Wanting Nothing More Than to Live

I posted a short version of this story on our Facebook several weeks ago, but I wanted to share the extended version here for you, our lovely readers.

I posted a short version of this story on our Facebook several weeks ago, but I wanted to share the extended version here for you, our lovely readers.

“This was not here during the war.” Andre, a 94 year old WW2 veteran with a slight French accent, said looking around. He had a slightly frustrated tone in his voice. We had picked up our luggage and were walking through the Guam International Airport to the exit. The drab airport infrastructure was almost an insult to his artistic memories of how everything had looked during the war.

“This is just the airport.” I said. “Wait ‘til we get outside.”

“Aha!” Andre declared excitedly as we walked through the exit doors of the airport into the damp humidity of Guam. “This heat I remember. Now it feels like I am back.”


This past March, at the invitation of the Best Defense Foundation, I joined their veterans of the Pacific for the anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. We spent the first several days on the island of Guam exploring the old battle locations. One of the veterans returning for the first time since WW2 was TEC 5 Army Engineer, Andre C. It had been nearly 75 years since Andre was on Guam. His outfit (the 1885th Aviation Engineer Battalion) had the vital responsibility of building the airfields for the B-29s returning from their bombing missions.

A B-29 flying over North Field, Guam, one of the airfields the 1885th built. PC: Pacific Air Force

Shortly after our team arrived at the hotel in Guam the first night, Andre and I and a couple of others wandered down to the beach to get a taste of the ocean air and feel the sand in our toes.

I was quite interested to see how the changes in the island would affect him. With each veteran making his first pilgrimage back it’s different. Sometimes their response is profound, sometimes it’s emotional, and honestly sometimes it’s just like any trip to the grocery store. It just depends on the personality. Andre was a commercial artist after the war, and, though long retired, he is still very much an artist in how he views life.

As we walked along the shore, shoes in hand, dragging our feet through the sand, Andre shared with me story after story of the first few months he had spent in a combat zone. While the sights have changed over the last 75 years, the memories and smells came flooding back to him. Just a couple of miles up the coastline from where we stood lay Haputo Beach, the place where Andre had encountered some of the most memorable moments of his war.

Of course, true artist that he is, Andre is incapable of telling a story bare bones. Instead, he thinks. He contemplates. Then he paints for you glorious word pictures: Not just the sights, but also the colors. Not just the sounds, but also the smells. Down to the textures of the wet and humid jungle air he marched through on water patrols. He vividly recalled the air to be so thick and muggy that the sweat gathered at his elbows, slowly dripped down to his wrist, off his fingertips, and into the contents of the open ration box he held in his hand. "I didn't care." Andre said shrugging. "I was too tired. Too exhausted."

Among the stories, Andre also described his fears - not so much of death, but of failing his fellow soldiers, and a moment of serene peace he experienced one night. A moment so perfect that as he stared up at the bright Guam stars, he truly understood, for the first time, what it meant to live. Not just to survive, but to live, to breathe, to have a future. And most of all, to want to live. More than anything else in the world. A desire. To stay. Alive.

We walked and talked for probably an hour. I have no idea how long it was actually. Those first moments of awe and wonder a veteran experiences returning to an old war-zone, recalling the days and months when as a young boy he was forcibly, by war, transformed into a man - those are the moments for which there is no timer or price.


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Touching History: Why Scars Matter

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He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day.”

William Shakespeare, “Henry V”


Last year I sat with a crusty, 93 year-old Marine from the Battle of Iwo Jima. I asked him frank questions about Iwo. He was Irish. He answered me back frankly. In more ways than one, the battle was still with him.

“I have some of the island still in me.” O’Malley told me in a thick Massachusetts accent. Extending one of his hands to me, aged, but massive and strong, he said, “See those two black spots? That’s sand from the beaches of Iwo Jima.” The Marine allowed me to touch the spots with my fingers. A doctor had once offered to remove them, he told me, but O’Malley had responded with a firm no! “I earned that!” For 73 years he had carried those pieces of black volcanic ash in his hand, a memory of the most defining days of his life. There was no way they would be removed now.

This wasn’t the first time a veteran has showed me his scars. Once, another Marine friend had taken my hand and put it to his temple. “Feel that,” he said. “That’s shrapnel from the jungles Nam.” 

And at a monthly breakfast group one morning, an Army vet stretched both his arms out over the table and pointed out to me the lines he had running up from his wrists to elbows, “June 6th, 1944, on Omaha Beach,” he said matter-of-factly. “I held my arms up to cover my face from the bullets. Good thing I did because otherwise my face wouldn’t look too pretty.”

“It never looked pretty,” kidded another D-Day survivor from across the table.


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As most kids are, I think, growing up I was fascinated by scars. My brothers [and sisters] always hoped our scratches from outdoor play would turn into scars, and when they didn’t, we solved that problem by drawing them in with permanent marker. Maybe not the best idea. But it sure looked good.

As adults, we each carry internal scars of battles we’ve fought. Some of them we are proud of, others we are content to keep hidden deep in our hearts.

But why do scars matter?

I think Shakespeare hits the nail on the head in Henry V.

“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars / And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day.””

There is nothing like an external scar to show the world that you fought hard and conquered. In the Japanese culture, there is a practice called, kintsugi: A piece of broken pottery is repaired with gold, not only renewing the life in it, but adding value by celebrating and showing pride in it’s “scars.”

I consider it a treasured privilege to be shown a veteran’s battle scars. Something very personal is transferred. And I become custodian to a moment from 75 years in the past.

