Forgotten war heroes


Note: The floral background is my coffee table runner, which I sewed from Wal-mart clearance fabric.

The information age makes so many tasks easier and accessible to ordinary people.  My husband went and bought our first personal computer in 1997 after months of me arguing, “Who needs a computer in their home?”   He kept telling me it would be great for the kids and that brought forth my argument about how much money we already wasted on our two sons and their endless need for a newer gaming system.  Our two daughters never took much of an interest in computer gaming.

After we had a PC, the kids began to complain to my husband that I was hogging the computer and my husband would smirk and remind me of all my arguments against purchasing a PC.  I was completely wrong and this same argument goes to the cellphone craze.  I rarely used my cellphone, and had my husband take internet off our phones years ago.   We still have a landline at home and I don’t travel much.   I didn’t need a cellphone at my job.  Assuredly, I didn’t need a smart phone.  Last year, my husband told me he wanted to get an Android phone and he said I should get one too.   Here again, I didn’t see the point, so my son, who is a software engineer, told me I was thinking about a cellphone in the wrong way.  He told me I needed to stop thinking of it as a “phone” and start thinking of it as a portable computer.

Being technologically challenged, my forays into the computer world always start with baby steps, then I’ll have some epiphany leading me towards my son’s much clearer vision of technology, both the marvelous good and the ominous, potential bad.

Robotics are being used to improve the lives of many people with physical disabilities, in industry and many other positive ways.  Yet, after the Dallas police shooting, I hadn’t given a second thought to the robot armed with C-4 the Dallas police used to take down the shooter, but my son pointed out some nightmarish scenarios combining militarized police and robotics, that gave me pause to reflect.  My thought was that I was just glad the police had neutralized the shooter without any more police officers being injured.  Such is technology, it can be put to good or evil and as I’ve mentioned before about what a “threat” is:

“Here’s another one of those home truths that I am so fond of using to make my point.  Let’s state what should be obvious, but apparently needs to be driven home once more – any weapon, be it a slingshot or a nuclear weapon, is an inanimate object.  Inanimate objects aren’t the problem.  Yep, it’s always the people that pose the problem and let’s be more precise here, it’s what’s in the hearts of man that can turn that slingshot or nuclear weapon into a “threat”.   We’ve always got to contend with people first and the rest of the inanimate objects truly rank as a secondary issue.”

While my son brought up nightmare scenarios, in my life, I’ve been trying to incorporate computer technology into my life in positive, helpful ways, with my crafting, cooking, writing and definitely with my love of books.  A couple posts back I mentioned printing out a vintage print for a craft project, which I found at a free site.  There’re plenty of free sites for many things, from coupons to full novels no longer under copyright.  I keep trying to find more ways to incorporate computer technology into my daily tasks, from finding recipes to paying bills to historical research, to my blogging.

Around the Army, it’s like a true melting pot of America and I learned so much from all the people we met along our travels as an Army family.  Many years ago, my husband, kids and I had gone to Augusta to visit a Desert Storm friend of my husband and his wife, whom had also been our neighbors in Germany during Desert Storm.

Often, enlisted soldiers come from poor backgrounds, like my husband and I did.  However, around the Army I noticed that among enlisted leaders, who move up the ranks, there are a lot of very smart, hard-working people, who read a lot.  This friend and his wife loved to read as much as my husband and I do.

During this visit, my husband’s friend, who has rural GA roots,  and I began talking about several things as I was looking at some of the books in his home.  I love browsing through people’s home libraries or even their periodicals, as it tells me a lot about them.  In fact, when my kids were young, I told them if they go in a friend’s house and there are no books, find other friends.


Above: My grandmother’s two books on herbal medicine

This friend had several books on old folk medicine and home remedies in the South and also on oral histories.  Both topics have been of interest to me since my early teens.  When my maternal grandmother died when I was 11, my mother, inherited some of my grandmother’s books and a unique revolving wooden bookcase, that was about 40 inches high.  I became fascinated by two books on herbal remedies, while my mother, a registered nurse and dedicated believer in modern medicine, refused to consider herbal remedies.

My maternal grandmother preferred natural remedies over chemical ones.  The early PA Dutch used a faith healing called Pow wow medicine combined with herbal remedies.  My grandmother embraced Pow wow medicine and both herbal and modern medicine, so I guess she wanted to cover all the bases.  My mother didn’t want to hear about Pow wow medicine or herbal remedies.  My paternal great-grandmother, like my maternal grandmother, embraced all three.  As a child, my great-grandmother sent me off to wander the fields and woods to gather items for her.  Among her home remedies, she made a salve from the knots on pine trees, so I would go cut off knots on pine trees for her and she made a tea from some weed, the name escapes me at the moment, that was good for whatever ails you.  My mother constantly warned me not to drink any of her teas, as I had bad allergies.  I sipped my great-grandmother’s teas and survived…  That salve she made was actually a good drawing salve for cuts.

On the history channel, when it still was a “history” channel, I watched a show on ancient Egypt and there was a segment on ancient medicine, where the narrator mentioned honey being good to aid in fighting infection and healing cuts.  I’ve tried it many times and it works.  The ancient Chinese also used honey.  I met a young Army wife from south Texas, who babysat my kids when we lived in Germany, who told me to wet a wad of tobacco and stick it on a bee sting to draw out the venom.  It worked, so I use it.  My late mother would be appalled, but there you have it.  She lamented my pack rat tendencies constantly and despaired,  when she would ask me why I was keeping all this “junk” and I would  respond, “I might need it one day.” And in exasperation she would say, “You are just like your grandmother!”  So, I am like my grandmother in many ways….


