Behind the Thanks

It seemed rather timely, and hopefully not too cliché, with Thanksgiving approaching this week to write a post in regards to the holiday.  I know many families have the tradition of stating what they are thankful for prior to eating dinner.  It’s a beautiful tradition and one that I applaud.  And while it’s true that we need reminders throughout the year to be thankful for what we have, allow me to remind you to also give thanks to people.  With that being said, I’m addressing this post to those who will receive the thanks.

I’m thinking about the ER nurse working a twelve-hour shift, the police officer running toward the sound of gunshots, the college student making a decaf sugar free double soy no whip extra foam caramel macchiato, the librarian shopping for a program on her own time, the teacher grading papers on his lunch hour, the stay-at-home mother juggling laundry, dinner, and her kids’ extracurricular activities, the power company worker who restores the electricity in the middle of a snow storm, the soldier Skyping his wife and kids.  With the exception of the stay-at-home mom, all these people work in positions for which they get paid.  But this post is not a debate on stay-at-home moms versus moms who work outside the home.

What unifies these people, and many others like them, isn’t whether or not they make money or how much they make.  In their own way, each one is a worthy worker.  Look closer and you’ll see what makes every one of these people the same is that they are in positions to serve others.  It’s a simple lesson to learn, and some come to it faster than others, but the greatest thing anyone will ever do is serve another person.

In today’s society where entitlement reigns supreme, it’s easy to become jaded to the point that one is tempted to set aside his or her integrity and believe that he or she isn’t earning enough money to make what they do worthwhile.  To those who are serving in whatever capacity, whether great or small, I give my wholehearted thanks.  I ask that you remember why you started serving in the first place, to understand that your job may be thankless but will never be purposeless, to do the right thing even when no one is looking, to not measure your ability to serve successfully by the amount of a paycheck, to rest confident in the reward that is a job well done, and to keep serving when all others have given up.

Examine the act of service a little deeper, and you’ll find a concept that is rapidly disappearing from our society:  sacrifice.  To give something up willingly for the sake of others is the true definition of service.  In fact, I don’t believe you can serve another without a measure of sacrifice involved.  So stay strong.  It’s hard, I know, but you are being seen for what you do.  True, you may never know, but your selfless service will not go unrewarded.

God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving.

A Blast From the Past

One of the details I researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was the weapon used by American soldiers during World War II.  Per my brother, a World War II history buff, the M1 Garand was the gun I needed to look up.

There is so much information on the M1 Garand, simply and affectionately called Garand in honor of its inventor, I didn’t believe I could do it justice by writing my own article.  So, I choose two that I found to be the most interesting, and I’d like to share them with you.

The first, Garand Name Pronunciation: Who’s Right?, is actually somewhat humorous.  There seems to be a longstanding debate on this issue.  It’s probably not the first time a name has been mispronounced by an American, and it certainly won’t be the last.  We do that sometimes, but I’m in agreement with writer Mark Keefe when he says, “… I am not going to tell anyone, especially those that used the rifle in combat, that they were wrong.  Call it what you like, and thank you for your service.”

The second article, The Iconic M1 Garand, details the gun in all its glory.  I’ve had the opportunity to hold an M1 as well as see them employed in the re-enactment of the D-day landings.  It’s an impressive weapon, and I’m glad our soldiers had it to use against a formidable enemy.

A Soldier’s Story – Omar N. Bradley

a-soldiers-storyA Soldier’s Story by General Omar N. Bradley is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.  My friend and fellow writer, William Alford, loaned Bradley’s autobiography to me as a source of research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  My research required a closer look at World War II, such as those provided by doctors and nurses (And If I Perish, Heroes From the Attic), but I still read Bradley’s account of the war, and I am extremely glad I did so.

He prefaces his autobiography with the inscription, “To those soldiers who must often have wondered WHY they were going where they did.  Perhaps this will help answer their questions.”

I believe Bradley answered these questions truthfully and without the ego that might have come from a lesser man achieving such rank and accomplishing what Bradley did.  As for the tough issue regarding loss of life, he explained how every move made by troops was analyzed and not conducted until the loss was the lowest number possible.  The decision to go ahead, shouldered by Bradley and other men like him, was not taken lightly, and it is not one I would ever want to have.

There are many who would argue that the war was unnecessary, but I concur with General Bradley:  the evil that swept through Europe wasn’t going to go away on its own.  Even with the combined forces of the Allies, the battles were not easily fought or won.  Perhaps unavoidable would be the better word choice in regards to World War II.

Bradley was against actions such as taking a site simply for the prestige of location.  Yet when other commanders’ egos swelled, he remained cordial with them even while strongly disagreeing with their decisions and/or actions.  He went so far as to put his career on the line to get the truth out to the American public regarding one such instance.

