Tag Archives: Military

Identity Revealed: Civil War Soldier

While scanning Civil War photographs for a researcher, investigations were made to gain more information on a soldier who was later identified as Henry Martyn Thomas. Born Dec. 21, 1841, Thomas served during the Civil War in the 45th Regiment, Illinois Infantry, rising from Private to Commissary Sergeant in Company G.

Henry was one of seven children born to Dr. Alden Thomas (1791-1856). After practicing medicine for a few years, Dr. Thomas moved to a farm two miles south of Rockford on Kishwaukee Road where he lived for two years. After this, he relocated to Rockford where he operated a drug store until shortly before his death. Dr. Thomas was buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Rockford.

On Sept. 28, 1863, Henry Thomas was involved in rescuing passengers from a burning steamer on the Mississippi River. An article in the Rock River Democrat (Rockford IL) stated that Thomas acted “with true heroic gallantry . . . assisted in launching a gang-plank,” and saw to the safety of others on board. He was later lost attempting to swim to shore. The newspaper proclaimed that “he died like a true soldier.” Thomas was twenty-one-years-old.

The photo below was taken seven months before his untimely death.


Another Rock River Democrat article, dated Nov. 25, 1863, reported that the remains of Henry M. Thomas were recovered from the Mississippi and returned to Rockford. He was also buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.

~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student


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Arisaka Type 99 Rifle: A Japanese WWII Relic

Midway Village Museum has a permanent collection of nearly 150,000 artifacts. Within the walls of the museum are untold stories of amazing relics. In honor of our upcoming WWII Days event, we’d like to share a piece of history with our readers. In our weaponry collection, we have a Japanese Arisaka Type 99 bolt action infantry rifle from WWII, brought back by Everett Charles Sarver. Before continuing with this story, let’s get some more background on Mr. Sarver and why this particular weapon is one of the best bolt action rifles to have been produced.

Everett Charles “Son” Sarver was born on April 24, 1916 to Everett Alexander and Lauretta Sarver.  He and his father, Everett Alexander, began a livestock hauling business that evolved from Everett Alexander’s garbage hauling job from Camp Grant. E.A. Sarver & Son began circa 1934, and by 1941, E.C. had taken over the business; it became E.C. Sarver Livestock Trucking. E.C. Sarver owned and operated this trucking company before he entered the Navy.

He was drafted into the Navy in 1944 during WWII and served until 1946 in the Pacific on the U.S.S. Minotaur.  Everett was the U.S.S. Minotaur’s mailman and the Captain’s Talker (he relayed orders via an intercom system to stations beyond the bridge).  As mailman, he would go in a small boat from ship to shore to pick up mail and “other illicit things.”  It is believed that this is how he acquired an Arisaka Type 99 bolt action rifle and bayonet.

The Type 99 rifle was created as a result of Imperial Japan’s fast track to modernization, called the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). During that time, Japan was quickly assimilating Western technologies and improving upon them in order to become a colonial power. Before WWII, Japan had already started taking over territories in China and had defeated Russia to claim land in Manchuria and Korea.  As Japan’s power grew, their military spread into other parts of Asia, leading to the Second Japanese-Russo War and later, WWII.

The Type 99 rifle and its predecessors, the Type 30 and Type 38, were created by Nariakira Arisaka during these conflicts. The type 99 came in four versions: the Type 99 short rifle (a standard infantry rifle), the Type 99 long rifle (limited production), a Takedown Type 2 Paratrooper rifle, and the Type 99 sniper rifle. The standard infantry rifle had a monopod as well as an anti-aircraft rear sight meant to take down low flying lightly armored bombers.