When I took that crusty Marine’s hand and felt his scars, I could feel a battle that took place 51 years before I was even born. I was touching history.


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Happy Mother's Day

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A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.
— Washington Irving

Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors: Home from the Islands

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I arrived home from traveling all over the Pacific Islands with 7 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, who fought and spilled blood there 74 years ago.

It was a magical 10 days.

Sponsored by the Best Defense Foundation, we stood atop Mt. Suribachi and watched a Marine point to where he had landed on February 19, 1945. We walked along the side of Suicide Cliffs in Saipan and listened as a former Army Lt. Col. and Green Beret explained what it was like to see hundreds of misguided natives willingly throw themselves over the cliffs rather than fall into the hands of the Americans. And we picked up pieces of the tarmac on which the Enola Gay made her famous voyage, changing the course of history forever.

Even as I write now, I am getting chills up my arms.

There is obviously much to tell. For now, I will give you a sampling of photos, with hopefully more to come in the future.


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Rondo Scharfe. 16 year old Coxswain at Iwo Jima. His landing craft was hit just as he approached the beach. 17 of the 36 Marines on board were immediately killed. Rondo's sternum was split open, his front teeth were knocked out, and his nose was broken. In the chaos, and not aware of his injuries except that he had a huge pain in his chest, Rondo kept telling himself that, "16 was too young to have a heart attack. Just too young to have a heart attack." Before he bled out, someone grabbed him and pulled him ashore where he was saved.

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Fred Harvey, USMC, landed on February 19, 1945 with the 5th Marine Division. He made it 7 days before being seriously wounded after taking 3 Japanese grenades in his foxhole. Fred was evacuated off the island and spent the rest of the war in a body cast in hospital. Later on, Fred received the Silver Star for his bravery during a night patrol early on in the invasion of Iwo, when he was left to defend himself and a wounded comrade after being ambushed by the Japanese.

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Same Flag, 14 Years Apart:

On top of Mt. Suribachi with Iwo Jima Survivor Fred Harvey, 5th Marine Division. Fred and I are holding the SAME flag that my brothers brought to Iwo Jima 14 years ago, when they were 10 and 12 years old. So grateful to the Best Defense Foundation for making this special moment possible.


More to follow shortly…

Dick Cole: A Class Act

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On April 18, the 77th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, they laid the last survivor to rest at Arlington Cemetery. Everybody has a story about Dick Cole. And each one is meaningful in its own way.

My story is this: Last winter, when my dear friend and WW2 Veteran, Vince Losada, was killed in the Fredericksburg P-51 crash, Dick Cole came to his funeral. He didn't have to. He was an incredibly busy man, always traveling and speaking at events, and just the fact that he was 103 years old was excuse enough. But he showed up to remember a fellow flyboy, and I think that was a real class act. Thank you Dick Cole.


Iwo Jima Sand

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For those who have asked: Yes, we still have Iwo Jima Volcanic Ash available when you make a tax deductible donation to Operation Meatball. The ash was collected on the 70th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima (March 21, 2015) and can be found here:

Iwo Jima Sand (Volcanic Ash)

Description

☆ Black Sands of Iwo Jima ☆

One of our favorite things to collect when we visit a special battlefield or historical spot is to bring back a small rock, a bottle of dirt, or a vial of sand. This sand (which is actually VOLCANIC ASH) was collected off the Invasion Beach: RED of Iwo Jima on the 70th anniversary of the battle. As you probably know, this sand is very rare since Americans are only allowed on the Island once a year during a special commemorative ceremony for the Battle.

**I have included photos in the gallery from my most recent trip to Iwo, and each vial of sand comes with a certificate of authenticity.**

The Iwo Jima sand comes in a mini glass vial with a cork stopper and is packaged in a small brown box with padding.

Bottle height:
Height (with Cork): 1 3/4"
Width: 3/4"

Back to the Island

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When I went to Iwo Jima in 2015 with my dad, it fulfilled a dream I'd had since I was 8 years old. It completely changed my life, and I was pretty sure that my first time there would also be my last time.

But next Monday, I will be helping escort 6 veterans (including one of my dearest of friends) back to Iwo Jima, Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. I'm still waiting for reality to hit. But I am deeply grateful to the Best Defense Foundation for this opportunity to re-live those childhood dreams all over again and in the company of such heroes.

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Consequently, I have been studying like a madman in preparation. I feel like the word "excited" is an inadequate one to describe how I feel about returning to Iwo and making my first trip to Saipan and Tinian. The history of these islands is one that I feel so deeply connected to.

Iwo was my first introduction to WW2 when I was 6 or 7 years old. And some of the first stories of war I ever heard were from veterans of Saipan who described what it was like to watch the poor brainwashed natives take their own lives by jumping the cliffs rather than fall into the hands of what they had been told were "cannibal Americans."

Over breakfast one morning, a Marine (*see endnote) showed me a picture of the first Japanese he ever killed and the cave where he was wounded by a grenade. Another one showed me the volcanic ash that was still in his hands.

I have shared tears with hearty Marines who were making their first return to the battlefields; some of whom had left an arm, a leg, and hardest of all - their best friend.

But it wasn't just a rollercoaster of hardcore memories that makes my connection so deep. Along the way, I was a adopted by this special group of fighting men and given a second family. My Marine Corps family. All these extra uncles who declared I had to run any boyfriends by them for approval first, swore to protect me (in various forms of Marine Corps terminology), and were there to help me through some pretty rough times.

