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Blue Skies Are Shining on Me

The title of this post might be a little confusing even though there’s not a cloud in the sky. The title does relate to what’s going on today. For the last three days, the landscaper has been turning our backyard into a park I’ve been striving to achieve since we moved in here thirteen years ago. I’m not posting pictures because, of course, the work is not done — but that’s half of the beauty. I have learned to be patient as we’ve moved through the different projects this year –the kitchen, the living room, the utility room, and who could forget the “Taj Garage.” As the old comes down and the new goes up, the process is fun to watch — although I admit the Taj Garage did push me to the limits.

I’ve seen the finished backyard in my mind’s eye for over a year. It started with the installation of the fence last year, and now continues with a retaining wall, new plants and cleaning out some of the weeds and old plants and replacing them with updates. The anticipation of the yard being finished is exhilarating.

I thank the weather for cooperating for the past three days — I bet you’ll probably never hear me say that again! But rain has been taking a path north and leaving our area dry. Perhaps it will rain when our landscape is finished for this year. Next year, I’ll tackle the front.

Like all the cliches predict — It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Sorry. Just had to say it.

Have a good day with blue skies shining on you!

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – (CONTINUED)

Chapter 19

Budapest, Hungary – December—The winds of war changed direction. With the Nazis on the borders of Hungary, fear mounted in the Jewish community. If Budapest Jews fate followed the Nazi treatment of Jews in other countries, time would be short before they would be deported.

Rabbi Weismann’s deal with Eichman would diminish once the Nazis overran the city; worst of all he couldn’t keep his promise to protect Heidi and the children any longer. He went to work on a plan to help them escape. If he moved fast enough, they might stand a chance.

Part of the preparation for their journey required the car to be in good working order. The Rabbi hid the Rolls in a neighboring barn for the past three years, and the vehicle needed work. Sitting dormant for so long might become troublesome on the road. The worn tires and cracked hoses needed replacing; and of course, they needed enough gasoline to get to Switzerland. Everything they required was in short supply, but as always, the Rabbi solved the problem. His connections with the black market got him anything for a price.

Heidi also needed a good traveling companion.  The man Rabbi Weismann chose was a trusted Hungarian friend.  Dominik was a perfect choice because he spoke fluent German. When he was small, his father worked in a Nuremberg factory and he learned the language then. His family moved back to Hungary after his grandfather died, and Dominik’s father took over the family grocery business. When the Rabbi told Heidi of his choice to accompany her, she agreed. Over the past three years she met Dominik on many occasions and she trusted him.

Dominik agreed to the plan and mapped out a route which would keep them off the main roads for much of the trip. The route added several hours to the journey, but Dominik believed they would be less likely to encounter German troops on the back roads. The most dangerous part of the trip required them to drive through the Alps. The changeable weather at high elevations provided more danger than any checkpoint. When Dominik shared his plan with the Rabbi, the two men agreed putting safety first  outweighed the extra time the journey would require.

Gavriella packed enough food and water to last for the duration of  the journey. Another friend of the Rabbi’s stole enough petro to drive all the way to Switzerland.  The Rabbi even arranged a false marriage certificate for the couple and a baptismal certificate for David. David could not be Heidi’s child because of his age, so he became her nephew according to the false documents.  The two younger children named Heidi and Dominik as their parents on birth certificates. To be on the safe side, Heidi once again dyed the children’s dark hair blond.

Before they left at dawn, the Rabbi prayed over them. “Almighty God, please go with Heidi, my adopted daughter on this perilous journey. With your protection, and Dominik’s keen intellect, I put them all in your hands as they make this journey to Switzerland. Please ride with them during their journey.” He paused after he finished the prayer and gazed at Heidi with wet eyes. “My dear girl, you will remain in my heart forever.”

“Oh Rabbi, perhaps I should stay with you.”

“No. You must keep the children safe. You promised their mother.”

Heidi nodded. She understood making this trip would save David, Ruthie, and Jacob’s lives, but saying goodbye to the Rabbi proved to be one more difficult task since she met the Gesslers.

The Rabbi said in a calm voice. “Now, Heidi, we’ve been over this. You must go. You are the best hope for the children. If you stay, even God cannot protect you.” He hugged all of them and backed away from the car.

“I will never forget you.” Heidi said.

The Rabbi waved farewell as Dominik started the car.  “Take good care of them, Dominik.”

“Do not worry, Rabbi, I will protect them like my own family.”

Heidi and the children waved until the Rabbi disappeared in the distance.  The silence that followed for the first few miles hung  like a thick fog. Once again they left a safe home for something unknown. Dominik headed west and everyone remained silent.

After a few miles, Ruthie spoke first. “Heidi, are you our Mutter again?”

“Yes, sweetheart. I am you Mutter forever and ever.”

“Good. I like you as my Mutter.” She leaned against David and closed her eyes.

Book 6 – 1944

Chapter 1

Anzio, Italy – January, 1944—Josie and the rest of the medical staff rang in the New Year in a tent. For the past three years she celebrated the first of January with the medical staff in the same way with a bottle of beer and a cigarette.  She had been transferred from Sicily to Anzio, Italy, but this time her move came with a promotion to First Lieutenant. She made the trip on a ship headed north for the 95th Evacuation Hospital. And like her other encounters with beach landings, as soon as she set foot on the sand, air raid sirens sounded. The nurses took cover near the trucks which would take them to their new location.

After the “all clear” whistle sounded, the driver and the nurses traveled to a field in the middle of nowhere. Josie yelled to the driver. “This can’t be right. Check your instructions private.”

The driver considered her comment insulting and condescending. He hated taking orders from some broad. “I put you where the brass wanted you. Get out of my truck!”

Josie scowled. “Who’s your commanding officer, private?”

“Captain James Smith.”

“He’ll be hearing from me.” Josie jumped from the truck’s passenger seat and motioned for everyone to get out of the truck. She decided reasoning with this hard-head who thought women should stay home and pop out babies would be an exercise in futility. But as soon as she could, she’d let Captain Smith know about his insubordinate driver.

After the driver left, Josie took charge and gave an order to the corpsman in their group. “Charlie, radio headquarters and confirm if we are in the correct location to set up our facility.”

Over an hour later, the corpsman made contact and confirmed Josie guessed correctly.  The knucklehead driver dropped them in the wrong place. “HQ is sending another truck. We are to wait here.”

Josie threw up her arms. “Great!”

One small building stood in the middle of their location. The nurses and corpsmen scattered and fell on their bellies inside the weathered building while shells flew overhead with a sickening whine.

Josie joked, “Nobody can deny the Krauts throw a hell of a welcome party.”

Her tongue-in-cheek comment broke the tension in the shelter and everyone laughed. By now, scattering for shelter due to air raids became routine for these field-tested nurses.

An hour later, another truck picked them up and took them to Nettuno to establish another field hospital. Nettuno was a small town south of Anzio and a short distance from the main road along the beach. The beautiful, park-like surroundings seemed too good to be true. The tents sat on lush grassy fields. The serene location offered a pleasant change from their last assignment which only offered cold, wet, dirty sand. The nurses didn’t even complain when they dug the necessary foxholes under the cots. Josie set up the operating tent to prepare for the wounded who would inevitably come.

As they worked, “Screaming Meenie” shells from the biggest German guns miles away, whistled a foreboding sound overhead on their way toward the coast. As the tents went up and the hospital got organized, combat sounds of machine gun fire, shells whistling, and grenades exploding-seemed all too close. Josie wondered if this peaceful location offered safety or a threat to her nurses and patients.

After their long day of setting up the new hospital, Josie and the others flopped down on their cot hoping for a good night’s sleep before the wounded would appear. The long day left them exhausted, but another air raid blast caused them to dive into the foxholes under their cots. They listened to the sounds of war for most of the night. Planes flew so low Josie swore they would fly through the tents. Dee Dee, a new nurse in the group whimpered. Josie thought, “Poor girl, this must be her first time near a combat zone.” But even as a seasoned veteran, Josie never experienced this kind of fire. Her fear stuck in her throat. She held her breath. The shelling went on for until midnight before they crawled out of their foxholes. The nurses laid in their cots muddy, cold, and scared. No one slept that first night.

The shelling at Nuttuno continued to be a nuisance, so a week after they arrived, headquarters made a prudent decision to relocate Josie’s unit closer to the beach near the other units. The location would be a half mile away from any military target, and clearly marked as a medical unit with big red crosses on the tents.

Any time a hospital needed to be moved, nurses usually grumbled. Tents went down. Instruments needed to be packed in sterilized bags. Corpsmen evacuated the wounded to the new location. Afterward they helped fold the cots and put all of the equipment onto the awaiting trucks. Even though moving a hospital was a tremendous undertaking, no one complained. Everyone agreed their  park-like Eden was hell disguised.

*****

Winter months in this part of Italy brought ugly, bone-chilling cold temperatures. Rain and a wind made a tough job even more difficult for the medical staff. Tent flaps whipped open and put patients in jeopardy of exposure. Even worse, the war-torn tents had become riddled with holes from German strafing and flak. Keeping patients warm until they could be evacuated became a losing battle.

Witnessing fear in the wounded when the sirens sounded devastated Josie and the nurses. Patients well enough to put on their steel helmets and crawl under their cots to avoid flying shrapnel did so. Nurses and corpsmen lifted others to the ground while other patients who couldn’t be moved stayed in their cots with a caring nurse holding his hand until the shelling stopped.

Chapter 2

Anzio, Italy – January—To speed up the slow pace northward through Italy, Allied commanders planned a landing behind the German line in an attempt to break the stalemate at the Gustav line–an imaginary line which ran across the Italian “boot” from sea to sea. The landing commenced on January 22—a cool but sunny day. The break in the weather came as a welcomed relief from the cold and rain, which had plagued the area since the Italian campaign ensued.

The beach landing at Anzio–some one hundred miles south of Rome–was a surprise to the Germans, and men and supplies came ashore with little resistance. The Allies intended to establish a foothold in Italy, fight their way north, and capture Rome. Mario’s unit practically strolled onto the beach. The situation proved to be eerie with so little resistance. The men breathed a sigh of relief, and by midnight, some thirty-six thousand men, thirty-two hundred vehicles, and a vast store of supplies reached the beachhead. Any soldier killed the first day fell victim from Stuka bombers which strafed the beaches and dropped bombs as they dove out of the sky.

During the American landing, the Germans pulled back from the beaches and regrouped to prepare a strategic response for the unexpected Allied offensive. In a week’s time, the Germans mustered enough troops to counterattack what Adolf Hitler called the “Anzio abscess,” and for the next four months, Americans encountered some of the most savage fighting of World War II.

Mario’s regiment got trapped on the beachhead.A strong German ground attack and brutal air attacks from the Luftwaffe kept the Americans in their foxholes. . One evening an incoming shell exploded near Mario. Shrapnel riddled his chest, neck and down his legs. Blood poured out of him like a leaky sieve. Medics treated him with bandages to stem the flow of blood before the stretcher bearers got to him to the evacuation hospital.

The nurse who met Mario at the hospital resuscitated him and started an IV with non-cross matched plasma. He required immediate surgery and a strong desire to live. The nurse shoved another needle in the opposite arm for fluids and the drugs he needed during surgery. If Mario lived through surgery, he would receive whole blood when time allowed to properly determine his blood type.  Like so many other wounded soldiers, Mario faced a race against the clock. Doctors stabilized him and spent hours removing the metal shards throughout his body. Mario slipped into a coma after surgery. The sooner he awoke the more likely he would fully recover. Mario faced the most important fight of his life.

It was two days later when Mario finally managed to open his eyes  He saw a pretty nurse standing beside his bed.

He looked up at her and whispered, “Where am I?”

The nurse said, “You’re in the hospital. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up, sleepy head.” She smiled.

He tried to smile but his face didn’t respond. He wanted to banter with her, but he didn’t possess enough strength.

She said, “You’ll be leaving us now that you are conscious.”

“What?” Mario’s parched throat made talking difficult.

The nurse said, “You’re scheduled to evac to Naples. Patients go there to get better care than we can provide here. Don’t worry. You’re going to be just fine.”

The pretty brunette nurse gave him a warm smile. She was kind, but Mario wished it was Josie standing beside him.

“Oh.” Mario wished another pretty nurse named Josie was taking care of him. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Say five words used most of his strength. He moaned from the pain.

The nurse gave him a shot of morphine. “This should help, sweetie.” She patted his hand. “Good luck, Mario.”

 

That afternoon Mario was transferred onto a hospital ship headed for Naples. At the hospital there, he would receive the intensive medical care he needed to make a full recovery.

 

When Two Brains Are Better Than One

When a person has a debilitating disease, he/she is always on the lookout for something to cure his/her curse or at least make a life a little bit better. Because we live in a “drug” culture, help often come in a pill or a syringe, and other alternatives seem to be ignored.This morning on CBS This Morning, they presented a story about some research going on at Duke University. They interviewed a researcher who is exploring how a damaged brain and a healthy brain of another person can be networked to overcome the disability.

Sounds a little like science fiction, huh?

Well, they have had success with primates, getting the monkey to do things monkeys are not supposed to be able to do. But the research is preliminary. The power of the mind involves 100 billion neurons in our brains and capturing their power is limitless. Just think of the implications this new approach could mean for brain injuries and diseases. If we can eliminate brain diseases — and there is a very long list — wouldn’t that be a miracle? If this research offers a cure for stroke patients, wouldn’t that be a blessing?

I don’t think people should live forever, but I do think those patients who slip away a little piece at a time or lay in a nursing home because the treatments have been exhausted is inhumane. Generally, our culture doesn’t condone assisted suicide, so people who are stricken with brain injuries or disease must wait for death to release them from their pain and disabilities. This situation is not fair to the patient or the family who cares for them. If brains can be networked with a small device, and a better life can be achieved I truly think we have advanced the entire human race.

What do you think?

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 16

Sicily, October—The winter rains in Sicily usually began in November, but in 1943 they came a month early. The medical staff struggled to maintain adequate sterile facilities under wet canvas tents. A severe storm in Salerno knocked down the tents of the evacuation hospital, and Josie and the other drenched nurses needed to move over a thousand patients to an abandoned tobacco warehouse. This enormous undertaking needed to be completed quickly to prevent patients from developing complications from exposure.

The weather continued to be dreadful into November, which caused problems on the ground as well as in the air. For the first three weeks of the month, Josie met Anna almost daily on evacuation runs. The few precious minutes together in this foreign place reminded them life offered more than mangled young men and the stench of bodily fluids.

Josie always looked forward to Anna’s arrival, but when she didn’t make an appearance during the first two weeks in November, Josie’s intuition told her Anna must be in trouble. At first Josie thought perhaps Anna was transferred, but Anna would have told her about such a change.  Josie’s concern deepened when Anna didn’t show up for the special Thanksgiving dinner.

Rumors filled the camp that a hospital transport plane lost radio contact during one of the recent bad storms. The crew never returned to base.  Josie didn’t want to believe Anna might be on that plane, but her intuition told her otherwise.

