With it being Veterans Day, we are so pleased that we are able to begin to roll out the results of a recent course collaboration. This semester, University Archives Director Dina Kellams worked with Ron Osgood’s Honors H228: Creating Archival Stories course. For one of their assignments, students were asked to select an IU affiliate from the Archives War Service Register records and dig into their story. Due to COVID, students were not able to visit the Archives so all research was done online, largely through free or subscription services available to them through IU Libraries, and the students did a marvelous job. We will continue to share some of the stories through the next week or so. Hope you enjoy these samples of student work and the stories they discovered!
Robert William Bulmer by Marie Renahan
World War II changed the course of the lives of many students at Indiana University. Some students chose to join a branch of the military instead of completing a degree, while others delayed attending college until after returning home. The stories of these IU students can be found in the Indiana University War Service Register records, where documents have been collected about each of the Indiana University students who served in a U.S. war between 1920 and 1946. Robert William Bulmer was one of those students. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the many files in Robert’s folder are change-of-address cards (about 20 of them!) that offer only simple details about his postal address during his deployment in the U.S. Navy. However, when seen as a whole, these cards help create a richer history of the complex life Robert led as a Navy Lieutenant and the Hoosier spirit he kept after leaving IU.
Robert Bulmer was born on August 23, 1920 in Gary, Indiana. He attended IU from Fall 1939 through Spring 1941 before entering service with the U.S. Navy on November 21, 1941. Shortly after returning home at the end of his service, he married Marjorie Evelyn Barnes and moved to Logansport, IN.2 After serving in the Korean War and working at Pepsi-Cola for several years, he died in 1999 at the age of 78 in New Albany, Indiana.3,4
By looking at the records of his life during WWII, Robert’s experiences during the war come alive. For example, one newspaper clipping from November 23, 1942 in the Gary Indiana Post-Tribune congratulates Robert on graduating naval aircraft school with high marks.2 Interestingly enough, most of his files are change-of-address postcards sent to the alumni office to ensure the safe delivery of alumni magazines to each new destination as Robert sailed with the U.S. Navy. These forms create a unique perspective on Robert’s service—we can see the frequent changes in location and the constant motion that was needed to keep the Navy running in WWII.
The card above gives a summary of many of the address changes Robert reported to the alumni office. Some of his assignments only last a month or two before he is moved to a new location or ship. Robert sent mail from San Diego, New York City, San Francisco, Miami, and many more places all in three years of service.2 It is unknown where exactly he travelled by sea with the Navy, but Robert fought for several years in the Pacific, indicated by all of the addresses listed on the west coast. Additionally, he stayed at the Sigma Chi House at Wabash College in Crawfordsville to study and complete military training for almost a year.6 Despite constantly moving with new Navy assignments, Robert made it a focus to continually update his address with the alumni office to continue receiving alumni magazines.
Robert made his enthusiasm for the issues of the alumni magazine very clear. He thanked the alumni office each time he sent a change of address, paid his fees diligently, and noted every change of address—even if he only stayed in that location for a few months. Many of the notes include nostalgic messages, like “thinking of the good old days at Indiana…” from his July 13, 1944 postcard, and “thanks a million for keeping me informed about campus activities” from his March 1, 1942 note. Robert does apologize for the constant changes of address after missing a few issues of the magazine, saying “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it—every time I thought I had settled down for a while, I was moved on again,” in a letter updating his address on April 4, 1945.2
I imagine that with so many unexpected moves, it would have been lovely to experience a bit of home and feel some nostalgia with the monthly updates in the alumni magazine. His excitement for the alumni magazine is also more understandable when viewed with his enthusiasm for the school in a wide variety of activities. In the first record from November 14, 1942, Robert notes that he actively participated in the Acacia fraternity, was the sophomore manager for the swim team, worked as a staff member for the Arbutus yearbook, and played an instrument in band. He must have had lots of school spirit during college. He remarks that “the alumni magazine was a swell surprise” and says he “think[s] of IU often and back[s] her 100%.”2 He wanted to stay connected to his home at Indiana University, and the magazines were a reminder of our Hoosier spirit even during war.
After writing so many post cards, and with several years of serving in the Navy in locations all over the U.S., Robert returned to Indiana.3 He married Marjorie Barnes on July 1, 1944 and they welcomed their first son on August 2, 1945.2, The couple also had another son and daughter,7,8 and they moved to Gary, Indiana while Robert took on a job at Standard Steel Spring.2 He and his family finally settled down in Logansport, Indiana, where Robert eventually became the vice-president of Pepsi-Cola general bottlers for the region.4,7 Robert also served in the Korean War, but unfortunately, few records remain regarding this service.
Robert’s life in the Navy and constant change of scenery was encapsulated so uniquely through this series of postcards and letters. His complex history of address changes during WWII surprisingly showed his passion for IU and his continued Hoosier spirit. Robert fought bravely for our country for many years, but always found time to keep up to date on his alumni magazines and stay connected to his fellow students.
- Robert William Bulmer [Photograph]. (n.d.). Archives Photo Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington IN. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from http://purl.dlib.indiana.edu/iudl/archives/photos/P0067280
- Bulmer, Indiana University War Service Register [Photograph]. (n.d.). Archives Online at Indiana University, Indiana University, Bloomington IN. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/findingaids/view?brand=general&docId=InU-Ar-VAD4127&chunk.id=VAD4127-03665&startDoc=1#mets=http%3A%2F%2Fpurl.dlib.indiana.edu%2Fiudl%2Farchives%2Fmets%2FVAD4127-03688&aid=VAD4127-U-04211&page=1
- Robert W. Bulmer (1920-1999). (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/172885570/robert-w.-bulmer.
- Indiana Death Certificates: Robert W. Bulmer. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60716&h=3235647&tid=&pid=&queryId=80da612bb5327b69b104043ecc0c4389&usePUB=true&_phsrc=lAz5&_phstart=successSource.
- Bulmer Draft Card. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://search.ancestrylibrary.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2238&h=40551652&tid=&pid=&queryId=80da612bb5327b69b104043ecc0c4389&usePUB=true&_phsrc=lAz5&_phstart=successSource.
- Gregerson, R. (2006, September 21). V12 Reunion Brings Back Unique Alumni Group. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.wabash.edu/news/displaystory.cfm?news_ID=3845
- Obituary: Robert W. Bulmer. (1999, April 28). The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), p. 16. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=46404236&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjExMDk4MTIzOSwiaWF0IjoxNjAyNjc2NjM3LCJleHAiOjE2MDI3NjMwMzd9.6geLiUUROWKhjL5MnQy1gB1oaulk3sy2BiAVFuo_0-A
- Marjorie Evelyn Bulmer. (2007, October 17). Logansport Pharos Tribune. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://obituaries.pharostribune.com/obituary/marjorie-bulmer-717739521