Post 614: shadow man and the little boy…

Take a look at these photos, taken sometime toward the middle of the 1940s, during WWII.

The place: My maternal grandmother’s front yard. The family lived in the second story apartment there until completing a house on Mississippi in 1951. The little boy is my older brother, wearing as spiffy an ensemble as I’ve ever seen him in! My brother is a Levis and Nebraska Huskers t-shirt kind of guy now, and he wears a baseball cap. My guess is it’s springtime, and my brother is playing with a Christmas wheelbarrow. I need to ask…!

dads shadow and dick2

“Shadow man” is my father, wearing a civilian hat, so I guess this was a Sunday. My Dad was Chief of Police in this town, and most photos of him then show him in uniform. The town had a major air base training people for the glider and parachute aspects of the D Day invasion. My Dad worked very hard then because he had a small staff meant for a smaller town and thousands of soldiers with not much to do after training but come into town. Many married the mothers of my friends growing up. No coincidence!

Anyway, this is a favorite photo of Dad because it shows him relaxed, off duty, and doing what fathers do: taking photos of their little guys at play. And…accidentally getting themselves in the photo, if as a shadow. Or maybe it was on purpose. Dad’s gone — he died on election day 2008 — but he was a very purposeful, methodical man. There is a suggestion of a composed shot here.


Then, there is this second shot in the sequence, a more spontaneous yet more mysterious image. Same setting. Same brother. Same father taking a photo as a shadow man.

There’s a change in angle, though, one brought about by my brother’s burst to go to Dad. Dad takes another shot, capturing something I’d never noticed in this photo before: a third person standing by the locust tree, both shadows on the left, while the photo’s taken.

dads shadow and dick1

It appears to be a male. Or is it? Who might it be, this new “shadow man”? Yet, he appears higher in the photo than he should were he just standing by the tree. Was he actually a child, a child standing on the bird bath by that tree? If a child, did Dad know he was standing on the birdbath? I don’t think that was generally allowed…! We’ll never know.


donations for the museum

One thing fun about volunteering at the military museum is I sometimes get to receive memorabilia to add to the collection.

Yesterday, a fellow, Myron W., brought in several items he thought we might like, though he wasn’t too sure. Like a framed copy of the famous photo of a sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square at the end of WWII. A Seabee pennant. An equator crossing certificate dated August 1943. A handbook the US Navy gives to new seamen to help them learn the things sailors need to know to be good sailors, this one a 1940 issue. Three war bond savings books, two for 10 cent stamps, and one for 25 cent stamps.

I wrote down each item on the sheet used to receive items into the collection, and each one gave evidence of the challenges people endured in WWII, both as members of the armed services and as civilians. Myron and I had a long talk about each item and how it would enrich the collection held at the museum.

Sallows Military Museum [The Sallows Military Museum.]

He seemed relieved. His late wife was the collector in his family, he noted. She didn’t throw away anything, especially if it had a history behind it. She loved history, and she cherished each of these items, preserved them in pristine condition for decades. Then she died.

“It’s just clutter to me,” he said, “but it meant so much to my wife. None of our kids is interested in any of it, but I don’t want it around.”

He pointed to his head with both hands, “This is where I keep my wife’s memory. I keep our family history in here! I don’t need things to remember.” He noted “things” just made him sad. He hoped the museum could use the items, a tribute to his wife’s care in preserving them all those years.

I reassured him he’d just donated some of the nicest items of those I’d received from people for the museum, because they’d been so well cared for, but also because they told so many stories about a specific time and people in our country’s history, a time where it wasn’t certain we’d even survive as a free people. Darn right, the museum was glad to accept them! How else, how better to inform young people about the process that saved this country and the world from brutal regimes? How else, how better to honor the memories of the people who fought those battles, survived that time, and helped create the world we enjoy today?

The Sallows Military Museum isn’t a large institution. It gets scant funds from the city to stay open. It isn’t even open every day because of lack of volunteers. Until recently, it only had one paid employee, a part time curator who put her heart into running the museum and making the exhibits meaningful. I rarely have a lot of people show up during my time there on Thursdays as a volunteer, and they rarely stay very long. It’s not fancy. In fact, it is in an old city property – the 1930s swimming pool bath house – that was refurbished and refitted to become the museum. Lots of volunteer help made it happen, many small money donations. No less important, maybe even more important, are people like the man who brought in the donations yesterday. The museum is a community project that empties closets and basements of “useless” stuff taking up space and makes it into meaningful displays that personalize the history of some of the country’s toughest challenges and our community’s role in it.

