Laura Studstill Self ’07 has memories of summer days with her grandfather Jake Strait ’43, including trips to the post office in his red pickup truck.
His insistence on keeping a post office box stemmed from his service in the U.S. Army during World War II.
“He always used a post office box because his letters were stolen from his mom’s mailbox,” Self says. “She didn’t know if he was OK or not.”
Self is honoring her grandfather’s military service and passion for Wofford College with a gift to the college’s Military Memorial project. The memorial will be a public space on campus that will bear the names, class years, service branches and ranks of those who died while on active duty beginning with World War I and Wofford’s establishment of a U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Strait died when Self was 12 years old, and she has fond memories of their time together and the stories he told. She remembers him talking about liberating concentration camps during the war, and he often discussed Gen. George S. Patton.
“I’m surprised there’s not a child named Patton in our family,” says Self, although George is an uncle’s middle name.
Strait also had Wofford stories, including one that Self is still trying to verify about a cow being taken up to the bell tower in Main Building.
Self says her grandfather was proud of his time at Wofford. He often had dogs, and most were Boston Terriers. But he didn’t return to campus much.
“He had wonderful memories of Wofford, but he also had hard memories because of all of the classmates that he lost in the war,” says Self, who’s the only member of her family besides her grandfather to attend Wofford.
According to the college’s archives, 73 Wofford alumni died while serving in the U.S. military during World War II.
Strait was a member of the Terrier football team and Self’s husband had her grandfather’s letterman’s sweater framed one Christmas. She also has the Bible that Strait received at his Wofford Commencement.
“It’s so meaningful to have his Bible,” Self says. “I saw him live his faith and walk in his faith. I know Wofford had an impact on his faith.”
Strait was from Lancaster, South Carolina. His father was in his 70s when he was born and died when Strait was a young child.
“He didn’t have a father figure growing up, and I’m sure his professors stepped into that role,” Self says. “His family lost a lot in the Great Depression.”
Looking back, Self feels fortunate to have such warm memories of time with her grandfather, especially when knowing he witnessed harrowing sights during the war and how many men of his generation had difficulty discussing their experiences.
“He loved his family something fierce,” Self says. “I’m amazed he had the capacity to be such a good husband, father and grandfather without having his father while growing up and experiencing the war. I know he adored me. That’s a feeling that a lot of children don’t get.”
She immediately wanted to honor her grandfather by making a gift to the memorial, but she senses he would be uncomfortable with the recognition.
“I think he, like most of that generation, would say they just did what they had to do,” Self says.