Category Archives: military

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The Atlanta Falcons football team surprised me losing to the New England Patriots in the super bowl. We witnessed one of the best comebacks in football history.  Maybe the lesson to be learned is we should never say a “patriot” will lose.

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Blindfolded: Easter During WWII-Part IV

World War II has been written about at length. However, when I started this series earlier in the year, I knew this slant would be very different than any written before.  I was given permission to share the love stories of the German war bride.

Our German War Bride

Our German War Bride

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Terror and Raids: WWII War Bride (Excerpt III)

The German soldier was on the left side whom received this war bride's letters.

The German soldier was on the left side whom received this war bride’s letters.

Sitting down slowly, the war bride dreamt of happier times. As she pulled out her pencil and paper from her desk, she felt herself lifting out of a fog. Perhaps it was for only a few minutes, but the letter writing allowed her to escape reality. It was so difficult tending to all aspects of running a household without her husband and father of her children present. Yet, she did it without complaining.
The process of pen to paper allowed her to feel her husband and to sense his presence. He was right by her side. Even if only for a short time it took to write the letter. The war bride needed this outlet. It was all she had.
The paper was placed on the table neatly. Pressed by her hands each fine sheet was straighten out. This gesture was done lovingly as if she were touching her husband’s own face with a tenderness that at times she was beginning to forget all too soon although never to admit out loud.

This excerpt was taken from January 19, 1942 in Potsdam. You can begin to catch a glimpse of some alarming events as the war bride moved to be near family as she was about to give birth to her second child.

(Historical facts about this time frame in the war was that the Germans were starting to deport Jews to concentration camps. Extermination of the captured was to follow rapidly. Also the first American forces were beginning to arrive in Europe on the Northern Ireland shores).

“My dearest Willy! Saturday I received your letter #4, that was my greatest Sunday pleasure. In your last letter you had several wishes….partly already taken care of. I have been able to get the soap holder with cover and for your shaving soap. A can opener and pocket calendar is yet to be found, but I think I can get a calendar tomorrow or day after. I cannot get Rosodont at all, we have not been able to get toothpaste for a long time. Knitted gloves I was able to find, but I cannot send any packages right now. Everything is blocked again, nothing goes through…”

In another section of this letter, “… . But since two days ago the trains were all blocked again. But maybe that only affects transport trains. Willy, listen, we have already used 51 P. from your small card. For 1 nightgown,30, and 21 for Opa’s pullover. If you need more later, we can use Opa’s allotment card for purchases. His P’s are usable only after February. Your allotment was 80, total. You bought boots? That is very important, it would be unthinkable if your feet would freeze…..”

In a final section we read, “….. Last night was Terror attack in Frankfurt. It was awesome outside, everything was lit up like daylight. But nothing happened here….I hope that times will change for the better soon and that you can come home to your family….”

Misguided Views And Attitudes: The German War Bride

This is one of the original German letters written during WWII.

This is one of the original German letters written during WWII.

This blog has been honored with a unique historical opportunity. It is to share letters written by a WWII German war bride to her beloved husband. These letters capture images of a time long ago. They give us a face to German life and war that perhaps our own history books have not shed a light on. Her masterful letter writing spans five years. These correspondences are one-sided since the husband’s letters were burned, but we do hear through the wife’s voice pureness that transcends time.
During the next several decades after WWII, daughter and mother discussed those letters at different intervals. He never returned home and his body was never found. The author of those letters loved her husband more than life itself and never remarried. She cried insufferably at times to her daughter. When it seemed so unbearable for her to go on, The daughter finally said, “burn them.”
As time went on, the mother did get rid of the letters that were written by her husband. She did not destroy the ones she had written to him. As you travel along with these excerpts, remember that by the end of the war the German women outnumbered their counterparts by over 7 million. The atrocities of Hitler’s regime impacted everyone.
The letters not burned were preserved by that daughter.

Letters of a German bride-excerpt one:

February 20th, 1944 ( historical fact we know is that American and Russian forces were advancing on Germany.)

