Thursday, May 7, 2015

VE DAY       

Here in Kansas we are finally getting lovely spring rains.  Flowers and garden look so much happier than they did a week ago.  Unfortunately the moisture is probably too late for much of the wheat crop.  Farming---a very difficult, risky profession with often intangible rewards. The peaceful mornings and evenings, seeing wondrous sunrises and sunsets are one of the best.

Of course the life of soldiers are also risky and difficult.  Seventy years ago the world awoke to a much more peaceful time than it had since 1939. The Germans signed documents of surrender on May 7, 1945.  Americans were thrilled to hear President Truman on the radio the following day.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Never Say Never

Last Friday evening/night I traveled from St. Louis home to Hutchinson. The evening was beautiful, and the ride relaxing and inspiring as we chugged along the Missouri River on a tranquil spring evening.  A year ago, I swore, even with a complimentary ticket,  I would never again ride Amtrak after a horrendous trip --- 9 hours just from St. Louis to KC. (That is a long story).  Due to a variety of circumstances, I did take Amtrak, and I had a totally different experience. The train is definitely more leisurely and comfortable way to travel compared to flying or driving myself.
However, the horn of the train sounding through each town and crossing made me think of movies about the Jews being transported  to concentration camps during WW II. 70 years ago WWII was in its final days. The Nazis in Italy and Austria had already surrendered a couple of days ago. At the same time, there was a constant push to annihilate as many Jews as possible.  On May 3, the RAF sunk the German liner Cap Arcona and freighters Thielbek andAthen, all loaded with concentration camp prisoners about to be murdered (7500 killed, 2400 survive). The numbers are shocking especially since the people were killed by the allies. However, in much of the information I have read, camp prisoners related that they prayed the bombers flying over would drop their loads on the camps, especially on the smokestacks.  They knew many would die, but many more would be saved.
On the Eastern front---but the Western US,  the only civilians killed on US soil lost their lives 70 years ago yesterday.  The following article is from

On This Day: Japanese WWII Balloon Bomb Kills 6 in Oregon
On May 5, 1945, a woman and five children in Gearhart Mountain, Ore., were killed after discovering an explosive balloon launched by the Japanese military.
The Rev. Archie Mitchell was on an outing with his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five local youngsters when they found the odd-looking balloon. As Elsie and the children examined the balloon, it exploded, killing all six of them.

“I had heard of Japanese balloons so I shouted a warning not to touch it,” said Rev. Mitchell to the Seattle Times in June 1945. “But just then there was a big explosion. I ran up there—and they were all dead.”

In a little-known 1944 Fu-Go campaign, Japan released between 9,000 and 10,000 bomb-laden balloons that floated across the Pacific and were intended to explode in America, causing forest fires and panic.

Each balloon was armed with a 15-kilogram antipersonnel bomb and four 4.5-kilogram incendiaries, as well as a flash bomb to destroy evidence of the devices, writes Hugh A. Halliday in Legion Magazine.

Japan said it was retaliation for the 1942 U.S. “Doolittle raid,” in which American pilots bombed key targets in Tokyo, under cover of darkness, from aircraft carriers in the Pacific.

As the balloons landed, the U.S. government tried to hide the information from the American public, hoping the Japanese would abandon the campaign as ineffective. The press largely cooperated with the government’s secrecy efforts.
This Japanese balloon bomb was 

 photographed in New York on July 2, 1945

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Liberation of Buchenwald ---continued

This famous picture of prisoners of Buchenwald was taken 70 years ago today.  Reading the date of the photo on different sites, I wondered why the prisoners were still in these dreadful bunks five days after the camp was liberated.  However, when I recall the descriptions by my acquaintance who was one of the commanders in liberating the camps, it is understandable. The atrocities that greeted the American soldiers were so unbelievable that organizing the evacuation while accounting for bodies covering the ground and the survivors who were traumatized must have been daunting.  Just as described in the book Unbroken, even after discovery, it took time to work out a plan to handle all of the starving, abused people.  

