Quite Something

Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

My writing buddy

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know that, in addition to psychology, I’m very interested in the WWII era. My parents were married in 1942, just five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Last fall, I wrote a freelance article about a place called Solomons Island in southern Maryland, which is where the amphibious training took place before the actual landing in Normandy on D-Day. My sister lives on Solomons, and when I learned about its WWII connection, I decided to pitch a short article about it to Military Officer magazine. It was published in October of 2011.

My Uncle Dick was in the infantry in WWII, and wrote a book about his experiences called Normandy to the Bulge. Before he died, I helped him re-publish it on Lulu. If you truly want to understand the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, this is a good book to read. Even if you don’t like combat books, you’ll appreciate Normandy because it’s not gory. Based on his wartime diary, it covers more of the everyday experiences and the friendships that developed out of the hardships they endured.

In 2007, my mom and I self-published her WWII memoir, All on Account of You. It’s interesting to read these brother and sister books from the same time period. My dad was stationed on the homefront, in Key West, FL, during the war. Together the memoirs give you the whole picture of the time period.

Also, not long before he passed away, my uncle wrote a short book, Painting the Milkweeds, about their experiences growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. With the three books together, you can follow the evolution of one American family and their experiences in the first part of the twentieth century.

My uncle died several years ago, but when I re-read the stories, I can still hear his rich Irish storytelling voice relating them to us. We shared a love of writing and I miss his weekly letters of encouragement. I know he’d be proud that his books are still selling, and that I’m still writing.

Getting to Know Dad

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Here is my tribute to the Greatest Generation, in honor of all those who were killed and injured at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today. First published in The News & Observer in 2007, it feels like an appropriate offering for today:

I was born in 1957, just twelve years after WWII ended. Like most Baby Boomers, as a youngster I was interested only in things that were new and hip. Bell bottoms, Levi jeans, Carole King records. I’m the youngest of eight children, so my parents were older when I was born. Middle-age parents with old-fashioned ideas were sometimes hard to bear.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of world events, the cultural revolution of the late sixties was going on. One brother had served in the Air Force in Korea; another was in the Army in Vietnam. To me, WWII was ancient history.

My father was a brilliant, but quiet man. He was a good dad. Like most men in his generation, he spent the majority of his time working hard in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. He wasn’t much on talking and, like a typical teenager, I wasn’t that interested in his life anyway.

Until it was too late.

We found his love letters several years ago while helping my mother pack to move to an independent living residence. Over fifty of them, by the time we were finished. Romantic, engaging, and inspiring, they revealed a side of him we had not known. They were filled with words of encouragement for my mother, telling her to keep her chin up during the troubled times. Perhaps they were also the words he needed to hear?

Embedded in the letters were also bits of history, details about his naval officers’ training and the progression of the war. Reading them, I felt such a mixture of emotions. Grief, for the opportunity, now lost, to know the real man. To hear his stories in person. To ask questions. Yet profound joy in the physical permanence of the letters. His beautiful handwriting, his struggles, his undying love for my mother.

Why didn’t he tell us that he’d been a “Ninety-day wonder” who trained almost every waking moment for months in order to join the war as soon as possible? That, as a young ensign, his best buddy was Wellington T. Mara, later the long-time owner of the New York Giants. He never mentioned Key West or Miami, where he was stationed, or blackouts, or rationing, or war bonds.

We never heard about “The Sylph,” the Navy yacht on which he trained for a few days despite seasickness fears. I wonder if he knew that the antics on the TV series McHale’s Navy were derived from Earnest Borgnine’s real-life experience as a first-class gunner’s mate aboard “The Sylph?” Dad didn’t tell us anything about the gyroscopes he studied at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for four months, training he never got to use because of an apparent Navy SNAFU. And although we’d watched the movie PT-109 together, he never once mentioned that he headed the section base that repaired the PT boats.

I guess to him none of it seemed worth the telling. It was just his life. All that had been long ago, when he was a much younger man, doing his duty during wartime. I’m sure he didn’t consider himself to be extraordinary, or to have lived through extraordinary times.

