Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fly GIrls

General “Hap” Arnold admitted it. Women can fly as well as men.
With a severe shortage of pilots in 1942, the United States turned to an experimental program to help fill the void: Train women to fly military aircraft so male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas. There was no military plane not flown by women during World War II.
Over 1,100 women, all civilian volunteers, flew as part of the WASP program. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points around the country. They tested overhauled planes. They towed targets for training ground and air gunners, who shot with live ammunition.
Pioneering aviator Jacqueline Cochran headed the WASP program. She believed the program would be militarized if it was successful. It was. The women’s safety records were comparable and sometimes even better than male pilots doing the same jobs.

WASP (from left) Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their B-17, called Pistol Packin' Mama, during ferry training at Lockbourne Army Air Force base in Ohio. They're carrying their parachutes.
National Archives

At first, the suggestion was made to militarize the WASPs into the Women’s Army Corps. Only one female colonel was allowed, however, and that was Col. Oveta Culp Hobby. Cochran refused to serve under her.
By 1944, the Allies had achieved air superiority in Europe, and pilots were coming home. They were eligible for the draft, and wanted to keep flying. No longer were women needed to release the men for combat. The men wanted to get rid of the women.
Cochran told Arnold to give her charge of a militarized WASP program or disband it. Arnold wasn’t willing to fight her battles anymore; he had a war to win. The WASPs were disbanded.
The women had no benefits, no gold stars for their parents’ windows if they died. And 38 women did die in service. And because they were civilians, the military didn’t pay for their remains to be shipped home. The women took up a collection for that.
In 1976, the Air Force announced they would admit women to their flying program. “It’s the first time that the Air Force has allowed women to fly their aircraft.”
That upset former WASPs. It wasn't true. They had been the first to fly military planes.
Finally, in 1977, the WASP were granted military status.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

You’re in the Auxiliary Army Now

With the necessity of fielding armies to wage a two-front war, America needed more manpower than was available. America needed its women in uniform.
During the in between-war years, studies were conducted on the use of women in World War I. Recommendations were made for the probable use of women in future wars. The final analysis was, don’t put them in auxiliary organizations. Put them in the military with benefits and protection.

At the beginning of World War II in Europe, new planning was uninformed of the earlier recommendations. The conclusion was, yes, women were needed, but under no circumstances should they be given military status.
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was formed in May 1942. Because Congress had dragged its feet in passing the bill creating the WAAC, planners missed out on the training site in Maryland they wanted. Instead, they found a recently vacated horse barn in Des Moines, Iowa. The dormitories smelled like horses.
When the women finally received uniforms, they got whatever sizes they were given. When the army sought publicity for the new uniforms, all the press wanted to know about was the olive drab underwear.
The women’s pay was a rank behind the men’s. Director Oveta Culp Hobby was a colonel with a major’s pay.
The first class of WAACs at Des Moines served as guinea pigs. The army didn’t know how to feed them. Using a survey of business women, they served the WAACs sandwiches and salads, while men ate steak and stew.
Rumors spread. According to one, physicians rejected all virgins. Reporter John O’Donnell wrote in his column Capitol Stuff that the War Department issued prophylactics to all WAACs before they went overseas. These were so the women could fulfill the “morale” purposes for which the army had really recruited them.
An FBI investigation thought to uncover German propaganda, but the smear campaign was homegrown. Soldiers who had never come across any WAACs wrote critically about them in letters home. Wives and mothers resented the women who served overseas in close contact with their men.
Because the women didn’t have military status, they weren’t able to release men for combat, the primary reason for the WAACs. A military position could only be filled by military personnel. Plus, the women could leave their jobs whenever they wanted. The army had become dependent on the women and wanted control over them. It was time to drop “Auxiliary” from the WAAC and put them into the Regular Army. The new bill went to the president’s desk on July 1, 1943, for his signature.

Susan, in Wheresoever They May Be, served in the Women’s Army Corps as a switchboard operator.

