As Memorial Day approaches each year, on social media many of us see reminders about the servicemembers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It is well we remember those who gave their lives, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members, at the cemetery and memorial meant for national observances. These men and women in Arlington, though, are not the only citizens, and foreign nationals, whom we should not forget. Around the country, forty states have national cemeteries, as well as Puerto Rico.

Besides the cemeteries and memorials for servicemembers in the United States, other nations honor our fallen along with their own. Around the world, the American Battle Monuments Commission, established in the Coolidge administration with John J. Pershing as the first Chairman, “administers, operates and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 30 federal memorial, monuments and markers, which are located in 17 foreign countries, the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the British Dependency of Gibraltar …”

1998: Our visit to a WW1 military cemetery in the Somme region of France. The sheep are the lawn-mowers.

In the early 1970s while living in Germany near France, my husband and I and our toddler son visited Verdun, a devastatingly war-torn area during World War 1. We saw many reminders of the tragedy of war. Years later during a trip from Germany to England to visit friends who’d moved from Munich, Germany, my family visited the Cambridge American Cemetery. The chapel was sobering. A decade or so afterward, from our home in Belgium, we visited World War 1 cemeteries in the Somme region of France. Regardless of where American servicemembers are stationed, it seems there is no lack of memorials and military cemeteries. We have left our compatriots around the world.

On this Memorial Day, please spare a thought for the fallen American servicemembers who have given their all, but never made it home.

 

 

Military Spouse Appreciation Day

Last Friday was Spouse Appreciation Day in the Military.
This day comes in the middle of Military Appreciation Month.
It follows the Month of the Military Child.
November is Military Family Month.

As an Air Force Brat, and as the mother of Army Brats, I appreciate the Month of the Military Child.

As an Army veteran, I appreciate Military Appreciation Month.

As a member of a military family since before I drew breath and a continuing member who accumulated 50 address changes by the age of 50 when my husband retired from federal service (I counted), and as someone who still holds a valid military ID card, I appreciate Military Family Month.

As an espoused wife of a retired soldier whose time in grade is creeping up this year on our 50th anniversary, I wonder why, in a tradition of appreciation months, spouses get only a day. A day loomed over by Mother’s Day. As a Brat with 18 years in grade, I know I never pulled as much duty as my mom did.

I’m not trying to drum up another celebratory month (we’ve got enough of those), and yes, we honor other important groups only with a day (Veterans Day, Memorial Day). I probably wouldn’t have noticed the different label (Spouse Day? There’s a Spouse Day?) if I hadn’t been scouting for blog post topics and found a list of seasonal observations. In the greater scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. It’s not life or death. Within the context of family appreciation designations, though, could the ranking be more ‘dependably’ obvious?

 

A variety of Christmases. Top row: three places shown; five altogether.
Two middle rows: three different homes in one place.
Bottom row: four homes, not including my Army assignments.

Christmases around the world that the Christmas Fairy (my mom) magicked up — in transit or not — no matter where we were.

About VE Day

Nazi troops invaded Poland in 1939 and then, with the help of the fascist government in Italy, took over most of Europe. This attempt to permanently conquer Europe by the Rome-Berlin “axis” spilled over into North Africa. Then the Nazis, with visions of a reign of a thousand years, set their sights on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. The largest country in the USSR was Russia.

Farther east, China defended itself against Japan. Strengthening its position, China agreed to a nonaggression treaty with the USSR and the USSR supported China by supplying weaponry to them. This alliance therefore pitted the USSR against Japan. To put it mildly, the ripples of the pact complicated international relations.

To strengthen their position, the Nazi government in Germany entered into a pact in 1941 with Imperial Japan. The pact was against the Communist International (Comintern) — effectively against the USSR. The Japanese were now part of the Axis powers. This resulted in war in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic.

 

Conquering the Nazi government in Germany

Triaging the situation (as this was before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor), the United States focused on the war in Europe. D-Day happened. The Nazis were pushed back. Hitler committed suicide. The Russian and Allied troops converged on Berlin. German military leaders signed surrender agreements.

Seventy-four years ago, the guns went silent in Europe for the second time in the 20th Century, but it wasn’t the end of the war. The fighting in the Pacific raged on. Still, the people in Europe celebrated. The people in America celebrated. The American people in Europe, servicemembers, diplomatic personnel, and others, celebrated. People in concentration camps lived.