“My beloved Willy – our sweet, dear Vati! The days are passing here in anxious anticipation of what the future will bring. Whatever it is, my love, we must accept it. We cannot change the course of this mighty occurrence in this troubled time. We feel that something big will happen, feel that all this will come to an end soon. In my heart I hope that it will end well. It would be hard to understand that our great Germany will fall. This great nation, so strong – no I can’t and won’t believe that. I wish, and this is egotistical of me, that we will survive this war, that it will have a good ending for us, Willy, that I can again wrap my arms around you, be happy with you and my children, and be safe. Do you think this is too much to ask for? My heart is so homesick for you and I long to let you be strong for me again, protect me and spoil me. I need you so much – you are missed everywhere!”

July 4, 1944 (WAR TIME)

Babe Ruth and Baseball an American Sport's Past time. Photo owned by your blogger.

Babe Ruth and Baseball an American Sport’s Past time. Photo owned by your blogger.

There is irony in knowing that half across the world July 4th, 1944 was celebrated by a number of American POW soldiers at Stalag 17B by playing baseball. In America on that very same day, those soldiers’ loved ones were not so celebratory. There were no fireworks going off in the small towns that many of these soldiers grew up in.
Roy and his wife Hilde McGinnis enjoying a summer day in 2014.  Quite different from his POW days 70 years ago.

Roy and his wife Hilde McGinnis enjoying a summer day in 2014. Quite different from his POW days 70 years ago.

As a matter of opinion, the understanding of individual experiences as related to collective memory of the past have always interested me. There is no other way to describe a day in the life of a POW soldier unless you have asked him. As a way of remembering what July 4th should mean to all of us, I spoke with my dad POW Roy McGinnis. Here is his take on what he was doing on July 4, 1944:
Roy was 22 years old and had just been woke up by the usual prison guards making their rounds and yelling at the soldiers. The treatment at Stalag 17B was never good and at times brutal. It was a beautiful summer day and besides being July 4th, it was a great day to play a competitive game of softball. The Wehrmacht (German soldiers) had much friction with the Americans, but they did let them play their games.
The GIs’ loved playing ball. It passed the time by and it was one of the only real morale boosters the soldiers did have. The International YMCA almost always fulfilled requisitions for sports equipment for the American soldiers in prison. It is also noteworthy that the Wehrmacht let the Americans have their things to play and enjoyed watching the fierce competition of the American GI with his brother in captivity!
“We formed our teams. You know the North Versus South. I was of course on the southern side since I grew up in Alabama.”
I laughed with Roy and said, “Yes. Alabama would certainly make you a southerner. No doubt.”
“Well, the game was very competitive. We bet our rations from the Red Cross. This was serious business and you better believe I wanted the south to win!” Roy stated as if he could still hear the crack of the ball being hit by the old wooden bat.
Chuckling I said, “Seriously, you did not take the other soldier’s food over a game.”
Roy said sternly,”You damn straight we did.”
I guess that answered that.
In fact, the rations were like betting your life’s savings. The normal ration included:
Bread, Potatoes, Cottage cheese, Sugar, Jelly, Coffee, and Raisins. The International American Red Cross would try their best to supply what the soldiers needed at that time.
There was a large recreation area in the camp that sports did take place. Pride was taken in teams formed and thus the first POW baseball league was born.
On the playing field that July 4, 1944, the south and north began their game.
“Who won?” I asked
“Well of course, we did. You know the south.” Roy stated.
“Did you really take the Northerners’ rations?” Half seriously I wondered.
“Yes we did. They lost.” Sternly Roy stated as if the war could still be going on.
In fact, as he and I talked of a time that was over 70 years ago, I could see in Roy’s eyes that he was taken back to that ball game and that ball field. It was still war-time to him at that very moment when we spoke. There was nothing else going on at all.
Happy July 4, 2014 to all my readers. May you know how free we are because of many who fought and gave their lives for us. America-what would you have been if not for the brave soldiers of times gone by? Would you have been at all?