Chapter 17

Albania – November—The hospital transport plane took off in heavy weather, and once in the air, the compass of the plane failed. The pilot became disoriented, and his confusion caused him to head east when he believed he was flying south. After a couple of hours, the plane’s wings iced up and the plane ran out of fuel causing them to crash in the Albanian mountains behind German lines.

Even though the descent was terrifying, everyone except the pilot survived. The medic and nurse suffered a few lacerations and bruises, and the four patients on board lingered in a state of shock. Terror set in when armed men dressed in ragged clothes surrounded the plane. Anna studied the chiseled, dirty faces of the rag-tag bunch of grubby men out of one of the small plane windows. A flashing thought told her this might be the end of the line for her and the others.

The guerrilla group forced their way into the plane, and one of them spoke English.

“Americans?”

Mike, the medic on board, stepped in front of Anna and answered. “Yes.”

The scruffy man pointed to his chest. “I help.”

Mike continued as the spokesman for the Americans. “These men are wounded. We need to get to a hospital.”

“No hospital, but we take you to safety.” The man replied.

Mike and Anna realized they couldn’t stay in the plane, but should they trust this crusty bunch with their safety?  Anna and Mike stared at each other. The only good choice seemed to be to trust the hooligans. Mike made the decision. “Okay. We will go with you.”

“The journey is long.” the man said, “But we must go now before Germans find you.”

Mike nodded.

Anna whispered. “Are you sure about this?”

After a slight pause Mike turned to Anna and said, “You realize our options are severely curtailed, right?  We’ll freeze here. If the Krauts catch us, we’ll all be POWs. and then all bets are off.”

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Mike was right. “I guess we need to take a chance, huh?”

“Right.”

Anna went to work. She bundled up the patients with the extra blankets on board and packed their meager supplies in a duffle bag.

The Albanian leader ordered, “Follow me. Go to farm. They help.”

The scruffy saviors carried the wounded on the stretchers. Anna and Mike stayed behind to set the plane ablaze to eliminate any evidence they might have survived the crash. As the flames licked through the fuselage, Anna clenched her teeth and wiped away tears. She feared the coming days and for several minutes she thought about cuddling with Tommy at home before a roaring fire. Would she live to see the day?

Mike and Anna walked away from the plane. They ran to catch up with the rest of the group. In the background a huge explosion nearly knocked them off their feet as the remaining fuel caught fire. The snowy landscape made the mile journey tough. Just about the time Anna was ready to fall down for good and go to sleep in the snow, the leader announced, “We are here.”

A farmer and his wife met them in the yard of a ramshackle house. They led the group to a large round barn which sat behind the house. The farmer opened the door to reveal a roaring fire in a pit in the middle of the circular barn. A hole in the roof let he smoke escape. Donna and Mike moved close to the flames and rubbed their hands together to get warm.  The Albanian men gently lowered the wounded near the fire too.

Anna dropped her guard. She turned to the leader. “Thank you for bringing us here.”

The man nodded.

The farmer’s wife served them thin potato soup and some crusty fresh bread. She offered each of them a bowl and spoon and motioned for them to eat. Anna let the warm soup defrost her inside. With hand motions and gestures, the Americans communicated their appreciation to their hosts.

After the patients ate and fell asleep, Anna went to the leader who rescued them. “Thank you again.” She said. “What is your name?”

The scruffy man smiled. “My real name too hard. Call me Jack.”

Anna smiled. “Okay, Jack. Call me Anna.”

“Anna, you are a very brave. Journey is dangerous. You sleep now. I stay awake. In morning we leave.”

“Where are we going, Jack?”

“Bari. Americans there.”

Anna nodded and moved to the other side of the barn where Mike slept. She lay in the straw and prayed. She wasn’t religious, but after living three years with Josie, she thought she would give praying a chance. “Thank you Lord for watching over us with these brave strangers. Please keep us safe on our long journey. Keep me strong. Please don’t let anything happen to my men. Amen.” It was a prayer she would repeat many times.

*****

The band of guerrilla fighters, Anna, Mike, and four wounded soldiers left the following morning before sunrise. The farmer gave them a cart and a small amount of food. Overnight, one of Jack’s men found a couple of donkeys to haul their gear, and he also brought some Albanian clothing he insisted Mike and Anna wear. The farmer’s wife offered Anna a boiled wool hat.  Anna tried to refuse the gift, but through Jack she learned the farmer’s wife insisted because Anna would need the extra warmth for the long journey.

Bari, Italy was eight hundred long miles away through mountainous terrain. The first morning of the journey began with the sun shining, but by evening the temperature dropped and snow fell from the dark clouds. The group sought refuge in a cave where Jack’s men built a fire.  Anna gave everyone a MRE pouch. She planned to save the small amount of food the farmer’s wife gave them after the “Meals Ready to Eat” ran out. After they ate and warmed themselves by the fire, the group minus one lookout fell asleep.

On average the group covered about thirteen miles each day; when the weather cooperated, they covered about fifteen miles. Storms in the mountains came with little warning, but somehow Jack found adequate shelter to wait them out. Once he found an abandoned building, which protected them from a blizzard. Another night they found a cave large enough to build a fire and shelter them from another snow storm.  Mike joked, “Hell must be frozen over, and we found it.”

When they exhausted the food they brought with them, Jack’s men proved they were excellent hunters. They hunted deer, elk, and rabbits which kept everyone from starving. Mike learned how to butcher the kill, and Anna learned how to cook the wild meat. Jack devised a method to melt snow, which gave them plenty of drinking water. With such a strenuous, long journey ahead of them, they took nothing for granted. Anna insisted they all say a blessing before every meal and even Jack’s men participated by bowing their heads.

About a month into their trek, a blinding snowstorm forced them to live in a cave for several days. When the storm cleared, Jack and the group needed to trudge through deep snow drifts which made the next few days drudgery. Tramping through knee deep snow slowed them to a crawl, but so far, they eluded any German.

They abandoned the cart the farmer gave them because lugging the thing through the deep snow wasted too much of their energy.  Fortunately Jack’s practical genius provided a solution.  He rigged sleds out of rough timbers and the canvas stretchers. Then he hitched them to the donkeys to pull the wounded men through the snow. Anna, Mike, and the other guerrilla fighters carried supplies on their backs. No matter what obstacle they encountered, Jack always came up with an idea to pull them through.

During the two-month trip, Mike feared one of the guerrillas might try to take advantage of Anna, so he protected her at all times. He kept no secret he slept with a pistol and made sure Anna slept next to him every night.

About the time Anna thought she couldn’t endure any more, Jack announced with great exuberance, “We are here!” He pointed to a bunch of tents in the distance. “We are here!”

Tears of joy rolled down Anna’s cheeks when she caught a glimpse of the American flag. The weary, filthy vagabonds made a nurse scream at the sight of them. Soldiers with machine guns encircled them.

Anna spoke first. “We are medi-vac personnel. Our plane went down in Albania behind the German lines and lucky for us, these men helped us get here.”

The colonel in charge met them at the gate, “You want us to believe you all walked eight hundred miles ?”

Anna removed her fur hat and shook out her blond curls. “Sir, I am not aware of the mileage, but I can tell you our journey’s been a damn long one.”

“Well I’ll be damned. This war always has its share of surprises. Come this way.” The colonel escorted Anna and the men to the hospital. Their Good Samaritan, Jack the Albanian, pulled them through alive, just like he promised.

After Anna, Mike, and their saviors took off their outer clothing, the medical staff found Mike contracted pneumonia, and Anna suffered from dysentery and jaundice. The wounded men, who made the eight hundred mile journey on gerry-rigged stretcher sleds, required treatment for bed sores and injuries due to exposure. The Albanian men and all the Americans suffered frostbite, fatigue, and hunger.

After recovering for a few days, Jack announced he needed to leave. He stopped by Anna’s bedside to say goodbye. “Anna, going to be okay?”

Anna smiled. “Thanks to you, Jack, I’m going to be just fine. Are you leaving?”

“Yes. But I say goodbye first. You brave as any man. Tough and never complain. A good woman.”

“Thank you, Jack.” She blushed. “Are your men well enough to travel so soon?”

“Yes. We must go back and continue the fight.”

“But how will you get back? You’re not going to walk, are you?”

Jack laughed. “No Miss Anna. the Colonel give us jeep. We travel alone. No Americans to slow us down.” He snickered. “If Germans catch us, we say we stole the vehicle.”

Anna laughed and started to cough. “I owe you my life, Jack. How can I thank you?”

“Win the war, Miss Anna. Help me kill Nazis. They are very bad. Killed my whole family.”

“I will do my best.” Anna smiled and her tone got serious. “Jack, bend down.”

He obliged. Anna kissed his cheek. “Go with God, Jack.”

Her show of affection moved him. He took her hand and kissed it. Then he walked away. Anna never saw him again.

Chapter 18

A small town in Italy, November 1943—Mario’s unit went into a mountainous village in northeastern Sicily near the coast. Their assignment required them and a second unit to scout the town and clear out any Germans before the Americans moved north.

The groups split and headed in opposite directions. When they lost sight of each other unit, a Tommy gun ripped off several rapid shots in the distance. The men jumped into nearby ditch.

Marco said, “I bet Porter’s trigger finger got itchy.”

“You wish,” his sergeant said. “Shut up and get down.”

The shots rung in Mario’s ears. An odor of burned ammo hung in the air.

The men lay still and listened intently. The village grew quiet. No gunfire. No voices. The sergeant slithered out of the ditch and knelt down on the cobblestone road. He turned his head in both directions then Sergeant Riley motioned for the men to follow him down the street. Their senses shifted into high alert with the possibility of  danger lurking  around the next bend in the road.

Mario whispered to the guy in front of him, “Doesn’t this remind you of the movies?”

Sergeant Riley turned around and scowled at Mario. “Shut up, soldier.”

When the patrol came to an intersection, Riley peered around the corner and pulled his head back with a quick jerk. He paused and took a longer look. He spied Porter and his men at the end of the street. They walked along the road strung out with a few feet between each man. The two patrols met in the middle of the block. “Did you fire?” Riley asked Porter.

“Yeah. A couple of Krauts ran up the street. We ran the Tommy on them, but I don’t think we hit anything.”

“Did they fire on you?” Riley asked

“No, they just turned tail and ran. Probably got separated from their unit.” Porter laughed. “I think they’re still runnin’!”

“How do you get so lucky? The Krauts we meet always want a fight.” Riley grunted.

“Keep your head down, Riley!” Porter waved as his patrol fell in behind him.

“Same to you, bucko. Keep a safety on those Tommy’s. You scared the shit out of me!”

“Will do, fraidy cat.” Porter saluted Riley and joined his men.

Riley lead his patrol in the opposite direction to search the rest of the area. As they walked toward the outskirts of the small village, fewer houses appeared, and those standing got farther apart. When the road curved, houses appeared on the left side of the road with the mountainside on the right. A series of plowed terraces with olive trees produced a scene of green stripes in black fertile earth.

Mario spied two civilians vanish into a nearby house. “Sarg,” He pointed to the house with two fingers raised. The patrol stopped. The couple had retreated into a two-story stone building with a large unpainted wooden door. The windows were boarded up. The patrol prepared to attack. Riley dropped to one knee with his rifle pointed at the door. Mario assumed the same position with his Tommy gun. No one spoke. The sergeant used hand motions to position the remainder of the unit. George reached over and tried the doorknob. Locked.

Everyone stared at the door. Riley nodded. A guy named George banged the door with the butt of his gun. Almost immediately a woman began to scream. He banged again. Her screams became hysterical. “Tedeschi!”

Mario understood. He whispered to Riley. “She thinks we’re Krauts, Sarg.”

The woman shrieked, “No!’ No! No!”

Riley said, “For godsakes, Mario, get her to shut up!”

Mario shouted something in Italian with a fierce voice. The woman immediately stopped screaming. The patrol waited. A petite middle-aged woman with long black and silver hair peaked out from behind the door. “Americanos?”

Riley answered, “Si.”  Yes happened to be the only Italian word he understood.

She opened the door fully and cried. She put her hands to her cheeks as she went from man to man, hugging and kissing them.

When she came to Mario’s, she said, “Lei parla Italiano?”

He answered, “A little. un po’.”

She kissed him on both cheeks before she scurried into the house and came out with an overflowing basket of grapes. She gave every man a handful.

“Hey Mario, you need to tell our new friend this isn’t a social call. We’ve got work to do.” Sergeant Riley said.

“Yes sir.” Mario faced the woman. “Mi dispiace. Dobbiamo lasciare.”

She blushed and smiled before she moved toward the house with the empty basket. “Grazie!, Grazie. Vai con Dio.” She smiled and waved goodbye.

Riley ordered. “The party’s over, gentlemen. Let’s get going.”  Everyone waved to the woman and turned down the road heading out of town.

“What did she say, Mario?” Riley said.

“She said thanks, go with God, sir.”

“Amen to that!”

 

 

 

A Respite Day

On the second and fourth Mondays, Ken enjoys a group called Harmony Club. This is a chance for him to be with other people, have a good lunch, and enjoy outside entertainment as well as a hot session of Bingo.

While he’s away, I usually do something with a friend. It’s not much. Perhaps a lunch together or a cup of coffee at a local cafe. If I’m too exhausted for that, I’ll just take a day alone and paint. At the very least, Ken’s group participation gives us a break from each other.

This is the sixth year we’ve been going through this MS Journey and we’ve both come to the conclusion that a day apart is a good thing. We both recharge our batteries doing something for ourselves. If you’re a caregiver for someone, please don’t neglect this important element. It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. And remember, the few hours spent apart is good for both parties.

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 13

Sicily, Italy – September—Lately a short day in Josie’s life turned out to be twelve intensive hours, The staff of specialists in the Operating Room, including neurosurgeons, general surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons worked around the clock. The hospital at Salerno served over three hundred patients in a twenty-four hour period. Every day two hundred patients evacuated to North Africa for further treatment. Most patients went by train to the coast where they would be put on hospital ships for the trip to England. Only the most critical patients got evacuated by plane.

The battles produced patients with wounds of all kinds, but the latest disaster didn’t come from a bullet. The wet, tropical climate of Sicily promoted a high mosquito population, and the tiny enemy brought down soldiers almost as effectively as German artillery.

Before the war doctors prescribed quinine to treat malaria, but the Japanese controlled the quinine producing areas, so a new drug called atabrine became the substitute to treat the symptoms of high fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and at the very worse, comas. Atabrine proved to be a good anti-malarial drug, and best of all, the drug showed no serious toxic effects. Like quinine, though, Atabrine didn’t cure malaria with one course of treatment, but if given in small doses, the clinical symptoms could be suppressed enough to keep soldiers on their feet. The only troublesome side effect was a yellowing of the skin while the patient took the drug. The skin color returned to normal after the completed course of treatment.

