Dufficy Family History
By Anamaria Dufficy La Rosa

When Black Tuesday plunged the country into abject poverty of the Great Depression, Kathryn Quinn, born August 15, 1926, was just two years old. My grandma is of the generation whose childhood was steeped in the misery of destitution, whose earliest memories were defined by never having enough food to eat. When Kathryn was eight years old, her father, Joseph Quinn, became one of the victims of the grief and hardship of that time when, unable to bear the weight of not being able to provide for his wife and eight children, he took his life at age 40. One of the thoughts that still haunts Kathryn seventy years later is that “If my dad had just waited, he was within about five years of the Depression being over.” Indeed, the economy began to show improvements not long after his tragic death, and the Depression came to a true end with the beginning of World War II. “Those were the bad old days, with the Depression and…other things. But the war was an exciting time,” she said. On December 7, 1941, Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, bringing America into the war that had been terrorizing Europe and the Far East for the past three years. Now fifteen years old, Kathryn and her school friends found out about “the day of infamy” when they heard newsboys shouting specials in the streets and announcers’ static voices on radios. However, she was strangely distanced from the news. She had no other personal connections to the boys who were sent overseas, and in the beginning her brothers were all too young to be drafted.

The Quinn family was deeply patriotic, especially Mrs. Clara Quinn, whose father, Joseph Therien, fought for the Union in the Civil War. At age forty, he joined Company D of the Fifth Regiment of the Minnesota Volunteers Infantry on January 14, 1862, and served through to the end of the war. According to the online encyclopedia of Minnesota’s history, on the 3rd and 6th of September in 1862, “Company D successfully defended Fort Abercrombie, Dakota Territory, from additional Dakota assaults” (MNopedia). He also fought under Major General Ulysses S. Grant in the Battle of Jackson during the Vicksburg Campaign, which helped clear the way to defeating Mississippi, and in the Battle of Nashville, which ended the war in Tennessee. Joseph’s daughter Clara was naturally proud of her family’s part in shaping American history, so when her son Bob came of age during the Second World War, he readily responded to his summons to the draft board. Due to infantile paralysis, however, he had a crippled arm and lost one eye to polio, so he was classified 4-F, meaning he was unfit for service. It was like “an F grade on his person,” says Clara Dufficy-La Rosa, my mother and Kathryn’s youngest child. Every year on his birthday came a fresh attempt to convince the draft board to take him for some non-combat position, but every year they sent him home, and his sister Kathryn said that “he would be so angry they made him do that every year. He could have been a real asset in a deskwork job.”

Kathryn’s other three brothers all joined the military when they came of age. John and Tim were both in the Navy, and Tim served in the Korean War. Frank went a different route and joined the marines at the age of seventeen with some friends. That year in boot camp, he was on guard duty and fell asleep. “They could’ve shot him on the spot,” said Kathryn, but instead they put him in solitary confinement for three months. The psychological trauma of this took its toll, and as his sister remembers, “When he got home, he was in his full uniform, and he looked so handsome coming through the front door. My mom was there sitting in a chair, and he came in that door and he threw himself—he knelt down and put his head in her lap, crying. It just about ruined him.” After that, he served a two year tour on the frontlines in Korea. When he came home he surprised his family by turning around and enlisting again to go on a second tour. Kathryn conjectures now that he simply didn’t know what else to do: he had no job and there was nothing else for him to do. They were in a recession at the time during Eisenhower’s presidency; no one could find work because all of the factory jobs in Colorado had been turned into munitions plants for the war, which were no longer needed after 1945. When Frank returned home for the second time, he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—one of the many who would hide under the table if an airplane flew over—and self-medicated with alcohol, which killed him at age 43. Kathryn says that it was hard on their mother, who was “so proud to have a son in the service, and then found out that he was just a lost little boy.”

During the Good War, however, “It was kind of a glamorous time. I was young enough to be too young, but old enough to take part in things that were for the older folks to do; I tagged along with Loretta [her older sister] and her friends.” The young women on the home front during the war enjoyed all the glamor of those days, attending USO dances and flirting with the men in uniform. “Oh it was fun going out to Elitch’s and listening to music in Trocadero by the lake,” she recalled with a mischievous smile. James VanderWal, BSBA told University of Denver Magazine:

The dance floor was wood with just the right amount of dance wax to allow the dancers to slide their feet. The crowd was monitored by floorwalkers who had the authority to admonish you for bad behavior. The dress was suits with tie for men and dresses for the ladies. Around the dance floor were four rows of stadium seating. Around the outside of the seats was open and on most summer evenings a breeze would keep everyone comfortable. For the most part you danced the night away and only stopped dancing when your date’s feet hurt or the band stopped for a break.