Mt. Suribachi (2015) with Sgt. John Coltrane

Mt. Suribachi (2015) with Sgt. John Coltrane

Going back to Iwo is pretty personal to me. More than the dress blues (which are gorgeous btw), more than the battle facts and statistics - because honestly, none of the adopted uncles are statistics to me - my Marines are living, breathing human beings who went through hell, but still managed to go on and live normal lives.

So what is the word I’m looking for to describe how I feel? Grateful? Heart-full? Thoughtful? Exuberant? I don't know. For now, just consider these words to be the placeholders until I do find the right one.

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** Note: The story of that Marine and the photo is not a story of the glorification of death… rather it is part of a beautiful story of forgiveness. When the Marine showed me the photo (one his buddy had taken), he was still angry with the Japanese. He had 70 years angst and bitterness built up that was coming to a climax. By showing me the photos, he was trying to share his story and find clarity in the mental conflict he was still fighting. He needed answers. All week I spoke to him about this, and others did as well… tskaAnd incredibly, the day we went to Iwo Jima, he was able to go up to a Japanese veteran and shake his hand. It was the first Japanese man he'd been willing to talk to since the war. The rest of the trip following that, he was happy and light-hearted. A month later, he passed away. I think he had finally found the deep peace and forgiveness he needed.

The "Patch Lady"

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I’d like to introduce you to “the Patch Lady.” In a way, she inspired my own patch bag.

We met the lovely Yolanda at a VJ Day event several years ago. The patches you see behind her were all given to her by servicemen in World war Two. A the ripe young age of 9, Yolanda old would spend her afternoons working at the local USO Canteen with her older sister, Anne, serving young GIs before they went off to war.

In the evenings she would invite them to her house for a home-cooked meal in exchange for one of their military patches. She became quite famous among the ranks, with even Generals Bradley and Montgomery mailing her their personal patches and a letter.

Looking at the board behind her, you can't help but wonder how many of the soldiers who owned one of the patches were sent overseas? How many of them came home? And was this the last home-cooked meal they were to ever have? So many patches representing so many brave fellows. Today they are remembered. Though some of their names may have been forgotten over time, the memory of them is carried on through this wonderful lady and her patches. Thank you Yolanda!


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"My War" as Told Through the Art and Letters of Tracy Sugarman

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When you are a child, the first rule of picking out a book is, “does it have good pictures?" If the answer is yes, then you open the book and read it. It the answer is no, you put the book back on its shelf. Why read a book with no illustrations?

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Then life catches up on you, you grow up and and have to realize that books aren’t all about pictures. Before you know it, all of your “adult” books just have words in them - long, sophisticated words that little children wouldn’t dream of knowing. And if they could, they would dismiss them as nightmares.

That’s pretty much what happened to me. My shelves (though I love each and every one in them), are nonetheless filled with picture-less books with words starting at 5 syllables each. They are long, sometimes dry, and full of lots of and lots of information. I read them and enjoy. I don’t think about the fact that they are picture-less.

However, once in a blue moon - when the unicorns and werewolves come out and play together- the 6 year old in me pops up and demands that I find books with good pictures in them.

That’s how I stumbled on this particular book, My War by Tracy Sugarman.

“disaster in the channel”

About a two years ago, I was visiting my brother in Florida and happened to stop by the Sanford renowned book shop, “Maya Books and Music.” It was completely charming, and I would have been happy walking away with half the store. But since my pocketbook groaned and declared otherwise, I decided I would have to be satisfied with this little find.

The moment I opened its cover, I was struck by the gorgeous watercolors and sketched images liberally distributed throughout the pages: simple pencil portraits of servicemen the author had encountered, dramatic scenes from a storm in the English channel, friend Tommy doing laundry near a windowsill of daffodils.

“Tommy and his laundry, with daffodils”

Alongside these images were detailed letters to his wife, "darling Junie," narrating his life as a young ensign in the US Navy the months surrounding the greatest naval invasion in history, "D-Day," and interspersed with his retrospective commentary years later when he would publish his drawings and letters.

The impetus for “My War” came from a parting gift Sugarman’s wife, June, gave him as he was preparing to go overseas in January, 1944.

“It’s a little something for both us us.”

I edged open the package and peered inside. Sketch pads! And pens and a tin of watercolors!

“How wonderful! You’re too much, Junie. But those are for me. "What’s for you?”

… Very quietly she said, “For me, it’s your sanity. And maybe some pictures so that I’ll know you’re alive and kicking! Hold on real tight, darling. You’ll be back and I’ll be waiting.”

“Junie” did wait, and hundreds of letters later, thousands of miles traveled, a great Naval Invasion, and a World War, Sugarman came home. At end of the book, Sugarman regrets that he was not able to save all the “funny, wonderful, life-sustaining letters” he received from his wife the months and months he was away. “They were read and reread, folded and unfolded until tattered, and finally abandoned when the next sea-soiled envelope arrived.” But thanks to Junie’s care, his did, giving us this thought-provoking and informative narration.

Tracy and his wife june “a summer day at ocean view”

In his preface, Sugarman says,

“I leave it to the historians to chronicle the strategies and dynamics of the global conflict of World War II. With the perspective gained from more than half a century of scholarship, they delineate the battle lines and campaigns, the tactics and struggles of the world I inherited after Pearl Harbor. They know a great deal about “the war”. But they didn’t live my war.