With the outbreak of malaria, the nurses hung mosquito netting over the cots  to combat the pesky carriers and to control the spread of the disease throughout the hospital. The netting looked like Spanish moss invaded the space, but this light weight fabric helped to keep patients safe from the infections. The unprotected doctors and nurses often succumbed to malaria which caused a larger problem. The over-worked medical staff stretched to the outer limits when even one nurse or doctor fell ill, and a busy hospital like the one in Salerno needed every available hand.

When she didn’t assist in surgery, Josie went from soldier to soldier and from tent to tent, making sure the  wounded men received the care they needed. As Josie made her rounds on a rainy, hot day, a soldier called out as she stood reviewing charts, “Josie? Am  I hallucinating?”

Josie stared at a big man with black curly hair waving at her. She studied his face.  His dark cow-like eyes and long eye lashes looked familiar.  “How do you know my name, soldier?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” He paused and gave her a wide teasing smile. “I must look really bad.”

All of a sudden Josie realized the identity of the man who called to her. She scurried to his bedside. “Oh my God! Mario from Autolite?”

“In the flesh!” Mario smiled a toothy grin.

“Oh my God!” She paused. “Why are you here?”

“Well, when the skeeters bite, a person can get something called malaria. I just made my way back from coma-land.”

“I’m so sorry you got such a bad case. We’ll get you on your feet soon; I promise.” Josie said with a warm smile.

“Don’t work too hard to get rid of me.” Mario teased. “The brass will just throw me back into the field. Just the sight of your pretty face makes me feel better. All of a sudden I want to take you dancing.”

Josie remembered the one night she danced with Mario when she celebrated Donna’s promotion. “Mario, I think you’re more Irish than Italian! You certainly kissed the Blarney stone somewhere along the line!”

“I only tell the truth, Josie my girl.” He grinned because he loved bantering with her.

She laughed. “You’re one in a million, that’s for sure.”

“Yes, ma’am. And don’t you forget it.” He paused and stared at her uniform collar. “Hey, when did you get your stars?”

“In North Africa. But don’t worry; I won’t make you salute me, private.”

“Will you come back and visit me again, miss first lieutenant?”

“So you can give me malaria?” Josie teased. “Not a chance.”

Mario dropped his eyes to the floor. “Have a heart. If I promise not to share my malaria will you come back? Then I can tell you how pretty you are and maybe get you to play a game of cribbage with me.” He raised his eyes to search her smiling face.

“I promise to put you on my over-full itinerary for the day, Mario. Okay?” She patted him on the hand and left. Only a dozen more tents to go.

Chapter 14

Montpelier, France-October—Four months had passed since Marta went to Montpelier. Through love and care Emma grew stronger and healthier. She remained frail, but her sunken cheeks filled out and a pink hue replaced the sickly yellow tone of her skin. Emma gained a few pounds, even though eating a full meal still proved impossible. At least her shoulder blades didn’t poke out through her dresses any more and her eyes even twinkled once in a while.

Besides making sure Emma got fresh food and enough rest, Marta took Emma for a short walk in the sunshine once a day. After existing in darkness for so many months, Emma often complained her eyes hurt in the bright light. Marta remedied that problem with a pair of sunglasses she found at the local dry goods store.

Marta took a waitressing job in a cafe few blocks from their apartment. Even though the rent was free, their food was not.  Pierre’s Resistance friends allowed them to stay in the apartment for the duration of the war. Emma was a hero in their eyes because sacrificed so much to protect so many others in the movement.

In her spare time, Marta wrote to a trusted neighbor in Paris, and asked her to ship their things to a P. O. Box in Montpelier. She also contacted her Paris landlord by letter and gave up her apartment. She didn’t want to do either chore because doing these things put an end to her happy times in Paris. She loved her job at the Louvre and the city’s unique ambiance, but she vowed she wouldn’t go back until every Nazi vacated Paris and went back to Germany. The peacefulness of the sleepy coastal town gave Marta a sense of safety she needed.

On her days off, Marta took Emma to the Mediterranean where they would sit and enjoy the rhythm of the jewel blue waves rolling onto the shore. They strolled hand-in-hand down the soft sand and let the salt air fill their lungs. Their new home in Montpelier sat nestled between the sea, vineyards, and the mountains, so no matter what direction they gazed, the scenery was breathtaking. As they got more familiar with their new surroundings, Marta and Emma ventured farther into town. A large square surrounded by stores offered everything they required. Emma’s favorite thing to do was to enjoy a cool drink while sitting on a bench under an old olive tree. She eyed villagers negotiating with the farmers at the market. Children played games of tag and statue maker under the  shade trees lining the broad boulevards. Living here made allowed her to think perhaps the war was over.

Marta went to church every morning before going to work. She thanked God for Emma’s safe return. She thanked the Blessed Virgin for the people who risked their lives to rescue her, and she prayed to St. Christopher for Emma’s safe passage back to France. Their reunion brought her happiness.

Careful planning by the Resistance brought them to this beautiful place where the terror and ugliness of the war remained hundreds of miles away.Since coming to Montpelier she and Emma relaxed back into a comfortable life, even though their new identities were a bit of an adjustment. Calling each other Emily and Mary and never speaking of their life in Paris seemed a small price to pay for a clean slate of safety.

Chapter 15

Salerno, Italy – October—Mario’s discharge from the hospital occurred two weeks after his first visit with Josie. Doctors got his malaria under control and deemed him fit for combat. The yellow hue in his skin had  almost disappeared, and he regained his strength and vigor a bit more everyday. But before Mario left the hospital, he wanted to say goodbye to Josie. She highlighted his days with her visits and humor, and Mario wanted to tell her how much he appreciated her attention when she was so overworked. Not only did she keep him company, she always double checked he received the proper treatment. Since their first encounter at the Autolite factory, Mario realized how special she was to him. He hoped to kiss her goodbye just in case the worst happened.

When it was time for Mario to leave, Josie was in surgery and couldn’t be disturbed, so instead of giving her a kiss, he left a note with one of the other nurses.

Later that evening, Josie retreated from the hospital sweaty and hungry. Her ankles swelled from the heat and humidity, and her back ached from standing so many hours without a break. On nights like this, she wondered if she ever would feel rested again. But when she thought about the boys losing limbs or needing serious operations to remove shrapnel from his brain or other vital organs, she told herself her little aches and fatigue didn’t compare.

One of her nurses approached her in the mess tent. “Josie. Some guy left a note for you.” She handed Josie a folded piece of paper.

“Who?” Josie said.

“He didn’t give me his name.” The nurse answered. “He just asked me to give you the note.”

Josie put the note in her pocket and finished her meal. She dragged herself back to her tent and collapsed on her cot. She fell asleep fully dressed.

At 0600 Josie woke for another stressful day. She sat up on her cot and then remembered the note.

My sweet Josie,

 I tried to say goodbye before I left, but no soap. As usual, you were working too hard to save another GI. God’s got a special place in mind for you. I hope you realize how special you are.

 Thank you for taking such good care of me. I’ll miss beating you at cribbage, but most of all I’ll miss your pretty face everyday. (And that’s no malarkey.)

 We’re headed north for more fun. As usual I don’t know where I’m going, but when the Army says “MARCH,” you march. I’m sad I missed kissing you goodbye. I really wanted to tell you what you mean to me in person, but I guess I’ll wait until we meet again.  

 When you close your beautiful eyes tonight, I hope you’ll dream of me. When you think of me, please say a prayer we will dance again.  

Love, Mario

Josie smiled before she cried. She read the letter again before she put it in her locker with her other valuables. She missed Mario already. His hospital stay brought them close. She enjoyed his gift to gab and the ability to make her laugh.

Before heading back to duty, she said a prayer for his safety and vowed to repeat the process every night when she went to bed. She secretly wanted to dance with that man for the rest of her life.

 

 

 

Are You Ready For Some Football?

As much as I hate to see summer morph into autumn, when temperatures dip into sweater range and when cold rain keeps us housebound, I am READY for professional football to start. I’ve been a fan of the Green and Gold (Packers) since I was ten when I’d sit with my dad and watch the Sunday game. Now my Dad is gone, but the tradition continues. The huge HD TV becomes the focal point for the afternoon.  We wear our Packer duds from shirts to socks, adorning our “war” beads, and we cheer and moan all afternoon. There have been many changes since my Dad and I watched the game on our black and white television set. Then there was only one game. Now football fills television all day on Sunday, Monday night football, and Thursday night football.

It’s hard to understand people who don’t enjoy a Sunday afternoon football game. I suppose if you were born in a different country you might not get it, but I still have some friends  Some girl friends who still think the game is a “boys” activity saying, and they don’t understand the game. But with the plethora of jabbering commentators, how can you not learn the game? These guys tell you everything you need to know. Most of the time they talk toooo much.

I’m keeping this post short today because it’s time to get the snacks together to bring in the season right. There’s nothing like the first game on Sunday.  Noon kick-off. Yeah!

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 10

England – August—After the costly Blitz Week, pilots got a couple of weeks leave to recover from their futile mission. Johnny spent his off time in Scotland. While he flew with the RAF, he became best friends with Alistair McLeod. In fact, when Alistair married Katie O’Neill, Johnny served as the best man.  Unfortunately, one terrible day Alistair didn’t return from a mission, and after his death, Johnny appointed himself as a protector of Alistair’s family. Katie was pregnant when Alistair died, and Johnny appointed himself as her protector. He rationalized his attraction to her thinking Katie reminded him of Josie with her fiery spirit and Rosalie in appearance because she possessed red hair and fair complexion.

Johnny stayed with Alistair’s parents in Stirling for a few days and took a trip north to Kern County to visit Katie at her Uncle Will’s farm. Since Alistair’s death, Katie wrote to Johnny to inform him how she and her son were getting on at her Uncle’s farm. She even asked Johnny to be little Alistair’s godfather. Katie fought her attraction to the American fly boy because she realized dating pilots only left a big void when they didn’t make  it home.

Katie confessed she intended to return to London to continue her interrupted education at the University of London. Johnny did his best to dissuade her not to go back to the war torn city.

“Why are you doing this now, Katie?” Johnny flashed a warm and caring smile. “School will always be there. Wait until after the war is over.”

Katie scowled. “When my parents sent me to Scotland, I put my dreams away. When Alistair died, I needed to give up my husband. Now you want me to give up my life. Going to college is something I want to do. I sublet my flat in London, and I’m ready to go back to the home I shared with Alistair.”

“What about the baby? Who will take care of him while you’re at school?”

“My friend Jenny. She just finished her tour with the WAFs, and she volunteered to handle the little king while I’m away. Most of my classes are at night, so he’ll be sleeping most of the time I’m away. I assure you, Captain Schneider, I thought this through.”

Johnny took her hand and stared into her eyes. “I’m worried about your safety, Katie. The war took so much from you already.”

“Giving in to terror gives the terrorists power. I refuse to do that. I will be fine, Johnny.”

“You must promise me you won’t take any unnecessary chances. London at night with a blackout is very dangerous.”

“You sound like my Uncle Will. Don’t forget I’m a big city kid. I grew up on the East End, a working class neighborhood, and I am well aware of the dangers.”

Katie turned the tables on Johnny. “Where did you grow up, fly boy?”

“I grew up on a farm near Lacrosse, Wisconsin that’s been in my family for a hundred years.”

Katie hated the farm. “Did you milk cows?” She remembered when Uncle Will gave her that disgusting chore. The stink of the barn. The odor of the huge animal she needed to touch.

“No, not too often. Josie milked the cows. I mucked the stalls and feed them. I fed one end and cleaned up after the other.”

Katie laughed.

Johnny loved the music of her laughter. He experienced a sense of calmness when he visited Katie; she possessed the sunniest disposition of any woman he ever met. He admired her because she showed no bitterness over her losses. But he couldn’t fall in love with her; Mary still waited to be his wife back home. How would he break the news he fell in love with another girl?

*****

The brass and politicians differed on how to proceed after the failure of Blitz Week. Each group realized the Luftwaffe needed to be defeated before any land invasion commenced. So far, the Allies’ efforts to gain control of the skies failed because the range of the P-47 didn’t allow the fighter planes to protect the bombers for the entire mission. A new plane called the P-51 Mustang possessed such capability, but the plane required more testing before being released for combat.

After the failure of Blitz Week, commanders drew up another mission, and the airfield became a busy hive of preparation. Ground crews repaired damaged planes, loaded bombs on the bombers, and checked and double checked the equipment for the upcoming mission.

Once all the pilots returned from leave, a briefing informed them they would once again fly into Germany. This time, however, they would penetrate farther inland. The plan required two squadrons to take off at the same time from different fields; they would converge and fly together toward Germany. Once inside Germany, they would split again and fly in two different directions. Planners surmised such misdirection might confuse the German RADAR.

One group would fly to Schweinfurt and target the ball bearing plants, as well as other German air defenses. This group  would return to England. The other group would fly to Regensburg to destroy the Messerschmitt plants, but instead of going back to England, they would turn south and land in the North African Allied airfields. On paper this mission looked brilliant. Unfortunately, in practice the mission did not go well.

The plan required perfect timing. The two groups needed to attack their targets simultaneously. If the groups didn’t work together, they would become easy targets because the Germans would gain enough time to attack each squadron with full force.

The weather proved to be the element ignored in the plan. On the morning of the mission a thick cloud cover and a heavy mist made take-off impossible, so officers delayed the departure. Pilots sat in their cockpits waiting for the tower to approve their take-off. Everyone grew anxious as the hours passed.

After two hours, the Schweinfurt group left the airfield even though the skies stayed overcast. Their pent up anxiety dissipated when the pilots were released to take off. They flew crossed the English Channel in heavy cloud cover with no knowledge the second group still sat on the ground. The Schweinfurt squadron faced their targets alone.

At noon bombers neared their target. The Luftwaffe laid in wait, and as soon as the American escort fighters left the B-17s, the German fighters attacked like a pack of wolves. The bombers dropped their payload, only to learn later they missed the target. The mission was an utter disaster, and the Americans paid dearly with heavy losses of planes and crews.

The second group of bombers sent to Regensburg faired better. They hit the target, but a week later, intelligence reports informed leaders the Germans rebuilt the Messerschmitt plant and went on producing new planes faster than before the bombing.

A frantic call came from one B-17 as the pilot neared the landing strip. “The electrical system is damaged! Enemy bullets and flak hit us hard! We cannot lower the wheels.”

Everybody on the ground realized the pilot would have to make a belly landing to save the crew. Men on the fire crews vomited as the plane slid into the runway spelling instant death for the poor soul in the ball turret that hung from the belly of the plane. The plane burst into flames and ground crews rushed in hoping they might be able to save the nine other men on the doomed plane.

The two botched missions demoralized American  and British pilots. Johnny just gave thanks he made it back to base.

Chapter 11

 London, England-August—During the summer of 1943, millions of American soldiers filtered into England from bases all around the U.S.  Johnny commented in a letter, “It doesn’t take a German spy to deduce something big is cooking.”

Johnny’s brother Peter survived boot camp at Biloxi, Mississippi and wondered what the army planned for him in Devon, England. American GIs trained from sunup to sundown for days on end, and then they trained some more. Every young grunt worked to exhaustion. Their training  simulated real war experiences with beach landings using live ammunition. Other training included running toward straw bags and sinking them with bayonets. They lay on their bellies for target practice. They jumped over and under barriers and barbed wire. They hiked for miles until they got blisters.