Myron, of course I was glad to accept your donations for the museum! Thank you! And bless your late wife for her foresight to save the items you donated in her and your family’s name! I don’t get paid to open the museum for three hours on Thursday afternoons, but thanks to people like you, I definitely feel rewarded!

Thursdays at the museum

Today is the 69th anniversary of the D Day invasion of France. By coincidence, it also is my regular day to volunteer at the local military museum, a quiet place where my duties don’t involve a great deal of effort beyond just being there so it is open.

The museum isn’t that old – less than 10 years – yet it is an important community asset that keeps fresh memories of our small Western Nebraska town’s contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany, and more. Wars from the Revolutionary War through current wars are featured in displays.

In WWII, this town had an air base where paratroopers and glider troops involved in that event 69 years ago trained. These were the people who lead the invasion, were there first behind enemy lines. The amazing part is some of them still wander in on my Thursdays to talk about that service or their part in that war. Not many, though, or that often. They are old now, most of their comrades in arms gone. I choose to remember that.

I’d hoped to write something profound about that generation and that military operation, my way to keep alive just how important June 6th is in history. Fact is, though I am a Vietnam Era veteran (a distinction that means I served during that war, but not in the war itself), I am not someone who wallows in military glory and American involvement in foreign conflicts. Yet I choose to remember why today is important in history.

Talking with the generation that fought or lived through WWII as a civilian, a different picture comes through. Many won’t talk about it because it was brutal and they saw, perhaps did things that haunted them for seven decades later. I choose to remember that.

It wasn’t glorious. It was sad, brutal, not spoken of survival against the odds. It wasn’t a given America and the Allies would win at first. I choose to remember that.

It traumatized those who received the telegrams that told of sons, husbands, or fathers who were never to come home again, many times buried in places so far away family would never even see the graves. Sometimes there wasn’t even enough left to identify and bury. I choose to remember that.

It was a flag neatly folded into a triangle and presented by an honor guard at those funerals where a body, maybe just some broken-up parts of human flesh did come home. I choose to remember that.

It was a loved one missing in combat who, hope against hope, might be in a POW camp where the enemy treated that son, husband, or father “according to the Geneva Convention”, not brutally, as we would learn, in places like Bataan. I choose to remember that.

It was my father, Chief of Police of this small town, with one police car that was unusable because of lack of a repair door, who didn’t get a door until he wrote Henry Ford telling him about the situation! The local Ford dealer was unable to get the door because of wartime restrictions. I choose to remember that.

It was housewives trying to find milk for their children, sugar, shoes, any number of rationed items. Victory Gardens weren’t totally patriotic endeavors: They often were the primary source of fresh vegetables and canned produce during and for a short time after the war. There is a DVD available for sale at the museum that shows the opening day of the Army Airbase here. Of all the people in the video, only one elderly woman looked even a little heavy. Even she didn’t look fat! It wasn’t a concentration camp thinness to the people, but it definitely was a crowd of hundreds, thousands that didn’t over eat. I choose to remember that.

It was people who worked together for a cause even though they weren’t of the same political party or beliefs. Haven’t seen that for a few years in America, eh?! At least not in government.

Many of my friends are the children of GIs who trained here, met local girls, fell in love, and married them. Many of their fathers are honored in the museum through family donated materials related to their military service. One of my classmate’s fathers was an Army medic who was a paratrooper qualified in grenade, machine gun, rifle, pistol, bazooka, hand-to-hand combat usage. Whew! How can you not remember that?!

Though many people served in WWII as volunteers, it was a military based on citizen soldiers, i.e. the draft. Up through “my” war, the Vietnam War, there was a military draft in the USA.

In just wars, wars for national survival like WWII, the draft assured that there was a sort of equality among classes of people, a theoretical one at least. One benefit of the citizen soldier-based military in WWII was that many children of important people also served in combat. Roosevelt had a son in combat; George Bush was a combat pilot who was shot down and survived an ordeal to get back to friendly lines; John Kennedy lost his older brother in war; and he himself was a survivor of a military action where a Japanese ship sliced his PT boat in half. I choose to remember that.

I find the new wars suspicious enterprises. Maybe I’ll get on my soapbox some day about those, but today, I choose to remember the incredible people who stormed those beaches of Normandy, all Allied troops, not just American. I choose to remember the unquestionable courage of those who glided in behind enemy lines or hung suspended in the air from parachutes while Germans picked them off as they floated to ground. I choose to remember that.

Today I choose to remember the civilian sacrifices of those with family in those invasion troops, of the fear of failure in the uncertainty of success.