It is my conviction that ever sailor and soldier in World War II fought his own war. It was a struggle that only sometimes permitted him to see the enemy. But as he stared into the darkness from his ship or beachhead, he very soon began to see himself. So new to manhood, he watched himself grow through fear and loneliness, boredom and exaltation. It was an inescapable odyssey for each of us who served.”

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And such an odyssey he paints! Beautiful and haunting at times:

There are those long twilights here now. The sky is billions of miles away, and you feel very much alone. The water stretches away forever -no waves, hardly a ripple. The ships sit alone in the water, each in its own pool of aloneness. The sky arcs up from millions of empty miles beyond the shore. And straight up there’s nothing. It’s big and empty and very quiet. The sun goes away, and it’s still too big, too light. The emptiness comes off the water and crawls right into you.” (July 1 - T. B.Robertson)

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At other times, he writes the raw and truthful: realities of the high price war takes on youth and innocence:

The inconsistency between the American fighter and the American sailor or soldier is staggering. I remember so well how inadequate I felt when I tried to tell you how wonderful those guys were on the beaches last June. I wouldn’t take back a word of it. I feel now as I did then, but coupled with it goes a feeling of wonder. Wonder as to how such marvelous fighters can be such rotten people… Their conceit, their arrogance, their obscenity and vulgarity in front of anyone shames the life out of me… They never apologize for our own shortcomings, and get a majestic sort of pleasure in making the English painfully aware of theirs. In every conversation the “biggest,” the “newest,” the “cleanest,” the “fastest,” the most and the best of the good, the least of the bad… Individually, I would do anything for any of them. But as a group they are the antithesis of anything I desire. I don’t want to close our eyes and pretend the bad and the wrong and the ignorant aren’t there, darling. Those things are real, and too important to both of us. I want only to reject their standards and their values. They revolt and shock me. (Feb 23, 1945)

In his retrospective commentary, Sugarman adds some thoughts to the harsh words he spoke about the American Serviceman back in 1945:

One of my “kids”

One of my “kids”

There are unexpected surprises that one finds when unearthing an intimate record from one’s youth. The most astonishing to me are those letters from the war that describe my perceptions of many of the men with whom I served. They swing from admiration to revulsion, from pride to anger, from pleasure in their company to embarrassment at their provincialism and lack of sensitivity, yet older is not wiser… It is hard to remember how young we all were when we went of to war in 1944. Most of the sailors on my ships really were the “kids” I wrote of in my letter to June. Put to the test of physical courage, they were remarkable, often accomplishing the seemingly impossible and usually with pride and good humor. When off on liberty or leave in a war-torn England, however, their ignorance and immaturity often displayed itself in ways that were embarrassing to their fellow servicemen and arrogantly hostile to our hosts.

For the most part, these were kids who had never been away from home, who were fearful and tried to cover it with bravado, who had little or no sense of history, and often showed that they resented being there. American education had ill prepared them to understand how uniquely fortunate their own country was due to geography, not because we were born to be “number one in everything.” Nor did most of them understand how indebted we were to those who fought alone for so many years, although the shattered homes and churches and towns around them bore the dreadful testimony to the high price that the English had paid for all our freedom. For too many of the Americans, this war was not really our war. It was their war, “and if it wasn’t for us Yanks, they’d sure as hell lose it.” Thankfully, as a nation, we are a long way from the provincialism that was so rampant in many Americans in World War Two. -Sugarman

But even though he had hard words to say about the things he saw, he never once took for granted the sacrifice these boys were making.

“Young men dying seems to me, somehow, the greatest tragedy. The acceptance of death has been something new to me. And I know that death serves only to accentuate the love of living we both share so dearly. The bridge between is so complete, so final that you finally stop thinking of its terrible proximity and cling rather to pulsating life. Your laughter is a little quicker, your thinking is a little less shallow, your energies and ambitions fired with a new urgency.” (August 17)


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For our heart’s sake, not all his letters dwell on the hardships and seriousness of the job he and millions of the boys were experiencing… there are plenty of carefree and amusing accounts, including one which makes you marvel at the serendipitous happenings that sometimes occur in war:

“I had been napping, riding out the foul weather that had stopped all our work off the Robertson, when Mike, the stewards’ mate, excitedly came in my room and shook my shoulder. “Mr. Sweetenin’! Wake up! There’s a Lieutenant Sugarman looking for an Ensign Sugarman. Is you he?” I stared at the grinning sailor and bolted out of bed and raced up to Operations. The signalman pointed to the LST lying off our bow. "Signal came from there, sir.”

I stared across the water at the ship, rolling wildly in the windy chop of the Channel. Marvin here? It was too impossible to believe. But how marvelous if it were so! My older brother had been my role model in so many ways, and I had been the best man at his wedding. But I hadn’t seen him now in over a year. When I was getting my commission at Notre Dame, Marv and his wife, Roni, were stationed in Alabama… In my last letter from the folks, they were rejoicing that Roni was expecting a baby, their first grandchild. But not a word that Marvin might be shipping out to Europe. And now a few hundred yards away, he was coming to Utah Beach! I could just imagine the folks’ faces when they got the news!"

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In his letter to Junie, he related their first “meeting.”

The weather got more and more wild, and there was no way of getting there. So tonight I called their ship by radio and summoned Marv to the radio! Although strictly against regulation, it was too great a temptation. And honey, he sounded so wonderful! The magic of a familiar voice from home is something so good it can’t be described. Imagine, angel, having Marv right here on my beach! … The conversation was pretty crazy, both of us were so damn excited.

