The Cherry Harvest

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

I enjoy reading historical fiction because I like to feel that I’m right there with the characters.  A friend recommended this book for me because it takes place in Wisconsin, as well as for my interest in WWII and most likely because of my fascination with the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.  So to read a book about German POWs in Wisconsin was something I would definitely try, and didn’t put it off and pushed it ahead of the books I had already started.  

What intrigues me about historical fiction is being so immersed in the story that I then want to go and find out more about the historical topic, which is what I was hoping for when I turned the first page of The Cherry Harvest.  I was rather disappointed.  

I don’t like to be too harsh of a critic because this was a nice story.  It just wasn’t the story I was looking for.  

There was a lot of sex in this book.  I wanted to read about the German POWs (or PWs as they referred to them in the book) and what it was like to have them in Wisconsin while America as still deep in the war with Nazi Germany.

Instead what I got was a story about a farm family who badly needed labor and with all the men in the area drafted into the war, including their son, they turned to the US Army to allow them the use of German PWs.  The community was not happy about this and afraid to have the Germans around dangerous, potentially deadly farm equipment.   That’s it.  I feel like the two Germans characters stay in the background and walk in and out of the book at certain times.  The setting of the Germans is central to the plot, but it doesn’t go into detail about them and their experiences specifically.  The family’s teenage daughter is tutored by one of the prisoners who proves to be intelligent and well spoken in English.  Immediately, you expect the daughter Katie to fall in love with him.  She doesn’t.  It’s the mother who does even though she resisted feelings for him because her son was risking his life fighting the Germans.  The mother, Charlotte, is not a likable character, and she ends up being the downfall of the family as a whole.

The story focused mostly about Katie falling in love with a Senator’s son who is profiting from the war and her desire to leave rural northern Wisconsin to go to college in Madison and study literature like her father attempted to do.  So the Cherry Harvest was more of a coming of age love story.  It was a good story if I were looking for a romance novel, but I wasn’t.    

I looked up another review of this book and found that the author used this non-fiction book called Stalag Wisconsin so I have already begun reading this book and the first 50 pages are already giving me what I am looking for.  

Here is the link to an article about the factual information about German Prisoners of War in Wisconsin and mentions the Stalag Wisconsin book as well.  

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/books/state-journal-book-club-pows-helped-save-door-county-s/article_e1ed28ab-1fa8-5f43-a7b5-33e2d9292bba.html

 

USS COD

In the United States there are 25 submarine museums, and with my recent vacation to Cleveland, I can now check another submarine off of the list of those that I have visited. (Click the picture for an enlarged- readable view)

As of June 12, 2016 I have toured 13 out of 25 submarines

As of June 12, 2016 I have toured 13 out of 25 submarines

 

The USS COD (SS-224) is a Gato class WWII submarine that was constructed by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and launched into service on March 21, 1943.  COD endured 7 war patrols and a total of 221 men called her home during those 7 war patrols.  The sub was decommissioned in 1954 and placed in reserve.  The COD was returned to the Great Lakes, by way of the newly opened St. Lawrence Seaway, to serve as a naval reserve training vessel in Cleveland, Ohio where the COD resides to this day. 

USS COD

 A very busy attraction, the COD sits in Lake Erie and is a short walk from the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Indian’s Progressive Field downtown.  On the National Register of Historic Landmarks, the COD is open to visitors from May 1st through September 30th from 10 am to 5 pm.  

COD Memorial

 

Each submarine I have visited has something unique about them and is presented in different ways.  The COD’s hull and deck have been preserved.  This submarine does not have a modified visitor access door such as the COBIA or U-505 do.  Visitors to the sub have to climb down a vertical ladder through a hatch to the forward torpedo room in the same manner than the men did during the war.  

hatch

I call this the “lived in” sub.  The museum curator chooses to display the submarine as if it were still on active duty during the war.  It’s as if the crew were still on patrol because throughout the sub you will find personal artifacts such as towels, blankets and pillows on the bunks, stuffed bunk bags, cans of food in every nook and cranny, dishes on the tables in the Mess, clothes hanging out to dry in the Engine Room as well as photos of the men who worked in these compartments.  Seeing the sub this way brings to life the picture that this was not only a weapon of war,  but also a place of employment and a home away from home for the brave submariners.  

