On this blog page, author Mary C. Woolling posts an ongoing series of her essays showcasing the positives of life.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

A Veteran’s Story

Reprinted today, in loving memory of my wonderful father,
Kenneth R. Woolling, M.D.,
(March 6, 1918 – April 16, 2017)

Every day another 1,000 men die — the brave soldiers of World War II. (According to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, the actual figure is 1,025.) Fewer and fewer G.I.’s remain from World War II, a conflict that ended clear back in 1945.

Sadly, with each death, we lose not only another unique individual but also another priceless story. As is true with veterans of earlier conflicts, some of their personal accounts of those days can be found in history books, family tales, and yellowing letters, but many chose not to speak of their experiences. Indeed, the father of a friend of mine never told his wartime story — though we later learned he had earned many medals — taking his war remembrances with him to his grave.

Through their recollections, we’re better able to gain an understanding of what war is really like — what the soldiers were feeling, what they went through, what they sacrificed. Our conception of the conflicts becomes much clearer and more direct. The historic events, which were formerly rather arid dates and places, come alive when we actually hear a vet tell his personal story in his own words.

A few years ago, American television journalist and author Tom Brokaw did the country a great service by interviewing many of the remaining veterans of World War II in his book The Greatest Generation. Though my father was not one of those chosen to be interviewed by Mr. Brokaw, Dad, now 96 years old, is one of those aging World War II vets. I recently conducted my own interview of my father for memories of his military service.

Dad entered the War in 1944, serving in the Medical Corps of the U. S. Army. I proudly present his words herewith:

We shipped out from New York harbor in a large transport vessel which had originally been a German ocean liner. It had been commandeered by the U. S. and converted for our military use.

As I stood on the deck that day, surrounded by strangers, I looked westward toward Manhattan and the USA. The realization suddenly hit me hard that I was leaving my home and all my loved ones behind, perhaps forever. I was 26 years old and had just completed medical school and one year’s internship. As I watched Lady Liberty holding her “lamp by the golden door,” slowly recede out of sight, I had an extremely lonely feeling and deep longing for home.

I remember that my mother had given me a small pocket Bible with a metal cover on it to protect and comfort me while gone. I can still feel that stiff little volume in my left breast pocket and all the love behind it. After a while, I brought myself back to reality and focused on our goal. Not knowing then how the war would turn out, I was aware of the necessity of each of our soldiers to do his utmost to promote our victory. I shall never forget the emotions felt at that particular time in my life.

I remember that we traveled in a convoy and were accompanied for a while by many porpoises. Several days later, our ships arrived in the English Channel, just off Dover, England, where we waited until dark to avoid strafing by the Luftwaffe. Once darkness set in, we started across the Channel and soon reached Le Havre. I was with the 250th General Hospital, serving as a medical officer, general duty. After that, I was reassigned to Innsbruck, Austria, working in a Clearing Company, determining the disposition of ill or wounded soldiers.

I could not, of course, at that time, have imagined the invention of such a thing as an atomic bomb, the surrender of Japan three days later, or our jubilant feelings when it was announced we would not be traveling to the Panama Canal as originally planned after Victory in Europe. But rather we would be re-routed for Boston, the USA, and home!

Looking back, from the vantage point of my present nonagenarian status, it’s difficult to believe that all this happened, but I was there, and I know.

November 11 is Veterans’ Day, the day we honor all those who have served our country in the military through the years. Veterans’ Day originated in 1918 as “Armistice Day,” marking the signing of the armistice, or peace agreement, by the Allies and Germans in World War I. Made effective at 11 a.m. on 11/11 of that year — “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” — the Armistice symbolically ended that war. It became a national holiday, officially renamed Veterans’ Day , in 1954, when President Eisenhower called for an annual day to honor those who fought in all of America’s wars. Veterans’ Day is also meant to stand for a continuation of the quest for universal freedom and peace.

In that spirit, let’s take a moment to remember those who have served our country in military conflicts. And, if the individuals are still with us, let’s seek them out. Thank them for their efforts and sacrifice. Ask to hear their stories.

May we all hope and pray for a permanent world peace one day.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

You Can’t Make a Mistake

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
~ Romans 8:35-39

My late, beloved Frank, who was ever-searching for God, helped me to discover a greater understanding of my Heavenly Father. The caring ways in which Frank consistently treated me not only affirmed his unchanging devotion to me but also served as a vivid illustration of God’s unceasing love for me.

Frank constantly reassured me that, in our relationship, I could not make a mistake. If I inadvertently said the wrong thing, or did something foolish, or handled a situation badly, it didn’t matter, he’d say. Frank knew my heart and true motivation. He understood. Beyond that, he loved me unconditionally. Nothing could alter that love. It was unchangeable and forever. I couldn’t make a mistake.

St. Paul assures us, in the Bible verse above, that that’s the way it is with God; we cannot make a mistake.