[Sugarman] “Hey, I understand you’re gonna be a father! Over.”

[Marv] “You’re yelling me! Over.”

[Sugarman] "I didn’t think you had it in you. Over.”

[Marv] “Are you kidding! Over.”

[Sugarman] I think it’s wonderful! You got a bottle of Scotch? Over.”

[Marv] “Lots of it. Get the hell over here! Over.”

It’s easy to see in their delighted faces the most happy surprise of being reunited with a bit of home on the beachheads of Normandy.


Another time, he relates an amusing incident that happened shortly before he was shipped overseas to England:

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“Late in January 1944, orders came directing our whole outfit to move out. We had all trained exhaustively and were eager to get to the English staging areas…. As we were packing to leave the base, unsettling new orders arrived.”

Sugarman and two other Ensigns, Tommy Wolfe and “Andy” Anderson, were detached to train a new batch of sailors soon to be arriving. Flattered but disappointed, he resigned himself to the fact it’d be a few months more before going over. However 3 days later, they received new orders: “Three officers and thirty men were to proceed immediately to Long Beach, NY to await transport to the ETO.” There was just one hitch… their new crew turned out to be more in the style of the Dirty Dozen rather then the “ship, shape, and bristol fashion” ones they’d just said the adieus to.

Sugarman wasn’t so sure. He’d grown up in Syracuse, NY and the only “tough characters” he was used to were the ones he met on the Lacrosse field and shook hands with at the end of each match.

“I finally took my buddy and fellow ensign, Tommy Wolfe, aside. A tough, street-smart New York kid himself, Tommy looked and sounded like Jimmy Cagney. He grinned at my concern about our new crews. “Relax, Sug. This is the biggest break these characters could dream of. If we’re tough and fair with them, they’ll work out great. I grew up with guys like them.””

Just as Tommy said, it turned out to be okay. “But I wondered how, at twenty-two, I could make these men believe I was tough enough to take them to war.”

On the train north to New York, June rode with the released prisoners. At the first opportunity, I took her aside. “Are you okay? They giving you a hard time?” She laughed. “They’re kids,” she said. “They’re tough kids. I wouldn’t want to be the Germans when they hit the beach. But they’re really very sweet.” I stared at my wife. “Sweet?” “Well,” she said, grinning, “they’re very sweet to me.””


The book is rich and full. The layers of depth and insight that comes from a mere 23 year-old are striking and cause you to go back and re-read the thoughts he penned to his wife during the tempestuous 18 months he spent overseas. 18 months that changed his life and the lives of millions around the world.

I do think have left me unscathed physically and mentally. I do not feel “older thank my years” nor “hardened by the crucible of fire.” Nothing I’ve seen has changed anything fundamentally in me. Possibly my resolution has sharpened some, my enthusiasm slightly tempered, my tolerance and understanding somewhat broadened. I think that’s happened to most of us in some degrees. Being here, there has had to be an assertion of self and independent spirit. If these are bounded by humility and a decent memory of what actually was, then it should be a healthy influence, not corruption. -Tracy Sugarman

Thank you for the lessons, Mr. Sugarman. And thank you for the pictures.


All quotes and images are taken from the book, “My War'“ by Tracy Sugarman


International Holocaust Remembrance: “My name was A15-049”

Rose Williams, at the age of 17. This passport photograph was taken shortly after her liberation.

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For this solemn occasion, here is a special post from the Operation Meatball archives. July. 08. 2014


“My name was A15-049”

Faith Phillips

Today I sat in a small room with a few of my siblings and listened to the story of a woman who had lived through the horrors of the Holocaust in the Nazi concentration camps.  Rose Williams was a 12 year old Polish girl when the World War II began in 1939. After the Nazis invaded Poland, the fingers of Naziism began to close around the throats of the Jews, beginning with subtleties and moving into unimaginable cruelties. This is where Rose found herself with her brother, sister, mother, father, and grandmother. 

Every week the phrase: "The Jews are our misfortune!" would appear at the bottom of the newspapers.

One evening, a German soldier came to their home and ordered them to be out of their house within the hour. Next door was a very kind Gentile family who offered to take the three children into their home and hide them. But from the oldest down to the youngest not one would choose to be separated from their family members. “What will happen to one, will happen to all.” Thus the whole family was transported to a ghetto where they stayed for some time working for and being beaten by the hands of the Germans. 

Once, they waited anxiously for her father to return from his work. When he finally came, he was quite bloody all over his face. “What has happened to you?” they cried. He explained that he had asked a German soldier for a rag to continue his work with; the soldier, wrenching his beard from his chin, replied, “Here is the best rag!” 

Rose was walking outside one afternoon with her grandmother when they saw German soldiers separating babies from their mothers and throwing them on the sidewalk. One woman who refused to release her child was shot and the baby was hurled to the ground beside many others. Rose’s grandmother ran toward the spot were the babies lay, but Rose, grabbing her grandmother by the hand, cried, “What are you doing?” Her grandmother replied, “I am going to go save some of those babies.” A German soldier seeing the commotion ran to them, asking what was going on.  “Oh nothing, Sir, nothing,” she said, trying to pull her grandmother back. Refusing, her grandmother ran forward to help some of the little lives. As she did, she was beaten down by the soldier and shot. “It has taken me years to black out the memory of my grandmother’s dead body lying there being trampled with no one to bury her.”