A good two-book historical series on this era is Herman Wouk’s, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance.

 

Blowing up a very fine emblem in Nürnberg

(YouTube video)

 

The Greatest Generation

In 1945, my mom was serving in the Women’s Army Corps and was soon to participate in the Pacific theater. She was transferred to China.

1945 — My mom’s sisters in arms in the Women’s Army Corps on bivouac near Seattle, Washington.

 

My dad served, too. He celebrated VE Day in Hollandia (now, Jayapura), New Guinea.

1944 — US troops debarking in Hollandia, New Guinea. My dad’s photo.

 

So, on this day in 2019, here’s to the people who vanquished the Nazi government in 1940s Europe. And a toast to the continued struggle.

Being a military brat

A few years ago, I attended an all-class reunion for one of my high schools, the overseas one.  The reunion was held in the American South. I now live in the buffer zone between the rolling hills of the wooded American Midwest and the open spaces of America’s prairie. Travel is nothing new to me, but because I’m no longer in danger of being abandoned on a different continent from my children and husband, I don’t fly. I don’t have to fly now, so I won’t. When I can afford it, I do take trains. I love trains.

For the reunion a train wasn’t on the agenda so getting from here to there and back again took a few days of driving each way. On my return journey in the passenger seat, and while scavenging the names of towns along our route for character names, I entertained myself by sketching out a mystery story.

What could happen at a reunion?

Would old grudges now be passé? Or would the lack of ‘closure’ keep alive long-ago hurts? Military kids rarely have long friendships — somebody always moves. Sometimes, these moves happen in the middle of ‘things’ — friendships, feuds, puppy love, or broken hearts. What happens when these former-kids get back together? Have they really and truly said goodbye to all that?

In stories, the Three-C’s: conflict, conflict, conflict, are the necessary ingredients among the characters.  So, by the seat of my pants (I’m usually a devout plotter), I whiled away the miles throwing the characters into each other’s way.

Remembering my story

After I returned home, Life took over, like it does, and I forgot about the story. Then late last year, my graduating high school class at a stateside school held their 50th anniversary reunion (yes, we were all astonished at the number, too). The get-together, local this time, reminded me of my story. Could I revive it? I gave it a shot.

So, without further ado, Kaleidoscope: A Murderous Reunion.

 

In this era of identity theft, for military kids who had no connections other than their long-ago temporary home, how do you really know whether the people who show up for a reunion are who they say they are? And what do you do when one of those people repeatedly makes mistakes?

 

The story will remain active on the blog for two weeks from the date of publication.

The story is now inactive.

In a Facebook group, I had an interesting experience. One of the group members shared a vintage photograph of the Ellsworth Air Force Base commissary checkout lines on payday. Military paydays were once a month in the late 1950s and lots of families were down to beans by the end of the month, the “too much month at the end of the money” syndrome.  Commissary check-out lines were long because nearly everymom showed up for groceries. I was intrigued by the picture because my family lived at Ellsworth then.

I first looked closely at the picture to see if Mom was in the commissary photo. Since the commissary was where she shopped there was a better-than-zero possibility that Mom would have been shopping (she wasn’t). I didn’t find Mom, but my eye caught some handwriting on the photo and this handwriting looked like Dad’s. Wow. [insert big smiley face]

24 Dad's handwriting on EAFB photo detail

Handwriting on the shared Ellsworth commissary photo. That “E.A.F.B.” is iconic dad-handwriting.

Given that Dad was in charge of the photo lab at the time, and given that he did take photos for the base newspaper (my brother and I posed for a picture about the children’s books in the base library), there was a better-than-good chance of Dad having processed the photo.

In the Facebook group, I was pleased to see one of Dad’s work photos. At home, we have his pictures of the family and our travels. We have slides, prints, and a few home movies. I know the quality of Dad’s pictures, but I’d had no idea what sort of pictures he took on duty other than ID card pictures, photocopying documents (with a camera, which was how it was done before Xerox copying machines), aerial photos, and that one picture of me and my brother pretending to read books in the library. How else he spent his time behind a camera, I had no idea.