Yes, we do make mistakes. All the time. Things we’ve done that we wish we’d done better. And things we didn’t do that we wish we had done. We can lose hope in trying situations and feel like giving up. Sometimes when circumstances are especially difficult to handle we might be tempted to wonder where God is, if He will step in to make things right, or if He has left us high and dry. Later, looking back, we begin to worry we might have so disappointed Him with our doubts and questioning that we’ve damaged our relationship with Him.

At times like these it’s good to remember that God loves us unconditionally. He knows our hearts and true motivation. He understands and is always ready to forgive our faults and failings and continue on with us.

Make no mistake, dear Readers. Nothing can ever separate us from the steadfast love of our Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Harvest Time

Have you noticed it? Subtle changes are in the air. There’s a feeling of anticipation, excitement, and new beginnings. The sun is slanting a little differently now . . . casting longer shadows. Days are growing shorter, with more comfortable temperatures, evenings decidedly cooler. Summer is waning and quickly passing away. Autumn is upon us.

The general pace of living seems to have picked up from the “lazy days” of June and July. Most of the vacationers are home now and back to work. Bright yellow school buses can be seen again on the streets, for the children have returned to classes, proudly armed with new pencils, pristine notebooks, and high aspirations. “This fall is going to be the best one ever,” my young friend Sarah assured me recently. A determined third-grader who finds decimals and fractions a bit of a challenge, Sarah nonetheless vows she’ll master those concepts this year. “I’m going to be a math teacher when I grow up,” Sarah proclaims, “so I need to know this stuff.”

For many of us, once we reach Labor Day, the real “New Year” begins. Life gears up again in earnest. It seems an auspicious time, a time for making plans. Football practices and games, school programs, and band rehearsals begin to fill our weekly calendars. Fall festivals appear on the scene, and organizations are scheduling their first meetings of the season.

Retailers have put away their racks of beach towels, sunglasses, and flip-flops until next spring. In their places, we now find rows of potted chrysanthemums in yellows, bronzes, purples, and burgundys, as well as eye-catching displays of fall decorations, including bundled ears of variegated Indian corn and ornately-twisted garlands of burnt orange bittersweet. The coming season is clearly evident in the packages of candy corn and Halloween masks that already fill the store shelves.

Out and about, I see signs that Nature also realizes a shift is in the offing. Flocks of wild geese with their familiar honking cry are appearing in the clear blue sky, as they take flight southward. Fewer fireflies twinkle in the early evenings, and the presence of crickets is becoming more noticeable as their chirping sounds seem to grow louder.

The last of this year’s tomatoes, deep red, hang heavy on the vine. Slightly tougher in texture, these tomatoes also taste different now, not quite as flavorful as those relished a month or two ago. The luscious peaches and nectarines and tender ears of sweet corn – all pure delights of the summer – have also passed their prime. Hardy marigolds, in bright yellows and oranges, the famous late-bloomers of summer, are now in full flower in my garden. Faithful little plants, they’ll continue to flourish long after all the other posies have faded away.

Queen Anne’s lace, with its dainty, white-clustered blossoms, is everywhere along the roadsides, and will be so until first frost, lending an old-fashioned, Victorian charm to the scene. Milkweed pods will be opening soon, releasing countless seeds that float hither and yon through the air on their little feathery-white parachutes. Country fields of goldenrod will presently be in evidence as far as the eye can see, their deep saffron florets waving gently in the breeze. It won’t be long before we’re deeply immersed in those picture-postcard days of fall, when the green leaves of summer magically transform into blazing jewels of ruby red, glowing amber, shimmering wine, and brilliant yellow.

It’s harvest time. The black walnuts and hardy acorns are ripe and falling from the trees, to be retrieved and cached away by busy squirrels already planning for winter’s provisions. Apple orchards are laden with shiny, bright-colored fruit ready for the picking – as a crisp, crunchy treat or cool, refreshing cider. The zucchini and summer squash are at their peak and ready to store in the freezer. Months from now, when our beloved gardens are just a memory, these delectables from our carefully-cultivated patches of earth will evoke a reminiscent touch of summer when made into sauces, casseroles, breads, and cakes.

It’s harvest time for you and me, too, perhaps – time for taking stock, for evaluating the yield of our lives, so to speak. How fruitful have our days been? As we’ve tended to our crops of daily duties, responsibilities, and challenges, have we also tended to the people in our midst? They have crops of challenges, too. They could use the provision of a helping hand, a sowing of sunny thoughts, and a shower of encouraging words. Such caring acts can make a powerful difference for good. Indeed, the things we do for others throughout our lives often prove to be our greatest accomplishments.

What of true value have we reaped so far, and what significant offerings can we hope to glean in the time we have left? “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit . . .,” read the Scriptures (John 15:5). It is reassuring to know that, even in the autumn of our lives, with God’s help, we can still bring forth a veritable bounty of good deeds and kindnesses of lasting impact.

The unfolding of the fall season’s sights and sounds not only invigorates our senses, it also renews our spirits. Lofty goals are being set, and rightfully so. As my friend Sarah said, “This is going to be the best fall ever!”

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