Arisaka rifle evolution (from top to bottom): 1. Type 30 2. Type 38 3. Type 38 carbine 4. Type 44 carbine 5. Type “I” model 6. Type 99 (earlier model) 7. Type 99 (later model)

The Type 99 rifle was basically an improved version of Type 38, but with the increased firepower of a 7.7mm cartridge (the 38 used a 6.5mm cartridge). The 99 could chamber a 5 round stripper clip. It had a quick-release bolt and a safety measure built in so that the spent cartridges would fly away from the soldier. It also had a chrome lined bore for easier cleaning. Although it had the heavier firepower, it also had a strong kickback due to its lighter stock. The Type 99 came with its own bayonet in the form of a long slender blade, often grooved to reduce weight. The Type 99 was a strong and solid weapon and one of the best bolt action rifles of its time.

The Type 99 was produced by 8 factories over the course of its service. These included Nagoya and Kokura in Japan, the Jinsen Arsenal in Korea, and Hoten (Mukden) in Manchuria. There were also subcontractors throughout mainland Japan producing these rifles. The rifles were produced in series of 100,000 with its numbering being 0 to 99,000 before the count would start over. The Type 99 rifle was only manufactured from 1939 to 1945. As the war progressed and pressure increased for Japan to manufacture more weaponry, the quality of these weapons decreased. At the end of WWII a batch of “last ditch” rifles were produced and they are known for their crude and simple design.

Most of the weaponry collected from Japan after WWII had any significant symbols/insignia removed or defaced by the Japanese before they were handed over. The Type 99 rifle in particular had its Imperial Chrysanthemum blossom ‘mon’ (a Japanese emblem used to identify an individual or family) removed before being turned over. One theory behind this act is that it would have been disrespectful to the Emperor if his ‘mon’ was allowed to remain upon a weapon handed over the enemy. Any rifles with the ‘mon’ still intact indicate that they were taken before the surrender by Chinese, British, or American soldiers.


Arisaka Type 99 Bolt Action Rifle from Midway Village Museum’s permanent collection 

Above is an image of the Type 99 bolt action infantry rifle in our collection. Its arsenal mark and serial number, 3976, indicate that it was part of the 31st series of rifles manufactured by Toyo Kogyo under contract to Kokura Arsenal. It was most likely manufactured during 1942-1943. The story of Mr. Sarver bringing this rifle back with him during WWII is supported by the Chrysanthemum ‘mon’ still being intact on this rifle. If the rifle had been handed over after the war, the ‘mon’ would no longer be present or fully intact. The writing below the ‘mon’ is ‘kyu-kyu-shiku’ which roughly translates to Type 99, meaning that the rifle is a Type 99. Our rifle has a flip up anti-aircraft rear sight, monopod, and is made from better quality materials than the ‘last ditch’ rifles at the end of the war.


The bayonet that came with our rifle has a hook guard and a serial number of 2271908, which suggests it was made in the 1910s and would have been issued originally with an Arisaka Type 38 rifle. Our rifle measures 44in in length from the butt to the barrel and is roughly eight pounds.


Type 30 bayonet & scabbard from WWI that came with the Arisaka Type 99 rifle


Once Everett Charles Sarver returned home, he ran his trucking business until 1969. He had married Ruth Irene Wickens in 1941 and together they had three children: Suzanne Mary, Charles “Chuck” “Charlie” Sarver, Jr., and Linda Kay.  Everett Charles Sarver passed away on October 24, 1991.

-Post written by Tiffany Arnold, Assistant Curator at Midway Village Museum

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A Close Shave

In honor of Black History Month, the Collections Department is eager to present the story of William Henry Watson – a Civil War veteran, Rockford barber, and important addition to the history of Rockford’s black community.  William was born sometime between 1840 and 1844 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His father, Thomas Watson, was born in Kentucky and his mother, Hannah, was born in Guyana, a British sugar-producing colony at the time. It is unknown whether his parents were born as slaves or free blacks, but William was born free.

William Henry Watson wearing the membership badge of the GAR, circa 1890s

William Henry Watson wearing the membership badge of the GAR, circa 1890s

On February 11, 1864, William enlisted in the army and served as a corporal in Company K of the 25th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. His military record states that at the time of his enlistment, William was 22 years old, 5 feet and 4.5 inches tall, had brown eyes and black hair, and worked as a barber. He was promoted to full corporal and then to full sergeant in less than two months.

