Tag Archives: Veterans

Corn Patch Hiding Place

This is an actual photo of my dad's  B-17 that was shot down over Germany during WWII!

This is an actual photo of my dad’s
B-17 that was shot down over Germany during WWII!

Roy McGinnis, a WWII POW, remembers vividly hiding in a corn patch after sliding through mud from a crash landing in his B-17 over Schweinfurt, Germany. The day remains etched in his brain which was October 14, 1943. More than 53 B-17 planes were shot down to the ground from the clear skies over Germany on THAT day. War historians would come to call this day BLACK THURSDAY.
Roy and his crew of 10 service men were on a raid during WWII to destroy ball bearing factories. Instead they ended the day’s mission captured as war prisoners at Stalag 17 near Krems an der Donau, Austria, 43 miles from Vienna. In fact, Roy recalls thinking all of the military planes must have been shot down because of the amount of soldiers he saw captured.
Roy remembers vividly the RED CROSS packages he got that kept him somewhat sane for a short while. It was something to look forward to. It contained coffee, salmon, sardines,cheese, crackers, chocolate and cigarettes. This was a big deal to a soldier. But as the war lingered on, the red cross packages diminished and mostly were stolen by the guards. The packages also had a lot less in them. Roy remembers the bread contained 20% sawdust and 10% straw!
As the war came closer to the end, Roy and his fellow soldiers who had survived were made to march 280 miles. This march led to his freedom. General Eisenhower had at the time set up processing camps in France. This liberation took place on May 5th, 1945 after a painful walk to freedom. In fact many had no clothes and had to use bark from trees to cover themselves.
This story is told in remembrance of many men who did not come back as Roy did. He considers himself one of the lucky ones. If not for his story, we would not really understand what our soldiers went through. Roy volunteered for his service. This was an honor to him to be doing what he believed was the right thing to do and that was to fight for the cause of freedom.
Today Roy at the age of 91 and his wife and my mother, Hilde, live in Montgomery, Alabama. They attend church regularly and live full lives. Roy is asked to speak on regular occasions to the active and retired military throughout the country.
I am lucky to be able to share tidbits with my readers at times so you understand a bit of American History through the eyes of one that lived it.
Thank you for dropping by my blog. It is a versatile blog and I try to share on many topics that typically are about my family. This is one of those stories.

The Bombers

My teenage son wrote the following post in honor of his grandpa by describing what this picture meant to him.

My teenage son wrote the following post in honor of his grandpa by describing what this picture meant to him.

The sky is a light blue.  Clouds sparsely decorate the top two-thirds of the picture; and the bottom third of the photo has almost what appears to be a blanket of clouds.  The sky has a wonderful pleasant look to it; and it almost looks like something you would imagine to see in heaven, if it weren’t for the bomber planes.  This could have been a beautiful day in Europe.

The first plane in the photo is right near the camera.  You can only see about half of the plane which is a B-17 Bomber.  The primary color of the plane is olive drab, which was the typical color of the U.S. military at the time, but the underbelly of the bomber is practically snow-white.  The propeller turbines are just in sight of the photo and the propellers are spinning so fast that they are barely visible.  The aircraft has multiple windows.  Some are lower or in the middle of the plane and some of the windows contain machine guns poking out.  The top part of the bomber has a cock-pit like area.  This is where the pilot is controlling the bomber.  Behind the pilots area there is a ball turret.  You can see sparks and flashes coming from the gun’s mouth.
The second bomber is in the upper left hand quadrant of the photo.  This plane is at a higher elevation than the first aircraft, so much so that you can actually see underneath one of the wings.  This plane displays its different markings.  For example, the tail has a blue “C” on a white square which presumably indicates that this plane belongs to Squadron C.  You can also see a white star on a blue circular background obviously signifying that the bomber is American.
The third plane is in the upper right quadrant of the photo.  Compared to the other two planes, this one is much more blurred out.  You can’t make out any details, but it must be in the same squadron as the other two bombers.
This photo gets even more riveting.  Near the bottom of the photo right above the “heavenly” clouds there is a disastrous scene.   A plane, potentially American, has been shot and has caught fire.  The pilot appears to have lost control and the plane is starting to make a nosedive, while nearly half of it is covered with fire.  Yellow and orange fire explodes out from the back of the aircraft leaving behind a plume of black smoke.  Furthermore, in the bottom left section of the photo you can see a number of other aircraft coming near the bombers.  The planes look German based upon their shape and obscured insignia.
The most amazing thing about this photo happens to be what had been added to it more than 60 years later.  On the left side of the photo there is a transparent almost ghostly looking figure of an older man.  He is wearing church clothes and has a bald head.  He has few wrinkles, but still retains the look of an experienced wise soul.  He also is smiling and looks happy.  This man is a WWII veteran who flew on one of those B-17 Bombers.
Why was this photo taken?  One reason could have been to show how dangerous flying in these bombers was.  The B-17 was called the ‘flying fortress”.  In reality if bullets hit just the right spot on the plane the whole thing could explode.  Airmen never knew for sure if they were going to survive that day’s mission.  I think this photo is trying to convey that these airmen had to work together to survive.  These B-17s were large targets; and if the German planes spotted one flying solo they could probably zone in on it and shoot it down quickly.  This explains why the bombers were flying in a formation in the photograph.   Also the way the photo is shot from the side view, makes the sky look more open.   During the war you could be attacked at any angle at any time while in a plane.   I think it is important that a plane is shown being shot down, and presumably it is to try to get the reader to think about how scary it would be to fall thousands of feet through the sky.
Another reason this photo may have been taken was to show us how aircraft have changed.  In WWII most planes were powered by propellers.  Jet engines were a thing of the future,   and very few counties in the world had developed jets.  Germany happened to be one of the first to do so; and therefore the German jets probably scared the living daylights out of the Allied airmen.  Most war planes during WWII did not have proper heating, and the crew had to wear heavy wool clothing and jackets just to stay alive at higher altitudes.  Another interesting thing is the manner in which this picture was taken.  Presumably the camera had to be exposed from outside the plane to get this kind of shot.  So imagine all the potential dangers of taking this photo back then.  Taking all this into account, as well as the fact that planes were being shot at and blown up all around the photographer, it is amazing that this photograph was captured.
           I think the main reason this photo was taken was to remind us what WWII veterans had to endure.  The inclusion of the WWII veteran in the picture shows these brave men are still alive today.  The photo also shows that veterans have not forgotten their wartime experiences; and it must be hard facing death in wartime and then live longer than all your comrades, only to spend days later in life with people who don’t truly understand what it was like.   By the way this is my grandfather Roy McGinnis.  He was a gunner on one of the B-17 bombers.  On his fourth mission in Europe his plane was shot down.  The whole ten man crew survived and they were all taken to Stalag 17 a German POW camp.  My grandfather spent 19 months there.  I think this photo is a reminder to him how close he came to death, and it is a reminder about how he served his country bravely.  My grandfather doesn’t regret serving and he never will.  This photo is a testament to the bravery of our armed forces and everything its men and women have gone through.