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Unexploded WWII bomb found near Tower Bridge in London

This is a short clip for you to watch (2 minutes tops) is from the Rachel Maddow show March 24, 2014.  This unbelievable story is about a WWII German bomb was dug up in London on a construction site near the Tower Bridge.  Homes had to be evacuated while experts worked to extract and remove the bomb.    The link below the video is for the London Evening Standard article that shows pictures (sorry, that the video is more just audio).  

 

London Evening Standard Article

 

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Yellow Star

yellow star

Yellow Star written by Jennifer Roy is another book that I picked up in the children’s section at the library.  I was interested to see how the Holocaust was going to be presented to a non-adult audience.  I was surprised to see that once I had opened up the book, that it was actually a true story of the author’s aunt.

The author’s aunt was named Syvia (Sylvia) Perlmutter, and like many of the Holocaust survivors, she didn’t talk about her experience very much until later in life.  She was only 4 years old in Poland at the begining of the war and 10 when it ended.What made Syvia’s story so remarkable was that she was one of twelve children to survive in the Lodz ghetto.  Here are a few statistics:

  • Before WWII 233,000 Jews lived in Lodz, Poland
  • This was 1/3 of the total population and the 2nd largest Jewish community in Poland
  • 160,000 Jews were isolated from the rest of the world in the Lodz ghetto
  • Only 800 survived
  • 12 of the survivors were children

In the introduction, the author described her struggle with how to write this story.  She tried in both third and first person accounts, but found that it didn’t flow very well.  She finally settled on transcribing her interviews with Syvia’s the same poetical way it was relayed to her.  Sometimes, she only had a few words describing a memory or situation.   Thus the book is 227 pages of short stanzas of free form poetry.

Here is a small selection from the book that I chose to demonstrate this (page 59)

No Friends

Last night with Itka was so happy
but today is the saddest day ever.
Sadness.
Sadness.
Sadness.

Papa took me on his lap and told me this:
On his way home from work,
he passed the train station
and saw Itka’s face in one of the windows.
She was looking out
as the train pulled away.
Itka’s family had received a summons,
Papa told me.
It had come earlier that week.

I think of Itka
in a train car
packed with people
and Hava
disappearing from the street.
I have to friends anymore.

 

Eventually the Nazi’s began to thin out the ghetto and many Jews were shipped out of Lodz via train to concentration camps.  Those left behind were tasked with the job of cleaning up the ghetto and sorting out all the possessions left behind.  Syvia’s sister, was technically still a child, but passed herself off as a young adult and got a job so she wouldn’t be separated from her family.

Later on the Nazi’s decided that no more children were allowed in the ghetto and rounded them up.  Syvia and a few other children, including her cousin, were hidden in a basement.  She couldn’t go outside anymore.  One time, when the Nazi’s were doing random checks, Syvia and her father had to escape from the house and try to find a safe place to hid.  I had never heard of this before, but they ran to a nearby cemetary and dug a shallow hole and laid down in it so they were flush with the top of the ground.  I couldn’t imagine how scary that must have been as a 7 year old to have to lay in a grave, completely silent while the Nazis are running all over the city shouting and trying to find you.   That was just one of the times, Syvia was forced to be brave and only one of times that her Papa was a hero for saving his family with this idea.  Syvia always felt that she as insignificant and not brave.  Her time to step up came right before the liberation of Lodz.

Near the end of the war, Lodz was bombed.  Syvia woke up in the middle of the night when she heard things exploding.  She woke up her family.  If she had cowered in the corner no one would have made it out alive.  The slow destruction of the city was a chance for the rest of the Jews to escape.  They had been hiding in a building directly across the street from where the Nazi’s had their headquarters because Papa said, “it would be the last place they would look for us.”  However, the buildings were the targets for the bombs so the Jews had to get out fast.  Most frantically ran around the city without any plan.  Syvia’s Papa gathered everyone he could and herded them to an open field.  He told everyone to lay down in the courtyard and be still.