The dance hall was a place where the soldiers went to forget their worries about the war, and “girls went just so they would have somebody to dance with,” said Clara Dufficy-La Rosa. Kathryn’s mother loved to have her daughters bring soldiers home for dinner. Her son Tom said, “These lonely guys, she’d bring them home to meet the family just so they can have a home-cooked meal.” One day when she was at work in the Denver Athletic Club kitchen, she was showing her yearbook pictures to a fellow employee. A tall, handsome black soldier came up to her and shyly asked if he could have one of her pictures to bring with him when he left for the war the next day. She told him she had to ask her mother, who told her “You give that boy your picture!” but she never saw him again after that day. Flirting and handing out phone numbers was common in those days, but Kathryn remembers one boy in particular whom she met at one of these dances. Johnny Fronelick really “wanted me to be his girl;” however, she dismissed him, saying she was too young and couldn’t get too serious with someone. Taking her for her word, he showed up again on her doorstep when she was ten years older. He got on a streetcar and went into the store he remembered her working in and asked after her. An hour later, he knocked on the door of her house, much to Kathryn’s chagrin as she was now pregnant with her third child. Her husband “didn’t like it, it was really a shock,” she laughed.

Kathryn remembers that the boys in her senior class were drafted the day they came of age, and she and her friends would go to Union Station to see them off. They also spent a lot of time around the Lowry Fields Air Force Base: “World War II caused Lowry to greatly expand its facilities in order to train bomber aircrews along with a large number of other technical specialists” (SAC.com). Kathryn remembers that there were “So many soldiers, everywhere you went there were soldiers.” When their flirtations were interrupted by the boys being sent on tour, they instead wrote letters to them, always bearing in mind the slogan “loose lips sink ships.” She didn’t have any close connections to anyone there—just her friends’ brothers and boyfriends and the few boys she’d write to whom she met at dances—so the worry of them dying or being captured was never very prominent in her mind. She was lucky not to have any personal experiences of someone close to her dying, but she’d read stories about things that happened: one story told about a family with seven sons in the navy on the same ship, and one day they got torpedoed and the ship went down, killing all seven boys. After that the military put in place a rule that brothers couldn’t be placed together on a battleship.

Kathryn knew that the Germans were killing people by the millions and they were doing “atrocious things to the Jews.” They didn’t know about the camps, but they were putting Jews on trains and no one knew where they went. “Europe was completely scoured of young men of a certain age. They never have really recovered. It would have been entirely different if those young men hadn’t been killed. It ruined Europe.” They also got censored news, and “didn’t really feel all the death. We were protected from all of that.” She also recalls the Nuremburg Trials. “Held for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, the Nuremberg Trials. were a series of 13 trials carried out in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949. The defendants, who included Nazi Party officials and high-ranking military officers along with German industrialists, lawyers and doctors, were indicted on such charges as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity” (History.com). They heard stories about the trial and saw the news reels before a show, but they were still protected from the worst of it. All she remembers is that “We were all glad that they were getting them… It was good to see them tried. We were all so angry that we didn’t get Hitler.” Kathryn’s mother was upset that the Allies stepped back and let the Russians go in first, fueling the fire for the Red Scare two years later. “People get killed by the scores by dictators and wars.”

When she was as the Denver Athletic Club kitchen, Kathryn worked with a group of black people whom she remembered were “the sweetest, gentlest people,” and they would always walk her home at night to make sure she was safe. “They all went to the war,” she said, and all minorities were in their own separate troops. “That was terrible. They made stewards out of them, waiting on officers and scrubbing floors.” A later census determined that “Of an estimated 922,965 blacks who donned olive drab, the majority toiled away in segregated service units where their work went largely unrecognized. These forgotten men built airfields, cleared mines, unloaded ships, maintained roads and rail lines, served as medics and drove the trucks that supplied the armies” (HistoryNet). However, Kathryn, along with the rest of the general population, didn’t know this was happening during the war; only when Martin Luther King Jr. came along and Selma happened did those things come to light to the public. They did know about the Japanese internment camps; however they weren’t aware of the full extent of the conditions. There was one Japanese internment camp in Colorado called Camp Granada, or Camp Amache, which fortunately didn’t have the same reputation as most camps of the time: “When President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 led to concentration camps for people of Japanese descent, [Governor Ralph] Carr was the sole western governor who opposed the idea, and welcomed Japanese Americans to Colorado. […] Nearly 2,000 refugees from the West Coast arrived to avoid incarceration in early 1942” (Densho Encyclopedia). Historians conjecture that Carr’s welcoming, tolerant attitude contributed to the better treatment of Japanese Americans and other minorities throughout Colorado in coming years.

