To Honor the Fallen

I wish I could go back in time to forewarn our soldiers’ convoy to take another route. They died in the snow on that frigid, December 17th day of 1944 at the Baugnez Crossroads near Malmedy, Belgium, It was called the Malmedy Massacre.

German troops, instead of capturing US. soldiers as Prisoners of War, machine-gunned our warriors to death. This massacre happened under the direction of German SS Major Jochen Peiper, Commander of the 1st SS Panzer Division. Eighty-four U.S. soldiers from the 258th Field Artillery Observation Battalion died in that horrific event. Forty-three survived.

In July 2018, I stood at the Malmedy Massacre Memorial looking at the weathered wreaths adorned with plastic red poppies and read the names of those who died. Eighty-four flat stones on the wall represent those soldiers. The memorial sits at a 3-way intersection, a grassy, small park-like area adorned with a star-shaped garden of geraniums.

Nor could I comfort the 5,076 American troops buried under crosses and Stars of David at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. This vision hit me like a death in the family.

My family and I arrived at the 50-acre cemetery at 10:00 a.m. on a clear sunny day. Two officers stood guard by the wrought iron gates which were adorned with two gilded laurel wreaths. I faced a large monument and read the names of those soldiers missing in action. I turned around to see General George Patton’s simple white cross facing his troops…forever the General guarding and leading his men to a well-deserved rest! Patton’s cross, situated between two flag poles, simply read: George S. Patton, Jr. General Third Army, California, December 21, 1945.

As I walked through the rows of white markers, I stopped to read several inscriptions. The soldiers name, rank, date of death, and where they were from sent waves of grief through me. One cross read New York, New York. Did I know him, this fellow New Yorker? These warriors died the winter of 199 to 1945, most during the Battle of the Bulge. They were teenagers. I was six months old when they died. The carillon, near the monument, played American music as I took the slow, pensive walk on manicured grass, among the crosses. Two river fountains, with the likeness of dolphins jumping and turtles swimming, ran on either side of the graves. This somber setting offers peace to the fallen and tranquility to visitors who can only imagine the horrors, devastation and deaths of our WW II heroes.

D-Day, June 6, 1944 must have been terrifying for our young soldiers.

At Pont du Hoc, high above the English Channel, U.S. rangers scaled 100-foot cliffs with their mission to disable German tanks. What fears ran through this well-trained elite unit as they climbed to meet the unknown!

Utah Beach, another D-Day landing site for U.S. troops, now contains memorial statues to our warriors, a replica of the landing craft designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins, a museum and the beach itself. I didn’t want to spend my time in the museum, but instead needed to walk on the beach, retracing our soldiers’ footsteps. I tried to envision men, sent into war, piling out of the dropped front of the Higgins boat, not knowing their fate. The sandy narrow beach, nearly void of people this July 2018 day, was covered with seaweed.

Omaha Beach, where the bloodiest D-Day battle was fought, now had children swimming in the English Channel and families setting up picnics on the vast areas of sand, with a metal monument called, “Les Braves,” looming above them. From the beach, I turned around to face the hill. I saw a break in the shrubbery. Could that have been one of the areas the Germans fired from? Our warriors were sitting ducks on that wide-open beach with absolutely no protection. I struggled to picture what took place only to relive, in my mind, the opening scenes from the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” showing the impossible nightmare facing our troops.

The thought of these deaths on D-Day ran through my head as I stepped onto the 172-acre hallowed ground of the Normandy American Cemetery, located on a cliff above Omaha Beach. I faced 10,000 crosses and Stars of David. These were teenagers, who now would be in their 90s. Forty-five sets of brothers are buried together at this cemetery. I couldn’t even imagine the overwhelming sadness their families felt!

Peering into the calming, lily-laden reflecting pool, it was difficult to look up at what lay ahead. It felt like I walked forever, straight down the main pathway lined with grave plots.

I read the inscriptions on the marble markers – soldiers from Virginia, Texas, New Hampshire and so it went, impossible to fathom this massive loss!

As I walked back, I stopped at the cemetery chapel to say a prayer. Would that be enough?

A 22-foot statue representing “The spirit of American youth rising from the waves,” overlooks the entire cemetery. Behind the statue is the Garden of the Missing in Action, where 1,557 missing soldiers’ names are inscribed.

On this Memorial Day, I pause to remember the brave young warriors who fought for our country and those who continue to serve and sacrifice for our every-day freedoms and wealth of opportunities.

