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

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

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, October 17, 2021

October’s Golden Glow

“. . . They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock . . .”

Excerpt from When the Frost is on the Punkin, by Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, 1849–1916

Autumn is gently turning down the light on the brilliant joys of summer, and, in its stead, the month of October offers us some of the most vibrant delights of the year.

Gone are the warm days of July and August, when the bright morning sun has risen before us. Now we awaken to refreshingly crisp, cool temperatures while it’s still dark outside. Once the sunshine appears, however, we are treated to sparkling signs that Jack Frost has been here: overnight, he has left crystal traces of his lacy handiwork artistically etched on our windowpanes.

That mischievous elfish creature has also lightly nipped the green leaves of the trees with his silver paintbrush and magically transformed them into a rainbow of dazzling colors: flaming crimson, burnt orange, sunny yellow, and glowing amber. Finally, Jack Frost has begun to loosen the stems of the leaves, releasing them to dance lightly through the air and flutter silently to the ground.

Ah! Golden October. It has its own characteristic charm. Time to retrieve from the back of the closet those warm sweaters, scarves and gloves, go outside, and enjoy! Just take a look at that deep azure sky filled with flocks of birds… Our wise feathered friends are gathering together to fly southward towards more temperate climes.

In anticipation of the cold weather ahead, the squirrels are busily stocking their larders with black walnuts, hazelnuts, and assorted acorns from hardy oaks. Can you detect the pungent aroma of drifting wood smoke from bonfires in the distance? Mmmmmm . . . There’s a definite nip in the air, and restless Mr. Wind can be heard whistling through the trees.

Out in the country, the grain has ripened, and fields have turned to brown, but pumpkins with their familiar orange-yellow hue and tan-colored corn stalks bundled together add lively splashes of color here and there. Sometimes standing guard nearby is a comic scarecrow, sporting denim overalls with red paisley patches and sandy-beige straw hat.

The flowers of summer have almost faded away, but a deep orange marigold and hardy chrysanthemums, in rust and purple, remain in my garden patch to brighten the barren scene.

Fallen leaves form a soft carpet under my feet as I shuffle along, their crunch and rustle crackling with every step. I pass by houses festooned with festive ears of Indian corn on the front doors, and, as evening begins, jolly Jack-O-Lanterns aglow with candlelight appear on porch steps and peer out of windows.

My thoughts turn to hot chocolate, roasted marshmallows, crunchy apples, sweet cider, and pumpkin pie fresh from the oven. In the deepening twilight, I feel the invigorating chill of the night air and eagerly head for home, to curl up with a good book near my blazing fireplace.

Nature, as in all of life, has a beginning and then an end, but, as James Whitcomb Riley suggested in his famous poem “When The Frost is on the Punkin,” excerpted above, this should not be cause for melancholy. When days turn cool, and winter’s on the horizon, we may wish to hang on to the warmth of summer–its lush green leaves, beautiful birds, and busy bees–but if we open our eyes to the fresh wonders of autumn, we realize there is an abundance of reasons to be just as happy now. Every season is one to be savored.

As with the seasons, the substance of our lives is also transitory. As one chapter ends, we may look back with longing and wish for the “good old days,” but it’s well to remember that other experiences, different, of course, but equally pleasurable, are still to be discovered and appreciated on the path ahead.

The splendor of the summer months is over and gone, but take heart! In its place, the magnificence of October has arrived. It’s time to gather up our happy memories and prepare for the exciting, new days to come.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Day to Be Happy

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

~Anne Frank (1929-1945) Famous Holocaust victim

For two long years during World War II, Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding from the Nazis, confined in cramped attic rooms of an office building in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In spite of existing in a state of ever-present fear and isolation, young Anne never stopped believing in the goodness of life.

Except for her father, Anne and the other members of her family ultimately died in concentration camps. Anne’s gallant message, recorded in her red-checkered diary, however, was not silenced by her cruel captors. The little cloth-bound book, later discovered on the floor of the Franks’ former living area, has prevailed as a timeless statement of hope to the world.

In the spirit of Anne’s words, in spite of our individual challenges, major as they may be, there are still so many reasons to be happy today. Life in all its simple pleasures is precious and a gift to be savored. We don’t have to look far. An infinite variety of things to gladden our hearts is right before us.

Here’s just a sampling:

The irreplaceable sound of a loved one’s voice calling “Good Morning”

Brilliant sunshine streaming through a window

Fluffy white clouds in vivid blue skies

Beckoning green hills with lush valleys below

Delicious aroma of freshly-brewed coffee

Cheerful song of robins twittering in the trees

Regal purple iris and friendly daisies in full bloom

A rainbow decorating the sky after a thunderstorm

A little white farmhouse with red rosebush nearby

Tinkling piano music drifting across the air

Children’s voices raised in shouts of delight

The merry peal of a grandmother’s laughter

The sight of a baby taking her first faltering steps

The contented purring sound of a tabby cat

The soulful eyes of a cocker spaniel

What makes you happy today?

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