Men didn’t have a choice about serving. They were drafted. The women volunteered. They worked long hours with little rest. They faced scorn at home and danger overseas. One hundred eighty-one died in army service.
Mary B. Johnston, a cryptanalyst who had to learn Japanese and Morse code for her job, said, “We were out there to do a job and everybody was dedicated to that job. We were in battle zones and we worked HARD! With something important to do, you get it done and feel good about it, because it can make a difference in the war and because you made a contribution. We all felt a sense of accomplishment and participation.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My Writing Desk

My writing desk is cramped. I think that’s the first impression anyone would get. It’s an old desk left over from school days, squeezed in between the window and my bed.
Outside the window is an evergreen where lots of bird congregate. A bird feeder stands below, attracting woodpeckers, finches, cardinals, chickadees, orioles, and more. They provide entertainment while I write.
My laptop is now nine years old, and it has plenty of quirks. I think it has lasted so long because it does not have internet hookup.
The book behind the laptop is Conquer: The Story of the Ninth Army. This was a primary research source for my grasshopper pilot in Wheresoever They May Be (which is now available!).
Most of the notes have green marks on them. The green indicates they apply to Joe, the pilot. Each of the four main characters had his or her own color. Frank’s, as befitting a navy man, was blue.
On the far left is a floor plan of Lily’s house in Long Beach, California.
The film canister between the lamp and the candle holds sand I scooped up from Omaha Beach, a souvenir from my trip to Normandy years ago.

The desk looks quite neat, but I’ll admit. It was cleaned up for the photo. Normally, there are stacks of books, photocopies, notes, mail, and so much more that you would wonder how I ever manage to complete a project.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Where'd You Get a Name Like That?

My WWII series Promise For Tomorrow features large casts of characters in all three books, so I had to come up with lots of names. In the first book, Friends & Enemies, the main female character lives in Germany. That meant I needed German given names and surnames. The last names were easy. With three quarters of German ancestry, I had plenty of selections to pick from my family tree.
Of the six main Promise characters, only Jennie Lindquist in No Neutral Ground does not have one of my family names. She required a Swedish surname, and I have no Swedish ancestry.
Cemeteries are a good place for me to find era-appropriate given names. I first spelled Jennie’s name with a –y, but changed it after seeing the –ie on tombstones. For all the airmen at Ridgewell Air Base, a base roster offered plenty of WWII possibilities, like Herb, Harold, Willard, Homer, and Clyde.
Deciding on names I like is important for the main characters, because I’ll be living with them for at least a year as the writing is in progress, and beyond once the book is published.
Some names are strictly for fun. I didn’t tell a friend I’d used her maiden name in No Neutral Ground, or her married name in Soar Like Eagles. When my next book, Wheresoever They May Be, releases next week, she’ll find another surprise.

Frank Savage of TV's 12 O'Clock High. 

Wheresoever is unique in that I didn’t use family names. Instead, I turned to television. The 1960s TV series, 12 O’Clock High, featured B-17s and was a big help when I wrote my series. The episode “Decoy” showed a ditching and how the Gibson Girl radio was used to signal for help. The first base commander was Frank Savage, followed by Joe Gallagher. My two main male characters in Wheresoever are Frank Swanson and Joe Gallagher.
The chaplain in the Promise For Tomorrow series is Kyle Hogan. Yes, he got his name from Hogan’s Heroes. I’ve also used Newkirk from that show, but don’t remember which book. That’s the problem with casts of dozens.
In my work in progress, I wanted a name I’d easily remember for the main character’s boss. A former boss of mine is named Marley S. The fictional boss is Martin Sopard. The surname is my boss’ name with a slight alteration.

For two Irishmen, I scrolled through an Irish names website and found Burke and Caffrey. Can you guess the TV show that prompted me to combine those names?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What's Coming in Two Weeks

After eight years of thinking, breathing, researching B-17s, I was ready to disembark and concentrate on something else. But what? I had a vague idea of three friends who joined the WAC, the WAVES, and the WASPs, but nothing crystalized. Except for the WAC.
I didn’t want to completely turn away from flying, and I prefer topics that aren’t commonly known. How about a grasshopper pilot? My second character was on board.
I had toyed with the idea of a family generational series. A World War II story paired with a World War I story. But no, too unwieldy.
The WAC could have a sister, though, who stayed on the home front and did factory work. Oh, dear. I couldn’t completely stay away from B-17s. She’s building them.
She also needs a husband. He’ll be in the navy, and not on an aircraft carrier. A destroyer! (This was in the works before Sarah Sundin signed a contract for her just-concluded series about destroyer men. I checked with her: She was writing about the Atlantic war; my guy’s in the Pacific. No problem.) I studied the list of Pacific destroyers and, oooh, the Spence. All kinds of possibilities there.