In early April American strategists selected a practice field at Slapton Beach in Southern England. This location gave leaders what they required—a gravel beach, followed by a strip of open land and with a natural barrier beyond that. The teenage boys, who made up the majority of the troops, would make such a landing in France in a couple of months. They practiced exiting LSTs and Higgins boats. They scurried to Slapton Beach experiencing a taste of the sights and sounds of a real battle. Live ammunition fired over their heads which taught them to stay low to the ground while they moved straight ahead.

The boys considered “Exercise Tiger” a game until it turned deadly. Communication problems caused confusion when the 30,000 troops stormed the beach, resulting in many deaths from “friendly fire.” Worst of all, the Germans intercepted some radio messages. The Nazis sent in their new “E-Boats” to attack the Allied convoy of LSTs positioning for the landing. These wooden E-boats were the latest addition to the German fleet, and their surprise attack at Slapton Beach demonstrated their superior speed and maneuverability.

The final casualty count of Exercise Tiger amounted to over nine hundred American deaths, many resulting from drowning in the cold sea due to failure of their life preservers. The whole experience  rattled Peter to the core. He considered himself lucky he survived, but now he feared the real landing. If he survived, he vowed he never would complain about menial chores. The night after Slapton Beach Peter wrote to his mom saying somebody finally ordered him to acquire some kitchen skills. With every “spud” he peeled, he thought about digging potatoes with his dad and the creamy goodness his mother always whipped with the white tubers.

The survivors of the training debacle were sworn to secrecy by their superiors. The boys received a 72-hour pass to blow off some steam. Peter and his new soldier friends hopped a train and headed to London for a night on the town. Two years passed since Peter and Johnny had seen each other. He secretly hoped he’d get a chance to see Johnny in England’s largest city. Peter fantasized buying his big brother a “pint” before he went into battle for real. He also wanted to see whether the Brits really drank warm beer and banned women from  the tavern. Peter sat on a stool at the end of the third bar they visited that night. He glanced down to the end of the bar where an American pilot nursed a beer. When the pilot turned his head, Peter realized the airman was his brother Johnny. He rubbed his eyes to make sure. Peter stepped down off his stool and fought through the thick crowd of guys, coming  up behind the flyer. With a big smile, Peter slapped his brother on the shoulder.

Johnny turned around ready to slug the creep who bothered him, but he lowered his hand when he realized the Army grunt with a cheesy smile was his kid brother. “Oh, my God!” Johnny hugged Peter. “When did you get here?”

“A couple of weeks ago.” Peter said. “We all got a 72-hour pass and decided to come into London. God, it’s good to see you! Thanks for staying in one piece.” Peter returned the hug. It surprised him he had to fight tears.

Johnny laughed. “You certainly didn’t change. Are you shaving yet?” Johnny teased as he pulled a stool next to him. “Sit down, brother. What’s the latest from home?”

“Mom wrote and said Josie got transferred to some place in Italy. She also said Donna joined up with the USO. And your Mary is a pilot. Seems you inspired her.” Peter took a sip of his pint and made a face. “How do you drink this stuff?”

Johnny laughed. “You get used to it.”

Peter went on. “Supposedly, Donna’s some place over here, too. Maybe after we destroy the Krauts, we can put on a reunion party. It seems everybody we went to school with is over here.” Peter laughed and then asked,

“Any news about Angelo? I couldn’t believe he enlisted when he didn’t need to go.”

“No. Not since he shipped out of San Francisco for the South Pacific.” Johnny took a sip of his beer.

Peter said, “Before I left, Dad helped Rosie with her victory garden and mom makes sure she sends over some extra chicken, eggs, and vegetables. Rosie’s got two kids now.”

“Two? That hound, Angelo.” Johnny laughed.

Peter’s tone turned serious. “I want kids someday, too.”

“You need to find a girlfriend first, dummy.”

“Yeah. Maybe I’ll meet a nice French girl.” Peter said. “Oo-la-la!”

“What French girl would want your scrawny ass?” Johnny teased.

Peter grinned. “A pretty smart one.”

Chapter 12

Salerno, Italy – September—Donna and the girls survived the airplane ride from Chicago to Italy with little problem. Candy took her Dramamine and slept the whole trip. When the tropical heat of the island hit her as she got off the plane, Candy cranked. “God! It’s hot here! We left the windy city for this?”

Donna teased. “Honestly, girl! I think you might complain if they hung you with a new rope!”

Marilyn chimed. “Give the place a chance, Candy. We just got here.”

A young man hardly old enough to shave picked them up at the airfield and drove the girls to the hotel near the docks. They received instructions to dress for the show and take a jeep to the stage location.

Donna gasped when she saw the make-shift stage with no canopy in the middle of a muddy field. “Boy oh boy! They didn’t spare any expense on these digs. I hope I don’t break my neck on the dance numbers. “Candy piped up. “Now who’s complaining?” Donna stuck her tongue out in Candy’s direction.

Marilyn echoed Donna’s complaint. “I bet the Civil Engineers built the stage with leftover two-by fours and chewing gum.”

*****

That evening the girls played to their largest audience. Over 19,000 troops attended the show. Men of all shapes and sizes, enlisted men and officers, plus nurses who sat beside soldiers with missing limbs and bandages on their heads.

Donna stood in the darkness with a spot light shining on her. She caressed the microphone stand and  sand with emotion she never experienced before. Her voice quavered the first few bars, but as she absorbed the smiles and positive energy of the audience, she showed her strength and confidence. Her husky voice told everyone she understood their pain and homesickness. She moved them with raw emotion between each note, and for a few minutes she took the soldiers away from the battlefield and helped them remember their girlfriends and families who prayed for them to make it back home. Donna wanted her voice to lift their spirits, but seeing so many damaged and dirty souls made her think her offering was quite enough.

After the show, Bob Hope and the other seasoned professionals in the troupe headed back to the hotel. Donna and the girls in the band lagged behind because they realized they never could fall asleep with their emotions running so high. They signed hundreds of autographs-on shirts, autograph books, and casts. Donna even scrawled her name on a man’s chest. She enjoyed playing the part of a famous Hollywood starlet.

Just as Donna and the girls were ready to leave, a nurse in fatigues fought her way through the throng to the front of the stage.  “Donna! Donna!”

Donna couldn’t believe her eyes. As if out of a dream, her best friend ran toward her. Donna yelled, “Josie, my God!” She descended the stage. Her three-inch heels sunk into the soggy ground and her tight sequin evening dress prevented her from running. She also needed to fight a throng of men who wanted to touch her. After several minutes, the two old friends met and hugged each other.

“Wow! What a show!” Josie shouted over the fray.

“I guess it just took a war to bring me out of my shell, huh?” Donna laughed.

“When were you ever in a shell?” Josie laughed. “Can you hang around for a while for a beer?”

“That sounds swell, but first I want you to meet the rest of the girls.”

“Terrific!” Josie followed Donna up the stairs of the stage to meet the band members.

After introductions were made, the girls piled into a jeep and drove to the officer’s club as Josie’s guest. When they opened the door, a Count Basie song blared from the phonograph. The male officers dropped their jaws when the beautiful American women dressed in sexy dresses and stage make-up came into the club. Before the girls could order a beer, the boys whisked them onto the dance floor, where they remained until the wee hours of the morning. While the girls in the band danced, Josie and Donna visited at a quiet table in the corner.

“How’s Rosie?” Josie asked. “She’s written a couple of times and said the two of you lived together for a while.”

“Yeah. Angelo’s enlistment devastated her, especially because she found herself pregnant again. When she asked me if I would live with her, how could I refuse? Rosie’s such a sweet kid. Being alone and pregnant, she really couldn’t work, and she needed extra money to pay the house payments. Angelo’s military wages didn’t cover her living expenses. Besides, I loved my time with her. Gina is such a cute little doll, and when baby AJ came into the world, I stood in for Angelo. Honestly, Josie, I loved that little tyke like my own.”

“She named the baby AJ?”

“No. She named him Angelo Jr., but I figured the little guy would end up with a nickname sooner than later, so I gave him one. I don’t think Rosie even considered a different boy’s name.  Donna looked off into space. “I sure hope I can find a love like Rosie and Angelo’s someday.”

“Amen to that, my dear!” Josie said as she clinked the neck of her beer bottle with Donna’s – just like they used to do at Joe’s back home.

*****

Donna and the band missed the last jeep back to the hotel, so a lieutenant at the officer’s club volunteered to drive them down to the dock.  As they got closer to the hotel, the stench of burning buildings and rotten eggs filled the air. While the girls signed autographs and danced at the club, Nazi medium bombers with a fighter escort bombed the docks, destroying the area near the hotel where the performers stayed. Bob Hope and the others ducked for cover in a public air raid shelter when the sirens sounded.  Miraculously no one in the troupe suffered injury, but everyone now got a sense of what the troops endured every day.

Donna sat dumbfounded as she stared at the devastation at the port. She vowed to pray for Josie because she faced such sights and sounds every day.

 

A “Perfect” Day

When I woke this morning and saw the sun shining, I knew it was going to be a good day. Ken and I ate our favorite breakfast of banana and yogurt topped with granola while we watched “Lucky Dog” and “The Pet Vet” on the tube.

I got dressed and planted the perennials I purchase at half price yesterday. When I came into the house, and found Ken dressed and sitting on the bedroom floor. When he attempted to sit on the vanity bench, his butt missed the chair completely and he went down in a heap. Yes. It was time to call 911 and ask for the rescue squad to come over and lift him off of the floor and into his power wheel chair.

After the rescue help left, Ken drove out to the living room, talking with a “thick tongue.” He looked exhausted, and I knew we were in for a long day, especially when he didn’t argue with me to take a time out and rest on the sofa.

An hour later, he attempted to get up and couldn’t. He wedged his body between his chair and the sofa while attempting to make a trip to the bathroom. Needless to say, he didn’t make it and now we had another problem. As I tried to strip him down, wash him, and then put on clean disposable underwear and slacks, he was like a 180 lb. ball of jelly. He couldn’t move his body, but after a few attempts and deep breaths, I did manage to get him changed and comfortable again.

He said he was hungry, but it took him about a half an hour to eat half a sandwich. He returned to the sofa and remained in this stupor for several hours. He even thought I was his Mom. He kept asking for Barb — and there I was in the flesh. So not only was his body malfunctioning, his mind was playing tricks on him, too.

All I can say is, I hope we don’t have one of these days again for a long, long time.

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 7

Sicily, Italy—June—Josie and the other nurses worked even longer hours than ever before. They treated men with missing limbs, and men so badly burned they didn’t look human any more. They witnessed enough brain matter and damaged intestines for a lifetime. Death surrounded them.

Josie held on to her sanity by keeping her hands busy, but she also found it necessary to steal a few small breaks to relax and think about something other than flesh and blood. She found a quiet nearby cave where she took long drags on cigarettes and a cold soda. Her only other diversion away from the broken and burned men came from an unlikely source. Every month the Army sent a movie to the troops to lighten their load for a couple of hours.  Usually comedies, the movies provided the best medicine for everyone–laughter. Being able to laugh in the midst of horror around brought a welcomed sense of relief. Josie always slept well after seeing a movie.

A few weeks after establishing the field hospital, one of Josie’s nurses walked through the camp talking nonsense. The young nurse wandered around with blank eyes.  Oblivious to her surroundings, she kept calling for her cat named “Buttons.”

Josie took control the instant she witnessed Judy’s strange behavior. “Do you remember who I am?”

“Sure Josie.” Her high pitched voice sounded like a little girl. “Everybody knows you.”

“I think we need to take you to the doctor.” Josie said softly.

“Why do you think I need a doctor, Josie? I’m not hurt.”

“No. But you don’t seem to be yourself. Let’s go. He’ll take a quick look at you to make sure everything is all right. I will not let one of my best nurses get sick now, can I?”

“Okay.” Judy’s childlike voice remained with her. “The doctor won’t hurt me, will he?  I’m not really sick and I don’t like shots.”

“No, sweetie,” Josie said in a soft voice. “I promise the doctor won’t hurt you.” She took Judy’s hand and led her to the doctor’s tent.

Combat training attempted to prepare people for the physical unpleasant, primitive conditions they would encounter, but no training prepared people for the psychological shock and the unimaginable sights of wounded and dying men they would encounter. The distinct stench of burned human flesh and the shaking of the earth as bombs landing too close never could be simulated.

The doctor’s diagnosed Judy with “shell shock.” He sedated her and then sent her to a rest center far away from the daily casualties of battle. The combination of rest, sedation, and psychotherapy would be required for her recovery. Josie hoped Judy recovered quickly from the severe physical and mental strain everyone endured since they landed in Sicily. Losing another nurse left Josie short-handed yet again.

Chapter 8

Chicago, Illinois – June—Donna and Marilyn got along well and decided to live together in Marilyn’s apartment. They didn’t argue once. Marilyn’s level head balanced Donna’s spur-of-the-moment exuberance. Living together cured the loneliness and danger of living alone in a big city, plus the arrangement cut living expenses in half for both of them.

Since coming to Chicago, Donna worked as a waitress during the day and a USO volunteer any other waking hour. She played chess, listened to homesick soldiers waiting to be shipped out, and danced until her feet formed bunions. She operated on little sleep. Her favorite part of the day was when she sang for an audience.

One night after the girls played their last set, Jeanie, the band leader, corralled the girls before they left to go home. “Come here, everybody. Wait until you hear this!”

When Jeanie spoke, the other girls always listened. Donna said, “What’s up chief?”

Jeanie wore a broad smile. “We’ve gotten a request to join up with a USO camp show. If we agree, we’ll be part of the overseas group nicknamed as the Foxhole Circuit.”

Donna’s eyes widened. “Really? How exciting! When do we leave?”

Jeanie answered, “I’m not sure. The talent scout was in the audience tonight and he talk about a specific departure date.” Jeanie squealed. “Girls — he represents Bob Hope! The guy said he loved our show.” She turned to Donna. “He especially liked you, kid. He told me your arrangement of “Sentimental Journey” knocked him out!

Donna’s face lit up. “Wow! Bob Hope? How swell is that?”

“Yup,” Jeannie said. “Bob Hope.” She paused so the news set in for everyone. “I’ll get more details tomorrow night when the agent brings the contract. Girls, we’re going overseas! This is our big break! Not only will we get a chance to play for the boys, we’ll be part of a very popular professional troupe. This is a chance of a life time!”

Candy, the quietest girl of the group said, “Isn’t this the group that gets close to the front lines? In combat zones? Where shooting goes on?’

Jeanie nodded. “Who needs our entertainment more than the soldiers who face the enemy every day?”

Candy shook her head. “I don’t think I want to do this.”

Marilyn said, “We’ll be okay, Candy. They won’t let anything happen to the star performers. Soldiers will protect us. They wouldn’t send an icon like Bob Hope into the line of fire.”