Company E, 4th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops at Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)

Company E, 4th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops at Washington, D.C.
(Library of Congress)

William endured several hardships and fought the enemy multiple times. During a transport on the steamer Suwanee, William’s ship encountered a storm near the island of Hatteras and sprung a leak. The soldiers manned Suwannee’s pumps and used buckets to keep themselves afloat. After thirty-six hours of strenuous work, they entered the harbor of Beaufort, North Carolina. They received hardly any rest as the regiment was called to defend Little Washington, which was under siege by the Confederate Army. The siege lasted for a little more than two weeks when the Confederates pulled back. William’s regiment also defended both New Orleans, Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida from Confederate attack. During the spring and summer of 1865, the regiment found themselves without proper food and nutrition, and the men suffered from scurvy. About 150 died and many more were disabled for life. In December 1865, the regiment was ordered to return to Philadelphia where the soldiers were mustered out of service.

William Watson, who was also known as “Cap,” traveled to southern Illinois sometime afterwards with his wife Anna and their three sons. However, Anna preferred her home out east, and the couple separated. William arrived in Rockford in the early 1890s as a middle-aged gentleman. In 1892, he worked as a barber with James McCard, another African-American barber. He remarried and divorced somewhat quickly, and Anna came to Rockford in 1899 where she resumed her role as his wife. In that same year, William was running a barber shop at 116 South Main Street, located in the basement of what would become D.J. Stewart & Co. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic as well as the “lodge of colored Masons.”

The Stewart Building (right) next to the Chick House (left), c. 1893

The Stewart Building (right) next to the Chick House (left), c. 1893

Forty years after his service in the Civil War, William Watson again escaped from the hands of death when he witnessed a street car accident in June 1904. One of the cars had been left standing in front of the car shops on Kishwaukee Street. By some unknown force, it began moving down the tracks on its own accord, gaining speed as it went. Heading down the State Street grade, the empty streetcar crossed the bridge and attempted to follow the tracks as it turned the corner at Wyman Street. But the car was moving at such great speeds that it jumped off the tracks and crashed into several telephone poles and finally into the Harnett Shoe Store. William had been standing at that very corner with Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Boyd, whose barber shop was located in the building’s basement. William recounted what he saw to the Rockford Republic, stating that they witnessed the car race over the bridge at forty or fifty miles per hour, cutting the wires as it went. Mrs. Boyd turned and ran down the steps to the shop. Reuben was struck in the legs by the trolley pole as it rushed past and was knocked down. William helped up his friend as the car crashed into the shoe store. He told the Republic, “I was in de war and didn’t get scared when dey shot bullets at me, but when it comes to shooting cars at a fellow I just can’t stand for dat… I never want to see anything more like dat.” Several people were injured, including Mrs. Boyd who had been struck by a small iron tank that fell from the car as she rushed down the stairs to safety. She received a fractured elbow, smashed finger, and cut to the face. Luckily, no one was killed.

In this view, the street car came down the State Street Bridge, turned to the right, and crashed into the building on the corner, Harnett’s Shoe Store. In this image, an early automobile is parked in front of the building.

In this view, the street car came down the State Street Bridge, turned to the right, and crashed into the building on the corner, Harnett’s Shoe Store. In this image, an early automobile is parked in front of the building.

Rockford’s black population, including those of Beloit, Belvidere, and Elgin, celebrated a “Freedom’s Day” on New Year’s Day 1906. A parade led by the “Rockford colored band” was held in Rockford’s streets. It was followed by programs and exercises at Armory hall, and concluded with a dinner. William was “marshal of the day.”

William Henry Watson died on August 15, 1919. He was about 85 years old and had been working in his son Thomas’ barber shop at 215 South Wyman Street for several years. His funeral services were held at the Allen Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he had been a member. He was buried at West Side Cemetery, today known as Greenwood Cemetery.

