Saturday, August 31, 2019

One By One, D-Day Memories Fade-- Part 3: How Many Are Still Alive?

Normandy school teachers, veterans' families and military memorials are racing against time to record survivors' stories for posterity.

It was history's biggest amphibious invasion, on that fateful June 6, 1944, day, some 160,000 Allied forces came ashore to launch Operation Overlord to wrest Normandy from German control.  More than 4,000 Allied forces were killed that day alone.  Nearly a half a million people were killed on both sides by the time the Allies liberated Paris in August 1944.

It is unclear how many D-Day veterans are alive today.  The survivors are now in their 90s or 100s.

Of the 73,000 Americans who took part, just thirty are currently scheduled to come to France for this year's 75th anniversary.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

One By One, D-Day Memories Fade As WW II's Witnesses Die-- Part 2

An ever-smaller number of veterans will stand on Normandy's shores on June 6 for D-Day's 75th anniversary.  Many will salute fallen comrades from their wheelchairs.  As each year passes, more firsthand history is lost.

Bernard Dangols has outlived many of those men storming ashore June 6, 1944 and knows the importance of sustaining their memory.  "I'm convinced that we have to talk about the war to children, so they will understand how much they need to preserve the peace," he wrote in his memoir.

Even to his death, Dargols battled today's complacency, intolerance and those who think of D-Day as just a movie.

In recent years, "seeing any type of violence, of anti-Semitism and racism, either in France, in Europe or in the U.S." really upset him, said his granddaughter, Caroline Jolivet.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Halloween Prank in 1958

Okay, not WW II, but an interesting story anyway.

From the October 3, 2018, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

A photograph of a Halloween prank at Northern Illinois.

Caption:  "Halloween prank in 1958.  A fully assembled car sits on the structure that will become the Neptune building on the Northern Illinois University campus in De Kalb.

The photo was taken by Perry and Edythe Larson from their home on Carroll Avenue where the Holmes Student Center now stands.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

One By One, D-Day Memories Fade As WW II's Witnesses Die-- Part 1

From the May 12, 2019, Chicago Tribune by Angela Charlton, AP.

Growing up, World War II veterans were everywhere so I never thought too much about them being around.  (I was born in 1951, just six years after the war.)  But, they are getting very rare these days as age claims so many daily.

"Paris --One more funeral, one fewer witness to the world's worst war.

"Bernard Dargols lived almost long enough to join the celebrations next month marking 75 years since the D-Day, 75 years since he waded ashore at Omaha Beach as an American soldier to help liberate France from the Nazis who persecuted his Jewish family.

"Just shy of his 99th birthday, Dargols died this month.  To the strains of his beloved American jazz, he was laid to rest Thursday at France's most famous cemetery, Pere Lachaise."


Monday, August 26, 2019

Shoe Rationing and Books for the Men in 1944

From the April 17, 2019, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1944, 75 Years Ago.

"Shoe retailers may temporarily sell children's shoes ration-free in ranges from size  eight and one half through twelve, and misses' and little boys' shoes in sizes twelve and one-half through three.  These shoes may be sold to consumers ration free from May  1 through May 20, at a maximum price of $1.60 per pair."


"Mrs. Leta Best Muller, Sycamore librarian, who is putting forth an extra effort to secure books for the men in service, reports that of late, a greater interest is being shown in the work and she expects to be able to send out a large shipment before many days pass."


Thursday, August 22, 2019

At 94, Bob Dole Greets Aging WW II Vets-- Part 3

Besides his service in World War II, Bob Dole's life has been one of service in all manners.  He is a champion of the disabled, Senate majority leader, 1996 Republican presidential candidate.  Meeting his fellow veterans is down to his final calling.  It is a duty to be fulfilled as long as he is able.

"It's just about the one public service left that I'm doing,"  Dole says.  "We don't have many of the World War II vets left.  It's important to me."

he has watched the proportion of WW II vets fall over the years from half the bus to just a few per group.