Donna added. “And think of all those men who haven’t seen a woman in months. We’ll be a hit, even if we bomb!”

All the other girls laughed except Candy.

“I need to think about this.” Candy said.

Jeanie said, “I need your answer by tomorrow. If you don’t want to go, I’ll need to find a new base player.” Jeanie walked away disgusted. Why would Candy even think of bugging out of the group?

Donna put her arm around Candy. “What scares you the most, kid?”

“I don’t like airplanes. Just thinking of being so high scares me half to death, and I get sick.” Candy admitted.

“You’re not scared of bombs falling and thousands of hungry men leering at you?”

“No. Just the airplane.” Candy admitted with a small smirk.

“Hell, there’s medicine for that.” Donna said and then hollered after Jeanie,

“Hey Jeanie, Candy’s in!”

Chapter 9

England, July 1943—When the Germans bombed London, the war became personal for the Brits. The East End of London took the worst of the devastation. Warehouses, flats, and any building near the port suffered the worse destruction leaving thousands of people homeless with many family members lost to Hitler’s bombs. Londoners passionately hated the German dictator. They wanted revenge. It pleased them when the newspapers reported stories about the allies bombing German cities.

After Germany declared war on America in 1941, Johnny flew with the U. S. Army Air Corps. In fact, he got a promotion to Captain, and his new assignment kept his feet on ground or at least out of combat as a training instructor. The newest American pilots still thought war in the cockpit was glorious; you dropped your bombs; you killed enough Germans and claimed victory. Their combat training made them pent-up for action. Johnny learned over his years flying combat missions changed every pilot. The green American pilots would come back from their first bombing run realizing they killed innocent people as well as the enemy, and the only way they’d escape the killing required pilots to successfully endure thirty-five missions.

But today, the newest recruits exhibited elation; the Allied Blitz Week put German targets in the bullseye. The intended to bomb airplane manufacturing facilities and other military targets to attempt to take some of the punch of the Luftwaffe.

As the pilots climbed into their cockpits, shouts of “good luck” and “I’ll meet you at the bar after we kick some Kraut butts.” Johnny climbed into the cockpit with no bravado. He focused on the mission and didn’t think about the kids who wouldn’t make it back to England. Flying became all business for Johnny.

The four-hour, one thousand mile trip would take every ounce of physical and emotional strength pilots could muster. Fighter planes would escort the B-16 bombers into Hitler’s front yard, but then needed to turn back to refuel because the P-47 didn’t carry enough fuel to stay with the bombers for the entire mission. The bomber boys faced the most important part of the mission alone.

Today’s plan required pilots to take off in waves and climb to twenty-five thousand feet where temperatures dropped to fifty below zero. At that altitude, saliva turned to ice. A pilot needed to be careful because he might freeze his oxygen mask resulting in suffocation. Johnny emphasized this hazard in his training, but pilots had to experience the high altitude environment before they believed it.

When the pilots reported to the field, a thick cloud cover, brisk winds, and interment rain met them. The bad weather force the flight squads to change course. The secondary target, Kiel Germany, became the designated target. To be successful, this mission needed an element of surprise.

British Intelligence did not confirm if the Germans were using “RADAR.”  They found out they did when the squadrons were met by German flak, which exploded at the exact altitude of the bombers. The planes stayed in tight formation and everyone stayed on their leader–Jimmy-the same kid who Johnny consoled after the boy’s first mission months ago. Eight minutes to target, and the flak became more intense. B-17’s locked onto their target and dropped their bombs on Jimmy’s cue. If Jimmy missed, they all would miss.

“God, the flak is getting thicker, sir!” The navigator said.

“Yeah, but we need to take what the Krauts throw at us.” Jimmy replied.

The radio came alive with distress calls from other bombers. “We’re hit, we’re hit!”

A couple of hours ago crews wondered what the Krauts would do – now they understood the Germans intended to kill them. The bomb doors opened and payloads dropped on the target, Crews held on tight when their planes shook violently from enemy fire. Silence prevailed as they prayed the plane would hold together for the trip back to England.

Flying three stressful hours brought on another enemy. Fatigue. When their wheels touched down on the runway a rush of relief ran through every man. Their euphoria lasted until they realized some planes didn’t make it back. For the next few hours everyone held their breath. It became a known fact that if a plane didn’t  come back to base in two hours, they wouldn’t return at all.

Blitz Week was a failure. Ninety-seven B-17’s failed to return to base and over a thousand men died. Even worse, in a week’s time the Germans recovered from the bombings. German factories went on producing planes at the same rate.

 

Will Machines Make Us Obsolete?

I’ve been a fan of Science Fiction for a long time. As a writer, I admire people who can look into the far future and present a story that has the possibility of coming true. All good science fiction has this element. For all you Trekkies out there, you understand. Just look what has happened since William Schatner portrayed Captain Kirk.

“Communicators” have become cell phones. A stun gun is a close relative to the phaser. The crew used electronic tablets–guess what? We do too–ever heard of the I-pad or a Kindle? Remember the touch screen on the television series? Voila! Windows 10 to the rescue! A scientist in Japan has made a look-a-like robot he sends to locations to give speeches when he can’t attend. Remember “Data?” Then there’s there’s the whole matter/anti-matter thing that I really don’t understand.

Why on earth am I thinking of such things. I got inspired last night as the finale of “Extant” aired. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it spins a tale of aliens and machines taking over our world. Far-fetched? I don’t think so.

I’m not going to address the alien part of the story because so far we haven’t even determined whether there is another Earth some where in the galaxy. I will address the takeover machines are making.

Every time I see or read about a machine filling in for humans in the work place, I become leery and frankly, a little scared. So many devices are filling our world and most people welcome them with arms outstretched. They take our jobs. They fill our factories and businesses. They even live in our pockets and purses. Machines run our world already. Satellites connect us and then pull us apart. Other satellites run our computers and even our gas pumps. Wonder if all of the connected and went on strike? Where could that leave us? The growth of technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but do they?

I know the program “Extant” is just so much TV magic, but it makes one think. At least I hope so. I can tell you one thing, if a machine tries to take my job, I would pull its plug!

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 4

North Africa, May—Josie rose early and went about her routine. She worked harder than any nurse under her supervision holding herself as accountable as any nurse in her command.  She earned her title, “Nurse Ironsides” and smiled every time she overheard someone refer to her with her “title of distinction.”

A corpsman met her at the mess tent one morning and saluted her. “Ma’am, beggin’ your pardon, ma’am.”

She returned his salute. “Yes private?”

“The colonel wants you to stop by his tent ASAP, ma’am.”

“Thank you soldier.” Josie left her meal and went straight to the colonel’s tent.

Josie removed her helmet as she entered the colonel’s office and saluted him as she stood in front of his desk. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. Please sit down.”

Josie sat in the chair opposite the side of the desk of where the Colonel sat.

“Josie, you are one of the most integral members of our staff here. The nurses here are a fine team, and that’s on you. Every corpsman, officer, and doctor holds you in high regard.”

“Thank you sir; I’m just doing my job.”

“Well, the brass recognizes your accomplishments too and issued new orders for you.”

“Sir?”

“You’re being transferred to the tenth field hospital in Sicily. They need a nurse like you to head up operations. For accepting this combat assignment, you will receive a pay increase, but unfortunately, no bump in rank. I wanted to promote as well, but the brass seems to think you’re a little too young and not seasoned enough to merit a promotion.”

“Yes sir.” Josie remained stone face serious, but inside she dreaded this move. “When am I to go, sir?”

“You’ll leave tomorrow.”

“Yes sir.”

The colonel rose and saluted her. “Josie, I’m very sorry to lose you. You’re as tough as any man and yet you possess the gentleness of a good woman. Keep your head down lieutenant. And God Speed.”

“Thank you sir.” Josie returned his salute, turned on her heel, and left the colonel’s office replaying his words. I need to leave tomorrow? Why so quickly?

Immediately she made plans to inform her staff and appoint an interim replacement until the Army officially appointed someone. She remained with her thoughts about the move. I guess I always wanted to go to Italy because Rosalie’s father got a faraway look in his eye every time he spoke about “the old country.” And now I’ll see for myself, but I know it will be anything but a vacation.

*****

The next morning a driver picked up Josie at 0600 to bring her to the dock where the ship for Sicily would disembark. Josie readied herself to enter another active combat zone and worked to mentally prepare for her new assignment.

At the edge of the base hospital, all fifty-nine nurses, the corpsmen, and the doctors lined up at the edge of the road and saluted Josie. The driver stopped as the nurses sang the “Army Nurse Corps” song as their goodbye and tribute to Josie. Their gesture spoke loudly to what extent the medical personnel loved her. Tears of joy and sorrow covered Josie’s face. She jumped off the jeep and hugged everyone thanking them for their hard work. She got back and the jeep, waved and shouted, “I’ll miss you guys!”

Josie remained silent the rest of the way to the dock. When the jeep finally stopped, the corpsman got out of the vehicle and hugged her. “Keep your head down, Josie. I’ll miss you.”

“I will, Jack. Thanks for the lift.” She wiped away a pesky tear that escaped from her left eye. She marched with confidence and her equipment on her back toward the ship which would take her into battle once again.

*****

U.S. and British troops invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943. The medical staff needed to arrive three days later, but even with the slight delay, the nurses found themselves in the thick of combat.

As they landed on the island, German Stuka dive bombers sprayed machine gunfire on the troops below. Doctors and nurses dove into slit trenches and foxholes. As Josie crouched in the trench, she thought of the large number of wounded soldiers having to wait for treatment while the enemy kept her pinned down.

When the sergeant in charge told his troops to move out, Josie followed. They made their way into a small town the allies held. The church served as the hospital and Josie was right. Many new casualties waited for help. A nurse triaged the wounded; when she saw Josie she smiled. “Are you Josephine Schneider?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“They need you in the back. Dr. Bachman has his handful without a surgical nurse assisting.”

Josie knew all medical units came equipped with at least one surgical nurse. “What happened to the nurse I’m replacing?”

“She died from shrapnel wounds after a bomb went off in the center of town. Store your gear in the room to the left and then report to surgery – stat!”

“Yes ma’am.” Josie gulped and went to work.

Chapter 4

Paris, France-June 1943—A whole year had passed and there was still no information about Emma.  Marta wrote letters every day hoping a kind prison matron at Anrath prison might deliver her correspondence. It was therapeutic for Martha to keep writing about daily events because discussing them in a letter in the same words she might speak at supper helped her believe Emma still lived. In the back of her mind, she also realized Emma might never be given her letters.

On a hot day in June, Pierre passed Marta on her way to work. He fell in step beside her and greeted her with daily pleasantries. “Marta! How wonderful to see you again.”

“Likewise, Pierre. How are you getting along?”

“As well as to be expected.” Pierre answered as he tipped his hat to a Nazi standing on the corner of the street.

After they got out of ear-shot of the German soldier, Pierre said, “A surprise for you, mademoiselle.” He handed her a newspaper.

“A surprise?”

“Inside, a train ticket to Vichy is for you. I am sending you on a little vacation to the South of France.” Pierre winked at Marta.

“Really?” Marta wondered why Pierre said such an odd thing.  “Why?”

“Someone wants to meet you.”  Pierre said in hushed tones. “Get on the train today. Take little with you and stay at the train station until you are contacted by one of my people.”

Marta’s body stiffened and her eyes widened. “What’s going on Pierre?”

“Just do as I tell you, Marta. You will be very happy if you follow my instructions.” Pierre raised one eyebrow as he puffed out his chest. He slipped her a newspaper which held her train ticket. “Take this with you, mademoiselle. The story on page six is most stimulating.” He smiled at her and walked away with a swift gait.

Chapter 5

Montpellier, France – June—After her encounter with Pierre, Marta turned to go back to her apartment. She packed an overnight bag and called her superior at the Louvre to say she had been called away for a family emergency and would miss the next few days at work. The train would leave the Paris station at noon.

Marta wondered why Pierre wanted her to make this trip, but because Emma trusted Pierre with her life, she would too. She took the bus to the Paris train station, boarded the train to Montpellier, and chose a seat next to well-dressed young woman. The woman appeared to be about her age, She wore a stylish white suit with matching shoes, a large hat, and a large diamond ring on her left ring finger which proclaimed her wealth.  Marta recognized no ordinary citizen wore such beautiful clothes, and she instantly put up her guard. It was likely this woman was a German sympathizer.

The woman greeted her. “Bonjour!”

Marta smiled. “Good morning, to you too.”She folded her hands across her handbag resting her lap.

“Are you going to Montpellier?”

Marta asked in a soft voice. “Why do you ask?”

The woman’s spoke nonchalantly. “No reason. Just curious. I like to visit with my seat mate when I travel. The trip does not seem to drag on so when I talk with the person sitting beside me.”

Marta really didn’t really want to engage in conversation with this stranger. She didn’t want to take a chance because a bit of her German accent lingered in her voice, and she didn’t want to raise any suspicion.  Plus, instinct told Marta not to trust the beauty who sat on the adjacent seat. Marta wanted to be sure she didn’t divulge anything about her mysterious trip. “I am very tired. I do not want to be rude, but I do not wish to visit. I would rather sleep.” Marta smiled and closed her eyes.

The French countryside whiz by the window as Marta wondered why she Pierre insisted she make this trip. In six long hours, she would understand.

*****

Marta allowed herself to fall asleep which served two purposes. She would be rested when she arrived at her undetermined destination, and the silence fended off any further conversation attempts by the woman beside her.

The train pulled into the station, and after it came to a stop, Marta filed off behind the well-dressed woman. As they left the train, the conductor offered his hand to female passengers aiding them as they made the large step down off the train to the platform.

The well-dressed woman said in a too pleasant voice, “Bonne journ!”

“You enjoy your day, too.” Marta smiled and strolled in the opposite direction.

Now at the train station Marta didn’t understand the plan Pierre set in place for her. She studied the train departure and arrival board as she anticipated her contact. Then she strolled from one of end to the station to the other. A tall man dressed in casual white slacks and sear-sucker blazer approached her.

“Hello, Marta.” He tipped his straw hat.

“Hello.” She said shyly.

“I am your driver. Please follow me.”

Marta hesitated. “You’re a friend of Pierre’s?”

“Yes, mademoiselle.

The mysterious man escorted her to a small car. He pulled away from the station and drove through the unfamiliar countryside to a sleepy Mediterranean coastal town. Marta breathed in the fresh salt air as the coolness of the breeze coming off the sea brushed across her body. A fishy odor permeated the beach area, but in a strange way, she found the scent pleasant. She never saw seaside scenery, and Marta enjoyed the picturesque view. The sapphire colored water, the gentle waves lapping the shore, boats bobbing at the pier transported her to a foreign land she loved at first sight.

The driver stopped in a quiet residential area about three city blocks from the coast. He turned off the engine and smiled. “We are here.” He jumped out of the car, opened Marta’s door, and offered her his arm.

