War Bonds

My Veterans

dad-at-the-playground

That’s my dad in his airman’s uniform just hanging around in the mid 1950’s, long before I was born.

He joined the Air Force in the waning days of WWll and shook the dust of Luxora, Arkansas, off his feet, returning only briefly before being summoned back to duty by the advent of the Korean War.

I was born at Fairchild Air Force Base and by the time I was 5 had lived on Guam and in California before Dad decided to retire back in Spokane, Washington. I learned to stand at attention and salute the flag before I could walk.

Dad was proud of his two-plus decades of Air Force service. His love of God and country anchored our family and his passing in 1994 left a void in my heart that cannot be filled.

daddy

So, of course I fell in love with a man in uniform!

fly-boy

I met my husband just after he graduated from flight school. He served in the Washington Army National Guard for 23 years– most of our married life. He’s duties took him to Panama and to Honduras, but he loved flying and mentoring other young pilots.

dereks-legion-of-merit

My love for my father and for my husband gave me deep empathy and added insight when I begin to tell the stories of WWll soldiers, sailors, pilots and corpsmen.

I understood duty, courage, leadership and self-sacrifice because I’ve lived with it all my life.

Today I honor my father, Tom Burnett and my husband, Derek Hval.

Of all the veterans I’ve met, these are the two I love the most and their stories have made my own story so much richer.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

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War Bonds

Meet an Eyewitness to the Beginning and the End of WWll

Bud GarvinI had the incredible honor of interviewing Bud Garvin, 99, this week. Bud was eyewitness to the beginning of WWll at Pearl Harbor and was liberating a concentration camp in Germany when the war ended in Europe. BudOmaha Beach– The Battle of the Bulge– Bud was there. Though he’ll celebrate his 100th birthday next month, his recollection of his time of service is still sharp. He is a gracious, funny and generous man and I count myself beyond blessed to have spent time with him.

War Bonds

Naval Aviator and WWII hero Robbie Robinson, dies

Chpt 35 Robbie Robinson - Copy

Just learned that Naval aviator Robbie Robinson passed away last week.
Robbie survived a horrific plane crash in the Pacific during WWII. Here’s an excerpt from his chapter “Wings of Gold.”

Robbie took off from his ship, the U.S.S Manila Bay with a full payload of bombs. The crew didn’t spot any enemy activity and at dusk they headed back to the ship.

The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult. As they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning the plane lurched and trembled. Like a goose hit in the wing by a volley of shot we plummeted into the Pacific with terrifying finality.”

The plane smashed into the water, shattering on impact. Cascades of water tossed him about like limp seaweed. Blown from the aircraft and barely conscious, he tripped the release on one side of his May West lifejacket, and it partially inflated, supporting his head.

He was plucked from the sea by the crew of a nearby destroyer. Later that night he learned that his radioman, George Driesback Jr., and his gunner, Harold Eckert, had been killed on impact. “They never had a chance,” he said. “They were in the belly of the plane.”

RIP Robbie Robinson. Thank you for your service and for sharing your story with me.

 

Columns, War Bonds

Column: Grateful to have told WWII veteran’s story

The fading late afternoon sun, blurred by the haze of wildfires, fell softly across the foot of his bed. A smoke-tinged breeze wafted through the open French doors.

His once-commanding frame seemed frail against the stark whiteness of crisp sheets and rumpled pillows. I stood quietly beside him, a writer at a loss for words.

Nick Gaynos was dying.

The World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor had endured many things, but the loss of his beloved wife, Tex, was proving too much for his heart to bear. After more than 70 years with her, he doesn’t want to be here without her.

I met Nick and Tex in 2010 when I shared their Love Story with newspaper readers. His regal military bearing and her gorgeous red hair and sense of style made them one of the most elegant couples I’ve interviewed.

They laughed and bantered throughout the afternoon, recalling how they met in the Bamboo Room of the Hotel Californian in Fresno. Nick spotted Tex through some bamboo fronds and was immediately smitten. He told his friend, “See that redhead? I’m going to marry her!” His buddy replied, “No way!” Gaynos said, “I’ll bet ya $10.”

Six weeks later he collected that $10 as he walked down the aisle to marry Tex.

His smile faded when he recalled the horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The young private was in charge of air/ground communications at Hickam Air Field on Dec. 7, 1941.

He was asleep in his bunk when the earsplitting scream of airplane engines and the rat-a-tat sound of bullets strafing the barracks woke him. Grabbing his pants, he scrambled out the door.

As he ran down the beach back toward his duty station, a Japanese Zero strafed the sand around him. He hit the ground and covered his head. Gaynos 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 Gaynos got up he discovered a large piece of shrapnel next to him. “I grabbed it,” he said. “It was still hot from the explosion.”

After Pearl Harbor he was sent to Officer Candidate School and quickly moved up through the ranks. He married Tex in 1943 and enjoyed a long military career followed by a successful second career in real estate.

On a recent day, I came to tell him that their story will be included in a book I’m working on and to collect photos for the project. His daughter warned me that his health was fading and he wasn’t expected to live much longer.

His caregiver greeted me at the door and Gaynos opened his eyes briefly when I entered the room, then he sighed and turned away.

I sorted through the photos, selecting the ones I needed, and when his caregiver went to photocopy them, I approached his bed.

“Nick,” I said.

His eyes fluttered and he slowly raised his hand. I took it and he wrapped his fingers around mine. His eyes fell shut, but his grip on my hand was firm.

I told how I admired Tex, and how much I appreciated that after talking about the awfulness of war, we were able to laugh together at the silly jokes and stories they shared.

“I’ve never forgotten that you told me that a sense of humor is vital to a marriage,” I said. “Thank you, Nick. Thank you for serving your country, for loving your wife, for sharing your memories with me.”

He sighed and released my fingers.

I heard his caregiver returning to the room, so I bent down and kissed his brow – taking a liberty I’m sure Tex wouldn’t mind.

According to recent statistics, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 555 a day. Time is running out to tell their stories. But in this case, not only did I get to share this hero’s story, I also got to say goodbye.

As I drove away, my eyes blurred and the tears that had threatened all afternoon fell.

The tears weren’t of grief, but of gratitude.

This column originally appeared July 31, 2014 in the Spokesman-Review.