LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — My Father, My Hero

The communities of Bowman County, North Dakota, hold a gathering at the Bowman High School every year celebrating Veterans Day. This year, they chose to honor my father, Garland Crook, who is now 93. We traveled there Thursday. Sadly, he was not feeling strong enough to attend. He would have seen many of his buddies there. In fact, one even brought his grandson there from the Black Hills in the hopes that he would get to meet my father.

My husband and I have been to many Veterans Day programs, but I can say without reservation that this was the finest. The walls of the school were decorated with student art focused on veterans. All of the students attended, as do many members of the community, and the young students all listened so respectfully. Students send handwritten invitations to area veterans and serve a delicious turkey dinner after the program to all the honored guests.

My sister and brother-in-law made the drive with us on a cold and sunny day, and we visited with many old friends and neighbors who live in the surrounding area.

My father, pictured above on the right at a Bismarck Veterans Day Observance, held the following offices in veterans’ service organizations:

  • American Legion, Rhame, N.D. Post 188 Commander. 
  • American Legion, North Dakota District 8 Commander.
  • American Legion, North Dakota Western Region Vice Commander.
  • American Legion, North Dakota Department Vice Commander.
  • North Dakota VFW Special Aide-de-Camp.
  • National VFW Deputy Chief of Staff.
  • 40 et 8 Chief de Train, North Dakota .
  • 40 et 8 Grand Chef de Gare, North Dakota.
  • 40 et 8 Cheminot, North Dakota.
  • 40 et 8 Sous Director Membership, National.
  • 40 et 8 Sous Chef de Cheminot de Fer, National.
  • 40 et 8 Aide-de-Camp, National

Below is the text of my speech and here is video shot by my husband (trained by the U.S. Navy as a photographer and videographer, thank you!).

Bowman Public School and all, thank you ever so much. We so enjoyed the day and are very grateful that you honored our family hero at this special community event.

Nov. 9, 2017

Bowman School

First of all, thank you to the community of Bowman and the school for honoring my father today on this occasion, in observance of Veterans Day.  It is my privilege to represent my father and my family and to give you a brief overview of his service to his country.

On the 6th of June, in 1944, the day of the landing of the Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy, France, one of the pivotal days of World War II, my father was just 19 years old, not much older than many of you in the audience. Not so many months before that, he was a just a boy, growing up in Mississippi. He helped his father in the fields and fished when he could. He learned to sing at the nearby Friendship Church and attended school at French Camp Academy, riding his bike or catching a ride home on weekends. Sometimes his aunt and uncle would pick him up on their way to Kosciusko, the nearest city with a theater, for a rare night at the movies. He knew the day he heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor that he would soon answer the call of duty and serve his country and, not long after that, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was so young that his mother had to sign off on his enlistment. He took a train to the East Coast and after boot camp, the ship the Queen Elizabeth (which was converted from luxury liner to troop transport ship), sailing to England. Bear in mind this is when the Atlantic Ocean was crawling with enemy submarines and the ship traveled for four days and night UNESCORTED. In England, he experienced the famous Blitz bombing.

In World War II, a few weeks after the landing in Normandy (yes, he was on the beach on that bloody day), he was wounded, somewhere in the hedgerows of rural France, and after he recovered, he was assigned to drive for Gen. (John H.C.) Lee. His subsequent adventures included Christmas dinner in France with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and attending the funeral of Gen. (George) Patton, in Germany, with Gen. Lee, who was in charge of the arrangements.

After the war ended, he came home, completed high school and attended the University of Kentucky, but he returned to the Army to serve in the Korean Conflict. In the course of these years, this young man from Mississippi was in London, Paris, Berlin and Seoul.

One of his many stories included the time when he and a buddy got off-track when driving a truck somewhere in Korea and realized their predicament when they saw that they were surrounded by Chinese and North Korean soldiers. Somehow they got back to safety, and he came home again. His service in the Army continued through the Vietnam War, and he retired as a sergeant first class after more than 20 years of service. He was a drill sergeant and had various assignments included security services. His military decorations include The Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.