My grandmothers were just ordinary, poor women in the backwoods of PA, but they worked hard, they were great cooks and bakers, did lovely needlework and quilts, and although “uneducated” they both valued learning.  My great-grandmother had a third grade education, married when she was 13 or 14 years old, raised 9 children, ran a farm, she was an expert gardener with shelves midway up her kitchen windows filled with African violets.  She taught me how to propagate African violets from leaf cuttings and other plants from cuttings.   She taught me how to spot plant insects, diseases and signs of over or under watering.  She told me it’s always better to under water than to over water and from my experience that is the truth.  She spent her life being productive until she was almost 90 years old.  She was in her 70s when I was born and she taught me needlework and I helped her with selecting the fabrics, from boxes of fabric scraps she had acquired from a local blouse factory, and then cutting out her quilt pieces for her.  She also patiently helped me learn how to write my letters, while we sat at her kitchen table.  She taught me how to read crochet patterns, but despite her best efforts I never caught on to crocheting.  She read the newspaper every day.


Above: Government leaflets on where to write for records

One summer, I had been up in her attic looking through boxes and came across post cards and old photos, so I carted them downstairs.  My great-grandmother, with the third grade education, had somewhere picked up the habit of having  tea with cookies or pastry in the afternoon, so we sat at her kitchen table many afternoons, as I would show her old photos and write the names on the back, as she struggled to remember who the relatives in the photos were.  This led to my interest in genealogy.  So, I did some research and found addresses to write for information on birth and death records, marriage records, and divorce records.

Herein comes this conversation with my husband’s friend about oral histories, where the information age can greatly aid in not only genealogical research, but in compiling and saving oral histories.  Several years ago, an elderly customer in the store where I worked asked me for assistance and we had an amazing conversation, after I commented on the WWII baseball cap he was wearing.  He was a local farmer wearing overalls, from out in the boonies in rural GA.   As he started to tell me of his WWII experiences, it struck me that his was a tale of a soldier from my favorite WWII movie, The Big Red One, which I wrote about in a long ago blog post:

“Being sort of squeamish and abhorring violence, I’m not a fan of war movies, but one of my favorite movies, oddly enough, is The Big Red One, the 1980 Sam Fuller WWII epic.  Being a lowly private in the Army, stationed in southern Germany in 1980, our movie theater was located across a parking lot,  behind my barracks.  My kaserne, perched atop a picturesque southern mountaintop, was a vintage German army post and the Germans built their posts in a consistent, orderly fashion, with the companies neatly arranged around a parade field in the center and all the lesser support facilities beyond that tight circle.

There wasn’t much to do on small kasernes, like the one I was at, but being a little country girl, I found everything new and interesting. I could imagine I was Heidi in the Alps (well, okay, the Swabian Alps), following the footpath down the mountain to the town proper or let my imagination run wild,  gazing out the large window at the end of the female hallway, where a view to rival the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, greeted me each morning.  My view, a lovely old monastery perched upon another mountaintop in the distance, fueled my ever-fluttering flights of fancy.  Of course, I took several trips to that old monastery to explore it close-up.

Now, having a movie theater within walking distance seemed a luxury to me, because the nearest movie theater, where I grew-up in the mountains of  PA, was 10 miles away.  I would always ask a few of the guys to go to the movies with me and first we’d go to the snack bar, next to the movie theater, for ice cream, because I loved eating my vanilla ice cream first.  These uncomplaining young men, in gentlemanly fashion, usually insisted on buying my ice cream too.

I met many wonderful young men in that unit and as an aside to this tale, gentlemen were still in plentiful supply in the US Army in those days. Back to my story,  the only drawback to our movie theater was the same movie played for weeks on end, until something new arrived from the States.   I watched The Big Red One over and over and each time I came away remembering some new details I had missed before.”

This old farmer is one of America’s heroes, who will likely never be remembered for his sacrifices to our great country.  If you’ve got old war veterans in your family or neighborhood, just taking a few minutes to record their stories and preserving them in an online journal or creating a blog to share with other family members could preserve more of the real history of our American heroes.

My interest in these old family photos gave me a deeper appreciation of my  uneducated, backwoods ancestors.  A few times while having tea in my great-grandmother’s kitchen, one of her sons, my Great-Uncle Clark, stopped by and he took an interest in what I was doing. He served in the South Pacific as a Marine in WWII and was seriously injured.

Years later, when my husband and I were visiting my parents in rural PA, my mother told me, “You should go visit Uncle Clark while you’re home.  He asks about you all the time.”  So, I drove over to his modest home.  His wife is a typical PA Dutch homemaker.  The house was charmingly decorated and very clean.  My Uncle Clark had pursued the genealogy search with a vengeance and he wanted to discuss his findings with me.  He had several boxes in the basement he wanted to retrieve, so I trailed along to the basement, where everything was arranged in an orderly fashion and there were shelves lined with home-canned vegetables and fruits.

We carted the boxes up to his kitchen and chatted for several hours.  My Uncle Clark passed away several years ago and his genealogy collection, I believe, is with one of his daughters.  Someday I’d like to visit her and see if I can take photos of some of his collection and create an online journal, but the one thing I never talked about, nor did my Uncle Clark ever talk about, was his wartime experiences in WWII.   I wish I had gotten his war story and not just “old” family history.

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Filed under American Character, American History, General Interest

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