The bombs continued to fall and destroy all the buildings.  When it finally had stopped everyone stood up and tried to figure out what to do next.  That’s when they heard voices speaking a familiar language.  It wasn’t German shouting, but Polish and Hebrew and Yiddish.  It was the Russians who were bombing Lodz.  Papa found out that the Russian pilot was also a Jew and as he flew his bomber over the city, looking for targets, he noticed the courtyard where everyone was laying down.  It was the numerous cluster of all the yellow stars of David that had been manditorily affixed to the Jews’ clothing that caught his attention when they glowed in the spotlights.  He then called off the bombers and found a place to land in order to rescue the survivors.  What luck !  I could not help but cry when I read that.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a great story of heroics and survival for sure, but when I read how they were rescued, I couldn’t help but cry.  My emotional person transfers into being an emotional reader too… as you can tell if you read my Wake of the Wahoo review.

 On google books you can preview parts of the book.  Click the link below 

https://books.google.com/books?id=_rN-tztTfbwC&lpg=PP1&dq=yellow%20star&pg=PP11#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

Lily’s Crossing

I won’t deny that I like to read young adult books and frequently browse through the Children’s section at the library.  I run my fingers across the spines of all the books until I find on with a sticker on the side that says historical and I know that I have stopped on something that I’m sure to like!!

historical fiction

The book I chose this week was called Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff.

What makes this a historical fiction book is that it takes place in the WWII era around the time of D-Day.  

(I don’t mean for these blogs to be a spoiler, but I will tell the plot details.)

Lily is an only child who lives with her father and her grandmother.  It’s summer vacation and Lily always looks forward to spending the summer away from home at Rockaway beach, where her Gram has a summer cottage on the ocean.  (I always wished as a child that I could have spent my summers somewhere else.)  However, with the war on, this summer would not be the same as those in the past, and nothing was going Lily’s way from the beginning of her vacation.

The story had a lot to do with friendships and relationships and then WWII was a secondary plot which impacted Lily’s young life.

Her best friend Margaret would not be able to spend the summer with her as planned.  Her family was packing up the house the first day Lily got to Rockaway because her father was going to take a job in Detroit at a manufacturing plant.  Also her older brother was in the war and reportedly missing after the Normandy invasion. 

Lily’s 2nd bit of bad news came when her father told her he was going to have to go overseas with the Army because they needed engineers to help rebuilt Europe.  Lily was so angry at her father that she didn’t even bother to say goodbye or see him one last time before he departed.  

Her new friendship came in the form of an immigrant boy named Albert from Budapest.  He had to leave his sister behind in France on his journey to America because she was ill.  The Aunt and Uncle he was staying with said he could be friends with Lily.  

Lily has a wild imagination and thought Albert with his accent was a Nazi spy.  She daydreamed about being a hero in the war and capturing Nazi’s and saving the world.  Her day dreams were helped by the fact that there was a military base nearby where planes were practicing their maneuvers and ships would be coming and going from the port near by.  Sometimes she turned her daydreams into lies and she convinced Albert that they could swim out to the ships one night and stow away on board and go over to Europe themselves.  Eventually Lily had to tell Albert the truth, that it wasn’t going to be possible.  

Though the correspondence with her father, he was able to secretly communicate to her where he was through the titles and plots of books he recommended she read.  Fortunately enough, he was in France and she pleaded with him to look for Albert’s sister. 

The summer ended and she and Gram had to go back home, and Albert would return to Canada.  It was uncertain if she would see him again.  They had grown to be best friends.

In the end, her father had returned home safely and had located Albert’s sister.  As for Margaret’s brother, he remained MIA.

 

 

Ralph Clark Huston Jr.

By chance this year, February 27th lands on a Friday, thus it’s a perfect time for me to add a post to my “Famous Person Friday” page.  This person might not be famous in the sense of academy award winning actors or platinum selling recording artists, but still I chose to feature him on this page for being a World War II hero.