I would like to call your attention to a program that aired on Prairie Public TV on Thursday night, a two-hour documentary called “Prairie Memories: the Vietnam War Years,” which is interviews of North Dakotans’ memories from that time. You will learn much about fellow North Dakota veterans if you watch this. The interviews are slowly being added to the Digital Horizons website at http://www.digitalhorizonsonline.org/digital/collection/p16921coll14.

As you will see in the printed program, after my father’s retirement, he was very active in many veterans’ service organizations, holding many offices, continuing to serve his country. One of my vivid memories of my father is how he loved to pore over his copies of Popular Mechanics magazine. A true Army man, he could build and fix most anything, talents that came in very handy when he was ranching in Slope County, north of Rhame, after his military retirement. He also loved to garden and to camp.

Most of all, he loves to fish. He really loves to fish. He has fished all over the United States, and one of his happiest moments was when he received the N.D. Walleye Whopper Award. Needless to say, he got that fish mounted.

I want to also acknowledge today the service of other members of my immediate family: My older brother served in the U.S. Army, my younger brother served a career in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a senior chief, and my husband and brother-in-law (here today, please stand) were in the U.S. Navy.  I guess you can see why we children were raised to always say “Yes Sir!” and “No Ma’am.”

To those of you young folks listening to this today, I urge you to talk to the veterans who are in your life and listen to their stories, acknowledge that you understand the sacrifices they made, all the times they missed holidays with their families and the dangers they faced. As you are making plans for your future, consider wearing the uniform of your country.

Without a doubt, my father is a true patriot, and we as a family are very proud of him. Thank you for recognizing his service. I hope you find him as inspiring as we have. He is truly an American hero.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 27 And Lunch With Bob

“Do everything with a mind that lets go. Do not expect any praise or reward.” — Ajahn Chah

My father is spending the day with us and while I deadheaded the daylilies, he contentedly read the morning paper on the back patio. Can you tell I come from a line of readers?

My delight this morning was in finding a new blossom on “Love in the Library” daylily. I’m a librarian, so, naturally, I was willing to pay a wee bit of a stiff price for this at the annual auction a few years ago. I didn’t care what it looked like, although I must say it is a lovely blush pink, isn’t it?

A few more lovelies for good measure.

Earlier in the spring, I dropped some zinnia seeds in here and there to fill gaps.

The first ruby-throated hummingbird showed up last night on the hanging fuschia. They also like to feed on my red bee balm.

We had lunch today with our friend, Bob Martinson, and a special lunch it was.  Bob wanted to meet my Daddy.

Big-hearted Bob and his wife, Jodi, had spent Memorial Day in Normandy, France, and they brought home some incredibly thoughtful mementos for my father, who was on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Daddy told him some of his World War II stories and signed the framed photograph that Bob had purchased (one for his wall and one for Daddy’s), the iconic Robert Capra image of D-Day.

I confess that some of us were a little choked up when Bob presented Daddy with a vase filled with sand that he had collected at Omaha Beach.  How he got this home in his luggage is beyond me.

Bob and Daddy and Jim belong to the fellowship of service members, and it is good to pause and remember the incredible sacrifices they have made so we can all be free.

What friends we are blessed with. From the bottom of my heart, Bob and Jodi, I thank you. Now let’s eat some tomatoes!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — One Of My Philosophies Of Life

When I was an undergraduate, I had this poster on a wall in my first apartment.

While I’m through and through from a military family, it reveals much about me.  My poster is long gone, but it still rings true for me, although Mary Mother of God, why can’t our country seem to find enough money to pay our service members a good wage and to fund every and all veterans’ program?

Gentle reader, please don’t think this contradictory.

In the words of the great writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, I aspire to his rubric:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Paradox is one element that makes life more interesting, I think.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Memorial Day’s Lessons In History

I took it upon myself to drive the main roads in Dilworth, Minn., Moorhead and Fargo on Memorial Day weekend. I was pleased to see that each city had placed flags in honor of our fallen soldiers. It was also very heartening to see the many veterans and civic organizations providing programs to honor the warriors.

