The Simple Gesture has Deepened my Patriotism

Silver Lake, (Harrison), New York, a small town located just 20 miles north of Manhattan holds much American history. The Battle of White Plains during the American Revolution was fought there. This small hamlet was a stopping ground for the Underground Railroad, and in a small secluded area there is a well-kept cemetery for those who fought in our nation’s Civil War.

WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran’s names are proudly displayed on the Honor Rolls in town. Patriotism runs deep; our families give rise to the Ninth Fold and proudly we give up our children to serve.

Just as our forefathers did on this sacred piece of American history, each generation, in their way, feels the desire to ensure the rights and responsibilities of its citizens. Some become police officers, social workers, firefighters, doctors, librarians, authors, uniformed military personnel– all called to serve.

On May 23, 2015 a young man, from zipcode 10604 graduated West Point. His name:  Stephen F. Ricciardi.

Stephen’s childhood was filled with the joys of small town living. He played sports, went to summer camp, breathed fresh air and knew the love and camaraderie of family and kin. In his early years, Stephen learned to run to keep up with his two older sisters. Beautiful and bright as both are, he rose to their sparkle.

High school was successful. He  graduated his way into West Point. Another townsman called to serve. Stephen Frederic Ricciardi was chosen to attend West Point. His mother proudly shared videos and photos of Stephen’s journey there. As a community, we rejoiced.

Stephen graduated, and as a community, we watched. Some in person; some in front of their TV sets thousands of miles away. We cheered. Stephen traveled home after his graduation to see a football game at his old alma mater, Harrison High School. I remember the day clearly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Such is the Power of Smell

by Circe Olson Woessner

This time of year, New Mexico is cloaked in a shroud of hazy wood smoke from hundreds of fireplaces. As I walk by certain houses, I smell creosote, or uncured wood, or the wonderful piñon—this is the smell of winter.

Cocooned under my thick down comforter, the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the hallway is the thing that rousts me out of bed.

Smell is something that can transport us back to a particular space and time—to bad times and good.

When my son was six, we took him to see Jurassic Park at the post movie theater. Later that night, he came screaming into our bed; he was sweaty and trembling—and for the first time, I smelled terror. His entire body oozed it from every pore.

Veterans tell me that they remember vividly the odors of war—even 50 years back. Vietnam had its distinct smell. Read the rest of this entry »


My Marine Mom


A Caribbean Christmas

Christmas in the Caribbean is the exact flavor of surreal that defines a military childhood, in my opinion.

You’ve got palm trees strung up with lights, you’ve got fake pine trees laid out on lawns or propped up in living rooms, you’ve got songs about snow and frost ringing out on sweltering 90-degree days – Santa wears shorts in Puerto Rico.

The military base even offset its general austerity, Christmas decorations breaking up the monotony of uniform neighborhoods. I feel like the soldiers enjoyed playing Santa, up until the point where they had to put on a coat to complete the part.

I remember steering a boat along the marina on a cooler tropical evening alongside a local Santa, who was kind enough to let me control the helm as we coasted on the waves. I couldn’t have been older than seven or eight.

I never felt like Christmas was “proper” when I was a kid – I was annoyed at the contradictions to what the Christmas of my movies and television shows portrayed to what I saw outside, endless sunny days instead of snowy ones. I longed for that which I did not have, that “normal” Christmas cheer, with all the trimmings to go with it.

Now, of course, with hindsight, I have more affection for those tropical holidays, where still we tucked presents under a great big tree, decorated with ornaments from Germany, France, America – and some local crafts too, joining that map of a lifetime hung every year on our military family Christmas tree.

It’s quite a life, a sort of hazy dream at the best of times – a childhood of ever-shifting scenes, a panorama of Christmasses in lands and climates radically different from one another. I would eventually get my snowy Christmasses, my icy winters, and there’s a strong possibility that in the future, as my travels continue, I may yet again enjoy that surreal sort of Christmas, on a tropical island far, far away.

–Iain Woessner

 


     WHEN DAD WAS SENT OVERSEAS

There were those times when Dad was sent overseas without us, usually to a war zone.  My earliest memories of this happened when Dad was in Korea.  Mother would send him a box from home.  One time Dad wanted a pipe and some tobacco.  Remember, this was around 1952, and nearly all adults smoked.  Mother had a very strict weight limit for anything mailed to that distant part of the world.  She took her kitchen scale, weighed the box with the pipe in it, and then wrapped some of the tobacco in tissue paper before stuffing it into the box to provide some padding for the pipe.  Finally, the desired low weight was achieved, and the result mailed to Dad in his tent in Korea.