* Rank/Rate: Seaman, First Class
*  Service Number: 755 96 96
* Birth Date: September 27, 1925  
*   From: Parkersburg, West Virginia
  *  Decorations: Purple Heart
  *   Submarine: USS Cobia (SS-245)
  *   Loss Date: February 27, 1945
  *  Location: Near 6° 02’S x 114° 0’E
  *  Circumstances: Killed in surface gun action
  *  Remarks: USS Cobia is on display in Manitowoc, Wisconsin
  *
  info from:  http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/huston-r-c.htm

 

On 2/27/1945, Ralph Clark Huston Jr. lost his life on board the USS COBIA while in a surface battle against he Japanese.  He was not yet even 20 years old.  In 6 war patrols he was the only fatality on this submarine.  So on this day, I commemorate his courageous service to the United States by volunteering for submarine duty.

It was Ralph’s job when called to battle stations to assist with the loading of the 20mm gun ammunition. According to Doc (Herbert L.) Starmer’s medical examination as written up in his book War Patrols of the USS Cobia SS-245, pages 80-84, (ISBN 978-1-105-37342-8), Ralph was shot in the left shoulder leaving the bone in his upper arm shattered.  He was also hit in the upper left rib cage and the bullet exited in the lower portion of his back on the right side.  Doc did what he could to control the loss of blood, which included removing Ralph’s arm.  He treated him for shock and was hopeful that he could save his life if they could just get him to a hospital.  Unfortunately his condition deteriorated over night and he passed away and was buried at sea the following morning.  

The logs pin point his burial at Near 6° 02’S x 114° 0’E.   With modern technology these days, it’s possible with Google Earth to see the location.  He was committed to the deep in the Java Sea.RCH1

Doc had to weigh Ralph down with several fire bricks from the crews mess and encased him in mattress covers, which he sewed closed.  He was wrapped in the American flag and taken up to the deck of the submarine, where they held a Protestant service, played a recording of taps, and ceremonial rifle fire.  The photo below can be found on the website, submarinemuseums.org as well as in Doc Starmer’s book.

 

Today this is the plaque that sits near the 20mm on the COBIA

 

Image of Ralph Clark Huston, Jr. on deck of the Cobia.

Image of Ralph Clark Huston, Jr. on deck of the Cobia.

Overnight Submarine Experience

Most people who know me well, understand that I have an insatiable attraction to submarines.  I am by no means an expert on the subject, but they fascinate me so much as I continue to learn more about them every day.  I like all submarines, but my favorite is the WWII diesel electric sub.

To date, I have been on 5 U.S. submarines, 1 German U-Boat, and 2 Soviet submarines.  Of the U.S. boats, the one I visit most frequently is 86.1 miles north of my house in Manitowoc-  the USS Cobia SS-245 which is now a National Historic Landmark and the main feature at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

Distance from Milwaukee to Manitowoc, both of which have been home to the Cobia at one time or another.

The unique thing about this sub is that the museum has created a program whereby visitors are able to sleep overnight on the submarine.  I’ve had this wonderful experience twice and don’t think I’ll stop until I’ve hit some kind of record for the most nights slept on a submarine by a non-military person!  (I’m not actually working towards this goal as I’m sure museum staff has a head start on it)  Several years have passed since my first experience so I suspected it to have changed, but in a way, still knew what to expect.

Having just recovered from surgery, this was my first major outing.  I have only been back at work for 4 days, but as soon as I slid though the first compartment hatch in the Forward Torpedo room, I forgot all about taking it easy!

I left work early on Friday because I knew I would struggle to arrive in Manitowoc on time for the program to start due to rush hour traffic at the start of the weekend.

Don’t worry folks about me taking pictures while driving ! Traffic wasn’t moving as I left downtown Milwaukee.

Getting Closer !

  

I arrived with a few moments to spare, and waited patiently outside in line with the rest of the overnighters.