I’ve spent the last two years transcribing the letters and reconstructing the story of my parents’ early life together. My mother is 88 now, but she has an amazing memory, especially for that time period. Unlike him, she’s a born storyteller. I was able to verify much of what she told me via the Internet. I even located a copy of a Collier’s magazine from March 28, 1942, which featured the men of the Prairie State, the ship he trained on.

Together Mom and I went through bins of mementos, newspaper clippings, and photos. We found Dad’s Navy yearbook, The Sideboy, and a dance card from the ship’s farewell ball the night before his graduation and their engagement luncheon. No longer ancient history to me, this was living history, my history.

My dad was never awarded any medals, but I know he was a hero. They all were. The men who died, the men who lived, the women who went to work, the ones who waited at home and rolled bandages for the Red Cross, the WACs and the Doughnut Dollies.

Suddenly we’re the middle-agers, and many would argue that we’re still self-involved. But I think we know that the Greatest Generation is leaving us, and before long it will be too late to thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how fortunate we are to have known them.

Reading at The Storyteller’s Bookstore in Wake Forest

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Weather permitting, I will be reading from All on Account of You on Saturday, September 6th, at 3:00 p.m. at The Storyteller’s Bookstore in Wake Forest, as part of the store’s Grand Opening event. Please come by if you can! Here is the schedule:

Author Readings and Storyteller Events

Saturday, September 6, 2008

10-11am              Anita Stone, I Never Met a Flower I Didn’t Like
11am-12pm         Roz Grace, Trina’s Family Reunion
3:00pm-3:30pm  Elaine Klonicki, All on Account of You
6:00-7:00pm       Storytellers Ron Jones and Claire Ramsey

Sunday, September 7, 2008

3-3:30pm             Alice Osborn, Right Lane Ends
3:30-4:00pm       Sharon Wood, Writing From the Authentic Self

Drew Bridges, owner of the store and a semi-retired psychiatrist, opened the store in order to return to his English major roots. Drew Bridges describes himself as an “early career storyteller.” He is well known around the Wake Forest area, having performed at charity events and at local events including Herbfest.

Drew emphasizes his belief that, “Even in today’s world of iMax and iPods gee-whiz technology, there is still room for a more personal form of entertainment.”

The store is designed with open areas for activities and is furnished with a grand piano and a red leather antique barber chair, the “storyteller’s chair.” Paintings and photography from local artists adorn the walls and are for sale as well.

The Storyteller’s Book Store is located under the bridge, at 100 E. Roosevelt Ave, Wake Forest, NC.

For more information about the grand opening or other programs and activities at the store call 919-554-9146 or send an email inquiry to storystore@nc.rr.com.

The milkman

Friday, June 20th, 2008

We lost another WWII veteran today. My uncle, John Stanley, who was 98, served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Texas as a gunner’s mate. Like most of the men in that job, he lost much of his hearing while doing it. On my last visit out to Denver, where he and my aunt lived, he showed me his medals, and an amazing picture of a kamikaze plane just about to crash into the ship behind his.

You know all those old jokes about women falling in love with the milk man? Well, that actually happened to my Aunt Winnie. Uncle Johnny drove a milk truck and he delivered the milk to her house at 5:30 every morning. He fell for when he was 20 and she was 14. The story goes that, because of his affection for her, he left her a small bottle of chocolate milk every day as a treat. Unfortunately, her brother John woke up first, drank the chocolate milk, and never mentioned it to anyone. Uncle Johnny had to wait for two years to date Aunt Winnie, because she wasn’t allowed to date until she turned 16. They were married when she turned 21, and have been married for 71 years! They have seven children.

Uncle Johnny was a numbers man. After the war he got a job selling Prudential insurance, the perfect job for him. He had an incredible memory, and loved trivia. Every time we saw him, he would say something like, “Do you know how many bricks it took to build the (fill in the building or structure)?” Of course we’d have no idea, but he’d tell us exactly how many bricks. Or how many men it took to build it. Or how many man-hours. The numbers were always in the millions, but he’d remember them down to the last digit. He was an affectionate guy, and would always hold my hand when he talked to me. He loved to sing, and made up songs about working the milk route.