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…..

Breakthrough

Valentine's Day Brings A Nice Surprise for me. I took this photo of two lovebirds in Victoria, Canada.

Valentine’s Day Brings A Nice Surprise for me. I took this photo of two lovebirds in Victoria, Canada.

Recently I began thinking of how much information should I share on my blogging? This blog began as a way of pouring out my story for family. As I learned how to share on WordPress, I than realized my life was resonating with others. Yesterday I shared about my disability from my brain tumor. In December I also wrote this blog post: (https://alesiablogs.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/are-you-homeless/). It is a poignant description of a visit to the Veteran’s Administration in Seattle, WA. To sum things up, my sister had helped me apply for disability through the military almost two years. I had all about given up on all this until today.
It is interesting how life takes twists and turns. We never know what may come our way. If you asked me 25 years ago that my life would have turned out the way it has, I would have said you are nuts. I was very self-sufficient and taught to be extremely independent. Yet, now I need help.
Today’s mail came dated on Valentine’s Day from the Department of Veteran’s Affair. I thought to myself could this be my “love” letter from them that began two years ago? Indeed it was. After serving in the military as active duty in Desert Storm overseas and then staying “available” for 15 years for call back, the military finally wrote me a “love” letter.
Here are the HIGHLIGHTS:
Dear Mrs. Alesiablogs (changed for you who know me by this name),
We made a decision (in my favor) on your claim for service connected compensation….This letter tells you about your entitlement amount and payment start date…Your Award Amount and Payment Start Date is shown below…………….
As you can see it was a good letter for me to receive. I do not feel happier from this though to be honest with you. Please do not take this in the wrong way. I am happy for the decision, but my life is so different due to my illness that it is a catch 22. I am learning a new way though. In fact as I received this letter I was on my way to a volunteer effort. Giving back and providing my time for a needed purpose is becoming part of my legacy. What is yours going to be? Did you know there are over 50,000 nonprofit organizations across the country? By volunteering, I am learning a new kind of happy.

Heroes

Luke on the bus to school. Luke is cushioned with a head rest and back support because he has been known to injure himself without warning.

Luke on the bus to school. Luke is cushioned with a head rest and back support because he has been known to injure himself without warning.

Are there any heroes among us anymore that cause us to pause with amazement? Recently I shared the story of my step-dad Roy who is a hero for his military career as a WWII Prisoner of War. When I asked him what defines a hero? He would say something like this, “Our heroes are those we left. I am no hero. I guess I was just lucky. Those left on the battlefield are the amazing ones”. As we continued our conversation, we both agreed having heroes in your life is vital. What was discovered in the process is that a hero could be invisible.
To me the greatest heroes among us can be the ones we hardly notice. I have found that it is a good thing to find amazement in the smallest of things no matter the situation. For example, I have a son with Autism. Luke typically has more bad days than all around good ones. Yesterday Luke had one of his really good days. He was all smiles and so was I. It was a time of wonderstruck for me. He is my hero. He has taught me something about myself no one else can. He has taught me love and what it means to give it your all. Perhaps that is what we see in Roy as a POW VETERAN. He gave it his all and survived to tell his story for all those that had died. The respect we give to Roy is for a whole generation.
How do I say I can call my son Luke my hero? First, he is my son and I am proud of him no matter what the situation. Second, when we have a good day with Luke it tells me he is doing all he can to make it a good day for all of us. He is working his mind to will it for good thoughts when many times his mind is full of obsessiveness and torture. It is this Forgotten Power of Expectancy we all should be taking into our very being. I know deep down God is amazed at Luke. For unto to Him, He asked for us to come as children.. Luke is not visibly a hero like Roy, but in the quietness of our home my son is not forgotten. God sees us all the same. There is no difference to Him. Luke is working hard to be the best he can be. Thats hero enough for me.
PS: We have an ETSY store and you can click into it from the birdhouse photo. 10% will go to the Autism Society Charity if you purchase before February 14th! Also please follow up with your neurodevelopmental stories on http://www.facebook.com/alesiaandluke I am very interested in hearing about your story.

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.