Thank you! is not enough.

MORE INFORMATION:

The United States American Battle Monuments Commission operates and maintains 26 American cemeteries and 27 memorials, monuments and markers in 16 countries. This commission meticulously tends to the cemeteries with its mission to honor WW I General John J. Pershing’s promise, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

Remembering the Fallen

My brother, Rob, lifted his trumpet to his lips and out poured a strong, resounding “Taps” – a tune so familiar to honor fallen soldiers. The scene overwhelmed me as he stood on a grassy area next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. Folks paying their respects at the Wall, turned toward the trumpet player, remained quiet and placed their hands on their hearts.

We walked to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where Rob, without any fanfare, again opened his trumpet case and lifted the horn. As he began to play Taps, folks moved out of his way, almost to direct the musical tribute straight towards the 19 stainless steel, life-like, heavy-laden soldiers traipsing through the fields.

“On behalf of the United States Marines, I’d like to thank you,” a visitor told Rob.

It was an honor for our family to be present for such a solemn remembrance and tribute to our brave fallen warriors.

Rob, a former Navy Lieutenant JG, who has played trumpet for 60 years, found two friends’ names engraved on the Vietnam Wall.

John Earle graduated from Vermont Academy, Class of ’60. A patriot for his country, John became a Navy fighter pilot based on an aircraft carrier. On one sortie, he overshot the landing deck and plunged into the water.

Rick Gates, a fraternity brother of Rob’s at Vermont’s Middlebury College, joined ROTC, loved the Army and died in Vietnam, a patriot for his country!

I also looked up two friends on the Vietnam Wall. We were all Staten Island, Curtis High School, Class of ’62 graduates.

Harry Helt, an honor student, marshal of several school posts including lunchroom, pool and gym, played on the Curtis football team. Most of all, he was a gentleman.

Nicholas Lia, an honor roll student, class Vice President, Register Room President and Arista member, also played on the school’s football team. He, too, was a gentleman.

We’ll always remember John, Rick, Harry and Nicholas and will honor all the other brave men and women who served and sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedom.

Remembering the Fallen on Memorial Day — May, 2020

My brother, Rob Seeley, lifted his trumpet to his lips and out poured a strong, resounding “Taps” – a tune so familiar to honor fallen soldiers!  The scene overwhelmed me as he stood on a grassy area next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.   Folks paying their respects at the Wall, turned toward the trumpet player, remained quiet and placed their hands on their hearts.

 

We walked to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, where Rob, without any fanfare, again opened his trumpet case and lifted the horn.  As he began to play Taps, folks moved out of his way, almost to direct the musical tribute straight towards the 19 stainless steel, life-like, heavy-laden soldiers traipsing through the fields.

 

“On behalf of the United States Marines, I’d like to thank you,” a visitor told Rob.

 

It was an honor for our family to be present for such a solemn remembrance and tribute to our brave fallen warriors.

 

Rob, a former Navy Lieutenant JG, who has played trumpet for over 60 years, found two friends’ names engraved on the Vietnam Wall.

 

John Earle graduated from Vermont Academy, Class of ’60.  A patriot for his country, John became a Navy fighter pilot based on an aircraft carrier.  On one sortie, he overshot the landing deck and plunged into the water.

 

Rick Gates, a fraternity brother of  Rob’s at Vermont’s Middlebury College, joined ROTC, loved the Army and died in Vietnam, a patriot for his country!

 

I also looked up two friends on the Vietnam Wall.  We were all Staten Island, Curtis High School, Class of ’62 graduates.

 

Harry Helt, an honor roll student, marshal of several school posts including lunchroom, pool and gym, played on the Curtis football team.  Most of all, he was a gentleman.

 

Nicholas Lia, an honor roll student, Class Vice President, Register  Room President and Arista member, also played on the school’s football team.  He, too, was a gentleman.

 

We’ll always remember John, Rick, Harry and Nicholas and will honor all the other brave men and women who served and sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedoms.

OUR FIRST CAMPING TRIP – MAY 18, 1980 – MT. ST. HELENS !!

It was our first camping experience.  I never expected something so spectacular would forever become etched n my memory, at that very time, that very day when all hell broke loose…Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m.!

 

My husband, Don, and I camped 18 miles north of Mt. St. Helens.  Instead of pitching a tent, we slept in the van with our tri-color collie, Gala.  Since I needed to make an early morning dash to the bathroom, I quietly opened the door, only disturbing our excessively agitated dog, who insisted on escorting me.