Many, who were too weak to stand around, they probably often returned to the bunks that held familiarity, while they awaited processing. 
Some Holocaust deniers say that these pictures were fakes, and that Elie Wiesel is a liar.  When asked why he does not argue with deniers and neo Nazis he has basically said that you cannot argue with hatred.  

However, he also said that   “One person of integrity can make a difference.”
― Elie Wiesel  (

“My greatest disappointment is that I believe that those of us who went through the war and tried to write about it, about their experience, became messengers. We have given the message, and nothing changed.

He seems to be correct, BUT, we must keep trying to change and see the beauty in each person and in the world around us.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Buchenwald Liberated

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                       (Edmund Burke) 

Last Saturday,  April 11th I judged a forensics tournament at Buhler High School.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to spending what was forecast to be a beautiful day inside a school building.  The event turned out to be inspiring and enjoyable, but, at the same time,  some-what depressing, and eye-opening. Inspiring--because the students were polite, talented, prepared and wanted to change negative situations. Depressing—because so many poetry selections and persuasive presentations had to do with bullying, teen suicide, being outcasts, and feelings of hopelessness.  I retired from full-time teaching five years ago, and the negative behavior and stereo-typing which was bad enough then, seems to have grown exponentially with the increase in social media.    It seemed ironic that later, I read that Saturday was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald.

 Soldiers entering the concentration camps were often
traumatized by the inhuman scenes that greeted them.

     If unfamiliar, Buchenwald was the largest Nazi Concentration Camp in Germany during  WW II.  “More than 250,000 men, women and children were held at Buchenwald from its opening in 1937 until its closure eight years later. About 56,000 people, including Jews, Roma and Soviet prisoners, died within its walls” (, 4/11/15).   

This is the camp where Elie Wiesel, the author of the Holocaust memoir, Night, was held captive.  When we lived in Ft. Scott, KS, I met a former military commander who helped liberate Buchenwald. He related that, even though they had heard rumors that the Germans had such camps, nothing could have prepared any of the battle-hardened soldiers for the horrors that greeted them when they discovered Buchenwald. The memories he shared were more graphic and included details I had never before heard or read.  One of the most poignant was that even though the officers constantly forbid American soldiers to retaliate against the few remaining German guards, when the soldiers discovered the remains of children who had been tortured for stealing bread, there was no stopping the soldiers.
     Any time I taught the book Night, students questioned, as I did, how the Holocaust could happen and the world stand silent. At the same time we agreed that something like this must never happen again, it was occurring in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and elsewhere on a smaller, less organized scale. Seeing the horrors and havoc that ISIS is generating across the Middle East against Christians and moderate Muslims, it is clear the lessons of the Holocaust have not been learned. The following this radical, hate-spewing ideology has spawned across the world, is alarming. And, the rise of neo-Nazism in Germany and elsewhere is disheartening. Some people remark that these genocides and slaughters have occurred since the beginning of time which may be true.  But, surely mankind can learn from our predecessors and say ENOUGH! Instead of “Again and Again,” what has happened to NEVER AGAIN ---the anthem after the Nurenberg trials which judged war criminals of the Holocaust. 
    Surely the men and women who fought to end the spread of hatred in previous wars deserve a greater effort and dedication to peace. Of course, it has to begin with small steps, with individuals and in our families so that so many people do not dread walking down hallways or entering a lunch room and frightening numbers contemplate suicide.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When Books Went to War

75 Years Ago—Apr. 8, 1940:  Gallup poll: 84% of Americans want Allies to win,      2% want German victory, only 23% want US to join war.

I found the above information quite interesting.  On second thought, realizing how many Americans in the area where I was raised were only 1 generation from being born in German, it is almost surprising that more were not still supporting their “vaterland.” I remember, as a child, hearing German spoken by many elderly outside of church. This was at least 10 years after the end of the War.   ----   Wonder what would have happened if anyone spoke Japanese!

