Real People, Real Stories

Rosie the Riveter courtesy of theAtlantic.com.

A trip to the doctor for a sinus infection this week left me sitting in a waiting room filled with strangers. Nearly all of them were like me or like people I know – white, middle aged or elderly. The one person in the room who was different was an elderly Amish woman.

If I had been asked to start a conversation with someone in that room, she’s the one I was most curious about. And it occurs to me that I am naturally drawn to people who are different than me.

I’m interested in where they’re from and how our paths crossed. What’s their world view? What do they enjoy? What do they wish people knew about them? I often am surprised at what I learn from talking to those who have a worldview different than my own.

Maybe that’s why it’s such a shock to me when people dismiss those who are different or, worse yet, bully and discriminate against them.

I like human stories and sometimes share them on Facebook – the Louisiana brothers who survived D-Day and who lived to be old men; the elderly woman who smuggled hundreds of Jewish children out of Germany; and the many strong women who we call Rosie the Riveter have all appeared on my Facebook page. I often give attention to those who can no longer speak for themselves or who don’t make it into the history books. Sometimes I share stories of people who do have a voice but who often are ignored.

More recently, I’ve been sharing the stories of people of color. Maybe no one is reading or watching the videos but I like to at least give them a platform. It’s healthy to hear the human side of the story as opposed to the headline version of what’s happening in the world.

I’m convinced of two things:

1. It’s easy to hate people you don’t know.

2. People who think they hate history believe that it’s all about memorizing dates, places and names of people long dead. And that’s not what matters most when studying history.

If you think about it, we are living history right now. That Amish woman has a story to tell that will be a valuable thread in the fabric of our history someday just as the female biracial pilot who told her story on YouTube does. Just as you and I do.

Someday, historians and kids in schools across the nation will study 2020 American history. Wouldn’t you like them to know how you lived and contributed? What you think of our world today?

Go look for the people and the stories that don’t make the history books. You never know what you might find.

Six Years And A Day

Six years and one day. That’s how long World War II lasted. It started in 1939 and ended on August 15, 1945 when Japan fell.

Friday was the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

May 8, 1945 – a day that most Americans don’t remember but that is still widely celebrated across Europe. Those celebrations and remembrances looked different this year as we are all fighting a different kind of enemy right now.

When we talk about the war we tend to stick to the big picture – the war in numbers, pictures from concentration camps, images of aircraft, general ideas about a time long ago.

But I would like to pause a moment to remind us all that these were real people who suffered and struggled, who lived and died.

People in the country, in some ways, were better off because they were able to grow gardens or raise chickens for eggs or cows for milk. People in cities like London lived in constant fear of bombing and starvation.

They all lived in terror of the enemy and of freezing to death in their own homes. They blacked out even the tiniest sliver of light every night because the smallest ray of light could betray them.

Families packed up their children and put them on trains, sending them far from their city homes to family or strangers in the countryside. Some children were too small to even remember their parents. No one was guaranteed to see their families ever again.

Women did war work on the home front, driving trucks and ambulances, farming and working in factories. Able bodied men served in the military. Everyone else had responsibilities to the war effort or maybe just to keeping themselves alive.

You can see the relief and joy on the faces of those people pictured above. They were among the lucky who survived.

It’s hard to get a handle on how many people died because of World War II but that number is upward of 70 million. That’s soldiers and civilians, including those who died of war related disease and famine or in concentration camps.

It’s hard to fathom.

It’s also helpful for creating some perspective in these current challenging times.

People are struggling right now. The money problems are real. Issues with supply chains are causing anxiety. People are tired of being at home. They’re struggling to educate their kids on topics they themselves don’t understand. They’re struggling to access technology for school and work – a basic utility for some but a luxury for many.

Misinformation is spreading like wildfire and my newsfeed is filled with posts from individuals doing little more than inciting panic over an already terrible situation.

Life is hard right now but it has only been a problem in this country for a couple of months and these issues won’t last for six years and one day. Even if it feels like it already has been that long.

Those people fought with all their might to survive that war. Perhaps we would be better off if we use where we come from to help better understand where we are. It certainly makes me feel better about my own circumstances to compare today to what our friends in Europe endured 75 years ago.