So there I had it: a sailor, his Rosie-the-Riveter wife, her WAC sister, and a grasshopper pilot. They’re all doing their part to help win the war, but sometimes the enemy isn’t obvious.

In two weeks, the new book is available!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Under Fire

When I first read Linda Matchett's new novel Under Fire, the setting of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire resonated with me. I've been there. Also the mention of the classic boats, which during World War II were not classic, but contemporary.
     Set in World War II, it ranges from New Hampshire to England to Ireland, and back to England. Questions often come to mind while reading and this time, I had the opportunity to ask Linda about Under Fire.

Lake Winnipesaukee

I recognized Lake Winnipesaukee right away, but it’s not named. Why? Too big a mouthful?
LOL! Most people do stumble over the name the first few times they try to say it (BTW, it’s pronounced win-eh-peh-sock-ee). I decided that writing about a fictional location would be easier. With all the WWII research I had to do to ensure historical accuracy, I didn’t want to have to research the town’s history too.

When I attended a classic boat show on Lake Winnipesaukee in the 80s, it rained.

Since my family’s business is publishing Classic Boating magazine, I was right at home reading about Chris-Craft and Lyman boats. (Yes, those wartime boats are classics now.) Have they been part of your life?
Not at all. I grew up boating on the Potomac River with my dad in his twelve-foot Jon boat. I was unfamiliar with wooden lake boats until we moved to New Hampshire. I’ve had several opportunities to ride in Lymans and Chris-Crafts, and there’s nothing like the experience. The gorgeous wooden hull, cushy interior, throaty snarl of the engine, the speed across open water.

Ruth lives a very adventurous life, traipsing of to London on her own in wartime, sneaking into places and spying on bad guys. Do you live vicariously through your characters? Is this the way you’d like to see yourself?
I have definitely lived vicariously through Ruth. She is much braver than I am in many ways. I have a fear of heights and am claustrophobic, so I admired her ability to scale walls and fences and squeeze into tiny hiding places. I also get lost easily, so I can’t imagine having to navigate a city where the signs have been removed.

Under Fire is full of twists and turns. Did you plot the novel before writing or did ideas come as you wrote?
I did plot the novel before I began. The first full length story I wrote as an adult was done free form, and it lagged and sagged in the middle, and I often got writer’s block. Since then I’ve always outlined my books. I also write extensive biographies for my characters. I allow my characters to wander “off script,” and sometimes an idea will come to me and I’ll change what I had planned, but for the most part I know generally how the story is going to go.
Where did the inspiration for Under Fire come from? 
As a former HR professional, I am intrigued about women’s employment experiences in the early 20th Century. I love reading about women who were trailblazers in their field, and I’ve got a background in journalism.  When I learned that only 127 of the 1,600 certified war correspondents were women, I knew what I wanted my protagonist to do for a living. Once I had nailed that down, I decided to explore how the WWII impacted people’s faith in God (e.g. how could a loving God allow Hitler to succeed, etc.), and I wanted Ruth to experience a personal crisis of faith as well. That’s when I decided to make her sister disappear.

I’ve just read your novella A Love Not Forgotten. Parts seemed familiar and sure enough, it’s a companion to your Love’s Harvest. Do you anticipate Ruth showing up in a future project?
I’ve got two more Ruth Brown mysteries written with several story ideas percolating.

What are you working on next?
I am working on a mystery about a young woman who joins the USO to escape an arranged marriage. When her fiancé is found dead, she must prove her innocence.

Stay tuned!

Under Fire Blurb: Journalist Ruth Brown’s sister Jane is pronounced dead after a boating accident in April 1942. Because Jane’s body is missing, Ruth is convinced her sister is still alive. During her investigation, Ruth becomes suspicious about Jane’s job. Eventually Ruth follows clues to war-torn London. By the time she uncovers the truth about Jane’s disappearance, she has stumbled on black marketers, resistance fighters and the IRA – all of whom may want her dead.

