I got an email from my dad this afternoon telling me his Uncle Bob passed away today. He was 95. My Great Uncle Bob was a WWII veteran, serving in the Army Air Corps on Okinawa at the end of the war.
In the email, my dad mentioned that when he was born, the whole Widmer clan lived in the same house in Herkimer, NY. By the time my father was a toddler, he’d identified Bob as his favorite uncle. Bob would take my dad to the playground and kept a watchful eye on him as he grew older. All the time Uncle Bob was in the Army, he would send my dad a dollar each month to put in a bank he had given him. When he returned from overseas, Uncle Bob took my dad and the money, bought my dad’s first bicycle, which he taught him to ride.
Uncle Bob was not drafted until July of 1945, and Japan surrendered in August of 1945. Hence, the war was over before he arrived at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, where he served as an aircraft mechanic. As I understand it, he worked on B-29s and P-47s, which continued to fly air defense and other missions during the occupation. Bob received a commendation signed by President Harry Truman for his service.
I still remember going to my Great Uncle Bob’s house as a very young boy and playing with his two girls, Ellen and Ruth. We would also see them at Raquette Lake in upstate New York and at family reunions. I guess Ellen and Ruth would be second cousins. Uncle Bob and Aunt Lillian were wonderful people, and these are such great memories. American has lost another one of its heroes.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 by a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter. Since then, each subsequent president has continued the tradition, commemorating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
A national ceremony is held on every National POW/MIA Recognition Day at the Pentagon featuring members of each branch of military service and the participation of high-ranking officials.
In addition to the national ceremony, many observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day can be found across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools, veterans’ facilities, homes, and private businesses.
No matter where they are held, these National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies share the common purpose of honoring those held captive and returned, and those who remain missing.
According to the Department of Defense, approximately 83,114 Americans are still missing today.
In past years, I have seen Missing Man Honors tables set up in restaurants I have visited on this day. It never fails to bring a lump to my throat.
Missing Man Honors
Let me take a moment to explain the significance of the Missing Man Honors to those who may not understand. This is how the table is typically set at military and veteran clubs, and private businesses and homes.
The tables I have seen are typically set for one, with the single empty chair representing all missing American servicemembers. It will sometimes be done with a setting for six, with each chair representing the missing Americans from each of the services, including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and civilian.
There is great symbolism in how the table is set.
The table is round to symbolize our everlasting concern.
The table cloth is white and represents the purity of motive in answering the call to serve.
A single red rose is placed on the table to remind us of the lives of these Americans and their friends and loved ones who keep the faith.
The yellow ribbon represents our continued uncertainty, hope for their return, and determination to account for them.
A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate, captured or missing in a foreign land.
A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of the missing and their families.
The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
The glass is inverted, symbolizing their inability to share a toast.
The chair is empty … because these great Americans are missing.
Traditions such as these honor those who fought and sacrificed so Americans today can live in Freedom.
Freedom is such a precious gift, a gift paid for by blood during the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and other conflicts.
Politics is for politicians. The American fighting men and women put the politics aside and just do their job. All Americans should remember the brave men and women who answered our nation’s call and served in defense of freedom, and it is especially important to remember those who have not yet come home.
It might be fun to learn a little WWII history while staying at home and helping control the spread if Covid-19! John Purvis provides some great links to documentaries on the subject that are free to view.
I saw a tweet from @WWIIFoundation a short time ago that I thought was worth sharing. It said:
If you or your students, kids, adults are looking for things to do to stay occupied, please know ALL our World War II films are available to watch for free on your computer, tablet or smartphone.
If you visit their website (https://wwiifoundation.org/) you will find nearly 30 documentary videos covering WWII. This website offers something to fill some of the time while we are confined at home and to learn more about WWII.
If you are interested in the WWII era of history, you may find these three pages of interest.
The “World War II Sources” page is a constantly growing collection of more than 360 links to museums, memorials, websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and other sources with information on the World War II-era in history.
German soldiers crossed the border into Poland on September 1, 1939, triggering the beginning of World War II. In response to the German invasion of Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. However, it would be several very long years before Poland would see any kind of relief from Allied action.
