Columns, War Bonds

Keeping my promise: A personal Pearl Harbor reflection

This week The Spokesman Review published a special keepsake section commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the past nine years, I’ve been interviewing Pearl Harbor survivors for newspaper and was pleased to have many of those stories included.

In addition I wrote the following piece describing what it meant for me to visit the place I’d written about so often.

Never forget.

Cindy Hval, who wrote “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation,” visited Pearl Harbor in March. She explored places she had learned about in nine years of interviewing Pearl Harbor survivors.

Stretching out, I pressed my cheek into the hot sand, its gritty heat almost too much to bear. Closing my eyes, I imagined the shriek of airplane engines and the spitting sound of machine gun fire hitting the beach, while the air around me burned.

I covered my head with my arms, and could almost hear the whistling sound of bullets whizzing past my ear.

A shadow loomed. “Are you okay?” my husband asked.

Slowly, I sat up and scooted back onto my brightly-colored beach towel.

“Just thinking about Nick,” I said, while I slipped on my sunglasses.

The beauty of being married 30 years is I didn’t have to explain what I meant.

Derek and I visited Oahu in March to celebrate our anniversary, but the trip was part pilgrimage for me. After nine years of interviewing Pearl Harbor survivors, I was at last visiting the place I’d written about so often.

Here on Waikiki, I was just 12 miles away from Hickham Field where Nick Gaynos almost lost his life on Dec. 7, 1941.

Nick Gaynos holding the piece of shrapnel that landed near him while under fire during the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Gaynos died 20 days after this March 11, 2015, photograph. (Courtesy Cindy Hval)
Nick Gaynos holding the piece of shrapnel that landed near him while under fire during the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Gaynos died 20 days after this March 11, 2015, photograph. (Courtesy Cindy Hval)

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Nick had been running toward his duty station when a Japanese pilot targeted him. He’d told me of looking up as he ran and seeing the grin on the pilot’s face as he fired at him.

Nick hit the beach and covered his head with his arms as the bullets flew. When he got up he discovered a large piece of shrapnel next to him.

“I grabbed it,” he said. “It was still hot from the explosion.”

When my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation” was released, Nick attended a reading at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library in March 2015. He brought that piece of shrapnel with him. It was jagged and more than 2 feet long. He died a few weeks later.

Now, on the island that had been so devastated by the horrific attack, I carried his memories with me as well as those of Warren and Betty Schott. The Schotts had quarters on Ford Island and were eyewitnesses to the attack.

When Derek and I walked through the entrance of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, I wanted nothing more than to talk to Betty, to tell her I was here. But Betty passed away in July 2015.

At the center, we watched a short film featuring actual footage of the attack. A scene of sailors and soldiers pulling the wounded and dead from the harbor made me gasp. That’s what Warren had done in the aftermath – it was the one thing he didn’t want to discuss with me over the course of many interviews. It was the only thing he refused to speak of with his wife of 76 years. Now, watching the footage through tear-filled eyes, I finally understood why he was loath to speak of it.

That horror was also all too real for my friend Ray Daves. During the attack, he hustled to a rooftop and handed ammo to two sailors who were manning a .30-caliber machine gun. He had his own brush with death when a Japanese plane exploded 20 feet from that rooftop before crashing into the sea below. His left hand was lacerated by shrapnel.

Like Warren Schott, Ray spent time pulling wounded men from the harbor, his blood mingling with the red splashes in the water around him. In his biography, “Radioman,” he described the bodies and body parts floating in the harbor. “We had to push them aside to get to the wounded,” he said.

Despite those gruesome memories, what really choked him up was recalling the bombing of the USS Arizona.

“My friend George Maybee was on the Arizona,” Ray said. “We’d gone through radio school together. Sat beside each other every day and were bunkmates at night.”

Ray Daves

“My friend George Maybee was on the Arizona,” Ray said. “We’d gone through radio school together. Sat beside each other every day and were bunkmates at night.”

He watched as the Arizona burst into a huge fireball. He knew his friend was gone.

Over the years, Ray and I grew close. He reminded me so much of my dad. They were both from Arkansas and had joined the military seeking a way out of the poverty of the rural south. Both had tender hearts and shared a wickedly funny sense of humor.

