Columns

Base Life: Military BRATS reflect

He walked in the door after work and dropped his Air Force cap on my head.

I don’t remember the moment, but my Mom snapped a photo. Toddler me gazes up at the camera, sassy-like, because how can you not feel sassy when you’re wearing Daddy’s cap and shoes with bells on them?

CIndy at two.

It was 1967, and we were living at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. My memories of island life are few.

A spill off a swing that resulted in impacted sand in my eye and a trip to the E.R.

My oldest brother holding me over his head so I could put my feet on the ceiling and “walk like a gecko.”

The smashing, crashing sounds of tropical storms that battered our lanai and tossed our metal garbage cans into the street.

Our next duty station was Vandenberg AFB (now Vandenberg Space Force Base) in Santa Barbara County, California.

Again, my memories are fleeting.

Our first family dog – a mutt we named Riley.

Getting mad at my mom and hopping on my red tricycle. “I’m going back to Guam!” I yelled. Then I got to the end of the block and had to turn around. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street without a grown-up.

My first visit to Disneyland. The Tea Cup ride made me barf. It also made Dad queasy.

My early childhood was steeped in military life and ritual and in my last column about time spent at Fairchild AFB; I invited readers to share their memories of life on a military base.

Steven Stuart (retired Army) had an interesting experience in Berlin. He was stationed there from 1979-81.

“At the time we could go over to East Berlin through Check Point Charlie and the Soviets could come over to West Berlin,” he recalled. “They would come to our PX plaza, park and just sit in their cars. There were usually four of them in small cars, smoking foul-smelling cigarettes, and watching. I always wanted to go talk to one but was informed it was a no-no. It seemed odd that the folks we were sent to protect Berlin from were in our commissary parking lot.”

Frank Schoonover grew up on military bases as an Army BRAT. He explained where we got that term.

“ ‘BRAT’ is a common reference to the children of military members. It’s a term of endearment referring to a group who often endure hardships, frequent moves, school changes, long deployments of a parent and often inadequate government housing,” he wrote.

Like many of our military traditions, the term had its genesis with the British Army.

“It’s an abbreviation for British Regiment Attached Traveler and denotes those family members who could travel with their military sponsor,” he said. “Those of us who are military brats revere the epithet as a prized acronym.”

His memories include living in Fort Meade, Maryland, where his family shared a former garage with another family – the two dwellings separated by blankets strung on a clothesline. They also shared a single bathroom.

At Fort Bliss, Texas, they lived in what once had been a stable and still had raised blocks in the bedrooms that had been used for shoeing horses. But better digs were in store.

“Our ultimate castle was also at Fort Bliss,” he recalled. “We moved into a former WAAC barracks. The bathroom had 15 sinks, showers and commodes. My mother immediately limited use to three. Woe to anyone who used a fourth!”

Paddy Inman has fond memories of Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, California. He spent his eighth-grade year there in 1959-60.

“It was the most idyllic year of my life,” he said. “Hamilton was the Air Force Command Headquarters on the West Coast, and it was demonstrated by the amenities afforded to all the base residents.”

Every building on the base from schools to the gym to clubs was built in the Spanish style – white stucco, red tile roofs, large wood doors with brass knockers, black wrought-iron railings, expansive lawns, smooth asphalt roads with curbing and lined with palm trees.

“It exuded the aura of a posh resort more than a military installation,” Inman wrote.

One of his first jobs was pin setting in the base bowling alley.

“We sat on a raised platform in the ball pit at the end of the alley and frequently had to dodge flying pins,” he recalled. “We were paid 10 cents per line and often worked as many as six hours in the pit. If we were fast and accurate, the bowlers would sometimes leave a tip for us at the front desk.”

One of his best friends and frequent companion was the son of the base commander, who had a powerful go-kart he rode on the base roads until the MPs picked him up and delivered him home.

“His most famous escapade was roaring down a long hill toward the base headquarters in his go-kart with another of our friends standing on the back saluting during the Retreat ceremony at 5:00 and being pursued by the military police,” recalled Inman. “His dad finally decided the go-kart had to go.”

