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.
In 1946, VA Voluntary Service was established as part of General Omar Bradley’s modernization of the Veterans Administration.Posted: June 7, 2017
In June 1945, less than two months after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency, he selected fellow Missourian General Omar Bradley to head the Veterans Administration. Bradley was confirmed and took his place at VA in August of that year. Bradley was charged with modernizing VA and he wasted no time in doing so. He established a national chaplain service in November and after getting congressional approval to create a professional Department of Medicine and Surgery in January 1946, set out establish other vital services to improve care for veterans. The Army had a long and successful record of working with volunteers and social organizations, and he knew that VA could benefit from coordinating volunteers at a national level, too.
The roots of large-scale volunteerism began during the Civil War. Men, women, and children in both the Confederate and Union territories who could not fight in the war, volunteered to do anything needed to help soldiers and the war effort. In June 1861 President Lincoln authorized the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an entirely volunteer group from New York, to help the Union Army medical department and legions of short-term “volunteer” soldiers that were enlisting to fight in the war. Local branches were established in many cities and “sanitary fairs” were held to raise money that bought ambulances, hospital ships, medical supplies, and personal items for wounded and convalescing soldiers. These volunteers documented burial locations for soldiers who died from their wounds, wrote letters to families, read to soldiers, and much more to comfort them or their families.
The U.S. Sanitary Commission was the largest national volunteer organization in American history at the time, igniting passions for those fighting the war and attracting thousands of volunteers like poet Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, and Frederick Law Olmsted to help them. Service with the U.S. Sanitary Commission inspired many of its volunteers to continue the work after the war, resulting in numerous new social and veterans fraternal organizations. The Grand Army of the Republic and American Red Cross are examples of Sanitary Commission spin-offs that were established after the war to provide services not only to veterans, but to their widows, families, and orphans, as well as immigrants and the poor. The U.S. Sanitary Commission played an essential role in proving the need for “soldiers homes” after the war that resulted in the establishment of the first federal institution in the world solely for disabled veterans of the “volunteer” forces in 1865. That institution, initially known as the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, was the origins of what today is known as VA’s Veterans Health Administration.
The passion for disabled soldiers and veterans, which sprang to life on a massive and national scale during the Civil War, became a new part of the American ethos, after the war, and VA and its predecessors were beneficiaries of that good will. During World War I, the Treasury Department was tasked with providing medical care to World War I disabled veterans, through its Bureau of War Risk Insurance(BWRI) and Public Health Service (PHS). Surgeon General Rupert Blue asked the American Red Cross for help and their volunteers supplied a significant auxiliary workforce that ranged from filing clerks to nurses and social workers. The Red Cross provided the first organized coordination of volunteer services in federal veterans programs, but as the Veterans Bureau, and later the Veterans Administration, took over roles once done by the Red Cross, much of that was lost.
As the U.S. geared up to fight yet another war in 1941, volunteer organizations once again came to the aid of service men and women and VA. General Bradley knew very well the important role that volunteers played in maintaining morale and hope in his troops during the war and that they could do the same for them as veterans. Bradley established a Special Services Division in 1946, just like Army had, which included a chaplain service, voluntary service coordination (VAVS), recreation service, and canteen service. Establishing a national office with experienced staff to meet with leaders of volunteer and veterans organizations was a common-sense move that has seen VA’s volunteer program grow, professionally, over the past 70 years into one of the largest, most experienced, and respected corps of volunteers in the federal government.
While VAVS celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, it continues the work with veterans that began 155 years ago, and has found its own place in American history. I dare say that the men and women of the U.S. Sanitary Commission would be most proud of their modern brothers and sisters caring for this generation of veterans.
VA History Tidbit – Joseph H. Freedlander, Architect – Beaux Arts architecture – Mountain Home – National Preservation MonthPosted: May 12, 2017
In celebration of National Preservation Month
VA’s earliest hospitals were built as branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteers Soldiers. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Congress established the National Homes to provide medical care, rehabilitation, and a “real home” for thousands of Union veterans who survived the war, but whose disabilities or lack of family prevented them from finding suitable jobs and housing. The National Homes were purposely designed to be beautiful and welcoming and many notable architects were involved in creating that first generation of national veterans hospitals and homes. They were built in spacious, park-like settings which provided lots of opportunities for veterans to take relaxing strolls, get fresh air, and commune with nature. The National Home’s Mountain Branch, which opened in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, was designed by renowned Beaux Arts architect, Joseph H. Freedlander, and is unique among VA’s early hospitals.