 

When I looked at the ground covered with ash, it seemed strange that everyone in the campground would be cooking bacon and eggs all at the same time.

 

“The mountain blew.  The mountain blew, ” screamed a woman, barging into the bathroom.

 

I raced back to the van where Gala arrived first, shaking and pawing desperately at the door.

 

“The mountain blew.  Get up!” I yelled to Don.

 

Eerily, we heard no boom, nor felt shaking of the ground…nothing that signaled an eruption!

 

As word spread, campers quickly packed their belongings and drove out of the campground.  We joined the parade of RVs and cars, allowing ample room between us and the vehicle in front which stirred up fine grey ash onto our windshield.  We stopped once to wipe the van of ash and looked around at others dusting at least two inches from their cars.  I thought what do we do now?  Where do we go?

 

Heading west, we found a clearing on a knoll along the Cowlitz River.  The knoll, located approximately 20 miles north-west of St. Helens, with an obstructed view of the mountain, felt like a protected area where we could catch our breath.  Several people coming from our campground spread blankets and unloaded drink- and food-filled coolers.  Under a sun-lit blue sky, an uncanny party-like atmosphere ensued.  Conversations centered around the erupting volcano earlier in the day, but we didn’t see any activity, ash or damage from this vantage point.  There was nothing to indicate a major volcanic eruption had occurred; however, I was curious to see a large number of helicopters fly overhead in the direction of the mountain.

 

At 4:30 p.m., I froze.  A plume of ash and smoke mushroomed 40,000 feet into the sky…an erupting volcano in front of my eyes, something I’d only read about in my New York City high school Earth Science class!  Everyone gasped and pointed towards the mountain, as bolts of lightning streaked through the cloud.  Cameras clicked.  It appeared no one on that hill feared this volcanic eruption and continued to pose for that historic photo op featuring a grey-white-and dusty-colored plume rising in the background.  Feeling no immediate threat to our lives, we stayed another two hours before deciding it was time to head home to Kirkland, WA. to beat weekend traffic.

 

We didn’t fully understand what had happened at 8:32 a.m. until we turned on the van radio.  My casual attitude abruptly changed to horror, as news reported the side of Mt. St. Helens blew out, following a 5.1 earthquake underneath.  The top of the mountain disappeared.  We drove in silence, glued to ongoing reports, hearing about the destruction and deaths the eruption caused, lakes, glaciers, trees destroyed and wildlife mowed down by the blast.  That wasn’t all.

 

Clouds of volcanic ash drifted into Eastern Washington transforming a sunny day into instant night.  People couldn’t breath.  Ash smothered fields of crops.  St. Helen’s ash continued its journey into Montana and, via high clouds, spread clear to the East Coast.

 

What was initially a perfect weekend for our first camping trip and a history-making photo op for us on the knoll that day, became a nightmare for those closest and to the east of Mt. St. Helens.  The guilt from enjoying the spectacular scene at 4:30 p.m. , later learning of lives lost and seeing photographs of monumental devastation, brought an overwhelming sadness.

 

Forty years later, I still think of hikers, campers, geologists, photographers and resident Harry Truman who lost their lives May 18, 1980.  I will be forever humbled by nature’s power.

Bathrooms of Belgium, The Netherlands and France

If you’re a man and need to relieve yourself quickly, Bruges, Belgium is your place.  Simply walk into the town square and look behind a low wall.  There they are.  Four urinals!  Just try not to notice, from the side of the urinal structure, everyone can see you!

 

My first encounter with a public toilette was in an Amsterdam restaurant.  I saw the toilette sign and headed that way.  I encountered a turn-style and noticed a coin machine on my right.  I needed to insert some change.

 

Inside, to my surprise, a man exited one of the stalls and politely held the door open.  I shyly said, “Merci, Monsieur.” (I don’t speak Dutch, but trusted my college French.)

 

I had just learned my initial toilette lesson – Be prepared with change and expect the unexpected!

 

In Maastricht, The Netherlands, my family and I attended an outdoor concert of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra.  I had to find a bathroom before the two- and a half-hour concert began.  I was directed down two flights of stairs to a parking garage.  A bathroom attendant wanted one euro to enter the toilette.  At that price, this would be my final toilette trip during the concert.