William Henry Watson’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery

William Henry Watson’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery

William Watson’s life and his roles in the Civil War and Rockford businesses represent one of the limited stories from our collection on the history of Rockford’s black population. Several books on African-Americans in Rockford have been written, such as John L. Molyneaux’s African-Americans in Early Rockford, 1834-1871; however, our physical collection still lacks documents, photographs, and objects that chronicle their important histories in Winnebago County.

Want to celebrate Black History Month with hands-on activities? Come to our family-centered workshop on Saturday, February 21 and learn about “Jazz in Art History.” Hear about All-American Jazz legends past and present. Did you know that Jazz and painting go hand-in-hand? Paint your own Jazz poster and learn more about our black community in Rockford. Free with regular museum admission!! For more information, click here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-registration/?ee=128

These workshops take place the third Saturday of each month with different ethnical themes.

To learn more about Rockford’s black community and its barber shops, visit our newest exhibit Many Faces, One Community.

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Teasing Out Family History, or, Sheets to the Wind (Nautically Speaking)

As caretakers of history, it is understandable that curators, collections staff, and other museum professionals come to regard their collections personally. Through spending time with artifacts and photographs and learning about the stories of a community, a family, or an individual, we feel a connection to these objects. We are tasked with their interpretation through exhibition and even here on this blog. When we make meaning for the public, we must keep our personal feelings out of it.  Is this always easy? Unfortunately, it’s not.

I began my training here by cataloging new donations. This means giving each new item, whether it is a photograph, jacket, book, or chair, a tracking number.  Then details about each item are recorded by hand.  In addition to the description of each individual item, we record its history. Did it come from Rockford? How old is it? What is its story?

Think about it this way: on display in our gallery is a black top hat. It seems like nothing too special, besides looking very old, until you learn that it was worn by Germanicus Kent, an early Rockford settler. This kind of provenance – its history, its background – is what makes these objects distinctive to Rockford.

The first large collection that I cataloged unfortunately came in with little information attached to it. In the box of photographs and newspaper clippings were some pictures of a young boy named Raymond Sheets. One of the photos was on thick matboard cut into an oval shape.

Raymond Warde Sheets was born in Kansas to Frank D. and Mary Sheets on June 28, 1889. Rev. Frank Sheets was pastor of Court Street Methodist Church from 1902-1910. In this 1902 photo, Raymond is thirteen years old.

Raymond Warde Sheets was born in Kansas to Frank D. and Mary Sheets on June 28, 1889. Rev. Frank Sheets was a pastor at Court Street Methodist Church from 1902-1910. In this 1902 photo, Raymond is thirteen years old.

The next photographs were of Raymond as a husband and father, Raymond in his WWI uniform, and suddenly he is a gray-haired senior, standing with his three sons. I looked through the photos for the missing years and finally found the young family. There were several images of their home at 113 Lawn Place, which is located on the Rock River off of Harlem Boulevard.

Sheets Family

Raymond Sheets, his wife Charlotte, and their two youngest sons, Brice and Jerry (seated).

From these, I gleaned that Raymond and his wife had three sons: Roger, Brice, and Jerome (Jerry). Jerry appears in many of the photos, like this one where he is dawdling on the lawn with the family puppy.

Jerry Sheets

Then I hit a chunk of photographs that were much older. Many were of a young girl, and the pencil on the back identified her simply as “Aileen.” Who is she? It became clear that I was entering a new story, as the photos included images of her father, C.F. Henry, a wealthy clothier. He owned the Henry block at Mulberry and North Main Streets. In the photo below, Aileen is holding a lit candle and standing on a table.

Aileen Sheets

Aileen was born to Christian F. and Fannie Skinner Henry in Rockford around 1888. The Skinners were early Rockford pioneers.

The family lived in a grand home at 112 Glenn Road on the Rock River. The house was designed by architect Lawrence Buck, a colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright. There were several photos of the home, and I recorded the details for each – the living room, the dining room – until I came to a photo of a bedroom. I recognized a tiny, oval picture that was framed and sitting on top of the desk.