Eventually, the family was able to acquire two passes to get work outside the ghetto, which, even though holding many horrors of it’s own, was a better place to work. Rose and her sister found jobs in two different factories. The factory Rose worked in, being a munitions factory, contained a great deal of alcohol. Rose along with many other workers smuggled the alcohol which was very valuable to the starving families.

Various versions of the Star of David that was required to be worn by all Jews.

Then it happened. They were all piled into a train. Two buckets were thrown in to serve as toilets for the hundreds of people packed in the car. Anyone attempting to bend down and relieve themselves would not be able to stand up again. Because of the compactness of the car, they would be crushed or suffocated by the masses. Many died even before the train reached Auschwitz, their destination. 

Upon arriving at Auschwitz, they were forced into lines where the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death,” looked them over and decided whether they would go to the left or to the right, to immediate death in the gas chambers, or to temporary life in the work camps. The prisoners would be assembled and reevaluated from time to time.

An SS doctor decides who will live and who will die.

All Rose had when she had first stumbled off the train was a pair of winter boots and a couple of photographs of her family.  Even though she had so little, she had still been ordered to leave everything behind! Her warm boots were exchanged for some “dreadful” wooden hollander clogs. They froze when it was cold and got stuck when it was muddy. She decided that she could bear them no longer and threw them away. Her feet became ulcerated and unbearably painful.  All alone in a brutal concentration camp, she thought life was no longer worth living.  

Dr. Josef Mengele (middle) the "Angel of Death".

The next time Rose was in the line where life or death was being determined for so many, Dr. Mengele sent her to the right. She begged him to let her go to the death line instead. “He didn’t look at my sore legs or feet. He just looked at my face and said, ‘You are young yet,’ and pushed me to the other line.” In that unusual way, God used the famous “Angel Of Death”  to keep her life from death!

Not long after her life was spared, Rose found out that her little sister was one camp site away. She was able to find someone to switch places with, from her camp, to her sister’s. After being reunited, they both swore that they would never allow anything to separate them again.

In four years, she was kept in four different prison camps. Most of her time was spent carrying stones from one side of the camp to another, and then back for no purpose or reason except that she was ordered to by her captors. 

At last, that longed for, hoped for, awaited, day came in 1945:  “wolności,” freedom, liberty, liberation! The liberators arrived! They gave care packages and chocolate to the the starving people.  When Rose was released from the camp at 17 years of age, she weighed 87 pounds. She was sent to a hospital and had to stay there for two years until she weighed 100 pounds. To their delight, Rose and her sister found out that her brother had survived the camps, as well, and was still alive! 

In 1946, they all tried to get visas to be able to immigrate to the United States, but after finding out that her brother had tuberculosis, Customs would not allow him in. So Rose and her sister moved to what was viewed as the modern “Promised Land,” America. Her brother moved to the old Promised Land, Israel, and became a man of note there. Rose married, becoming Mrs. Rose Williams. She had children and grandchildren passing down to them an incredible legacy. Since 1945, she has traveled to Israel seven times. It’s amazing that God preserved her life through these tragic experiences! 

Mrs. Rose Sherman Williams

I have been told many times how my grandfather, as a little boy, would look out his window and see a little blonde haired Jewish girl whose parents had been killed in one of these death camps. He wondered what her name was and what her story was. Who knows, maybe this woman, Rose Williams, whom I met today, knew the little blonde haired girl’s parents. As a little boy, my dad saw that some of our relatives had numbers tattooed on their arms. When he asked about them, he was told that they got them in the concentration camps. These stories of the Jews during the Holocaust are very personal to me because this is part of my family history. In truth, this all happened in a land not very long ago, and not very far away.


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Say Something

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Not too long ago I wrote a letter to a friend. I told him how his friendship had helped me through some rough spots the last couple of years and how I would always be grateful. Forever. 💙At the time I thought it may be too much (we're both pretty awkward with sap) but I went ahead and mailed it anyways.

That letter ended up being my last opportunity to say thank you. He passed away a week ago from some complications following a hospital stay. Besides the massive loss I feel, I have no regrets. Though it's uncomfortable for me to express my personal feelings, I will never regret taking what ended up being a last chance to say what I had always wanted to say: Thanks for being there for me.

So here's my assignment for you... if someone has touched your life, tell them now. Don't wait. Acknowledge to them how they have changed your life. You will never regret taking the time to say thanks or tell someone you love them. The only words you will regret are the ones you didn’t take the time to say.


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The Patch Bag

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T H E • P A T C H • B A G || Last April, I did a post on Instagram about my "patch bag." I rarely leave the house without it, and it's one of my favorite conversation starters with strangers. Since I've just finished cleaning and updating the patch bag, I thought I'd share a little of it's background.

Several years ago my English Gramps sent me his Royal Navy patch to wear. I didn't have anything to put it on at the time, so I ended up keeping it with his letters... shortly after, I started receiving so many patches from other veterans that I decided to sew them onto an old canvas Soviet surplus bag that had been sitting under my bed for too many years (my attempt to redeem the bag from it's communist background).

I currently have 16 patches on the bag (with more in the queue) including ones from an Iwo Jima Marine, a Chosen Reservoir Marine, an 83rd Infantry Division (and ex Cavalryman), 2nd ID (2nd to none!) and 82nd Airborne

Besides just being a great way to show off my patches (yeah... I'm afraid I'm pretty proud of this ole bag), it's an awesome way of sharing stories about the wonderful veterans I've known with complete strangers, and getting them interested in history or even hearing about their own connections to WW2!

