Columns, War Bonds

Their Stories are Now a Part of Mine

As I sat down at my desk to write this week’s column, an email notification popped up on my screen. I opened it to read of Audrey Bixby’s upcoming funeral.

I’d interviewed Audrey and her husband, Dick, several years ago for my Love Story series, and included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

The timing of the email stunned me. I’d already planned to write about the loss of so many of the people featured in “War Bonds.”

Seventy-two. That’s how many individuals made the final cut of the book.

Twenty-four. That’s how many people died before “War Bonds” made it into print.

Twenty. That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since its 2015 publication.

A colleague shrugged when I bemoaned yet another loss.

“What did you expect when all your subjects are World War ll veterans over 80?” he’d asked.

He has a point.

It’s not that I expected them to live forever; it’s just that I’ve been unprepared for how much each loss affects me.

In the past few months, in addition to Audrey, I’ve said farewell to Jack Rogers, Dick Eastburg, Barbara Anderson and Myrt Powers.

It seems fitting to honor them today on the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Jack Rogers wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but he enlisted in the Army in 1943, when he was just 19. He had a hard time believing we were at war against Japan.

“I grew up with a bunch of Japanese kids,” he said in “War Bonds.”

Before being shipped out to the Pacific, he traveled to California to see a Japanese friend from high school, only to find his friend and his family had been confined in an internment camp.

I met Jack many years ago when he taught art at Northwest Christian School. He taught all four of my kids, and each one remembers him well.

Eleven years ago, I wrote an article about his art career. Since then, I revisited him in print many times. A story about his 71-year marriage to Fran, a feature about how following a debilitating stroke, he still continued to give back – painting tailgates on Personal Energy Transporters through Inland Northwest PET Project.

And I wrote about one of his final art shows at Spokane Art Supply. That’s where I saw him last. He and Fran sat side by side, as friends, fans and former students perused his paintings, buying a piece of Jack to take home and remember him by.

My own piece of Rogers’ art watches over me as I write. It’s a whimsical print of a terrier that Fran sent as a thank you note, following the funeral.

Next to it is a photo of Louis Anderson and his flight crew taken in 1944, just before they shipped out to Europe.

The last time I saw Louis and Barbara at their retirement center apartment, she insisted I take home a memento – a water glass from Air Force One. She was so proud of her late grandson who served as President Obama’s pilot.

She also kept me grounded in real life. Every time I left their place she’d say, “Do you need to use the restroom? Are you sure?”

Audrey Bixby was strictly down-to-earth as well. When I interviewed her and Dick, he kept me in stitches with jokes and sly puns. While we laughed, Audrey feigned exasperation and then told her own funny stories.

When Dick enumerated her wonderful qualities, he said, “She’s an awfully nice person and she laughs at my jokes!”

Dick died five years ago. I like to think that now they’re laughing together again.

Dale Eastburg passed away last month. He and his wife, Eva, had been married 75 years. When last I spoke to them, they were still going to the gym every week!

They’d been married just a short time before he was sent to China as part of the famed Flying Tigers. The thought of saying goodbye to his bride proved unbearable to Dale, so he didn’t. He slipped out of their apartment while she slept.

I hope this time Dale was able to say goodbye.

And today, I think of darling Myrt Powers. I never thought I’d describe a Marine as darling, but that exactly describes this tiny dynamo.

Though already employed as a teacher, she enlisted in the Marines following the attack on Pearl Harbor, because so many of her students told her they were worried about their fathers who were going off to war.

“I wanted to take care of my students’ dads,” she explained in “War Bonds.”

She met Walt Powers, a sailor stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. They were married 71 years at the time of her death.

I last saw Myrt two years ago, in Hawaii, of all places.

It was 8:15 in the morning at the Hale Koa Hotel, an Armed Forces Recreation Center resort on Waikiki. My husband and I were preparing to make our first pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, and stopped for coffee before the tour bus picked us up.

Myrt was grabbing a cup while waiting for Walt to finish his regular swim at the hotel pool.

“Hello, honey,” she said, reaching up to embrace me.

It was the best hug I’ve ever received from a Marine, and sadly it was the last one from Myrt.

Today, while the world remembers the more than 2,000 lives lost at Pearl Harbor, I remember five souls who endured the trauma of a world war. The lives they led in its aftermath, the families they raised, the marriages they cherished, bear witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.

While I’m sad at their passing, I’m so very glad that their stories are now a part of mine.

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 spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Remembering the children of Newtown

20141214_130929This column first ran in the Spokesman Review, December 20, 2012

By the time you read this it will be almost a week since the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn. Columnists, pundits and politicians will have opined, analyzed and commented. Graves will have been dug. Memorial services held.

The initial shock and horror has faded, muted by holiday happenings. After all, life goes on and sorrow dims.

As the reports unfolded Friday I sat stunned at my desk – each detail more heartbreaking than the last. Finally, I got up, put on my coat and headed out. I had Christmas shopping to do.

I stopped to watch the children laughing and shrieking in the play area at NorthTown Mall. Usually, I bypass the raucous place as quickly as possible, feeling profound gratitude that I no longer have to pause in my errands to let wiggly toddlers blow off steam. But on Friday the sight of their exuberant energy gladdened me.

Then I caught sight of a glittering Christmas tree with gaily wrapped packages beneath it. Suddenly, all I could think of were the festive packages lying forever unopened under Christmas trees in Connecticut. I quickly left the mall and went home, anxious to be there to greet my kids when they returned from school.

It was a rare day because I saw all four of my sons. My oldest stopped by to do laundry, and my second-born dropped off a vehicle he’d borrowed. I drank in the sight of them, bearded stubble and all, remembering their smooth baby faces that I once covered with kisses.

My heart broke yet again, thinking of eight mothers whose sons didn’t live to hear them nag, “Are you ever going to shave?”

Somehow we all got through the day didn’t we? We made it through the unending media reports. We hugged our children tighter. We cried communal tears. We prayed. We lit candles. We raged. We wondered. For a brief moment our nation was united. Sorrow can have that effect.

But the days wore on. The details offered no rhyme, no reason. The pro- and anti-gun folks hurled invectives and recriminations at each other. Politicians seized platforms, and many of us just wished the nightmare would go away.

And it will. Unless you lost a loved one in Newtown, Conn., the memory of this event will blend into a collage of other senseless tragedies. However, one name will be etched in our collective memory: Adam Lanza.

This is what haunts me the most. Why do we remember the killers when the victims and their families deserve to be forever enshrined in our consciousness?

Do you remember the names of anyone who died at Columbine, aside from the shooters? Have the faces of those who perished in Oklahoma City vanished from your memory while the face of Timothy McVeigh burns brightly?

So, Friday I went back out. I bought a 2012-dated ornament, wrapped it and placed it under our tree. On Saturday, when the names of the victims were released, I covered the small package with glittery name tags. The tags read: For Benjamin, Emilie, Grace, Noah and so on – 20 names in all.

On Christmas morning, this gift will remain under our tree. It isn’t meant to be opened. It’s a memorial of sorts. I will pack it away with the Christmas decorations and place it under the tree next year, and the year after that.

I don’t want to forget what happened on Dec. 14, 2012.

The children who died deserve to be remembered. It’s the only gift I have to offer them.