Category Archives: World War II

Genealogy With A Twist

This is a special blog entry written by my son for a genealogy project and I thought you all would enjoy it:

The year was 2077. A special presentation was about to begin by an elderly gentleman who walked into an old-fashioned diner on a beautiful evening overlooking Lake Washington near Seattle. Inside the diner, the tables were full with school-age children getting ready to listen to this special old man. They knew he was a great story teller and the children were eager to listen. With great anticipation, the man excitedly stated, “Welcome to the unique stories a friend of mine shared with me about his life. This friend is Elijah. Elijah’s stories were told to me by himself so I galloped all the way here to tell them to you today.” The children clapped loudly for the action to begin.

Elijah’s stories began with a European ancestor on his father’s side. This man was Baron VanDorstan who was ruled by a German King almost 250 years ago. It has been told that the king became very furious with the baron because the baron felt the poor people were being taxed to heavily and he refused to collect the money for the king. The King therefore ordered Baron VanDorstan’s execution. The execution never happened because the baron escaped on a boat disguised as a homeless man. He eventually emigrated to America! WHEW! That was a close one.

As the elderly man shifted to the next ancestor in Elijah’s life, the children listened intently. The next story was about Elijah’s great-grandfather who was a semi-pro boxer in Chicago, Illinois.  His name was Alex.  Alex  had the opportunity to meet Babe Ruth, a pro baseball player, and he played catch with him.  Another interesting point about Elijah’s great grandfather was that he washed laundry for a living.  One of his customers was the infamous criminal, Al Capone!

As the time was passing, the elderly gentleman knew the children would want to know his identity, but he explained he wanted to stay a mystery until the end of his story telling.  The children grew with excitement, but agreed to wait.  It was at this point the man began sharing about another ancestor who was Elijah’s great grandmother on his mother’s side.  When Elijah’s grandmother was born in Berlin, Germany in 1939, Elijah’s great grandmother with her grandmother were forced to flee because of World War II and all the bombing going on during the war.  They walked all the way to the southern part of Germany to find  safety.  When they travelled they worried they would be caught by the Russians, but thankfully they were not captured and they did make it to their destination several months later.  Elijah would not be here today if they had been killed.

Another ancestor on Elijah’s mother’s side was great, great, great uncle Senator Kenneth Douglas McKellar.  Senator McKellar was born in Dallas County, Alabama in 1869.  He later moved to Tennessee where he became one of the most powerful politicians during the 1920’s-1940’s.  He assisted President Franklin D. Roosevelt in getting the money to build the atomic bomb!

As the evening was coming to a close, the elderly story teller paused to capture the moment in his mind of all the children looking at him admiringly.  The time had come to tell the children the truth about his identity.  He softly stated he was indeed Elijah and all the stories were about his own family.  The kids clapped loudly with this news, although they were flabbergasted.  It was a great night for all.

PLEASE note extra information/photos in regards to Elijah’s genealogy story above:

Babe Ruth  This photo was given to your blogger of Babe Ruth about 30 years ago.  I have treasured it.  This story my son wrote refers to the Babe whom his great grandpa met.

 

This photo depicts your blogger's Oma and Mother. This story speaks of my mother and grandmother's escape from WWII bombing.

This photo depicts your blogger’s Oma and Mother. This story speaks of my mother and grandmother’s escape from WWII bombing.

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…..

When You Think You Have Heard It All…..

1940 CENSUS brings together cousins. Roy (my step-dad) and Melda met for the first time after extensive research was done to find relatives from the past.


Recently I shared a heartwarming story about my WWII VET step-dad Roy and his celebration of his 90th birthday ( http://wp.me/p2rYD1-o8 ). Roy grew up very poor and his parents divorced while he was a boy. Roy never knew when his real dad had passed away. One day he asked me if I could find this information out because of the release of the 1940 census. I was able to give Roy his father’s death date and burial location, but the biggest surprise was that we found out he had a half-brother, and a half-sister he did not know about. When you think you have heard it all life throws you a few new curve balls! We were fortunate to contact them both. In fact a reunion is planned for them to meet. I hope they hurry. No one is getting any younger!
I had recently flown home from Montgomery, Alabama 3000 miles to Seattle after witnessing a tender-hearted visit between my step-dad Roy and his cousin Melda. She was also researching her family tree that included Roy. She decided to drive to Montgomery, Alabama for a delightful visit while I was in town. Melda and I found each other through our mutual research.