Further testimony to Bradley’s humility and strength of character are his accounts of his friend, General Patton.  Bradley spoke frankly about the times Patton overstepped his bounds, yet he never criticized in a way that tore Patton down.  When Patton was placed under Bradley’s authority, the two men worked together quite well and held each other in high regard.

Bradley includes comments from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that are chilling predictions come true.  Considering that the conversation took place in 1945 and wasn’t published until 1951, when Churchill says, “There may come a day when we shall walk into a cabinet room, break the glass over a switch, dial to the nation to be bombed, and push a button to declare war,” I can’t help but wonder if this technology was in place long before we were aware.  More unsettling are Churchill’s words, “But we shall never sit by and permit a minority to force its will upon a helpless majority anywhere,” which speak to the current world situation.

The book concludes with the end of the war in Europe, an occasion that was no doubt worthy of celebration, but I was left with a feeling of melancholy that I could only attribute to the realization that the type of patriotism displayed during World War II no longer exists.  Still, I believe that Bradley’s explanations successfully bridged the gap between those in command and those in the field.  I highly recommend A Soldier’s Story as a worthy read.

Looking Through the Long Lens of History

Glimpses of understanding are all many of us will ever have for what the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy experienced on June 6, 1944. I have looked at it from several different sources, and still, my knowledge is mere shadow when compared to the memories of the men and women who served during World War II.

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As heart wrenching as Band of Brothers was to watch, I didn’t have a true understanding of the ordeals faced by the American and Allied soldiers and medical staff until I began researching my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Per my husband’s suggestion, I attended the Conneaut D-day Reenactment. I assumed I’d find some hobbyists with a useful amount of knowledge. I am not ashamed to admit that the whole event was incredibly humbling, and what I discovered far surpassed my expectations.

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My journey began when three nurse reenactors graciously granted me an interview and patiently answered all my questions. They directed me to And If I Perish and Heroes From the Attic as additional resources where I would find the specific details needed to create believable scenes in my novel. Both books provided the information I desired, but more importantly, they supplied a sense of approachable familiarity that my research had been lacking. Long before I finished reading, I felt as if I knew the people about whom the books had been written. They became friends with whom I experienced fear, anxiety, sympathy, joy, loss, relief, and a whole host of other emotions. I developed an even deeper respect for them, and I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting and knowing them.

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Another valuable perspective of World War II was the autobiography of Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier’s Story. General Bradley’s account supplied information from the other end of the spectrum, bridging the gap between those in charge and those under orders. As inscribed in the front of the book, General Bradley hoped to help soldiers “understand why they were going where they did.” I believe his memoir answers anyone’s questions if only they are willing to look. While many would criticize those in charge without offering alternatives and/or solutions, I know that I would never want to shoulder the burden that Omar Bradley and others like him did during World War II. To simply say they did the best they could would be insulting. From the lowest private to the highest ranking general, and everyone in between, they all served bravely and selflessly.

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This post would be incomplete without attempting to describe the D-day battle portrayed at Conneaut. My emotions get the better of me every time I think about it. It all seems to happen at once.

Landing craft full of American and Allied soldiers about to crash onto the beaches.

The thrill of the B-17 Flying Fortress flying over so close I swear you could reach up and touch it.

The B-25 Mitchell banking in the brilliant blue sky.

P-51 Mustangs crisscrossing the air like darting swallows.

Excitement and tension mounting, trying to remember it’s a reenactment.

The ground vibrating with the boom of the German 88, the shock traveling up through your body.

Black clouds billowing upward from the flame thrower.

Soldiers storming the beach and falling, the dull ache in your chest every time that soldier is American or Allied.

Inch by grueling inch they gain ground.

The Germans relentless, the Americans resilient.

Again the planes, again the 88, the sound of bullets ripping the air.

And then, a small cheer is heard in the distance, rippling through the crowd, swelling.

Clapping and people jumping to their feet.

Tears in your eyes.

The American and Allied soldiers have gained their objective.

Breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s over. For us, right now, D-day is over.

Locking eyes with those around you as your remember that in 1944, it was just a beginning.

I cannot thank the reenactors enough for keeping alive the memory of what brave American and Allied men and women did. Their selfless sacrifice must never be forgotten or rewritten. The sad fact remains that much of this history is not being taught to upcoming generations. Worse, there are those who wish to revise it as something undesirable or reprehensible. As much as this grieves me, it is not enough for me to want this for future generations. They must desire the knowledge of history for themselves.

Until then, I will carry on remembering for every person who served long after the last one is gone.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the wonderful pictures from the 2015 Conneaut D-day Reenactment

Peace by Proxy

The following piece of flash fiction was written based on the visual writing prompt below.  It wasn’t the original idea that came to mind, but it is the one with which I was most pleased.  I have been writing flash fiction lately for a writing circle contest.  I hope you enjoy my latest installment.