Bio: Linda Shenton Matchett is a journalist, blogger, and author. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry, Linda has lived in historical places most of her life. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and as a Trustee for the Wolfeboro Public Library. Active in her church Linda serves as treasurer, usher, choir member, and Bible study leader. She is author of several romance novellas. Under Fire, the first in her trilogy about amateur sleuth/war correspondent Ruth Brown has just been released by eLectio Publishing ( Click here ( to receive Linda’s monthly newsletter that includes book reviews, links to free book sites, historical tidbits, and more.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Inspiration Point

When my family began publishing Classic Boating magazine in 1984, the inside back cover was reserved for Inspiration Point, a benediction at the end of each issue. My dad felt led by God to start the magazine when we were going through a rough patch. Inspiration Point is our acknowledgement that God is in control. Eventually, the task of writing the brief missive fell to me, which I do with a pseudonym. Here is one of them.

Photo by Jim Wangard

             Pussy Cat spent his days lounging on the top of the fence separating his yard from the rest of the neighborhood complex. He never deigned to socialize. If anyone approached with the hope of petting him, he leaped down inside his yard.

            The day came when his people moved away. Either they didn’t care to take him along or he hid and they gave up on him. Either way, he was now alone in the world.

            The new residents apparently didn’t want a cat. They didn’t feed him. No longer was he king atop his fence.

            He began to roam the complex. At first, he avoided contact with anyone. As the days went by, however, he grew thin. His glossy coat became dull and matted.

            Starvation prevented him from running away anymore. When a tin of sardine scraps was placed before him, he gratefully licked it clean.

            More days passed and he disappeared. No doubt he had crawled off to die alone, as he had lived alone.

            Two are better than one... If they fall down, they can help each other up. But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bright, Shining Moments

I found a yellowed newspaper clipping tucked away in a seldom-disturbed file. The partial editorial was written August 1, 1976, after the Montreal Olympics. The unknown writer’s comments can still bring tears to my eyes.

Olga Korbut of the USSR had been the darling of the 1972 Olympics. Now younger girls outshone her, and she looked lost and lonely. Then she won a silver medal in her final event, and “the crowd stood up and screamed its acclaim.… They were there for Olga Korbut when she needed it most ― and it was good to see.”

One other incident stood out for the writer. A young black American, Edwin Moses, won the hurdles and set a world record. “But there were records everywhere. It would have passed and nobody would have really cared very much.” But an unknown American named Mike Shine, who won the silver second, could not contain his joy. He raced over to Moses and hugged him. Moses hugged him back.
“And the crowd saw it, too. And they went slightly insane.
“And when the two young men ― one black, one white ― circled that track grinning and waving and swept up in the incredible wonder of the moment ― that mob from a score of countries stood and screamed for minutes.”

There may be a lot wrong in the world, but there is also a lot right.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Treasure Hunt

During World War I, England was desperate to buy supplies from the United States, and money ran low. The Laurentic was loaded with a secret consignment: small plain 12x12x6 wooden boxes weighing 140 pounds each. These boxes were stowed in a second-class passenger baggage room with tight security.

The White Star's Laurentic was a miniature Titanic, one third in size. Because of its speed,
it was refitted as an armed merchant cruiser during World War I.

The Laurentic left Liverpool on January 23, 1914. Rounding the northern coast of Ireland, it struck a pair of mines laid by a German submarine. The ship sank within an hour in bitter cold. Of the 479 souls on board, only 121 survived. Many others had gotten into lifeboats but froze to death. Also lost was the secret cargo: 3,211 gold ingots, worth more than £5,000,000.

An artist's impression of the sunken Laurentic.

Britain had to get that gold back. Naval Commander Guybon Damant, an experienced salvage diver, was given the job. His task was dangerous with the possibility of encounters with submarines and mines, the harsh northern weather, and a depth of 40 meters (43.7 yards).
Damant’s success didn’t come easily. Strong currents and storms quickly destroyed the ship. From season to season, the divers had to clear out their work areas that had been filled in with silt and debris. The gold compartment had been quickly located during the first season, but when the team returned after a storm, the upper decks had caved in. When the baggage room was finally reached, they found holes in the floor. The heavy gold had fallen through to the bottom of the ship. Most of the wooden boxes had disintegrated and the ingots were loose.

Luxurious with ornate, high-ceilinged public rooms, the Laurentic was popular on
White Star's Liverpool to Montreal or Quebec City route.

