All Write, Columns

Losing my heroes

Ray, Milt, Dean, Harold.

Their names are as old-fashioned as the values they held dear – patriotism, service, commitment and lifelong love.

In the past few months, four members of the Greatest Generation died. Three of them are featured in my book, “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

“I’m losing all my heroes,” I said to my husband.

“But aren’t you glad you found them?” he replied.

Actually, most of them found me whether through the newspaper or mutual friends. And one by one they shared their stories with me and with my readers. Stories of war, wounds, absence and loss, as well as tales of love found, new generations birthed, homes built and communities enriched.

Ray Garland’s recent death generated a lot of media coverage and rightly so. He was the last surviving military member of the Lilac City Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association. His eyewitness account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and his compelling memories of surviving brutal battles and freezing cold during the Korean War are a vital part of our historical narrative.

On the day the story I wrote about Ray’s death was published, I got a note from a pastor in Coeur d’Alene telling me about the death of Milt Stafford.

Stafford, who before the war had never set foot outside of Idaho, served in Africa and Italy during World War ll. In “War Bonds,” he recalled the invasion of Sicily – the first time he saw dead bodies strewn across a battlefield.

“I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t want to see,” he said. “It was hell on wheels.”

But it wasn’t battle memories that made the combat vet cry, it was the memory of a little girl.

“Her parents had been killed by the Germans, and she came to the camp begging for food,” Stafford recalled.

He thought she was about 3 or 4 years old, and he and his buddy Willard “adopted” her. They fed her, clothed her and when the shelling started (which it did most every day) they made sure she was in the foxhole with them. They never knew her name.

When the war ended, Stafford took her to the U.S. embassy in Milan. He never saw her again, but she haunted him.

“I think about her every day,” he told me. “I wonder, did she find a family? Is she alive?”

Chpt 2 Milt with little girl, Italy, 194

Milt Stafford with little girl. Italy 1944.

I would have been honored to attend Stafford’s memorial, but I had another funeral to attend that day.

Dean Ratzman, another “War Bonds” alum, had died.

Spending time with Ratzman and his wife, Betty, always involved lively banter and engaging conversation.

Several bouts of dengue fever while serving in the South Pacific had damaged Dean’s heart, and when he proposed to Betty, he told her that doctors said he likely wouldn’t live past middle age.

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

As I hugged Betty at the funeral, I could only imagine the enormity of her loss. The couple would have celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary in June.

CHpt 18 Dean Ratzman 1943

Dean Ratzman, 1943

Some months earlier, I’d read about the death of Harold Smart.

When I interviewed Harold and Peggy Smart in their Pullman home, Harold was still so smitten with her, that even after 70 years together, he didn’t let go of her hand, and frequently interrupted our conversation to say, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Sadly, Peggy died before “War Bonds” was published. Harold was nervous about loaning me their photos to copy for use in the book.

“You’ll bring them right back?” he asked. “They’re precious to me.”

Reading his obituary, I was delighted to discover a sweet connection. When Harold had moved to Orchard Crest in Spokane, he met Louise McKay, a “War Bonds” widow, and they became friends.

Chpt 22 Harold Smart, 1943Harold Smart, 1943

How wonderful to know these two with so much in common had found comfort in their friendship.

While the loss of these men saddens me, I know how lucky I’ve been to have met them. Heroes can be hard to find, but I’ve been blessed to know so many.

War Bonds

War Bonds Hero Dies on Memorial Day Weekend

War Bonds Louie Anderson

On Sunday, May 27, Louie Anderson slipped the bonds of Earth and flew to be with his beloved Barb.

He and Barbara enjoyed 71 years of marriage and because they lived close to my home, I got to spend quite a bit of time with them.

The photo below watched over me from my filing cabinet as I wrote War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

Louis and flight crew 1944 low res

It shows Louie and his flight crew looking impossibly young and irrepressibly confident. Their 22-year-old leader, first pilot Louis Anderson sits on his haunches in the front row, far left. The photo was snapped as the 10 young men prepared to depart for Chelveston, England. It was May 1944 and the crew of the G-model Flying Fortress eagerly anticipated getting their licks in against the enemy.

Thirty-five missions later, Louis returned home, having lost only one of his original crew. Amazing because he said, “There was only one mission that we didn’t get shot at.”

Below is an excerpt from their chapter, “Keeping Time.”

“A ship in our left wing got hit,” Louis said. He and his men watched in dismay as the ball turret gunner fell from his turret and hung suspended by his foot. Many B-17 crew members considered the ball turret the worst position on the aircraft. The gunner was confined in a sphere fastened to the underside of the plane.

Louis cleared his throat. “I had to explain to the fellows that he was no longer with us.” After 45 seconds the gunner fell from the aircraft.

“We had quite a bit of difficulty talking the crew into getting back in the plane to fly a mission the next day,” he continued. “We had to have several conferences with the chaplain to explain that the gunner hadn’t been hanging there, suffering.”

When Barbara died in November, Louie’s already declining health, worsened.

He just wanted to be with her.

