Finding My Father by Shirley J. Vail

September 10, 2018

At the age of 70, I gathered my courage and learned how to use the Internet.  The first thing I wanted to do was find out anything I could about my father, Earl Frederick Vail.  I began with  Setting out on a journey that would take me I knew not where. I was on my way to achieve an almost life-long goal.  Dad left us when I was not quite three years old. I felt unbelievable rage, humiliation and embarrassment throughout the ensuing years; thinking he didn’t care about me and avoiding talking about him if possible.  I was taught to fear him and was not allowed any contact with him. One exception was made, when I was about eight-years old we were given a visit of about five minutes. That encounter ended badly and I ran as fast as I could to the back yard where my Gramps was working; knowing he would protect me.  Because I felt like no one would want anything to do with me if they knew about Dad I withdrew into a world of my own. I would later learn that such behavior was not uncommon for children, and even adults, in similar circumstances.  Of course, no one in the family knew how I felt.  We were dysfunctional in a number of other ways and didn’t talk about feelings or problems.

I set out to discover the man who was in part responsible for my being here on earth.  I would have been astonished beyond belief if anyone had told me where my quest would lead.  I came to realize how much Dad and I were alike, to understand him far better than Mom ever did, to bless and forgive him, and to look forward eagerly to meeting him in a better world after my death.  I also came to realize, very sadly, that Mom was not altogether blameless.

Dad was born in 1910, on a great uncle’s farm, in a little village called Archer, in northwestern Iowa. From the information available to me, I conclude that Dad’s mother abandoned him, his father, and his older brother, when Dad was less than three-years old; just about the age I was when Dad walked out on Mom and me for the last time.


YE GODS!  My Dad who wandered the earth had been a soldier in the Spanish Civil War.



Dad’s brother seems to have been a very successful accountant with a family of his own.[i] Dad was the very opposite.  I’m sorry to say he never stuck with anything or stayed anywhere long before reaching his mid-50’s.  He certainly didn’t have a good marriage.  At the age of 15, Dad’s paternal grandmother Helen, who appears to have pretty much raised him, died. Subsequently the boys were sent to live with their mother.[ii]  From information contained in medical records, Dad was probably already into alcohol in a serious way.  His mother wanted him to finish high school and get a diploma.  Dad was having none of that, seeming to hate school as much as I did.  He left home a few days after his 16th birthday to join the U. S. Marine Corps in San Diego, California.[iii]

If he hated the discipline of public school so much, why he would have joined the service is a mystery to me.  It is possible he may have seen a Marine as a tough, hard living, hard drinking man who could do what he wanted and nobody could tell him what to do.  Nothing could be further from the truth in regard to doing what he wanted.  The military is nothing but rules and regulations and orders.  So, he was off to join up in April, 1926.[iv]  Dad managed to finish basic training and then completed music school to become a trumpeter (part of the Bugle Corps).  I used to have a picture of him in his uniform here in the United States.  In fits of rage years ago, Mom and then I completely rid ourselves of almost every picture we had left of Dad.

His four years in the Marines did not go smoothly.  He had a problem with alcohol, he liked to gamble, when anyone disagreed with him he used his fists, so long as it was a man.  As a result, he was transferred to one company after another after being shipped to Shanghai for the remaining duration of his service.  Yep, Dad was a China Marine.  This term was new to me, so I did a lot of research about the China Marines.  Dad was not in a combat zone and there was lots of time to mess up, and I guess he did his share of that.  He managed to get court martialed for malicious assault, several other minor incidents, served several months in a prison at Cavite, Philippines Islands which, from what I read, must have been a real hell hole, and then was sent to mandatory substance abuse rehabilitation, which certainly didn’t work.  But, he managed to get an honorable discharge and returned to the States in 1930.[v]

Dad joined the Marine Reserves at that point. For the next four years, during the height of the Great Depression, his trail crisscrossed the United States as he was transferred from one Reserve unit and city to another.[vi]  He was a “knight of the road.” He was jailed for vagrancy. He tried for one job after another, but was either denied employment or it didn’t last. He would not take orders from a boss. He spent time in a business school in an unknown capacity.