Today I choose to remember the leadership of men like Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, of Eisenhower and his staff of frontline commanders from many nations.

Today I choose to remember Kenny, who was captured and spent time in a German POW camp till the end of the war. He was the only son, the sole surviving child of my grandmother’s best friend.

Today I choose to remember Ray, who was a bomber pilot who served in Europe, but some days stops by the museum now with his wife for a visit and a chat.

Today I choose to remember all the people whose names and stories appear in the two volume scrapbook of the lady who carefully snipped all mentions from the local paper at the time of men and women serving in the military- who was drafted, who volunteered, who did what and survived or not, when, where, but never why. “Why” was well understood by all.

Today I choose to remember my mother, who, after I suggested watching a video of a heart-warming WWII film (“Life is Beautiful”, which makes me cry just to think of the story and how it ends), told me she didn’t want to watch another video about WWII even if less emotional because, “I lived it, and don’t want to live it again.” It hadn’t occurred to me that the war might traumatize civilians so profoundly. It was an important epiphany for me because “my” war divided society rather than united it into a great cause for which each member of the society shared the price. I remember that vividly.

Today won’t be an ordinary afternoon at the museum. I choose to remember that.‎



A world where no 18 year old is sent to die in war because the governments of the world finally learn how to work together for the betterment of all humanity.

Today is D-Day 2010, sixty-six years since any manner of boat or ship was pulled into the task of transporting the materiel and troops across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy to begin the final phase of liberating occupied Europe. That history is well documented, the cost well known. D Day, June 6, 1944.

Remember, and honor, the memory of those who died to liberate that first beach head on French soil.

And imagine a world where no 18 year old is sent to die in war because the governments of the world finally learn how to work together for the betterment of all humanity.


I love history!

I am a history buff. I am a life member of the Nebraska State Historical Society. I like to read everything I can about how things were, why people took certain paths in reaction to (always “in reaction to” it seems) events that were as ordinary as a pope authorizing indulgences, for example.

As a Presbyterian, I recognize sale of indulgences as one of Martin Luther’s issues with the Roman Catholic Church of his time, and understand that “Protestant” comes from one who protests those issues and attempts to reform (“Reformation”- there we are again!) the only church in town. I don’t intend this blog as a platform to proselytize, so I’ll stop there.

The Norman invasion of England in 1066, where Norman influences on language, for just one aspect of change, reshaped the language you and I speak and write today. Normans wrote the history of the Battle of Hastings, as is the prerogative of the winner of any battle or war.

Try to read a paragraph written in French. Unless you studied it in school, you may be surprised that many words look oddly familiar. The Battle of Hastings affects our lives over 940 years later! Amazing! The Battle of Hastings is another historical event you can study your whole life, gathering degrees left and right, and still never exhaust the topic! 

The Battle of Midway in World War II was pivotal. Up to this battle, America didn’t look like it was on the winning side.  Luck- American!- won the battle, even though the it started out disastrously for the United States, with heavy loss of men and fighting capacity. In this video, you hear a curious fact: the Japanese painted the decks of its carriers yellow, and painted the Rising Sun on the deckside of the elevators that took planes below deck, making their carriers perfect targets for American planes coming in to bomb them!

Those of us who weren’t alive during World War II often don’t realize that Germany had a long-range bomber capable of bombing New York, but Hitler decided against its use. The German atomic bomb efforts are a bit more familiar, but the Nazis had a jet in 1939 that wasn’t produced because Herman Goering, a World War I ace no less, apparently didn’t see the strategic value of the technology until too late in the war.

Big events and small decisions won a war in which 50 million people lost their lives. Big events and small decisions determined everything from the language we speak to our form of government. 

History is familiar, it is yesterday’s news cleaned up. Sometimes it presents a particular point of view. Sometimes it presents a point of view you like- or not! Sometimes you don’t recognize it as history because it goes against everything you learned in school. That’s what reading about familiar historical events through the point of view of the other guy can do. The video above tells of an American loss in the War of 1812, through a Canadian history familiar to all Canadians, but totally alien to Americans.

I like the 20/20 hindsight of historians, who re-evaluate events, try to understand how ordinary and extraordinary people worked through the large and small crises of their lives.

War has to be worse that even the worst natural disaster because other people- probably just as nice as you under the right circumstances- want to destroy you and your family, your way of life, your home, and anything else that stands between them and you. Compare war with natural disasters. One often displays the worst of human nature. The other often brings out the best of human nature. Yet each changes us in its own way. That’s where history becomes important and interesting. History’s where we learn not only who we are but why we are what we are.