Dole's wife, former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, says her husband is just wired to serve.  She frequently joins him on these Saturday outings.

I Still Think He Would Have Made An Excellent President.  --GreGen

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

At 94, Bob Dole Greets Aging WW II Vets-- Part 2

The aging vets recognize him, "Oh my gosh, Bob Dole!"

"Good to see you.  Where are you from?"  Dole says this over and over as they roll close, sometimes one on each side.  New York, Tennessee, Nevada.

He'll do this for more than three hours some days. and more than six hours on others.  They pump his left hand -- the one with some numb feeling left -- and squeeze his shoulders and sometimes he gets home not just tired, but gently battered by humanity and humidity alike.

"Physically, it takes a toll," says his nurse, Nathaniel Lohn.  "I may find five new bruises on him tonight.  But he won't miss it."

Dole has been doing this for years, weather and his health permitting, to greet his comrades.  They are brought there at no cost to them by the nonprofit Honor Flight Network.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

At 94, Bob Dole Greets Aging WW II Vets-- Part 1

From the June 24, 2018, Chicago Tribune  "At 94, Dole embraces role to greet aging WW II vets" by Steve Hendrix, Washington Post.

"Each Saturday, before Bob Dole sets off on his latest vocation, he has cornflakes, a little sugar on top, and a bottle of chocolate Boost.

"It takes less time to get dressed now that the 94-year-old allows a nurse to help him, but it remains a rough half-hour on a body racked by injury and age."  His shirt has to be maneuvered over his dead right arm and the shoulder that was blown away on an Italian hillside in World War II.

A pair of North Face running shoes have to be tied for him because his artillery blasted hands have been unable to tie since 1945.

Then, it is a 20 minute drive to the memorial that Bob Dole is very responsible, the National World War II memorial.

There, they come.  "Bus after bus, wheelchair after wheelchair, battalions of his bent brothers, stooped with years, but steeped in pride, veterans coming to see their country's monument to their sacrifice and to be welcomed by one of their country's icons."

He is there to  greet them.

Of course, Bob Dole is 95 now.  I am not sure he still does this.

One of the Greatest Generation and I think he would have made an excellent president.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Victory Gardens in DeKalb in 1944

From the April 17, 2019, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1944, 75 Years Ago.

"Waiting only for a change in the general weather conditions, home gardeners of DeKalb are preparing for victory gardening this year on even a greater scale than last.

"Gardens last year were well above expectations, and this year the government is asking that home gardens produce 25 percent more food than in the 1943 season."


Friday, August 16, 2019

Housing, Hemp and Books on the Home Front

From the March 27, 2019, MidWeek  "Looking Back."

1944, 75 Years Ago.

"With completion of some of the apartments in the State theater building, it is announced that two of them are now occupied.    These apartments are three room kitchenettes an make a comfortable home for a family  of two or three."

War industries caused a big housing shortage all over.  This was in Sycamore.


"Announcement was made  at Decatur that the 1944 hemp crop of six midwestern states, including Illinois, will be decreased by two-thirds of 1943 production on record because of the current large reserve supply of fiber in the United States."


"Mrs. Leta Best Mueller has started a campaign to secure a large number of the better books for the men in service, and while there has been some response it is not what she thinks it should be, due to the fact, possibly,  that many persons have forgotten the campaign."

Home Front.  --GreGen

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Death of WASP Dorothy Olsen-- Part 5: "Despite the Fact That A Woman Once Flew It"

In 1945, just weeks after the end of the war in Europe, she married Harold Olsen and after raising their children, she ran antique shops near her University Place home, where she had lived since the 1960s.  Her husband died in 2006.

There are 37 living WASPs today, according to Kimberly Johnson, the archivist and curator of the WASP archive at Texas Woman's University in Denton.