Cobia Crew Passage Door

After checking in and meeting our tour guides for the night, we (19 of us) watched a video about the sub/Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company.  Next was the forward to aft (head to toe) tour of the submarine.  The length of the sub is just over the size of an American football field.  I still remember how excited I was the first time I stepped on the deck.  (Technically that was my 2nd submarine tour because I had been on the USS Croaker (SS-246) in Buffalo, NY but my memories of that are vague.) The deck is covered in teak wood and painted black so that it blends in to the water at night to avoid being spotted by planes flying over head.

Looking towards the aft of the Cobia. The white stairs from the museum are slightly visible on the right.

Turning around, you see the conning tower

At this point in the tour, before going below deck into the submarine visitors are confronted with a plaque commemorating the one and only casualty in the 6 war patrols the Cobia embarked on during WWII in the Pacific.

Ralph Clark Huston, Jr. was killed in action, while on the surface, by Japanese machine gun fire, and subsequently buried at sea.  Click to read an excerpt from the Cobia logs about the incident.

Image of Ralph Clark Huston, Jr. on board the Cobia at sea.

There is a distinct smell when you get inside the submarine. I call it “smelling 1945,” and it clings to you long after you’ve left and gone home. My pillow, even after being put in the dryer, still smelled like 1945 for weeks after.  My purse held on to the smell for me so the next week while I was sitting at my desk at work, I could pull my purse out of the drawer and give it a secret sniff to take me back.
You have to experience it for yourself in order to know what I mean when I say it smells like 1945. First it hits you as sort of stale, like a cabin that has been closed up for the winter, mixed with a musty smell of an attic filled with newspapers and magazines that have gotten wet and dried several times over.  Finally add into the mix the lilting smell of diesel fuel and lube oil.  Add in there the remnants of 79 sweaty men working in a confined space where temperatures over 90 degrees with fully saturated humidity, smoking when ever they felt like it.   Hence submarine= pig boat.    I hate to mention things like that to people who have never been on a submarine before, because I think it might put them off to the experience.

This is an unusual view inside the conning tower. I’m at the top of the ladder before entering looking up at a mirror that is reflecting me and the floor.

I don’t mean for this post to be super packed with information about submarines and the experience of the crew because that can be saved for future posts.  I just want to highlight August 3rd -4th 2012 overnight program.  I highly encourage you to check out the virtual tour of the Cobia .  The museum website provides compartment by compartment views and information.

The tour is longer and more detailed than what is offered during regular museum hours.  So far each time, I’ve learned something new from the guides.  Usually at night, I take myself though the sub again in my mind and try to remember all the information given about each compartment or various pieces of equipment.

Once you enter the submarine in one of the torpedo rooms, you are already under water.  When you hear them say they are going to submerge to periscope depth, it means approximately 67 feet.  This is measured from the top of the periscope to the keel of the boat and this type of dive can be completed in 30 seconds during war time emergencies.

After the tour, and a brief intermission back inside the main museum, we were divided into teams to play a game on the sub.  It was so much fun, that I wanted to keep playing all night.  The guides would hand you a photograph which was taken somewhere of something on the submarine and you had to identify it.  It wasn’t as easy as some of the pictures I’ve posted here.  The pictures were zoomed in and cropped so that you really didn’t know which gauge was in the picture.  I must have run the length of the submarine half a dozen times looking for the items.   We were on a time limit and trying to be the team with the most identifiers.  Just by dumb luck the first picture I was handed, I had actually taken a picture of during the tour of a part on the sonar in the forward torpedo room.  They got much harder from there.  My second to last photo entailed locating a string of painted cables that ran into a wall.  if you stand still on the sub and look around, they are EVERYWHERE !  (wink) I found it though !!

This of course was a hard game, and I don’t mean just banging your knees on stuff as you hurry though the sub, but it was hard to remember where you’ve seen things before.  The men who actually serve on the submarines have a more difficult game to play than us.  They need to know where each and every thing on the boat is, what it’s for, how to operate and fix it, AND to be able to do it virtually blind in the dark or they wouldn’t be allowed in sub service.   Fun little games like us over nighter’s played, easily bring you back to the reality of war and how specialized of a service this was.