Deborah Winter’s dad was a pilot in the USAF from 1954 to 1978.

She remembers living on base at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, in the early ‘60s, where she’d lie awake at night comforted by the sound of jet engines.

“Mom would take me and my two brothers to the flight line to welcome my dad home from several weeks of ‘alert,’ ” she recalled. “As they taxied the B-47s, they would pop the cockpit canopy and wave at us.”

She learned to drive on an unused runway at Lajes Field, Azores.

Winter said the bases all had things in common: a close-knit community, other kids ready and willing to make friends quickly, meals at the Officer’s Club, and support for the wives and families when husbands were away.

That lifestyle made a lasting impression.

“Later on I would earn my own wings as a Naval Flight Officer and serve as a navigator in my squadron,” she said.

As Father’s Day approaches, my 27th without my dad, I scroll through black-and-white photos of him in uniform. My memories of his time of service may be fleeting, but the feelings the photos evoke linger–pride, gratitude and so much love.

All Write, Columns

The Final Reunion

Military spouses are experts at saying goodbye. Separation is a fact of life, and no one knew this better than the men and women featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

During World War II, these couples’ farewells were fraught with fear. There would be no emails. No texts. No FaceTime with the family. Letters and scant phone calls or occasional telegrams had to suffice.

But, oh, the reunions! Most of the 36 couples profiled in “War Bonds,” vividly remembered and described the moment they saw their spouses when they finally came home.

In the past six weeks, three of those brides experienced their final reunions with their husbands. This time they won’t have to say goodbye again.

Melba Jeanne Barton died Nov. 30. She and Don were married 67 years before he died in 2013. That eight-year separation marks the longest time they’d spent apart.

She’d met Don at a Grange dance two months after he’d returned from flying B-29s in the Pacific theater. He’d endured a horrific loss when the plane he piloted was hit in battle, and his young navigator was killed. Decades after the experience his eyes still filled with tears when he spoke of it.

“He was a nice kid – a real nice kid,” he’d said.

You might think Melba Jeanne would be immediately smitten by the dashing pilot. After all, he shared her Christian faith, and he was a great dancer. But Don was a farmer, and Melba Jeanne swore she’d never marry a farmer.

“Feeding chickens and milking cows – none of that stuff appealed to me,” she said.

But Don’s patient persistence and promises that she’d never have to do farm chores won her hand and her heart.

They raised three daughters on their family farm. And Melba Jeanne discovered the best benefit to being a farmer’s wife.

“On the farm, your husband is never far away. We’ve always done everything together,” she’d said.

Bonnie Shaw died on Dec. 5. She met her husband, Harvey at Central Valley High School when he was home on leave and visiting his siblings.

Despite his uniform, Harvey was just a boy himself. “I got stupid and quit school right in the middle of my sophomore year,” he recalled. “I just didn’t think. A few months later, I was in the Navy.”

He said goodbye to his family and set sail on the USS Kwajalein, but Bonnie didn’t forget about him. He returned home in 1946, and when Bonnie and her boyfriend broke up, Harvey wasted no time.

“When we finally got together, we just really fell in love,” she recalled.

And just like sailing the Pacific, their courtship wasn’t without bumps. Bonnie was a devout Catholic and Harvey was not. Unbeknownst to her, he began taking instruction at St. John Vianney, and they wed there in August 1950.

They spent 64 years together. Harvey died in 2014, not long before “War Bonds” was published.

When I’d called Bonnie shortly before his death she said. “He’s not doing very well, but he asks me to read him your column, and every time I do, he smiles.”

We both cried a bit then.

Bonnie gave Harvey nightly back rubs and the last words they whispered before falling asleep were “I love you.”

“Harvey is my heart,” she said.

Bonnie and Harvey Shaw, 2014

Lastly, Betty Ratzman died Dec. 26.

To know Betty was to love her. A prolific writer and avid letter-writer, Betty’s fierce intelligence and sharp wit delighted all who knew her. I treasure the letters I received from her.

