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Finding Uncle Earl-How Searching For My Namesake Led to the Library of Congress

The following is a guest blog post by National Court Reporters Foundation Chair, Early Langley nee Zimpfer.

Most individuals arbitrarily assume that I was named “Early” as I was a premature surprise for my parents. The reality is that I came after. I was named after my uncle, Pvt. First Class Earl K. Zimpfer, a man I never got to meet, but carried with me every day.

I always knew that Uncle Earl was a soldier in the U.S. Army during World War II. He and his two brothers, Roger and Theodore, served amongst the “Greatest Generation” in some of history’s darkest hours. Throughout the years, I would often wonder what he was like. Did we share any of the same qualities? Would he have any pearls of wisdom to share with me? I didn’t dare ask any immediate family members about him. Despite the time that had passed, so great was the pain of his loss that nobody could bear to speak of him.

1940s photo album with nine black and white photos.

Photo album featuring images of Earl during rest and recovery in Hawaii during World War II. Image provided by Early Langley. 

I never would have dreamt that my role as a court reporter would lead me to answers about my namesake. I was recently appointed to serve a two-year term as Chair of the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) Board of Trustees. Digging into the various missions of NCRF, I started to explore the initiatives including the Veterans History Project (VHP). Civic-minded court reporters across the country have volunteered with VHP since 2003. Even during the pandemic, court reporters have been interviewing the veterans within their households and some are using their unique skills to contribute to the 4,000-plus transcriptions of veterans’ oral histories. After learning more about the Project, and how they accept posthumous submissions through original firsthand materials, I knew it was time to start talking to the family and seeing what treasures we could unearth.

Person holding photo of man with folded flag in the background.

Early Langley reviewing materials from her uncle and namesake, Pvt. First Class Earl K. Zimpfer. Image provided by Early Langley.

My cousins, my sister and I spent hours on the phone and through emails, digging through old photo albums, letters, newspaper articles and other family heirlooms. We learned of my uncle’s creativity and craftsmanship through photos of Uncle Earl as a young man on a boat he built. Other images portrayed him in his Army uniform, proudly beaming, showing me that he was honored to do his part for his county. Newspaper articles and letters between him and my grandmother demonstrated in impeccable penmanship his service with the 6th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army (commonly known as “Red Star”), his baptism by fire at “the Purple Heart Valley Campaign” and the 219 days of continuous combat in the Pacific Theater. Tragically, that was where his story ended. My uncle was killed by a sniper in combat in Luzon, Philippines on January 22, 1945. He was only 22 years old. Staring at the Western Union Telegram detailing the transport of his remains nearly four years after he lost his life in combat in Luzon, I finally understood the weighted heartache my family had felt.

Through NCRF’s manager, Jill Landsman, I connected to VHP’s Kerry Ward to discuss VHP, and how Grandma Zimpfer’s frail letters with ink bleeds would be cared for. Kerry spoke to me about the attention the Library of Congress takes with its items. She showed me the remarkable work that the Library’s Preservation Office does to restore compromised materials and how VHP works to share their archive, making it accessible to researchers, students and future generations. I knew this was the perfect forever home for these artifacts and I spoke to my cousins about establishing the collection.

Shipping the materials off last month lifted a tremendous weight from me. I couldn’t think of a better place to commemorate Uncle Earl’s memory than the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress. Now it isn’t just me who will be able to know of the man I was named after. All of posterity will know of his service and sacrifice.

2 Comments

  1. richard harper
    March 27, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    any old navy guys on guam 1945? my father was harry price harper…last person to be buried at Zachary Taylor cemetery, Louisville, KY, 1996

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