Despite some of these darker parts of World War II’s history, people were not at all ambivalent about the war in that time as today’s population is ambivalent about involvement in the Middle East. They were very patriotic and everyone was a part of the war effort, even if it was as little as collecting scrap metal for the factories. On reason for the positive attitude about the war was that it made it easier to find a job. Kathryn’s sister Loretta worked at the Denver Ordnance Plant munitions factory in the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood. “The plant would manufacture arms and ammunitions, pumping out several million rifle and machine gun cartridges each month” (GSA). She did it in secret so that she could use the money for stenotype lessons and flying lessons instead of using it to feed the family, which caused quite the scandal when her mother found out.

Soldiers just out of the war would wear their dress uniforms to weddings because they were the best clothes that they had. So when Kathryn met my grandpa, William Dufficy, at her sister’s wedding, he was in his full uniform. Their son Kevin recalls that Bill—who got his teeth knocked out playing baseball in college several years before the war—would always tell his kids that “He had to go home and put his teeth in.” It seemed to work, because he got her number at the end of the reception. Afterwards Kathryn told her mother, “Well, I bet I get a phone call from him. And I got the call the next day.” About a year later they were married. “She turned him down the first time,” said Kevin. “He asked her to marry him and she said no. Then she went to visit her friend in Trinidad, and when she got back she called Dad and said, ‘Bill, I think I’d like that ring back.’ She told me it was because of his sense of humor.”
Over the years Bill didn’t talk about his actual war experience much; he just wanted to put it behind him. After the war, he started a welding business with his father and brothers called Dufficy Ironworks. One of their first projects was to build the bleachers for the gym at Regis University. He passed the business on to his children as they came of age and the name was changed to Central Denver Ironworks. Over the years they have participated in building a number of structures central to Denver culture including the Speer Boulevard Bridge, Coors Stadium, and is currently working on the light rail project. In the early days of Bill working here, “A lot of [his] business associates, and vendors, and customers had served in the same war. So he didn’t really need to talk about it; it was the waters that he swam in. And I think towards the end of his life when a lot of those guys were gone, he was able to realize how special it was. But when he came back it wasn’t special. … Which is why they thought that anyone who talked about it was suspicious,” Kevin said. It was later in his life when Bill started to show more interest in his experience, and slowly he began to talk about it more.

Bill enlisted in the military on September 9, 1942 in order to learn a trade. His father was a blacksmith in Ireland, and when he immigrated to America he “Joined the army right on Ellis Island. He got off the boat that he was on right into the army” where he used and developed his skill in the service of his new home. Bill, following in his father’s footsteps, decided to be a welder in the armed forces. First he tried to get into the marines, but he was turned down because he had flat feet. Instead, they took him in the navy where he couldn’t swim. He enjoyed telling the story to his kids about when he was in training and they would have them jump off a cliff into a lake, and he hit the water and “sank like a rock.” After his training, he set out for the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. in Seneca, Illinois where he probably spent some time working on ships being built there. He set out from Illinois on the USS Pontus LST-201, a landing ship tender—which Kevin described as a “big bath tub, not pretty or elegant, just a working horse”—whose crew was primarily responsible for doing repairs on PT boats, known to the Japanese as “devil boats.” The Pontus “launched 2 March 1943” from Illinois, and “got underway for the Pacific 22 May 1943” from Florida (Naval History and Heritage Command). From that point, he would be on the Pontus for the next two years. From Florida, they sailed for two and a half months to Brisbane, Australia, where the ship was partially converted into a torpedo boat tender; they then moved up the coast to Milne Bay, Papua New Guiney to complete the conversion on October 18. Bill always talked about how much he loved Australia and wanted to go back there, because the fleet would all play baseball on the beaches, each ship with their own team. He was a great pitcher, so one of the captains from another ship tried to get him off the Pontus onto his ship so he could play on his team, but Bill wouldn’t go because he wanted to stay with his close friend, Pat Donohue.