The last time I spoke to Ray before his June 2011 death, I told him I longed to visit Pearl Harbor.

“George is there,” he said, his eyes filling.

“I’ll look for his name,” I said. “I’ll say a prayer.”

Ray took my hand. “You do that, sweetheart.”

Five years later, I boarded the boat that took us to the USS Arizona. As we stepped from the boat onto the memorial, the throng of tourists quieted. The only sound was the snapping of the flag in the wind and the clicking of cameras.

We were somber with the knowledge that we were standing on the final resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the Arizona.

1913753_1047614618610498_5611130893995793483_n[1]A rainbow of undulating color in the water below caught my eye. Some 500,000 gallons of oil are still slowly seeping out of the ship’s submerged wreckage, and it continues to spill up to nine quarts into the harbor each day.

Slowly, I entered the shrine. A marble wall bearing the names of those entombed beneath us stretched out behind a velvet rope.

So. Many. Names.

Overwhelmed, I looked at Derek. “I’ll never find him,” I whispered.

The day had been overcast, but suddenly a shaft of sunlight illuminated the marble.

“There,” Derek said. “There he is – G.F. Maybee.”

George Frederick Maybee was a radioman, second class, aboard the USS Arizona when the battleship was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Habor. Maybee, whose name is etched in a marble wall at the Arizona memorial, had been a friend of Ray Daves, a Pearl Harbor survivor from Deer Park who died in 2011. (Courtesy Cindy Hval)

Bowing my head, I wept for the sailor I’d never met and for my friend who knew and loved him.

I hope that somehow Ray knows I kept my promise.

George Maybee hasn’t been forgotten. Neither has Ray Daves.

 

War Bonds

The house that love built

The other night I had a reading/signing event at Touchmark Retirement Community.

An employee approached me and said while she hadn’t read War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation, her daughter had.

It seems her daughter and her husband were looking for home and found one they really wanted in Millwood, WA.

“It wasn’t the house so much, it was what they felt when they were inside it,” the woman said. “There was such love in that house.”

A neighbor chatted with them and told them the couple who had lived there had built the house and had been married for more than 70 years.

“Their story is in a book,” he said.

Alas, the couple didn’t get the house, but they did buy a copy of War Bonds. And they fell in love with Warren and Betty Schott, just like the rest of us.

Betty 3

Warren and Betty on their 75th anniversary

 

War Bonds

Making Pearl Harbor Personal

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I knew I was in trouble when I read the sign for Ford Island and starting crying.After many years of interviewing and writing about Pearl Harbor Survivors I was for the first time,  walking where they walked.

My husband and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary on Oahu and Pearl Harbor was one of our first stops.

Chapter 11 of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation tells the story of Warren and Betty Schott who lived on Ford Island and both survived the horrific attack.

I pictured Warren’s desperate drive to get his wife to safety. They’d spoken of shrapnel falling from the skies– of the road shredded by machine gun fire– of the terror and the noise.

We watched a short film featuring actual footage of the attack. A scene of sailors and soldiers pulling the wounded and dead from the Harbor made me gasp. That’s what Warren had done in the aftermath– it was the one thing he didn’t want to discuss with me over the course of many interviews. It was the only thing he refused to speak of with his wife and best friend of 76 years.

1913753_1047614618610498_5611130893995793483_n[1]

 

As we boarded the boat that took us to the USS Arizona, I thought of Pearl Harbor Survivor Ray Daves, who died in 2011. His friend George Maybee perished aboard the Arizona. His remains are entombed in the waters below the memorial. The throng of tourists quieted. The only sound was the snapping of the flag in the wind as I found Maybee’s name among the more than 1,000 names engraved. I wished I could tell Ray.

All of the stories, all of the interviews over the years in no way prepared me for the magnitude, the solemness of this sacred place.

Remember Pearl Harbor. Indeed, I will never forget this place, these people, their sacrifice.

Here are links some of the stories I’ve written about those who survived the Day That Will Live in Infamy.

