Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hello Girls

In my fourth book, Wheresoever They May Be, Susan Talbot is a switchboard operator in the Women’s Army Corps. World War II was not the first time women served in that role. During World War I, the “Hello Girls” filled that urgent need in France.
These American women were part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. They were fluent in English and French. A total of 223 were trained by AT&T before sailing for Europe.
Men disdained the “women’s work” job, and they weren’t as good at it. They took as long as sixty second to connect calls. The women could accomplish the task in ten seconds.
According to author Elizabeth Cobbs, “every command to advance or retreat or hold fire was delivered by telephone and it took an operator to connect that call.”
The American women connected calls for French officers needing to communicate with American officers, and they stayed on the line to translate for the men. They served near the front, in danger of bombardment, and knew military secrets.

General Pershing inspects the Hello Girls

After the war, the women tried to join service organizations, which required their Army discharge papers. The army told them they were civilian contractors, and were ineligible for the bonuses paid to all members of the armed forces. Not until 1977 was legislation signed recognizing them as veterans. By then, most had passed on.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Who Wrote "It Is Well With My Soul"

Many Titanic victims are buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A tour guide at the cemetery told us one of the survivors who lost his family wrote the words to “It Is Well With My Soul.” I knew he was wrong, but I didn’t care to challenge him.


            A glance in a hymnal will tell you the words were penned by Horatio Spafford, born in 1828. He was a successful attorney and real estate investor who lost a fortune in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

            Two years later Horatio decided the family would travel to England for a vacation and to attend one of their friend Dwight L. Moody’s evangelistic crusades. His wife and four young daughters journeyed to England, but he was detained on business and planned to join them as soon as possible. On November 22, 1873, the ship was involved in a collision and sank. More than 200 people lost their lives, including all four Spafford daughters. His wife, Anna, survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to her husband that began: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

                  Horatio immediately left for England. During his voyage, the ship’s captain pointed out the spot where the shipwreck occurred. The grieving father wrote these words:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll—
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well with my soul.
            Horatio and Anna had a son Horatio, born in 1875 or 1876, and another daughter, Bertha, in 1879.  More tragedy in 1880 was theirs when their son died of scarlet fever.  The church they attended believed the family tragedies were the result of divine punishment. The Spaffords withdrew their membership and moved to Jerusalem, where they established the “American Colony,” offering aid to those in need, regardless of race or religion.  Another daughter, Grace, had been born in early 1881, and in August of that year, they began their journey.


Horatio Spafford died of malaria on October 16, 1888, and is  buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Freckleton Air Disaster

As the airliner swooped down to Milwaukee’s airport last week, the folks in the homes below couldn’t miss the roar of the plane’s engines. I know. I lived one summer across the street from the end of a runway at Green Bay’s airport. At least it is rare for a plane to miss the runway.
Imagine living in England’s East Anglia district during World War II. The open terrain of farmland was ideal for airfields, and the Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Forces built dozens, all close together. The Americans occupied 67 airfields.
The planes often took off in the wee hours, rousing the entire countryside. Often the weather was foggy. Collisions were too common, with fully fueled and heavily armed airplanes dropping on whatever had the misfortune of being under them. Damaged planes returning from bombing missions didn’t always make it to their airfields.
            A refurbished American B-24 Liberator bomber on a test flight crashed into an English village of Freckleton and killed 61 people, including 38 school children at Holy Trinity School, on August 23, 1944. It was likely the worst air disaster in England during WWII.


At 10:30, two B-24s took off, but a storm kicked up, and they were instructed to immediately return to the base. By 10:40, conditions had seriously deteriorated, with heavy rain and wind gusts hitting 60 to 70 miles per hour, uprooting trees in the area.
At 10:41, the Classy Chassis II began its approach to the airfield. As the planes dropped down to 500 feet and lowered their landing gear, they encountered heavy rain and zero visibility. The second pilot aborted his landing and headed northward out of the storm. The pilot of Classy Chassis II tried to abort his landing as well.
It didn’t happen. As the pilot tried to retract the landing gear and pull the aircraft out of its approach to the runway, the violent turbulence and wind gusts threw the 25-ton aircraft with 2,793 gallons of aviation fuel into Freckleton at 10:47 am. The Classy Chassis II first clipped some trees, then cartwheeled. The impact killed the three crewmen. Three homes were partially damaged and the Sad Sack CafĂ© was demolished, killing killed 18 of the 20 people inside.
The bomber slid across a road and slammed into the infants’ wing of the school. Inside were 41 four- to six-year-old children and two teachers. Seven children and the two teachers were pulled from the burning classroom; only three children survived their injuries. They endured years of surgeries.
Five-year-old Ruby Currell was one of the survivors. “It’s something you don’t forget. It doesn’t diminish. Not for me.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

John Wayne, American Hero?