112 Glenn Rd bedroom

Grasping a magnifying glass in my hand, I hovered over the picture and recognized the young man. I pulled out the oval photo of Raymond. They were one and the same! Flipping over the bedroom photo, the words “N.E. bedroom (Mine)” confirmed that this bedroom was indeed Aileen’s. Were the two married? Was the little girl in these other photographs the same wife of Raymond Sheets and the mother of his three sons?

Using Ancestry, I was able to find out so much more about these two families who became one when Raymond Sheets married Charlotte Aileen Henry in 1912. Finally, these two big puzzle pieces came together.  I then ruthlessly searched Ancestry for everything I could find about the family. The two oldest Sheets boys married and had children. Raymond purchased Rockford Silver Plate Co. in 1925 and was also president of the Rockford Paper Box Co. Both Raymond and Aileen attended Rockford High School.  In the 1905 yearbook, Raymond’s senior year, I found this gem:

1905 RHS yearbook Sheets

I felt swept away with romantic notions of these apparent high school sweethearts – the girl who cherishes the picture of her young beau on her desk, and the boy whose past, present, and future is filled with her.

Pressing onward through the box of photographs, I noticed that there were scarcely any from the 1930s because little Jerry suddenly appeared as a man in uniform. Seen above with his puppy, Jerry was 22 years old in this photo with his parents, taken November  1, 1943. Jerry had enlisted in the Navy in 1941 and served as a Second Lieutenant.

Sheets Family

Jerry Sheets with his parents Raymond and Charlotte Aileen Sheets, Nov. 1, 1943.

One Rockford newspaper article gushed about Jerry, who attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, majored in economics, and was a member of the senior honorary society as well as senior track manager of the track team, not to mention the treasurer and house manager of Theta Delta Chi. His photo smiled serenely at me, this young soldier in uniform, hair pristinely parted and slicked back, and I thought of the toddler in the sailor suit in the yard at 113 Lawn Place. I felt a strange connection to this family, one that began with just of box of unsorted pictures. Another article boasts that Jerry was the youngest officer on an American destroyer during the invasion of Normandy. With this clipping is a note from Raymond to his brother Harold, saying “thought you would like to see clipping on Jerry. The kid sure did a swell job.”

I picked up the next article and felt my stomach drop as I read the title: “Presidential Citation Discloses How Lt. Sheets Died on Destroyer.”

Jerry was serving as assistant damage control officer on the U.S.S. Laffey off the coast of Okinawa. On April 16, 1945, the ship was hit by a kamikaze attack that started raging fires and trigged the explosion of ammunition onboard the ship. Jerry organized volunteer parties of firefighters to bring the blaze under control. When the ship was hit again by suicide bombers, Jerry was killed. He was one of 31 crewmembers killed or missing in action. Because of his efforts to control the fires, he helped to save the Laffey, which limped back to Seattle, Washington “a tangled mass of steel” that was “unbelievably afloat.” He was awarded the bronze star for his heroic efforts posthumous.  He was only 24 years old.

Unfortunately, this is where most of the story ends.  Records tell us that Fannie Henry, Aileen’s mother, died in 1925 of a stroke. C.F. Henry, Aileen’s father, died in 1942, and Aileen died in 1957. Raymond Sheets died in 1986 as did his second youngest son, Brice.  Roger died four years later.

I admittedly know very little about this family, about what the people were really like.  Their personal lives are hidden, and photographs tell us little.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it would take many more to describe each of us.  It is easy to fall in love with adorable or striking or thought-provoking photographs and their subjects; however, as historians, we need to be somewhat skeptical with our admiration. It is easy to let our bias guide our interpretation of facts and events because we want to focus on virtue rather than vice. I can only speculate that Raymond’s yearbook suggested his whole world revolved around Aileen because they were madly in love. But it is only one theory and we cannot take this for fact. In any case, it is usually more fun to present what we know and then let others speculate themselves on the hows and whys. It adds to the conversation and debate, and opens up new worlds of possibilities.



Upcoming Event: WWII Days 2014

Sat September 20: 11am-5pm

Sun September 21: 11am-4pm

$14 Adult, $7 Child (3-17)

Members are always free!