 

It’s common at hotel rooms in Europe to have the toilet in a small room – a water closet (WC) – separate from the sink and shower.  I saw two circular buttons on the back of the toilet to flush – one big, the other, small.  You press the circle which correlates with your business at the present time.

 

At a train station in Caen, France, nature called.

 

I inserted my coin and proceeded to accomplish what I was there for.

 

Jus then, the door opened.

 

I yelled, “MOMENT!  MOMENT!”

 

I hadn’t properly locked the door.

 

Saying “Au Revoir” to our time in Europe, we didn’t get to experience toilets in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.  Three hours of waiting on lines consumed our time.  This was followed by the fastest dash ever, to make our flight.

 

The tight squeeze of the small potty on the plane never looked so good.

A Teaching-Learning Moment

In recent news I read about an 11-year-old girl who “takes a knee” during the classroom’s Pledge of Allegiance.  I look at this gesture as the perfect teaching-learning opportunity for both teacher and students.

 

The teacher should assign to the students a “Letter to Persuade.”  She can teach them what’s involved in such a letter, which is a well thought-out opening statement, i.e. the premise; three examples/paragraphs of why the student believes one should stand/kneel for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem; followed by a conclusion.  The final product (the letter) can be sent to the Principal of the school, or to the Superintendent of the appropriate school district.

 

This assignment covers many layers of learning — writing, researching, thinking! and yes, passion!  The student must research via encyclopedias, Wikipedia, history books both American and World, and even interview people to get differing perspectives.

 

This teaching-learning moment rarely comes along.  Jump on it!

 

 

Easter Sunday — a long time ago!

Dad only came to church on Easter Sunday.  Mom didn’t give him a choice.  He never liked the Episcopal services where he constantly had to get up…down…up…down!  As a Connecticut Yankee, he was used to the Congregational Church where he could comfortably settle into the pew for the entire hour of hymns, prayers and sermon.

 

But this particular Easter Sunday morning, it was my mother’s day to show off her entire family.  And that meant full participation at the oldest church on Staten Island, St. Andrews Episcopal.

 

I wore a new, straw hat with a wide brim which held an array of pastel, silk flowers complementing my pale blue spring coat.  Mom wore a yellow linen suit with a matching pill-box hat draping a small veil onto her forehead.  With a quick adjusting of the seams of her stockings, she looked like she had stepped out of a magazine. Dad pinned a lavender-colored orchid onto her lapel.  Dad and my brother looked tall and handsome in their grey suits and starched white shirts  We would make Mom proud.

 

Our family always sat in the middle of the large church where I had a good view of everyone’s Easter outfit.  For me, a 12-year-old, it was like one gigantic fashion show.  Who wore the prettiest hat?  The most beautiful dress?  Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of a mink drape…you know, the ones with beady eyes and mouth used to fasten each side together.

 

We stood for the procession and the traditional singing of “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today,” which was my favorite part of the service.  The music was loud and our family enjoyed harmonizing at the top of our lungs.  We sat for announcements and scripture reading and kneeled for prayers. And then it happened!

 

In the midst of the service, the organist played a loud chord, shooting the lady in front of us out of her seat!  She stood tall, hymnal in hand.  She was the ONLY one standing and ready to sing.

 

Unfortunately for Mom, Dad and I shared the same sense of humor.  At that point, tears welled, my hands began to sweat and my body trembled, trying valiantly to hold in the laughter that was erupting inside.  Dad and I passed Kleenex back and forth, knowing we’d have to wipe back any sign of tears and swallow the belly laughs that were creeping up.  Dad’s face turned red and he looked like he’d explode.

 

The chord had signaled the start of the sermon and not a hymn.  Dad and I were in for a long haul.

 

I don’t remember how we survived the next 25 minutes but knew we didn’t hear one word of the sermon as all efforts were used to suppress our laughter.  We’d gulp, swallow, look at our feet and squirm in place.  What relief when the sermon ended and it came time to sing the loud closing hymn!

 

I often wondered how Mom felt after that Easter Sunday service and if we, her family, still made her proud.

 

Happy Easter!

 

(published in Reminisce Magazine 2005)

Road Rage, Lane Rage and Outrage

I always heed the 20 mph school zone speed limit when driving past our two neighborhood schools, down a winding hill.

The speed sign then turns to 25 mph.  The winding road is now torn up and bumpy due to construction of 50 new houses where trees once stood.  To avoid the worst bumps and potholes, I slow down.