And he got his wish, but not before he was awarded a special Quilt of Valor made by the quilting group at Fairwood Retirement Community. Barbara was an avid quilter and she would be delighted to know of Louie’s gift.
He received the quilt, Saturday. He passed away Sunday.

And on Memorial Day I will be thinking of them both.

War Bonds with the Andersons at Fairwood

 

 

War Bonds

Good Cooking Fueled 70 Years of Wedded Bliss

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Logging in the Olympic Peninsula is hard, hungry work, and hearty meals provide essential tree-felling fuel. If those meals are cooked by a pretty girl, well, that added inspiration can give a young man something to dream about while he works.

At least that was James Hollandsworth’s experience. He’d taken a job felling trees in 1945 and quickly noticed the camp cook.

He recalled thinking, “There’s a gal that when she gets old enough, I might see if I could entice her to marry me, ’cuz I know she can cook.”

Melba Hollandsworth was just 16 at the time. Born in a log cabin, near Osburn, Idaho, she quit school in the sixth grade, plagued by health issues caused by the nearby smelter.

As the oldest of seven from a large extended family, in addition to cooking at the logging camp, Melba traveled from relative to relative, helping out when a new baby was born or when someone was ill.

James’ family knew hers, and he’d see her occasionally at church in Spokane Valley when she was visiting.

“I probably had eyes for him, too,” she admitted.

It would have been hard to miss him, since he and his brother played guitar and sang special numbers at the church.

“When I found out she’d turned 18, I decided to ask her out,” James said.

He called on her at her Aunt Cora’s home and took her for a drive. However, her aunt was concerned that he wasn’t moving quickly enough.

“Aunt Cora knew I thought a lot of Melba,” recalled James. “She told me, you’d better get serious if you want Melba because she’s going to leave the area.”

Indeed, she moved to Kalispell to help another family member, so James drove to Montana to see her.

“She wasn’t expecting me,” he said, smiling. “You don’t want ’em to know you’re coming.”

Melba liked him well enough to ask him to buy her a guitar.

She laughed.

“I got the guitar, but I had to learn to play it.”

On another visit, James said, “Let’s go look at rings.”

Melba agreed to marry him, but with one stipulation.

“I didn’t want kids right away,” she said. “I wanted time to get more acquainted – we didn’t really have a courtship.”

On Dec. 20, 1947, the two married at a relative’s home in north Spokane. There was a lot of snow that winter and family members from Kalispell had a hard time getting off Tea Kettle Mountain to go to the wedding.

“So, they got a logging truck and put a wooden shack on the back of it and made a makeshift camper,” James said, chuckling.

There was no time for a honeymoon as James was due back at work at MorrisonKnudsen Monday morning, but their first breakfast as husband and wife has never been forgotten.

James took his bride out for hamburgers at a diner in Spokane Valley.

“That was a new wrinkle for me,” Melba said, shaking her head. “I’m used to breakfast. I didn’t know what to order because I wasn’t used to restaurants.”

James grinned.

“She was upset, but we lived through it.”

Soon, they bought their first home on East 12th Avenue in the Perry District. The house cost $5,000, and James earned $1 per hour.

Their home came fully furnished.

“I bought it from a widower who was going to live with his son and said all he wanted to take with him was a suitcase,” James said. “He sold me all the furnishings for $500.”

Melba was thrilled.

“It had everything,” she said. “All we needed were groceries.”

They lived there until they bought their present Spokane Valley home in 1955.

Work kept James busy, and Melba was ready to start a family. She’d wanted to wait to have children but had no way of knowing they’d have to wait 11 long years.

“It was baffling to wait so long,” she said. “We saw doctors, had tests. So many people had babies, but I didn’t.”

Finally, in December 1958, their daughter, Cindy, arrived. The proud parents took her everywhere from bowling leagues to backpacking trips.

James loved nothing more than discovering new lakes and places to fish.

“I took a map and laid out all the lakes north of Sandpoint to the Canadian border,” he said. “I wanted to see the country. Each week we went to a different lake. Lots of times there were no roads or trails, so we just bushwhacked.”

And often his wife and daughter went along.

“I wasn’t a very good hiker, but I liked camping,” Melba said.

She enjoyed fishing and marveled at James’ skill.

“He had a feeling about fish – a special touch,” she said.

The irony was he wouldn’t eat fish – couldn’t even stand the smell of fish on his fingers.

He shrugged.

“I got poisoned by canned salmon when I was a kid.”

James worked for MorrisonKnudsen for 20 years and for N.A. Degerstrom for 25, before retiring in 1989.

The first thing they did was buy a motor home and hit the road, crossing the country from Mexico to Alaska. For many years, they traveled thousands of miles, stopping to hike, fish or visit friends and relatives.

Their adventures were curtailed when James, then 85, suffered a heart attack at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He’d been on the trip with a friend and felt some discomfort but still drove home.

“Melba called the doctor, and the next day I had five bypasses,” he said.

They recently celebrated their 70th anniversary, and Melba, 88, offered this bit of advice to couples: “Learn to go with the flow,” she said. “Learn about each others’ interests.”

For example, when she couldn’t do the hikes James wanted to do, she encouraged his love of photography.

“I enjoyed his pictures when he came back.”