Bett Ratzman with Cindy Hval at a taping of “Spokane Talks,” 2016.

In fact, she won her husband’s heart through the mail.

They’d met on a blind date in 1943, and when Dean Ratzman shipped out with the Navy, she told him not to get his hopes up.

He ignored her warning and treasured both her photo and the letters she wrote to him while he was at sea.

“You can find so much more about someone in letters,” he’d said.

They married in 1946 and spent 73 years together until Dean died in 2019.

Fit and active, the couple attended many “War Bonds” events, gladly meeting folks who marveled at their lasting love.

The last time I spoke with Betty shortly after Dean’s death, she wanted to know all about my sons and my cats. Then her quavery voice broke a bit.

“Oh, I miss Dean. I miss him so much,” she said.

Betty Ratzman, Cindy Hval, Dean Ratzman at a “War Bonds” event, 2015.

I miss Betty, and Bonnie and Melba Jeanne.

The “War Bonds” brides are at the heart of what made our country great. They endured separations and rationing. They tackled nontraditional jobs and learned new skills, to keep our country going during the war. They gave their husbands something to fight for and a reason to come home.

While I celebrate each couple’s heavenly reunion, I can’t help but think our world is diminished by their absence. I know my little corner of it is.

All Write, Columns

It’s the hardest part…

I sat in her kitchen, surrounded by fragrant braids of garlic. Plump and juicy just-picked tomatoes spilled from a bowl on her counter.

The garlic was famous, grown from seeds her father-in-law had sewn into his coat when he emigrated from Italy to the United States.

It was supposed to be a quick visit – just long enough to give her a hug and return some photos. But you didn’t visit Connie Disotell DiLuzio without being fed.

Connie died Nov. 23. When I saw her obituary, I remembered our last visit six years ago.

“Sit,” she insisted. “Have some biscotti.”

So, I sat.

She placed freshly baked biscotti on a plate and filled a ceramic mug with coffee.

“Eat,” she said. “You’re so busy with the book and those boys. You need to take care of yourself.”

“War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation,” had just been accepted for publication. Connie and her husband’s story is featured, and I was returning photos I’d included in the manuscript.

Ray had died not long after I interviewed them, and Connie loved to talk about their courtship.

They met in 1942, when he was home on leave from the Navy. Connie was just 15, but they corresponded as best they could during the war. He wanted to marry her when he got another brief leave, but she insisted they waited until she graduated from Rogers High School.

He waited, and they enjoyed 66 years together.

She told me how much she missed Ray.

“It’s hard, honey,” she said, as she hugged me goodbye. “It’s real hard.”025

Ray and Connie, January 2012

She wasn’t the only “War Bonds” bride I lost last year. In September, Marie Clemons died. Her husband, Rusty, preceded her in death in 2018. They were married 72 years.

They met when he was hanging out at his brother’s Colville restaurant. Rusty had just returned from 42 months of serving in the Pacific theater with the Army during World War ll.

Marie waitressed at the restaurant, but on this night the dishwasher hadn’t shown up, so she offered to scrub pots.

To Rusty’s surprise, he volunteered to help her.

“I don’t have a clue why I did that,” he recalled. “I never did like to wash dishes.”

That offer changed both of their lives.

“We got to holding hands,” Rusty said. “I don’t know whether it was during the wash or rinse cycle.”

After the interview I snapped their picture in their beautiful backyard, and Rusty pulled Marie close for a kiss.

Chpt 6 Clemons 2011 full view

Rusty and Marie

My schedule filled with “War Bonds” events after the book’s 2015 release, and when they heard I would be doing a signing at the Spokane Valley Barnes and Noble, they showed up to give me a hug.

“You did good, kid,” Rusty said.

Marie beamed.

“We’re just so proud of you,” she said.

It felt like I’d received my grandparents’ blessing.

Cindy with Rusty and Marie Clemons April, 2015

Rusty Clemons, Cindy Hval, Marie Clemons, April 2015

Scanning these obituaries reminds me of how many goodbyes I’ve said in recent years. I’m so aware that every point of contact might be the last.