World War ll Vets Remember

World War ll Vets Educate Students

A Sailor Remembers

Fond Memories of Ray Daves Endure

Survivors of 1941 Attack Bring History to Life

Grateful for Vet’s Story

Pearl Harbor Survivors Mark 73rd Anniversary in Spokane

The World has Lost Yet Another WWll Hero

Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Story Comes to an End

Pearl Harbor Witness: ‘It was so scary!’

 

 

War Bonds

A funny thing happened on the way to the Google

I admit it. I Googled myself. Don’t tell me you haven’t!  But what I found today, delighted me! Two reviews that I’d never seen.

The first was this lovely mention of War Bonds from a blog called Doodles and Words.

spring-time-reads[1]

“War Bonds– Love Stories of the Greatest Generation by Cindy Hval is a collection of beautiful and loving memories of couples who met during World War II. She recounts how these men and women met and stayed together for decades despite many obstacles. Who doesn’t love a good story? Well, what about 36 of them?

“Everything’s built on friendship. He’s been my best friend for 77 years.” – Betty Schott”

And the second came from Pearl Harbor!
Pearl Harbor Survivor Couple – Betty and Warren Schott

“We first heard about the Pearl Harbor Survivor Couple, Betty and Warren Schott, in an article in the Spokesman-Review by Cindy Hval. This remarkable couple was living on Ford Island when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

They heard an explosion and Warren quickly recognized that Pearl Harbor was under attack from an enemy. Many others on Oahu at the time thought that it was a drill, but Warren saw the rising sun on the wing of a Japanese plane flying overhead.

Warren Schott watched as the USS Utah was torpedoed. He then took his wife and another family living below them to safety. Warren did not seek safety himself, instead he returned to Battleship Row to help victims of the attack.

“I took one of the boats and picked up our fellows who were in the water,” he recalled. The men he pulled out were covered in oil.

Betty Schott did not sit idly by herself.

“They put us to work immediately, Betty said. “We unloaded guns and filled fire extinguishers.”

This Pearl Harbor Survival Couple was married for 76 years before Warren Schott passed away in May 2014. Betty lived another year and passed away on July 5, 2015.

We appreciate the excellent story from Cindy Hval about this fascinating couple and the impression they left on her. You can read Ms. Hval’s stories about the Schotts here and here or in her book below. We salute you Cindy Hval for your story and we salute the Schotts for their service to our country.

For more stories about love during wartime, read Hval’s highly rated book: War Bonds.”

Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to Google yourself– you might find nice surprises like these:-)

Columns

Saying goodbye to Betty

Today’s Spokeman Review column.

Betty Schott (seated) wears a lei at a ceremony in 2014 to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I loved to listen to her talk.

Though soft-spoken, Betty Schott, 98, had a sharp mind and an even sharper sense of humor. She smiled easily, laughed often, and called me “honey.”

But when her husband of 76 years died in May 2014, her smile faded and the quips didn’t come as quickly.

Adjusting to life without her beloved wearied her.

On Sunday, Betty died, 80 years and one day from the anniversary of her first date with Warren Schott.

I met the Schotts in 2007 when I interviewed them for my Love Story series. It was the start of a friendship that spanned eight years and immeasurably enriched my life.

From the beginning, a no-nonsense Warren assured me their story was no romantic tale. In fact, all those years ago, when a friend offered to set him up on a blind date with Betty, Warren scoffed, “Don’t do me any favors.”

He was a young sailor, not in the least interested in finding true love. But on July 4, 1935, love found him in the form of a beautiful, petite North Central High School graduate named Betty Forest.

They were married April 2, 1938, at the Wee Kirk O’ the Heather chapel at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

When I attended their 75th anniversary celebration, Betty quipped, “Well, we got married in a cemetery and honeymooned in Death Valley, so we got all that out of the way!”

But as Pearl Harbor survivors, the Schotts saw more than their share of death.

Warren had been sent to the Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor shortly after their marriage. Betty was determined to join him and worked until she earned her passage. She arrived on Ford Island in 1939 and they settled into a tiny apartment near Battleship Row.

Their bedroom overlooked the island’s runway, so they were accustomed to noise, but the sounds that woke them on Dec. 7, 1941, were unlike any they’d heard before.

Betty pulled on her robe and looked out the bathroom window. “Warren!” she called, “there’s smoke and fire at the end of the runway.”