It prompted me to head back home and Google some facts that I had not previously seen. I want to share them with you in case you, too, did not know or have forgotten them.

The closest I came to the military myself was college ROTC, so I have a deep respect for those — living and dead — who have served or are serving.

I obtained statistics (stop reading right now if you don’t want to learn) that relate to American combat deaths by war. Just remember: These aren’t just numbers. They were men and women who had brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives and children … people who dearly missed them.

1. World War II (1941-45) – 291,557.

2. American Civil War (1861-65) – 212,938.

3. World War I (1917-18) – 53,402.

4. Vietnam War (1955-75) – 47,424.

5. Korean War (1950-53) – 33,746.

6. Revolutionary War (1775-83) – 8,000.

7. Iraq/Afghanistan Wars (2001-14) – 5,650.

8. War of 1812 (1812-15) – 2,260.

9. Mexican-American War (1846-48) – 1,733.

For those confirmed dead, at least there was closure for their survivors, if that term ever really applies. But there is another bracket for whom there can be no closure. The category of “missing in action” blew me away and made me wonder how the survivors handled it: WWI, 3,350. WWII, 30,314. Korea, 4,759. Vietnam, 2,489. Iraq, 2.

While researching the statistics, I came across an interesting article that I find both educational and spot on. It’s titled, “I hope you’re having a meaningful day.” The author is Navy veteran Luke Visconti, who co-founded the website diversityinc.com.

He recently wrote, “On Memorial Day, one should avoid the common refrain, ‘Thank you for your service.’ His reasoning was spot on. “On Memorial Day, the veteran you’re talking to may be going through a bit of melancholy, remembering people who died over the years.”

Visconti continues, “As most people are aware (or should be), Memorial Day and Veterans Day serve different purposes.

“Veterans Day is to honor the service of people who have worn the uniforms of the armed forces. Memorial Day is intended to remember those who died while serving.”

Instead, he suggested, we should thank that veteran because he may have had friends who died in combat. His idea may seem trite at first … until you follow his logic.

A few years back, I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. I was simply walking along until I spotted the names of Cliff Cushman and Tom Beyer. I knew Cliff from Grand Forks Central and Tom from Shanley High School. That slammed home just what I was looking at. I felt pride and pain at the same time. Hurt — that they paid the ultimate price. Pride — in my having known them.

It saddens me that, as we honor the fallen, we live in a time period in which the values they fought for have been brought into question by our own president. When 45 addressed a military gathering on his way back from his world travels, did he talk about their current service to this country? No, he bragged about all the great things he had done on his own trip.

In all America’s various wars, the assistance was not one-sided. We helped our allies, and they helped us. We provide aid and supplies to this day — but the allies provide naval, air and military bases and allow use of their space for our purposes. All this talk about NATO not paying its fair share is so much baloney. The United States participated side by side with its allies, plus former enemies who are now allies. A united front is needed.

Not one word did POTUS 45 utter about Russian interference in our nation. Not one word did he utter about the work of our own intelligence agencies. The image of the fallen who’ve fought for us in the past should be burned into his very being. Perhaps then, and only then, will he stop paying homage to Russia and instead work to keep this beloved country safe.

We have good and decent people in this country. They, with the assistance of the courts, will slow down and ultimately stop the damage being done to our image worldwide. They will once again assure our allies that we have their backs, like they have ours.

The American military has always performed as asked. It has allowed this country to be great and prosper. Its members deserve thanks and more. Thanks to all the entities and organizations giving the deceased warriors the credit they deserve as we observe Memorial Day.

Some may ask, “Why does Davies always find a way to blast 45?” I don’t need to find a way. Every time he opens his mouth, I get a free pass. My father and his brother, Clint, served in the Army; I also had a brother in the Air Force. The actions of 45 affecting our military, intelligence agencies and the courts light a fire in my being that will not go out … until he does.

I wonder if the flipping rain is getting me down. I’d like to think of this as an informative and enlightening article, without any political reference, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. Have a wonderful week. Amen.

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Our Vets Inspire Pride, Not Cheap Political Stunts

On Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, Donald J. Trump sank even lower than anyone could expect. On a day when we pay homage to those veterans who gave their lives for their country, who paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedoms, that man turned it into a political Trump message

He who did not serve his country and maintained his training in his college military program was the equivalent of active duty service, dishonored the memory of all who died so that people like him would have their freedom of speech.

After demeaning men who were POWs, who were captured and survived — men like Sen. John McCain — he dares to turn a solemn moment into another rash of his political lies. And that’s exactly what he did.

After two absolute lies — his claim that he had raised millions for vets, and contributed a million of his own dollars to them — he announced that this week he would disclose what money was raised and where it went. This, after saying it had already been donated …  another lie that the people gratefully accept. This man can say anything, no matter who or what he insults, and get away with it.

I can only hope that he will be held accountable for his actions in the general election, no matter which opponent he faces. This man is a chameleon. He changes his lies to suit his audience.

He maintained that Rolling Thunder, the large annual motorcycle gathering to honor our vets, was also there to protect him. He once again bragged about how he would rebuild our weakened military … which just happens to be the biggest and strongest on this planet.

While The Donald did everything in his power to avoid military service himself, I think on this day of my dad and his brother, my Uncle Clinton Davies. Both were veterans, and both survived the war. Clint had seen combat, while Dad was all but standing on his head trying to figure how to get into the fight.

Dad was 5-foot-1. Back then — I don’t know about now — there was a height requirement to see combat. He didn’t make the height limit. But being the man he was, he investigated every route possible to get a waiver. He waived several requirements trying to get to the front:

• He waived the height requirement, which was in place because in fording a river, a man of his height might well drown.

• He waived the age requirement. He was 43 years old, give or take a year or two.

• He waived the family requirement. His four children were enough for an exemption from going to the front; and perhaps they knew the best, our youngest sister, Jean Marie, was yet to come.

So he headed for California, from which he was to leave for the front. Mother was furious. She did not think he was brave. She thought he was foolish — and selfish — to leave her behind with four wailing children.

However, a routine health exam was administered in California, and right before he was to leave, it disclosed Dad had ulcers. The military would not issue a waiver on that.

So, instead of heading overseas, he was sent to Fort Benning, Ga. There, he trained paratroopers … despite the fact that he never personally made a parachute jump of any sort in his entire life. True story. Apparently, in this case, those who haven’t done — teach.

Though Mother was none too happy about his actions, she was incredibly proud of him. I know she finally forgave him. That’s because a few years later, my youngest sister, Jean Marie, was born.

My Uncle Clint did give either Dad or my older brother, Tim, a captured Japanese flag. It was gorgeous — red and white rising sun on a silken flag. That flag just caught my attention in a good and bad way. Back in the day, we either played cowboys and Indians or war games. I always played Cochise and never lost a battle against the cavalry.

War games, however, became my undoing. Some friends and I played on the grounds of a warehouse that stood behind my home. Many times, we played King of the Castle on a large dirt mound. On this particular day, though, we were playing war.

The Japanese flag was flying proudly over the enemy-held hill when we decided to attack with ersatz napalm — lighter fluid in a squirt can. I have no idea who brought the matches, but I did filch the fluid from my dad’s dresser. I’ll tell you, when we attacked the enemy stronghold, we whacked them hard and fast!

Warning: If you have a real Japanese flag, do not mess with matches. We squirted the flag, thinking it would just flare up and burn off the fluid. Not! That thing was engulfed in flames so fast we could only stand and watch it burn … to ashes.

All I could think of was that, sooner or later, Dad was going to ask where the hell the flag was. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. About that time, he came home from work, wandered into the back yard to tell me dinner was ready and saw the pole that was still smoldering. He asked what had been on the pole. Before I could think of a big lie, my friend said, “We just torched your flag.”

Dad was small in height but very imposing in person. He gave me that look of “I’m going to kick your ass so hard you won’t hit the ground for a week.” Then he took me by the shoulder and said, “Let’s go in to eat. We aren’t ever going to let Clint know what happened to the flag.”

That’s the kind of man my Dad and his brother were: proud Americans who served their country with distinction — and who honored those who died for our freedoms.

After watching that damned Trump demeaning the memory of the departed warriors with his speech full of lies, I knew I had to counter with my own feelings and recollections.

I have never served. My brother, my father-in-law and many of my in-laws have, and I could not be more proud of their service to this country.

This is the greatest country in the history of the world — let us never forget that. We don’t need to make America great again. It is great now, and it always has been. I hope those who think otherwise stay in the private sector, not our elected leadership.

* * *

Hey, folks, I predicted that a very experienced newcomer to Fargo city elections would get the big F’s endorsement. I was right! In the city of Fargo, we are so fortunate to have so many qualified candidates; you can’t find an unqualified one. But remember this — when we ask our young people to get involved, to run for office, but then always endorse the seasoned veterans — is that a good message? Does there really have to be an official media endorsement all the time? Food for thought. Amen.

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Memorial Day 2016, Alexandria National Cemetery

Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson paid his respects Monday at Alexandria National Cemetery, where 45 percent of the graves mark the last resting place of unknown soldiers from the Civil War.

TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — Confrontation

The last battle of World War II was fought 70 years ago next month, but for tens of thousands of American servicemen — and women — the battles continued at home. Only then, the soldiers didn’t have their buddies next to them in the foxhole.

This war — waged with horrible memories, nightmares and survivor’s guilt — had to be fought completely alone. It was a time before post-traumatic stress, before therapy, before men were encouraged to reach out. The World War II vet was thus unable or unwilling to talk about why he sat up screaming in the night, or drank too much or worked three jobs so he would be too tired to dream.

 

“You couldn’t talk about that stuff. No one would have believed it anyway,” one old soldier told me in the mid-1990s.

So, countless American families live with the pain of the war after the war. That is the untold story of the Greatest Generation. It is the story of my novel, “Every Common Sight.” Since the book was published a few months ago, I’ve heard from so many children of World War II vets, who speak in such poignant ways of how the war is still very much a part of their lives.

What follows is a scene from the book, a version of which was played out in so many households over the decades. Selma is the loving and patient wife of Wendell Smith, a tortured hero of the Battle of the Bulge. But something happens in the dead of night and Selma can be patient no more.

* * *

On that November evening in 1956, I drove down our road with the windows wide open, the smell of roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy drifting out from tin foil-covered plates that were in the back seat. I guess you never fully appreciate anything until you face the prospect of losing it, so I loved our little road more than ever that night, stopping halfway down to listen to the rustle of the branches above me, and to feel the cool of autumn on my face. How many more times would I drive on this beautiful little road?

Wendell was waiting out front.

“I fed William and asked Judy Springer to watch him. We needed to talk alone tonight.’’

“I guess so,’’ Wendell said.

“Help me carry,’’ I said.

I opened the Studebaker’s back door and bent to retrieve the two plates, handing them to him. I took a grocery bag from the seat and shut the door with my hip. Wendell’s desk was in a small office in the rear. I put the bag on a chair and moved his paperwork, making room for two wicker place mats that I took from the sack. Wendell set out the plates and removed the foil. Steam billowed.

I brushed strands of curly hair away from his eyes. His face was ghostly pale and felt feverish.

“Eat, Wendell, before the food gets cold,’’ I said.

Each of us took a few half-hearted bites. I set my fork and knife on his desk.

“William told me that he talked to you this morning,’’ I said. “He said that you told him he must have been dreaming when he heard me cry.’’

The trembling in Wendell’s hands intensified. He set his fork down and stared at his plate.

“That’s what I told him,’’ Wendell said.

“The boy’s nearly 8 years old,’’ I said. “Lying to him will only make it worse.’’

“I didn’t know what else to say, just like now.’’

“How I wish it was just another one of your nightmares,’’ I said.

“I’m sorry,’’ he said.

“Let me see your arm,’’ I said.

“No,’’ he said.

“Show me your arm or I’ll leave this minute,” I said.