Marta received his gesture, carrying her overnight bag and purse in the other hand. They walked on a cobblestone walkway flanked by beautiful red roses on both sides. Marta’s heart pounded harder against her ribs with every step. She wished the man would tell her why he chose this place. He led her up a flight of stairs to the door labeled Apt. 212.  He unlocked the door to reveal a sunlit cozy flat where a bony old woman rocked in a chair near the window. Marta’s brow wrinkled as she stared at the frail woman struggling to stand up to greet her. Without a word, the tall man put the key to the apartment on the table next to the door and left without a word.

The old woman spoke first. “You do not recognize me, Marta?”

The sound of her voice, told Marta the identity of this stranger. She gasped and put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God! Emma?”

“Yes.” Emma nodded as her eyes moistened.

Marta moved closer. “My Emma? How? When?”

“I am free at last. Let me feast my eyes on you. You are so beautiful!” Her voice quavered. Emma welcomed Marta into her bony arms.

Marta didn’t move. How could this woman be Emma?  She stared at this stranger.

Emma consoled her. “I understand my appearance is wretched, but I will recover now that I am with you again.” Her eyes told the truth.

“Oh, Emma. What did they do to you?” Marta moved closer as tears collected at the rim of her eyes.

“Someday I may tell you.  But for right now, I just want to be happy we are together again.”

Marta blinked again and again to ward off the tears wanting to escape as she stared at this poor, bone-thin woman struggling to move. Seeing Emma in such bad condition broke her heart. Her healthy, athletic, beautiful Emma now appeared as a battered, broken woman. Emma put her skeleton arms around Marta and hugged her. Marta didn’t expect her to be so strong.

After standing close for several minutes, Emma kissed Marta’s cheek while her eyes glistened. “I thought we would never be together again.”

Marta caressed her gently. “Welcome home, Emma. I missed you so much.”

 

 

 

The Price of Freedom

Ken and I have been watching the PBS special THE CIVIL WAR directed by Ken Burns.  I love Ken Burns productions because they are so well done, and I always learn something. As you might have guessed by now, life long learning (LLL) is important to me.

As I watched this critical period in our American history, I wondered what would have happened if the Confederate states had won the war. How different our history would  have been if our country was split into two separate countries. First, we’d have to come up with an entirely new name. We certainly couldn’t be called “THE UNITED STATES”could we?  It could have happened if Britain and France would have supported the South. The two European countries needed the cotton the South produced, so it’s not far fetched they may have entered the war.

The other thing that impressed me about this series is the language which is used to tell the story. Burns artfully inserts excerpts from speeches made by principals. He also uses writings and journal entries of soldiers. Their correspondence artfully uses the English language. Hearing words written so well from common citizens put our present use of the English language to shame.

A little tangent: It drives me nuts when I hear incorrect grammar usage by people who should know better. Educated people like newscasters, anchor people, and politicians. For instance, so often you hear “People that” instead of “People who” or “By who” instead of “By whom.” Does anybody care about such things any more in our warp-speed world?

Another thing which impressed me about this program is how strong Abraham Lincoln needed to be to hold things together. His critics were many. Even his head honcho General McCullen blasted Lincoln, which is really funny because for the first two years of the war, McCullen sat on his hands and did nothing. He had every excuse–not enough men, not enough weapons, not the right time. He trained a strong army but he was afraid to use it. So Lincoln got involved, fired the jerk, and put Grant in charge. Boy did people talk about that sudden change of events!

The other event which riled the country was the Emancipation Proclamation. The U. S. had to define itself. People needed to think about freedom and if every person was entitled to it. If freedom is truly at the core of who we are, then slavery had to be eradicated. The war began to save the union, it ended emancipating the slaves and providing freedom for everyone who lived here.

We have one more episode to watch tonight, and even though we know the outcome, we don’t know many of the details which makes this struggle human. History is more than facts and figures. It is created by the people who lived and survived the time period. More people died in the Civil War than in any other war in our history. Through suffering and bloodshed the United States found her identity. Being able to live in a free country is not free. The price has been paid in blood. Just visit Arlington which was formerly the front yard of General Robert E. Lee.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 – 1943

Chapter 1

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – January—Since Angelo invited Bobby to live with his family, the little house on Main street too crowded. Donna realized she needed to move on. As she helped Rosalie hang baby Angelo’s diapers on the basement clotheslines, she approached the subject. “Rosie?”

“Yeah?”

“With Angelo home and Bobby living here, the house is a little crowded.”

Rosie dropped the clothespin she held. “What are you saying, Donna?”

“It’s time for me to move out.”

“No! I love you living with us.”

“I accepted a new job and made some plans. A girl’s jazz band needs a lead singer, so I auditioned and got the job. I’ll be with the USO in Chicago. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah, but aren’t you scared to go to such a big city? People are different in cities.”

“Hey, if you can get through a birth of a baby alone, I can certainly go to Chicago alone.”

Tears sprang up in Rosalie’s eyes. “Chicago? It’s too far away! I’ll never see you.”

“I realize this is a big step, but Rosie, this is a chance of a lifetime! Maybe some big shot will like my voice, and I’ll be on my way to a recording contract. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”  Donna threw her arms out to the side like a star does after they complete a number.

Rosalie hugged her while her voice inferred her disappointment. “That would be swell.”

“So you’re okay with this?”

“No. But I know you’ll go anyhow. Everybody has a right to follow their dreams.  I know you dreamed about something like this since first grade talent show. Chances like this rarely come along. And if you’re a big flop, you can always come back here.”

Donna pulled away. “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence!”

Rosie laughed and hugged her again. “Donna Jean, I’m just kidding. After you get your first recording contract, I can say I knew you when we hung up diapers on the basement clotheslines.”

The two friends laughed and cried in each other’s arms.

*****

Two weeks later, Donna packed a bag and hopped a train headed for Chicago. She saved her wages for the past few months to make the trip. She needed enough money for a security deposit on an apartment and to buy the glamorous strapless gowns and high heels required by the band for their performances.

Donna met up with the other members of the band at the USO Club as soon as she arrived in Chicago. From now on Donna’s husky, sexy voice would complement the four-piece jazz combo. They scheduled to practice at nine tomorrow.

In the meantime, every week the USO hosted a dance and tonight the hall buzzed with girls pushing tables around so there would be enough room to dance. They decorated the place in red and white for Valentine’s evening. Donna and the other members of the band needed to be on hand to dance with the soldiers who might be shipping out to join the troops in Europe or the South Pacific.

Every USO dance adopted a theme chosen by the USO girls. They decorated the hall, planned and made the refreshments, and then arrived at the appointed hour in their prettiest dresses, solely to make a memorable evening for the soldiers, sailors, and marines in attendance.

As the girls dressed for the dance, Marilyn the drummer offered Donna a room in her apartment. Donna felt relieved she had a place to stay until she had time to go apartment hunting. The two girls fell in sync with each other like old friends. Marilyn and Donna got on a bus and stopped at a six-floor walk-up. Marilyn unlocked the door with the number 620 and ushered Donna to a small bedroom on the Lake Michigan side of the building. “This room is cool in the summer, and unfortunately, cold in the winter. I’ll get extra blankets in case you need them. I share a bathroom down the hall with the next door neighbor, but the arrangement isn’t too bad. He’s a soldier, who just shipped out, but he wanted to keep the apartment, and so far he hasn’t subleased the place.”

“This is so nice of you, Marilyn; truly, I fully expected to stay at the “Y” until I found a place.” Donna said.

“Nah, why should you do that when there’s an extra bed here?”

“What can I pay you?”

“Nothing right now. But if we get along, half of the rent is $50 a month.”

“Seems reasonable.”

They shook hands to seal the deal.

Chapter 2

North Africa, February 1943—Josie never worked so hard in her all of life as she did with the 48th Surgical Unit. The daily oppressive heat and humidity drained the life out of her, but the positive attitude of the constant flow of wounded soldiers kept her motivated. Her nurses learned to take the challenges of combat in stride, as they fought to keep conditions as sterile and comfortable.

When the battles moved, so did the field hospitals. A rumor circling around the camp told a story about German forces breaking through the Kasserine Pass. With the enemy so close to the Evacuation Hospital bivouacked near Tebessa, orders came down the chain of command to move the hospital to a safer location. Nurses and other staff packed up and moved one hundred fifty patients sixty miles. Through careful planning and coordination, the medical staff got the hospital up and running in twelve hours. A remarkable achievement.

As the war progressed, moving hospital facilities from one place to another for safety became a normal routine for Army doctors, nurses and corpsmen. Josie thought herself lucky she didn’t need to move her position, even though the hospital she worked in left so little to be desired.

With so many seriously wounded men, Josie’s triage skills got finely hones.  The severity of a patient’s condition determined where, when, and how he would be treated.  The nurses ran into untrained situations daily, so they learned on the job and improvised with what they had. They gallantly performed their duties earning the respect from the male medical staff and military command.

****

Josie often accompanied patients to the airfield to be evacuated to a general hospital. As the C-46 cargo plane landed, the attending nurse would meet her to get the records for the wounded patients. The nurses working on the planes took special training to become flight nurses–one of the most dangerous duties for medical personal. Even though the planes bore the Geneva Red Cross to protect them from enemy, often the designation was ignored and the plane was shot down.

As the ramp dropped and the nurse came forward to accept the patients, Josie recognized the gait of the woman walking toward her.

“As I live and breathe! Anna! . . .” Josie said as she hugged her college roommate.

“I couldn’t let you get all the fun!” Anna shouted over the plane’s engines.

“But you hate flying!” Josie said.

“Not any more! They needed somebody from a cold climate to work on the plane because there’s no heat in these tin cans.”

Anna laughed.

“What?” Josie could barely hear her over the engines of the plane.

“Yeah, the heaters in these “flying coffins” sometimes explode during flight, so the pilots refuse to turn them on. We keep the critical patients warm with heated blankets and warm fluids while we shiver in our combat boots.” Anna flashed her impish smile that always cracked Josie up.

Josie laughed. “You haven’t changed! How great to see you! Will this be your usual run?”

“Are you kidding? I’m never privy to where they send me.”

“Well, then, let’s make a promise. After the war is over, we’ll get together and compare notes.”

“You bet! Do you think we could get our old dorm room home and talk all night?” Annie laughed.

“No. But my Mom still has the roll away, and I don’t think she’s given my room to anyone else.” Josie thought about their midnight conversations which centered on boys, exams, and new classes. What a world away that was now.

After their brief reunion, Josie went over the charts of the men she released to Anna, while corpsmen boarded the patients on the plane. Anna gave Josie one last hug and then ran to the plane.

Josie yelled, “Take good care of my boys!”

Anna waved and yelled over the engines. “They’ll get my very best.”

The brief reunion with Anna provided a small nibble of home for Josie.

The ambulance driver motioned for her to hurry. Josie jumped into the passenger seat and the driver yelled over the plane engine noise, “We gotta go, Josie! More wounded coming in!”

“I’ll say one thing for the Krauts; they provide job security.”

The driver smiled at the feisty nurse as he left a cloud of dust in their wake.

Chapter 3

Berlin, Germany — March 1943—After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Nazis public relations department decided to install a program to bolster the moral of the country. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi “spin doctor” declared the March 21st as Heldengedenktag–a Memorial Day to commemorate all war victims with special recognition given to the soldiers who fell in Stalingrad.  Instead of being a stoic holiday, the German leaders professed the day needed to be a celebration, not a day of morning.

Marta’s mother Olga tried to buy into the celebration because she needed to believe her husband’s death stood for something important.  But Olga’s severe loss of the man she loved for over twenty-five years cut deep into her soul leaving a wide void. She couldn’t imagine how she would live out the rest of her life alone.

With Allied planes bombing major German cities day and night, residential areas turned into landscapes of mud, demolished buildings, and charred corpses. Hitler refused to admit he lost the war and continued with his futile ambitions, while his stubborness destroyed the very country he professed to love so much. He believed if the German people didn’t claim victory, they all needed to suffer for their failure.

Olga received letters from relatives living in Cologne with pictures of dead bodies lying on sidewalks. Other photos of children playing among bricks which had previously been their homes broke her heart. Hell rained down across the country and Olga found nothing to celebrate in such circumstances.

Most Germans realized their side lost the war, but Olga’s old friends held on to Nazi delusions about the Third Reich overcoming their losses. Only a fool thought Germany could rise again. No single army, no matter how great could conquer the entire world.

 

 

No Words for Today

I wrote a couple of lines this morning which are nothing to cherish. My brain is as dull as the gray skies and pelting rain. So, I deleted my lamenting over my unfinished household projects, and am going to just give you the next three chapters of the second edition of APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS. I promise tomorrow will bring some inspiration for your inquisitive minds. I’ll keep my mind and eyes open today to recognize a new topic. Promise.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 28

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – December—The weather suddenly turned cold, and Rosalie worked to find new ways to keep the house warm for the children. Like everything else heating oil became rationed. She dressed the babies in several layers of clothing and piled blankets several inches thick to keep them warm at night. While the other parts of the house remained chilly, the kitchen stayed warm with the radiant heat from the oven.

By now Rosalie internalized the time the postman dropped letters in her mailbox. A good day brought letters from her brothers, Angelo, and Josie. A bad day brought bills and no letters. She saved any letter for the quiet two hours in the afternoon when both babies took naps. In November, Mrs. Schneider told Rosalie and Donna Josie got on a ship headed for somewhere in Africa, and today she found a letter from her brave nursing friend.

October 28, 1942

 Dear Rosie,

 Hi pal! So good to get your letter. Your words brightened my day, and I love the pictures of baby Angelo Jr.! He looks so much like his Daddy. Incredible! Angelo certainly sure can’t deny that boy!

 I’m somewhere in Africa, but even I don’t understand where. One thing is for certain, this nursing experience is something I never expected. In my worst dreams, I couldn’t have conjured up such conditions. Our “hospital” is a war-torn building; honestly, it’s a shack so bad, the rats don’t want to live here.

 I’m glad I made the decision to join the nursing corps because so many wounded men need our help. We do what we can, but so many lay in pain while we assessed their injuries, At least now we have adequate supplies to treat them. When we first landed, the fighting on the beach held up the morphine, either, and other drugs that we really needed. The wounds of war are horrific–burns, missing limbs, and so much more. For the first time in my life I felt inadequate. But I tell you this. Everyone should be proud of our boys because we found no cowards among our ranks. They writhed in pain but no one complained. These boys are the bravest souls in the world.

 All of us are learning to cope with the challenges of combat nursing on the fly. We wear steel helmets and combat boots in surgery; corpsmen hold flashlights while doctors operate at night; the windows are covered with blankets because snipers are all around us. (If you talk to my mom, don’t mention the snipers, okay?)

 Our commanding officer require us to be feminine looking, but as tough as nails. That means we need to appear neat and clean, with curled hair and a bit of make-up. He believes not doing so would deflate the boys’ morale. We improvise all of the time . . . like using our helmets for sinks and a glass jug for a mirror. The boys have enough challenges so we don’t want them to put up with an ugly nurse! (ha, ha) Every time I wash up, I think of Donna putting up with these conditions. This environment would make her go AWOL for sure!