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Josiah watched the soldier march up the long road snaking across his property. Fog shrouded the young man, but his uniform and unique helmet marked him for a Brit. When he reached the front porch, he stopped and saluted smartly.

“Excuse me, sir, does Jenny Coates live here?” the young man asked in a Cockney accent.

“No, son, she doesn’t.”

The soldier chewed the inside of his mouth, narrowed his eyes.

“All right then. I’ll ask at the next house.”

He disappeared around the side of the house as the screened door creaked open. Josiah’s wife, Kathleen, stepped out carrying two cups of coffee. She handed one to her husband and scrutinized his pale face.

“You saw the soldier again, didn’t you?”

“Yep,” Josiah admitted. “He just left.”

“Why do you think he keeps coming here?”

“I suppose his ghost is attached to that old Lee Enfield I bought for my collection.”

“Why don’t you sell it at the next gun show?”

“I can’t. I have to find out his name and why he’s looking for this Jenny.”

Kathleen smiled into her cup. She took a sip and asked, “You aren’t afraid of him, are you?”

Josiah snorted. “He’s just a boy.”

“A boy who’s obviously been dead since World War I.”

Josiah sighed and turned up the collar of his Carhartt against the November chill. Kathleen sat beside him on the glider, setting it in motion.

“You believe you can bring some peace to this boy, don’t you?” she asked.

“If not him, then perhaps me.”

“It won’t bring our son back, Josiah. Tommy’s sacrifice in Afghanistan–”

“Look, Kath; if Tommy is out there wandering, his ghost attached to some piece of gear, wouldn’t you want people to do right by him?”

“Let’s start with the initials R.W. carved into the stock, okay? We can trace it back through dealers next.”

Josiah squeezed his wife’s knee.

“Thanks, babe.”

A Wish for Snow

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I wrote the following flash fiction based on the picture to the left.  I immediately thought of Band of Brothers and decided to write my story from the German point of view.  It was also based on an account my husband, William, mentioned.  He watched a documentary where several members of Easy Company met with their former German enemies, all of them very old men by that time.  The soldiers of E Company asked their German counterparts why they didn’t overrun the American position.  The Americans admitted they were fewer in number and without supplies.  The Germans’ response was that they knew the “Eagle Heads” were over there.  So impressive was the reputation of the 101st Airborne Division that the German soldiers were hesitant to attack.

I post this in honor of Veterans Day.  God Bless every member of the American Armed Forces, both retired and currently serving.

A Wish for Snow

Private Franz Stieber refuses to open his eyes. He huddles in a machine gun nest in the Ardennes with three other soldiers, trying his best to fend off the bitter cold. He can hear two of them, Emil and Poldi, blowing on their hands to keep warm. The fourth, Corporal Kneller, kicks Franz’s boots.

“I know you’re awake, Stieber. Get up,” he orders.

The otherwise peaceful morning is disrupted by the corporal’s constant litany of barked orders. One would think the man a General the way he swaggers around regaling them with heroic war stories. No one has ever witnessed one of his deeds. They laugh behind his back, wishing an American sniper would take him out.

Franz opens his eyes to pale winter sunshine piercing a blanket of thick fog. What would normally be a welcome respite from the gloom of overcast days is a curse to the German troops hunkered down in the Ardennes. He has yet to decide if waking each morning is a blessing or a curse.

For weeks they’ve been fighting over this God-forsaken stretch of land. Much to the German Army’s shame, little headway has been made in this particular battle. For just over the rise, just across the open field, just through the bomb-blackened trunks of splintered pines are the Eagle Heads, formally known as the 101st Airborne Division.

No amount of shelling or machine gun fire can unearth these demon warriors. Their ranks never seem to diminish, their spirits never flag. Now, with the advent of a sunny day, Franz is sure they will be given the order to attack the American Army’s position

“I will storm their ranks, kill one of their officers, and cut out his heart for a trophy,” the Corporal brags around a mouthful of brown bread and cold coffee.

Emil and Poldi stare in disbelief as Franz spits at the Corporal’s feet.

“No, fool, you won’t. You’ll be lucky to not piss yourself at the order to charge,” he says.

He turns away, unwilling to meet Corporal Kneller’s eyes. Giving him the attention he craves only encourages him, and his youthful bravado will get them all killed. Franz steels himself, expecting to be shot for insubordination once Kneller recovers from embarrassment. The cowed Corporal simply shoves the rest of his bread into his mouth.

As they finish their meager breakfast, the sun retreats behind a mantle of clouds. Franz breathes a sigh of relief as snow begins to fall. There will be no offensive, only more shelling. Today he will not die in the Eagle’s talons.

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