The Cattaraugus Area Historical Museum opened its doors to the public.
Little Valley resident Richard Taft, who has strong ties to the Cattaraugus and Otto area, hosted this month's event.
Music wafted to the high ceilings. It was furnished courtesy of several bygone local musicians, including Taft's own father, Dr. James Walter Taft, along with friends and fellow instrumentalists Porter Pepperdine, Jack Berger and Alan Campbell. The music was original, dating back to the 40s and 50s, when it was recorded by Dr. Taft, himself, on old reel-to-reel tapes. These four men, often joined by others, played at numerous dances and get-togethers, and it seemed fitting that their music should accompany this occasion, as well.
Little Valley’s Richard Taft shares World War II memorabilia with three residents who visited the Cattaraugus Area Historical Center during its March Second Sunday. Taft holds a Samurai sword obtained by his father, Lieutenant James Taft, at the surrender of a suicide boat squadron of nearly 3,000 Japanese marines. Museum visitor Timothy Hickman holds a hand-sewn flag designed to be flown by one of the suicide crafts, and is joined by two other visitors, Guy French II, and Bob Swan, r, (home from his recent deployment in Afghanistan).
Taft shared other unusual family memorabilia with museum visitors. These included items acquired by his father, James, when he served as a World War II Naval physician aboard the destroyer USS Waller during its Pacific deployment. A sizeable Samurai sword drew considerable interest. Taft displayed the surrendered weapon alongside a hand-stitched Japanese flag designed to be flown by one of the small "suicide ships" which the Waller's crew were helping to decommission at the war's end.
To place that event in context, Taft repeated the story his father had told him. "Our ship (the Waller) had managed to make it through the entire war without sustaining any great damage--and better yet, we'd had no casualties. When Japan surrendered, we were ordered to the Chuson archipelago (near Shanghai) to disarm and decommission a holdout group of some 3,000 'suicide' Japanese marines, who, it was rumored did not intend to surrender. It was expected they would use their speedy little suicide boats against any intruder, so we sailed right into the middle of their nest at general quarters, ready for anything."
During the ensuing operation, the Waller touched off a still-active enemy mine, blasting a sizeable (but repairable) hole in the ship's side and injuring several sailors. It was the first time during the war that Lieutenant Taft's medical skills had been seriously challenged.
Ironically, upon arriving at port, the crew learned that the Japanese had already surrendered to the Chinese, who had no idea what to do with them. The Waller's captain assumed responsibility for decommissioning the unit and confiscating their weapons, most of which were turned over to the Chinese.
While moored in port, Lt. Taft's medical expertise was again called upon. As he later wrote home to his wife, the grateful Chinese invited the sailors to shore-side feasts almost daily, taking advantage of each occasion to ask the doctor for all the malaria medications he could spare, since the Chuson islands swarmed with malaria-bearing mosquitoes, and the disease ran rampant there. Since Taft and his shipmates served as mosquito-fodder themselves every time they went ashore, he prudently saved enough malaria meds to treat the crew on the long trip back to the United States.
After the war, Dr. Taft went on to establish a successful medical practice as a general practitioner in the village of Cattaraugus, recalled his son. Between the years of 1948 and 1969, the doctor created a memorable legacy, delivering some 1,500 babies in and around the community.
The museum host also produced a number of genealogical papers and other items of interest. He referred to Anna Botsford Comstock, an Otto resident (and relative) who established herself as a prominent professor in Ithaca during the 1800s, and who made a name for herself by writing textbooks on teaching. Taft also demonstrated a charming little photo album, which also served as a music box, capable of playing two different tunes.
So far, the Second Sundays have proven interesting and informative, largely due to the volunteer efforts of interested citizens like Taft.