Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Who’s On Your Guest List?

I’ve been reading Lady in Red: An Intimate Portrait of Nancy Reagan by Sheila Tate. Nancy was often portrayed as a shrew, but her former press secretary does a great job of refuting that reputation.
The State Dinners of the Reagan years are covered, and that got me to thinking. If I could invite people to a State Dinner, who would I invite?

It’s no secret; astronauts fascinate me. I’ll start there. Jim Lovell of Apollos 8 and 13, the first manned flight around the moon and the successful failure. Moon walker Charlie Duke, who has said, “Walking on the moon was three days, but walking with Jesus is forever.” Shuttle astronaut Tamara Jernigan, veteran of five flights, doctorate in astronomy, my age.
An author, Robin Jones Gunn. I’ve enjoyed her books and I’ve was privileged to hear her speak. She’s the only conference keynote speaker whose words I still remember.
As a World War II writer, I need to have a WWII veteran, George H. W. Bush, a naval pilot whose presidential legacy should improve on historical assessment.
And his daughter-in-law, librarian Laura Bush. (Her husband, of course, is included.)
Sports figures are always popular. Green Bay Packer quarterback Bart Starr would probably have to decline due to poor health, but he’s been a towering figure, on the field and off. Figure skaters Paul Wylie and Scott Hamilton are inspiring.
Actors were very popular during the Reagan years naturally, with both of them coming from that line of work. I doubt if Doris Day would want to travel across country, but she’d get an invitation. So would Tom Hanks.
Marine artist Christian Riese Lassen is a possibility. I love his seascapes.
And Max Lucado.

Who would be on your guest list?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

End of the War Incredulities

Nicholas Best wrote Seven Days of Infamy, that I featured last week. He also wrote Five Days That Shocked the World. He’s a great storyteller, and this book is filled with accounts from the end of the war in Europe. For instance…
The British picketed a London cinema that showed the first film of the concentration camps. During World War I, British propagandists had spread the report that Germans were melting down corpses for fat. Now with rumors of shrunken heads and lampshades made from human skin, they were outraged that their own government was lying to them again.
When Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were captured by partisans, one of the guards spied on Clara as she washed up that night. He reported to his fellow guard that she had a magnificent physique; no wonder Il Duce kept her as his mistress.
Clara wouldn’t have been killed with Mussolini. She was told to get away from him when he was stood against a wall. Instead, she clung to him, and died.
At the end, German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop discovered he had no friends, pompous and insufferably overbearing as he was. No important party members wanted anything to do with him. He’d heard the British spoke of hanging Nazi leaders, but Ribbentrop couldn’t believe they were serious. Hanging was for criminals and murderers, not for people like him, not the leaders of a nation.
Like Ribbentrop, Heinrich Himmler had failed to make plans for himself. Rather than fleeing, he was paralyzed with grief, begging an astrologer to tell him what to do. He thought of going to Czechoslovakia where the army was still in control. The astrologer, who had been imprisoned and persecuted by the Nazis, told him the stars didn’t look good for Czechoslovakia. Himmler still wanted to become the new leader of Germany, the man the Allies would have to deal with if they wanted peace. Both he and Ribbentrop believed they would be treated with respect and consideration by the western allies. Many Nazis were convinced the allies would appreciated their services in the continuing struggle with the Russians.
A large consignment of lipstick arrived at Belsen concentration camp. It went far is raising the morale among the women prisoners. They remembered they’d once been feminine and might be so again someday.
The Belsen commandant dumbfounded British officers. He was totally blind to the realities of what happened in the camp. It never occurred to him that the Allies would not like what they found there. He’d just done what he’d been told to do. Many sadistic guards found talk of the death penalty for them hard to believe. They’d broken no German laws, and the Allies were civilized people.
Among those working at Belsen were Georg Will, who managed the camp cinema, and his wife Liesel, who ran the canteen, supplying comforts to the SS and keeping them entertained. They lived well amongst the dying. Now they wondered if they would have a price to pay, even though they’d committed no atrocities. They relied on a trump card. Liesel’s younger sister had renounced her German citizenship and become an American and sang for the troops. Surely Captain Marlene Dietrich wouldn’t let her kin suffer.
Nazi wives were often fatter than other German women, because they’d eaten better during the war. This was a disadvantage when Berlin fell. The Russians preferred women with flesh on them, and raped them first.
The Russians and the Americans thought the Germany countryside they traveled through was some of the prettiest they’d ever seen. They found it hard to understand why the Germans wanted to invade so many other countries when their own was so rich and beautiful.
I’m reminded of a line from Hogan’s Heroes spoken by Corporal Louis LeBeau, played by Robert Clary, who spent time in a real concentration camp because he’s Jewish. “It’s a crazy war.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pearl Harbor Promptings

A new book, Seven Days of Infamy: Pearl Harbor Across the World, is described as a collection of remembrances of mostly famous characters not usually associated with the attack on Pearl Harbor. It offers anecdotes I’d never heard before.

Actress Greer Garson didn’t want the role of Mrs. Miniver. Portraying a mom of a grown-up son was professional suicide. Louis Mayer strong-armed her into signing on. It proved to be her greatest film.
Mary Astor didn’t like kissing Humphrey Bogart. A botched lip surgery made him a very slobbery kisser.
The Japanese knew their China “adventure” was a mistake and very unpopular at home, but they couldn’t pull out without losing face. Certainly they wouldn’t because the United States told them to.
If Honolulu radio station KGMB played music all night long, military aircraft were expected to arrive early the next morning. The air force paid for this service so planes could home in on their signal. Of course, so could the Japanese attack force.
At Schofield air field, a medical officer stood ready to spray an incoming flight of B-17s with insecticide to kill any bugs as soon as they touched down.
Author John Steinbeck wrote a play about a European town occupied by Germans for the Foreign Information Service to combat German propaganda. He dictated the play to a secretary who made significant changes of her own to the script, leaving out portions about the Germans she didn’t like. Turns out she was a Nazi sympathizer actively supporting Hitler.
The British were ecstatic over the attack on Pearl. They felt no outrage at the Japanese, no sympathy for the American dead, only pleasure that America was now in the war. The British ambassador, Lord Halifax, was sent to America to persuade Americans to join the war, which proved to be very much an uphill task. He was amazed at the virulence of anti-British feeling across the country. America Firsters in Detroit, convinced the British wanted America to fight to defend their empire, pelted him with eggs and tomatoes.
Many Americans were pleased the attack brought them into the war. Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease envoy to Britain, Averell Harriman, was bitter toward isolationists. He hoped American cities would be blitzed to wake people up.
Britain had no diplomatic relations with Hungary, so the American ambassador in Budapest handled their affairs. That included delivering their declaration of war. The British had no quarrel with Hungary, but their Russian allies, bitter over Hungarian soldiers on the Russian front, pressured them into the declaration.
A week later, the Hungarian prime minister/foreign minister returned the favor to the American ambassador. At Germany’s insistence, Hungary declared war on the US.
Spain was pleased with the attack, another success of the German-Italian-Japanese Axis that Spain had all but joined. Franco sent a congratulatory telegram to Tokyo. He presumed the American entry into the war would be confined to the Pacific.
The Japanese high command entertained far-fetched ideas in their euphoria after their success, such as an amalgamation of Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, and Washington State in a new Japanese-controlled country after they won the war.
How much of this did you know?