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Alvin Howard Raff

T/5 in 3133rd Signal Service Co


Born 1922 in IL, Died 2008

County of residence at enlistment: Cook County, IL
Other residence(s): Chicago, IL; Murfreesboro, TN
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: trade school student
Notes: PVT in 1944 Christmas Program
Source: 3133rd Program, 15 Sep 1944; 3133rd roster from 10th Mountain Division Museum at Fort Drum; AES 1944 Christmas Dinner Program; photo courtesy of Alvin's daughter, Joedi Raff

Alvin Raff was born on May 3, 1922 in Chicago, IL, the oldest of three children. His father and all four of his grandparents had been born in Russia; his father worked as a motion picture operator.

He grew up in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, and graduated from Austin High School where he served in ROTC. In a 2004 interview, he described Austin as a diverse community, but he said that the Jews and the Italians were particularly close because the Italians were the landlords, and the Jews were their tenants.

After graduation, he attended trade school to learn how to operate a lathe, but the war interrupted his studies. He registered for the draft on June 29, 1942; he was planning to enlist instead of waiting to be drafted. He thought that choosing a branch of the service might potentially give him a safer wartime experience. He and an acquaintance heard about a special event in Chicago—the first 200 men to show up on a particular morning would enlist in the US Signal Corps, be trained, and eventually be given the rank of 2LT. They made it just barely (numbers 196 and 197 out of 200!) and were sent to the town of Paintsville, KY to attend radio school. His enlistment was dated April 30, 1943.

In a 2004 interview, Al described his experience in Paintsville—the town was tiny and the soldiers were boarded with local families. Some of the soldiers prepared their own breakfast in a local restaurant under the honor system—they’d write down what food they ate, and the restaurant would bill the Army at the end of the week!

After nine months in Paintsville, he was sent to the University of Kentucky in Lexington for the second phase of his training. He spent a few months there, but then the program itself was broken up and the members of the unit dispersed. He was sent to Camp Crowder in Missouri for basic training, the Lieutenant's commission gone by the wayside. He ended up being assigned to the job of cook/baker and eventually helped with the non-culinary training of fledgling cooks. He also worked at a base movie theatre.

After a promotion to the rank of CPL he was sent to an ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) in Madison, WI where he studied engineering and related subjects for about six months.

He then returned to Camp Crowder for a few months before being interviewed for a "special outfit" and was then sent to Pine Camp in New York where he became a part of the 3133 Signal Service Company, still as a cook.

The unit eventually headed to Italy to perform its sonic deceptions. Al came home from Europe in March, 1946 with the rank of Staff SGT.

He married his long-time girlfriend, Evelyn E. Gottfried, on March 19, 1948, a few months before she graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago. In the 2004 interview, he says that he told her that one of his conditions when he proposed was that they live in the Austin neighborhood.

By the time of the 1950 census, Al and Evie were living in Austin; he was the operator of a business that wholesaled school and candy supplies and Evelyn was teaching in an elementary school.

Al and Evelyn became the parents of three children: Robby, Joedi, and Stephen. They moved to the Chicago suburbs at some point, and stayed there until the early 1970s. In about 1973, the family moved to the Nashville, TN area and Al and Evie bought the McDonald's franchise in Murfreesboro, TN. Al had always had an entrepreneurial bent; in the 2004 interview he told stories of how he made an extra dollar or two when he was in the service—buying books of movie tickets at a discount and selling individual tickets at full price, or having T-shirts printed up with the name and logo of his unit and marking them up 300% for resale to soldiers. So a McDonald's franchise seemed perfect for an entrepreneurial guy with experience as a cook!

Several articles in the Nashville newspapers tell the story of some of his experiences at the restaurant. For ten years he sponsored an annual art show for local artists, and bought the winning paintings for permanent display. They had quite the art collection but people kept stealing the art, so he determined to change the theme of the restaurant in 1983. He sold off the art at an auction to benefit K-12 summer art programs sponsored by the Murfreesboro Art League, and redecorated the restaurant with a firefighting theme. Evie went off to all the local libraries to get all the books she could on firefighting, and the redecoration project really became a labor of love for the local firefighting community.

In the 2004 interview, he also said that he used to spend time in VA hospitals with "my boys," bringing them food from his McDonald's on a regular basis.

Al died on September 6, 2008 and is buried at Congregation Micah Cemetery in Brentwood, TN.


1922 birth record

1930 census

1938 article in the Chicago Tribune identifying him as an Austin HS ROTC member

1940 census

1940 article in the Chicago Tribune re his graduation from Austin HS

1942 draft card

1943 enlistment record,sl,fd&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=1161996

1948 marriage record*aqjuzk*_ga*MTQzMjE2MTEwNS4xNjY5MzQyMjc5*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2OTM0MjI3OC4xLjEuMTY2OTM0MjkyMi41OS4wLjA.

1948 wife's college yearbook

1950 census

1982 article in The Tennessean (Nashville, TN) about his donating 50 paintings to benefit a summer arts program

1983 article in The Tennessean (Nashville, TN) about the decor in his McDonald's franchise

2004 interview in Nashville, TN with National Public Library's Veterans History Project

2008 Find a Grave record*jueakp*_ga*MTQzMjE2MTEwNS4xNjY5MzQyMjc5*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2OTM0MjI3OC4xLjEuMTY2OTM0MjM1OC40MC4wLjA.

2008 Social Security death index*iy5bpt*_ga*MTQzMjE2MTEwNS4xNjY5MzQyMjc5*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY2OTM0MjI3OC4xLjEuMTY2OTM0Mjg4Mi4zMS4wLjA.

2008 VA death record (enlistment and discharge dates questionable)

2008 obituary in The Tennessean (Nashville, TN)

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