Columns

A soldier’s letters home

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Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m now in the barracks and have just a short time to write before the lights go off. I wanted to ask you to send my clarinet. They are forming a band in the company and I want to join it. The commander is very strong for anything musical. He said if we send for our instruments, the army would take care of them for us. They will ship them any place we go….

Please write soon.

Your “Private” Son,

Love Jack xxx

The letters came from Fort Devens, Massachusetts, from Camp Pontchartrain, Louisiana, from Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and the Philippines – approximately 150 in all.

Jack Rogers enlisted in the Army in 1943, at age 19. He was assigned to the amphibious engineers unit and spent three years on active duty, two of them in the South Pacific.

When he returned from the military, he embarked on a lifelong career as an artist, illustrator and teacher. I met him many years ago when he taught art at my sons’ elementary school.

A founding member of the Spokane Watercolor Society, Jack started the art department at Spokane Falls Community College in 1963 and taught there for 26 years. He never actually retired. In fact, he was still painting and teaching the last week of his life.

He was an amazing, inspiring man, and I wrote several articles about him for this newspaper. I also included Jack and Fran Rogers’ story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

Recently, I went to Fran’s 95th birthday party. As I was leaving, their daughter Nancy asked if I’d like to read some of the letters Jack wrote home while serving during World War ll.

I eagerly pored over them when Nancy dropped them off. I thought I knew Jack and World War ll history pretty well, but these letters offered a new glimpse of military life during the war and they also reveal Jack’s wit and talent for telling a tale. Many of the envelopes are illustrated with his whimsical sketches and drawings.

Boy Mom, you ought to see me sew my insignias on. I can almost thread the needle every time. And as for my laundry, well they give you plenty of G.I. soap. We have plenty of water the rest is just plain elbow grease….

Please write real often.

Love Your Private Son Jack

Even the more serious anecdotes feature Jack’s flair.

Last Thursday Red was on guard. He felt a little sick, so he sat down and went to sleep and the O.D. caught him. Well, if you don’t know it that is a very serious offense in the Army. Friday they had a court marshell (sic) but no one would testify that he was actually asleep, so they charged him with sitting down while on duty.

Lots of Love, Your son Jack, good nite Mom xxx

He often couldn’t tell them exactly where he was or what his training entailed.

“You know, military secrets,” he wrote.

But in one letter he enclosed a small card emblazoned “Ancient Order of the Deep” that certified he’d crossed the equator aboard the S.S. Extavia on May 10, 1944.

Last night we slept on deck as it was too stuffy below. Although the steel deck didn’t have much spring, it was a lot cooler.

He asked his mom to send him things like white handkerchiefs, jockey shorts and coat hangers. She dutifully noted his requests on the backs of the envelopes.

In a 1944 letter from New Guinea, Jack already sounds like an old soldier instead of a young recruit.

Company had a rifle and personal inspection. It was the first we have had since leaving the States. How I remember the days when you shined your boots ’til you could shave in them, stood in ranks thinking of all the things that could hold up that weekend pass. Did you remember to tuck your handkerchief all the way in the pocket? Could you have missed a button, or could some dust have gotten on your rifle?

But a letter from Dutch East Indies shows that he and his buddies were still kids at heart.

They got a bulldozer and fixed up a softball field. And we have a league started in the company, playing in the evenings and Sundays. It sure roused a lot of company spirit.

It reminded me of what he’d said in an interview.

“Our whole company was made up of kids – kids dressed up as soldiers,” he’d said.

On Dec. 23, 1944, Jack wrote of Christmas plans.

Cornie is now fixing up a little java for us and we broke down and opened one of our fruit cakes. We were talking tonight that we would get us a small palm and decorate it, but I’ll be darned if I know what we’d use for decorations.

Jack’s unit was the first one back into Manila, Philippines, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing, and they served as part of the occupational forces in Japan. They were torpedoed by subs and shot at by kamikazes.

The letters from home served as their lifeline – their connection to the world they’d left behind and the world they wanted to come back to.

Good nite Mom and don’t worry about anything on this end. Write soon. Your loving son, Jack.

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Columns

Painting over art-shaming scars

My reaction might have been a little over the top.

“I would rather have my eyelashes plucked out one by one while listening to alpine yodeling and drinking beet juice mixed with cod liver oil,” I said.

My friend raised her hands in surrender.

“Wow! OK then. We’ll skip paint night and just go to happy hour someplace.”

Some people might think a suggestion to have a glass of wine and create art with a good friend sounds delightful.

I’m not those people, and I have Mrs. Pendergast to thank for that.

Mrs. Pendergast was my second-grade teacher. While my reading skills soared under her tutelage, my art skills plummeted.

I dreaded art time more than I dreaded dodge ball during PE, and that’s saying something. My undiagnosed nearsightedness meant I never saw that pink rubber ball coming till it smacked me silly.

When Mrs. P. directed us to don our paint shirts, I groaned. Wearing my dad’s old button-down dress shirt was mortifying. It was dirty for heaven’s sake! It was crusty and stained, and it didn’t match my carefully coordinated outfit!

Of course, the reason it was stained was because I could never seem to gauge the right amount of paint. I would think I had just the right quantity of yellow for my sun, only to watch in dismay as golden globs streaked down the paper and smeared into my already-crusty sleeves.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mrs. P. scolded. “Your sun is bleeding all over your paper!”

With that she snatched my art attempt off the easel, crumpling it in disgust, commanding me to start over.

Her bleeding-sun comment inspired me.

I dipped my brush into what I hoped was just the right amount of scarlet, and painted a red sun, dripping droplets of blood from the sky.