A couple of years after the war, Bill brought his young wife to New York to visit Pat. Kathryn says that he “couldn’t speak highly enough of [Bill]; he thought he was the finest human being that ever lived.” Pat said that he was drawn to him because he never compromised his moral values, despite being in the navy where soldiers commonly act out in order to distract themselves from the long treks across the ocean. Bill didn’t drink, curse, or listen to dirty stories, and he went to mass every chance he got. They didn’t have a chaplain on board, so they only got mass every few weeks when one would come on from one of the other ships. It was mostly older men on the ship because they were all skilled workers rather than just enlisted soldiers, so Bill was the outlier on the ship as the only 21 year old; “Pat was very grateful for [Bill], because he was a kid and Donahue was ten years older and a married man, and sticking with Dad kept him out of trouble,” Kathryn said. He was an alcoholic before the navy, and being with Bill kept him from falling into that again.

The two entertained themselves in other ways. During one of the longer stretches of time on the open ocean, Bill and Pat found a place on the deck where they could sleep in the open air instead of holed up in the bunks below decks, which took its toll over such a long period of time without landing. There was an AC pipe that went overhead to the officers’ quarters, and they cut a hole in it to get some cool air. One day later on in their tour, Pat discovered that his flat-footed friend was in a lot of pain when he walked because he had such terrible shoes. He tried to get Bill to go to sick bay to take care of his feet, but he stubbornly refused to complain and wouldn’t go. So Pat gave up on convincing him and went to the captain, who got on the ship’s loudspeaker and ordered Bill to sickbay so that the whole crew could hear. He begrudgingly went and retrieved a new pair of shoes, but for all Pat’s trouble they weren’t much better than the old ones.

Bill didn’t like to complain as long as he never had to shoot at people, and he was always grateful that he never had to fire a single bullet at another human being. As a welder, his battle station was with a gun next to his welding machine. He never had to fight though, and only saw action by watching battles on other ships in the fleet shooting cannons at enemy ships. In January of 1944, the Pontus followed the PT boats they repaired further up the coast of Papua New Guiney. In February, they “survived the almost daily air raids” (NHHC) of Japanese air bombers. The tender was mostly left alone, but there was a Japanese kamikaze who would “buzz over their ship every night, and they would hear bombs being dropped but never got hit.” They called him “Washing Machine Charlie” because his plane “was a tub…rickety, barely hanging in there,” Clara said. One night of that month, Charlie finally managed to hit the Pontus while the crew was on deck watching a Greta Garbo movie. According to Kevin, the kamikaze would reach out the window of his plane and drop grenades, which usually just hit the water. But this time he got the ship on the port side of the deck, killing a man a few seats away from Bill. He got hit in the leg with shrapnel, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. But he always said afterward, “Don’t talk to me about any Purple Heart I got from watching a movie.” Clara said that “He thought it was silly. He didn’t even send for it.”

Over the next year and a half, the Pontus sailed around the islands tending PT boats. Before the war ended, they were on their way to fight in Japan because their brutal enemy seemed impossible to stop and they were sending in everyone they could. The soldiers were about to disembark when they got the news. Bill was grateful for the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they ended the war before he had to go in and fight. This was a common sentiment; there was no ambiguity about the atomic bombs in that time, which came later. Most everyone, especially soldiers like Bill, knew that it saved millions more lives by ending the war when they did, because of how ruthless the Japanese were in their warfare, as they refused to surrender and kept fighting even when they were defeated. “Dad didn’t have much good to say about the Japanese. He heard what was going on up close and knew the stories,” Clara said. A lot of soldiers were the same. It was “culturally approved bigotry.” However, he was much more private with his feelings than most. Kevin said, “Dad would be the first to tell you that there were bad guys on both sides;” he didn’t romanticize it.
At the end of the war, Bill Dufficy achieved the rank of Metalsmith 2nd class. He was in the service for 3 years, 3 months, and 22 days, discharged on January 21, 1946, a few days before he turned 24. When he returned home, his childhood dog “Shep must’ve been 15 or 16. After Dad got home, Shep walks up to him, puts his head in his lap, and dies. He was waiting for him,” Kevin said. His son Thomas said, “He had an interesting life, a big life. He raised a lot of kids and he really enjoyed himself.”

[ William Duficy's WWII - Timeline ]

[ MAP: William Duficy's WWII - Timeline ]

Works Cited

"Black History." History Net Where History Comes Alive World US History Online RSS. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.historynet.com/black-history>.

"Elitch's Trocadero Ballroom Was a Place Where Memories Were Made - University of Denver Magazine." University of Denver Magazine. 20 Mar. 2004. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

Infantry Regiment." Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

"Naval History and Heritage Command." Pontus. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

"NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive." Motor Torpedo Boat Tender (AGP). Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/09/0920.htm>.

"Resettlement in Denver." Resettlement in Denver. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Resettlement_in_Denver/>."Fifth Minnesota Volunteer




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