For most of his life he was strong and healthy, but he had occasional, bizarre health issues that would have set others way back. Not him. He was blind for an entire year when he was a senior in high school, until his dentist figured out that a wisdom tooth was pushing on a nerve. Once they removed it, he could see again. In his mid-80s his vision was failing again, and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor which needed to be removed. He had to shop around to find a doctor who was willing to anesthetize him at his age. We were all very nervous about the surgery, which was quite serious, but he was undaunted. Of course he came out of it with flying colors.

The last time I saw my aunt and uncle in Raleigh was a few years ago, when they flew in to visit my mom. I have an image of them in my mind that I’ll hold on to forever. The two of them were in a guest room in the residence where my mom lives. They were sitting on a bench at the bottom of the bed, side by side, like birds on a telephone wire. The bench was pulled up close to the TV so they could see and hear it, and they were holding hands, as always.

Uncle Johnny was a lifelong Catholic, and up until two years ago when he had a stroke, he was still acting as a Eucharistic Minster at his church, giving out communion at mass. He was also still driving, and attending weekly Rotary meetings. He contributed to his country, his family, his church, and his community in ways too numerous to mention. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

So long, milkman.

  

Bill, Angie, John, and Winnie

 

This photo was taken in 1992, at my folks’ 50th wedding anniversary mass. My mom and dad, Bill and Angie, are on the left. Uncle Johnny and Aunt Winnie, my mom’s sister, are on the right.

 

Books for Memorial Day

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I’m back from vacation and will post an entry about our adventures in a day or two, but today on Memorial Day I wanted to recommend two WWII books to you. Both are excellent, and will give you a very clear picture of what day-to-day life was like for those who served during WWII.

The first is my uncle’s book, Normandy to the Bulge, which I wrote about in a previous post. My uncle was a Pfc. in the army, in the 26th Infantry Division. He and his buddies fought across Europe, enduring mud and rain and a constant lack of food. He was trapped in a foxhole for 17 days, and later helped to liberate several concentration camps. He kept a diary of his experiences, always intending to write a book about them. He finally wrote and published it, 51 years later.

The second book I discovered by accident while searching to see if there were many other WWII books with letters in them, similar to All on Account of You. It is called At War and At Home, edited by Bob and Gale McClung, and contains the correspondence of an entire family: three brothers (one of whom was Bob McClung) who served in three different branches during WWII, their parents, and their little sister. I posted a review of it on Goodreads.com. Sadly, Bob passed away shortly before the book was released, but Gale and I have become online friends.

Last night I watched the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C. on PBS and was moved by it. It’s good to see that we’re finally paying attention to those who haved served and are serving to keep our country safe, and it’s important that we keep telling their stories. God bless all of them.

Happy Memorial Day.

 

Book signing at the Wake Forest Public Library

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

On Tuesday, April 22nd, at 6:30 p.m., I will be doing a slide show, reading, and book signing of All on Account of You: A True WWII Love Story at the Wake Forest Public Library. The library is located at 400 E. Holding Ave. in Wake Forest, NC. My presentation will actually be at the North Regional Center which is next door.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Library and will take place immediately after their annual meeting.

All on Account of You is a memoir based on my parents’ courtship in the 1940s. The slide show is set to Big Band piano music which was recorded by my father, Bill Luddy, before he passed away.

If you’re in the area, please stop by!

 

Normandy to the Bulge

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Hello friends! Well, I just got started on this blog back in the fall when my life got crazy busy and I took a hiatus. It’s been a good kind of busy, but I haven’t done enough writing lately, so I’m happy to be back. What I have been doing is working on three major projects: re-publishing a book my uncle wrote which had been out of print for ten years, and working on both a writers’ conference and an anthology for my writers’ group, the Triangle Area Freelancers

 In this post I’ll tell you about my uncle’s book, Normandy to the Bulge: an American Infantry GI in Europe During WWII by Richard D. Courtney, now available on Lulu.  I had read the book when it was first published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1997, and my eyes were opened for the first time to the sacrifices the Greatest Generation made for our country. After I finished publishing All on Account of You on Lulu, I realized that I had to help get my uncle’s book back into print.