John Wayne was an iconic American actor. I never knew why. Actually, I’d never watched more than fragments of a John Wayne movie. He seemed so blustery. When I had the opportunity to read a new book on the actor, I did. The Young Duke: The Early Life of John Wayne was an eye-opener into the life of this larger-than-life man.
Marion Morrison’s mother Molly was a shrew who complained incessantly about her husband Clyde’s lack of ambition. She felt entitled to an aristocratic lifestyle they couldn’t afford. She wanted Marion to be an attorney, successful in business and finance. She resented that he favored his father.
The family moved from Iowa to California for Clyde’s health. Marion had a dog he called Duke, which became his nickname, and he preferred it over his sissy name.
Duke attended USC on a football scholarship. Movie celebrities liked to watch the winning Trojans, and cowboy star Tom Mix exchanged summer jobs for players at Fox Films Corporation for box seats. Duke Morrison got one of the jobs, and Mix suggested Duke work as an extra in his next Western.
Director John Ford got him to appear in Salute. In Ford’s next film, Men Without Women, Duke appeared again and did stuntwork. He didn’t actively seek out roles, but didn’t turn them down.
Raoul Walsh cast him in The Big Trail. Studio executives objected to his name; Duke Morrison didn’t sound American enough. He became John Wayne in 1930.


After he started acting, Wayne studied the craft. Paul Fix taught him what to do with his hands while talking and other basic movement skills. Fix also changed Wayne’s gait, pointing his toes into the ground as he walked, causing a distinctive sway to his shoulders and hips.
Ford got mad at Duke for starring in The Big Trail, even though he had suggested him, and refused to speak to him for seven years. Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn got mad at him because he thought Wayne had an affair with his co-star, Lara La Plante, whom Cohn liked, and retaliated by casting him in demeaning roles for three years. Cecil B. DeMille asked him to his office in 1937 to discuss Duke possibly appeared in a Western DeMille was producing. DeMille kept him waiting over an hour, and then spent their time together critiquing Wayne’s work and explaining why he would not cast him in the lead.
Ford got over his pique and cast Wayne in Stagecoach, the film that took him out of B Westerns and made him an A star.
Wayne’s marriages don’t cast him in a good light. He didn’t approach marriage wisely and wasn’t a faithful husband.
John Wayne met Josephine Saenz in 1926. Her parents forbade her to see him, an unemployed teenager with no social standing, money, or prospects, a part-time actor who didn’t regularly attend church. After a six-year engagement, they finally married in 1933  in a lavish ceremony at Loretta Young’s Bel Air estate.
Josie organized posh affairs which John was not comfortable with. She was not enamored with the Hollywood scene. They distanced themselves from each other’s lives. Four children were born between 1934 and 1940, but his torrid love affair with Latin actress Chatta Bauer led to a divorce in 1944. Friends and Ford had tried to curb the affair, but Wayne resented their interference. He then wed Chatta in a volatile marriage doomed to fail.
He was a patriotic American, yes, and Congress awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal inscribed to John Wayne, American. (Not the Medal of Honor as reported in The Young Duke.) His personal life wasn’t noteworthy.
I decided the next time a Wayne film was on TV, I’d watch it in its entirety. Maybe a full movie would enlighten me. The Flying Leathernecks aired several days ago. It was okay, but I still don’t know what all the fuss is about. Are you a John Wayne fan?




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ice is Slick

The Olympics take place next month. What’s your favorite sport to watch? Mine is figure skating.
My own skating skills are laughable. I don’t even know how to stop. I haven’t skated in many years, with good reason.
When I was five, a depression in our front yard made a lovely ice rink. One Saturday after Christmas, my older sister and I were skating when our dad came home. “Come skate with us,” we cried.