Dad even managed to get engaged. When his mother found out about the engagement she broke it up. I think the broken engagement created a rift between my father and grandmother. I never got the impression, from Dad’s infrequent calls to Mom over the years, that he and his mother got along.[vii]

In the winter of 1934-1935, Dad was flat broke, sick, unemployed, desperate, and worn out.  These factors may have triggered his next serious mistake: reenlisting in the Marines.[viii]  He was shipped from New York down to Norfolk, Virginia, and there the trouble began. He was constantly drunk, would not obey orders, and would not report for duty.  Finally, a concerned officer decided that they should seek medical advice on how to address Dad’s behavior.  This was not ordinary behavior.  He was hospitalized for psychiatric observation; thus, when I finally received a lot of paperwork from the National Archives, I learned what Dad’s real problem was.  I have a copy of a rather lengthy interview between Dad and the doctors in Norfolk.  They didn’t call it sociopath back then, but that was his diagnosis.[ix]

More research followed.  There are always two sides to that coin – sociopath and psychopath.[x]  If you have to have one or the other, take the sociopath.  Dad told them he hated the service so much, he would desert unless they surveyed him out on medical, and they did so forthwith.  He felt that an enlisted man had no future in the military.  Of course, if he’d deserted, it would have been another horrendous mistake; so I’m glad it didn’t come to that.

Dad really loved the sea.  He went into the U. S. Merchant Marine as an Ordinary or Able Seaman and sailed back and forth to Europe a lot between 1935 and 1938.  It was then that he applied for a Seaman’s Certificate of Protection, meant to keep foreign powers from taking him off his ship by force and placing him in their own fleets.[xi]  A wonderful picture of Dad is attached to the application, he was only 25-years old, and I realized more than ever that I certainly looked like him and not Mom.

Earl Vail, Photograph from his seaman’s certificate, 1935,

Earl Vail, Photograph from his seaman’s certificate, 1935,

I got the shock of my life about Dad when I received an e-mail from Ray Hoff, a member of the Friends and Family of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (FFALB). Ray asked if I was the right child he was seeking. having found my name and e-mail through a public tree in  If I was the person for whom he was searching my Dad had fought in the Spanish Civil War.  He was there with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, though he didn’t do any real fighting until the last-ditch campaign when he was assigned to a machine gun unit during the Ebro Offensive.  I have one picture that the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive (ALBA) folks provided me that I’m sure he is in.  We’ll get to that.

I sat there in shock and then wrote back that it couldn’t be my Dad.  I was so shaken, I replied that he hadn’t died the date Ray listed, anyway.  I later calmed down and corrected my mistake. I wrote back that there was no way to know if the first picture they provided me was Dad. Maybe.  Well, Ray sent me an interview form filled out and signed by Dad.[xii]  Now, I had already managed to get a copy of Dad’s original Social Security Number application and an eerie feeling came over me.  I got that document out and compared the hand writing.  Looked the same to me.  I got out my treasured original wedding certificate for Mom and Dad.  Signature looked the same to me.  I could remember back to the few letters Mom got from Dad after the divorce, mentally comparing those signatures with the one on the form.  Looked the same to me.  Well, YE GODS!  My Dad who wandered the earth had been a soldier in the Spanish Civil War.[xiii]  A later document also confirms the writing.  I just didn’t know what to do next.  It was so fantastic, I still couldn’t imagine Dad doing anything like that.  HE HATED THE MILITARY!