Brandi’s Life Of Quarantine Book Club

As you can see from the stack, I’m still at home and still reading. These are the selections from Brandi’s Life of Quarantine Book Club in April. Membership consists of just me and there’s no rhyme or reason to the selections.

This was a good news/bad news kind of month. The good news is that I finally finished the Richard Paul Evans Road trilogy. I’m not a huge fan but he is typically feel good and uplifting. Something that I find necessary right now.

The bad news is that I discovered the annoying world of self published books on Amazon. Some are great. Some aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. This particular book was about the Zoot Suit Riots but was basically just a patchwork of quotes from news articles.

There were some standouts too.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a beautiful book. This bestseller has received a lot of hype, causing me to put off reading it because the hyped-up books often don’t appeal to me.

The author is actually a zoologist by trade and this was her first novel so I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the reclusive main character to be so real and relatable. Known to the community as Marsh Girl, she lives apart from society, her life shaped by her childhood and her future determined by a community that judged her from afar.

It reminds me of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, my favorite book of all time.

Quiet by Susan Cain was a real treat. It’s well researched and smartly written, providing insight into the differences between introverts and extroverts. It thoroughly explains why introverts are so easily dismissed.

Between a third and half of the workforce is introverted so I believe this should be required reading for anyone who manages people or plans work spaces. Many famous introverts changed the world including Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak. There would be no Alice in Wonderland if not for an introvert.

It turns a bit dry at times but is still an excellent use of your time. There’s even advice for parents of introverted children and teachers who need to find a way to work with different learning styles.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon is a page turner. She has mastered the art of suspense and the craft of intertwining multiple stories into one. While one story begins during the golden age of travel at a roadside motel, another picks up the story years later when the interstate system has left the hotel rundown and closed. But there’s a secret, monsters and lots of intrigue. Well worth your time.

Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II was written for a younger audience but is an excellent read for anyone – especially those interested in World War II history, aviation and women’s rights.

It uses a lot of great photos and thoughtful text to tell the story of how women flew 77 kinds of military aircraft during the war, doing work with planes that some male pilots were afraid to fly. They trained as Army but, despite promises they would soon be part of the Army, it never happened and they were dismissed with just a letter of thanks. It took decades for them to be recognized for the heroic work they did for the American war effort. You can get a gently used copy from a small bookseller on Alibris.com for under $3 plus $3.99 shipping and it is worth your money to do so. Also, it’s not just for girls! Have your boys read it too!

Honorable Mention goes to Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell. I truly enjoyed this story. It’s the first in a series and I have ordered the next two books from small booksellers on Alibris. We will see if Archer maintains my attention!

What have you been reading?

A Native American Story You’ve Probably Never Heard

November is National American Indian Heritage Month, a perfect time to share a story that you won’t read in any school textbook.

You’ve likely heard about the Navajo Code Talkers, US Marines of Navajo descent who used their native tongue to baffle Japanese code breakers during World War II. Their work is credited with helping end the war years earlier than predicted. Despite their unique skills and heroic efforts, they were subject to racism and discrimination and were treated poorly to put it mildly.

Their work was top secret. Most Americans (including their fellow soldiers) didn’t realize there were native people serving in the military and didn’t know about their significant contributions to the war effort until years later.

Here’s the story you likely haven’t heard.

A chance encounter brought together a photographer and one of these Code Talkers in the mid-seventies.

The Code Talker was a man named Carl Gorman who picked up a hitchhiking photographer near Window Rock, Arizona. They became acquainted and the photographer showed interest in the culture and history of the Code Talkers.

He was invited to a Navajo Code Talkers Association meeting and was welcomed into the group. The photographer began following the Code Talkers to parades and other functions where they appeared, eventually becaming their official association photographer.

That photographer was a Japanese man whose father was a surviving Kamikaze pilot from World War II.

You read that correctly.

The Navajo Code Talkers welcomed to their tight knit community a stranger who descended from the very people they had worked so hard to defeat only a few decades earlier.

Eventually, photographer Kenji Kawano began a new project, photographing Code Talkers in their own environments – in their homes and workplaces.

Some proudly wore their uniforms. Others posed with portraits of their young selves. Some saluted for the camera, a few posed with their spouses. Kenji reached some too late – they were already deceased – so he photographed their families or their military portraits.

Some of these portraits were compiled in a book along with a quote from each man. This is how I learned the story.