The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather is an almost unfathomable true story of courage and sacrifice. It is a story that would make most of us ask the question of ourselves, “Is there any way I could possibly do what this man did?”
It is an incredible story of a courageous Polish national who volunteered to infiltrate Auschwitz in an attempt to sabotage the camp from the inside, and his extremely dangerous attempt to warn the Allies of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Would you volunteer?
In an effort to discover the fate of the thousands of Poles being sent to a mysterious new Nazi “work” camp on the border of the Reich, a thirty-nine-year-old Polish resistance fighter named Witold Pilecki was asked to volunteer for an suicide mission.
That mission involved using a fake identity, intentionally get arrested, and being sent to this new camp. When there, Witold was ordered to report back to the Polish underground on what was really going on within the camp and to organize and execute an uprising from within the camp … where the Germans would least expect it.
The Auschwitz Death Camp
Over the next two and half years, Witold Pilecki established an underground army within the camp called Auschwitz; sabotaging facilities, assassinating Nazi informants and officers, and gathering evidence of the horrific abuse and mass murders. Even as he pieced together the horrifying truth about the camp, Auschwitz began to change; becoming the epicenter for Hitler’s plan to exterminate Europe’s entire Jewish population,.
This was Hitler’s “Final Solution,” a plan organized and overseen by Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS (Schutzstaffel).
The Allied leaders seemed slow to understand what was happening. This may be partly because they did not believe such horrifying stories could be true. And, partly because they believed the best way to end the horror was simply to defeat Hitler’s forces and end the war. Finally, they didn’t want to give credence to Hitler’s propaganda campaign that the Western Allies were somehow allied with the Jewish people.
There was also clearly evidence of some antisemitic individuals in key positions in Allied governments.
Even Witold was acting to save his home country of Poland. While horrified at the atrocities being committed in Auschwitz against the Jews, his primary motivation was saving Poland. The book notes how he admitted how became desensitized over a period of time, seeing trainload after trainload of Jews from several countries including Holland, France, Poland, and others, and processed through the camp.
During the first 3 years at Auschwitz, 2 million people died; over the next 2 years – 3 million.
Witold finally came to understand that, in order to save the lives of those sent to Auschwitz and Birkenau ( a second camp three kilometers away), he would have to risk his men, his life, and his family to warn the West before all was lost. To do so, meant attempting the impossible. Witold had to escape from Auschwitz itself. His escape was successful.
When Stalin’s army assumed control of Poland after Germany’s capitulation, the new communist government of Poland executed Witold Pilecki following a “show trial.” They simply could not allow such a prolific leader of the Polish underground to turn his attention on them in an effort to regain Polish independence.
Witold Pilecki’s amazing story was completely erased from the historical record by Poland’s post-war Communist government. Pilecki’s heroic undertaking remained unknown to the entire world until recently.
Since the break up of the Soviet Union, access to his previously hidden reports, diaries, and other recently declassified documents, as well as his family and other camp survivor accounts, have allowed Jack Fairweather to create an unblinking portrayal of courage, survival, and betrayal during one of mankind’s most darkest hours.
A Failed Mission?
While uncovering the tragic outcome of Witold Pilecki’s mission, the author reveals to us that Pilecki viewed his mission as a failure. However, as I see it, the failure of Witold’s mission was not his fault. The blame, if there is any, rests on the shoulders of those in London and Washington who failed to understand and act. However, I don’t see it as being that simple. There was way too much at play in this to point the finger of blame at any one person or thing.
My thoughts …
This book was a real page turner and I could not put it down. While a true story and well-documented, The Volunteer reads like a WWII action thriller about a Polish hero who infiltrates a death camp, organizes a rebellion, and then quietly escapes. But, it is so much more than that.
This book squarely confronts the reader with the truth about human nature, a truth that hits hard on so many levels.
First, there is the pure evil that very few among us seem willing to face. An evil so unfathomable, that leaders of the free world could not accept that it even existed … until it was almost too late!
Second, that there are those few among us who are willing to sacrifice their lives, risking torture or a painful death, to protect and serve others … even strangers.
Third, that we, as a free and moral people, need to be forever on guard to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. Fascism, radicalism, and totalitarianism is alive and well in our world, often disguising itself under different or misleading banners such as Communism, Socialism, Antifa, Taliban, ISIS, al Qaeda, or even Islam.