That’s why I was delighted to see Walt Powers honored before an Eastern Washington University football game last fall. He and his wife, Myrt, were proud supporters of the university where he had taught for so long. He checked in with me via email after Myrt died in 2017.

“I’m healing daily, but I have a long way to go,” he wrote.

And I received a lovely letter from Betty Ratzman in September, not long after she lost her husband, Dean.

“I do miss him so much,” she wrote.

Betty also wanted to tell me that a copy of “War Bonds” had been placed in the new Orofino Historical Museum.

“Not my Auntie’s February 2015 autographed by Cindy Hval copy,” she assured me.

She concluded with a reminder.

“Watch the obits for me.”

How I dread seeing her name there. Out of the 36 couples featured in “War Bonds,” only 13 widows and widowers and one surviving couple remain.

Each loss feels like saying goodbye to a beloved family member.

I think of what Connie DiLuzio said about losing Ray.

“It’s hard, honey. It’s real hard.”

And I know exactly what she meant.

All Write

A teen who values veterans

Sometimes I get the best emails. This is one of them. God bless teenagers like Michael from New Jersey.

Hello, my name is Michael and I am a sixteen year old high school student from New Jersey. Over the past two years I have been interviewing Great Depression survivors, World War II and Korean War veterans.
I have been doing this because I love history and one day I would like to write a book on the men and women from these events. I read your article on World War II veterans from your book who have recently been passing away. I just wanted to say that you have had an opportunity many men and women will never experience. So many men and women take the last men and women from World War II for granted and sadly they will not be around for much longer.
Thank you,
Michael

I’m counting on Michael to write that book. So cool, that someone this young values the stories of the very old.

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.

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.

War Bonds

When Opposites Attract

She was an only child. He was one of seven.

He was a Catholic. She was a Protestant.

She joined the Air Force. He joined the Navy.

He’s an extrovert. She’s an introvert.

The adage “opposites attract” certainly applies to Becky and Harry Flanigan.

They met as children growing up in the same neighborhood in New Albany, Indiana. But Becky had no intention of dating Harry, two years her junior, let alone marrying him.

Harry, however, had other ideas.

In their Kendall Yards apartment, he grinned as he recalled his first sight of Becky. His speech has been impaired by a stroke, but he communicates with hand gestures and short sentences.

“I was 4 years old when I met her. I was 11 when I knew I wanted to marry her,” he said.

It seems when he was 4, a button popped off his snow pants, and Becky’s mother sewed it back on for him. That’s how they met.

At 11, he was stricken by polio and from his bed near the living room window; he watched Becky and his older brother walk to school each day.

“I told Mom I was going to marry her,” he said.

But marriage would have to wait.

After high school, Becky went to nursing school at Ball State University. When an Air Force recruiter came to talk to the soon-to-graduate nurses, she and three friends signed up, and were soon sent to Minot, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Harry, who hoped to be a doctor, attended St. Louis University until he ran out of funds. After working for the Army Corps of Engineers for a couple years, he enlisted in the Navy.

In 1966, he was attached to the Marine Corps unit in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He and his fellow corpsmen sent up and ran the field hospital there. He doesn’t talk about his experiences in Chu Lai.

When asked if he lost friends during the war, he hung his head and buried his face in his hands.

Becky said, “He brought home a machete and once I asked him where he got it. He said, ‘You don’t want to know.’”

One of the first things he did after returning home was to call Becky and ask her for a date.

“I said yes,” she recalled. “Then I told my mother, ‘What have I done?’ I’m older than he is. I’m taller than he is. And now he knows I was sitting home alone on a Saturday night.’”

It was March 25, 1967, and when Harry picked her up, she was relieved and surprised to find he’d grown.

“He was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, the last time I’d seen him,” she said.

Her mother waited up for her, and when Becky returned she told her mom she’d had a nice time, but wasn’t interested in seeing him again. Harry planned a career in medicine, and she definitely didn’t want to marry a doctor.

The next day he brought her an Easter card.

“He was charming as all get out,” Becky said, smiling.

He must have been, because they got engaged on April 16.