They and their late colleagues were 'vitally important" -- not only to the war effort but "also for the impact they had on the experiences of women in future aviation" and other careers in engineering and science.

Sometimes before sending a plane off to combat,, WASPs would leave a note for its next pilot, occasionally sealing the missive with a red-lipsticked kiss.  In 1945, Dorothy Olsen received a letter sent from Italy by the pilot of a P-38 she had ferried.

It read:  "I thought I'd write a few lines," the lieutenant wrote, "to  let you know that despite the fact that a woman once flew it, the ship performs perfectly and is apparently without flaws of any kind."


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The End of World War II This Date, 1945: Japanese Surrender


1941--  President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, a statement of principles that renounced aggression.

1945--  President Harry Truman announced that Japan had accepted the terms of unconditional surrender, that World War II was over and that he had proclaimed the following day to be V-J Day (Victory Over Japan).

This was 74 years ago.   This past Sunday I attended the Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive commemoration in McHenry, Illinois, at Veterans Park. which is always held the second Sunday of August to remember the Greatest Generation.

Finally, Over.  --GreGEn

Death of WASP Dorothy Olsen-- Part 4: Group Finally Gets Veteran Benefits and Gold Medal

The WASPs were disbanded in 1944, the year before the war ended.  Only in 1977 did they receive full veterans' benefits, and only in 2010 did they receive the recognition that their admirers thought to be their due, with the conferral of the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's second highest military honor.

"I was doing what I loved.  And I was lucky," Olsen told KOMO News.  "I loved it.  Every minute."

Dorothy Eleanor Kocher was born in Woodburn, Oregon, on July 10, 1916.  She became hooked on aviation after riding a biplane at a state fair and thereafter spent "all her available rime and money" on flying lessons," according to her daughter.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Death of WASP Dorothy Olsen-- Part 3: Buzzed the Base

In some cases, WASPs flew captured German and Japanese planes that had been transported back to the United States to be tested for their capabilities and vulnerabilities.

A total of 38 WASPs died during the war.

"The government didn't treat us very well, Olsen related.  "A bay mate was killed in a plane crash and the rest of us had to take up a collection to get her body back to Portland because they wouldn't pay for it."

Dorothy Olsen said she flew twenty types of planes during the war and became known for her moxie she brought to her sky duties.  At least once she flew her plane upside down for a thrill.

Another time the beauty of the nighttime sky overcame her:  "The moonlight came over Texas, and I was able to get big band music.  It was the closest to heaven I have ever been," she said.  "When I saw the lights of Coolidge Runway, I was excited and I came in low and buzzed the base before landing.   It was 11 o'clock during wartime, and I guess I woke up everybody.  The commander had a few words with me."

Wonder What He Said?  --GreGen

Monday, August 12, 2019

Death of WASP Dorothy Olsen-- Part 2: Flew Planes From Factories, Test Flights and Pulled Targets

She traced her love of airplanes back to reading a book about "The Red Knight of Germany" Baron Manfred von Richthoven during World War I.  For other WASPs, inspiration came from stories about Americans Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

The WASPs were formed by combining two earlier groups, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and the Women's Flying Training Detachment.  WASPs were treated as civilians and limited to domestic flights that freed more men to fly in combat.

But their missions, which totaled 60 million were of critical importance and sometimes of life-threatening danger.

They ferried planes from factories to their points of embarkation for the war front, performed test flights and towed targets (the ones at Fort Fisher did this) for gunnery practice.


Death of Daring WW II WASP, Dorothy Olsen-- Part 1: One of Just 1,074

From the August 8, 2019, Chicago Tribune "Daring aviatrix flew with WASPs during World War II" by Emily Langer, Washington Post.

DOROTHY OLSEN  1916-2019

Growing up on a farm in Oregon, Dorothy Olsen fell in love with flying.  She recalled, "From the time I was a little girl... until the time I was flying night missions as a Woman Airforce Service Pilot (WASPs) over moonlit Texas during World War II, I just loved to fly."