Warren went to another window and spotted a plane flying low overhead. “I saw the red balls on the wings of the plane,” he said. “I watched that plane torpedo the USS Utah. I said, ‘Betty, we’re at war!’ ”

While Betty filled fire extinguishers with other civilians in a supply warehouse, Warren had the grim job of pulling the dead and injured from the harbor. The men he pulled out of the water were covered in oil. Afterward, Betty discovered, “They got rid of every towel in my house trying to help clean them up. Finally they took down my kitchen curtains and used them.”

Over the years, they talked about everything, but on one topic Warren remained silent. “He never talked about the people he pulled out of the oily water that morning,” Betty said. “Never.”

It was often painful for them to share their memories. “Slamming a door for days after the attack would make you jump,” Betty said, recalling the terrible noise and confusion they experienced.

But the Schotts felt it was their duty to tell their story and to honor those who died that day.

Though they didn’t think their 76-year marriage was anything remarkable, they were tickled that their story was included in “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

When I visited with Betty in December while working on a story about the 73rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I returned some photos she’d let me use for the book.

She reached up and patted my cheek with her soft, timeworn hand. “I’m so proud of you, honey,” she said. And it felt like I’d received a blessing from my grandmother.

What I remember most was my last visit to her home – the home Warren had built, the home they’d shared for 65 years.

The plaque I’d seen years earlier still hung in the kitchen. It read, “Happiness is being married to your best friend.”

Warren’s death had left her adrift. She missed him so much, and she swore sometimes she could still see him sitting in his chair. She’d blink or turn her head and he’d be gone, but his presence was so real to her, his voice so compelling. Her own voice quavered when she said, “Every night at 11 p.m., he’d say, ‘Honey, now it’s time to go to bed.’ ”

That’s why I would not be at all surprised if on Sunday morning, Betty heard him whisper, “Honey, now it’s time to come on home.”

And of course she went to him. How could she not? She said, “He’s been my best friend for 77 years.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

War Bonds

Saying goodbye is the hardest part

When you write a book about WWll veterans who are in their 80’s and 90’s you know your time with them is limited, but it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

Betty Schott died on July 5. She and her husband, Warren, survived Pearl Harbor together and their marriage spanned 76 years.

Betty 2Warren and Betty Schott appearing in the Armed Forces Lilac Parade in Spokane, May 2010.

In this week’s Spokesman Review column I say goodbye to Betty, one of the sweetest, wisest, kindest women I’ve ever known.

Her last words to me were, “I’m so proud of you, honey.”

You can read the column here.  Or here.

 

War Bonds

Pearl Harbor memories burn brightly for this couple

Warren and Betty, low res, 1941

Warren and Betty Schott pictured here in Honolulu, in 1941, had an apartment just up from Battleship Row. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 11 of War Bonds, describing their eyewitness account of that terrible morning:
The couple was used to noise, but the sounds that woke them on Dec. 7, 1941, were unlike anything they’d heard before. Betty pulled on her robe and looked out the bathroom window.
“Warren!” she called, “there’s smoke and fire at the end of the runway.”
At first he didn’t believe her. But at his wife’s insistence, he went to another window and spotted a plane flying low overhead. “I saw the red balls on the wings of the plane,” he said. “I watched that plane torpedo the USS Utah. I said, ‘Betty, we’re at war!’”
They hustled out of their quarters and stopped to pick up a young mother and her two kids who lived downstairs. “It was total chaos,” said Warren of the surprise attack. “We didn’t know what to do.” The horrific noise of bombs, planes and machine gun fire added to the overwhelming terror.
Warren gathered everyone in the neighbor’s car and took off for the administration building. “Barbara and I were in our nightgowns and robes, and shrapnel was falling from the sky,” Betty said.
“The road was shredded by machine-gun fire,” Warren said, as he recalled their frightening journey. Steering the vehicle away from the strafing fire of a Japanese warplane, he found shelter in a supply building. There Betty, her friend and the children, waited out the first wave of the attack. “They put us to work immediately, Betty said. “We unloaded guns and filled fire extinguishers.”
20141207_140304-1Today, Betty dropped a lei at the new Pearl Harbor Survivors Memorial in Spokane, Washington. Warren passed away in March. They’d been married 76 years when he died.