Coming from a large family had its disadvantages – namely little sisters.

“I had no idea he was going to propose,” Becky said. “But we stopped by his house and his little sister said, ‘Do you like your ring?’”

There went the surprise.

The boisterous Flanigans were a bit overwhelming.

“He invited me to a family party, and there were 100 people there,” she recalled. “I wanted to run away.”

She didn’t, and they married Aug. 12.

“His mother told people at our reception, we wouldn’t last six months,” Becky said.

Then she grinned.

“She did eventually apologize, but it took her 30 years.

Harry enrolled at Indiana University, but was disappointed when he wasn’t admitted to medical school. Even though his grades were excellent, he was told the university had no interest in retraining him from his military experience.

He studied business instead and took a job with Union Carbide after graduating in 1970.

Becky gave birth to their daughter, Amy, in 1971, and the family embarked in a series of moves across the country as Harry rose in rank and responsibility within the corporation.

Tragedy struck while they were living in California. Harry, age 46, suffered a stroke. His carotid artery had dissected and life as they knew it changed forever.

The stroke affected his speech and partially paralyzed his right side.

“The last thing he said to us was ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.

His prognosis was grim, but Becky said, “He felt since he beat polio, he could beat this.”

Harry, a driven, Type A, workaholic, channeled all of his energy into recovery, making it his full-time job. He learned to walk, to drive and to care for himself, though speech remained an issue.

But despite his amazing strides, he couldn’t resume his career.

“The worst day of his life wasn’t the day of his stroke, but the day they retired him,” Becky said. “He loved his job, the people, the travel. …”

Harry nodded.

Their daughter was attending law school at Gonzaga University, so they decided to move to Spokane. They’ve never looked back, because soon they had three grandchildren to dote on, including a grandson who is now attending the United States Air Force Academy.

When he could speak more clearly, Harry told Becky, “I think the stroke is the best thing that happened to me. It slowed me down, brought me to a stop and allowed me to appreciate my family.”

With his left hand, Harry, 75, gestured upward.

“My grandkids and Amy lift me up,” he said.

As to his wife of 50 years, well, he’s always believed marrying her was his destiny.

He curled his left arm into a muscle-flexing pose.

“She’s strong,” he said.

Becky, 77, said, “People ask me if I’d do it again and I say, ‘Yes, in a heartbeat.’”

When asked why, her eyes filled with tears.

“I guess it’s just true love,” she said.

“Yes,” Harry said, nodding. “Yes.”

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War Bonds

The Bomber Pilot’s Secret

Conaways low res

Constance (Connie) and Wilson (Bill) Conaway on right

The first time I interviewed Bill and Connie Conaway, Bill didn’t talk much about serving overseas as a B-17 pilot during WWll, but his eyes lit up when he talked about the planes.

He recalled every aircraft he flew and who trained him on it.

But on a subsequent interview he told stories of harrowing missions over Germany, of how he nearly froze when a piece of shrapnel pierced his flight suit as he soared miles above the ground.

And then he told the story that has haunted him for 70 years.

His radio operator, Lynn, a good friend, was killed on a mission.

“The night before we left, we all had dinner together, and his wife and little baby came– that was the last time she saw him.”

He sighed, shaking his head.

“The airplane floor was covered with his blood,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. “I tried to get in touch with his wife for many, many years. I wanted to tell Lynn’s daughter about her dad.”

He was never able to find her when he returned to the States.

Bill Conaway died January 11.

His widow, Connie who served in the WAVES called to tell me the news. He died just days before their 71st anniversary.

She’s never forgotten how fortunate they’ve been. Many B-17 pilots never returned.  She said, “I’ve told him many times, ‘I’m lucky to have you, honey.'”

And I’m lucky that I was able to include their story in War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation. 

But mostly I’m grateful that this gruff pilot, turned school teacher, turned artist, trusted me with his secret.

During an interview he leaned forward in his chair, glanced at Connie and said, “I’ll tell you a secret; I love her more today than I ever have.”

CONAWAY LOVE

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.

 

 

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