Success came slowly. 542 bars were salvaged in 1917; 31 in 1919; only 7 in 1920, 43 in 1921; 895 in 1922; 1,255 in 1923, a banner year; 129 in 1924.
In seven salvage seasons over eight years (none in 1918), Damant’s team recovered 3,186 bars of the original 3,211. The total cost of the operation was £128,000, or 2.5% of the £5 million. The government was thrilled. No deaths or serious injuries resulted despite the limits of diving technology and the highly hazardous conditions.

Divers prepare to search for the Laurentic's lost gold.

In the intervening years, others searched for the missing gold, and found five bars. Twenty bars remain unaccounted for. Anyone interested in taking up diving?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Formidable Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt is known for her public activism and passion for human rights, championing the poor and oppressed. In Eleanor, A Spiritual Biography, the author traces how she came by her religious faith and how it prompted her actions.

She was a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church and her understanding reflected the thinking of many who attend mainline churches. She believed in preparing for eternity by building a just world for all God’s children. This she did through her travel, columns, articles, interviews, and lectures, focusing attention on injustice and inhumane conditions.

A young Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt with James and Anna.

Her outspokenness made her a target of hatred and criticism. She believed it did little good to believe something unless she told her friends and associates her beliefs. She was more concerned with how one lived one’s faith than with the particularities of one’s beliefs. Her personal mantra was “The way your personal religion makes you live your life is the only thing that matters.”

What religion one belonged to didn’t matter as long as one practiced that religion. One of her great-grandsons became a Reconstructionist rabbi, and the author believes that would have pleased her. During World War II, she harbored prejudice against Jews, writing to a friend in Germany, “I realized quite well that there may be a need for curtailing the ascendency of the Jewish people.” Many close friends were Jewish.

After FDR's death, Eleanor served as a UN ambassador.

Jesus’ commands to care for “the least of these” spurred her activism. Yet she did not believe in hell or the virgin birth. She believed the story of Adam and Eve to be allegorical. On the basis of science, it couldn’t be true. For her, there was only one fundamental law: love one another. Everything else, including the Ten Commandments, was all interpretation.

There is no denying the good she did in a time of social upheaval. Her personal feelings may have been contradictory, but she pressed on because she took to heart and practiced the command to love one another.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Remembering The Professor

While clearing out a stack running over with old magazines and books, I found a newspaper clipping from January, 2014. The headline reads, “Russell Johnson, “Gilligan’s Island” professor, has died.”

The Professor and Gilligan: they're both gone now.

What’s the first thing you thought of when reading that name?
High school science teacher Roy Hinkley could rig up a four-bicycle-powered generator, create a glow-in-the-dark substance, and program a robot to walk to Hawaii. At times, he seemed the only level-headed castaway among the cast of seven.

The Professor with one of his gadgets.

The comedy ran for three years in the mid-60s, but remains beloved in syndication. Johnson described the show’s enduring appeal because, “No one gets hurt. No murders. No car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun – that’s the charm.”
The primitive island setting makes it ageless. That includes the actors. We always see them at the age they were during filming. Johnson was about 40.
His obituary details his World War II service. Like Vinny Zamperini, he was a B-24 bombardier flying missions in the Pacific theater. His plane was shot down over the Philippines and he broke both ankles.

Before Gilligan's Island, Russell Johnson acted in many westerns, often as the villian.

The GI Bill enabled him to enroll in the Actors Lab in Hollywood after his discharge. If not for that, we may not have had The Professor.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Quanza - A Moral Victory

In 1939, the ship St. Louis sailed from Europe with Jews fleeing the Nazi take-over. The ship was refused entry to any port in the Americas, and had to return to Europe. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in the United States, and the Nazis had a field day, crowing how no one wanted the Jews.
The following year, 317 passengers charted a Portuguese ship to take them to New York and Mexico. They had visas, but the captain suspected some were forged, and demanded they buy return passage should no one admit them.
A model of the SS Quanza on display in the University of Richmond law school library. 
The Quanza arrived in New York City on August 19, 1940, where 196 passengers, American citizens or visa-holders, disembarked. The other 121, nearly all Jewish refugees, were barred entry.
In Veracruz, Mexico, only 35 passengers were allowed to disembark. Local authorities ordered the ship to return to Europe with the remaining 86 passengers, primarily Belgian Jews.
When the Quanza arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, to refuel, a Jewish maritime lawyer filed suit in federal court, suing the Portuguese National Line for breach of contract on behalf of four of the passengers. During the six days the ship was held in port, Jewish-American associations lobbied for the passengers’ admittance to the United States. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was apprised of the situation and appealed to her husband. The president sent Patrick Murphy Malin, a member of the President’s Advisory Committee for Political Refugees, to investigate the refugees’ status. He issued them all visas and they entered the United States on September 14.
President Roosevelt received roses with a note reading, "With everlasting gratitude for your humane gesture, from the refugees of the SS Quanza."

