Note: the featured picture above is from ishdc.org
Where They Met
I was on a mission to find out as much about the Andersons’ past as I could. Apparently, finding information about things that happened before the Internet existed was quite difficult.
Here is what I knew:
- Melba and Bill married in 1949.
- Bill came back from WWII after 1946.
- They met in a Quaker-run boarding house in Washington, D.C., where Bill lived in the basement.
I found several Quaker-run boarding houses in D.C., but none of them existed before 1960. Of course, the next step was to contact the local Quaker organization, Friends Meeting of Washington DC for some help. I reached out and asked them if they had any records of a Quaker-run boarding house that was in operation between 1946-1949, and explained the whole situation. They were extremely kind and responded to my email within the same day.
The Quakers consulted amongst themselves in a chain of emails, and concluded that the Andersons must have been residing in the International Student House on R Street NW. Although it is no longer affiliated with Quakers, it was founded by a group of Quakers in 1934 and was still operated by the same group when the Andersons met. I then contacted the ISH and asked for the tiny chance that they might have records of residents who lived there so long ago.
The staff at the ISH also responded to me quickly, and informed me that there was a large flood many years ago that destroyed most of their records. And of course, there was nothing in their digital records of the Andersons. The administrative assistant kindly told me, “We often hear very similar stories of couples who met here and later got married.”
Although there is no concrete evidence confirming their residence at the ISH, I am certain that this was where they met. From my investigation and with the confidence of the Friends Meeting of Washington DC, this is the only Quaker-run boarding house in the city that fits within the Andersons’ timeline.
World War II and D-Day
I also wanted to see if I could dig up more information about Mr. Anderson’s time in WWII. Upon searching for more details regarding the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion mentioned in his obituary, I managed to find a memoir of the war written by Wesley Ross. He also served as a lieutenant with Mr. Anderson during that time.
Here are some excerpts mentioning Mr. Anderson from his memoir:
After several weeks of poker-playing inactivity, three of us 2nd lieutenants–William Anderson–from the University of Tennessee; Eskell F Roberts–from Chickasha, Oklahoma; and I were sent to the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion at the Assault Training Center in North Devon, England.
Mr. Ross seemed to remember Mr. Anderson as a kind man, and near the end of his memoir even went on to talk about some of his accomplishments after the war:
After the military government functions passed to civilian control, Bill Anderson continued on in various positions–first with Cultural Affairs where he watched over Germany’s treasures; with UNRRA for displaced persons; and with International Refugee Organization (IRO). Bill left Germany in 1956 and spent twenty-two years with Bechtel Engineering in California. After working with the United Nations assisting Asian refugees during a summer vacation, he was offered a full time UN job–which he accepted. After retiring from the UN in 1984 he was called back and did similar volunteer work with refugees.
I then went onto this American D-Day site describing the146th Engineer Combat Battalion, and there their names were. Both men were wounded in action (WIA) on June 6, 1944.
The International Office for Migration (IOM)
The last part of my quest was seeing if I could find more information about Mr. Anderson’s involvement with the IOM. The IOM’s Washington office hosted a film festival in November 2018. After a documentary screening downtown, I sought out the staff member in charge of the event and asked for a networking coffee (a very D.C. thing to do around here) and pocketed her business card. Two months later, we met up to talk and I explained to her about how I was trying to find more information about Mr. Anderson. My goal was to find any documents with his name on them, photographs, anything really. She expressed interest in the topic, but this case was unfortunately left open-ended. I also contacted the office directly, but to no avail. I moved on.
Almost a year later, as I am now writing this, I decided to take one more crack at this one. In a fervent internet search, I discovered a de-classified document from the CIA regarding Southeast Asian refugee resettlement in 1985. From there I read that Ambassador H. Eugene Douglas was the U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs. It was after combining his name with Mr. Anderson’s when I was able to find the World Refugee Survey from 1982 listing William Anderson as the California representative for the ICM, Intergovernmental Committee for Migration. It turned out that the IOM had undergone several name changes, and from 1980-1989, it was called the ICM. By the time Mr. Anderson’s obituary was written, and Mr. Ross wrote his memoir, the name had already changed. This temporarily impeded my search, but at least for now I won’t have to drive out to Virginia, where H. Eugene Douglas currently resides.
I was unable to find more information about Mrs. Anderson, but having found all these other pieces made me feel closer to them both and I am excited to share these discoveries with my father. I think he will appreciate them.
Part 3: my parents’ first visit to D.C. and visiting the International Student House