The photograph that was initially sent with the man kneeling on the right tentatively identified as Earl F. Vail. Records do not indicate that he was serving with the Battalion in September 1937. Lincoln-Washington Battalion, Company 1, Section 3, Group 2, Almuchel, September 1937, The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-1818. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

The photograph that was initially sent with the man kneeling on the right tentatively identified as Earl F. Vail. Records do not indicate that he was serving with the Battalion in September 1937. Lincoln-Washington Battalion, Company 1, Section 3, Group 2, Almuchel, September 1937, The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-1818. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

I began researching the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the Spanish Civil War, the Battle of the Ebro, and began corresponding with both Ray and Chris Brooks.  They provided me with another picture that I’m reasonably sure showed Dad with part of his machine gun unit during that last battle.  It was maybe a couple of years before Chris was able to direct me to four documents in the archived library section of the University of California at Berkeley.  He had no contact for me, but I was on a roll.  I found an e-mail address and got off a letter to them that afternoon. I explained my situation: I couldn’t come over there; why I wanted the documents; and I wanted copies of the documents.  I told them I’d be glad to pay WHATEVER costs they incurred. I got a reply that day saying they would see if the documents could be copied.

I was ecstatic when they said yes and copying costs and postage would only be $20.00.  I replied the check would be in the mail the next day and expressed my undying gratitude.  Within a few days, I had two small documents about Dad’s arrival in and repatriation from Spain and two documents that filled in a lot more of his life.[xiv]

It seems Dad’s arrival in Spain involved a well-documented event.  The U. S. and Britain didn’t want to be involved in the conflict in Spain, where the Communists were vying with the Nazis. The folks who referred to it as a prelude to WWII were only too right and no passports from the U. S. or Britain were issued allowing our citizens access to Spain directly.  They either had to go to France and then over the mountains into Spain, very dangerous, or they had to be smuggled in by sea like Dad was.  Unfortunately, he was on the City of Barcelona.  They were about 1-1/2 miles off the coast when an Italian submarine torpedoed his ship.  He was one of the fortunate ones who was able to escape death by drowning.  I located a copy of the names of men who survived the destruction of the City of Barcelona and sure enough, there was Dad’s name.[xv]  One of the documents I got from Berkeley was a “report” of a visit to Dad by someone connected with ALBA in Sacramento.  I am going to quote that document here as it describes first-hand the sinking of the City of Barcelona.

Saturday, May 17th, 1979

Sacramento, Calif.

A talk with Earl Vail

Earl didn’t answer our knock at 1314-24th Street so we went back to his car and while I was writing him a note he came down the street stepping spryly, carrying a bag of groceries.

Back in his apartment, he told Christine and me how life had taken a pleasant turn for once.  He was living now with Beulah, an old drinking pal from his skid-row days.  Fifteen years ago they did much stumbling around the bars of Sacramento’s Old town together until both finally hit the very bottom of the wine bottle.  Beulah then made a come-back with help from Alcoholics Anonymous, and Earl recovered too, though more gradually.

Anyway, neither drink any booze now.  She works as a maid at the Senator Hotel and by pooling her wages and Earl’s Social Security, they have a net income of about eight hundred dollars a month.

It happened that Beulah was working so nothing much can be reported about her, but Earl presented a picture of well-being compared to my impression of him last fall.  He now sports a short, neatly trimmed beard and a mustache and looks surprisingly sharp for a man near seventy with a lot of hard mileage on him.

I asked him to tell us how, in the spring of 1937 he swam ashore from the torpedoed “City of Barcelona” to volunteer as a soldier in Spain’s loyalist army.

I had thought the ship went down just off Barcelona, but Earl explained the event occurred eighty miles north of there and four miles off the village of Molgrat de Mar [Malgrat de Mar].

Most of the life boats, he said, were heavily wired to the Release Hooks by saboteurs so it was impossible to release them in time and they went down with the ship leaving hundreds in the water to save themselves or drown – and many did.

Four volunteers, including Vail luckily got aboard a life boat and all, being seamen themselves, had taken precaution to get a life jacket.  The names of the other three men in the life boat with Vail are:  John “Topsy” Kozar, Conrad Silverman and [Robert John] Sullivan whose first name Vail could not remember.

Once safely in the life boat, they took off their jackets and threw them to survivors struggling in the water.  Others in panic clutched at the life boat.  With strength borrowed from desperation many managed to pull themselves into the already overloaded boat until finally there was just a few inches of freeboard left.

The four volunteers were all good swimmers so to make room for exhausted survivors they decided to strip off their clothes and try swimming for it.

