Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nazis Leave a Mixed Race Child Alone

A little German boy couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to join the Hitler Youth. He wanted to enjoy the activities his friends participated in. And he admired their smart uniforms.
His name was Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi. He was born on January 19, 1926, in Hamburg. His mother was a white German nurse. His father was the son of the Liberian consul in Germany. Hans-Jürgen was one of few black children growing up in the Third Reich. But the regime, while excluding him, did not persecuted him. He was not deported, or worse.

Young Hans-Jürgen wears a swastika emblem

 Growing up in his wealthy grandfather’s villa, surrounded by white servants, young Hans thought being black made him superior. When the Massaquoi family returned to Africa, the privileges ended. Hans and his mother remained in Germany. His father, a college student in Dublin, had never paid much attention to him.
His mother found a poorly paid hospital assistant job, and they moved into a tiny apartment. She brought her son up to believe he was German like everyone else. Yet he suffered racial abuse at school and in his neighborhood and was excluded from the Hitler Youth. In 1936, he went on a school trip to Berlin for the Olympics. There he saw black American Jesse Owens win medals. That inspired him.
As the years passed, he was also barred from the military, further education, and prohibited from all professions. He was a second class citizen of Germany.
He apprenticed as a machinist. At a required visit to a government-run job center, his assigned vocational counselor, a member of the SS, informed that he could be of great service to Germany. There would be a great demand for technically trained Germans to go to Africa to train and develop an African workforce when Germany reclaimed its African colonies.

Of course, they lost the war and didn’t reclaim the colonies. After the war, Hans saved himself and his mother from starving by playing the saxophone for American merchant seamen in Hamburg clubs. In 1947, he immigrated to the United States. He spent two years as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in Korea, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1950. He gained a degree in journalism under the GI Bill, and eventually became managing editor of Ebony magazine. He died on his 87th birthday in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Nazis were quick to kill anyone who wasn’t part of their ideal Aryan race. Why do you suppose they left a young black boy alone?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Who Snubbed Jesse Owens?

The 1936 Olympics provided Hitler with the opportunity to showcase to the world the fabulous society he and his Nazis were creating for Germany. Not only would the world see beautiful Berlin and the comfortable German lifestyle, everyone would see his athletes were prime specimens of Aryan superiority who would win all the gold.
Except, they didn’t win all the gold. Gasp! A black man, American Jesse Owens, beat the Aryan supermen in a footrace.
Furious, Hitler…
                                    A.   Congratulated the winner.
                                    B.   Stormed out of the Olympic Stadium.
                                    C.   Neither of the above.
He stormed out of Olympic Stadium so he wouldn't have to congratulate Owens, right?
That would seem to be perfectly in character for a man known to rant and rave, but it is a myth.
During the first day’s competitions, Hitler did congratulate the German winners. Members of the Olympic Committee took him to task. He was supposed to maintain Olympic neutrality. Either congratulate all winners, or none. He chose to honor none.
Hitler did walk out as a black American athlete was about to be decorated, but it was Cornelius Johnson, not Jesse Owens. A Nazi spokesman claimed Hitler’s leave-taking time had been pre-scheduled.

As it happened, Jesse Owens received several thunderous ovations from the captivated German audience. They gave him the greatest ovations of his track career, chanting “Yesseh Oh-vens” or just “Oh-vens.” He was mobbed by autograph seekers.
The German athletes won more medals than all the other countries combined. Hitler and the Nazis were well pleased with the outcome. Jesse’s four gold medals (in the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter relay, and long jump) were a minor embarrassment that couldn’t overshadow the huge public relations coup the Nazis had pulled off, casting Germany and the National Socialist Party in a positive light.
So who snubbed Jesse Owens? His own president. Despite ticker-tape parades for Owens in New York City and Cleveland, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt never publicly acknowledged Owens’ achievements. Owens wasn’t invited to the White House; never received a letter of congratulations from the president. Not until 1955 did President Dwight D. Eisenhower honor Owens by naming him “Ambassador of Sports.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

WASP of the Ferry Command

As early as World War I, two American aviatrixes taught cadets to fly. It was only natural that women who loved to fly wanted to use their skill to help in World War II.
They found their niche with the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command in the Army Air Force. The ATC was favorable to women; they had a lot of airplanes that needed to be moved and they needed pilots. Women ferried military aircraft around the country from October, 1942, through December, 1944.
In October, 1944, General “Hap” Arnold announced the AAF had sufficient pilots for present combat needs. The end of the war seemed in sight. Returning combat pilots could fill the service pilot jobs performed by WASPs. Dissolution of the WASP was set for December 20.
The Ferrying Division wanted to keep the women to ferry pursuit planes, which were crucial to the war in Europe. Men had to fly the heavy bombers and cargo planes overseas, where the women were not allowed to go. After December 20, 1944, dozens of badly needed pursuit fighters sat on airfields with no one to deliver them.
The new book WASP of the Ferry Command: Women Pilots, Uncommon Deeds by Sarah Byrn Rickman concentrates on the 303 women in the Ferry Command. Here are snippets from their experiences:
One woman wanted to buy her own plane for $1,500. She got a loan for $1,300 at a time when people weren’t getting loans for cars. She discovered years later the banker gave her the loan because he figured she’d kill herself and her family would pay off her debt.
Twenty-seven men and six women ferried open cockpit Stearman PT-17 trainers in winter from Montana to Tennessee. It was 9° in Great Falls, Montana. The line crews had to heat the engine oil to get the engines to start. The pilots were bundled in bulky flight gear that failed to keep out the cold. They had to fly over the Rockies. Snow hid landmarks. They didn’t have radios, so had to communicate by hand signals. The women, flying together, arrived in Tennessee after nineteen days, before the men.

