Paynesville Press - November 12, 2003

A Minute with Mike

New tool aided research on WWII story

By Michael Jacobson

While the details of the life of Gerry Schwartz - a U.S. Marine from Paynesville who was captured in the Philippines during World War II and subsequently died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp - are still sketchy, this week's front page story would not have been possible without a new tool in the Press office.

This summer the Press - thanks to the technical wizardy at ColorMax, which used us as a pilot project - undertook a digital archiving project. You might have read an account of this work by our summer intern, Andy Jones, who spent a couple months in our basement this summer photographing old newspaper pages.

Well, his work - along with several other staff members at the Press - has started to bear fruit. ColorMax not only has a digital archive for the Press, but it turned those digital files into a searchable database.

It uses a web browser, and I can use it much like I might search the web, only with it I have 28,000 pages of Paynesville history at my fingertips. It's a powerful tool, since finding specific information in our paper archives is like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.

Let me illustrate by explaining in brief how this story about Gerry Schwartz came about.

Like many of our stories, it started with an idea. In this case, when I read the newspapers for September 1943 while researching and writing our Way Back When column, I picked Schwartz's death as an historical item.

But, it also got my mind working. Here was a veteran who had given his life for our country, and as far as I knew he was virtually forgotten. But for a couple months, I was stymied as to how to get information about him.

I suppose I could have spent days, weeks, months searching our back issues for details about Schwartz, but I don't have time to do that. If I spent that much time on one story, I would have to leave other pages of the paper blank.

Then, our new tool arrived.

I type "Gerry Schwartz," and a text reader scans the 28,000 pages looking for matches. In a matter of seconds, it found 45, including a front-page article in February 1942 when his parents got word from him in the Philippines (as far as I know their last letter from him).

The Press ran another front-page article in May 1942 when he was listed as missing in action, and subsequent front-page articles in March 1943 when he was confirmed as a prisoner of war, in August 1943 when his parents were informed that he had been moved to Japan, and in September 1943 when they were told he had died at the Osaka Prison Camp in Japan.

Of the other 40 hits, one was a dud, and 11 were from the list of war dead that the Press publishes for Memorial Day. Twice Schwartz was mentioned in stories about local military personnel who have died in active duty, and twice he was mentioned in Way Back When columns. Twice he was listed in society columns, and twice he was listed as being honored by his class during class reunions.

His death was also listed among the highlights for 1943.

That leaves 17, if you are counting. One interesting mention of him listed him as one of the fallen soldiers for whom Veteran's Memorial Park was dedicated in 1976.

He was also listed among the active servicemen and women from Paynesville in November 1942, when the school dedicated a flag to them for Armistice Day, as Veteran's Day was still known then.

I learned about his passion for sports because he was listed in bowling stories (three times), golf league (three times), trapshooting (three times), town team baseball (three times), hockey (twice), and once each for basketball, track, and volleyball. (I would have undoubtedly had more hits for him in sports and school but our digital archive only goes back to 1934.)

Another very productive hit was his being best man in his brother's wedding in February 1940. Not only did I learn that he was living in Indiana at the time, but I learned the names of all his relatives. That made it easy to find his mother's obituary in 1957 and to learn that she was a Bugbee, which prompted me to call Jack Bugbee, who turned out to be Gerry's first cousin. Then I found R.F. Schwartz's obituary in 1969 and learned that he worked as a druggist in Paynesville for 61 years.

After I did this research last week and talked with Jack Bugbee, who helped me piece together what we knew about Gerry's life from the scattered dates, I considered running this story now, around Veteran's Day, or waiting for Memorial Day next spring.

Either time would have been fitting, but I think the chance to remember a veteran who most everyone has forgot pushed me to publish the story this week. After all, Veteran's Day is meant to be a time to remember those who have served our nation through military service, and thanks to our new tool we have more help in remembering Paynesville's past.

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