Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Uncle Willie and the Merchant Marines

Uncle Willie and Aunt Anna have also found a way to sneak into the book I am writing. Amazing how my muse or the spirits of so many people seem to be telling me what needs to be in the story. Last evening I finally visited with my cousin, Duane, about his dad’s military service during WWII, and I was surprised with what I learned, not only about Willie, but about a branch of the military that I had never heard much about. I always thought that he had served in the Navy, but talking with Duane, I learned that Willie was a Mariner, serving in the Merchant Marines.
What is the Merchant Marine? 
The Merchant Marine is the fleet of ships which carries imports and exports during peacetime and becomes a naval auxiliary during wartime to deliver troops and war materiel. According to the Merchant Marine Act of 1936: "It is necessary for the national defense... that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency..." During World War II the fleet was in effect nationalized, that is, the U.S. Government controlled the cargo and the destinations, contracted with private companies to operate the ships, put guns and Navy personnel (Armed Guard) on board. The Government trained the men to operate the ships and assist in manning the guns through the U.S. Maritime Service.
What do you call people who are in the Merchant Marine? 
Mariners. Seamen. Seafarers. Sailors. Never marines! Mariners is the preferred designation, just like the Seattle professional baseball team. The term Merchant Marines is incorrect, but sometimes used by some old time mariners. 
This branch also has a military academy located in Kings Point, N.Y. such as the Army’s academy at West Point and the Navy’s at Annapolis and so on. 
When I first heard “Merchant Marine,” I mistakenly thought the men in this branch would probably be in little danger during the War, but talking to Duane, and researching more myself, I realized how wrong I was.
One fact about Willie for this entry:  Willie served as a gunnery officer on an oil tanker for almost 3 years from ’43- ’46. During that time, he crossed the Panama Canal 38 times on fuel runs from Cuba.
.Because one of my sons-in-law is from Panama, I have been fortunate enough to visit Panama and the Canal several times. This country and area are absolutely beautiful and the Canal is AMAZING. However, because of the humidity---Thank God for air conditioning!!!  Of course, there was no such wonderful invention during WW II. Life on a tanker had to be horribly hot. In addition, the aviation fuel was destined for some of the most treacherous places in the South Pacific.  Ports of call were the names of some of the most vicious battles of the war: Guadalcanal, Saipan, Formosa, and all the way to Australia. Because of the explosive nature of the fuel the tanker carried, it was never part of a convoy---always a lone duck on the huge ocean occupied by innumerable Japanese ships and planes pervading the air---an unbelievably  perilous situation. 
In the next few blogs, I will share more about the experiences of my uncle Willie during WW II.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Relieving Stress

When I’ve had an especially stressful  day, relaxing in a nice warm bath is the most wonderful way to ease my mind and wash away worries and put problems aside, for at least a little while. No matter what has happened with students or other concerns in my life, I doubt that I will ever experience the stress the pilots of WW II faced during each mission.
Not only did they have to fly for hours in formations so close that their wing tips almost touched, they had to accurately drop their payload while flying through skies black with gun powder from exploding shrapnel. In addition, in the back of their minds was always the knowlege that the lives of their twelve or more crewmen were in their hands. Even after a succesful bomb run, the return flight of the seven and eight hour missions could be extremely dangerous, as the pilots were often nursing badly wounded birds back to base. 
Unfortunately, Uncle Ben and other pilots stationed in sunny Italy had only freezing showers in which to relax and wash away stress. For that reason, Ben had an aversion to showers. Next to God, Margie, and country, playing cards was probably his greatest love. Not until fellow crewmen refused to play any more cards with him that Ben showered after a 29 day stint avoiding it.  His mother, my Grandma Anna would have been appalled.
That seems so ironic to me because this uncle always seemed the epitome of the gentleman But, I don’t blame him. I can’t think of many things less relaxing than taking a shower in icy cold mountain water, especially when it is cold outside. Just another reason to appreciate all that the Vets did for us, and to thank God daily for the conveniences that are so easy for us to take for granted, like bathroom facilities and warm water.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wrong Perceptions

     Amazing how the media colors our thoughts and perceptions, and we presume we know something only to learn that we are completely wrong. In any movies I‘ve seen about WW II, even old ones, the pilots lived in barracks, not fancy, but at least offering a little protection. Reading the little details we have about Uncle Ben’s life while stationed in Italy, that “knowledge” was blown to bits.
                          Uncle Ben's Crew 
            Ben is on first row-- 2nd from the right.
     I had contacted my cousin Bob Wetta for information about Ben, his dad. He sent an interview his son, Brian, had conducted with his Grandpa Ben about his service during the war. The information was quite enlightening about life for the pilots while on the ground. Seems they did not live in barracks at all, but four men to 16 X 16 tents with no conveniences. Suddenly a totally new picture is playing in my head, much similar to to the TV show Mash, and the living quarters of Hawkeye and B.J., cramped, chaotic and completely void of any privacy.
 In in the small compound of Mash, the showers were close at hand, while at the airbase at Foggia, Ben had to cover the distance of a football field to take a cold shower. Even though Italy may be in a more temperate region, the temperatures can drop below freezing during the winter, and snow is common. Taking a shower in freezing cold water was not a luxury to anticipate. The men would shave in their tent, warming water over in a tin can over a candle. Learning more about the deprivations my uncle suffered, makes me admire him and the other pilots even more.
     It also reinforces the precept that we always have more to learn, and never to make rash judgments. Things are not always the way we have learned or perceived them to be. I had occasionally visited w/ our new neighbors across the street, but was recently dismayed that their yard was overgrown and the place was looking shabby. I prayed they were not going to neglect their property, and we would have to look at it every time we walked out the door.  Last week, I saw the pre-teen daughters coming home from school, and they stopped to visit. My face was red, and my spirit humbled when I learned their mother had a massive brain infection suddenly erupt before Easter. She had undergone surgery and had been in intensive care in a hospital in Wichita (60 miles away) for two weeks---will be in rehab at least two more weeks. And I was concerned about them being poor neighbors!!! What did Jesus say about removing the plank from your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbor’s!  When will I ever learn?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ben Wetta---inspiration