All this, of course, was viewed from shore by the residents of Molgrat who were busy putting everything that would float in the water to form a rescue mission.  After an hour in the water a fishing skiff picked up the volunteers and took them to the village, or rather to a spot a mile from the village from which they walked to town in their undershorts.

After a brief stay there, where the survivors were honored and addressed by Catalonia’s president, Campanys [Lluís Companys], they continued on their way to Albacete; there to enlist in the Army.  After this slow beginning, the action really started.

P.S.  Earl said he and Beulah are happy together.  Not always perfectly compatible but they feel lucky and have promised to stick with each other to the end.

Signed Don MacLeod[xvi]


The City of Barcelona [Ciudad de Barcelona], photograph taken in Mallorca between 1931-1935, Wikipedia.

The City of Barcelona [Ciudad de Barcelona], photograph taken in Mallorca between 1931-1935, Wikipedia.

Dad’s career during the Spanish Civil War was very unremarkable and sadly embarrassing.  With all I was learning about him, it did not surprise me, especially because he hated the military.  He seems to have spent most of his time in Spain at Albacete, working on cars and helping with payroll.  It will always puzzle me as to why he went to Spain unless he thought it would be a grand adventure.  He deserted and returned at least once, spent time in Spanish jails for drunkenness, and was finally sent for training to take part in the battle that took place at the Ebro River.  He didn’t get good marks during training, but if I’m right about the picture, he was there.[xvii]

  When he was finally able to return to the US, another mystery from my   early days was solved.  I had found a picture of the ship Ausonia and Dad was listed as a passenger.  The ship had sailed from France.  At the time, I knew nothing of the above story and was just happy I’d found a picture of a ship on which Dad was a passenger.  Ray told me that the Ausonia carried many U. S. veterans from the Spanish Civil War home.  So, Dad was now back in the U. S. and I can only guess that he took to roaming around again, probably going to sea a number of times, too.[xviii]

One of those roaming expeditions took him to Phoenix, Arizona and a short employment at the company where my Mom was a secretary.  This was probably late 1940 or early 1941.  He must have liked her a lot, or else he filed her in his mind as a possible patsy for future schemes.  Of course, he took off after a few months.

Unbeknownst another event was on the horizon which significantly impacted all three of our lives. Pearl Harbor!  Of course, even before December 7, 1941, wise souls realized that the U. S. would have to enter WWII.  That brought about the enactment of a law regarding the draft.  Now, this is speculation in part, added to a few actual facts, but I believe this is what happened with my parents.  True to his habit of running from problems or situations he couldn’t face, Dad reacted to the Draft with true panic.  About a week after Pearl Harbor, Dad was a passenger on a ship bound for Puerto Rico.[xix]  Trouble was, it’s a U. S. Territory and was no sanctuary from being inducted into the Army.  He certainly had no intention of volunteering.  Then, he must have returned to the Continental U. S. and got caught in the draft.  He’d have had an address of some sort on the east coast because that’s where he sailed and returned aboard the ships he seemed to love.

There were exemptions to the draft, of course, and one of those was a wife and even better a child.  Back to Mom and Dad, they were married July 14, 1942, after about a week of his return to Phoenix.[xx]  I do remember my Gran talking about how even in war time, she wheedled the neighborhood bakery into providing a small wedding cake.  They spent their wedding night in a hotel in downtown Phoenix, one of the better ones which was a vacation spot for many Hollywood Stars, and shortly thereafter were on their way to Long Beach, California where Dad had convinced Mom that he would enter school to become a Captain in the Merchant Marine.  No lowly seaman classifications for him this time.

Wedding day photograph, 1942.

Wedding day photograph, 1942.

