The 10th of Tevet

Slide1.jpg

The Battle of the Bulge was the last-ditch offensive action of Germany during World War II. American troops were caught unprepared on front lines which stretched from Belgium and France onto the German border, called the Siegfried line.

Western_Front_Ardennes_1944.jpg

 

The America troops had little battle experience. They were told the by US intelligence sources which were monitoring German communications that it would be a ‘Ghost Front’ – and there would be no trouble.

On December 12-15 the weather shifted. Snow and fog made the perfect cover for a German advance of SS troops. These were Germany’s most experienced fighters.

yhst-89988323165017_2268_226390009.jpeg

The 106th American Infantry, called the Golden Lions (shoulder insignia above) had one division spread over a thin 26 mile line. The most the military manuals ever suggested was a five mile line.

This prepared them for disaster…

On December 16th the German forces were spotted.

The 106th held off the German advance for nearly three days, earning them the legendary title, ‘The Lions of St. Vith’.

December 19th – two divisions of the Golden Lions were surrounded by the Germans and were ordered by their American commander to surrender.

December 19th – 7,000 American soldiers became prisoners of Germany.

Two thousand of these men went to Bad Orb, Germany.

They arrived the day after Christmas, 1944.

Of these two thousand, 350 were selected for the slave labor camp of Berga, because they were Jewish, or appeared Jewish, according to their SS captors.

Of these 350 men – sixty-three survived Berga.

Holocaust Remembrance Day on the Jewish calendar is the 10th of Tevet. This year, the 10th of Tevet falls on December 28. It is a day of mourning, fasting and prayer.

In 1944, the 10th of Tevet fell on December 26th.

The following is a fictionalized account of the above history from a longer draft of my novel, Red Trouble.

For a fair warning – its a war story – the excerpt contains language and violence.

(All rights reserved.)

 

The 10th of Tevet: A Red Trouble Excerpt

by A. R. Mitchell

 

Front Lines

Near St. Vith Belgium

December 19, 1944

            We crawled forward on our bellies through the snow and muck. The ice was thin and couldn’t hold our weight. Our uniforms froze with the water from the creek bed, our exhaustion making it more difficult to move. The ice made us cold. The mud made it impossible for us to move.

Bullets flew our over our heads. We kept low in the trench.

The trench grew deeper and we seemed to be skirting a hillside on our right and a plain on our left. Another shot. It could have been friendly fire. None of us knew at this point. Broder stopped crawling.

“Broder!”

He held up his hand and moved to his pocket, carefully unfolding a map. I crawled up beside him. “Where are we?”

“The Howitzer guns should be out there.”

I took a chance to peek over the edge.

Someone saw movement and fired.

I hit the dirt. “They were out there.”

“Were?”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “I saw a couple of burnt tires and a mangled pipe barrel.”

“Damn.” Broder’s voice cracked.

We both took another look.

There were uniforms coming. Dark uniforms silhouetted against the fog and smoke which bled through the trees. The helmets had a flat brim and hung down over the back of their skulls.

These were not American soldiers.

 

They met us before we could run, shoving their bayoneted rifles in our faces. They demanded our weapons.

Broder looked toward me and nodded, reluctantly laying down his rifle. “Name, rank and serial number. That’s all.”

I nodded in reply, placing the pistol on the ground before me and raising my hands above my head.

The two men argued for a moment.

Broder whispered to me, “They’re debating if they’re going to shoot us or not.”

The one snarled at us and knocked Broder to the ground. He got back to his feet, rage in his eyes.

“March!” the one ordered us.

We kept our hands high and our eyes on the ground.

 

The snow was past my boots in some places, and as the Nazis marched us onward, it was clear that our situation was becoming more and more desperate by the mile. We joined with another unit of ragtag prisoners. These were Americans too… among the men, I spotted numerous insignia, not just my own.

Men from the 100th, the 29th, the 28th, and the 99th American infantries were huddled against the cold, looks of hard resolve on their young faces. We had yet to set into the unbalanced confusion and blatant torture which would become our lives for the next few months. Right now we were angry.

We clomped down the road, many of us unable to feel our feet as the temperature dropped and we were forced to keep going. The enemy offered us no water. If they had we would have spit it in their faces. We’d grown used to the cold. It was that night I remembered that I’d left my shelter half in the woods of Belgium, near Snow Plateau.

Somehow, when I’d bolted from the enemy, it hadn’t seemed important. It wasn’t important now either… I tried to remind myself as we kept walking.

We walked. Walked. And kept walking.

We marched in a loose formation of tired men lead by our German captors for nearly three days.

Then they showed us the boxcars.

 

Boxcars are for livestock. They are for animals. Animals which are not housebroken, need to be contained, and are beasts which cannot understand that they are being taken to provide for others. Usually in the form cattle being slaughtered.

People do not belong in boxcars.

Even in the desperate times of the 1930s, when jobs were few and starvation was all too common, and men were jumping into boxcars to ride the rails in search of jobs… only a dozen or so ever sat in a boxcar. We all knew the dangers and had heard the stories of hobos ending up in filled grain cars, or being thrown off trains by the railroad police. But even then, those were men who had no other choice.

Now, we had a choice: Get in the boxcars, or die.

 

They packed us into the boxcars. Packed us like meat. We had yet to realize that they did not view us as an enemy – they viewed us as something less than an enemy. But that realization would come later, after weeks of humiliation.

Looking back, the boxcars were when it all started….

 

We were crammed into them, and then locked into darkness. Guys were coughing at the heat, others were starting to realize our situation. The deadbolt on the boxcar’s door brought it home to me.

It was like hearing the nails hammered into your own coffin.

And then the whispers began.

“Where are they taking us?”

“I’ve heard of them doing this to Jews before killing them.”

“But we’re not Jewish.”

“Some of us are.”

“They can’t do that… can they?”

“No. They can’t do that. We’re American soldiers. In uniform. Its in the Geneva convention.”

We heard a train whistle and felt the car rock forward with a slow motion pull. Most of us were exhausted. Several fell into each other.

I was crushed against a wall for a moment.

I fought for a breath.

The young man on top me righted himself. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Great. Even in the dark he could tell I was older than him. “It’s all right,” I replied.

“How many of us are here?” Broder spoke from the darkness. I recognized his accent. From what I could tell, he was nearest the door. “I’ll start the count. Tap the guy next to you for the next sound off. One!”

“Two!”

“Three!”

“Four!

“Five!”

We got up to a hundred and twenty.

One hundred and twenty men inside a boxcar built for fifty cattle.

I could barely move my feet. My shoulders were pinched into the corner and I could feel the train rocking me sideways, each moment slamming my shoulders into the corners of the boxcar.

The air inside grew hot. So hot that the inside of the boxcars dripped with condensation like a glass of beer on a hot day. I took a breath.

Then the young man who’d bumped into me threw up.

That was the beginning of the sickness.

If the boxcars had started the dehumanizing treatment, wearing someone else’s stomach acid was like graduation at basic training.

Some of the guys in the car were upset. The smell lingered. Not just on me, but it filtered around the car, causing more sickness.

Broder pushed his way through the crowd. “C’mon son.” He led the kid to spot against the wall. “There’s a crack here –”

“I can’t see it.”

“That’s because it after dark,” Broder explained. “Breathe in the cold air, then step aside so it can come in.” He called over the noise of the train, so all could hear. “Joes, if you’ve got a loose board, or if you’re close to the walls see if you can get some of the boards off. We’ve got to get some air in here, or it’ll be… worse than it already is.”

What Broder hadn’t said, was that if we didn’t get better air flow, we’d suffocate. I knew this because I’d been in bank vaults. I’d learned to hold my breath, but that wouldn’t stop the suffocation.

 

We forced several boards loose over the next few hours. I found a floorboard and started working with it. Anything to keep my mind busy. Anything to keep all of us from our fears. We’d been trained for battle. But they’d never spoken of this….

 

There was a low buzzing noise.

“What’s that?” one of the men asked.

“Sounds like one of our bomber planes,” another answered.

“That’s what I thought too.”

“Think they’re coming to get us out?”

The roaring of the plane was so close it made our chest cavities thunder. We starting yelling and banging on the walls, screaming and calling out to the crew. It didn’t make sense that they’d hear us – but we did what we could to produce our own miracles in those days.

And we heard screaming of a different sort.

“They’re dropping bombs!”

The train car shook and shuddered.

We felt the ground trembling. We heard the screaming and the whoosh of the explosions. We saw the fire flashes and felt the heat. This went on the whole night.

 

By day we grew sicker. By night we were bombed. Hurling and dysentery were common. We never got medical attention or even water. We had some straw. When that ran out, letters from home were used as toilet paper.

I had no one to write me letters.

I leaned in the corner.

Most of us were too weak to stand. Others had dropped from exhaustion.

The bombs continued to rain.

There were some of us on the floor who were dead.

Whether it was exhaustion or suffocation we didn’t know.

Broder didn’t even stop to check.

“Is this how things are supposed to be?” a young man finally asked.

“My sarge said ‘only to give them your name, rank, and serial number.’”

“They haven’t asked us that.”

“They never even spoke to me.”

“They arrested everyone in my unit…”

“Officers?”

“Yeah. They put them on a different train… I think. Not sure.”

“Nobody’s sure of much.”

“I’ve heard rumors…”

“I thought they were quitting.”

“The Nazis?”

“Yeah.”

“Then we won’t have long to wait.”

“Wait for what..?”

“Wait for rescue. We’ll be all right.”

The bombing started again.

That was the only reason we knew what time it was. We could identify the planes and determine if they were British or American. The British bombed at night, the Americans during the day.

“Why are they trying to kill us!?” one soldier cried. “Don’t they know!?”

“Its these damned boxcars! They can’t tell if we’re prisoners and their own countrymen! They think we’re supplies for the enemy.”

He started to weep. The weeping turned into a howl. I knew if something wasn’t done then everyone would either gang up and kill the kid, or we’d all be crying without restraint or resolve.

Someone picked the kid up and pulled him through the crowd. “C’mon soldier.”

The floor was slick with dysentery. Each step had to be carefully navigated in order to not fall and be injured or accidentally trampled. The quiet voiced man pulled the crying younger man into the darkness. “C’mon soldier. Come with me. I’m Chaplain Mac Lawrence. We’ll talk… The rest of you… Sing Christmas carols. Its December 25th.”

A murmur of wonder and shock sounded throughout the car.

“Is it really Christmas, Chap?”

“By my logbook it is,” Chaplain Lawrence replied. “Been trying to keep a record since we were captured.”

“Christmas sermon, Chap?” the young man asked.

“Sing a couple a Christmas carols first,” Chaplain Lawrence assured us. “I’m sorry I don’t know anything Jewish.”

“That’s all right, Chap,” Broder replied. “We know all of yours. And we could use some divine company…”

“Divine company…” the chap mused. “Emmanuel – God with us.”

From the back of the boxcar a Joe with a baritone voice started off in a mellow haunting tune, “Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in exile here; Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to you, O Israel!”

I remembered the song from childhood. So did a lot of the other Joes. The bombs rained down in defiance of our celebration, but defiance was going to become our lifeline.

 

Somewhere in Germany

December, 26th 1944

Day 3 of Traveling inside the Boxcars

 

In the silence between the bombing raids and dawn I heard, a quiet realization from the man next to me. “If yesterday was December 25, then today is the 10th of Tevet.”

“What’s that?” one of the other Joes asked.

“It’s a day of fasting, mourning and prayer for repentance,” the first man explained. “It commemorates the day that the King of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem in 425 B.C.”

“Just what are we repenting from?” a third voice sneered. “All I did was kill some damned Nazis!”

Other voices broke out. It was a mix of reverence, sadness and pure rage.

I stood in the corner… knowing what was coming. Our tempers were short from the lack of humanity we’d experienced. We’d been taught to fight, and that was what we did.

The second man cracked the Joe next to me across the jaw. I heard the noise of another few getting slammed into each other. A scuffle was breaking out.

Some moved out of the way.

Others joined in.

I could just barely see one man was on the floor. The other was pounding him. Three others had gathered, yelling and cheering them on.

“ENOUGH!” Broder yelled, shoving his way through the fight. “Save your energy and anger! We as people choose how we react – and the whole damn world chose ways that resulted in suffering.” He pushed the two men from each other, holding them at arms’ length, standing between them. “You – as individuals – choose how you react! Dammit! Man up! Our enemies are the ones who put us in here! Not each other!”

Suddenly, the boxcar lurched to a halt.

We paused, staring up at the darkened ceiling, listening for planes. We heard nothing.

Then there were shouts outside. The language was German.

Our hopes of rescue fell.

The chaplain offered up a quick prayer as we struggled to right ourselves from the jolt. On a good day, it wouldn’t have bothered us. But this was not a good day. There had been no good days since we’d been taken prisoner.

It hurt to flex my knees. I’d had them locked for nearly three days. The muscles were stiff and the joints protested with cracking.

Broder was first to speak after the chaplain’s ‘Amen.’ “Remember… only name, rank and serial number… They can’t do anything else to us. We’re protected under the laws of the Geneva convention. We are to be treated humanely.”

______

Red Trouble will be released early 2018.

 

This past September, I was privileged to meet a veteran of the 106th. He spoke at the yearly Eisenhower Farm’s World War II weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The World War II reenacting unit that I am currently a member of portrays the 106th Infantry, the Golden Lions, every year to commemorate the Battle of the Bulge at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. See the link for more information.

 

Other sources include:

 

Battle of the Bulge Information

Battle of the Bulge – US Army Center of Military History: https://history.army.mil/html/reference/bulge/index.html

 

106th Infantry Information

The Desperate Hours: http://usdefensewatch.com/2015/11/the-desperate-hours-the-demise-of-the-106th-infantry-division-during-the-opening-desperate-hours-of-the-battle-of-the-bulge/

The 106th Infantry Division – History Research Remembrance: http://106thinfantry.webs.com/historyofthe106th.htm 

Saddles and Sabers: Timeline of St. Vith: http://www.benning.army.mil/armor/eARMOR/content/issues/2014/OCT_DEC/Timeline.html 

106th Insignia: https://www.militaryvetspx.com/10diremipa3.html

106th Prisoner of War: Originally from the National Archives, can be found throughout the internet.

 

Prisoner of War Information

Berga Prisoner of War Camp: http://www.indianamilitary.org/German%20PW%20Camps/Prisoner%20of%20War/PW%20Camps/Berga/History.htm

Berta: Soldiers of Another War, produced by Charles Guggenheim: https://www.amazon.com/Berga-Soldiers-Another-Charles-Guggenheim/dp/B0006H4DD2/ref=pd_sim_14_3?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=71GAPHM86DCY45XG0BWB 

Given Up For Dead, by Flint Whitlock: https://www.amazon.com/Given-Up-Dead-American-Concentration/dp/0465091156

Soldiers and Slaves: American POWS Trapped by the Nazis’ Final Gamble, by Roger Cohen: https://www.amazon.com/Soldiers-Slaves-American-Trapped-Gamble/dp/0385722311/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=VMY6CZ3H8N13WXSTW4B9

Guests of the Third Reich: http://guestsofthethirdreich.org/capture/

Hitler’s GI Death Camp: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/explorer/articles/facts-hitlers-gi-death-camp/

 

Hebrew Calendar/ 10th of Tevet Information

What is the 10th of Tevet: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tenth-of-tevet/

Jewish Calendar: http://www.jewfaq.org/calendar.htm

10th of Tevet Dates/ Conversions: http://www.hebcal.com/hebcal/?year=1944&v=1&month=x&yt=G&nx=on&i=off&vis=0&D=on&d=on&c=off&geo=zip&maj=on&min=on&mod=on and https://www.hebcal.com/hebcal/?year=2017&v=1&month=x&yt=G&nx=on&o=on&vis=on&d=on&c=off&maj=on&min=on&mod=on#cal-2017-12

 

World War II Living History/Reenacting Links:

National Park Service Eisenhower Farm – World War II Weekend: https://www.nps.gov/eise/planyourvisit/event-details.htm?event=C50DC83A-155D-451F-67FAC14CBFF20E3B

World War II Historical Association: Battle of the Bulge Commemoration: http://www.wwiiha.org/index.php/battle-bulge/public-information

 

Other Links:

Other Red Trouble Excerpts: (Its changed a lot since this draft. – Fair warning.) https://damselflyonabookshelf.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/surprise-story-part-1-red-trouble/

O Come, Oh Come Emmanuel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD-jBLZSZNU

History of the Hymn O Come, Oh Come Emmanuel: http://www.aproundtable.org/history-blog/blog.cfm?ID=880&AUTHOR_ID=9

 

 

Advertisements

Author Update

Breathe.

I need to breathe.

Since taking a break to finish Red Trouble… I find myself more busy than before.

Gazoodles of things have happened, except the one thing I wanted to finish: Red Trouble.

Grrr….

I’m still writing, but I feel like a little spider trying to build a web on a blustery day. The anchor points are waaaaay too far apart and people keep walking through my web doing crazy dance moves slapping themselves and screaming, breaking my concentration.

1e2d8d0ad0d5823bfa358c6d6e452839.jpg

 

I am still doing living history. My next event is the end of January… commemorating the Battle of the Bulge. Which I found out the lead character from Red Trouble experienced. My grandfather almost went through that battle, but was sent home three days before it began.

According to my blog posts I haven’t posted since July.

I can’t believe it has been that long.

Lets see…

August

I took a break to finish Red Trouble. And visit some museums. I was in Philadelphia visiting the Penn Museum, then Philadelphia Free Library on a exhibit dealing with the history of detective fiction. It went from Poe to the modern police procedurals, with a large section devoted to the 1930s detective fiction I love so much.

Becoming the Detective

October

I skipped town for a weekend and ended up at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Now, the Jersey Shore may not be the most exciting place to visit, but Sandy Hook has been a military base since the mid 1800s. The lighthouse on the island is the oldest still operating in the nation. Also, nearby about forty-five minutes south is the Info-Age Museum. It’s built on the site of one of Marconi’s first radio towers.

Guglielmo Marconi, fun piece of radio history, was the man who popularized radio and really made the technology of radio available to the people… paving the way for 1920s and 1930s radio entertainment. Some of his technology is even used in cell phones.

Sandy Hook – Fort Hancock

AKA for me and my enthusiasm… Bunker Beach.

102_7226.JPG

A few of the bunkers on the tame side of Sandy Hook. The side with the Atlantic Ocean is right out of the original Planet of the Apes. I was seriously doing some Indiana Jones adventuring through the beachside holly forests.

 

102_7283.jpg

The seaside holly forest. The beach and the Atlantic Ocean are less than a football field away from this location.

 

102_7578.JPG

A collapsed bunker on the Atlantic side of the island.

InfoAge Museum – Please Visit!!!! So freakin’ awesome! – I had limited amount of time, so I didn’t take many photographs. I do want to return, so if you’re into military history or retro-tech… Its a three and a half hour drive from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I have a jeep and if you buy gasoline… we’ll visit again. I’m visiting there again anyway… regardless of who comes with me. One of the perks of being an only child is that you learn to have fun solo.

November

I finally got Red Trouble done. On Veterans Day. Which is just awesome… considering that the main characters are veterans. And whenever I publish a book, you can bet that some of those copies make it overseas to the troops through Operation Paperback. I know at least one navy ship has a copy of my short story collection, Goldlust. Squee! Yay! Hope those who’ve read it are enjoying it! (Reviews on amazon are helpful too! – Shameless plugging – Yep. That’s the independent author life.)

Operation Paperback – Learn More Here!!!

And onto Red Trouble….

Red Trouble cover final.jpeg

The first two chapters are up on Wattpad. To read them, follow the link here.

December

I started the editing process… again… for the third?… fifth…?… seventeen hundredth…. time. Ugh. Its exhausting. My editor, my mother, who needs to be sainted because she is the bestower of proper English and translator of my semi-convoluted and bungled English punctuation. (I know what I’m saying… I’m sorry you don’t…. what do you mean…? …Did I forget to add that? What do you mean that piece of military history isn’t common knowledge? What? People don’t know that?)

I also have yet to find a free editing software which attacks comma placement. It would make editing soooooooooooo much easier.

Along with that I discovered that I have actually written two or three novels into one book called Red Trouble. Currently, I’m taking apart the two or three stories and putting them back together is…. Interesting. And frustrating.

However befuddled my brain may be… and caffeine isn’t helping… I am still working. I still have goals. I am still a writer.

I’m hoping to have Red Trouble done in January.

In the meantime, I’m on Wattpad. Its a free social media platform for readers and authors. I’ve got four stories up – including an Indiana Jones fan fiction – The Sidenstrasse Tapestry.

Yeah. For those of you who insist it… Someday I’ll grow up. But this is not that year.

Don’t hold your breath for next year either.

 

Sources and Links

Becoming the Detective information page: https://libwww.freelibrary.org/programs/detectives/exhibitions#parkway

Sandy Hook: https://www.nps.gov/gate/learn/historyculture/hancock.htm

InfoAge Museum: http://infoage.org

Goldlust: https://www.amazon.com/Goldlust-Short-Collection-R-Mitchell/dp/1533318417

Operation Paperback: http://www.operationpaperback.org

Wattpad Link to Red Trouble: https://www.wattpad.com/story/123196199-red-trouble (You may have to sign in, or create an account but they don’t send too many notifications or constantly fill your inbox with emails. Its also free. Unfortunately, a lot of the works have questionable content, so consumer be aware.)

Wattpad Link to The Sidenstrasse Tapestry: https://www.wattpad.com/story/97616838-the-sidenstrasse-tapestry-an-indiana-jones-fan (You may have to sign in, or create an account but they don’t send too many notifications or constantly fill your inbox with emails. Its also free. Unfortunately, a lot of the works have questionable content, so consumer be aware.)

“This is not Enough…”

It’s been a year since I first published my short story collection, Goldlust.

Yes. A full year on July 13.

I’m rather shocked.

Part of me… the driving critical monster of perfectionism demands that this is not enough. I should be further along.

Only half of that is true –

“This is not enough…”

No. Goldlust’s twenty short stories are not enough.

Those short stories were never meant to be the full collection.

Goldlust is simply a springboard.

So, for July and possibly August – I will take a break from blogging with intent of completing Red Trouble by September 2017.

No. This is not enough… There are many more stories to tell.

 

World War II Stories from Carville

Last week I mentioned the National Hansen’s Disease Museum located at Carville, Louisiana. And this week, I promised you World War II stories from those that were living there.

Recap: Hansen’s Disease is more commonly known as leprosy. The name was changed because of the fears and stigma attached to the disease. Its caused by a bacterial infection in the skin. Limbs and appendages do not fall off – they have to be amputated because of nerve damage. Throughout most of history, Hansen’s disease was thought to be highly contagious. It was especially dangerous because doctors did not know how it spread, and there was no successful treatment for it until the 1940s. Even then, the drug therapy used was experimental. Those with Hansen’s were often treated as outcasts to society because of fear.

On to the World War II stories…

In President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speech, there is a mention of Guam, the Philippines and several other areas of the Pacific being invaded by the Japanese. While the history books tend to focus on the sneak attack of the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – there were multiple attacks of blitzkrieg caliber occurring across the world.

As the Japanese forces rushed in, occupying  these small Pacific Islands, Allied troops were left behind, along with the native populations. Overnight things went from an island paradise to a hellish occupation…

Spy games and intelligence gathering had been present prior to World War I… but the main focus had been the Germans. Now the tactic had to change and that’s where ‘Joey’ came in.

Joey

lat_leper092516_18016434_8col.jpg

Josefina Guerrero used the isolation and fear from Hansen’s disease to help her gather intelligence and smuggle information back to the Americans. Because there was such a fear of leprosy, the Japanese forces never searched her… even when she had photographs, maps and other top secret intelligence hidden in her clothing. She is hinted at in Johnny P. Harmon’s book, ‘King of Microbes,’ detailing his life at Carville but Johnny does not mention her by name – because she asked him not to.

Fortunately, author Ben Montgomery tracked down the full details of ‘Joey’s’ life and The Leper Spy: The Story of an Unlikely Hero from World War II was published.

51myjMGB6TL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

US Army chaplains found her after the war and petitioned the US government to allow her to come to America, despite her disease. She was able to receive treatment at Carville, married another Carville patient, and was also awarded the Medal of Freedom for her work during World War II.

 

The Hornbostels

6867812435_6c6eba850c_b.jpg

I mentioned that spying had been going on in the Pacific since World War I…

Well, its time for you to meet the real Indiana Jones: Hans Hornbostel

Hans Hornbostel was an American who spoke German fluently. In the early 1900s he traveled to the Mariana Islands to spy on the local German population. He figured out who the spy was – fell in love and married the spy’s daughter, Gertrude!

Hans and Gertrude were archaeologists who specialized in the ancient culture of the people of Guam. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s they worked as archaeologists excavating in Guam and were instrumental in building the collections of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Hawaii.

According to family history, when Hans heard war had broken out, he walked two weeks through the jungle at age 60 to Manila, where he tried to enlist in the Marines. They told him he was too old, and so he went and joined the Army.

He was captured by the Japanese that April, where he survived the Bataan Death March and was liberated from Cabanatuan, a notorious Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945. He was sixty-four years old.

Gertrude had spent the war in a prison camp as well, where she had contracted leprosy. One year after the war’s end she was diagnosed and she chose to get treatment at Carville.

Hans followed. He wanted to live there with her, but the policies at Carville wouldn’t allow it. His devotion to Gertrude, the untreatable disease, and his status as a World War II hero, sparked national headlines and newspapers began sensationalist press… often filled with misinformation about Hansen’s Disease.

Those in the newspaper business at Carville, publishers of their newspaper ‘The Star’ fired right back – correcting the false reports and for the first time had a national audience who was interested in their condition.

Hans ended up staying at a local farmhouse near Carville, but spent most of his waking hours with Gertrude. Her leprosy was under control through drug treatment and she was cleared to leave Carville in 1949.

For the rest of their lives the Hornbostels continued to be active supporters of patients’ rights, especially those at Carville. Hans passed away in 1957 and Gertrude followed him in 1982. They had four children.

 

Sources:

For Joey….

King of Microbes. Johnny P. Harmon. (Out of print, a few copies are around. The museum at Carville has a copy.)

Photograph 1: Josefina Guerrero: Leper Spy of the Philippines. http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/josefina-guerrero

The Leper Spy: https://www.amazon.com/Leper-Spy-Story-Unlikely-World/dp/1613734301

 

For the Hornbostels…

Photo: http://www.guampedia.com/gertrude-and-hans-hornbostel/

Biographical information: http://www.guampedia.com/gertrude-and-hans-hornbostel/ and http://www.guampedia.com/gertrude-costenoble-hornbostel/

Family history: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/568506/posts

The source I first discovered this story in: The Star, v12n5 (dated 1953) pg 6.  http://www.louisianadigitallibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15140coll52/id/3175/rec/12

Colonizing Leprosy: (details the Hornbostels’ efforts and the national newspaper’s reactions and how The Star newspaper at Carville helped educate the general public. http://www.louisianadigitallibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15140coll52/id/3175/rec/12

 

 

 

 

Carville, Louisiana

On my adventures through the state of Louisiana I rented a car and drove to a small historical site between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The history hunter in me had devised a plan… Yes I would fulfill people’s expectation of doing a plantation tour. Its what every tourist does when they visit the Antebellum South – but I wasn’t going to visit the ‘typical’ plantation.

I visited Carville: The National Hansen’s Disease Museum.

Its on a Louisiana National Guard base, so no photos were allowed. Fortunately, the internet has everything and there are photographs of Carville.

tumblr_lpy0ohBRih1r16rawo1_1280.jpg

What is Hansen’s Disease?

Leprosy.

(I’ll include a photograph of leprosy/Hansen’s disease at the bottom of the page in order to prevent gross out.)

Leprosy – That awful disease without a cure, which left people blind and lame, was rumored to cause body parts to fall off and caused complete and total isolation for those who suffered from it. People who contracted leprosy were thought to be under a curse, those who had angered God or other deities and for the health of the whole community had to banished.

Completely banished from society. They simply ceased to exist.

Imagine, thrown from your home, your village, everyone you knew denying you. You were sent outside of the city to die – wondering not only what would happen to you, and how you’d survive – but what you did to deserve such an awful affliction.

You would never receive any form of affection, or even a handshake. Often people suffering from the disease would have to cry out ‘UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!’ or wear bells to announce themselves and for people to get out of the way – Beware, they might get it too!

This goes back to ancient times. That’s why in the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth healing the lepers was a huge event. (Even though the Greek word for leprosy includes other skin diseases of the time – not just leprosy.)

It was renamed Hansen’s disease because those with leprosy did not want the past reputation of the disease to impact their future, once a cure was found. So, the disease of leprosy was renamed after Dr. Hansen – who had taken the first steps to liberating those suffering from leprosy by identifying it – not as a curse, or a result of sin – but as a skin infection caused by a microbe.

Carville was established in 1894 at an old sugar cane plantation along the Mississippi River. It was extremely convenient because those newly diagnosed could be quickly taken to quarantine and disappeared before the proper people in society could hear of their misfortune. In 1921, according to federal law, other patients were brought to Carville from several of the other leprosariums throughout the country.

Carville is the only mainland treatment center for Hansen’s Disease still standing to this day. When the others were closed, they were burned to the ground because until the 1970s there was no cure for the disease.

All the arrivals to Carville knew they were being sentenced to die. Some already had arrived at the plantation in coffins because there was such fear of the disease spreading. They were referred to as inmates, because federal law prevented them from leaving the plantation.

Rather than this being a sad story that ended there – the folks at Carville decided to make the best of what they were given. It took awhile, but a community with its own unique culture and traditions emerged. They had their own baseball team, swimming races, raised livestock and remained self-sufficient, even producing their own version of Mardi Gras.

The staff at Carville consisted of Ursuline Nuns, who at its founding were the only ones brave enough to care for those who’d been exiled from society. Later, other doctors joined them, including a husband and wife team, Drs. Paul and Margaret Brand. She worked as an eye doctor. He studied and created orthotics for use at Carville and later adapted these techniques to diabetes patients.

Hansen’s disease impacts the nerves around the face and eyes. Many patients develop cataracts, if not treated. It also dulls the nerves throughout the body so that the person with Hansen’s disease cannot feel pain. This may not seem awful – but pain is how your body lets you know something is wrong. Dr. Paul Brand records an incident where he saw a person with Hansen’s disease trip over and sprain their own ankle, keep walking and still have no clue that they’d been injured, despite the ankle clearly out of alignment.

Despite being ostracized and feared by outsiders, the people of Carville did not shy away from the outside world. They wanted to interact. Sometimes they’d sneak through the hole in the fence for a weekend on the town. There are numerous reports of couples running away to get married. Others turned to writing, publishing a monthly magazine called The Star. It was subtitled, ‘Radiating the Light of Truth on Hansen’s Disease’. Its still published to this day.

Next week I’ll share some World War II stories from people who were at Carville during or after the war.

 

Sources – (and then the gruesome photos – you’ve been given warnings)

Photograph: http://alongtheriverroad.tumblr.com/post/8928826010/this-property-is-known-as-indian-camp-plantation

More photos and a bit of history: http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/621?tour=55&index=0

A History of Leprosy and how to treat it in modern terms: http://www.medicinenet.com/leprosy/article.htm#leprosy_hansen#39s_disease_facts

American Leprosy Missions: (a timeline of the disease, includes history of Carville and other sites like it) http://www.leprosy.org/leprosy-history/

Documentary of Drs. Paul and Margaret Brand: https://dod.org/programs/hearts-for-the-outcaste-the-story-of-drs-paul-and-margaret-brand-part-i/

Paul Brand’s wikipedia biography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Brand At the bottom it includes a biography in book form, as well as several other books he wrote.

Margaret Brand’s autobiography: https://www.amazon.com/Vision-God-Story-Margaret-Brand/dp/1572931388/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497856851&sr=8-1&keywords=vision+for+god+margaret+brand

National Hansen’s Disease Museum’s webpage: https://www.hrsa.gov/hansensdisease/museum/collections.html

 

 

And the photographs of Hansen’s disease…

Photo 1: http://www.medicaldaily.com/history-leprosy-debilitating-disease-separation-photos-332998

Note the scaley looking stuff on the face – that’s Hansen’s Disease. You can particularly spot the lesions on his ear. (I started with this one, its the least gross.)

leprosy.jpg

Photo 2: http://scribol.com/science/medicine/the-faces-of-leprosy/3/

Its what remains of a leg and foot after Hansen’s disease.

leprosy1.jpg

Photo 3: http://scribol.com/science/medicine/the-faces-of-leprosy/

the-peacefulman.preview.jpg

 

 

 

D-Day

Eisenhower_d-day.jpg

 

I love this photograph.

Its seventy-three years old as of today.

It features Dwight D. Eisenhower of the Allied Command, during World War II, taken in the final hours before D-Day… the invasion into Europe to take an entire continent back from a country brainwashed and gone to Hell.

The faces of the paratroopers say it all.

Each man intently listening, some excited, some exhausted… and I’m sure there were fears too.

Eisenhower himself had fears, and was prepared to take full responsibility if the invasion failed.

Failure was all too present in their minds because days before, the Allies had sent troops into Italy with disastrous results.

I know, because the invasion of Italy is where the 36th Infantry was serving.

The 36th Infantry members are my reenacting/ living history unit. Our goals are to accurately represent and keep the memories and stories alive of those who served, specifically with the 36th Infantry during World War II. This past weekend, we were at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania.

While the planes and paratroopers get the spotlight, there were thousands if not millions who served and did not show up in famous photographs. Yet, every photograph tells a story.

A story which begs to be told…

Told in something more than snippets in digital media…

Told in full length. Every bloody, ugly, cruddy detail… until there is resolution.

There isn’t always victory or even resolution in real life. But those stories need to be told regardless.

tumblr_mu7ty6gEST1spwf52o1_1280.jpg

World War II.

Italy.

May 30th. 1944.

Seven days before D-Day begins.

This is a sniper from the 36th Infantry.

His face is young. He is serious beyond his years. He’s studying his rifle because that is the only defense he has against the unknown troubles he will be facing in the coming days.

They’re supposed to be going to Rome.

He may or may not know that.

He studies the rifle as one would the face of a lover. Even though he has a wife.

Yes. There’s a wedding band on his hand.

Behind him guys laugh, challenge each other, chuckle and smoke. One sits on a gas can, rolling a cigarette.

And they all wait…

This is where the story begins.

This is where history is made.

History cannot be kept in books. History is about people. These people lived, breathed, walked and wept. And now, all that remains, unless you learn of them and study their faces, are old photographs. And that is not enough.

 

Photographs from:

Eisenhower and Troops: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a26521/

36th Infantry Sniper: http://bag-of-dirt.tumblr.com/post/63209778408/pfc-edward-j-foley-of-methuen-massachusetts-an

Ghost Unit

Memorial Day 2017

Talk to your local veterans. Learn their stories. Listen to them.

Veterans, please speak.

We need to hear of your friends… those left behind. Those you loved as only a warrior can. Those who your live as part of your heart and who’s memories carry on with you.

There is something I see in every veteran’s eye when they speak about those who they’re remembering. And I struggle with how to describe or approach it.

There is also the question of “Why? Why them and not me?”

I’ve tried to capture that in my fiction piece, ‘Ghost Unit’ – from my short story collection released last year, ‘Goldlust’.

 

IMG_1971 - Version 2.jpg

 

Ghost Unit

He was one man covered in what appeared to be shame. His spine curved, hunching his frail body forward while a World War II enlisted man’s jacket hung precariously on his shriveled shoulders. His uniform no longer fit and his medals had tarnished with age. The ribbons were faded and partially crushed as if they’d been thrown in a drawer and forgotten. He was an old man and his hands quivered as he was pushed in his wheelchair down the street of the Memorial Day parade route.

Most people were at home having a cookout or shopping. The small crowd which was present were paying more attention to his granddaughters… the youngest, too short to push him in the right direction and running down the street with him, seeming to chase the wheelchair instead of guiding it, and the oldest too absorbed in what her friends might think of her company, to appreciate the moment. To the memory of men like him was the reason for this day. The sadness in his eyes and the silent scars on his soul which he’d kept locked away were the marks of a man who’d seen Hell, and had friends fall beside him. These were the ones who bore our freedom and took it against the enemy.

And here he was. The one man who survived. He looked out at the fields of tombstones and white crosses before him. He’d been in this town long enough to know those who lay here. Those who were just a name, two dates and maybe a star, had been his family, friends and neighbors.

He’d had a stroke, half his face drooped and his eyes watered – but there was a man inside that shell. A man who had served his country and whom we all needed to respect. This man held the memories of those whom we were honoring today. He was the only one left. A moan came from his mouth.

The older granddaughter scolded the younger, “Don’t rock him like that! You’ll break him!”

The cemetery sat on a hill on the outskirts of the town. At the top the banner of freedom, its stars and stripes waving against the clear blue sky was at half-mast. His old feeble hand rose to salute… and trembling he made it before one of his granddaughters forced the hand down.

The girls’ mother appeared and locked the wheelchair into place appearing weary and annoyed… whether it was at her daughters or the veteran I don’t know.

As a veteran myself, I struggled for a moment. I could step in and talk to the man, or I could let him stay in his memories.

Then I saw them. Gathered with the modern day civilians was a small unit from across time – welcoming their own. Revolutionary War heroes stood next to Confederate and Union soldiers, while World War I and World War II’s boy soldiers stood grinning. Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm vets looked out among the crowd searching for their loved ones. A veteran from Afghanistan leaned over the baby carriage to peer into the face of his daughter, and planted a kiss on his widow’s cheek. A mother who’d been killed in action by a roadside bomb in Iraq watched her sons play. I saw her mouth, “Damn, they’ve grown.”

I went to the World War II vet. A look of awe was on his face. Kneeling beside his wheelchair I whispered, “You see them too, don’t you?”

The old man nodded.

“Who are they?”

He found his voice, and a smile grew as he recognized each of them. First, the World War II soldiers, “They were the ones I joined up with – Rob, Will, Sonny, Joe and Ed. We grew up together – in this town and then in war,” he whispered. “I knew the Great War sergeant Riley Neilson. He taught me how to ride a bike. The Civil War Confederate general George Thompson and his Union general brother William Thompson, used to sit in front of the general store in town. They gave me my first job – polishing the leather supplies, later I took over the general store as a clerk. The Korean War officer Jim Darwin was a linebacker on the local football team and could have gone on to state levels. He chose the military instead… and went missing. My son went to school with Tom Budwer, the Vietnam vet. Mike Richards, the Desert Storm veteran was a troublemaker, until I caught him stealing and straightened him out. The mother of the two boys, Sara MacConny-Young, was the homecoming queen – she had a crush on my grandson, but married someone she was in combat with. The Revolutionary War commander, Thomas Burton founded this town. The young man with the baby girl, Ryan Lotts, I taught him how to play baseball.”

There were tears in the World War II veteran’s eyes. He swallowed as he met the eyes of his buddies. “I’m the only one who came back.”

The four members of his unit knelt beside him, recognizing the missing member, despite the age difference. They embraced the man as tears fell on both sides of eternity.

A speaker took the podium, but said nothing important to the deceased. I watched the veterans move among the living, pointing out relatives and marveling at the dwindling crowd. Babies and small children seemed to sense their presence.

The local pastor took to the podium and offered a prayer. In the respectful silence, the ghost soldiers took a formation away from the living, tears in their eyes, wondering if they could return. The World War II veterans stood for a moment longer – boys, with their hands on the shoulders of their friend – the one who had not yet joined them.

Then, moving through the crowd came Saint Michael – patron saint of soldiers. Those in formation saluted him, while the young veterans at the side of their buddy waited. Hesitantly they parted for their commander, nervously glancing at the wheelchair bound veteran and then back to the angel.

Saint Michael knelt, so he could be eye-to-eye with the World War II veteran. There was a pleading in the man’s eyes, as he looked at his friends. Saint Michael studied the dwindling crowd.

The pastor concluded with a hearty, “Amen.”

Saint Michael grabbed the veteran’s hand and pulled him forward. His buddies rushed to his side, helping him up. He took a hobbling step and then all changed. The men were a unit again. Young strong and cheering for they had beaten the enemy.

The veteran was immediately embraced into the fold of others who had come and served before him. Gripping of hands, shouting of jokes, hugging around shoulders and back-slapping laughter followed.

Saint Michael cleared his throat.

They all turned as a children’s church choir lifted their voices in song. Strains of the national anthem echoed through the valley. The ghost unit saluted, as a tiny girl finished off the highest notes, the American flag waving in the breeze.

I blinked the tears from my eyes, and searched the graveyard. Its true what the old poem says, “Old soldiers just fade away.” I could see them and then like smoke, they were gone. They had vanished into the fading sunset.

“Wait!”

Saint Michael turned to look at me. “Now is not your time.”

 

A week later, deployed on foreign soil, the sounds of gunfire echoed as a helicopter lifted from the ground. A sudden harsh beeping brought me back, screaming. A medevac nurse yelled, “We’ve got him! Got him back!” She tucked the blanket around my chin and amid the fog of pain, I heard her order to another officer for medical supplies. Then she turned back to me, “You’re going to live. It’ll be a long road back – but you’ll live.”

“My unit?” I managed to choke out.

She looked broken for a moment. “There were no survivors, except you.”

I fell back against the stretcher, and suddenly realized: I’d be the old man.

—-

 

If you know someone who this story would benefit, share.

The short story collection Goldlust – which contains this excerpt can be found here. https://www.amazon.com/A.-R.-Mitchell/e/B01ID1ND1U/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

The photograph is one I took last year in East Prospect, a small town south of York, Pennsylvania. They have a Memorial Day event at their local cemetery which is the inspiration for Ghost Unit.