Before he had a chance to put on his skates, my sister ran into the house. “Terri fell!”
I don’t remember the fall or the immediate aftermath. I do remember sitting on the bench seat inside the back door, my parents looking in my mouth, my mom trying to reach our dentist. He was at a wedding.
Leaving my sister and younger brother with our next-door neighbor, my parents took me to St. Vincent Hospital. X-rays revealed my jaw was not broken. Another dentist, Dr. Krause, performed oral surgery, wiring my teeth and stitching my gum.
Before learning I would not have to stay overnight, my dad went home to take my siblings to our grandparents’ house. He brought back to the hospital a much-loved Christmas gift, my Chatty Cathy.
I remember a nun coming into the room where I sat, clutching my talkative doll. Her eyes opened wide in wonder. “Who do we have here?” I’m sure her expression was exaggerated to amuse and distract a frightened child.
I did go home that night. And when school reopened after the holiday, I went off to kindergarten with a note for my teacher, requesting special consideration for my battered mouth. I remember the teacher inspecting the dentist’s handiwork. And then the principal. They phoned my mom to come and get me. The school didn’t want responsibility for me.
For years afterward, driving past Dr. Krause’s office haunted me. I still remember sitting in his dental chair while he removed bits of wire and thread and dropping them on the paper bib fastened around my neck.
Figure skaters take innumerable tumbles. They suffer injuries worse than mine. When they stand on the podium with their shiny medals, what price did they pay in blood and tears? Their dedication and perseverance is admirable.

But skating is not for me. That ice is too hard and slippery.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Holding West Berlin

Stalin launched the blockade of Berlin to stop the Allies’ introduction of the deutschmark in the city’s western zones, to stop the progress toward the creation of West Germany, and to prevent NATO.
Days before the blockade began, Stalin had expelled Tito’s Yugoslavia from the Communist bloc, Cominform. As a result, the possibility of defection from Moscow was no longer unthinkable. Stalin could not now show any weakness over Germany.
By keeping the western currency out of Berlin, the Soviets would have complete control of the city’s finances. By impeding the progress toward separate Germanys, he could help himself to western German goods.
When Russia banned traffic to Berlin, the Allies counter-blockaded, halting shipments and traffic from western Germany into the eastern zone. To Stalin’s surprise, the East was dependent on coal, steel, machine tools, and industrial commodities from the west. The Soviets also suffered because they had been siphoning food and industrial shipments from western Germany as hidden reparations.



The Berlin Airlift wasn’t seen as a permanent solution. Many in the west believed withdrawing from Berlin would be necessary. They raised humanitarian concerns, saying Moscow would bring in supplies for the city’s western zones.
The United States could not withdraw their occupation troops, however. The Russians could not be trusted. Western Germany’s leaders wanted the troops to stay; they had long experience with totalitarian methods and would never accept Russia’s terms for unification.
The Russians claimed they would not remove their troops because the Germans hated them; as a matter of national security, the must maintain forces in Germany.
The only policy toward the Soviet Union must be firm, vigilant containment of Russian expansion tendencies. The U.S. refused to turn 2,400,000 West Berlins over to the terror of communist rule. And Stalin backed down on the blockade.

Coming in February  The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Marshall Plan

President George Washington bid his countrymen to steer clear of foreign entanglements, especially with Europe, whose interests were remote from the United States. Europe was always engaged in controversies irrelevant to American concerns.
After World War II, President Harry Truman took seriously Washington’s warning against foreign alliances, but he was convinced the realities of the late 1940s dictated the necessity of involvement.
Aid to war-torn Europe was the only way to get the shattered countries back on their feet and away from the new enemy, the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan came to be.


During five years of war, the occupied countries had learned to cheat, lie, and run black markets. Rather than lend them reconstruction funds and wish them well, the United States controlled the purse strings with its blueprints, cash, and security guarantees.
Who would receive the American aid? The British and French believed Russia should be consulted, and held a conference with Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Molotov. Including him carried a high risk. The Russians could have killed the Marshall Plan with their demands and grievances over terms.
Goaded into rejecting the plan, Molotov walked out, making the U.S. the good guys and the Russians the bad guys. The Soviet Union wanted chaos in Europe, not reconstruction.
The recipient countries needed to devise a collective plan for recovery. Twenty-two nations were invited to participate. The Soviets instructed their satellite countries to attend to disparage the plan and prevent its unanimous adoption.
Poland and Czechoslovakia were especially eager to take part in the plan. Realizing they couldn’t be counted on the cooperate, Russia rescinded their order and forbid their attendance.
The western countries presented a plan that would have required continued assistance long after the U.S. wanted. The aim of the Marshall Plan was a self-supporting western Europe. Terms were spelled out: a workable economy independent of outside aid within four years, with demonstrable progress during that period in achieving production targets on essential items, especially food and coal. Greater austerity, not greater demands on America.
Selling the plan to Americans was equally difficult. Congressmen toured Europe and became believers. After a hard-won war, they couldn’t afford to lose the peace.


Coming in February  The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil