Bill Oser

  • SumoMe

In August of 1986, I first came to
realize that, perhaps, I was a
survivor of the Orphan Train
Program.

At that time, I was subscribing
to the Smithsonian magazine,
when I came across an eight
page article written by Donald
Dale Jackson.

Mr. Jackson wrote in detail about the 150,000 orphans who were shipped by rail from cities here in the east to foster homes in the mid-west.

The article stated that Orphan Trains were operated from 1854 to 1929, by the Children’s
Aid Society, the New York Foundling Hospital, and other pioneering child welfare agencies
here in the east. I became very interested in the article, and held on to it. I read the story
many times, and each time I was so impressed and happy to learn that most of the orphan
kids had been successful in life. One has to be orphaned to really appreciate how difficult it
can be to achieve your dreams in life. In the Smithsonian article, it mentioned that most of
the orphans did well in their adult life. In one survey, 87 percent of the children had been
successful, and the divorce rate in marriage was very low. For example, two boys became
Governors, while other alumni included a Supreme Court Justice, two Congressmen, 35
Lawyers and 19 Doctors. When I read this report, tears of joy came into my eyes.

In 1941, I visited the New York Foundling Hospital in New York City. At that time, I received a brief report about my sister and me being placed int he Foundling Hospital in April, 1923 by our mother, after our father had died in January, of that same year. She herself was very ill. I was 15 months old, and my sister was 4 years old. Mom had given our names as William and Margaret Nash, her maiden name. I remained under this name for the first 20 years of my life, and then learned my father’s name had been Frank Oser. After I read the article in the Smithsonian, I decided I would visit the Foundling Hospital again, and try to obtain a more detailed report.

I went there in April of 1987, and learned that my sister and i had been on one of the
Orphan Trains. I learned that on May 18, 1925, my sister and I left on a Orphan Train to the State of Michigan. Marge was 5 1/2 and recalls very little. The records at the foundling
Hospital show that we were adopted by a Mr. and Mrs. Pallizzo who lived in Wayne County, Michigan. However, due to poor living conditions, and other unfortunate circumstances, our foster parents were unable to continue to care for us. Subsequently, on June 25, 1927 we were both returned to the New York Foundling Hospital. We remained there until Jun 8, 1928, at which time we were transferred to St. Dominic’s Orphanage in B Blauvelt, Rockland County, N.Y. While in the orphanage, Marge and I were separated. At that time I was about 11 years old.

As a boy in St. Dominic’s orphanage, I can remember lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling talking to my mother. I would ask her, “Why did you leave me? I miss you so much! Why hasn’t anyone in our family come to visit us? I thank God for the good nuns, my sister and my friends here. Marge looks out after me every day. The winters are very cold here at
Blauvelt. Marge will come over by the high metal fence that separates the boys from the
girls tomorrow. She will make sure my jacket is all buttoned up and I’m wearing my knit hat and gloves. Sometimes, she is able to obtain an extra sandwich, and throws it over the
fence. She makes me stand by the fence to eat the sandwich, Marge is afraid on of the
older boys might take it from me. Mom, you should be very proud of her. Marge also helps
the nuns to take care of the little babies in one of the dormitories.”

I remained at St. Dominic’s until he summer of 1938. I was then transferred to Mount
Loretto, in order to complete my high school and learn one of the trades available. I chose
electricity as my trade to learn at this orphanage. Mount Loretto was located on Staten
Island, N.Y. and is till in operation.

I left the “Mount” as we use to call it when I was 18
years old, to live in New York City. I tried to survive by
working at various jobs that did not pay more than
$12.99 per week, but found it very difficult trying to
make ends meet in the big city.

At eighteen, I was a very skinny young man with red
hair, also an introvert, being shy did not help me in
New York City. In those days it was hard for a young
man attempting to go it alone, to say the least.

At times I would visit the Catholic Guardian Society
on Madison Ave. in New York City for advice and
counseling. The priest and the people who worked
there were a great help to me.

Times were tough and since i was just about existing, I decided to take my chances and joining the C.C.C.’s (Civilian Conservation Corp.) as thousands of other young men did at that time. This program was sponsored by the U.S. Government. The work was all
outdoors (which I enjoyed), and it consisted of helping to put out forest fires, planting and cutting down tress, and installing farm fences.

In the C’s a young man had three meals a day and a place to sleep. We wore green uniforms, made of material that was similar to the U.S. Army uniforms. Our pay was $30.00 per month, of which the Government took part out and deposited the money in the bank in a savings account. I personally thought the C’s was a good program, most of the young men ended up in the armed forces when W.W. II broke out.

Just prior to my entering the C’s my prayers were answered and I finally located my sister
again. Marge was married and had a baby daughter named Barbara. (They were living on
119th Street and Lexington Ave. in New York City).

It was a great reunion. I will never forget that evening. My new brother-in-law, George, and I got along very good, right from the start.

At the time, I had already signed up for the C’s, so there was no backing out now. After
spending one year in the C’s I had an opportunity to work for the old New York Central
Railroad. I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the offer, especially after I learned my weekly salary would be approximately $30.00. World War II had started for the U.S. in 1941, and I joined the Army. In 1942, I returned to my job on the railroad. After working 42 years in the railroad industry, I retired on May 1, 1983. When I retired I was General Supervisor in the Mechanical Department for Amtrak Corp. at Grand Central Terminal, New York City.

Today, my present wife and I try to enjoy our retirement with our family and many friends. God has been good to us, in that we both have good health and a modest retirement pension to enjoy out twilight years. Life has not always been so good. For example, in 1971, my first wife passed away, and I was left with 3 sons to care for. The youngest was Billy, who was ten years old, John who was eighteen (he had just joined the Marines and was waiting to be called into service), and Larry who was twenty one and had just finished college in Kentucky. The years 1971 to 1976 were difficult ones, however, on August 1, 1976, I remarried a widow, named Anne, who had one daughter Lynn, who was twenty-six at the time and working as a nurse. The new family consisted of four grown children. They are all married today except for Billy. They have given us five beautiful grand-children, ages ten to seventeen. As I await my 70th birthday, I can thank God for keeping an eye on me. As I look back and think of the many low points in my life, I sometimes wonder how did I make it? Then I look up to the sky and say, thank you Lord!

Also, I guess we orphan kids are a special breed of individuals. As orphan we asked for just
the basic things in life, along with someone to guide us, so when the time came to go out
into the world we had a chance to survive and eventually make it. We asked for little, and
when the hour approached to start the race through life, the record shows, there was no
stopping us and no limits to our dreams of success.

Today, I still talk to my mother, usually at night when it is quiet and peaceful in the house. I still have a problem not sleeping sound and waking up early in the morning. Now, when I talk to Mom, if tears appear in my tired eyes, they are tears of joy and a fee ling of
accomplishment, not of sorrow and despair.