And lastly, to those who are holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, “true racists,” and to those who compare people like the President or law enforcement officers to Nazis, and the crisis on our southern border to concentration camps … all I can say is, “shame on you!” You have not a clue.
Captain Witold Pilecki
Witold Pilecki went to his death thinking his mission had been a failure. While he brilliantly established an underground resistance in the camp, survived Auschwitz for over two years, and carefully documented and reported the evil atrocities being committed there, he’d been unable to compel action against the camp by the Allies or successfully destroy the camp from within.
He did, however, save many lives and bring about the assassination of many SS officers and Nazi monsters at Auschwitz.
I would argue that his biggest success, and perhaps the most important success of his mission, is his story; a story that might help us find the courage to recognize and face down pure evil when it arises.
Could I volunteer to do what Witold Pilecki did? I cannot answer that question. And, I admit that I hope I never have to find out. However, if I was ever faced with a similar circumstance or decision, I can now say that here is another example of a courageous man, one I can truly admire, who can show me how it is done.
Read an incredible story of courage, combat and chivalry during World War II that will quicken your pulse, give you a strong sense of American pride, make you chuckle, and then bring a tear to your eye!
Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II
A “beautiful story of a brotherhood between enemies”* emerges from the horrors of World War II in this New York Times and international bestseller.
December, 1943: A badly damaged American bomber struggles to fly over wartime Germany. At the controls is twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Half his crew lay wounded or dead on this, their first mission. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt fighter pulls up on the bomber’s tail. The pilot is German ace Franz Stigler – and he can destroy the young American crew with the squeeze of a trigger…
What happened next would defy imagination and later be called “the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.”
The U.S. 8th Air Force would later classify what happened between them as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention for fear of facing a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search the world for each other, a last mission that could change their lives forever.
Simply an amazing read!
It is almost impossible to describe the range of emotional responses reading this story invoked within me. As a patriotic American and the great-grandson of German immigrants to America, this story touched me on many levels.
This is the story of two men, pilots in their respective country’s air forces, meeting in a chance encounter in the skies over Germany. This meeting would eventually go down in history as one of the most amazing tales of World War II.
I stayed on the edge of my seat reading this story. It was very hard to put down even when I needed to. It was like I became Lieutenant Charlie Brown and the fate of ‘Ye Olde Pub” and the B-17’s crew was in my hands. I also became the pilot of the ME-109, torn between my humanity and the orders of the Nazis government that I secretly despised. We do not hear the words combat and chivalry used in the same sentence these days.
I became totally engrossed in the characters on both sides! This book made me wince. At times it made me chuckle. In addition, this story tugged at my heart and there were several times it even brought a tear to my eye.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars ( maybe even 6 out of 5!)
If you enjoy military history, this book is an absolutely must read. It is rare that we get to glimpse such an amazing spark of real humanity in the awful chaos that is war. It truly is a story of combat and chivalry!
Check out this great post by GP Cox over at Pacific Paratrooper! A collection of Home Front recipes from WWII. I think I remember my grandmothers making some of these … or at least something very similar.
John’s review of this book intrigued me, so I went to Amazon.com and took a look, and read some additional reader reviews. It has a great overall rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars after a total of 17 Customer Reviews, with 59% being 5 Stars and an additional 18% being 4 Stars. Definitely, a strong showing since its publication date of February 22, 2018.
I do love reading WWII history. My other big favorite is Vietnam War history. This is probably fairly apparent if you read my novel, Serpents Underfoot. Anyway, I guess I will be adding Morning Star, Midnight Sun to my Audible collection. Military history, in general, has always been fascinating to me. As a youngster, I received many books on military history as Christmas gifts. Now I am even experimenting with military flash fiction! Who would have thought of such a thing!
If you like WWII history, you should check this book out. You might also want to check out some of the other reviews on John’s Notes; especially if you are a Mac user!
And, if you like exciting military fiction with a touch of romance, political intrigue, and family values … check out my book, Serpents Underfoot, on Amazon.com!
And, Kindle readers … don’t forget the giveaway memorial Day Weekend!