Why Don’t You Write?
      Sounds like the beginning of a letter from a neglected friend or lover to most people, but it was the question of the day of a writers’ blog that I enjoy. . . My first answer is that I get too busy, but then I realize that I allow myself to be so busy because I don’t take myself seriously as a writer, even after receiving a small check and seeing my words published in a book and magazine. 
      At the same time, the spirits of Uncle Ben and my parents have been nudging me to finish the work I have started. Writing over 250 pages and then letting it hide in my computer is really pretty stupid and a huge waste of time. 
     Ben has really been nagging me recently. He tells me that I need to revise the section that I wrote about his life on the ground in Italy.
             As written in the book now, he is telling about this in a letter to my dad.  I really thought that this was working until Uncle Ben told me it is lackluster--- that I need to make it rousing with pilots betting and drinking over a game of poker and Ben being cussed out for poor hygiene due to a difficult shower situation Have I piqued your interest? Well, just writing about that again, I realize that Uncle Ben (or my muse) is right! Back to revising!!! (Is everyone positive that I am totally insane---thinking that Ben is inspiring me?) Will write more about Ben later this week.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beautiful Gifts My Excuse for Blogging Absence

We have been graced with two beautiful new grandchildren in the past six months. Both are the third child in the family, so they arrived to much love.  Since helping family and friends is fundamental in my life, lending a hand with these angels has taken precedence over writing. Because Mom still relished caressing “those precious little hands” of babies when she died two years ago, I know she would understand my postponing her story for helping with babies.

Josie Radell was born Sept. 27th. She is a little round doll who loves to laugh and play.       Because our daughter Emily and her husband live in Hutchinson near us, I am blessed to take care of her most Thursdays.  Needless to say I accomplish very little other than playing on those days. It is amazing how much these precious creatures develop each week.

Beckett Thomas was born March 15th to Sara and Zach who live in Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis. He arrived three weeks early while the family is in the midst of a house renovation and living above their garage. Life is always interesting and providing fodder for stories.
Between these two births, I have been in charge of two major events at our church: the one blogged about last week, and an elegant fund raiser, The Taste of Chocolate. Both required much time. However, they were both enjoyable and rewarding endeavors.  At the same time, I have been able to squeeze in some writing time, and have actually completed revising the book. It only needs a little more work (I hope) to begin sharing in hopes of finding an agent and publisher.  Therefore, I will write more about people in the book next week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Honoring Military Veterans

Well Golly! The last time I wrote I said I would add to the blog every week---that was the end of October! It is now the end of March. In the meantime life and dedication to family has been more essential for me than writing the blog. I guess this is meaningful because the people who are the central component of my book held family, church, and country as most important in their lives. Family often meant anyone in need.  So I claim their influence as my defense.As I was working on my book, a muse, or the Holy Spirit reminded me that the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor was approaching.  This voice kept telling me something needed to be done to honor the veterans of that war who are still living. I checked with various “powers that be” about what plans were being made at our church to honor these unsung heroes.  Guess who was given another job! After many phone calls, discussions and planning, early in November our church held a weekend of festivities to honor all armed forces veterans. In the midst of planning I discovered that the Korean War had begun in 1950 so another group of veterans were marking the 60th anniversary  of the conflict in which they served. A program and dinner on Sunday honored 16 veterans of those two wars.  Being chair for this event, took time away from writing, but it was much more important  to honor these people who had done so much for us. I was amazed to hear every honoree say that something like this had never been done before. I had just presume that surely the WW  II Vets were honored during the 50th anniversary.  The vets  eagerly shared pictures and memorabilia for a display during the dinner celebration, and all were excited to visit with friends who were amazed to learn interesting stories about some people they thought they knew. I would highly encourage you to check to see if you community has had an event to honor these vets.  . If not, perhaps you can take the lead in organizing this. The most difficult part of planning the festivities was finding out who had served. So many of these individuals have been so humble about their contributions that friends and sometimes even family members are unaware of all they have done.  Because the book I am writing takes place during WW II, it seemed more fitting that I do something concrete to honor the characters still living instead of writing.  That is the 1st reason I have been  away from writing fit to share for so long.  I will discuss the other reasons in my next post