a life well lived

Monday, May 26, 2014

to those in peril on the seas 05/30/00

(the last of Mom's Memorial Day weekend 2000 Mindwalker1910 e-mails)

Yesterday, we went out for an early evening drive - my favorite time for a drive.  It was wonderful to see how all-out our neighbors on Pheasant Run went - lots of flags and bunting.  One neighbor always puts out her husband's WW II naval uniform, which is quite poignant and makes me think of those in peril on the sea.   

This year, for who knows what reason, seeing the familiar uniform so lovingly displayed brought to mind the Merchant Marine, a group of men who took a bigger beating than any branch of the service. 

The ratio of Mariners lost to enemy forces was staggering.  Making the Murmansk Run, in the North Sea, saw more ships lost than returned.  The ice and storms of the North Sea were deadly enough, there was the constant threat of roaming packs of German U-boats. 

Since the ships sailed under the flag of the Merchant Marine, they rarely had military escort, even though the supplies they carried were vital to our Russian allies.  They made easy pickings for the U-boats and they were under strict orders to keep sailing even if one of their convoy was hit.  Just getting through was considered a victory - and then they had to turn around and go through those same waters with the same waiting U-boats.

The thing I have never, ever been able to understand is how their brave service in the Merchant Marine counted for nothing: no medals, no commendations, not even credit for their efforts. – after serving in the Merchant Marine, they could be drafted into regular service.  

The allies could not have won the war without those men, but their bravery and sacrifice was never given the recognition it deserved.  I honor it now, as I do every year.

Love to all - Gocky

<<  What a Nora Numbskull I am - and Elsa, too!  I referred to Veteran's Day when I meant Memorial Day or, as I knew it in my younger years, Decoration Day.  Caught my mistake last night.  Found myself saying, "The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."   The weather is more like Charter Day - football weather - than late spring;  perhaps part of me could not fully grasp which season it is.  I prefer that explanation to chalking it up to antiquated memory. >>

Dona Nobis Pacem 05/29/00 Memorial Day 2000

It is 11:15 a.m. and a crowd of Bryn Athynites have gathered at the flag pole in Boro Park to honor our nation's veterans.  From atop its knoll, the cathedral looks over the valley, across to the ceremonies. 

I miss the ceremony.  Every Veteran's Day, Pete and I would get the kids ready, load up the buggy if there was a little one, and off we would go, up Alden Road, up the Black Path, to South Avenue and across to the park. 

Now, as back then, there are speeches, the Boys Scouts march, the Girls Club leaves a wreath at the memorial; everyone will join in singing the national anthem, a group from a near by VFW post will fire off a volley in memory of those who fell.  Someone will play Taps  in the distance, and there will be a moment of silence.  I am with them all today, if only in my heart.

For some still inexplicable reason, one year they asked Elsa to speak.  She wasn't a veteran, wasn't a teacher or a sports coach or a community leader.  Apparently, the person scheduled to speak fell through and the head of the selection committee worked at Prudential and so did Elsa and they ran into each other at the elevator and the other person saw her opportunity and took it.  Elsa, never one to turn down a chance at a "jolly pulpit," came on board.

Elsa was 8-years old when Mike joined the Navy.  He served in the Reserve while in high school and got his active uniform almost as soon as he got his diploma.  

The slogan is "Join the Navy and see the world."   Mike did.  He had the great good fortune to be a plank owner (original crew) of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, on which he made two tours of duty of the Mediterranean.  But what stopped our hearts back home was when the "Big E" took part in the Cuban Blockade during the Cuban missile crisis.   

Scary would be an understatement. 

Mike and his shipmates were part of a nuclear-powers showdown on our very doorstep that had us on the brink of unimaginable war.  Like we had in the Great War and World War II, back home we waited and prayed.

Elsa’s talk focused on those uncertain times, times which most of the adults standing around the flag pole could remember in some way, and how it was for those of us ~ waiting, waiting, waiting.   

She threw in her favorite bits of Lincoln including doing right as we see the right, and then she did a gutsy thing - she led the gathering in song. 

Elsa does not have a pitch-perfect voice and I was startled when she came out with the request to sing.  She got us all into singing the round, Dona Nobis Pacem.   It was pretty raggy, but we did it. 

As soon as we heard Elsa invite everyone to join in, Mim and I knew  that it was more than simply appropriate to the moment, that the it replicated a moment pulled from a family-favorite (click Dear Sis) M*A*S*H. episode that honored Father Mulcahey, who was having a spiritual crisis, and his work of peace in the middle of the ravages of war.   

It gave me goose bumps, standing there amidst the singing amidst the singing; it gives me goose bumps remembering it now.

May you all have a memorable Veteran's Day, whatever flag your service men and woman serve under. 

May the Lord continue to "Give us peace."   