Joseph Henry Freedlander was born on August 18, 1870 in New York City to Jewish immigrants who migrated from Germany. His father was a hat wholesaler and his mother was a homemaker. He attended public schools and was later accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1891 with a degree in architecture at the age of 20. He then became one of the first Americans to attend the prestigious Écoles des Beaux Arts in Paris and graduated in 1895. Beaux Arts was a distinctive design style that embellished classical revival architecture with lavish and ornate details. The Écoles des Beaux Arts was regarded as one of the superior fine arts school in the world, at the time, and its artistic influences spanned from the early 19th century until the mid-1930s. Read the rest of this entry »
April 24, 2017
For immediate release
For additional information: Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, (505) 504-6830
MILITARY FAMILY MEMORIAL TO BE UNVEILED IN SANTA FE ON MAY 13
Museum of the American Military Family Partners with the New Mexico National Guard
“Because our military families are so diverse, when we started to design our memorial, we decided to use a house because no matter which generation or which branch of service, we all keep the home fires burning – home is where our hearts are,” Museum of the Military Family (MAMF) Executive Director Dr. Circe Olson Woessner says. “We are proud to have created such a unique memorial to the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, and others who have loved and supported a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
The Military Family Memorial is possible because of a grant from the Kerr Foundation and the generosity of companies like Lowe’s, RAKS, and of the National Guard, veterans’ organizations, and many individuals, especially “members of our all-volunteer board of directors, and extended Facebook family.”
The memorial is a small house, designed by Woessner and configured for a static display of family memorabilia by Museum special projects manager Paul Silva, a Sandia National Laboratories retiree. Through each of five windows, visitors can look upon displays depicting the life of a military member, of children, of spouses.
The Memorial is located on the grounds of the New Mexico National Guard Museum (formerly the Bataan Memorial Museum) in Santa Fe. It will be dedicated on May 13 at 1:00 p.m. during a weekend Guard commemoration of the end of World War II in Europe.
Army veteran and graphic designer Dominic Ruiz created the panels. He said the monument would teach people about military life and allow individuals familiar with it to reminisce. “For me, it brought back a lot of memories,” Ruiz says.
Woessner says, “I don’t know if there are any other memorials dedicated to the military family and I am grateful that the National Guard leadership recognizes the family as an essential component of military service and supports having our memorial right at the entrance to their own museum.”
For more information about the Museum of the American Military Family, visit www.militaryfamilymuseum.org or write to Museum of the American Military Family, P.O. Box 5085, Albuquerque, NM 87185. Tel: (505) 504-6830.
America’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was first authorized in 1921, three years after World War I ended, and joined U.S. allies in remembering the unknowns who fought in that war. The first tombs dedicated to unknown soldiers took place in London and Paris in 1920: England established its Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey while France buried their honored unknowns underneath the famous Arc de’Triomphe de l’Etoile in Paris, marking the tomb with an eternal flame. The end of the first World War came on November 11, 1918, when the Armistice with Germany was signed. To this day, November 11th is an important day of commemoration not only in the U.S., but in England, France, Canada, Australia, and other countries, as well: in the U.S. it is Veterans Day while elsewhere is it known as Remembrance Day.
A joint resolution of Congress on March 4, 1921, authorized bringing home an unknown fallen American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) soldier for burial in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. In October 1921, General Pershing journeyed to France to select the unknown soldier from one of four American cemeteries in Europe. Read the rest of this entry »
Circe Olson Woessner
Recently on Facebook, a friend mentioned the difficulties of talking about her military childhood because people think she’s bragging when she speaks about having lived overseas. She admits, “I rarely bring it up any more.”
As the Director of the Museum of the American Military Family, I tell people that in order to understand history, one needs to see it from all perspectives. Military families have often been present during historic events, but much of the time, their experiences are not widely shared.
My husband was overseas conducting multinational exercises on September 11, 2001. I was driving to work listening to the radio when the news of the attacks came over the airways. I remember initially thinking it was a remake of that old radio show, “War of the Worlds.” As it sunk in that it was real, I realized I’d better pick up my kids from their off-base schools, as the base we lived on would go on lock-down. Our lives were about to change. Read the rest of this entry »