War Bonds

One dance was all it took

Last week I was privileged to interview Leon and Dorothy Williams, who celebrated their 69th anniversary in April.

The Huntington Park Ballroom was awash in men in uniform in 1946, but Dorothy Wunderlich, 17, had eyes for only one.

A tall, handsome sailor with piercing blue eyes had shown up late, but still managed to secure a dance with Dorothy.

“We danced to ‘Goodnight Ladies,’ ” she recalled. “It was the last dance of the night.”

From their log home in Elk, Dorothy smiled at her husband, Leon Williams.

 “I called him my boyfriend after one dance,” she said. “I already had him cornered.”

Leon didn’t mind a bit. The 19-year-old had survived a rough childhood and already spent months at sea while serving with the Pacific fleet.

He never knew his father, and his stepfather was abusive. When he was 8, his stepfather was beating him and Leon’s 11-year-old brother Bud jumped on his back to try to end the beating.

Their stepfather kicked them out.

“My grandparents raised me and my brother,” Leon said.

The boys grew up in Milford, Utah. Bud dropped out of school his senior year to join the Navy, and Leon followed suit at 16 and was sent to Farragut Naval Training Station.

“You had to be 17 by the time you finished boot camp,” he explained. “I had my 17th birthday at Farragut.”

Hunting skills honed in Utah came in handy. His marksmanship earned him a spot as a gunner’s mate aboard the USS Ammen. He also served on the USS St. Paul.

Dorothy pulled a yellowed and stained Japanese flag from a box.

“This is proof he was there,” she said.

Leon explained that a fellow sailor had given him the flag during the invasion of Okinawa.

She also saved his blue wool sailor’s cap and every letter he wrote to her. And there were letters – because Leon was smitten after that single dance, and when he next had liberty, he hustled to the ballroom to meet Dorothy.

“He took me home on the bus afterward,” she said.

Leon was transferred to San Francisco, so letters flew back and forth. When he accrued enough leave time and knew he was eligible for discharge, he called her and told her to set a date for the wedding.

To his surprise, he had to get his mother’s written permission to marry because he wasn’t 21.

“I couldn’t understand it,” he said. “I’d been in the Navy for four years!”

They married April 6, 1947, and honeymooned in Las Vegas at his mother’s house. Leon’s brother and uncle came to Vegas to pick up a tractor and took the newlyweds back with them to Milford.

“The four of us were crammed into a tiny cab of a truck, hauling a tractor,” Dorothy said.

When asked how she felt about her unconventional honeymoon journey, she laughed and said, “I just shut up and went along. How do you think I’ve stayed married for 69 years?”

Leon took a job as the night marshal in Milford, but when an opportunity arose to work for the railroad, he jumped at the chance. He didn’t have a high school diploma, but a friend wrote “equivalent to” on the space for education and that was good enough. The pay was better and he needed the money.

The first two of their nine children had been born in 1948 and 1949.

In 1952, Union Pacific Railroad moved the family to Norwalk, California.

“I started as brakeman and was later promoted to conductor,” Leon said.

After several years in Norwalk, they bought a small ranch in Mira Loma, where their family flourished. Dorothy had been the oldest of nine, so she was used to a big family. However, replicating her family of origin was far from her mind when she married.

“I only wanted two!” she said.

But Leon relished being surrounded by four sons and five daughters.

“If I could do it over again, I’d have two or three more,” he said. “I wanted each and every one of them.”

Ranch life suited the family.

“We had chickens, pigs, horses and a garden,” Dorothy said.

Feeding her crew was a full-time job, especially since most evenings a neighbor kid or two would join the family.

“She always fixed good meals,” Leon said. “And every night we had dessert – cookies, pie or ice cream.”

They even had family vacations. The kids joked that they camped wherever there were railroad tracks. The family would cram into a 1957 Dodge station wagon and set off. It was common for hobos riding the rails to find their campsite. Instead of shooing them away, Dorothy welcomed them and shared whatever meal she’d prepared with the hungry men.

“They were so polite to our kids,” she recalled.

Once, when they’d graduated from station wagon to truck and camper, a hobo expressed a longing for apple pie.

“You bring me some apples, and I’ll bake you a pie,” Dorothy told him.