 Love – Mum L.

 << My thanks to Lori Nelson (and loving thoughts of her parents, especially Lou) for the words to Taps ~ "Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake,from the hills, from the sky.  All is well, safely rest, God is nigh..." >>

the last "good" war 05/28/00

Today could have been rough going - John & Elsa were away from noon and into the early evening.  Happily, longtime sidekick Diane Alden Coffin stopped by with her daughter, Linda.  Linda - who with her husband, Tom, manages one of Ted Turner's ranches out west - is visiting for a couple weeks.  It was so lovely to have a visit from a dear gal I have known since she was born.

Being alone for quite a spell gave me some time to think over tonight's posting on World War II, which is now referred to as the last "good " war, or the last war that America entered because our national interests were directly attacked.

It is hard in this age of online news and 24-hour all-news stations to imagine how we heard about the "day that will live in infamy."  Pete and I were getting ready to go out.  The radio was on.  The broadcast was interrupted for a one-sentence announcement.  Pete came in from the other room.  "Did you hear what I heard?"  I looked at him and nodded.

He repeated that simple announcement: "Japanese warplanes have attacked the naval station at Pearl Harbor."  Strange as it seems today, that was the only announcement I remember hearing until President Roosevelt spoke that night.

England, of course, had been at war since 1939  Because the USA was technically neutral, there was little we could do, at least until they came up with the lend-lease idea. 

I believe that sometimes we can clearly glimpse in history the hand of God.  WW II had two instances of that - the Battle of Britain and Hitler's nutty decision to open a second front.  Both defied any reason.

The British and their Commonwealth allies were nothing short of miraculous. Alone, they really did keep the vastly superior Nazi war machine at bay.

They certainly had the right man at the right time - actually, two men and one peerless woman.  Winston Churchill (1/2 American!) and King George – and his amazing consort, Queen Elizabeth. 

Everyone knows how incredible Churchill was, but the King & Queen were every inch as powerful an image as that bull dog of a man.  In spite of pleas from the government and their own people, they would not budge from London.  Queen Elizabeth told people who criticized their decision to sit tight, “I could never look the East Enders in the eye” if they left London.

Between the two of them and Churchill - and the British people - Hitler did not have a chance.   

Imagine how different things might have been if King George's brother, "David," who rather liked Hitler and was a far different sort of man than his brother, had not renounced his crown for the "woman he loved."  "Bertie" did not even want to be king – he dreaded the thought.  Thank goodness he was.  There's that Hand again! 

Pete was 30 when the war was declared, so he wasn't called up at that time.  He was called up in 1944, when the Allies were getting ready for what would be the Battle of the Bulge and needed "cannon fodder" for infantry   

The day that Pete went to the enlistment office, I gave him a copy of Heaven and Hell ;  today, I took that slim volume of the Writings out of my bookcase, its spine papers falling apart with age, and opened it up.  There, between the end pages, was the little note I had included 56 years ago ~  "Dearest,  Whether we use this 'here' or you use it over 'there,' I hope it will be a source of help and encouragement.  With all my love, Kay"

Imagine my response when he came back later, looking strange, a combination of dejection and relief.  When he took the physical, the army doctor's discovered he had a rheumatic heart which would not cause him any problems in civilian life but which would land him in a hospital within a month if he became a soldier.

If you know the movie, It's a Wonderful Life,  then you will know what I mean when I say that Pete was pretty much like George Bailey in the movie - kept busy with all sorts of war-related activities, including air raid warden.

Air raid alerts - they were an experience.  One time, I was visiting my best friend, Ellen Lear, in Philadelphia (it was Ellen's southern mother who so scandalized her proper Philadelphia in-laws around 1910 by sitting by the river).  I was just putting on my coat when the red alert sounded.  I looked at Ellen and she looked at me and I took off my coat.  No trains would be running for some time and even if they were, there would be no way for me to get to the station during a blackout.  Pete had to take care of Peter and Mike that night all by himself.  I was hoping & praying there would not be an air alert in Bryn Athyn - Mike was two at the time and Peter was six.

I was pregnant with Mim when Pete was called up.  In fact, there was an air raid drill the night I started my labor pains.  The hospital was in black out. The hospital staff were making rounds with flashlights!   The staff was terrified to learn it was my 3rd pregancy.  The nurse said, "My God!  The lights are out and you will probably be delivering any minute!!"  I assured her that I take a long time and she did not need to worry.  Sure enough, the lights were on long before our little missy made her debut.

Parents, wives, sweethearts, siblings and friends held their breath and prayed for safe returns.  One young Bryn Athyn wife was bitterly complaining to an older woman because her husband had been away so long.  The older woman could bear it no longer and snapped at her, "At least you KNOW where he is – plenty of these women have no idea where their men are serving and are not allowed to get letters from them."

