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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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.

War Bonds

WWII veteran uses art talent to help disabled people around world

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Jack Rogers, 93, is featured in War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation with his wife Fran. The couple celebrated 70 years of marriage in April.

In this article for the Spokesman Review, I share how Rogers hasn’t let a series of strokes slow his desire or ability to help those indeed.

Greatest Generation indeed!

Rolling his wheelchair to his desk beneath a window, Jack Rogers picked up his pen and added deft strokes to a picture of a lone cross-country skier traversing a snowy landscape.

Rogers, 93, has always said he won’t retire. And despite suffering a series of strokes in October, he’s kept his word, though these days his desk is in a North Side care and rehabilitation facility.

Looking up from his work he smiled and said, “Old age creeps up on you.”

He has spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities following the strokes, but he still participated via wheelchair in his 40th Bloomsday race. He hasn’t missed one since the race began in 1977.

A founding member of the Spokane Watercolor Society, Rogers started the art department at Spokane Falls Community College in 1963 and taught there for 26 years.

Though he retired from the college, his schedule was still packed. In October, he was teaching a private student in his home when he suffered a stroke.

The past few months have been difficult, as the always-active man chafed at the limitations forced on him by his health.

“I need to make a contribution in this world by helping others,” he said.

Thankfully, his longtime friend Joe Kramarz found a way for Rogers to do just that.

Kramarz volunteers with Inland Northwest PET Project. Since 2005, the organization has been creating and distributing Personal Energy Transporters from a hillside shop in Colbert.

A PET is a hand-pedaled vehicle made of lumber and steel. The sturdy parts and solid-core rubber wheels provide transportation in terrain that would prove difficult for traditional wheelchairs to navigate.

The PETs are sent throughout the world to those who have lost use of their legs due to injury, birth defects, land mines, polio and other causes.

The organization has grown from a half-dozen volunteers to 100, scattered across the region from British Columbia to Alaska. Now Jack Rogers is one of them.

Kramarz came up with the idea to have Rogers paint customized tailgates for the PETs.

“We used to have Northwest-themed stencils on the tailgates,” he said. “Now we have Jack’s art.”

Kramarz knows how important it is for his friend to be useful. He takes the tailgates to Rogers and picks them up when he’s done.

“Jack’s told me many times, ‘If you’re not producing and helping other people, you’re not living,’ ” he said.

From a fly fisherman casting his line in a river, to snow-capped mountains, each scene Rogers creates has the unique flavor of the Inland Northwest.

“We just shipped 140 to Guatemala,” Kramarz said. “Jack’s done about 18, now.”

Dick Carpenter, founder of Inland Northwest PET Project, is happy to count Rogers as one of the many volunteers who make up the nonprofit.

“Absolutely incredible men and women come together as a team to make this happen,” he said. “It’s astonishing to me how committed these people are.”

The motto of the organization is, “Lifting people out of the dirt into a life of dignity and hope.”

Carpenter said the PETs have the ability to instantly change lives.

“In shame-based countries people with disabilities are hidden away,” he said. “Mobility makes all the difference – it erases the shame.”

As Rogers worked on a tailgate he said, “It takes me about two to three hours to finish one. My part is small; all the other volunteers make this happen.”

In addition to working with the PET Project, Rogers is still teaching private students and is illustrating a book for an author in Los Angeles.

The book is set in the Philippines – a place Rogers knows something about. During World War II his Army unit was the first one back into Manila, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing.

“I’m very fortunate God gave me a talent,” he said. “I have a duty to share it.”

Rogers still has no plans to retire.

“My point is not what I’ve done,” he said, “but what I’ve done for someone else.”

To help

Inland Northwest PET Project accepts donations.

Tax-deductible donations may be mailed to WCPC PET Project, 15123 Little Spokane Drive, Spokane, WA 99208. Donation form and more information available online at petspokane.org.

In addition to funding, current needs include donation of hard board, 11 feet by 5 feet or 10 feet by 4 feet, 1/4-inch thickness preferred.

For more information call, (509) 466-3425.