My Family in American Samoa
on the eve of the Second World War
by John Fuhring
Page 2 of 7
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Lieutenant Fuhring, MD, EENT assigned duty in Washington, D.C.Dr. Fuhring's first duty station was the Capitol Building at Washington D.C. His assignment was to be on call and attend to the medical needs of Congressmen and even to the family of the President. According to my older sister, it was my dad who fitted the youngest Roosevelt boys with glasses. I don't know if this is true, but he did get to see a lot of important people professionally. Once he and my mother were guests at a very important State dinner held for King George VI of England (AKA "Bertie," the "King's Speech" king and Elizabeth II's dad). I do not know if my parents were introduced to the king, but since they never mentioned that they had been, I doubt they had.
Later chooses and is ordered to Samoa
To say the least, this was a plumb job and my father was picked for this by an old admiral who saw great potential in my dad. This old admiral tried to coach my parents on just what they needed to do to become recognized and favored by the powerful elite of Washington DC, but to no avail. It is beyond the scope of this little story to go into detail regarding how the old admiral's plans for my dad failed. Let it suffice to say that both Dr. and Mrs. Fuhring were simple people from rural backgrounds, trained in strict Roman Catholic principles of Christian self-denial and service to others and they did not have even the least understanding regarding the fantastic opportunities this high ranking mentor was trying to arrange for them.
To their dying day, my parents never understood a lick of what the old admiral was trying to do, but could only laugh about how absurd (in their minds) the man's suggestions were. My parent's weren't going to borrow money for formal tuxedos and gowns and beautiful jewelery. My dad wasn't going to take that list of all the leading people of Washington that the Admiral had given him and invite them to lavish cocktail parties. My folks didn't even drink and didn't hold with those who did. My father was only interested in practicing medicine and was completely oblivious to the once in a lifetime political opportunities that were being thrust at him during his tour of duty at Washington D.C. Later, when I was an adult and I would try to explane that this is how officers get to be admirals and how this is the very path an ordinary doctor must take to become the Surgeon General of the United States, but my parent's would just laugh and tell me not to be so foolish.
Well, they were probably right. I am a nerd and I come from a long line of nerds and so I should know that any money spent on such things would have been wasted. I should know that there is just no way on earth my parents could have pretended to be the glittering, witty, clever, outgoing, elegant and sophisticated entertainers that the old admiral wanted them to be. My dad's dad died penniless and my mother was the daughter of a man who worked for the oil industry in rural Pennsylvania and had to survive one winter on wild game brought by my uncle when her father was injured on the job and couldn't work. People from this kind of background would have been laughed at by the social elite of Washington and Northern Virginia should they pretend to be one of them. While it is true that "education ennobles more men than birth" and it is also true that both my parents achieved education and training far beyond what most achieve even today, the immutable fact remains that they were not the kind of people to "fit in" with Washington's infamous political society of inherited wealth and influence.
Failing to take the old admiral's coaching, my dad's tour of duty at Washington came to an end and he was required to take another assignment at a Naval installation somewhere else. I think this suited my dad just fine as he always got tired of a place after a while and always looked forward to some place new. I'm reasonably sure that both he and my mother did not like Washington DC. In fact, I am sure they cordially hated the place.For reasons I'll go into later, the Navy had an urgent need for doctors on islands in the Western Pacific. Somewhere out there is where the Navy would order my dad to be sent. Dr. Fuhring was offered two choices. First, he could choose the island of Guam with its large Naval Hospital and enhanced social and recreational facilities. His second offer was to be posted to the more primitive and smaller island of Tutuila in American Samoa. Guam was considered the better duty assignment, so to sweeten the deal for Samoa, the Navy offered a first class ticket on a luxury liner for the doctor and his family.
Voyage and arrival at SamoaAs I mentioned, my parents were rural people of very modest means and never in their lives had they been able to afford anything so grand as a cruise on a luxury liner. To my parents, a first class berth on such a ship was something that only millionaires and movie stars could afford to do, not ordinary people such as themselves. Needless to say, they very much wanted to take the ocean liner because they were convinced that they would never be able to have such an opportunity ever again. So as soon as the orders were issued, my parents were on the luxury liner and dad was on his way to take the Samoan assignment.
The luxury liner that took my parents and my two sisters to Samoa was the S.S. Monterey, a very famous ship of the time and a ship that had an extraordinary long life on the seas. The following pictures were taken during the voyage or are pictures of artifacts of the voyage.
Front side of the Passenger List showing the route across the Pacific the Monterey sailed.
I'd like you to take a second and look carefully at the map. The yellow area with all the scenes is the Pacific Ocean
with landmasses (Australia, Hawaii, Etc.) in black and not to scale. Look at all the neat scenes in there. It appears that
the two West Coast Matson Line departure locations were San Francisco and what looks like Santa Barbara.
Reverse side of the Passenger List
with the names of my parents and sisters.
(not all passengers shown here)
My parents were very proud of this.
These pictures were taken of and by my parents on arrival at Samoa. I have no idea who all these people are, however the older lady must have been a person so some importance. Obviously these are people my parents met and became friends with during the voyage. Too bad these pictures aren't in color because just look at the elaborate flowers the women are all decked out with.
I believe that's mom with all the flowers, dad is behind the
officer wearing the hat and young Samoan women
greeting the arriving passengers are on the left.
This ends the second page of my story. The third page discusses the pending war in the Pacific that would soon engulf Samoa and my family.
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