The State Department vehemently opposed their admittance. Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, a rabid anti-Semite, worked to block further immigration and, by mid-1941, almost no war refugees were admitted to the U.S.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Lebensborn means source of life. During the Nazi era, it meant tearing families apart and traumatizing children.
The birth rate had been falling for decades in Germany. The Nazis determined to reverse the trend. They rewarded mothers who gave birth to large families. Advertising for birth control was banned, as was abortion. Still, the population didn’t increase sufficiently.
In their effort of creating the ideal Aryan race, the Nazis combed through the children in conquered nations and stole 300,000 “racially valuable” children. Most came from Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Examiners measured blond, blue-eyed children for head size and body size, making sure they had no Jewish aspects. Those determined as capable of being Germanized were sent to Lebensborn homes in Germany. From there, they were given to adoptive or foster parents.

A Polish child is grabbed for the Lebensborn program.

Heinrich Himmler headed the Lebensborn program and organized his paramilitary Schutzstaffel (SS) to be the vanguard of Aryan supermen. He encouraged them to have children with racially pure women, whether or not they were married.
The pregnant women could apply to give birth in a Lebensborn home, after which their children were often parceled out to adoptive families. While in the homes, the children were allowed little contact with their mothers, who were discouraged from talking to or cuddling their children. For all of them, their lifestyle was severe, to produce strong, ruthless future Aryan leaders. They needed love but got discipline.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad of the Swedish pop group ABBA is the child of a Norwegian mother and German soldier father. After her birth in November, 1945, her mother and grandmother were branded as traitors and ostracized in the Northern Norway village. They emigrated to Sweden, where Anni-Frid’s mother died of kidney failure before her daughter was two.
In the postwar years, many birth families searched for their missing children. Sometimes they were found and sent back. For young children with no memories of home, this was more traumatizing than the original kidnapping. All traces of their former lives and language were erased. They spoke only German, and returned to a country where all things German were hated. Even those who lived with their birth mothers found their mothers unwilling to reveal the truth about their fathers.
These children had been kidnapped or bred to be racially pure, strong, confident leaders of the master race. Instead, they often suffered low self-esteem and uncertainty about who they were. The Lebensborn program was a colossal tragedy.

Recommended Reading: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: A True Story of the Lebensborn Program and One Woman’s Search for Her Real Identity by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hollywood's Spies

Ever since World War II, questions have been raised as to why the American Jews didn’t do much to aid the beleaguered Jews of Europe. The absence of a strong national organization handicapped the American Jews. Their decentralized culture led to bickering. When solidarity was most needed, internal differences prevented them from finding common ground.
But they didn’t do nothing.
Antisemitism’s worst period in U.S. history coincided with the Nazi rise to power. Germany played an active role in fomenting political antisemitism in the U.S. For eleven years, from 1934 to 1945, the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee maintained an active, if hidden, defense and counterpropaganda program against Nazi infiltration in the United States.
The LAJCC carried on covert fact-finding partnered with non-Jewish organizations and individuals. Working with groups like the American Legion kept their findings from being discarded because they came from Jewish sources. If Jews protested against the far right, the fascist would claim their protests were proof of their communist allegiances.
Informants found their way into the Friends of New Germany, forerunner of the German America Bund, and documented the relationship between Berlin and FNG. They provided warnings for new activity, such as the desire of FNG to acquire blueprints of National Guard armories. Anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi books and newspapers written in English in Germany for American audiences were shipped to America on German tourist ships for distribution.
From 1939 to 1941, the LAJCC, operating under the name News Research Service, published News Letter, a weekly, timely expose with information from their files, linking past and current events. Most of the major U.S. periodicals subscribed to News Letter—Life, Look, New Republic, Saturday Evening Post, Time—and used this research for their own articles and requested more information. The News Letter influenced national opinion makers with credibility to publicly confront Nazis in the U.S. in a way no Jewish defense group could.

