A memory of war-time

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we recall the life of one of Pekin’s World War II veterans. His name was Thomas Carson Abbey (1911-1999), and for many years he lived with his wife Catherine Louise Harms Abbey (1919-2001) at 905 St. Julian St.

Thomas Abbey was born in Peoria of a family that had previously lived in Pennsylvania. His first wife was Ellen Elizabeth Dorman (1914-1951) – he and Ellen had a daughter named JoEllen Florence (1934-2012), but they later divorced.

Abbey’s obituary in the Pekin Daily Times says he served in the U.S. Army during World War II, but the obituary provides no information about his military service. His service must have brought him to the Philippines by 1944, however. That detail can be deduced from a picture of a scene of grass huts and palm trees that he drew, evidently using a blue ink pen.

Abbey Drawing

Pekin World War II veteran Thomas C. Abbey (1911-1999) drew this scene of grass huts and palm trees while serving in the U.S. Army in the Philippines in 1944. IMAGE COURTESY OF DAVID AND CONNIE PERKINS

Abbey’s picture is now in the possession of David and Connie Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, who received it from Marie Scott (1923-1999), a friend and neighbor of the Abbeys and Perkinses who had lived at 907 Chestnut St. The Abbeys had previously given the drawing to Scott, and she, knowing of David Perkins’ interest in history, passed it along to them when she moved from her home to an apartment. Scott died in late January 1999, just a few days before Thomas Abbey’s death.

Abbey signed and dated the picture “For Louise Abbey / Philippines Nov. 21 – 1944.” The Philippines had been conquered by the Empire of Japan in March 1942, and the picture’s date would indicate that Abbey drew it after the commencement of the American liberation of the Philippines in Oct. 1944.

The date on the picture does raise some questions, however. At first glance, one would think Abbey had drawn the picture and dedicated it to his second wife Catherine Louise while he was serving overseas in 1944. However, Thomas and Louise did not become man and wife until July 19, 1947, when they were married in Pekin. The dedicatory signature and date seem to be written in the same blue ink as the picture, yet a closer look suggests that the dedication lines were penned at some unknown later time, and the ink appears to be different from that of the picture. Presumably he dedicated the picture to her no earlier than July 1947.

After the war, the Abbeys both worked at Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery. Thomas later moved on to Commonwealth Edison, working as a mechanic there for 20 years and retiring in 1971. Catherine stayed at Hiram Walker for 31 years, retiring in 1975. Thomas died Feb. 1, 1999, while his widow survived for about two more years, passing away Jan. 1, 2001. Their obituaries say they were laid to rest in Glendale Memorial Gardens in Pekin, but most curiously, their names are listed in the South Bend (Ind.) Area Genealogical Society’s Michiana Genealogical Index as having been buried in Indiana – yet, puzzingly, the index does not identify their cemetery, showing instead a note saying “N/A” (for “not applicable”). These puzzling index entries are no doubt connected to the fact that Thomas’ daughter JoEllen lived in Eau Claire, Mich., to the north of South Bend, Ind.

As for Thomas Abbey’s ink drawing from the Philippines, the Perkinses plan to donate it to a World War II art museum located in the Washington, D.C., area.

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