Our little community of Bryn Athyn had its share of loss.  Richard Walter and Justin Davis stand out and I am sure there are others I will remember later.  The pall that laid across the community with news of each injury or death is impossible to describe and I hope none of you ever have to understand what I mean.

How do the words to "Taps" go?  I only remember - "Fading light dims the sight, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky.  Day is done, gone the sun..."  Can't remember the rest.

The media recently labeled my generation the "greatest generation" for how we faced the depression and served in the war.  I don't know that I would call us that.  We did what had to be done, it was that simple.  History runs in cycles.  It will happen again, we will be called to arms once more.  There better be another "greatest generation" ready to shoulder the fight or that might turn out to be the last war, period.

Now, I remember the rest of the words, or I think I do - "God is nigh"  If those aren't the last words, they should be.   

Love to you all ~ Grammie Kay

"Keep the home fires burning" 05/27/00

(several of mom's 2000 e-mails touched on memorial day.
sending them all early - too perfect for the day to wait.  ~elm~)

Memorial Day always brings back such memories.  Let's see - I have lived through the Great War, World War II, two "police actions" (whatever that is supposed to mean), whatever it was in Grenada, and the Gulf War.  I have had enough.

When the United States finally entered the Great War, England and her allies had been keeping Europe free by hook or by crook for three long years.  I had just started 3rd grade in Garrett Heights School in Baltimore.  The principal called us together in the big assembly room and made the announcement. 

It was a double shock for me.  I was still making the transition from the intimate 1-room schoolhouse that I had attended for 1st & 2nd grades, where both grades were taught by Gertrude Erdman (Miss Gertrude to her students) - first one, then the other, then back again.  Here I was in what seemed to me an immense and impersonal, forbidding place, and here my principal was telling me my country was at war far away.

Even thought just a little kid, I knew about the war going on overseas.  My father, to his dying day, never forgave President Wilson for breaking his pledge to keep us out of the war.  I cannot imagine an adult thinking that the US could stay out of it, but there were a lot of people who considered it strictly "Europe's war."  It was everybody's war, really,  because it threatened the peace of the world.

The Meredith boys, Frank & Harry, who lived in back of our property, and the younger Bautz boy (I cannot remember his name for the life of me) across the street all went off to war.  Luckily, my brothers Al and Bob were too young to go.

My sister, Dorothy, who was considerably older than me and had already been to Bryn Athyn for school, was concerned to hear that Roy Wells, a relative of several on this list,  had gone off to war.  She had a special place in her heart for him, so we kept him in our thoughts and prayers.

My sister Betty and I would pound out the popular tunes of the day on the big Steinway right under two big stained glass windows in our living room ("the instrument of the immortals," according to the advertisement;  it was right across from the stairs leading to the 2nd floor;  many a night we children drifted off to sleep as our father played on the piano - he knew we were asleep when the requests stopped coming).  Betty liked There's a Long Long TrailA-winding best, while my favorite was Keep the Home Fires Burning. "There's a silver lining through the dark clouds shining.  Turn the dark clouds inside out, 'til the boys come home."  It still gives me shivers.

Every Saturday, Betty and I would head out out to the Red Cross station on the 2nd floor of the fire house, contribute a nickel and pick up a ball of yarn. Over the week, I knit a square (Betty was too young), which we would take back the next Saturday, give another nickel and get a new ball of yarn.  The ladies would take the squares and sew them into blankets for the boys "over there.'

It was Margaret Bautz, several years older than me, who taught me how to knit.  I thought Margaret was a marvel, an "older woman" (she was probably 9 or 10) who knew everything.  I remember her beautiful long black hair and brown eyes.

That was a rough time for anyone with German ancestry.  A lot of people really did think that the "only good German was a dead German."  This was especially hard on our family, as we were very fond of the Linthicums across the street.  Mrs. Linthicum was German and once our country entered the war, her life was made very difficult by narrow-minded people who ran wild with their emotions instead of being lead by their reason.

Our neighborhood was lucky.  All three of the "hometown" boys - Frank, Harry and Leonard - came back, safe & sound at war's end.  Dot was hit hard by Roy Wells' death, which brought the reality of war into our home.

"Keep the home fires burning, while our hearts are yearning.  Though the boys are far away, they dream of home."

Special hugs to my near & dear - Gocky         

(My goodness, I have not thought of those dear people for over 75 years.  This evening, they are as alive in my heart as they were in 1917.  I half expect to look across the street to Betty & George Madden's house and see Margaret coming out.  Writing to you some of my memories has, in turn, stirred up long forgotten ones.  An interesting cycle.  ~KRL~)

> although she doesn't mention in this post, another great wwI  favorite of Mom's - sung at the end of her memorial celebration, at her own request - was till we meet again.  ~ elm~ <