The next day he returned to the campsite with a big box of apples he “found” in a nearby orchard and Dorothy baked an apple pie in the oven in the camper, just as she’d promised.

After 38 years with Union Pacific, Leon retired, and he and Dorothy already knew where they wanted to spend their retirement years.

One of their sons had moved to Spokane and when Leon and Dorothy came to visit him, they fell in love with the area.

“This is heaven on Earth,” Dorothy said of their 40 acres in Elk.

All nine of their children live nearby, as do many of their 36 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren.

And last summer Leon and his brother Bud traveled back to Milford, Utah, where they finally received their high school diplomas. Forty-five students had dropped out of school to serve their country during World War II. Only four are still living, and only Bud and Leon were there to receive their long-awaited diplomas.

For Dorothy, 87, the reason for their long marriage is simple.

“I loved him, and that was it!”

Leon, 90, was equally succinct. He smiled at his bride and said, “You’ve just got to believe in each other.”

 

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War Bonds

Stroke slows but doesn’t stop Jack Rogers

While out on assignment a few weeks ago, I found out the folks I was interviewing were good friends of Jack and Fran Rogers, whose story is told in a chapter titled “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.

I knew Jack, 93, had a stroke in October and his recovery process has been slow.

Imagine my delight when I heard that Jack, an art instructor for many years, was still painting! He paints Personal Energy Transporters (PETs). PETs are shipped to countries all over the world to provide personal mobility to amputees who are often victims of land mines and IEDs.  I wrote  about this great program here :http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2012/sep/27/pet-project-spreads-mobility/

Sadly, his health has had another setback, but I’m hoping to catch up with him soon.

Even a stroke can’t stop this WWll vet from wanting to do work that makes the world a better place.

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An example of Jack’s work on a PET
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Jack Rogers sits on a PET
War Bonds

The thrill ain’t gone

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Even a year after publication, it’s still a thrill to be asked to sign a stack of books! So grateful readers and booksellers are valuing War Bonds and the stories shared within.

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A recent reading at a local Barnes & Noble prompted a slew of interest and phone calls, so I was delighted to stop in and sign more copies.

As we head into Memorial Day weekend I’m even more conscious of the privilege I’ve had in being allowed to share these stories before they were lost.

I feel like “thankful” should be part of my signature.

War Bonds

Capturing Stories

 

12803047_1034459979925962_2464215764931817271_n[1]I recently returned from the beautiful Skagit Valley in Washington State. The tulips weren’t in bloom yet, but the daffodils offered gleaming fields of gold!

I was there to teach a  writing workshop called “Capturing the Stories of the Greatest Generation.”

The workshop was for a regional meeting of Life Enrichment Directors from a large senior housing corporation. The purpose was to better equip the staff to preserve the precious stories of their residents.

These folks are so aware that they are in a unique position to capture the stories of the men and women who served both at home and abroad during WWll.

We covered basic interview how-to’s and discussed different formats for sharing the stories.Then we moved on to specific tools and prompts that make members of this generation feel more comfortable sharing as well as allow them easier access to their memories.

I hope to offer this workshop in many senior housing or retirement facilities soon, as well as open it to the public at some point.

Prior to the class I gave a War Bonds reading for the residents. Afterward, I spent time chatting with many of them and getting a glimpse of their stories.

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A lovely lady purchased a copy of the book for herself and her husband, Bill. Bill has Alzheimer’s, but enjoyed the reading. While he was unsure of the date or where he lived, he certainly knew his bride. “This is my sweet Eloise,” he said, beaming. Then he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.

“Sweet Eloise” was a popular song 66 years ago, when they wed. Bill has lost a lot of his memories, but that song and his wife’s smile still shine through the fog of Alzheimer’s.

I hope it always will.

 

 

 

War Bonds

My favorite type of book buyer

I know authors shouldn’t play favorites, but I confess I do have a favorite type of book buyer.

As I reflect on a year spent reading and signing at bookstores, libraries and civic groups, etc. one type of book buyer never failed to make me smile.

It’s the buyer who says, “I’m going to read a chapter to my husband/wife/partner every night before bed.”

You can’t write a book like War Bonds without being a romantic soul and thinking of my book being shared this way thrills me to the tips of my hot pink toes.