Roy and Melda discuss their family roots with photo albums as their respective spouses look on. Genealogy work has confirmed their family lines all the way back to Germany.


Melda reminded me in an email of how special this experience was for her. Upon returning home Melda spoke with her elderly mother about meeting Roy: ” I couldn’t help but stare at Roy’s striking ice blue eyes. When I mentioned it to my mother, she said my grandfather had eyes like that.”
While Melda and Roy are second cousins, Melda’s father who has passed away as well as Roy led interesting work lives in the history of Alabama. Melda’s father was a Superintendent of Education during the changing times in Alabama Public Schools serving the children in Alabama. During that same time period, Roy was working as the Director of Veteran Affairs serving our Veterans. Today I give tribute to both men in their work and their lives.

Roy meeting with Governor George Wallace while he served the Veterans of the Military.

The Letter Part 2

Today we are celebrating my step dad Roy’s 90th birthday. He was a WWII VET and a POW in STALAG 17. I shared briefly his story yesterday and so many of you commented and sent Roy birthday wishes that he asked me to thank each and every one of you for your kind words. Here is a link if you are interested in seeing that story and some of the most powerful comments and even poems I have ever seen: https://alesiablogs.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/the-letter/ .

Today I thought appropriate to put together a collage of photos of Roy.

The Letter

Roy in 1967 in another war- Vietnam.  He served our country for decades upon decades. He was a true American Hero.

Roy in 1967 in another war- Vietnam. He served our country for decades upon decades. He was a true American Hero.

Dear Mom and Dad,
How are you? We have been assigned for five combat flights with our B 17 Bomber plane and have completed three of them. I am very scared. I am writing this to tell you I love you, but I do not think I will come out alive. We are losing a lot of men after their planes are being shot down over Germany. I don’t think we will make it. When you are in the sky dropping bombs, the germans are right above us to see what we are up to and then below on the ground they are shooting anti-aircraft flak at us. We can’t see a damn thing from the black clouds the flak make. No one has our back. It is not a good thing. I hope one day to see you again, but if I do not I want you to know how much I love you.
Your son,
Roy

On Roy’s 4th combat flight as a gunner of a B-17 Bomber, he was shot down. Something in Roy told him that his days were numbered. Roy’s parents received the news he was missing in action by the Red Cross as was customary in those days. No one knew for sure what had happened except the 10 member crew on that fateful day in 1943. The Bomber was shot in several places, but with the handiwork of Coles, the pilot, the plane was able to be crashed landed in a field. The crew all survived and ran for their lives. All were captured alive.
Roy then spent the next 19 months in the notorious Stalag 17 camp. The Americans occupied five compounds. There were at least 4000 American GI men in the overcrowded barracks. Hollywood has made films about this camp and what our American soldiers had to endure. Roy recalls many times when they were forced to stand outside in extreme cold weather for long periods. He lost a huge amount of his body weight during this time, but did survive to come home and tell his story.
On April 8, 1945, Roy was among 4000 POW forced to march to where freedom was at hand. He with his fellow soldiers were finally liberated on May 9, 1945. General Patton’s Army had arrived on May 2nd to where they were closely located, but it took an additional week before Roy was finally free. Roy said he never prayed much before in his young life, but after being captured he prayed ALOT. Roy still prays alot. He can not believe he is still alive! Tomorrow is his 90th birthday. Why don’t you leave a comment on my blog and I will send it to him tomorrow with all your well wishes for his birthday. Roy has been married to my mother for 20 years when they both lost their respective spouses. If you ask Roy today what he thinks of Germans. He looks at my mother and smiles and says, “I love them. I married one.” My mother was born in 1939 in Berlin right in the middle of war. Roy knows his life was spared and he thanks God everyday as I do. When I call him and ask how he is doing, I always get the same answer which is, “I am better now that you have called.” It makes me smile every time.