Olsen was one of the few surviving WASPs, the long unrecognized corps of female pilots who flew vital domestic missions for the Army Air Forces during World War II, died July 23 at her home in Washington state.  She was 103.

Olsen, then Dorothy Kocher, was working as a dance instructor in Portland, Oregon, when she joined the WASPs in 1943, the year the program was established.

Olsen had scrimped by to pay for private flying lessons for a pilot license and was one of mire than 25,000 women who applied to be WASPs, one of 1,879 candidates accepted and one of 1,074 to complete the training program.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Some More On USS Arizona Survivor Lonnie Cook

From MSN News.

Served eight years as gunner's mate in the U.S. Navy.

A fateful switch on December 7, 1941, probably saved his life.He switched shower times with a buddy at his buddy's request.  Had he not switched times he would have died that day as the buddy was in the shower and did not survive.

He fought in eight battles during the war.

Services will be in Morris, Oklahoma, where he will be buried next to his wife of 69 years.


The Four Remaining USS Arizona Survivors

With the recent death of Lonnie Cook, that leaves just four remaining USS Arizona survivors, all in their upper 90s:

Don Stratton

Lauren Bruner

Lou Conter

Ken Potts.

Earlier this year, the last survivor of the Doolittle Raid died.

It Will Be A Sad Day When These Four Die.  --GreGen

Thursday, August 8, 2019

One of the Last Known USS Arizona Survivors Dies: "L.D." Cook

From the August 2, 2019, KTIV NBC Channel 4 "Oklahoma, native, 1 of last-known USS Arizona survivors, dies

According to daughter Pat Cunanan, her father, Lonnie David  "L.D." Cook died Wednesday, July 31, 2019,  at age 98 in California where he was living near her family in Salinas.

He was born in Morris, Oklahoma, and his death leaves four known remaining survivors of December 7, 1941.  A total of 1,177 of the 1,512 on board died on the Arizona that day.

She said her father talked little of that day except to attribute his survival to being in one of the turrets at the time.

Funeral services will be held in Morris, about 35 miles south of Oklahoma City.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 7:

Aida and Gerald Bonsonto went on to have four sons, one of whom, Vince, died a few years ago.   Gerald worked as a truck driver and wore his Army boots until they disintegrated, Aida said.

"I wanted to have them bronzed," something she did for her son, Joe, after he returned from serving in Vietnam, she said.   "But he insisted on wearing them every day, as a reminder of all he went through and why he went through it -- for freedom."   It also served as a tribute to his buddies who were killed in action, she said.

"He would say, 'Shut it off. It's not the real thing.  You've got to be there to know what it is really like,' "she said.

Aida said she is lending the dress to the museum instead of donating it, because she has several great granddaughters who might decide they'd like to wear it on their wedding day.

For now the dress will be displayed as a testament to a time when love and war intersected, creating a fahion statement.

So Glad It Is Going To a Museum.  --GreGen

Monday, August 5, 2019

Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 6: About That Nightgown

For months, Gerald Bonsonto recovered in hospitals in France, England and Capri, Italy.

While in France, he asked a woman to make a nightgown for his bride out of parachute material;.  The long-sleeved, sashed gown even has a nickname, "Edith," embroidered across the top left side.

Aida said that Gerald told her the cost of the seamstresses' work was two packs of cigarettes.

It was a different time, Aida said, and even though she only wore the nightgown on her wedding day, she machine sewed the originally hand-stitched seams to add durability.  She has also hand-washed the gown over the years.

Back then, the parachutes, said Jerry Bonsonto Jr., "were thin and lightweight, designed to get the men down fast so they wouldn't be targets in the air."

Caroline Bonsonto said the parachute nightgown "looks delicate but it is sturdy as steel."


Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 5: Her Photo Saved Gerald's Life

As Gerald Bonsonto, a medic and paratrooper assigned to the 307th Medics of the 82nd Airborne Division, saw duty around Europe and Africa, Aida worked in a shoe factory, first piecing together athletic shoes then sewing aviation lit bags for the Army.

One day, while on the job, she received a call from her future mother-in-law, asking her to come quickly.  Gerald had been shot in the chest while parachuting over Sainte-Mere-Eglise, which would become the first town liberated after the D-Day invasion.

A German sniper's bullet grazed Gerald's heart and lodges in his back, she says.  She believes "my picture saved his life."

Before he left for duty, she'd given Gerald a photo of herself that was taken at her brother's wedding.  He'd kept the picture, which had a metal, mirror-like backing in his chest pocket.  The photo was shredded by the bullet, but Aida kept it, an it is now buried with her husband.

Quite the Story.  --GreGEn

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 4: Wrote To Him Every Day

Aida "Edith" Bonsonto shared her story.  She and Jerry, her future husband, lived across the street from each other in Chicago but didn't meet until one summer night in 1938 when she ran into him as she was leaving a neighborhood ice cream shop with her sister.

He was standing on the corner with his cousin and the four got to talking.  "Before you knew it, we were walking and talking," Aida recalled.  "Then he asked me id I'd like to go to a movie."

From there they dated and spent many evenings sitting on her front porch.

By December 1942, when Gerald was inducted into the Army, the couple was going steady.  "Before he left, he asked if I would accept his ring and if I would wait for him," Aida said.  She promised she would.

"I wrote to him every day without fail.  Every day he had a letter from me.  I never stopped writing to him," she said.

A World War II Love Story.  --GreGen

Friday, August 2, 2019

Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 3: "People Who Started the Baby Boom"

Chris Ruff, curator of the 82nd Airborne Museum says:  "Everybody hears about these dresses made from parachutes but it seems there are very few that survived to this day and this one is a gem."

After the war there were shortages of materials so people would make do with what they could get their hands on.  He's heard about theses dresses but this is only the second one he's actually seen.  "There are only maybe three or four in the whole Army enterprise collection," he said.

"It's dresses like this and the people behind them that started the Baby Boom,"  Ruff said.  "That's a big deal, not to mention the military service of these soldiers who brought these back to their wives."

"Now we can enjoy them and tell their story today.  That's what museum artifacts are about."

Now, People Will be Able to View the Real Thing For A Long Time.  --GreGen

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 2

It took months of recuperation from the wound he received on D-Day, but when Gerald Bonsonto recovered, he sent his parachute back to the U.S. in two boxes.  Aida would be wed in it after transformed to dress both practical during wartime rationing and fashionable for the time.

Aida, who turned 97 on July 10, recalled how she brought the fabric to an Italian immigrant who hand-stitched it into a beautiful gown with a sweetheart neckline and a long train.

It is now 73 years later and Gerald has been dead 39 years but that dress is still a work of fine craftsmanship.

On May 27, Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger met Aida in the Orland Park home of her son, Jerry Bonsanto Jr. to pick up the dress and transport it to the 82nd Airborne Museum at Fort Bragg, N.C., where it will be put on exhibit as a testament to the time.


Her Wedding Dress Made From Husband's Parachute-- Part 1

From the July 7, 2019, Chicago Tribune "For 73 years, a wedding dress made from husband's parachute was kept" by Donna Vickroy.

Now it's heading to a WW II museum.

That beautiful day, a crowd gathered in front of Aida's home in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood.  It was her wedding day and she wore a gown made of silk and nylon.  It was light that she felt she was "floating on air."  And, in a way, she was.

The date was June 8, 1946, and that dress had been made from her soon-to-be husband's Army parachute.

She went to Chicago's Holy Family Church and made good on her promise to marry Pfc. Gerald Bonsonto that she had made before he left to fight in World War II.  That promise had almost ended with a sniper's bullet during the Normandy Invasion.