BY ELISE KALFAYAN
“I am certainly one who appreciates all that America has to offer,” writes Glendale native Paul Ignatius in his personal memoir Now I Know in Part (2011). His maternal grandfather, Avedis Jamgochian, was likely the first Armenian to purchase property in Glendale (in 1911), and Ignatius was likely the first Armenian-American student at Herbert Hoover High School. His story spans the late 19th through 21st centuries, yet is so familiar to those like me whose families made the same journeys and ended up in the same places.
Ignatius fought with the Pacific fleet during World War II, worked in the Pentagon, and later rose to become U.S. Secretary of the Navy. In 2010, I heard him present his career autobiography On Board at the Glendale Public Library, and I was in the audience when he spoke a few days later at the city’s Memorial Day Commemoration.
His personal memoir is a tribute to both U.S. and Armenian national spirits. An American flag waves atop a screened photograph of him as a toddler with his family on the book jacket. Adding to flag and family symbolism is the book’s title, a famous Biblical phrase found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, which the author humbly relates in both the foreward and the conclusion to his growing yet still incomplete understanding of his life’s journey.
In between, the book contains a fascinating yet familiar history of his family’s route to the United States, his childhood in Glendale, his discovery of a career path through the trials of WWII service in the Navy, and his post-retirement efforts to learn about and sustain his Armenian heritage for posterity.
His grandfather was among the first graduates of the American-run Euphrates College in Kharpert. Turkish authorities discovered literature containing the words “liberty” and “freedom” among his papers, and put him in jail. His family was able to secure his release and sent him to England, where he founded a successful business. Shortly afterward, the men of the family remaining in Egin became victims of the 1895-96 massacres.
Ignatius’ mother grew up in England amid Armenian expatriate intellectuals and artists, and continued to pursue musical and artistic interests as a teenager in Glendale, at USC and throughout her life. She married Hovsep Bohos Ignatius, another Euphrates College graduate, whose family had decided after the 1895-96 massacres to send their children away to the U.S. He had settled in Pittsburgh and worked in West Virginia before heading west to California.
American-educated Armenians, settling in California, valuing intellectual pursuits and higher education, and raising children in Glendale. This is where Ignatius story gets quite familiar. He grew up close to where I live; attended the same elementary, middle, and high schools my children have attended; hiked about in the same hills; and has vivid memories of Armenian immigrant characters who came to visit.
His gratitude for his family’s strong support of his endeavors and interests comes through clearly, and had a lasting impact. The chapter “Dropouts” describes his break from undergraduate work at USC and his move to Carmel where he worked at odd jobs while writing a screenplay. He writes that later as a parent, he was supportive when each of his children at some point took a break from their college studies.
“Freight Train to Harvard” is the chapter that follows, describing his uncertainty about the future in 1941 when he arranged an independent study program with USC professors and simultaneously went to work full-time for the Santa Fe Railroad in Winslow, Arizona. He took these steps to explore several avenues for a career path, knowing at the time that he would probably end up in the armed forces.
Upon graduation from USC, he was selected for a Harvard MBA Naval Supply Corps program placing emphasis on mobilization and war production. Ignatius pursued technical knowledge and military responsibilities with great initiative. Anecdotes from business school, and many stories about his subsequent deployment and actions in the Pacific, are in this memoir. He and all his crewmates of the USS Manila Bay received distinguished service awards for the ship’s part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and his ship participated in the Japanese surrender proceedings.
Skipping over his career years (covered in On Board), Ignatius describes his visits to Armenia (in 2006) and to Glendale and USC (in 2007 and 2010), resulting from his desire later in life to understand and appreciate his roots. His reflections on the challenges facing first-generation students today, and his strong desire that his children and grandchildren remember their heritage, are again very familiar.
This year as we celebrate Independence Day, the American flag on the book jacket of Now I Know in Part makes me proud that the blessings of liberty were truly appreciated by one of the first Armenian families in Glendale, California and by their children and grandchildren.
Thanks to the Armenian Heritage Press of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, which published this book. Hovsep Ignatius and his friend Aram Saroyan helped raise money for NAASR’s endowment of an Armenian Studies chair at Harvard University in the 1950s (anecdotes about Saroyan and fundraising endeavors in Southern California are in the book). NAASR organized the 2006 trip Ignatius and his family took to Armenia.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.