1955 10 Oct 16 the Putt-putt a

4×5-negative image of Dad on “the Putt-putt” (his scooter). He would note on the negative edges the camera settings. In my photo collection, I have many examples of Dad’s handwriting.

So, out of the blue, on Facebook, I had the happiness of seeing my Dad’s handwriting on a photo completely new to me. Family-wise, it’s like discovering an unknown Rembrandt.

Our first snowstorm of the year was in November. Our weather forecasters have <cough> promised snow for next Monday. With luck, the snow already here will have diminished. The snow was pretty at Christmas, but it is wearing out its welcome. We see no snowmen. Children are not outside making forts. I see no one sledding.

I needed a vacation. So, I virtually went to Nairobi courtesy, as always, of Google Maps and Street View. Why Nairobi? Not sure, but no snow may have been a draw.

Haile Selassie Roundabout, Nairobi, Kenya

What did I do on my vacation? First off, I merely ‘parachuted’ into the city from my satellite view and landed where I landed. It wasn’t the best part of town. What I learned from not-the-best-part-of-town is that tire sales are big in Nairobi, well, “tyres.” That British influence. As I virtually drove down the street where I landed, I saw billboards for tires and auto parts. Along a rundown street, most of the shops in the three- and four-story buildings advertised the “tyres.” Auto parts, too. And driving lessons. I presumed Nairobi didn’t have much mass transit.

I was wrong. Popping up out of one part of town and into another (in big cities, driving takes forever whether you’re in a real vehicle or a virtual vehicle) I landed in an area in which buses stopped the Googlemobile from proceeding. Or maybe that’s my interpretation. In any case, as we approached a clot of buses, large and small, my forward-arrow no longer worked. I went back up, not quite into the stratosphere.

Coming back down, I looked for the city center. Found it — nice place. Not a single “tyre” sign near the Nairobi Hilton. I tooled around for a while, but nice parts of town seem to look much the same around the world: high rises, shops, boulevards, high-end cars. I went out of town.

Oh. My. Gosh. The Ngong Hills! How did I not remember that the Ngong Hills are so close to the city? (for those not in the know, read Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen, or watch the movie of the same name with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford). “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” The cinematography for the movie is breathtaking, especially in a movie theater. Oh, to have had IMAX at the time. That would have been marvelous. I’ll probably have to make do with watching the VHS tape. I’ll get out the Ouija board and conjure up Thomas Edison to watch it with me.

Time has marched on since the envisioning of Blixen’s story on film, and now the Ngong Hills have wind turbines and a massive solar energy farm. Kikuyu is now a Nairobi suburb with its own massive plant nursery Magana Flowers. Other relatively local sights are the Nairobi National Park , the Maasai Lodge, and the Karen Blixen Museum.  SafariNow, the company hosting the three previously-linked sites, has almost as many billboards and signs in Nairobi as do the tyre-sellers.

Among the other things I learned while virtually visiting Nairobi, are:

  • English is spoken if all the billboards and shop signs I saw are anything to go by
  • traffic runs on the left hand side of the road
  • many, many people walk all around the city — no Fitbits needed here!
  • women commonly wear dresses
  • as happens around the world, poverty exists alongside wealth

And now, my vacation is at an end, and I get to sleep in my own bed.

 

Note: screenshot courtesy of Google Maps

Thus far, here on the edge of the American prairie, winter has been so wintery. Our snows began in November and this weekend, they continue.

This winter is reminding me of past winters although it has yet to reach the quality and quantity of the winter snows of 1980 in Munich, Germany. That year, the snow accumulated for months and it wasn’t until April that the main sidewalk through the Perlacher Forst housing area reappeared. The regular work of snowplows had created streetside mini-Alps mimicking the mountains in the distance. Children walked to school in the street because they were rarely equipped with crampons, ropes, and carabiners.

In this age of warmer winters, though, this winter feels old-fashioned. On the edge of the prairie where the latitude ‘enjoys’ the hot/cold changes along the boundary between Arctic chill from the north and puffs of steam from the Gulf of Mexico, this sustained cold is testing our resilience. We’re almost out of bread and milk at the store. [wink]

Luckily, for us photographers, the weather is picturesque. For that, I am grateful.

02 streetlight Brushstroke

Streetlight on a foggy winter night.