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Quiet Heroism

Richard Connor  |  August 30, 2019

MY FATHER-IN-LAW Jim was born in January 1927, the sixth of eight children, to an Irish-American couple in Philadelphia. During the Second World War, his three older brothers were in the armed services. That meant that Jim, barely age 16, had to quit high school and enter the work world, so he could earn an adult’s wage. His salary must have been critical to the family’s economic stability.

Jim’s brother Bill was killed in an accident at sea during ship maintenance in 1944, two months before the D-Day invasion. You can find Bill’s name engraved on one of the plaques in New York City’s Battery Park. But I recently came across a different sort of memorial—a document that tells my father-in-law’s wartime story and the quiet heroism he exhibited.

What document? I discovered Jim’s 1943 federal tax return. Yellowed and old, it’s beautifully handwritten by one of his sisters. His 1040 shows he worked as a truck driver for four different companies and earned $1,705. That would equal some $25,500 in today’s dollars. I hate to think how many hours of work it took.

The 1040 shows Normal Tax at a 6% rate on taxable income. (Taxable income was total income minus a $500 personal exemption, a $157 earned income credit and some deductions.) There was also the Surtax, which was about 9% of total income. Then there was a Victory Tax of 5% on total income, less a $624 exemption. His total tax bill was $235.96, for an effective tax rate of 13.8%. In 2019, the equivalent $25,500 income would have a federal tax bill of $1,402, for a 5.5% effective tax rate.

Jim filed his tax return in March 1944, a few months after he turned 17. A year later, after his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the Army and served as a buck sergeant in the occupation army in Germany. He was honorably discharged in November 1946.

Like so many in his generation, Jim came home to restart civilian life. He returned to truck driving, married a pretty Italian-American nurse, raised five children and had 11 grandkids. I remember most days he rose at 3 a.m. to get on the road to avoid traffic. His normal work week was 60 hours. A loyal Teamster, Jim drove a truck until 1992, when he retired. He passed away in July 2009. I’ve never met a person who valued family as much as Jim or worked harder to keep the family bonds strong. For more than 35 years, and for so many reasons, I was proud to know Jim and to be his son-in-law. But finding his 1943 tax return, and understanding the quiet heroism behind it, only makes me prouder.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. Rick enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. His previous article for HumbleDollar was Think Bigger. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609.

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