Normandy starts off with the excitement of a young man just graduating from high school and starting off to war. It goes through his grueling basic training, then his passage on the ship on his way to Europe. The mood changes as he and his fellow soldiers realize for the first time that they could be in real danger. The action begins as they exit their landing craft onto the beach at Normandy in France. Over the next two-and-a-half years, he loses dear friends and has many close calls, but his faith gets him through even the worst of it. He is involved in the liberation of more than one concentration camp, and he and another soldier accept the surrender of the 11th Panzer Division at the end of the war. He comes home much wiser but, surprisingly, not bitter. He is grateful to be alive and to be back home with his family. He cherishes his country and the freedom he helped to protect.

We re-published my uncle’s book last November, just in the nick of time. He’s 82, and not long after he got books in hand and starting selling, he lost his voice. He is now in a rehab center after a lengthy surgery for thyroid cancer. His recovery has been fraught with complications but, tough guy that he is, he’s giving it his all. He still has a tracheotomy and can’t speak yet, but my aunt called last night to order more books for him. She says he uses a white board to write on, and told her that he was ready to start selling, at least to the medical staff and his visitors.

Last fall, before he lost his voice, Uncle Dick was interviewed by the Bob and Tom Show in Indianapolis, the number one syndicated radio show in America. He was supposed to do a live show with them during the winter. Instead, the show played part of the taped interview, and put some audio clips, his picture, and a link to the book on their website. He sold 40 books on Lulu and 72 books on Amazon last month.

 If his story isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Veterans Day cont’d: remembering WWII vets

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I’ve always had an interest in the 1940s, perhaps because of all the beautiful fashions that came out of that era, but my interest was heightened during the writing of All on Account of You: A True WWII Love Story (www.lulu.com/content/574604). My mother was a fashion designer in New York, and the book is the story of her life.

Of all the events she and I did this fall, the one that stands out in my mind is the book signing at the West Regional Library in Morrisville, NC. It was organized by Becky Woodhouse, a librarian with a special interest in WWII stories. She invited folks from several of the senior residences in the area. After my talk, two veterans opened up about their experiences during WWII. It turned out that the guys were both New Yorkers and actually live in the same complex near the library, but had never met! They were still talking in the parking lot as we were leaving, and I have a feeling that they’re probably best buddies by now. After hearing their stories and watching Ken Burns’ documentary The War on PBS in September, Veterans Day became much more personal for me this year. Although my dad served in the Navy, my oldest brother served in Korea, and the next in Vietnam, none of them had ever really talked to me about their service. My Veterans Day article “Remembering Our WWII Vets: Getting to Know Dad” (www.newsobserver.com/674/story/769469.html) was published in The News and Observer on Monday, November 12th. This piece must have hit a nerve, because I received quite a bit of feedback in response to it.

—Elaine

Veterans Day 2007: WWII programs and projects

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

In conjunction with the Ken Burns’ documentary The War, the NC Museum of History put on a one-day WWII program in September. The kids’ portion of the event was hands-on, with activities such as trying on military uniforms, making dogtags, and planting victory gardens. I was excited to attend because the museum had recently starting carrying All on Account of You: A True WWII Love Story in their gift shop.

Having older parents, I grew up listening to big band music, but was not prepared for the emotional impact of hearing a live big band in the lobby of the museum. Fifty or so people of all ages were out on the floor learning swing dancing. The temporary exhibit “Everybody’s War:North Carolina and World War II,” which includes artifacts, images, and stories chronicling the contributions of North Carolinians during wartime, is worth seeing.

While at the museum, I interviewed Dave Milidonis, Executive Director of the National Veterans Freedom Park in Cary, NC (www.nationalveteransfreedompark.com), for an article. The foundation created to build the park over a five year period has impressive goals such as: honoring and commemorating those who have served in America’s armed services, educating young people about the meaning of freedom, and fostering civic pride.

I learned that many Army and Air Force personnel lost their records in a disastrous 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. Some of those vets are being denied military funerals because the government has no record of their service. An additional goal of the Veterans Freedom Park is to try to help vets and their families reconstruct those records.

Along those lines, PBS and Veterans History Project are collaborating to gather first-hand accounts of men and women who have served our nation during wartime. The nonprofit organization The National Combat History Archive is also collecting combat film, photographs, and personal memoirs in order to preserve our rich military heritage. I write about both initiatives in “Share Your Wartime Recollections,” an article which appears in the current (December 2007) issue of Military Officer Magazine.

—Elaine