What could be better than knowing the love stories of the Greatest Generation are safe in the hands of new generation of lovers?11001726_10203518846031682_9073187678075970162_n[1]

Reader Jeri Kennedy, Illinois

War Bonds

Happy Bookiversary

In the rush of Monday deadlines I didn’t even notice that yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the release of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

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The Facebook Memories app reminded me and as I pored over pictures of that special day, I was overwhelmed.

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A mixture of joy and sadness flooded my soul. Joy at the fabulous launch at Auntie’s Bookstore. Joy at the fact that the first print run sold out in a month. Joy at the relief of finally seeing my book baby in the hands of readers.

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And sadness that so many of the people featured in War Bonds have passed away in the year since publication.

But mostly what I’m feeling is profound gratitude. Thank you so much to all of you who were part of that amazing book launch on February 22, 2015. Thank you to readers who savor these stories and understand their importance. Thank you to booksellers, civic clubs, retirement communities etc.who’ve invited me to come and do readings. And thank you to those of you who’ve written reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

The love stories of the Greatest Generation will live on because of you.

War Bonds

War Bonds and Saying Goodbye

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Have to admit this photo brought tears. This is Nathalie Mitchell’s  son, Ed reading from his parents’ story (Chapter 21) at Nathalie’s burial service yesterday.

The picture taken by her daughter-in-law Cindy Mitchell, shows the bittersweet reality of what happens when you tell the stories of the Greatest Generation– sooner or later you will have to say goodbye.

How fitting that the Mitchells’ story is titled Happy Trails.

 

 

War Bonds

And They Said He Wouldn’t Last

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Had a wonderful time at yesterday’s War Bonds reading. My special guests were Dean and Betty Ratzman, from Chapter 18.

Here’s an excerpt from their story:

While Dean wasn’t injured during the invasion, his health still took a beating. He contracted dengue fever several times during his stint in the islands. While in Saipan he got a hernia from lifting a large battery. Following surgery, he was sent to a hospital ship, the USS Sanctuary. There he received some startling news. Doctors aboard ship discovered Dean’s heart had been damaged during his bouts with fever.

When the ship docked in Oakland, physicians at the naval hospital diagnosed the 20-year-old sailor with two leaky heart valves. “The doctors said there wasn’t anything they could do,” Dean recalled. “They told me I probably wouldn’t live past middle age.”

…Betty recalled his proposal. “He told me the doctors said he wouldn’t live past 40. Then he asked me to marry him! I told him, ‘You’re not going to get out of it that easily!'”

Almost seven decades later, she smiled at her husband. “When you’re 20, 40 seems like forever. I figured I’d get another one (husband) after that.”

In June they’ll celebrate their 70th anniversary, so it looks like it will be awhile before Betty can replace him, and you know what? She’s just fine with that!

 

War Bonds

Meet a War Bonds couple!

If you’ve ever wanted to meet one of the couples you’ve read about in War Bonds, you’ll have the opportunity on Thursday, February 11.

Rockwood

The Ratzmans’ story is told in chapter 18 “Letters From Home.”

They are a delightful, sharp-witted couple who truly fell in love through the letters they exchanged while Dean was serving in the South Pacific.
Here’s an excerpt from their story:
But it was her letters that kept a young man far from home from feeling too lonely. “Betty is a great letter writer,” he said. “Her letters were a highlight for me– but I didn’t know who else she was writing to.” He shot her a sideways glance. “She was very patriotic.”

This is a great opportunity to purchase a copy of War Bonds and have it signed by one of the couples featured.

PS: Valentine’s Day is SUNDAY 😉

War Bonds

High School Students Connect with the Greatest Generation

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I got to witness something very special today. High school students from Barker and Spokane Valley Tech schools interviewed members of the Greatest Generation at Harvard Park Retirement Community.

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The interviews came about as part of a history/language arts unit. The students were taught basic interviewing techniques, chose to read 1 of 3 books about WWll (including Radioman and The Bellygunner by Spokane author Carol Edgemon Hipperson) and then paid a visit to Harvard Park.

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The students were thoughtful, well-prepared and so appreciative. It was really moving to witness the respect these kids gave to their elders and how much they seemed to value spending time with them.
Afterward a student said, “This is so much more valuable than the average history class. You get a sense of what it was like during this time– it paints a picture for you.”
Story coming soon in the Spokesman Review.