 Life is tough here, and I’ realize everyone has a breaking point when the stresses of this life become too much.  Last week Sally got so upset when the snipers fired at our “hospital;” a sergeant needed to forcibly restrain her from going outside to give the GD sniper a piece of her mind. Needless to say, she transferred to receive treatment for shell shock. 

We work long, hard hours. Most nights the sixty nurses and handful of doctors collapse on the floors from exhaustion under scratchy woolen army blankets. But our sacrifice is no comparison to what so many boys give for our country. Our boys are brave, so we girls need to be brave too.

 Please say “Hi” to Donna and tell her I will write to her next time, but it might be a while depending upon what the Krauts dump on us.

 Give Gina and baby Angelo a kiss. When I think of home (which is much of the time) you, Donna and my family are on the top of the list.

Sending you my love, Josie

 Rosalie slipped Josie’s letter back into the envelope as a wave of guilt washed over her. How could she complain about oil shortages or having to cook around rationing when her best friend looked war directly in the face every minute of every day? Josie put everything in perspective for Rosalie.  Daily inconveniences didn’t matter when people she loved struggled with the horrors of combat. She bent her head, folded her hands, and whispered a prayer to the Blessed Mary to bring everyone she loved home safe and sound.

Chapter 29

Hawaii, December—After a few weeks at the Pearl Harbor hospital, Bobby and Angelo both got up on their feet and began learning to walk again between parallel bars. Each step proved to be challenging and tiring.

“This is the damnest thing! I learned how to walk as a baby, and here I am struggling how to move my feet one after another all over again.” Angelo said. “If I don’t get better, little Angelo will pass me up!”

“No worries, pal. You get stronger every day. Look at your arms! You look like Popeye in the comic books.” Bobby said.

“Is that the only stuff you read?” Angelo teased.

“Hey, the stories are great! Don’t think you’re superior, my friend. I bet you picked up the new “Wonder Woman” comic in the day room.”

“No. Who in the hell is Wonder Woman?” Angelo thought Bobby might be pulling his leg about a female super hero.

“Of course I’m serious. Wonder Woman is a hot chick who fights Nazis.”

Angelo laughed. “Too bad she doesn’t fight Japs. Then maybe we wouldn’t be here.”

Bobby said. “Better here than some damn jungle.”

“Amen to that, brother!”

“Hey Ang?” Bobby said.

“Yeah?”

“Is it really only been a year since the war started?”

“Huh?”  Through their months together Angelo got use to Bobby’s constant chatter, and like a seasoned parent, he tuned him out a lot of the time.

“You’re not listening to me, are you?” Bobby said.

“Of course, I’m listening, little brother. For the Americans.  Yeah, it’s only been a year. But it seems like I’ve spent a lifetime in hospitals. Doc wants to operate on me again to remove a piece of shrapnel near my spine. He says I might walk better if I have the surgery. There’s also a possibility I might never walk again if I have the surgery. What do you think I should do? ”

“Geez, Ang. I had no idea. You’ve had so many surgeries already. It’s a gamble one way or another. What will happen if the shrapnel moves?”

“They don’t know. I just want to go home.”

“I think you have your answer then, huh?”

Angelo nodded. Bobby affirmed what Angelo thought. Sometimes the kid was really smart.

 

*****

Bobby and Angelo received Purple Hearts for the wounds they sustained on Guadalcanal, but more importantly, they received orders to continue their therapy in the states. Angelo told the doctor he would take his chances by not having more surgery, and the doctor said he needed to contact the medical facility on the mainland before Angelo could be released.

The doctor believed Angelo would struggle the rest of his life with a bum leg without the surgery, but he also understood the marine had gone through so much already it was impossible to face another surgery and the recovery it required. He approved Angelo’s release from Hawaii.

Angelo read his orders with a big grin. “I’ll be home for Christmas!”

“Yeah, Christmas. I suppose you’ll want to play Santa for little Gina and little Angelo, huh?”

“Good thought. I wonder where I can get a Santa suit.” Angelo grinned as he thought about hugging his kids and kissing Rosalie for the first time in almost a year. “And you can be my number one elf!”

Bobby laughed and threw a comic book at Angelo.

*****

            A week after Angelo and Bobby received their medals their next stop on the road to recovery turned out to be at Camp Pendleton in California. They would finish their physical and occupational therapy at the base hospital. Every day they challenged each other to dig deep, work through the pain, and succeed at the exercises which would free them to go home. Their military careers neared the finish line. The only remnants of their time in the South Pacific were occasional nightmares for Bobby, and a piece of shrapnel near Angelo’s spine.

Chapter 30

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-December 1942—Donna and Rosalie spent the week before Christmas decorating the house in festive colors of red, gold, and silver. At two years old, Gina found the pretty tree in the house a curiosity and learned quickly not to touch the delicate glass ornaments or the hot glass light bulbs.

Two nights before Christmas, Donna and Rosalie sat by a warm fire sipping eggnog.

“This is such a treat, Rosie. How did you ever make eggnog?”

“Mrs. Schneider helped me out. I remember the first time I drank eggnog at Josie’s house. We were about eight years old. We came in from sledding for most of the day with red cheeks. We took off our rubber boots, wet snowsuits and ice-coated mittens in the back entrance, while we jumped around to get warm again. Just thinking about that day gives me shivers. We hung our snowy mittens and hats on that little wooden clothes rack in the mud room and our coats on hooks. Remember?” Donna took a sip as she drifted back to a happy memory. “Mrs. Schneider sat the three of us in front of the fire with a hot cup of eggnog and a plate full of warm chocolate chip cookies. Just thinking of it makes me warm inside.”

“Mrs. Schneider always loved all of us. Remember at their Christmas party they always put two bowls full of eggnog on the table –one for kids and one for grown-ups. I guess the grown-up version contained some brandy.”

“Not to disappoint, Donna, but I made the kid’s version.”

Donna laughed. “Between you and me, I like this version better, but if you tell anybody I don’t like brandy, you’ll pay with your life. A girl’s got to maintain an image.” Donna fluffed her hair and threw her head back.

A knock on the front door interrupted their conversation. Rosalie got up from the chair and walked to the door. “Who in the world is out on such a dark and cold night?”

“You better check. I’ll get the baseball bat in case they turn out to be perverts.”

“You’re in rare form tonight.” Rosalie laughed. She opened the door to find two soldiers on her doorstep. “Can I help you boys?”

Angelo said, “I dreamed you missed me and hoped you might let me in with a big kiss.”

The moment he spoke, Rosalie realized the skinny soldier with the cane was Angelo. “Oh my God! You’re home!” She fell into his arms and didn’t let go. They kissed until Bobby cleared his throat after several minutes.

“Can we take this inside, you two? I’m freezing.”

Angelo laughed. “Sweetheart, this is Bobby. He’s the kid who insisted on being my friend.”

Rosalie blushed. “How rude of us, Bobby. Of course. Come on in. Donna and I are enjoying some eggnog. Would you two like a cup?”

Bobby smiled. “Eggnog?”

Angelo said. “You’ll love it. My Rosie is the best cook in the kitchen.” Rosalie laughed because her inexperienced cooking seemed to be a source of jokes in the family.

The boys dragged their duffle bags into the living room where Donna waited. Angelo went to her and hugged her. “Donna! It’s so good to see you again!”

“Likewise, Angelo.”

“How can I ever thank you for taking care of my girls?”

“You can’t. No thanks are necessary.” Donna smiled. “Auntie Doe Doe is on the job!”

Angelo dropped his embrace and turned toward Bobby. “Donna, this is my friend, Bobby.”

Donna smiled at the boy. “Not the famous Bobby!”

Bobby blushed. “The one and only, but don’t hold the rumors against me ma’am.”

“Only if you call me ma’am again!” She laughed.

Rosalie took control much like her mother would. “You boys make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get the eggnog and cookies.”

“Cookies?” Bobby said. “This Christmas is the best ever!

Angelo laughed. “Out of the mouths of babes.”

 

Heat and MS

As the summer gives us its last hurrah and temperatures climb into the high 80s and a couple of 90s, Ken has had to stay in the house in the air conditioning. For some MS patients heat is lethal. It brings on fatigue that can be almost paralyzing. And Ken succumbs to such weather.

I was elated when hia sister called on Saturday and said she and her family, along with Ken’s parents wanted to visit on Sunday.  We both were excited for their visit. Sue suggested we go out for lunch, but I knew Ken’s reaction to the summer temperatures wouldn’t be favorable, so I suggested I make lunch and they bring dessert.

Unfortunately I was right about Ken’s reaction to the heat. He woke suffering from a bought of fatigue. It wasn’t the worst case he ever had, but from the time he woke to the time he went to bed, he fought to keep his eyes open. I made him lie down after breakfast with the hope he might fall asleep for a little while, but he couldn’t sleep. You see “fatigue” is very different than being tired. Fatigue doesn’t mean you’re sleepy; it means everything becomes difficult–even keeping your eyes open. Movements are slowed. Even forming words and speaking can be difficult. In a word fatigue SUCKS.

By the time the family arrived, Ken mustered enough strength to enjoy the visit. Like always, he found happiness just being with his family. When they left around five in the afternoon, Ken relaxed and retired to his chair. As we watched numbing reruns on television, he didn’t fight the battle of fatigue any longer. We went to bed at eight o’clock, and as soon as his head hit the pillow, Ken fell asleep. I stayed awake and held his hand. I love these quiet moments.

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 25

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-Winter—As the war dragged on, shortages of everything started to appear at home. Gasoline was rationed. Rubber was almost impossible to come by–even baby rubber pants disappeared. Grocery shelves held fewer choices.  By now sugar completely disappeared so Rosie experimented with other sweeteners like sweetened condensed milk, honey, molasses, corn and maple syrup. Tips to use the sweet substitutions appeared in “Good Housekeeping” magazine. Coffee, tea, and cocoa grew scarce too. Even butter was rationed in the “dairy state” of Wisconsin. The shortages occurred because people used butter for frying food when other cooking oils grew in short supply. Because the military required tin for many uses, any food previously sold in a can were now packaged differently. Dry soup mixes and other dry foods appeared in paper packages as food manufacturers searched for other ways to preserve food.

Even though rationing proved to be a challenge, publications like “Ladies Home Journal” reminded Americans they received more food than most people around the world. One article reported: “We get ten times as much beef as the people in England, twenty times as much as Russians and fifty times as much as the lucky ones in China.”

After a year at war, even clothing needed to be rationed. Rosalie saved her stamps to buy fabric to make new clothes for the children. She saved everything Gina outgrew for baby Angelo. She hated dressing the baby boy in pink, but she told herself the child didn’t realize his clothes used to be his sister’s. Even safety pins to fasten his cloth diapers became scarce.

*****

Rosie stayed busy with two babies in the house, but time still passed slowly without Angelo. Days grew into weeks and weeks grew into months. But the day a telegram arrived with four black stars on the envelope, the world stopped for Rosalie. She gasped when the Western Union man handed her the official-looking correspondence. Her hands shook. Her breathing became labored as she staggered lightheaded into the kitchen. By now Americans understood four black stars on a telegram envelope meant a loved one perished. Tears blurred her vision as she read the words, “Your husband sustained wounds in battle.” The message didn’t state Angelo was missing or had been killed, so why the black stars on the envelope?

Rosalie packed up the children and ran to her parent’s house. She handed the telegram to mother without a word. Mrs. Lombardo recognized the four black stars and read her daughter’s distraught expression before she opened the envelope.

“What does this mean, Mama?” Rosalie cried. “Is he dead? The telegram doesn’t say that; but the black stars . . .” Rosalie choked on her tears.

Her mother held Rosalie close and let daughter sob before her take-charge personality emerged. Mama Lombardo sat Rosalie down in an overstuffed living room chair with a clean handkerchief. “You sit, sweetheart. I am calling The War Department in Washington D. C.  I will get answers for you. I promise I will keep calling until they tell us what happened to your sweet Angelo.” Mama Lombardo marched into the kitchen like a general and picked up the phone which hung on the wall.

“Thank you, Mama.” With Mama in charge, Rosalie allowed herself to collapse in a chair.

Mrs. Lombardo finished her call and returned to Rosalie.

Rosalie searched her mother’s expression. “What did they say?”

“Nothing. They will call back with an answer.”

“They don’t know? How can that be?”

“I do not know, Rosalie. The woman I spoke had no information. We must be patient.”

“How can I be patient? Angelo might be dead.” She screamed.

Her mother shook her. “Screaming at me will do no good.” Her mother softened her tone. “You must be strong for the children.”

Rosalie slumped into a chair and looked up to her mother. “I’m sorry, Mama. I’m just so scared.”

“It’s okay, Rosalie. I will get answers. I promise.”

*****

Days went by and no news came from the War Department. Rosalie wandered around in a state of mourning. In a dream she saw her beloved husband cut down by enemy fire. She woke when he hit the ground with her nightgown wet with sweat. Was Angelo dead or did he lay in some godforsaken jungle hospital? Existing in limbo was hell. Having to accept his death would drive her to the brink of madness. Her head was filled with terrible scenarios, and no matter how hard she tried to direct her thoughts to something else, she found herself thinking or praying for her husband. Did Angelo suffer injuries that would damage him for the rest of his life? Was he in pain? Was he getting adequate treatment? Will he come home or will they send him back into action? Is he with you, God? Is he dead? Oh God, why don’t they tell me what happened to him?

A week after the telegram arrived, Rosalie’s phone rang. A male voice asked, “Is this Mrs. Angelo Armani?”

“Yes.” Rosalie held her breath.

“I understand the telegram you received is confusing.”

“Yes.”

“I’m calling to tell you your husband received serious injuries on the island of Guadalcanal. The medical staff airlifted him to a hospital in Sydney, Australia. He will recuperate there until he can be moved to the hospital at Pearl Harbor.”

“What kind of injuries did he get?  Will he be sent home?” Rosalie asked.

“I am sorry, ma’am. I gave you all the information I have. I am sorry I can’t tell you more.”

“Thank you, sir.” Rosalie hung up the phone and a sense of joy replaced her mourning. He’s alive! Dear God, thank you for hearing my prayers. My Angelo’s safe. Rosalie took a long deep breath.

Chapter 26

Sydney, Australia – October—Bobby and Angelo left Guadalcanal by plane from the airfield they helped confiscate from the Japanese. Almost a month passed since they received their devastating wounds, but now the Americans controlled the island, and they could get better medical treatment in Sydney.

Angelo requested Bobby be assigned to e-vac with him, and the doctors agreed because both men seemed to be recovering faster than anticipated since they were together. After a two hour flight, they boarded an ambulance, which transferred them to the base hospital. The ambulance took them to a “real” hospital with brick walls, soft beds, clean white sheets, and pretty nurses. No longer did they lay and listen to the sounds of battle in the background. This location was quiet and safe.