World War II Days includes elaborate and realistic battles complete with tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, and exciting pyrotechnic displays. Saturday the battle shows are featured at 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. Sunday the battle time is 2:30 pm.

The largest World War II Days in the Midwest boasts more than 1,000 re-enactors representing the soldiers of the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Italy and Japan.  Authentic military vehicles, wood encampments, and the ambiance of the beautiful venue add to the quality experience for the visitors.

For more information, click here: WWII Days Event


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Women in Wartime: Nursing

Lt. Marilyn Cedarleaf

Lt. Marilyn Cedarleaf

Marilyn Cedarleaf, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, was born in Rockford in 1921.  She trained as a nurse at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago and graduated in 1943.  In 1945, at the age of 24, she went with a friend to the Red Cross on Wabash Ave. to get information about joining the war effort.  Marilyn wasn’t sure that she wanted to go, but she got a hard sell from the recruiter and signed up that day.  Social pressures of wartime often influenced volunteers for service.

Marilyn went to basic training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, then Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, and lastly at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey.  She and a friend from Camp McCoy stuck together throughout their service.

Nurses Training at Camp McCoy

Nurses Training at Camp McCoy

Nurses Training at Camp McCoy

Nurses Training at Camp McCoy











(Photos courtesy of Lieutenant General Richard R. Taylor’s Medical Training in World War II.  Medical Department, United States Army)

After basic training, they and 200 other nurses set sail for Europe.  Marilyn described the trip as scary.  They had to turn their lights off at night, and one time she got in trouble for having her porthole open.  Their ship landed in Scotland on May 8, 1945 – VE Day.  They went to England to receive their assignments before heading back to Glasgow to a general hospital to treat soldiers.  Many of those Marilyn treated were POWs, which she remembered as being a very sad time. They cared for a train load of wounded every day or two.

Marilyn’s nursing uniform with cap.

Marilyn’s nursing uniform with cap.

After the hospital closed, she went to France from hospital to hospital, moving around by ambulance.  In Marseilles, she was getting ready to go to China but her orders were cancelled when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan.  Instead, she was sent to Belgium before being discharged as a First Lieutenant.

Marilyn’s dress uniform.

Marilyn’s dress uniform.

These decorative pitchers are made from bullet and shell casings and represent trench art.  Trench art dates back to the Napoleonic Wars, but is most often found from the World War I.  This type of art is directly linked to armed conflict.  Marilyn’s trench art, seen below, was made in Belgium and commemorates the places she traveled during her service.

Scotland, England, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Holland, 1945-1946

Scotland, England, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Holland, 1945-1946

Lt. Ruth M. Cedarleaf 12th Field House

Lt. Ruth M. Cedarleaf
12th Field House

WWII Trench Art 2

Glasgow, London, Paris (1945 inscribed on back) and Geneva, Le Mans, Liege (1946 on inscribed on back)

Glasgow, London, Paris (1945 inscribed on back) and Geneva, Le Mans, Liege (1946 on inscribed on back)

Become a Nurse

Upcoming Event!!!  World War II Days

Saturday, September 21, 2013  11 am – 5 pm

Sunday, September 22, 2013  11 am – 4 pm

Midway Village Museum hosts the largest World War II era re-enactment in the United States with over 1,000 uniformed re-enactors from 40 states representing soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, France, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Italy and Germany along with vintage tanks, halftracks and other 1940s era military vehicles!

World War II Days includes elaborate and realistic battles complete with tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, and exciting pyrotechnic displays. Saturday the battle shows are featured at 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. Sunday the battle time is 2:30 pm. Maps of the event site will be available when visitors arrive showcasing the battlefield and the various encampments and attractions. The event will be held rain or shine.

 One Day Admission Cost

$12 adults; $6 for children (3 to 17); and free for World War II veterans and Museum Members

Two Day Pass Cost
Two day event passes are $18 for adults; $9 for children (there is too much to see it all in just one day!)

For more information on event details, click here: https://midwayvillagemuseumcollections.wordpress.com/tag/military/

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