One of my favorite questions, though, came from a 6 year-old little boy who asked if I had done really well in the Boy Scouts. Not quite little fella.

So there's my story. It's not the fanciest bag ever, but it's been so much fun to travel the world with.


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Happy [late] New Year!

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I am a firm believer that one should be allowed to wish everyone a Happy New Year until January 31st!

So here you go, Happy New Year!

This year we will celebrate 5 years of the Operation Meatball blog, and 1 year as an official non-profit! It's hard to believe how fast the years have flown, and how our original 3-year plan exploded into a life mission. 

2018 alone was one for the books with over 28,000 driving miles, meeting with veterans all over the United States (including 2 overseas trips in collaboration with the Best Defense Foundation), collecting their stories, infusing them with honor and appreciation, with extra special moments like marching 7 miles of the New Mexico desert with a 101 year old Bataan Death March Survivor and greeting over 1400 Honor Flight veterans arriving at the D.C. Memorials.

It will be a hard year to beat, but we hope that 2019 will only exceed the previous, especially as the dwindling few WW2 vets make their last appearance on the stage of life. 

Thank you all for your continual encouragement, both personally and financially. We couldn't have done any of it without you. We are deeply grateful.

Happy January, and a very Happy New Year!

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"The Bonnet of an American Jeep" [Special from the Operation Meatball Archives]

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[From the Operation Meatball archives: January 5. 2015]

My sister Faith recently received a letter from English veteran Ernie Covil whom we met while in Normandy three years ago (2011), and then again this past June (2014). Our delight at seeing Mr. Covil after three years was quite unbounded. After the trip, Faith wrote him and sent some of the pictures we had taken. The letter he wrote back was of such interest that we thought we would share some of it with you, as the timing of it is also perfect. 

As many of you may know, this past month has been the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most significant battles of WWII. There were tremendously high casualty rates on both sides, but in the end, the Battle of the Bulge was a decisive benchmark for the Allies as the push to Berlin and winning the war. Here is an excerpt of Mr. Covil’s letter telling a little of his time during the months of December '44 through the beginning of '45.

About my time in the Army, I was called upon on April 1, 1943, age 18. After six weeks infantry training I was then moved into my new regiment as a Lorry Driver into the R. A. S. C. (Royal Army Service Corps). My job was to supply ammunition, food, petrol from the beach to the front line or wherever it was wanted. When Antwerp was taken and the port made workable, the ships were able to bring supplies in, we were moving them from there. That saved the long journey back to Normandy (the roads had been shelled, bombed and it was hard going). Working out of Antwerp, this made things better and carried on back to parts of France through Belgium, Holland, and Germany.

While in Belgium, I was sent to an American transport unit in the Ardennes. It was snowing and cold. I enjoyed my Christmas Dinner on the bonnet of an American Jeep. On leaving the American Unit I went back to the British lines, moving along through to Lubeck, Hanover, Hamburg, and nearly into Berlin. A few miles this side of Berlin, the British and American lines stopped and let the Russians take Berlin. On my way through we were very lucky; we only lost three men, which was nothing to what some units lost. But three is three, to many it is someone’s life gone.

I loved all 40's songs. My most loved one at the time was Vera Lynn’s, "We’ll Meet Again." Of the best bands - must be Glenn Miller. There was no band better to dance to, not even today. When the war finished in Germany I was then sent to Egypt [and] Palestine. From there I came home and was demoted (discharged) September 1947."

The history of the Battle of the Bulge and the siege of Antwerp are both fascinating. If you are interested in reading more about it, I would recommend Mr. Federer's article as a very good summary. 

Life Updates

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You've probably missed Jubilee's face around here the last few months. Don't worry, she hasn't fallen off the map. She is still very much a part of the heart and soul of Operation 🇺🇸 Meatball.

Over the summer Jubilee decided it was time to pursue her college studies on a more focused level, so she has taken a step back from OM activities for the present. 📚 You can imagine how much we have missed having her with us the last few months, but we are so excited for her new and continued adventures.

Additionally, you can look forward to seeing a lot more Virginia (📸☝️). And we couldn't be happier. Stay tuned!

Letters from Home

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L E T T E R S || For the soldiers serving overseas during WW2, letters were the only way of keeping in touch with family and loved ones at home. These letters brought hope and warmth to our boys fighting over there.

We try to keep this spirit alive with our own letter writing program at Operation Meatball... Over the years it has been a wonderful way of staying in contact with the veterans, and some of the most precious friendships have been formed with the back and forth of these letters.

The other day we received a very thoughtful gift to encourage us along in our letter writing: a book of Purple Heart stamps. This gift meant so much to us. It means 20 letters will be going out to 20 veterans in the next couple of days! Few things make me more excited.

Thank you Saunders Family for your creativity and practical generosity!!

Currahee!

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Last week the girls and I were up in Toccoa, Georgia, for Currahee Military Weekend. 

In my experience, Toccoa is one of America's most delightful hidden gems. It's one of the only places I can think of in our country where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the WWII Paratroopers and (for a brief time), re-live how it was during the war.

Local veteran, Dewitt Loudermilk holding a newspaper clipping about his service as an Engineer in WWII.

Local veteran, Dewitt Loudermilk holding a newspaper clipping about his service as an Engineer in WWII.

If you are up for it, you can run the mountain where our boys trained; visit the original barracks (currently being rebuilt), the depot where the fresh young men arrived, the museum with remarkable and historical artifacts; and talk to the wonderful folks who were kids at the time and grew up watching the paratroopers make their arrival, train, and depart for overseas... for some of them, never to return.