Some of the biggest names in Hollywood supported the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee.
From left: Louis B. Mayer, Eddie Cantor, George Cukor, Jack Warner, and David O. Selznick

While the Jewish community was divided in how to deal with Nazism and different groups appeared to compete for funds and status, this wasn’t a problem in Los Angeles. The LAJCC maintained its undercover operations because of the support of movie moguls of Hollywood. Dozens of Hollywood actors, directors, producers, and writers lent their money.
Los Angeles Jewish community fought its fight against Nazism with the financial support and skills and contacts of the motion picture industry to effectively enter the national political arena. The Hollywood moguls were not absent from the fight. They were merely hidden.

Recommended Reading: Hollywood’s Spies: The Undercover Surveillance of Nazis in Los Angeles By Laura B. Rosenweig, coming in September.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

All My Children

“Sing, O barren woman, you who never boar a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.   ~~  Isa 54:1

That verse spoke to me. I would never have children of my own, but here was a promise. It came true for me through World Vision and Compassion. For the past many years, I have had two, three, four, and more children at a time.
I sponsor them.
Marialina was my first, a young girl in Costa Rica. And then a baby. Her mother wrote letters. When their community “graduated” from the World Vision program, she wrote, “No one ever helped us before.” That’s stuck in my mind.
When I switched to Compassion, my first child was Marco Antonio, my little Mark Anthony. He had a cowlick, ears that stuck out, and a big grin. In Brazil, he wanted to be a soccer player when he grew up. One year, his father used the birthday money I sent to buy a second-hand, “much desired” bicycle. I almost went to Brazil to meet Marco and a young girl I sponsored, but I applied too late. The tour was already filled.
The vast majority of my children have been girls in Central and South America. They’ve lived in Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

A few of my children through the years.

When I visit Compassion’s website, their photos call to me. I have to restrain myself from taking on too many. They’ve shared their dreams for the future, reported on their progress in school, and told me about their friends. Two of the girls are now Facebook friends.

I invite you to visit Compassion's link at the right and give to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Climbing the Family Tree

Genealogy has been an interest of mine since a college history class. We lived in Michigan at the time, and frequently drove back to Green Bay. My family humored me by stopping in Milwaukee so I could look through birth, marriage, and death records at the court house. (This was before genealogy became such a booming hobby, and I had ready access to the records, unlike today.) I also visited the Brown and Manitowoc county court houses, and filled a notebook with names and dates.

One of my great-grandmothers displays her hourglass figure.

These days, finding ancestral clues is easier with online genealogy sites and networking. In recent weeks, I’ve come in contact with two distant cousins.
My ancestry is three quarters German, one eighth Dutch, and one sixteen each Belgian and French Canadian. For the longest time, my Dutch line dead-ended with my great-great-grandfather, Gerhard Vogelzang, known in Wisconsin as George Vogels. My new Dutch contact clued me in to the Dutch website, where my Dutch ancestry has burst into bloom. I now know who my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandparents were. That equals some of my German branches.

My gr-gr-grandfather (lower right) was killed in 1925. He was struck by a car while bringing home ice cream.

Despite its small fraction, my French ancestry traces back the farthest. Many of my French ancestors arrived in New France in the mid-1600s. Many of the men were soldiers, come to guard French interests in the New World. In order to maintain a presence there, the king sent marriageable women, including several of my foremothers. Upon arrival, they paired off and married within weeks.
As I enter their names in a family tree on, I’ve been struck by the high number of babies these women bore. And lost. Ten to fourteen children was common, as was losing more than half of them. Many of them, men and women, could not read or write.
My Belgian ancestors continue to elude me. My great-great-grandmother Josephine Dennis is listed on the 1860 census as a 12-year-old, Belgian-born domestic living with a 45-year-old Belgian man and a 17-year-old French male. Where were her parents? Her mother may have died and her father parceled out his children, but what kind of life was that for a young girl in a strange country? All too common, unfortunately.

My only great-grandparent still alive when I was born. He always had pink and white mints for my sister and me.