He rolled the sleeve up his left arm to his elbow. A fresh, angry wound ran from just below his elbow to almost his wrist, and was starting to scab over.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? Jesus Christ, Selma.”

He looked over at me.

“Show me your neck,’’ he said.

I had worn a turtleneck sweater.

“There’s no need,” I said. “We both know what happened. And it’s not my neck that’s hurting.’’

“I’m hurting, too,’’ Wendell said.

When I think of what happened next, it’s as if I’m watching another woman, a stranger who came flying out of her chair, sweeping her full plate of food from the desk, sending it crashing onto the tile. Gobs of meat, mashed potatoes, gravy and cream corn were everywhere.

“Then why won’t you talk to me?’’ I screamed.

Wendell rocked back, stunned. I slumped back down to my chair and covered my face with my hands. Sobbing consumed me for several frightening seconds. Wendell started from his chair, but I finally got a gasp of air and I waved him off.

Wendell walked to the bathroom and came back with a handful of tissue.

“Thank you,” I said after blowing my nose. “I’m sorry. That was no way to act.’’

“You have every right,’’ Wendell said.

“Well, maybe I do,’’ I said. “Do you know what it’s been like for me the last few years?’’

I blew my nose again.

“But I couldn’t erase the memories of what it used to be like,’’ I said.

“I’m sorry, Selma,’’ Wendell said. “You deserve better.’’

ww2“I’m not sure you’re entitled to feel sorry for yourself,” I said. “I’ve tried every way I know to get you to talk to me. But you were always too busy or too tired. Well, to hell with that. In some ways, I think you enjoy your anguish. It gives you an excuse to disappear into that dark little world of yours. But I’ve had it. Like I said, spare me the self-pity.’’

I had never seen Wendell look so sad, but that night I realized that he had controlled me with that mournful look, manipulated me.

“So last night I wake up with my husband’s hands around my throat.’’

“I don’t know what happened,’’ Wendell said.

“Of course you don’t, Wendell,’’ I said. “It was a dream. Only this time the dream spilled over. Only this time it wasn’t enough to swear and scream and sweat and thrash beneath the covers. Who was I supposed to be, some German?’’

“I don’t know,’’ Wendell said.

“What if I hadn’t been able to wake you up?’’ I asked.

He rolled his sleeve back down to his wrist.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking today, Wendell,’’ I said, straightening in my chair, dabbing my eyes with the soggy tissue. “You know one of the scariest parts? I’m not even surprised. Whatever it was that you have been running from over here at the lumberyard was bound to catch you some day at home.”

I swallowed hard against another sob.

“I probably would have been willing to wait until the day I died for you to come back to me,’’ I said. “But I can’t live wondering when you’ll finish what you started last night. I can’t let William live in a place where that might happen. Our son has to come first.’’

“He’s always come first,’’ he said.

“You’d never know from the last two years,” I said.

He didn’t reply.

“My mother will be here in an hour or so,’’ I said. “I called this morning.’’

It was like he expected what I would say next.

“I’m leaving with William tomorrow, taking him out of school for a week and going back to San Antonio with my mother, at least until after Thanksgiving,’’ I said. “I need some time away to think.’’

I wondered if he had heard me.

“Is there anything you’d like to say?’’ I asked.

“There’s nothing to say,’’ he whispered. “Other than I’m sorry.’’

“I know you are, Wendell,’’ I said. “I’m sorry, too.”

“Things just aren’t that simple,’’ Wendell said.

“I don’t suppose they are. But what does that change?’’

A few hours later, I felt Wendell’s touch on my shoulder, then his weight settle onto the side of our bed. I turned to face him.

“Don’t go,’’ he said.

“I need to, Wendell,’’ I said.

“Will you stay if I talk?’’ he asked. “I’ll talk until my dying breath.’’

“It might be too late, Wendell,’’ I said.

“I’ll sleep at the lumberyard until things are better,’’ he said.

“Let’s talk in the morning,’’ I said. “Lie down.’’

He swung his legs up. I rolled toward him and tucked my head onto his shoulder. We were both asleep in a few deep, exhausted breaths. My mother found us that way when she peeked in at first light.