The Bear Keeper

  • 004 (1)This was the 4th blog post I ever wrote.  I am taking a break from writing for the summer, but thought many of my followers would enjoy this post honoring Memorial Day:

Today’s 4th installment is made possible by the research and interviews obtained from Rebel Kreklow and Elaine Wagner while researching my family tree for genealogy purposes.

The best stories to me are about the ordinary.  It is refreshing to see and take note of my typical family members living in the context of extraordinary times. Painting a truthful picture without the jargon is ultimately the writer’s goal. Yet at times its easy to be taken away in your imagination wondering and indulging a bit about what it must have been like living during a certain time frame.

Rebel’s dad  was Edwin Kreklow from German ancestry. In the picture provided , Edwin’s dad was the second man standing on the right. This man was Albert Kreklow. Our family line is Louis Kreklow, Albert’s older brother, who is the second man standing on the left. They were all farmers like the elder Wilhelm Kreklow seated to the left. Consequently, Edwin grew up on a Wisconsin farm and was especially fond of taking care of the animals.

In 1936, Edwin left Fort Atkinson, WI  for a life in the Navy. Sea life was probably a good fit for Edwin as he was shy and being a way from port was just that much easier as he was not much of a talker. Edwin kept to himself and did his job to the best of his ability.

Edwin was stationed on the U. S. S. Tennessee. The Tennessee was one of the ships in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. Edwin experienced first hand the attack. It would forever change him according to his son.  Edwin saw so much devastation. The U.S.S. Virginia right next to him sunk. It was the smoke from the Arizona blowing up that probably saved the Tennessee from much damage. Below is part of an account that Edwin made of his experience:

“When I came up on the topside, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Our ship, which was always real clean..was a mess! Water standing all over in our living quarters, fire hoses all over the place, which had leaked or blown out under pressure…..After the fires went out on the Arizona, I was on a working party that went aboard the Arizona to remove the remains of the dead on the topside. Just a terrible sight! No way to tell who was who, because we had no “dog tags” at that time. However, we all got them in a few days. We could not go below decks on the Arizona, because everything was filled with water……”

Its unimaginable in my mind what Edwin went through. A young man who was a farmer to being in what will go down in infamy as one of the pivotal war stories of our country-the day Pearl Harbor got attacked.

What made me share with you about Edwin? Edwin just came alive to me. He left the military and eventually moved to Seattle, WA which is my home town also. He like me came from another area of the country and settled down in Seattle. I especially had my interest sparked when I heard Edwin was the bear keeper in our zoo called The Woodland Park Zoo! Edwin explains that he was especially qualified since he grew up with the animals on the farm. He passed a zookeeper exam with flying colors! He was especially fond of a Himalayan Sun Bear that he named Jughead. Edwin was in this job during the late 1940s. I could not help to think of all the children of Seattle enjoying those animals and Edwin taking care of the animals in the background quietly away from the fray of the public..The children of Seattle were the benefactors of a Pearl Harbor vet and an ordinary farmer from Wisconsin.

Recently I was sharing with a friend about my ancestry work and having lunch at Third Place Bookstore ( www.thirdplacebooks.com ) which is one of my favorite places in Seattle to hang out when I have a spare moment. On this particular day, I noticed a sweet elderly Japanese couple walking into the bookstore with the aid of a cane and holding on to each other. Immediately behind them was a woman I recognized. It was my son’s nurse from his doctor’s office. I decided to say hello and inquire if the couple was her parents. They were. We talked for a few moments and within that time period I was able to find out from her that her parents were once in an internment camp during World War II. They were Japanese-Americans that were forced to Idaho after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

As I observed her parents, I wondered of their lives when they were allowed back to Seattle. Ironically, I had just completed a novel about that time period entitled Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. It is a fictional account of relationships and repentance during the Japanese internment and the aftermath of the consequences of Pearl Harbor. I could not believe I would have the extraordinary luck to see a couple that lived in one of those internment camps.