Cornelia Fort had been giving a flying lesson in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, humorously portrayed in the movie Tora, Tora, Tora. They landed safely. Cornelia was the first WASP to die when a male pilot doing aerobatic maneuvers during a ferry jaunt struck her plane.
Getting P-51 Mustang fighter planes from Long Beach to Newark for shipment to Europe  was a high priority. Ferry pilots held War-B-II priority, allowing them to bump civilians and high-ranking military officers from airline flights. One WASP bumped Frank Sinatra from a flight, disappointing his fans waiting to see him during a Memphis stopover.
Some men resented the women pilots because they took the glory out of flying. The men couldn’t swagger if women flew. One WASP recalled, “We released men for combat. The men did not want to go to combat. That’s why some of the men resented us.”
The women’s accomplishments were unique for their time. The women didn’t talk about their experiences after the war. No one believed them. The Army Air Force had sealed their records.
In the mid-70s, Navy women were lauded as the first to fly military aircraft. A renewed effort began to win recognition of the WASPs by gaining militarization, which was finally granted in 1977.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Secret of the Sinking of U-456

That big manila envelope came from the U-boat flotilla commander’s headquarters in Brest, France. Erich’s base. Why would headquarters be contacting her?

Heidi’s breath stalled in her throat as a prickling sensation bloomed in her stomach, and she fought a wave of dizziness as she reached for the envelope as though it might bite. It could do worse than bite. It could tear apart her world. Her fingers trembled as she loosened the flap and extracted a document. Standardized words adorned the page.

true to his oath to the flag

he died in battle for

the freedom of greater germany

No, no. Oh, please God, no.

Beneath the grandiose announcement, Erich’s name appeared with the date May 12, 1943, followed by, “he died a hero’s death for führer, folk and fatherland.”

Heidi’s hands flew to her mouth, and the document fluttered to the floor. …

A second letter caught her eye, also from Brest. It bore the sender’s name as Helmut Keller, Erich’s good friend. Her heart beat stuttered, and she fought another wave of dizziness. Helmut had no reason to write to her. Stealing a glance at the vile document lying on the floor, she picked up his letter. Tears filled her eyes as she prayed he wrote to inform her of a mistake. Erich’s U-boat had returned to port after all.

But then why didn’t Erich write to her himself? Unless he was wounded. She ripped open the envelope.

Dear Heidi, I am so sorry to tell you…

She sank to the cold hardwood floor, a moan escaping from deep within her. Pain squeezed her like a python. Her lungs struggled to inhale. Erich, oh, Erich, come home. Please come back home to me. How can I go on without you?

She focused tear-filled eyes on the letter.

We heard U-456’s radio messages. They weren’t clear for diving, but an enemy aircraft kept them in sight. They reported a leak in the after compartment and urgently requested help. Then came U-456’s final message: ‘Diving. Cannot stop. Heil Hitler.’

Erich was an excellent friend.

Was an excellent friend. Past tense. Helmut believed Erich dead. She crumpled the letter. How terrible had it been for him? The wounded U-boat diving straight down, unstoppable. When it reached crush depth, it imploded, crumpling like a tin can. And the men in it? Bile rose in her throat, choking her. Hunching over, she rocked back and forth while tears streamed down her cheeks.  Her heart picked up its pace, but she still couldn’t breathe. No, God, no. Don’t let it be true. Please. No.

Did the men of U-456 have to die? Would surrender have been so bad? Why had the skipper ordered a dive with the boat so badly damaged? Had Erich objected? Or had he been wounded? She’d probably never learn the answers to the questions that haunted her.

The above excerpt is from Friends and Enemies, my debut novel. Heidi never learned what really happened to U-456. No one in Germany learned until after the war that a new top secret weapon had caused the submarine’s demise.
Adhering to the actual timeline of events is important to me. To determine the starting point for the novel, I studied U-boat losses in 1943. I wanted a sub that went down in the Atlantic. May of ’43 was known as Black May for the Germans. Forty-one U-boats were sunk, and thirty-seven damaged. When I clicked on U-456 on my favorite U-boat website, I found my sub.
Why did U-456 sink? It had been caught on the surface by a Liberator piloted by RAF Flight Lieutenant John Wright. They carried a Mark XXIV Mine. The Mk.24 was an airborne anti-submarine acoustic homing torpedo.
The Mk.24 could detect, track, and impact a source of underwater noise―a U-boat’s propellers. It was so secret that it could only be used out in the Atlantic where it wouldn’t run ashore. It was to be released only after a U-boat had dived or was diving with the conning tower hatch closed, so the enemy would not see this new weapon. Surface ships were not to be in the vicinity, as their propellers might deflect the Mk.24.
On May 12, the U-456 dove when the Liberator approached. No surface ships were around, so the Mk.24 was released. The Liberator circled, and two minutes later a brownish patch appeared on the ocean. The U-boat resurfaced and took off at a high speed. The Liberator dropped depth charges that did missed the submarine, and the crew called for surface support while it maintained watch.
At 1130 hours, U-456’s Commander Max-Martin Teichert sent a distress call to U-boat Headquarters. am not clear for diving… aircraft is keeping contact. urgently request help. Twenty-one minutes later: bad leak in after compartment, need help urgently.
Another U-boat was ordered to assist, but it was sunk first.
At 1640 hours, a destroyer raced toward the U-456. Teichert dove his damaged boat. The secret new weapon had done its job. U-456 went straight down.
And Heidi Wetzel became a widow.