Towards the end of his time there, weight restrictions were eased a bit.  Mother, with the ‘help’ of a three year old me, would bake cookies, put them in a coffee can with crumpled wax paper to cushion the precious cargo, and mail it to Dad.  (This was in the era of metal coffee cans, and the lids did fit snugly onto the top of the can.  All Mother had to do to it was to tape it down with electrical tape, wrap it in brown paper so she could write the address on it, and mail the result.) I asked Dad about those cookies, and he said they were the best crumbs he ever ate!  (So much for the cushioning of the crumpled wax paper…)

I was a freshman in college when Dad was sent to Vietnam.  Letter tapes were the in thing then, although there were some traditional paper in envelops letters as well.  Still, those tapes were wonderful!!  We could actually hear Dad’s voice, and he could hear ours.  Which sounds really old-timey in this era of face to face conversations via iPhones or tablets and computers with Skype.

Mother and I would send him boxes of things- frequently edibles.  Evidently we over did the sweets, as he complained he had enough to cause diabetes.  Again, there were cookies baked.  Dad loved oatmeal about the best, although he didn’t complain at all about the Christmas sugar cookies and ice box cookies we sent, along with crackers- in small packages so the humidity wouldn’t ruin them.  Small cans of ready to eat ham.  Maybe canned shrimp.  Once, someone sent him a box of raisins.  But, it was summer time, and mail sometimes had to wait a while before apace was found for it on a plane.  The long and short if it is, the raisins were ‘inhabited’ by the time they arrived.  Oops!!

There were things we couldn’t send him though.  The local paper advertised a willingness to send daily papers to local guys in Vietnam.  Sadly, when the paper listed the names of those being sent the paper, those frustrated with the war took it out on some of the listed families.  When Dad came home, we met him at the gate!  It was obvious that he was back from the war zone, and that we were his family greeting him.  Some manner-less wonder glared at him, and flipped him the ‘bird’.  Sadly, Dad remembered that rude gesture as much as he remembered his joy at being reunited with us.

Years later, he was invited to a “Thank You Korean Veterans” dinner by the local Korean American community.  After a dinner, including kimchee and other Korean delicacies, he was given a crystal-looking commemoration.  Never mind that it was the earlier conflict, receiving that thoughtful token meant a great deal to Dad, and it eased his annoyance with the airport incident when he returned that last time.

I learned an appreciation for even simple gestures. Even back in the world of the 1950s, sending a coffee can of delicious crumbs could reach a loved one across the world, and take that person back home, even if that connection lasted for only a few minutes.  I remember Dad telling me just how much mail from home meant.  Even if the post office had closed for the day, Dad could see if he had mail waiting for him.  And if there was something in that little cubbyhole, he could savor the knowledge that there was something waiting for him to open in the morning.  To men overseas, wealth wasn’t, and still isn’t, measured in money.  The wealthiest soldier is the one whose mailbox, literal or e-mail, frequently has Facetime/ Skype  and packages from home; the poorest person, even if he or she is high ranking, is the soldier who gets few or no messages or packages.  Mother and I made sure Dad always felt a wealth of love from us.

 

Jan Wertz


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The Long Journey Examining the Past: Heartache & Happiness

I wrote a humorous book a couple of years ago called ORLY. The title is slang for “Oh, Really”. That is what people say after they read the stories. I’ve lived a very full life and it has been filled with unusual events. Many of my readers are convinced that most of the stories are embellished or straight out fantasy. I have received many requests for an ORLY 2 but unless you know Oprah Winfrey personally, selling a book is next to impossible. When Circe Olson Woessner, a brat that is involved with the Museum of the American Family found out that I’m an author, she offered to share the book on her blog to see if maybe she could get some sales for me. At the same time, she asked me to write a little bit about my brat history to share with the Museum. She said they are looking to hear our voices. I’m disappointed that what I have written is a little bleak. I wish I could have been just a little bit more upbeat but my voice needed to be honest for the words to ring true. Here is my story.

I’m an Army Brat and have just started the long journey of facing the past. I’ve been reading about other military brats and our stories are all the same. The thing I find strange is that none of them would change their childhood. There are parts of mine that I remember fondly but, overall, what I remember from mine is one heartbreak after another. Read the rest of this entry »