Of course, reality hit home with a vengeance.  Mom was appalled by his drinking and his passion for gambling away any money he could get his hands on.  She had cashed in her War Bonds to pay for his schooling.  He soon let her know that he was no longer interested, it was too hard.  He even wanted her to sell her car, which fortunately she managed to hold on to.  Of course, she got a job as a secretary.  And several months later, she was pregnant and suffering from such serious morning sickness that she couldn’t work.  Dad was right on point with his next move.  He took off, to find some place he liked better according to him, and left Mom to fend for herself.  BUT!  He had his marital exemption and would soon have a child.  My grandparents sent Mom’s youngest sister over to Long Beach on the Greyhound Bus to pack up Mom and her few possessions and drive Mom and the car back to Phoenix.  It’s a good thing she did save the car.  Its sale paid for my hospital bill a few months later.

As far as I know, Dad must have made one brief visit to Phoenix the spring of 1943 because he’s the one who decided on my name when every suggestion that was made to date was met with dislike.  I grew up hating my name after I learned this, Shirley reminding me every time I heard of it, of Earl, my Dad’s name.  To this day, I don’t like it, but I’ve come to a place where I don’t want to kill anyone who calls me Shirl.  I was born the last of August 1943, and I guess Dad was checking every so often, because he said he’d be there to see me when the weather cooled off, summers in Arizona were just too hot.  Let me point out that July of the previous year was not too hot for him to come seeking Mom’s hand in marriage.  July is just about as hot as you can get here in the Valley.

Well, he did show up and stayed just long enough to take care of the correspondence listed below. The Marines were technically part of the Navy, so I understand.  The following was apparently received during and after the time Dad briefly spent with us after my birth and before he took off for Nevada. That’s how Mom found out just what the man she had married in haste was really like.

It explains why the letter came from the Selective Service System board in Massachusetts.  I suppose he had protested being drafted on the basis of his medical discharge from the Marines in 1935.    They wrote in part:

“Will you please furnish this Board with a certified copy of your medical discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps, which your questionnaire shows was given you in 1938.”  Dad crossed out 1938 and wrote 1935 and initialed it. “This Board will review the information as it is possible that you should be classified 4-F.”[xxi]

Of course, he didn’t have ANY copy of anything.  Somehow, he got some department to send them the following:

Diagnosis:  Constitutional Psychopathic State, Inadequate Personality (sociopath in today’s language).

Disability is not the result of his own misconduct.

Under observation patient has revealed himself as an unstable individual, dissatisfied and disinterested in the service, antagonistic, resentful of authority, often insubordinate and compulsive (fighting), and with a marked tendency to moods of despondency leading to alcoholic debauches.  He is above average in intelligence and with excellent insight, but is emotionally unstable, unable to secure lasting adjustment in any environment and presents evidence of poor judgement in selecting alternatives of decision and action.

Recommendation:  That he be invalided from the U.S. Naval Service.[xxii]

We spent two brief periods with Dad, one in Henderson, Nevada and one in Paso Robles, California, before Mom threw in the towel and brought me back home for good, much to the delight of my beloved Gramps, and sued for separate maintenance and eventually a divorce.[xxiii]  Dad was furious.  The process server barely caught him at the bus depot, preparing to run again.  He probably sent $200 in child support those first four months, but nothing else in all the years I was growing up.  I don’t know of any presents he ever sent me except a very treasured doll when I was three and a short recording he had made in Seattle when I must have been about eight. All told, he owed $8,600 dollars in child support when I reached the age of 18.  In those days, this was not chunk change and would have made things considerably easier for Mom and me.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1966, when I had just started my employment that would continue for 32 years, that Dad surfaced again in any serious way.  He hadn’t come by the house since 1954 when Gramps died.  He would send a letter to Mom every so often, usually prefaced by the fact that he was in a bar, and I was now nearly 23.  I really didn’t think, after a silence of so many years, that we’d ever hear from him again.  I came home one afternoon to a letter from a rehabilitation facility in California where Dad was a patient.  I went cold and sick.  Would I never be rid of this cloud that had stayed over my head through all my school years?  I wrote back, near as I can remember, that I had had no contact with my father since I was three years old and could tell them nothing about him.  He then sent me a very angry letter, all I can remember of which said that the Bible said to honor thy father.  I remember wondering what he had ever done to merit my honor.