It is May, 1945. Adolf Hitler lies dead and burned in his bunker. The Third Reich is now little more than a smoking pile of rubble. American soldiers think about going home, now that the war is essentially over. Formal surrender is just days away. Then something unbelievable happens. The Last Battle is still yet to be fought.
The last battle begins …
According to John C. Lee, Jr, “Well, it was just the damnedest thing!”
Captain John C Lee, Jr. is in command of a small group of American soldiers, disheartened Wehrmacht soldiers and one ex SS officer. A startling alliance forms to protect a group of VIP French prisoners from being executed at the end of WWII.
The stage is set …
German forces invade France in May of 1940. Hitler’s troops round-up many French government officials and other VIPs, including Wimbledon champion. Initially, these prisoners spend time in places like Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. Hitler decides to have some hostages on hand to exchange if things go bad.
As a result, this group of illustrious prisoners find themselves interred at Schloss Itter, a castle in northern Austria. The living conditions at Schloss Itter are much better than at the concentration camps. However, the French prisoners were not out of the woods. The commandant of the castle is a brutal, murderous thug who, at one time, was in charge of prisoner discipline at Dachau.
The German army is in compete disarray after Hitler’s death. Deserters are very common. A fanatical unit of SS troops receives orders to execute the French VIP’s before they can be rescued. The SS set out to carry out their last orders.
An unbelievable tale …
The Last Battle tells the unbelievable story of this unlikeliest battle of WW II. This small group of American tankers, led by Captain Lee, who with the help of German soldiers, fight off these fanatical SS troops and protect the stronghold’s VIP prisoners. This is a tale of unlikely allies, real bravery and desperate combat between soldiers who just want to go home alive and fanatical Nazi killers.
While this is a great story., it is not a bang, bang, shoot-em-up! It is a history and well-documented. The story does start a little slow because of the great attention to detail. Beginning chapters contain biographies of the French prisoners and there is a great deal of historical background. The battle comes at the end.
I did thoroughly enjoy the read and if you are a historian, you should enjoy it as well. If you need not stop action … this might not be a book for you. It is a fascinating and excellent story. I give it 4 Stars!
There is no doubt liberal progressives really do such a fantastic job lying to the American people.
Conservatives need to develop a simple message that enables the “bumper sticker” mentality of the American electorate to realize they are being fed a hearty helping of bullshit. The political, media, and entertainment elite are pulling the wool over the eyes of everyday hard working Americans; and for what purpose? Their own selfish gain and interest.
I know some of you have already figured this out, but for those who haven’t, consider the following statements I saw once posted by Allen West:
The word conundrum is defined as a complex problem that is often puzzling or confusing. Here are six conundrums that exist in our contemporary United States of America.
America is capitalist and greedy – yet almost half of the population is subsidized
Half of the population is subsidized – yet they think they are victims.
They think they are victims – yet their representatives run the government.
Their representatives run the government – yet the poor keep getting poorer.
The poor keep getting poorer – yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.
They have things that people in other countries only dream about – yet politicians (mostly progressive socialists) claim they want America to become more like those other countries.
And consider these following three observations about the current direction of our federal government and cultural environment:
We are advised not to judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but on the other hand, we are admonished to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics. Funny how that works, as we see the liberal progressives already jumping on the recent tragedy in South Carolina. So what about the increase in stabbing victims, should we ban knives? I heard on the news yesterday that a man tried to poison a coworker by putting weed killer in his water bottle on several occasions. Do we now also ban weed killer?
We constantly hear about how Social Security is running out of money. How come we never hear about welfare or food stamps on the verge of running out of money? Maybe the first group “worked for” their money, but the second didn’t. It is a simple case of printing money for political bribery and extortion.
Why are we cutting benefits for our veterans, giving no pay raises for our military and cutting our forces to a level lower than before WWII, but are expanding and increasing the benefits to illegal aliens? It is all about pandering for votes! Who cares about national security or veterans dying at the hands of their own Veterans Administration?
Before you call me a racist at me and start scrabbling around for another flag to ban, calm down and think about these points for a minute. To use a cliché that is probably banned by now for being politically incorrect or even inciting gun violence – they seem to be pretty much “dead on target”