Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wartime Internment of Germans

The internment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II is well known. Barely known is the internment of Germans and Italians.
Residents of an alien internment camp in WWI built an authentic German village in Hot Springs, North Carolina. 

It happened first during World War I. Any German who hadn’t completed the naturalization process was suspect. They could be detained for association with ethnic organizations, or for statements that sounded disloyal or opposed US involvement in the war. Many were rounded up because someone with a grudge complained about them.
During WWII, more than 10,000 Germans and German Americans were interned. Many were taken away and their families had no idea of their whereabouts. Parents were taken and their young children left alone. Sometimes they were released within days; others were held for much longer.
They were given hearings, but not informed of the charges against them or who had made the charges. A United States Attorney tried to get a young mother to admit she’d named her son Horst after the Nazi martyr, Horst Wessel.
Besides detaining Germans in the United States, the government strong-armed Latin American countries to deport their German citizens to the U.S. The reason? They feared the Nazis would gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere. Of the 4,000 internees, 81 were Jewish refugees who had experienced the concentration camps in Europe. A Catholic priest was detained because he was supposed to be a Nazi. The camp commander considered him to be “no more of a Nazi than I am.”
Larger countries like Mexico and Argentina resisted the American demand, but smaller ones like Costa Rica gave in when the US threatened to boycott all products from German-owned companies. Coffee, for instance, was dominated by German firms, and with the war on, Costa Rica wouldn’t have been able to ship it anywhere else.
Besides keeping these supposedly dangerous enemies from impeding the war effort, the internees could be traded for American citizens held in Germany. Some deported families included an American spouse and American-born children.
During wartime, we may be fighting for freedom, but freedom is the first casualty.

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.”