After the games we were broken up into smaller groups and got the chance to operate the deck gun and venture down into the pump room (below the control room), conning tower, and into the cooler and magazine (below the mess).  By now it was getting late into the evening and we were allowed to bring our over night gear onto the sub and pick out where we want to sleep.

Bunk assignments for two crew members aboard the USS Cobia circa WWII

I slept where both of these men are pictured.  My quarters that night were in the aft torpedo room, which I shared with two other men, whom were my teammates during the photo ID game.  It takes skill and acrobatics in order to get up into the bunk that is over the torpedo. The clearance between your bunk and the curve of the sub is maybe two feet.  See below

Those are my feet lying on the top bunk over the torpedo

Opposite end view on the top bunk over the torpedo

I would have been fine had I not needed to go back inside the museum one more time that night.  I then decided that it would be easier to make up my bed the next level down, adjacent to the torpedo storage rack, but still above another torpedo below.

I thought for sure that I would sleep good that night.  I had a full day at work and was tired.  Plus the running the length of the sub made me want to flop down and drift off to sleep before they were even ready to shut the lights off.  I knew from last time that our compartment had a red light on the ceiling that stayed on so being down a level would help to not have the red light shinning in my face.  The aft torpedo room was also the coolest place on the sub, temperature speaking.  The Cobia NOW has air conditioning on it, but in places like the crews quarters or even the control room, you couldn’t feel it.  In the aft torpedo room, there was a strong breeze from the air blower.   It also made a lot of noise.  I didn’t think about that.  Then there was the snoring I had to contend with.  I ended up putting my rolled up blanket over my face to block out the red light, and noise.  The smell intensified as well, and I sort of had trouble breathing.  Needless to say I didn’t sleep well.

When the air conditioning would turn off (I assumed it was on automatic and that we hadn’t lost power), you could hear the waves sloshing up against the hull, and hear water trickling.  You could also hear the traffic and police sirens outside.  Earlier in the morning hours, I could hear the sea gulls crying and even planes flying over.   I tried to be considerate and not make too much noise as to wake the other guys by shifting around too much in my bunk because it would squeak and rattle terribly.  I don’t think it was secured very well and was trying to slide back under the torpedo rack.  Of course with how those guys were sawing wood they probably didn’t hear me at all.  But lying there motionless like a corpse, I thought to how important it was for the real submariner to keep quiet during an attack so as to not give their position away.

As much as I wanted the air conditioning on, I liked it more when it was silent.  I think next year, I need to try another location even though it would mean being by more people in the general crew area.

My bunk would be below the surface and just beyond where the words Cobia is painted

In the morning, after 12 hours on the submarine, it’s time to pack up, clean up, and go home.  I always have so much fun, despite being dead tired.  They have 3 dates a year where families can sleep over night on the submarine in July and August.  I would love to try it when it was cold, snowy and icy.

If you have any questions about things I didn’t mention, please feel free to leave any questions in the comment section below because, like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t trying to make a comprehensive post covering everything on and about the submarine, but I love discussing submarines.

To round out the post, here’s a quick list of my favorite sub themed movies.  Disclaimer, of course the fictionalization of sub service never quite gives you the true experience on board, I’m not listing them here with the intention of inferring that these movies are true and accurate.  But they sure are fun to watch !!!

(No particular order)

Run Silent, Run Deep – starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster

The Hunt For Red October – {{{awesome}}} starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin with the use of the USS Blueback sub located in Portland Oregon

U-571 – starring Matthew McConaughey- A movie about deception and capture

The Silver Fleet  A movie from Holland about Dutch Hero Piet Hein and sabotage

Down Periscope – starring Kelsey Grammer in a comedic role of sub captain to a crew of misfit sailors  filmed with the use of the USS Pampanito located in San Francisco

Das Boot – classic German U boat movie

Good Documentaries to watch

Attack and Capture- The story of the U-Boat 505  (located in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industy)

Lost and Found: The Legacy of the USS Lagarto – about a Manitowoc sub lost at sea