Dr. M.A. Hatch. A prominent physician in Minneapolis, Dr. Hatch had relocated to Los Angeles to help rebuild his flagging health. Having to leave his wife and son behind during his long recuperation, Dr. Hatch found the painful sting of loneliness almost too much to bear. He had optimistically believed that making friends in such a huge, bustling city would be easy. What he soon realized was that the opposite was true and the aching loneliness was rendered all that more painful by the irony of being surrounded by literally hundreds of thousands of people. Convinced that in that great sea of humanity there must be others in the same predicament, Dr. Hatch ran an ad in the Los Angeles Times in July 1921 asking for anyone who felt lonely and who wanted to make new friends to join him in a room at the Normal Hill Center at Fifth and Hope Streets to discuss what could be done about the problem.

scan0002-2At the appointed time, thirteen brave souls fought back the near paralyzing pain of shyness and gathered together for the first meeting of what was to become Los Angeles’ celebrated “Lonesome Club.” One of those first lucky thirteen was an old prospector named “Jock” Fletcher. A native Scotsman with a burr “you could cut with a knife,” Fletcher had found Los Angeles to be a far lonelier place than the remote desert country he had once called home. A gifted poet, in spite of his inability to either read or write, Fletcher found a ready and appreciative audience with his fellow Lonesome Club members and was quickly adopted as its resident “Caveman.” Fletcher was one of the Club’s early success stories, finding a soul mate in the form of a charming widow from Milwaukee, whom he took as his bride and spirited happily away back to the more hospitable desert wastes he had originally come from. It was the first of many, many matings brought about by the Lonesome Club.

scan0001-3When he first conceived of the idea, Dr. Hatch could not possibly have known it would strike a chord within so many people and like the social networks of today, the Lonesome Club became an overnight phenomenon,  going from an initial 13 to 300 to 20,000 within just a few years. The Club was so popular it had to continually find bigger and bigger venues to accommodate its ever-swelling ranks. The club’s membership was surprisingly diverse with not just older people but many younger ones as well, mostly males, “Nice steady young men for the most part,” according to reporter Alma Whitaker, “the kind that have home ties back in some small town, and who enjoy the society of the older folks, and get as much pleasure out of dancing with ‘somebody’s mother,’ who is lonesome here, too, as with some frisky little fashion plate.”

scan00035For a 50 cents (35 cents for ladies) membership, the Lonesome Club offered two “socials” a week, Monday and Friday at 7:00. The first hour was for introductions, mingling and cards, the second was for a short program of entertainment, and the third, which was the most popular, was the dancing. “For it is when the dancing hour arrives,” wrote Whitaker, “that those timid lonesome ones unbend and skip themselves out of their shells and into each others’ lives.”

00040801By the late 1920’s, members of the club could dance to their very own Lonesome Club Orchestra, which  proved such a popular attraction, their concerts were regularly broadcast over radio station KHJ. And in 1931, the club achieved one of Dr. Hatch’s long dreamed of goals – a venue all its own at 937 West Ninth Street in downtown Los Angeles. The elegant Lonesome Club Ballroom was designed by famed Los Angeles architect Alec Curlett in sleek art deco style, covering a very spacious 152′ x 97′, which could easily accommodate as many lonely souls as Los Angeles had to offer.

hatchmelvinTragically, however, Dr. Hatch had not lived to see this happy event. On April 8, 1927, a bandit had raided the Hatch home at 2149 Echo Park Avenue to rob them of the proceeds of that night’s dance. During the course of the robbery, the Hatches’ son, Melvin Earl, tried to protect his mother and was shot dead. The shock proved so great for Dr. Hatch that he suffered a paralyzing stroke from which he never fully recovered. He died February 28, 1930 at age 73, a horrible irony that this man, who had brought so much happiness to so many lonely people, would die of a broken heart.

After Dr. Hatch’s death, the Lonesome Club continued under the guidance of his widow Violette. Although it remained popular for a few more years, it was clear the Lonesome Club’s appeal had run its course and by the end of World War II, the Club had faded into memory. Even the handsome Lonesome Club Ballroom vanished, felled in the wake of the Harbor Freeway construction in the early 1950?s. No one can ever know just how many lives were changed by Dr. Hatch’s novel idea, how many suicides were averted, how many lifelong friendships were made or how many love stories were born, but there were, no doubt thousands, who, thanks to Dr. Hatch, when asked “Are you lonesome tonight?” could truthfully and proudly answer, “No.”