  On a happier note, I received two birthday gifts from my oldest daughter over the weekend. (My birthday is in Feb.---she takes after her mother!)  So excited to read both  books.  Kristine heard a discussion on NPR about When Books Went to War, and thought of my love of history and reading.  She ordered The Immortal Wife because it was one of the books that caused protests from some that the government was dispersing lewd, licentious literature to our troops! 

   I opened The Immortal Wife randomly.  The first line I read was a reference to General Winfield Scott. For most, this would mean zip, but we lived in Ft. Scott, Kansas for twenty years, and all of our children attended kindergarten at Winfield Scott Elementary School.  Amazing the connections our lives have.  Kind of like the way different people in my book Just Doin’ Our Duty (trying to get professionally published) came to my attention, and had to be included.   
This book was not pictured on Amazon. So happy Kristine gave me the “Armed Services Edition” instead of the original.  When I saw the author was Irving Stone, I thought, What have I read that he wrote? How do I know his name?   He wrote The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo  which I read 50 years ago as a senior in high school.                                                                     

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On April 1st, 1940 the British Minister of Food announces Dig for Victory campaign to encourage growing food at home. 
Reading that note reminded me of my parents’ garden. They would have laughed at the idea someone had to suggest growing a garden. They would also have laughed at how clean the gardener on the poster looked. When we came from the garden, we used to be covered w/ dust that had caked onto the sweat running down our faces and arms. (If it wasn’t blowing dust, it was dirt from the broken, rock-hard clods our brothers threw while they were supposed to be helping weed or harvest something.  They knew after hitting one of us girls hard enough, we would scream for them all to get out of the garden. 
Even with little help from those demons,  I know our garden had to have been one of the largest in Sedgwick Cnty---Kansas.  I wasn’t born until after the War, but we still cultivated the huge plot my grandparents had previously. In it we grew enough to feed our family of 14 (eventually) and half the neighbors thru the winter---and Mom practically gave the produce away.  We picked bushel after bushel of green beans and had to pile at least another ¼ bushel on top. . . “because they’ll settle by the time folks get them home and we don’t want anyone to feel we cheated them.” We charged $1.00 a bushel ---if the people could afford it.  The $$$ was put in a jar for new shoes and clothes for school. 
   Mom was pregnant so much of the time she worked in the garden---had 4 Dec. babies/ 1 November/ 1 October/ 2 August & 1 July.  Can you imagine bending over rows of vegetables w/ a “big belly” as she always said, in the heat of the summer!  No wonder she was “a little cranky” at times!!!  Then we had to prepare and can all that “shit”.  We all cussed those vegetables all summer,  “but they will taste mighty good this winter!”  was Mom’s constant admonition.

   Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of Mom working in the garden. That is sad because she spent so much time there. My mother passed away five years ago today---April Fools Day.  We all said that the day spoke volumes about her sense of humor until the end.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Today is the 70th anniversary of the final strategic mission flown by the 15th Air Force stationed in Italy. “ 650 bombers hit Prague and Cheb, Czechoslovakia.  Can you imagine seeing that many bombers in the sky overhead and the devastation they would cause?
My uncle Ben Wetta was part of this group.  He was lead pilot on 16 of 34 missions, each of which was made up of 24---42 planes. When we watch movies etc., the pilots all seem so confident and gung ho. However, after his first mission, Ben wrote my dad that it was so horrible that he would give either leg if he never had to fly another.

Ben is in bottom row, 2nd from the right
This is his crew.

Watching the national news Monday evening, I saw a group of veterans who survived the battle of Iwo Jima, returning to visit the island. Among them was one of the few Japanese survivors.  All were “friends” now, and agreed that war is hell, and they had hoped their efforts would prevent wars in the future.
We don’t seem to have come far in learning that we are all people who mostly want to live in peace and enjoy the beauty of God’s earth.

Many thanks to Sarah Sundin for posting events of this day in WW II.   If interested in the war, check out her blog and her two series of books about pilots and nurses of the War.