It wasn’t too long before Dad showed up on the front porch one morning before work, asking Gran if he could talk to Mom.  I’m sure if Gran had had a gun, she’d have shot him.  He was not a favorite of hers by any means.  It was hot weather and the front bedroom window was open, so I heard the whole conversation.  Of all the gall I could imagine, he had it.  He wanted Mom to remarry him now that I was grown (and no pesky child support, right?) because he needed someone to take care of him and he figured that living at home all those years, she must have money.  Well, that idea crashed and burned.  She asked him why he thought she’d have money.  Who did he think raised me?  Why, Mom’s younger sister and husband.  That was a jaw dropper!  She told him that anything there ever was between them was long dead and to be on his way.  She came in and slammed the door.

I had to go on to work, so very nervously backed out of the garage, down the drive way, and took off.  I was terrified that he might have a way to follow me, there was someone in a car out front with a newspaper up hiding his face, and for at least a week, I was terrified he’d somehow show up at my work and I’d be fired.  Gran assured me that the men in the office would deal with him.  I’m not a trusting person and I was newly hired.  I doubted anyone would go to bat for me.

We only heard from him a couple of times after that, after we moved from the house and he had to send the letters to Mom’s former employer. Of course we never replied except for a short note from Mom which she sent over to California and asked her niece to drop in a mail box, any mail box, leaving the impression she was in California.

My relationship with Dad colored my whole life.  I distrusted almost any man I met and if they showed the slightest behavior that reminded me of Dad, they were history.  I felt I could never marry because no decent man would have me. I certainly wasn’t interested in men who behaved as he did.  I withdrew into myself more and more, refusing to talk about him if asked.  I would rage internally against him and blame him for so many things I really wanted to do but felt I never could.  Mom died in 1989 still raging against Dad and his treatment of us. My opinion of Dad mirrored Mom’s until that day I entered the world of

First, I found his death certificate.  Dad apparently died alone, and in what I took to be a county facility outside Sacramento, which seemed to have been one of his favorite spots over the years.[xxiv]  I began to find out about his family. I got professional help learning about his mother who was quite a mystery at first. I dug into every source I could find about Dad, where he’d probably been and what the world was like then.  I read about his mental health conditions.  I began to realize that I was very like Dad, but I had been tempered by a mother and grandmother who were determined I would not turn out like he had.

I finally got up nerve to read about alcoholism and how it affects not only the victim but the people who are in contact with the alcoholic and the family.  I read other people’s stories and realized I was not alone and there was nothing shameful about who or what I was.  When I finally found a picture of Dad’s grave site, again through, I cried as I looked at it and I was able to obtain “management” of the virtual grave page.[xxv]  There’s no actual marker, but the person who took the picture was able to mark the location someway on the film.  I was beginning to heal, but it was a long process and took great effort on my part.

Finally, I realized that Dad could no more have helped what he had become from genetic structure and circumstances with no one to help him than the wind could help blowing.  I spent hours in tears, regretting what might have been.  I wished heartily that I could have known him.  I realized that Mom must have had a terrible time being around me, watching me grow up much like Dad in so many ways, and being unable to talk to me about it because of her own hurt and anger.  One afternoon, I sat down and with every ounce of effort I could muster, I prayed that Dad would know how I now felt and that I did not blame him anymore.  I also realized that my mother had not been entirely blameless.  It hurt, but I had to admit that if she had been able to overcome her bitterness and hate, my life could have been so much better and easier.  If she had only talked to me about Dad and done some research on her own, it would have done us both a world of good over the years.  I look forward to meeting my Dad when I get to Heaven.  I can only hope he looks forward to meeting me, too.