This day, I glanced in my rear-view mirror to see a big black SUV a couple inches from my back bumper.  He was obviously angry with my braking to accommodate the road’s varied topography.  Just then, he floored it and raced around me on the narrow road.  Thankfully, no cars or school busses were driving up the hill at that time.  He beat me to the bottom of the hill by a minute.

I was happy to be headed to the local pool where I could work on my morning, “Attitude adjustment.”

The pool has five narrow lanes designated for lap swimming from 5:00 to 9:00 a.m.  I always look for a lane without anyone swimming, as I find it safer.  To share a lane, it’s protocol and civilized for swimmers to agree on either a circular swim pattern or, “I’ll swim on this side and you can swim on that side.”

This day I encountered a Tank.  This description of the swimmer in no way describes his or her size or body shape, but the “I own this lane” attitude.

A Tank always takes his or her side of the shared lane out of the middle.  A Tank either does not bother to look up to see another siwmmer has entered the lane, or is aware of the other swimmer, and just doesn’t give a rip.

I see the Tank coming and am in full view of her.  I stop mid pool and squish myself against the rope on one side of the lane, look desperately at the lifeguard and in a loud voice say, “She’s gonna kill me.”

When I finally get the swimmer to stop, I politely suggest she take that side and I’ll take this side.

With the agreement in place, the Tank swims to the other end, kick-turns and swims back taking her half out of the middle of the lane.  I quickly exit, concerned with my safety, but more so, with my ability to control my anger.

So much for the morning, “Attitude adjustment!”

The daily news that day on my car radio speeds as fast as the road and lane ragers, with Trump at the wheel of the big black SUV.  I understand that a new President wants to prove himself within the first 100 days.  But, the first 100 minutes?

Abolishing funding for Planned Parenthood?  That takes my mind on a lightning-fast trip backward to the 1950s and 60s.

And, is there a reason for moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?  Will it upset any prospect for Mid-East peace?  Do our President’s Middle East advisors agree with this move and why?

As for the environment, President Trump, please listen to the scientists! They don’t get paid millions like Wall Streeters, but they’ve put in years of schooling and are “in the know” and “in the field” seeing first-hand what changes are happening to our land and seas.

Road rage, Lane rage and Outrage have become the norm.  Welcome to polite, civil 2017!

Fasten your seatbelts!

Why we were surprised Trump won!

“I’m a winner.  I don’t lose.”

 

This quote of Donald Trump should have been our first clue that he’d win this presidential election.  But, we blew it off as typical Trump loud-mouth bragging.

 

The polls say their calculations were way off in letting the public know who voted for whom.  Who would want to tell a pollster, or admit to a friend or acquaintance that you voted for Trump – seen by many as the most narcissistic, misogynistic man in America!

 

Friends have lost friends throughout this election.  Trump voters didn’t want to reveal their vote to friends for fear of ridicule, harassment or backlash in some fashion. Even though we are to respect each other’s opinion, if their opinion greatly differs from ours, not only is the opinion not respected, but neither is the person who holds the differing view.  And, there goes the friendship.  Poof!

 

Pollsters got it wrong because Trump voters didn’t want eggs thrown at them, their tires slashed or house burned down.  But, in the end, they came out and voted.

 

If you were a Trump supporter, especially in Western Washington, would you have heralded your voting intentions across the land?

 

 

 

 

Lift Off !

The ferocious wind roared.  A parka-clad crowd gathered on the grassy mound at Boeing’s Paine Field in Everett, anticipating the final lift-off of the original, 55-year old Boeing 727 airplane.

 

The diminutive 727, parked next to a giant Dream Lifter, sat quietly while two small private planes, carrying dignitaries, entered the space.  Workers with heavy equipment dashed around preparing the 727 for its big day.

 

Two fire trucks took their places, one on either side of the paved area where the plane would taxi.  Two helicopters hovered overhead.

 

“Look! It’s moving,” shouted someone.

 

Trucks guided the 727 while two streams of water shot out of the fire engines, forming a bridge, heralding the momentous occasion.

 

Excitement built.  Cameras clicked, from tiny cell phones to big telephoto lens cameras perched on tripods.

 

The 727 approached the runway, with its noisy engines blasting.

 

With screams of “Go Baby!” and “Fly Away!” the plane rushed down the runway for the last time, accompanied by exuberant claps, cheers and some tears.

 

Up it went, veered right and headed south for its 12-minute trip to Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

 

Rest in Peace 727!