I actually picked up the book “Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers” at the Crazy Horse Memorial this summer, thinking that it was just a nice book of photos to peruse on the plane. I had no idea that it would be such a moving experience to learn about the Code Talkers and the unlikely friend who would tell their story.

One of them spoke of how he was captured by U.S. Army soldiers who mistook his Navajo features as Japanese – a common problem for many of the Code Talkers.

Another spoke of how he continued to question why he had to kill and spoke of the psychological impact it had on him.

Another said that he joined up because there were no jobs on the Reservation.

The stories they tell often are only a sentence or two, sometimes a paragraph, making it an easy but significant read.

If you aren’t a reader but enjoy photography and want to know more about this topic, this book is the way to go. You’ll learn a lot and be moved. You’ll also walk away with a number of questions and perhaps even with a new world view. It certainly worked for me.

It gives me hope to think of the kindness the Code Talkers showed this young photographer. They didn’t have to invite him to their meetings or allow him to stick around for pictures. They certainly didn’t have to welcome this son of their one-time enemy into their homes.

Kenji said that it was a bit awkward at first. I imagine this is an understatement. But if this unlikely friendship could develop and flourish, there’s hope for us all. In this divided world we live in today where we have so little tolerance for people who hold different views than us, we can use all the hope we can get.

Read the book if you can. I promise you won’t regret it.

The Right Place at the Right Time

Occasionally, you find yourself standing in exactly the right place at precisely the right moment and with a camera in your hand.

That’s what happened to me the day I made this picture which I happen to really like.

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The picture was made at Wright Patterson Air Force Base the day I visited with my dad to see the Memphis Belle. Torrential rain had really dampened most of the planned outdoor activities but a few hearty souls were out with their planes, Jeeps and food trucks between showers.

I wanted to see the bombers but dad and I had stopped to look at this Jeep when this reenactor came into view in the mirror.

It was like seeing a ghost in the mirror.

Here’s the full Jeep in case you’re interested.

fb3Want to read more about that day? I’ll write more about the museum this winter but you can read about seeing the Memphis Belle by clicking here.

Honoring the Memphis Belle

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Dad and I with the Memphis Belle. Notice that I’m wearing my Rosie the Riveter shirt? Yes, I am a nerd!

As a student of history, I was over the moon last year when the Memphis Belle was installed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton. They had a big weekend that included World War II reenactors, big band music and all sorts of other things.

My dad is a history buff too – he’s actually where I caught the bug from – so I dragged him along for a little father-daughter quality time. This was sort of a big deal because we don’t often get to do things on our own. Growing up, it was always me with my mother or all of us as a family but never dad and I alone.

Turns out the weather was horrible and rainy, ruining most of the outdoor fun but we had a nice time anyway.

If you’ve never been to this museum, it’s a great way to pass a day and it’s free. It’s packed full of planes and stories that you won’t read in most history books.

a crew.jpgThe Memphis Belle exhibit does a nice job telling the story of this plane and crew. The B-17 was vital to the war effort, having flown in every combat zone during World War II. The Memphis Belle was important because it completed 25 missions over Europe, a dangerous proposition and unheard of when it happened in 1942 and 1943.

The crew became symbols of the war effort, personifying all the young men who were doing their part to fight evil overseas. They ranged in age from 19 to 26 and came from across this nation. These were very young men, likely with little life experience, who were sent to hell and back 25 times.

I can’t imagine the terror they faced. I mean, can you imagine climbing into a plane time after time, knowing that you likely wouldn’t live through the day? And it wasn’t just the Memphis Belle crew – these guys beat very long odds to survive – but sixteen million Americans served in this war, asked every day to face the unthinkable.

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Many of these planes were lost to time following the war. But the Memphis Belle dodged that bullet, so to speak. It was sent to Memphis where it sat out in the elements for decades. Damaged by weather, vandals and looters, it was in pretty bad shape. But it was acquired by the museum and sent to Dayton for restoration several years ago. We were lucky to be there for the festivities when the plane was installed in Dayton in time for the 75th anniversary of the planes’ 25th mission.

Displays feature each of the crew members and there are some artifacts on display in addition to the plane itself. I especially loved this stained glass window.

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Want to visit the Memphis Belle at the Air Force Museum? Click here. I’ll write more about the museum another day.