[i] 1910 United States Federal Census, Dale, O’Brien County, Iowa, and Iowa, Delayed Birth Records, 1856-1940, Affidavit of birth by his brother Edwin executed August 26 1942, Both documents


[ii] 1920 United States Federal Census, Floyd, O’Brien, Iowa,


[iii] U. S. N. T. S. Norfolk, VA, Medical History, Vail, Earl Frederick, January 29, 1935, National Archives, p.1.; What a mistake! I was fortunate that my family insisted I complete 16 years of formal education,


[iv] T977, Roll 0259, U. S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958, The entry reads Earl F. Vail, Enlistment date April 19, 1926,

[v] Earl F. Vail Military Career, compiled by author primarily from; Roll 0307, Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1893-1958, The entry reads “April 1 to Apr 30, 1930 inclusive:  Exp of Enl:  Character:  “Excellent,” Assigned Class III, FMCR, (WRA) for four years from 19 Apr 30.”  This indicates That Vail was released from active duty in the USMC and assigned to the Reserve, Western Regional Area for the years 1930-1934, He was discharged in 1930 with “excellent character.”; U. S. N. T. S. Norfolk, VA, Medical History, Vail, Earl Frederick, January 29, 1935, National Archives, p. 6.


[vi] Earl F. Vail Military Career, compiled by author primarily from; U. S. N. T. S. Norfolk, VA, Medical History, Vail, Earl Frederick, January 29, 1935, National Archives, p. 7.; and Family oral history.

[vii] U. S. N. T. S. Norfolk, VA, Medical History, Vail, Earl Frederick, January 29, 1935, National Archives, p.1; and Family oral history.


[viii] U. S. N. T. S. Norfolk, VA, Medical History, Vail, Earl Frederick, January 29, 1935, National Archives, p. 3. broke rejoined Marines


[ix] U. S. N. T. S. Norfolk, VA, Medical History, Vail, Earl Frederick, January 29, 1935, National Archives, p. 10.; Diagnosis: Constitutional Psychopathic state (inadequate personality).


[x] Meriam Webster dictionary (online) definitions Sociopath – Someone who behaves in a dangerous or violent way towards other people and does not feel guilt about such behavior. Psychopath – A mentally ill or unstable person, especially a person affected with antisocial personality disorder

[xi] Various documents New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, under Vail, Earl F.,; Application number 102163, October 22, 1935, U. S., Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940,


[xii] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 1005, ll. 1-3, War Commissariat of the International Brigades, undated.


[xiii] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 1005, ll. 1-3, War Commissariat of the International Brigades, undated; and ll. 4 & 5.

[xiv] Vail, Earl, 1979, carton 4, folder 15, Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Bay Area Post records, BANC MSS 71/105 z, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


[xv] RGASPI, Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 53, ll. 41, List of men from the COB.


[xvi] Vail, Earl, 1979, carton 4, folder 15, Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Bay Area Post records, BANC MSS 71/105 z, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Don MacLeod was a fellow veteran and an active member of the Bay Area Post of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.


[xvii] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 1005, ll. 1-3, War Commissariat of the International Brigades, undated; and ll. 4 & 5.


[xviii] New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Ausonia, sailed from Le Havre, France,


[xix] U. S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1962, Motorboat Dichosa(?), Sailed from Fajardo, Puerto Rico December 15, 1941,

[xx] Arizona, Maricopa County Marriage Records, 1865-1972,


[xxi] Selective Service System, Local Board No. 62, Bristol County to Earl F. Vail, November 29, 1943, Family papers.


[xxii] Report of Medical Survey, Board of Medical Survey, Norfolk Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia, April 2, 1935, Family papers.


[xxiii] The divorce was finalized in 1951. Family oral history.


[xxiv] Earl Vail in the U. S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014,


[xxv] U. S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, Memorial 87797278,






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2 Responses to “ Finding My Father by Shirley J. Vail ”

  1. Raymond Hoff on September 21, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    Wow, what a great memoir, Shirley!

    I recall our first online discussion on Ancestry and felt that you had such bad memories of your father that I had “picked at a scab” that I shouldn’t have. But we gave you a little information and look how you have resurrected your Father!

    They will not die unless we stop remembering them. Good on you for this story.

  2. Dean Burrier Sanchis on September 25, 2018 at 10:14 pm

    What a journey! Thank you for sharing your research and all the twists and turns this had. Blessed journey and reencounter, though let’s hope that’s still a long ways off. Best, Dean