It was not unusual to enjoy a day at the zoo and this Japanese couple with their daughter was like any other family in Seattle that would go to one of the best zoos in America. I can imagine a beautiful summer day in the late 1940′s that I could see this couple with their daughter walking toward a cute Himalayan Sun Bear named Jughead. Oh how small our world really is…… It is also easy to imagine Edwin, the bear keeper, in the background quietly tending to the animals…..

What do cemeteries, churches, and court houses have in common?

Today’s installment focuses on authoritative approaches to researching our ancestors.  The common thread that  cemeteries, church records, and courthouse records have are  information on deceased individuals. Today I will offer examples of research from all three types of records that I hope you find helpful in your own genealogy work.

The first example involves a cemetery near and dear to my heart which is  the Jenkins Cemetery.  My maiden name is Jenkins and a good portion of my ancestors are buried in there.   The Jenkins Cemetery is so far out in rural Kentucky that only folks like myself that have interest in genealogy would go out to venture in that area.  Searching for cemeteries can be hazardous to your health with snakes, poison ivy, and crazy rednecks that live nearby! Farmers in the early days of our country were typically given land deeded to them by our government for services that they rendered as an American soldier.  One such land grant of the vicinity of this cemetery was given to my father’s great great grandfather Whitnell Jenkins.  Whitnell was a veteran of the War of 1812 at the tender age of 14.  When searching for Whitnell in the census records, we find that he disappears and is not seen on the 1850 enumerator’s records.  The question then arises to when he died.   One of the ways to find out this death date may be to find his cemetery stone.  It was found and showed a death date of November 5, 1849.  This indeed would give the answer why his wife Mourning Jenkins was alone on the 1850 census record with a few of her children.

It is also with great anticipation that my ancestors’ cemetery is going to be cleaned up in the next month or so thanks to several Jenkins’ volunteers. I can not wait to see the results.  My husband has taken the time to make a sign that says Jenkins Cemetery so that others will be able to find the place easier and that honor  will be given to our beloved ancestors.  Below I have attached photos to tell this story in pictures for you:

Whitnell Jenkins, 1840 Census, Caldwell Co., KY . He is second name down. Family members were not named in 1840 just head of household.

Whitnell’s widowed wife is noted on the 1850 census without her husband.

Jenkins Cemetery is beyond these woods.

Jenkins Cemetery stones found laying down in brush and leaning against trees.

My husband making the Jenkins Cemetery sign at our home in Seattle, WA. The sign is now on its way to the Jenkins Cemetery in rural Kentucky to be posted by Donnie Jenkins this fall.

If you want to look specifically at Grandpa’s Whitnell Jenkins’s stone go to this link I have created:  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSvcid=278586&GRid=19096071&

Special thanks to many volunteers and contacts on helping assist me on my Jenkins research including Nancy Towns, Sheila Hart, Donnie Jenkins, Peggy Gilkey, and many others!

The second research tool I mention is churches.  Below are examples of xerox records sent to me from Ruth Schwalenburg.  She is the secretary of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.  They have records dating back to the 1800’s.  Many churches keep meticulous records of births, marriages, deaths, and baptisms.  I was so grateful when I received a large mailing from Ruth with information like this one.  It is in German, but I speak some German and my mother is from Berlin so she could interpret this information for me also:

Detailed Marriage Records on the Kreklow/Braemer line of our family from Pommern, Germany.  This is an amazing find with so much meticulous details from 1872.

My third example are court houses.  Many records start out in court houses and eventually move onto  specialized genealogy departments.  Many records are released at different times to sites such as www.ancestry.com .  Here below are some examples of findings I have come across.

Indexed list showing my ancestor in the Kentucky Military for the War of 1812.

Naturalization Records of our ancestor DeSomer

Below are some sites I need to check out soon.  I thought I would inform you of them for your own research and please comment and let me know what you think of them:

1.   http://www.brightsolid.com/

2.  http://www.fold3.com/

3.  http://www.mocavo.com/

Last but not least Alesia’s Photography presents a cool picture from her April, 2012 trip to New York where I went to Ellis Island to do more family research :

The Library Hotel in Manhattan, NY.. A genealogist’s dream HOTEL!