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The hospitality and genuineness of the people and the wonderful celebration they host each year remembering the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa comes together to make it one of the happiest weekends of the year for me.

Faith and 101st Airborne Veteran, Vince Speranza.

Faith and 101st Airborne Veteran, Vince Speranza.

Thank you to all our Toccoa friends who work so hard to put on such a splendid event!


Recap in Photos

Lady MacRobert's Reply

Lady MacRobert and her three sons.

Lady MacRobert and her three sons.

Here is a story of fortitude for you!

Upon the death of her three sons who had served in the RAF, Lady Rachel MacRobert sponsored a Stirling Bomber to be built and named "MacRobert's Reply."

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"It is my wish, as a mother, to reply in a way my sons would applaud - attack with great fire power, head on and hard. The amount of £25,000 is to buy a bomber aircraft to continue my sons' work in the most effective way. This expresses my feelings on receiving notice about my sons … Let the bomber serve where there is the most need of her and may luck be with those who fly her. If I had 10 sons, I know they all would have done service for their country."

But the lady's mission did not finish there. She went on to sponsor Four Hawker Hurricanes, three named after each of her sons, and the fourth entitled: “MacRobert’s Salute to Russia – The Lady”

Lady MacRobert is a magnificent example of the indomitable spirit of the British people during World War Two.


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"The War That Was Almost Forgotten"

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In June, we were treated to a special surprise by Battle of the Bulge veteran, Buck Sloan. From his thick Texas accent down to his shiny black cowboy boots, Buck is the real deal. At 94, he can pluck the guitar and sing a tune that takes you back to the days of the old Westerns. 

Buck and his adorable wife serenaded our group with old classics such as Rag Mop (Ames Brothers), and a few that he had written himself.  


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D-Day Ohio 2018

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For the last 5 years, D-Day Ohio has been one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year. This year our annual trip to Conneaut, Ohio nearly didn't happen, but it was too important for us to miss!

Since 2014, we have built some beautiful friendships with the veterans who gather at this fabulous event each year. 5 years later, health and age has seriously shrunk the ranks of the veterans, and it is our last time seeing some of them. And so, though our time was short this year, the relationships we've made with our Ohio and Pennsylvania vets was without a doubt worth the trip!

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R E E N A C T M E N T | Yes, D-Day Ohio is a reenactment and nearly 2,000 people come in period garb for the war years. But dressing in the style of WWII is also a helpful way of connecting with veterans. The clothing is familiar to them- maybe the dress you wear reminds them of a sister or mother, or in Honor's case, the same uniform and rank as their Navy days.

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A  G R A T E F U L   N A T I O N  |  Four veterans received France's highest award, the French Legion of Honor. During the ceremony, a representative from France, Consul General of France Guillaume Lacroix, gave a heartfelt speech thanking the veterans for the sacrifices they made for his country. To be honest... sometimes the politicians who grant these awards tend to ramble on about a million different things. But this time, I was captivated by his sincerity and genuine. It was a beautiful ceremony.

To read more about the legion of Honor Ceremony, France in the United States
Consulate General of France in Chicago:


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A  S I L V E R  S T A R | One of the happy surprises of Conneaut was to see my friend, Major Turner, again! Back in June, I went with the Major and The Best Defense Foundation to Normandy for the 74th Anniversary. Over the course of the 10 day trip, I was incredibly impressed by Major Turner. At 99, he is independent, strong, and always carried himself like a complete gentleman. 

During World War Two, Major Turner served as an Engineer platoon leader with the 2nd Armored Division in Europe. Though he tells everyone he fought the war from a jeep and never fired a shot, it should be known that he received the Silver Star for meritorious actions during a particular engagement with the Germans when he (then a lieutenant I believe) and his men were clearing a roadblock under heavy from the enemy. The Silver Star is the third highest medal that can be awarded a United States serviceman.


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S U P E R  S E N I O R S | Richard C. is one of my favorite examples of a super senior. He is 87 and still rides his motorcycle from Ohio to Florida every fall. I'm sure his vibrant Italian personality has something to do with that.

He also carries photos with him from his time in Korea with the 8th Armored Division, 155 Self Propelled Gun [Tanker], because one time a lady told him he didn't look old enough. "And I most certainly was!" he declared.

I hope we can all enjoy our lives the way Richard does - to the max.


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I N   C O M E S  T H E  C A V A L R Y | Anyone who has met Al Klugiewicz knows what I mean when I say he is a gem. 102 years old and he still drives (he got his license renewed at 100), he can sing you countless old Polish songs, play the ukelele, and I can always count on him for solid boyfriend and marriage advice.

Something else special about Al... he is also one of the very last of the US Cavalry Corps. Yes, the horse cavalrymen. A few years ago he told us his job was to work the radios - on horseback. It wasn't too difficult once you got used to it. In 1938, after 4 years service, he was discharged, but he re-enlisted once again in February 1941. When war came around he fought with the 83rd Infantry Division all through Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

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Catching up with him on Saturday, Al showed me a photo from his recent unit reunion, cutting a rug out on the dance floor. A moment later when I pulled out my lipstick to reapply, he told me not to over do it. "Girls always put too much on," he said. "Would you like some?" I joked, offering it to him. "No," said Al. "I only wear Cavalry yellow."


If you've never been to D-Day Ohio, put it on your to-do list. You'll be so glad.


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