Many of my books’ characters bear my ancestral names. In Friends & Enemies, there’s Paul Braedel and Heidi Steinhorst Wetzel; in No Neutral Ground, Rafe Martell; and in Soar Like Eagles, Chet Vogel and Carol Doucet. Amazingly, in my next book, no one has an ancestral name. What was I thinking? Hmm, I can still change that.

Paul says in 1 Tomothy 1:3-4, “You may command certain men not to teach…endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith.” Do you think this applies to the hobby of genealogy?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Remembering My Mom

My last book, Soar Like Eagles, is dedicated to my mother, Carol Wangard. I wrote, “My mother had the gift of serving. She would have made a fine Doughnut Girl.”
Why do I think that?
From my elementary school days, I remember Mom working in the kitchen of First United Methodist Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin, mixing Kool-Aid and preparing snacks for Vacation Bible School.
I remember the birthday parties she organized for me. We’d play the party games like dropping clothes pins into a bottle and Pin the Tail on the Donkey. And there’d be a cake she baked.
She sewed clothes for my sister and me, and for our Barbie dolls. The day before I started my freshman year in university, I’d tried to sew a new top to wear. The sewing machine and I never became friends, and that evening, I left in frustration for a department get-together, sure I’d have to wear something else. I came home to find Mom had finished it for me.
She held a variety of church offices through the years. When my dad opened his own real estate business, Mom got her real estate license and served as receptionist and salesperson. When my sister and I had out-of-town swim meets, Dad volunteered to drive one of the buses for the Green Bay YMCA swim team, and Mom came along as unofficial den mother
The Red Cross doughnut girls left home and served in some difficult situations, in all kinds of weather extremes. They had minimal comforts. (Read Soar Like Eagles and you’ll get an idea what their lives were like!)
No, I doubt Mom would have enjoyed washing her hair in a helmet, freezing her hands preparing the dough, or using a slit trench. But the combat troops didn’t have an easy life, and Mom would have seen the benefit of boosting their morale. Serving was her gift.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Calling All Space Addicts

Who else always gravitated to the television when NASA launched a space shuttle? Who didn’t thrill to the majesty of the thundering launch? Who didn’t wish for the opportunity to look back at the earth from on high, seeing the earth’s curvature, and sunrises and sunsets every ninety minutes?

I never got to attend a manned spaceflight launch, but did an unmanned launch a few years ago.

Do you remember what you were doing when you heard Challenger had exploded seventy-three seconds after launch? I’d been listening to the countdown as I drove to my library job in Fullerton, California. I arrived at the law school before the launch took place, so it wasn’t until I went out to the front desk later that morning and a law clerk asked if I’d heard. I rushed back to workroom and asked our student assistant if he knew anything about the explosion. I’ve never forgotten his dumbfounded expression.
How about Columbia’s last ill-fated flight? My mother and I had been downtown running errands and heard the news at the post office. I remember a sick feeling.
Before the shuttle, the Apollo flights mesmerized me. Imagine, flying to the moon. I’ve read nearly all the astronaut memoirs. So maybe you can imagine my pleasure at receiving an advance copy of Jeffrey Kluger’s Apollo 8, which releases next week.

I have a NASA print, Earthrise taken by Bill Anders on Dec. 24, 1968, hanging on my wall.

The crew of Apollo 9 consisted of Commander Frank Borman with Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. Busy training for their earth orbital mission at the Rockwell plant in Downey, California, Borman was abruptly called to Houston. Apollo 8 was to test the new lunar module, but the LM was delayed. NASA decided on a bold, audacious stroke. Switch the crews around, and send Borman and company into lunar orbit.
So far, Apollo had been a failure. The crew of Apollo 1 had been killed in a fire during training. No Apollo spacecraft had yet flown. The first manned flight, Apollo 7, was still to come. It would be followed by Apollo 8. To the moon.
Imagine the thoughts of Susan Borman, Marilyn Lovell, and Valerie Anders. Mrs. Borman asked Chris Kraft, NASA manager, what her husband’s chances of returning home were. Fifty-fifty, he told her.
Apollo 8 was a thrilling success. While orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve, the astronauts read from Genesis to a listening world. Said Bill Anders, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
How can anyone not take pride in our accomplishments in space?