Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary stories

My mother was a 16-year-old living near Tokyo when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The war seemed far away to a teenager busy working to help support the family, but soon she was following radio broadcasts to hear of bombs dropped and damage to the enemy, but nothing was said about damage done by the enemy. Soon, however, things got bad. . .

My local newspaper has started publishing articles about WWII, readying for the Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary date of December 7, this Wednesday. A story carried today (by Michael Ruane and the Washington Post) features Ensign Wesley Hoyt Ruth, pilot of a small, brightly colored amphibious plane used to transport mail, Navy photographers, and sailors around Hawaii. The plane and Ensign Ruth were commissioned immediately after the attack to scout for the Japanese fleet nearby–a death sentence for those in the silver, orangey-yellow propeller plane with a bright green tail. Fortunately for the 4-man crew, whose only defense consisted of WWI-era rifles they pointed out the windows, they did not spot the enemy ships and warplanes and survived the return to land amidst nervous US military men ready to shoot down anything suspicious. Mr. Ruth died last year at age 101, but his stories of that day live in videotaped accounts and with the old plane hangared in storage for the Smithsonian and awaiting maintenance and restoration—someday.

If you know someone still living from the WWII era, ask for their stories. Even civilians have interesting stories, like rationing and Victory gardening and diving under school desks for the bomb drills. Many elderly people have loved my mother’s memoir, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, because even though she was the enemy’s child, many of her stories sound very familiar to them.


PS: Also in the paper is how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has been collecting photos to go with the names of all those on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. “People see the names, but behind every name there is a face and a story,” said Heidi Zimmerman, spokesperson. See the Wall of Faces website to submit a photo if you have one of a soldier who was killed in the Vietnam War. They are missing quite a few photos.


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Lights Out – a memoir of life in Cuba before and during Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro is dead. I can’t say RIP. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Lights Out:  A Cuban Memoir of Betrayal and Survival by Dania Rosa Nasca. Dania spent her childhood in Cuba under Castro and despises him for what he did to her homeland and her family. Her parents supported Castro’s revolution to depose Fulgencio Batista’s harsh rule and supposedly end dictatorship. Batista may have been a controlling dictator, but life was still good for the people, although it is likely things were going downhill due to corruption.

A charismatic Castro promised to bring back “the rule of law established by the republic’s constitution,” and became the people’s savior. Instead, he imposed a totalitarian government. Dania’s mother was traumatized by this betrayal and its effects and then by leaving her beloved elderly mother and other family behind to escape in 1970 on a US-sponsored Freedom Flight. She gave her children a better life, but was left mourning the past, “Mi Cubita, mi Cubita, how I loved you and how I lost you.”

I wanted to read Lights Out because I didn’t know much about Cuba, and the country is in the news these days due to renewing relations with the US after years of embargo to punish Castro. Of course, Castro wasn’t hurt by the embargo but his people were. Dictators and their henchmen always live well while the regular people suffer. Ms. Nasca details how a diverse population and thriving economy (based on sugar cane) spiraled down under Castro, while he touted to the world Cuba’s healthcare improvements and racial harmony.  According to Ms. Nasca, the healthcare improvements were for the elite followers while already good healthcare for the masses disintegrated. And racial harmony had existed before, but now “Judas goats” were spying on others regardless of race and reporting “bad” behavior to the authorities in return for favors.

Lights Out was a fast read for me, fascinating and unpleasant to learn how Castro fooled his followers and how communism works—or doesn’t. How more people might have escaped on Freedom Flights except they didn’t want to abandon their young male relatives who were all forbidden to leave. Dania combines her own childhood experiences with stories from her family and friends and with lots of research (sources documented in the end notes). She is definitely bitter at the loss of what Cuba once was, before Castro’s takeover in 1959. I did a little research of my own to find complicated Cuba was not all rosy before, but Castro definitely turned things dark. He won’t be forgotten, but now there is a light of hope as his brother Raul may feel more free to implement more changes to unburden his people.

“Soon there will be no one to remember the character of our street or of Cuba before Castro.” With her memoir, Lights Out, Dania has done her part to capture the lived history and culture of a country she and her family loved long ago. I highly recommend reading this book.

Gloria Estefan on Fidel Castro’s death
Reactions to Fidel Castro’s death


Perhaps a light of hope now for the Cuban people

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Veterans Day – honoring service and memories

Veterans Day is coming up – this Friday, November 11. The Battlefield Doc and I will be at a VFW post for breakfast and book signing. Doc loves to chat with other veterans, sharing where they were and what they did in the military and swapping stories. I watched the PBS documentary “Battle of Chosin” last week and was astonished to see all the combat video they had of the Korean War. Video that let me hear the horns and bugles of the Chinese attacking in the night, and the winter wind blowing down from Manchuria – brrr. Video and still photos that showed the horrors of what Americans and Chinese and Koreans lived and died through. Some of the survivors were interviewed, and many began to cry, even after all these years.

We need to see and to read about what our military men and women in combat areas go through. Six of our military men died last week, one in training stateside and the others in dangerous places overseas. We in our heated and cooled homes, sitting well-fed in our comfy chairs, need to be reminded now and then that we have survivors in our midst, many suffering PTSD, who deserve our respect and good medical care. Whether our veterans were in combat or not, they gave of themselves to our country, and the lucky ones lived to tell about it.

Doc said that often when he and his friend go out to eat, someone in the restaurant will buy their meal, sometimes anonymously. Doc wears his Korean War cap and his buddy is an elder veteran, too. Doc did not get any medals, but I’m glad he gets respect for all he did saving lives during that awful war.

On Veterans Day, set out your flag and listen to the stories.


Doc talking to a reporter at his author event at the Kirkwood Public Library




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