Angelo allowed himself to think he might have a future with his family waiting at home. Bobby was unsure what he might do, but for now not having to sleep on a flimsy cot was good enough for him. The first night at the Sydney hospital brought them both a good night’s sleep, a luxury neither of them experienced on Guadalcanal. They learned their hospital stay would last at least a month before they would be strong enough to be transported to Pearl Harbor for rehabilitation.

The boys found the temperate climate of Sydney a pleasant change from the island “paradise” they just left. Ocean breezes floated through open windows. Seeing tropical flowers from the room raised a sense of calm in Angelo. He realized Guadalcanal taught him he never would minimize the small indulgences life offered . . . like clean air, good food, and conversations with his best friend. It took some time for Angelo to deal with the guilt they carried for leaving so many of his buddies behind where they faced bugs, dirt, grime and death until the war was over for them one way or another. Angelo already decided he would go AWOL if his future orders put him back into combat.

Like Angelo, Bobby stopped feeling guilty for getting wounded so quickly. He no longer believed himself to be a failure as a soldier thanks to something his sergeant told him the night before he got wounded. “Son, war is not glorious. I can’t think of any thing as inhumane as war. But we didn’t start this fight. If you get wounded, you fight back to live another day. I guarantee you; Americans will win this ugly bastard of a war even if it means we have to kill every Jap on the planet.” Bobby killed and nearly got killed; he volunteered to serve his country; he put his life in jeopardy; he should have died on that godforsaken rock, but instead he would live with the consequences of battle for the rest of his life. He did his part. Now he wished to go home, and the sooner the better.

After being at Sydney hospital for a week, Angelo’s letters finally caught up with him. He always shared his news from home with Bobby because mail call rarely blessed him with a letter. Rosalie usually included pictures of the children which Angelo taped to the wall behind his bed, and today he got a letter from his wife.  He opened a letter from Rosalie first.

September, 1942

 My dear, sweet Angelo,

I hope this letter gets to you when you are well enough to read it. I got a telegram this week with four black stars on the envelope, and I went crazy thinking I lost you forever. Perhaps I shouldn’t write this, but I mourned from the depths of my soul because you didn’t get a chance to raise your darling son.

I ran to Mama’s house, and she took charge like I expected and needed. I know I complain about Mama being bossy, but when she goes into action she is a force of nature! She picked up the phone like some kind of general and called the War Department in Washington to get answers. A week later I received a call and learned you sustained serious injuries, but they didn’t tell me anything else. The news you are still alive lifted such a heavy weight I wanted to dance.

I pray every day you will be home soon. If you’re thinking my love will diminish because you are not the same man who left me a year ago, you just put those silly thoughts in the garbage. We will deal with the aftermath of your injuries together. I love you until eternity. My arms long to hold you, sweetheart; my lips yearn to touch yours, and our love will only grow deeper than it is already.

Rest and get well so you can come home soon. I love you more than my own life, Angelo. Remember that as you heal.

 Your Rosie

Chapter 27

Sydney, Australia – November—As Angelo and Bobby recuperated in the quiet atmosphere of the hospital, their wounds as well as their souls healed. Doctors removed Bobby’s body cast and put him in traction, but soon afterward the doctors grew concerned his inactivity made him a prime candidate for developing pneumonia. Unfortunately, an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease broke out in another wing of the hospital, so medical personnel took extra precaution to keep the problem contained.

Getting patients out of bed and getting them to move proved to be a good tactic to battle pneumonia. The resident doctor assigned to Bobby’s case constructed a back brace so the young soldier could get out of bed.  The uncomfortable contraption enabled corpsmen to get the boy upright, but the first time Bobby wore the brace, he collapsed from the pain. The next time he wore the brace, the nurse gave him a shot of morphine to counteract the pain before the corpsmen attempted to lift him up on his feet. They repeated the procedure every day, and every day Bobby grew stronger standing longer each time. Eventually he took a few steps with assistance.

While Bobby went through this daily agony, Angelo left the room in his wheel chair. He couldn’t watch Bobby suffer the excruciating therapy with the brace; witnessing Bobby’s pain in full bloom was too hard to take.

Bobby proved his bravery by never complaining or quitting. Every day he endured the pain and weakness when the corpsmen put him on his feet. He figured if President Roosevelt lived with polio and needed assistance to stand behind a podium to deliver bad news about the war, he certainly could endure a brace.

Angelo dealt with a different king of pain. Doctors removed most of the shrapnel from his leg and belly, but a few metal fragments remained in his body. The doctors told him after he regained his strength, they would need to operate again. In the meantime, his pain was managed with drugs. Doctors assured him his progress was good, but they worried about him needing so many drugs.  Most thought Angelo should be strong enough to be walk, but like Bobby, he could only stand for a few minutes on his own. Angelo feared he might never walk again.

After spending a month in Sydney, A hospital ship named the USS Comfort took Bobby and Angelo to Pearl Harbor. The voyage from Sydney to Oahu took two long weeks. This voyage offered a very different experience than their first cruise on a ship. They enjoyed the peacefulness of the ship rocking them to sleep at night. During the day they spent time sitting on deck, drinking in the fresh sea air and warm sun. When the ship docked at Pearl Harbor, lines of ambulances waited to transfer the new patients to the naval hospital on Oahu. This hospital concentrated on physical and occupation rehabilitation along with strenuous weight lifting to rebuild dormant muscles.

After the first day, Bobby and Angelo considered the therapies to be a new type of torture.

 

Critics and My Soul

One thing I’ve never told my blogging friends is my love of classical music. It started back in high school when our choir sang pieces by the old composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I had a dream someday I might sing on Broadway, but I listened to the dream dashers in my life and went on to work in an office instead of pursuing MY dreams in college.

Years went by and as a young mother, I was invited to join a semi-pro group of singers which performed entire movements by the same composers I enjoyed in high school. Up until then, I always had the best voice in the whole choir. Now I was surrounded by sopranos who could sing as well as I could.

After a year in the group, I figured it was time to let the director know I wanted to sing a solo in the Schubert Mass. He agreed and assigned me the Kyrie. I learned very quickly the piece required more skill than I possessed because every time I opened my mouth, unpleasant noises came out of me. As hard as I tried, I could not successfully sing the solo. Luckily, one of the women in the group was a voice teacher, so I asked her if she would take me on as a student. I knew getting help was necessary, but my ego got bruised admitting I didn’t know everything about singing.

Weeks of exercises, vocalises, and hours of practicing got me in shape to sing the Kyrie. When the big moment came, the first couple of bars were a little shaky, but after that, I relaxed and the high notes floated out on pitch. After the concert, the compliments came my way and I felt accomplished, but I wanted more chances to stand out so I continued my voice lessons.

At that point in my life, I needed to be recognized and my voice was the only tool I had. People wanted to listen to me, and that fact made me happy. I was something more than a daughter, wife, and mom. My voice let me be me. And if anyone ever criticized me, I felt wounded. Later on I confessed this fact with the director and he said, “Of course a negative comment would hurt you, Barb; it’s the artist in you; it’s your very soul.”

I don’t sing regularly any more; my arthritic hip doesn’t allow me to stand in one place for an entire hour. Instead I’ve carried my thirst to be special in my writing and in my art work. I “work” at both endeavors and luckily my soul has grown a thick enough skin to let the critics take their best shot because I know every time I sit at the keyboard or at the easel, whatever I produce will be better than it was in the past. It’s called growing. When you think you know it all, dive in and you’ll realize how little you really know.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 22

North Africa-November—When Josie completed the training in Arizona, she left Camp Young feeling strong, confident, and ready to get to work. She easily adapted to Army life, attributing her easy assimilation to growing up on a farm where she experience hard work and waking in the early hours of the morning.

After four weeks of Army hardening, Josie’s orders sent her to an Army hospital in Topeka Kansas. She cared  for retired and wounded veterans who returned home for rehabilitation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, she would be one of sixty nurses attached to the 48th Surgical Hospital Unit. This would be her first job as a surgical nurse. She also was chosen to supervise the activities of ten other nurses. She called her mother as soon as she got her orders for deployment to North Africa.

“Hi, Mom!” Josie said with excitement in her voice.

“Josie, how wonderful! How are you, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine. I’m calling to tell you I received new orders.”

Mrs. Schneider held her breath. “Oh, that’s nice, dear.”

“I’m assigned to the 48th Surgical Hospital.” She took a deep breath before she uttered the next sentence. “We’re going Africa.”

“What?”

“Please be happy for me, Mom. I finally get a chance to use my training.  I’m going to be a surgical nurse!”

“You’re going to Africa? Isn’t it really hot there?”

“Of course the weather is hot in Africa; that’s why we trained in the Arizona desert for six weeks. I ship out in two weeks.”

Mrs. Schneider’s stomach churned. “Will you come home before you leave?”

Josie recognized a quiver in her mother’s voice. “Now, Mom. I’ll be fine. If I can survive boot camp, I can do anything.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes. The Army is sending me home for a few days before I ship out. I bet after being under your feet for a few days, you’ll be glad to send me packing after you see what the army has done to me.”

“You aren’t going to sound revelry, are you?” Her mother forced a laugh. “A bugle will scare the chickens!”

Josie smiled at her mother’s attempt at humor. “I love you, Mom. I’ll be home soon.”

“I love you too, Josie.” Her mother sat down on a kitchen chair and took deep breaths. She closed her eyes and forced herself not to think her little girl going to war.

Chapter 23

New York – October—After flying from Kansas to New York City, Josie and sixty other nurses met at the dock where a transport ship would take them and hundreds of soldiers to the coast of North Africa. Once they boarded the ship, the nurses learned they would be part of the first wave of Operation TORCH to hit the beach in North Africa.

On the morning of November 8th, Josie climbed down an rope ladder on the side of the destroyer to a Higgins boat bobbing in the surf below. She and the other nurses were dressed in fatigues, army boots, and four-pound steel helmets. They were  indistinguishable from the men except for the Red Cross patch they wore on their sleeve. Instead of a rifle and ammunition, each nurse carried a backpack of medical supplies, a small canvas bag with a shoulder strap called a musette bag, a gas mask, and a canteen filled with drinking water, which hung on a belt around her waist.

The boats sped to the beach and dropped the ramps in waist-high water; soldiered ran ahead firing as the nurses followed them onto the beach. Gunfire whizzed by, and the unarmed nurses got down on their bellies and crawled on their elbows to the nearest sand dune. Josie huddled with five other nurses as the enemy snipers shot at anything moving. The girls lay pinned down for hours with no escape. When darkness fell, a handsome lieutenant and his patrol escorted them to an abandoned shack along the shoreline where casualties of the day waited for treatment. Josie gasped she got close to the shack they used as a hospital. Thoughts swam in her head. “How are we ever going to keep instruments sterile in such a place? Will our supplies be enough? How in the world am I going to organize such a dump?”

When they entered the “hospital” the odors of filth, dirt, blood, and urine lingered in the air. Seeing the deplorable conditions made several nurses gag and vomit. They soon learned the building had no electricity and running water. Worse yet, the medical supplies they ferried in on their backs didn’t provide nearly enough to properly treat every wounded man. Josie looked beyond the horrid conditions and took command. She assigned two nurses to cover the blown out windows with rough green army blankets to prevent snipers from picking them off in any light. Next she triaged the wounded, and  at her direction corpsmen  moved the most severely wounded upstairs to the make-shift operating room. The rest of the wounded  laid in pools of their blood on the concrete floor while nurses bandaged what they could while rats and other vermin nosed about. Some men cried out, but others bit their lips trying not to cry out in pain. None of them complained.  They understood help  finally was within reach, and they thanked the nurses for any kindness or pain relief.

Doctors operated by flashlights held by corpsmen in the make-shift operating room. Surgical nurses stood beside doctors for hours repairing what they could with the limited supplies they carried ashore. When the doctors closed the wounds of one soldier, another wounded GI took his place. Surgery went on through the night. As the sun rose, six more soldiers held on for their turn on the table. But supplies dwindled. Morphine and either got to critical levels. The continued fighting on the beach prohibited getting the much needed supplies to the hospital. In the meantime medical personnel did their best to keep the men alive.

The doctors and nurses hung on for two days. With no sleep for forty-eight hours, Josie collapsed where she stood. A sergeant hoisted her willowy frame and laid her down on a blanket in the hallway. As she slept, a surging anger fired combative dreams. Why would any nation inflict such suffering and misery on so many?

Chapter 24

Anrath, Germany – December—Prisoners at the Anrath facility toiled sixty hours per week, while civilian workers only worked forty. They worked in abhorrent conditions. Rayon dust produced breathing problems. Vapors from the highly acidic material nearly blinded workers. If a civilian worker complained, she received treatment immediately, but prisoners did not get such care. German overseers forced prisoners to stay at their machines until they went totally blind.

As Emma toiled, the wardress stood in front of Emma and announced, “You received a letter from Paris, frauline.” She waved the envelope. In a glance Emma recognized Marta’s distinct handwriting. She lunged at the wardress and tried to snatch the letter from her. The witch pulled back and laughed. “You cannot read this, frauline. Remember no letters allowed. I just wanted to tell you that you got mail.”

Emma slumped back into her chair. She lowered her head as her vision blurred with tears. Up until now, nothing defeated her, but seeing Marta’s letter and not being able to read her words defeated her to the point of not caring any more.

*****

Viscose burns were a constant source of agony for the women who worked in the rayon factory. Civilians received gloves to protect their hands, while the prisoners received none. Working with bare hands produced cuts and blisters. Emma’s left hand developed six viscose wounds and her right hand suffered from three. The acid ate into her untreated wounds, making them swell and blister. She endured excruciating pain, and if she complained, the guards would beat her.

The wounds on Emma’s hands got worse as the weeks passed, but the factory doctor still considered her fit to work. She needed water to make a dressing for her wounds, but prisoners received no water for wounds or thirst.

After returning to her cell after a ten-hour day, Emma tore a strip of cloth from her work dress hem and soaked the fabric with her own urine. Then she wrapped the wet rags around her hands. Much to her surprise, the pain eased, and she fell fast asleep. After that first night, Emma repeated the process every night.  In a few days, her hands began to heal. The improvement empowered her to fight on. She outwitted the cruelty of everyone in power at the prison. Her cleverness brought a small miracle.

*****

Weeks after Emma’s hands healed, her eyes got so bad from the vapors, she not only experienced blurred vision but suffered debilitating stabbing pains in her irritated eyes. Splitting headaches accompanied the lingering neck pains. Then blindness and the pain made it impossible for her to work. Emma complained to wardress and didn’t care if she received a beating. Her reflection in the store windows attested she appeared half dead already.

The overseer shook his head and dragged her to the factory medic. The doctor probed her eyelids with filthy fingers. He deemed Emma unfit for work, but instead of receiving treatment for her injuries, she found herself in a group of women who suffered the same injuries.  The pitiful women sobbed in pain; Emma wanted to cry with them, but her pride wouldn’t let her. Worst of all, the time away from her machine gave Emma time to think. Of course, her first thought wondered what Marta wrote in her letter. Part of her wished to ignore the letter’s existence, but she consoled herself that now with inflamed eyes, she probably couldn’t read it anyway.