Category Archives: soldiers

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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…..

Saving SGT Vandorsten

In a recent visit to New York, my girlfriend and I were riding a bus in lower eastside Manhattan back to our hotel. We met two elderly women that voluntarily discussed the history of New York with us. Without constraint, they seemed to be in a dueling match for our attention. It was without a doubt the best 30 minutes I had ever spent on a bus ride. We were in attendance of a Joe Frazier/Muhammad Ali–esque moment characterized by two passionate and knowledgeable women talking about their beloved city.

It was a whimsical time with these two elderly women. My friend and I made subtle glances to each other enjoying the ladies trying to out do the other on their vast knowledge of New York. We benefited immensely from the experience. At one point we passed a university that one of the women excitably said, “thats Cooper Union!” I immediately gazed at the building in uninformed wonderment.

Cooper Union was established in 1859 by Peter Cooper. Mr. Cooper made sure if you were a student at his college, you attended free. He went one step further and opened it to women and people of color. He was a stong opponent of slavery and also had a great love for native American Indians. In fact , Cooper Union University played a pivotal role in Abraham Lincoln’s quest to become president. The Great Hall in the basement of Cooper Union was where President Lincoln laid down the ground work for his view against slavery. It was also the place where Senator Stephen Douglas spoke that states should have the right to govern themselves in respect to slavery.

As we all ponder the studies of this time period we all learned as students in school about many unnamed young men who volunteered 150 years ago for the civil war. Most people today don’t know personally of a family member that fought in that war unless you have studied your roots. In my genealogy research, one of my biggest breakthroughs came when I found a great great uncle of my father in laws that fought in this war.

This gentleman was First SGT Cornelius Vandorsten who was in Company E of the 120th Ohio Volunteer infantry. Cornelius lost his life in Louisiana killed in action on August 10, 1864. This army was one of many volunteer armies that President Lincoln called for to bring about the end of the war.

It was through finding and saving SGT Vandorsten’s legacy that I was empowered. It was then I was able to unleash my resources to find my connections in our family. You see Cornelius was the link between finding his brother our great , great grandfather and then their father. We were lost in our study of family and had not had a breakthrough if we had never found SGT Vandorsten. The records of the civil war made it possible. It was through his volunteerism and his loss of life, we found many other family members.

All of this goes to say how important volunteerism is on many levels. The genesis of my blog began with two women sharing their stories freely about New York, then to finding out about free education in New York at an amazing university. This then led to discovering our ancestor Cornlius Vandorsten who fought freely in the civil war. The story does not end their because when we found our civil war veteran, we found many other family members from his time period. May we never forget how to give freely of ourselves as so many before us have done so that we can live the life we lead today.

Here are the links that document our ancestory SGT Cornelius. Why don’t you go now to read about him and discover a part of history that has come alive for me:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSvcid=279806&GRid=27024915&

then the following link is more documentation of saving SGT Vandorsten’s legacy where he is buried at:

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http://home.comcast.net/~kenbaker329/site/?/page/Notable_Veterans/&PHPSESSID=37c726261a87dfad46cf3ae8c822a25f

This ends my third installment. May we all remember our fallen heros – our soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice….

I also want to give special recognition to my friend and expert genealogist , Janice Smarr,  who has helped me with a majority of my research.  She has taught me so much and I consider a privilege to call her my friend.

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