Focus on History: A solemn moment in the drugstore


The adventure film “South of Tahiti,” starring Brian Donlevy, was playing at the Strand Theatre on East Main Street in Amsterdam when interrupted Sunday afternoon Dec. 7, 1941, as the news broke that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Radio coverage was piped into the theater and dazed patrons left the building.

The Amsterdam Clubs Association met that day at St. Michael’s Club on Reid Street. Attorney Frederick Partyka urged “member groups to be devoted to true Americanism.”

George A. Tralka was 15 and at his family’s James Street home in Amsterdam when he heard about the attack on the radio. Tralka at first thought Pearl Harbor was in Alaska.

His parents, St. Stanislaus Church choir director, Joseph, and his wife, Martha, went ahead with plans to go out that Sunday and to have George babysit his younger sisters. 

The next day, George Tralka delivered copies of the Schenectady Gazette on his paper route. He heard President Roosevelt’s “day of infamy” speech on the radio when making his delivery to Reid Hill Pharmacy.

“It was a solemn moment in the drug store,” Tralka wrote in his memoir, “Diary of a Replacement Soldier.” Tralka survived the war and became a physician in the Washington, D.C. area. 

According to Robert Going’s book, “Where Do We Find Such Men,” the first Amsterdam casualty of World War II was William E. Hasenfuss, Jr. from a family of nine children on Northampton Road.

Hasenfuss had enlisted in the Army in 1939. He died at Hickam Air Field in Hawaii. Japanese airplanes shot up the B-24 bomber Hasenfuss was working on.

The idea of naming a naval warship after Amsterdam had been under consideration since 1938. The Chamber of Commerce got behind the campaign as did Mayor Arthur Carter, who knew FDR from Roosevelt’s days as governor in Albany. Construction began on the light cruiser U.S.S. Amsterdam in 1943. 

William Hasenfuss Jr.’s mother, Frieda, christened the ship April 25, 1944, at Newport News, Virginia. “I was thinking of William when I smashed that bottle.” Mrs. Hasenfuss said as the vessel slid into the James River.

U.S.S. Amsterdam was one of the ships in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered. Serving onboard was Steve Fitz of Schenectady who became a radio talk show host back home.

Bowling was still going strong in December 1941. My uncle Percy Cudmore was leading the City League with a 192 average. 

Cudmore enlisted in the Army, overcoming initial objections to his age, 36, and blood pressure.  During his deployment, he visited family members living in Pontypridd, Wales. When he saw his Aunt Emma Copp Vodden, he said she looked like Cudmore’s mother Elizabeth who had died in 1934.  While visiting the Voddens, he played ball with his cousin Ethel.

Cudmore’s eldest son, Roger, said his father was in the artillery and blamed that for hearing problems later in life. He fought in North Africa against German General Erwin Rommel’s forces and possibly in Italy.

An Amsterdam newspaper article from 1943 quoted Corporal Cudmore expressing concern for a lackluster performance by his old bowling team. The sports reporter wrote, “As for Cudmore himself, you can bet all the family heirlooms that he will be bowling as soon as he gets back to the good old USA.”

Cudmore was back in Amsterdam in 1945. He started bowling again, rolling a 269 single in November, near the date when he and Pansy Keller married. 

Her father, August Keller, headed Keller Plumbing and Heating on Shuler Street. A teacher at Snooks Corners School in the town of Florida, Pansy, too, was a good bowler.

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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