“Good grief!” shouted Mrs. P. “That is disgraceful! What is the matter with you!?”

My classmates tittered as once again she ripped my paper from the easel.

When the class went out to recess, I stayed behind, waiting for the paint to dry so I could place my painting at the bottom of the stack, safe from mocking eyes.

So, you can see why my reaction to a friend’s suggestion of paint night was a tad vehement.

But a couple of years passed, and recently my husband came home and announced that we’d been invited to go to Pinot’s Palette with some friends.

Much to his surprise, I agreed.

It was time to silence the shaming voice of Mrs. Pendergast once and for all. My painting might stink, but at least I’d have a glass of wine to ease the sting.

On Jan. 26, I donned a paint-spattered apron, sat at an easel and picked up a brush.

To my joy I discovered we were going to replicate a painting of the northern lights. No sun in sight. And a perfect choice since we’d invited Derek’s sister and her Norwegian husband to join us. They’ve actually seen the northern lights.

I listened carefully to the instructor.

“The first lesson is you must learn the difference between your wine glass and your water glass,” she said.

That was easy. My wine glass was the one without any paintbrushes in it. Yet.

The next lesson covered what to do if we accidentally got paint on our clothes. It seemed like the instructions were tailored just for me.

In the event of a paint emergency, our teacher told us to, “Run to the sink, scream, flail, and use Murphy’s Oil Soap.”

She paused. “But if it’s been more than 15 minutes you have a new outfit.”

With that we were ready to begin.

I panicked a bit. But my husband’s friend said, “Just dip your brush into your wine and drink your water.”

I did the opposite, and soon I was well on my way.

My brother-in-law wandered over to check out my progress.

“Cindy, you are a born artist!” he exclaimed.

He is a bit of a hogwash artist, but his encouragement was appreciated nonetheless.

“By now your canvas is covered with paint,” the instructor said.

And mine was. I’d followed instructions. I’d mixed blue and green and made teal. And I hadn’t dipped my sleeve in my palette. Yet.

Shades of doubt seeped in when I had trouble blending the first swooshes of white into the night sky, but soon we were on to stippling stars and my true talents emerged.

“I am the BEST at stars,” I proclaimed.

Of course, one glass of wine had turned into two at this point, but isn’t that why they call it liquid courage?

At the end of the evening my evergreens were a bit wonky, and I hadn’t mastered blending, but by golly, my stars sparkled.

I sat at the easel and lifted my glass in silent salute.

Good night Mrs. Pendergast, wherever you are.

artist_Hval

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

War Bonds

Death Diminishes War Bonds Roster

Sometimes I run out of words. A dire problem for a writer, but gut-wrenching loss will do that to you.

Within the span of a few weeks, two precious people featured  in War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation have passed away.

First my beloved Marine, Myrt Powers, died. The story of her marriage to sailor, Walt Powers, is featured in chapter 30– and is unusual because both she and her husband served in World War ll. This couple were also featured on the television show Northwest Profiles and shared their story at a local veterans support group, following the book’s publication.

I last saw Myrt in March 2016 when my husband and I ran into her waiting in line for coffee in Hawaii! She and her husband wintered on Oahu for many years.

Feisty, upbeat and absolutely adorable, Myrt is everything I want to be when I grow up. My heart aches for Walt and for all of us who knew and loved her. Though she was tiny, her absence leaves a huge hole.

14090_890795544292407_8952799764996575077_n[1]Cindy Hval with Myrt and Walt Powers, 2015.

And then last week, Jack Rogers died. A lifelong, prolific artist, Rogers taught all four of my sons during his tenure as art teacher at Northwest Christian School.

The story of his courtship and enduring marriage to his wife, Fran, is featured in chapter 20 of War Bonds.

He was still painting up until the last week of his life as he decorated wooden tailgates for Personal Energy Transporters for the PET Project.

In November, I was privileged to cover one of his last art shows.

“I was given a gift and I want to share it,” he said.

And here’s where words fail.

How can I possibly convey the depth of my admiration and love for these people? How do I sum up the gratitude I feel for having been a small part of their lives and for being entrusted to share their stories with the world?

I can’t.

But I can say I will miss them and treasure the memories of the hours spent with Myrt Powers and Jack Rogers.

I hope that I’ve given readers of War Bonds a snapshot of how they made the post World War ll world, a place of hope.

Rest in peace, beloveds, for you have surely earned it.

 

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Jack and Fran Rogers, with Cindy Hval, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

War Bonds

Taking home a memory: Jack Rogers’ last exhibition

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In 1943, at 19, Jack Rogers joined the Army. He was assigned to the amphibious engineers unit and spent 3 years on active duty, most of it in the Philippines.

“Our whole company was made up of kids– dressed up as soldiers,” he said. “At 19 I was in charge of 55 men.” He shrugged. “You grew into the job.”

After the war he became a commercial artist and a founding member of the Spokane Watercolor Society. He started the art department at Spokane Falls Community College in 1963 and taught there for 26 years.

On Saturday, Rogers, 93, had what will likely be his final art show/sale.

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People had lined up before the doors even opened. Anxious to take home a signed painting. Anxious to thank Rogers for his service to our country. Anxious to thank him for his devotion to teaching and to art.

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He and Fran, his wife of 70 years, greeted the crowd. When asked the reason for the show Rogers said. “I was given a gift and I want to share it,” he said. “Why put it all back in the drawers? I’m hoping people will take home a memory.”

My memories of Jack Rogers exist in more than just watercolors. They exist in hours spent interviewing him. They exist in War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation. Time spent with he and Fran is precious to me, now and I was glad to see the community turn out to shake his hand and to tell him thank you.