James, 93, said, “She never puts up much of a fuss. She’s got a lot of patience.”

His advice to future husbands?

Grinning at Melba, he said, “Check and see if she cooks.”

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War Bonds

The Face that Graced the Book Cover

She never thought her face would be on a book cover.

That a snapshot taken on her honeymoon would become the face of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation. After all, the marriage and the honeymoon might never have happened if Mary Grayhek hadn’t said to heck with vanity, tied a scarf over her hair set in pin curls, and agreed to a blind date.

But at the insistence of her friend, in 1946, Mary agreed to a double date with a handsome Marine. The date with Roy Grayhek changed her life.  Six weeks later, they wed in the Naval Chapel in Bremerton, WA.

The photo snapped of Roy and Mary standing on a piece of driftwood in the Puget Sound, became the cover of book filled with stories of people who married during, or shortly after World War Two.

 

War Bonds

The Grayheks enjoyed 68 years of wedded bliss before Roy’s death in 2014.
Sadly, he passed away before the book’s release. But Mary was able to enjoy  seeing their faces on the cover. Even more importantly, she got to see the book in the hands of her great-granddaughter Grace, and her soldier husband, Ryan, shortly before he was deployed.

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Mary Grayhek died December 20, surrounded by her family.Grayhek wedding low res

I’m quite confident that Roy was the first one to greet her, and that he hasn’t taken his arm from around her shoulders. And that they picked up their story right where they left off– with happily ever after.

 

 

War Bonds

Every Time We Say Goodbye

72.

That’s how many individuals made the final cut of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

24.

That’s how many people died before the book went to print.

19.

That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since War Bonds 2015 publication.

In the past month, Barbara Anderson and Dale Eastburg passed away.

Barbara’s loss hit me especially hard. The Anderson’s story is featured in chapter 28 “Keeping Time.” They  met in 1945 when Louis came into her father’s jewelry store to get his watch repaired. When War Bonds was published, he still wore the watch and it still kept time.

The Love Lesson Barbara shared at the end of the chapter resonates.

“You can’t take back bad words. We’ve never said one thing we’ve had to take back.”

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This photo was taken 11/16/16, the last time I saw Barbara. She wanted more signed copies of the book to send to a family that was grieving the loss of a wife/mom/grandma.

She always thought of others. When I left she insisted I on giving me a water glass from Air Force One. Her late grandson had served as pilot for President Obama.

She also always asked if I needed to use the restroom before I left!

Her spirit and generosity are simply irreplaceable and I worry how Louie will do without his bride.

Dale and Eva Eastburg had been married for 75 years when he died earlier this month. When last I spoke with them, they were still going to the gym regularly!

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The title of their chapter seems especially poignant today. It’s titled “Hard to Say Goodbye.”

And it is. It really is.

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

Together Again

At last night’s “War Bonds” event at Studio 107 in Coeur d’Alene, I learned Nick Gaynos had passed away on April 1.

I can’t be too sad, since he so wanted to be with his beloved Tex who died June 3, 2014.  And I’m beyond delighted that he was able to attend the reading at the Coeur d’Alene Public Libary on March 11 and receive his copy of “War Bonds.” 20150311_184658He brought the piece of shrapnel that almost nailed him at Pearl Harbor to the reading. When he turned to the chapter (Damn Yankee) about he and his bride, he lingered over her photos. “Isn’t she pretty?” he asked.

Yes, she is, Nick and I’m so happy you’re together again.Gaynos RB

 

War Bonds

What a month!

10995923_10153087961739556_3470153634427158925_n[1]Cindy Hval at War Bonds book launch, February 22, 2015.

One month ago today marked the publication date for War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.   

What a month it’s been! Two weeks ago Casemate Publishers informed me the first print run of War Bonds had already sold out and new print run ordered! There are still copies in stores aross the nation, but the major book distributors are out and are waiting for the next run due on or before April 19.

To me this response means these stories resonate– not just with members of the Greatest Generation but their children and grandchildren, too.

Since the book launch at Auntie’s Bookstore, I’ve done several author reading/signing events. (See scheduled events here.) At each event people come up and share stories involving family members who served during WWll. Their stories move and inspire me.

I am so grateful to those who’ve purchased War Bonds and have written blog posts or posted reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. I’m thankful for the book stores, libraries and other groups who’ve invited me to do reading/signing events and most of all for the people who show up!

I’ve always felt these stories deserved to be shared and these people deserve to be honored for their committment and sacrafice on the battlefield and on the homefront.

How wonderful to find that so many agree.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Here’s to a third print run!

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War Bonds book launch at Auntie’s Bookstore, February 22, 2015.

 

War Bonds

He brought the shrapnel with him

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From Chapter 8 of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation;

As he ran down the beach back toward his duty station, a Japanese Zero strafed the sand around him. Nick hit the ground and covered his head. He said he felt a hot breeze and heard a whistling sound inches from his ears. He looked up and saw the face of the pilot as he flew alongside him. The pilot grinned.
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.”

Last night, Nick Gaynos attended a War Bonds reading at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. He brought that piece of shrapnel with him.

Simply amazing.