Doc Doubleday: The War Years In Westport

Doubleday Field — between Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools — honors “Doc” Doubleday. From 1923 to 1957, he served the Westport YMCA as physical director, then membership director.

Generations of members knew Doc as the friendly face behind the front desk. Scott Smith — the Y’s current communications director and resident “story teller” — sent Doc’s son Ed’s remembrances along to “06880.” As we celebrate Veterans Day, it’s a great look back to the 1940s, and the impact of World War II. 

The war was a very depressing time. Westport lost some 40 young, vibrant boys and men.

When my dad stayed late to close the Y, he would peck away at the typewriter. I finally asked him about it. He said he wrote notes to all the young men he knew in the service all over the world. He had a 3×5 card file with the name and address of each serviceman, their likes and dislikes, friends’ names, hobbies, etc. He said they needed to know that we at home cared about them.

Every so often he came home with a tear in his eye, and a heavy heart. Another Westport boy had been killed.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

During the war years Al Bresslin, who was then the physical director, set up a “commando course” in the gym. There were parallel bars draped with mats to climb over, a low balance beam (footbridge), flying rings to swing over an imaginary river, a large pipe to crawl through, and finally a straight dash to the finish line. Everyone was timed weekly. Bill Krause was always the fastest.

There were all kinds of clubs at the Y: chess, checkers, airplane model building, stamp collecting and boxing. We had ping pong and pool tournaments.

Dad would ask why he didn’t see one or another of my friends at the Y anymore. Sometimes their parents didn’t have the $2 membership fee. He somehow came up with the money, and a Y membership card would magically arrive at the boy’s home. It meant so much to them.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric ("Rick") von Schmidt -- who went on to great fame as a folk singer -- is the guitarist on the right.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric (“Rick”) von Schmidt — who went on to great fame as a folk singer — is the guitarist on the right.

At the height of the war, all able-bodied men were off fighting. In the summer, farmers called Doc at the Y for labor. He’d round us up. We got on our bikes and headed out early mornings to hoe cabbage, pick tomatoes and corn, weed onions, etc. My friends and I were 12-14 years old. A 10-hour day, for $2.50, was good money for us.

In the fall, Herb Baldwin asked Dad to find kids to pick apples at his Bayberry Lane orchard. We got 3 cents a bushel, but it was fun. We’d pick and eat, then take a break and throw the bad apples at each other.

One day, Mr. Baldwin loaded us in a truck to help a friend on a farm in Fairfield. At noon we went up to the big garage to eat our lunch. Mrs. Rudkin offered us great homemade bread. The farm was named after a big tupelo tree that grew on the property. They’re also known as pepperidge trees. Imagine that: I was there at the beginning of Pepperidge Farms!

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier headlined pictures and names of all the young men who didn’t come home. My dad said, “Eddie, keep this paper. Every Memorial Day, take this out and look at it. Then say a prayer and thank all those who served our country.”

I have that newspaper today. Every Memorial Day I re-read it. It still hurts, almost 70 years later.

Ed Doubleday -- Doc's son -- reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

Ed Doubleday — Doc’s son — reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

When the war ended, the town celebrated V-J Day with a big gathering on the front steps of the Y. Soon, the boys began to come home. Some came to the Y first. They’d walk up to the front desk, throw down their duffel bag, reach over the desk, throw out their hands and say, “I’m home, Doc!” Tears formed in their eyes, and his.

Doc retired from the Y in 1957, and moved with my mom to Florida. She passed first. We lost Doc in 1972. He was 87.

Doc loved his years at the Y. I hope he will be remembered as someone who did what he could to make Westport a better place to live, and raise a family.

(This story is part of the Y’s 90th anniversary celebration. For more, click here.)

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.

9 responses to “Doc Doubleday: The War Years In Westport

  1. jebby40@aol.com

    Great job Danny

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Craig Clark CPT US Army

    Dan, can’t read the paper. Would you please list the names.
    Great job today.

  3. Mr. Clark –

    The names of the 43 Westport servicemen (including one woman) who were killed in WWII can be found on the plaque located on the monument located on Veterans’ Green – here is an on-line picture of the plaque showing the names:

    http://ctmonuments.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Wpt-Vets-Green-8.jpg

    Thanks to all veterans who have served this great country of ours.

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Wow, how long buried memories surface on this blog!!! My late mother Martha was a Westport war widow and is pictured with her husband Harry B. Wassell II at the lower left hand corner of the V-J Day Town Crier. I was raised on stories of the sacrifices of Westport veterans who did not come home. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this very special day of remembrance.

  5. My uncle, Thomas Finnegan, pictured on the first page. His only son, Richard, occassionally contributed comments to 06880. Sadly, he passed away this past June.

  6. God rest them all, I grew up with the son of one of the Wassell family that survived the war, note 3 brothers, from Westport all perished, and are noted on the memorial. Thank you all who served and i pray for all that did not come back. Thanks Dan I always thought Doubleday was named for Abner, I have a whole new appreciation for the field and its namesake.