Thursday, December 29, 2022

Winding Down ...

Snowed In - Winter wonderland in the Alps
Falkertsee, Austria
Photo by Michael Niessl on Unsplash
Well, the year is winding down, giving some serious thought to closing up shop until next year. If juvat, Tuna, or Beans want to post something, they can.

As for myself, I'm thinking I've done enough creative writing for the year. My brain is tired and I've got grandchildren coming over soon, and we're traveling to see other grandchildren, also soon.

No doubt I'll drop by and offer some thoughts on the New Year coming, but I'm not holding myself to that. Anything could happen, and probably will!

I stumbled across that photo above and you know what, it suits my mood perfectly. A winter sunset high up in the Austrian Alps, breathtaking, innit? Time to hibernate a bit I think.

So I leave you with that. Enjoy yourselves, I'll be around, just not all that active.

Peace ...

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

In My Memories ...

Another Christmas Day has passed, the seventieth of my existence, of the first four or so I remember not a bit. At least not consciously. At my Mother's house I swear I could almost hear the echo of my Dad's voice, though he has been gone nearly thirteen years.

The memories of all of those who have passed on remains with me, for all the Christmas Days I spent together with them, some have been gone so very long that it staggers my imagination.

Returning from New Hampshire I drove past the hill upon which stood my paternal grandparents' home. It was fifty-one years ago this very Christmas season that I last saw my Scottish grandmother as I stopped by to see her and my grandfather before heading back to college. She wouldn't make it to Spring.

But she and so many others fill my Christmas memories. A memory of Okinawa and my first Christmas away from home reminded me of the men and women I served with and the party they had put together to celebrate Christmas in the barracks.

I can still picture one of our number, dressed in red sweat pants and sweat shirt, wearing a red knit cap trimmed with cotton, he even had a fake cotton beard he'd somehow patched together, running about laughing as we played touch football out behind the barracks. (The "touches" being somewhat rougher than one would expect, it was almost full contact!)

I'm reminded of Christmas in Germany, seven times. It was just the five of us, our little crew, the kids, The Missus Herself, and Your Humble Scribe along with a couple of felines. But we reveled in each other's company, thinking that it would never end.

But kitties pass on, all too soon, and children grow up to start their own families and traditions. I am left with the echoes of those good times. It gives me a warm, happy feeling, even as I miss those days, I love that I was there and shared in them.

Christmas isn't over, not by a long shot. The day itself has passed, but until Epiphany fades, I celebrate.

May you get to spend time with your loved ones, now and throughout the year.

God Bless.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Open Mic "Night"

Long Christmas weekend in New Hampshire with family, excellent time, though the drive up on Saturday and the drive back on Monday have left me somewhat worse for wear.

So talk quietly (or loudly if you wish) among yourselves. It's your time to complain, sing, tell jokes, whatever, the comments are open for your entertainment with the caveat, "Be Nice." Act as though your mother is going to read what you wrote.

Hopefully Mom has a sense of humor ...

Have at it!

Don't all start at once ...

Monday, December 26, 2022

On Saint Stephen's Day ...

Page and monarch, forth they went ...

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou knows it telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain"
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear the thither"
Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer"
"Ark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly"

In his master's step he trod
Where the snow lay dented
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Also known as Boxing Day in the UK and other places in the Commonwealth ...

Hope that your Christmas was Merry and Bright, and it's on to the New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas


May the day find you with loved ones, may you have peace and joy.

To all our readers, friends, and family ...

Another cherished favorite of mine -

Saturday, December 24, 2022

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History - An Old Sword Leads To A Fighting Minister, Four Medals of Honor, & Black Jack Pershing's Father-In-Law, - Part Two

Henry T. Johns and the 49th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

The “Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War” Volume 5 listing for the 49th Massachusetts Infantry confirms his service in Company “C”.


When Henry T. Johns enlisted on September 11, 1862, he was a 34 year old minister from Hinsdale, Massachusetts, and was mustered in September 19, 1862, and Mustered out September 1, 1863. This mentions him as a “Medal of Honor man” to be discussed below. This regiment was supposed to serve for 9 months, but ongoing operations at Port Hudson delayed their departure for home and they actually served about 11 ½ months.

His history of the 49th, is comprehensive, and can be briefly summarized as preliminary training in Massachusetts, then provost marshal duties in New York City, followed by transport via steam ship south around Florida and up the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Mississippi River, then upstream to the vicinity of Baton Rouge. Then they moved north a little more and were part of about 30,000 Union troops besieging about 8,500 Confederates in elaborate defensive positions at Port Hudson. These fortifications were comparable to later WW1 trench lines, and with the advantage of interior lines, the Confederates held out for a very long time. However, Union control of the Mississippi River and the encircling troops on the land side of Port Hudson eventually weakened the defenders and Union assaults finally forced them to surrender. This, and the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 split the Confederacy, and finally “… allowed the Mississippi to flow unvexed to the sea.”.

Port Hudson marked by red "X"

Port Hudson location on the river and about 4.5 miles of Confederate defenses around the town.

Confederate lines at Port Hudson after the surrender.
During their 11 ½ months of service, the 49th Massachusetts lost 82 dead from disease, and only 34 from combat.

Henry Johns lists just about every death by name in his book, and many of the deaths from disease were noted as “diarrhea” which was more likely dysentery caused by the horrible sanitation conditions, filthy water and poor diet and spoiled food, and also various insect 
borne diseases and fevers.

Henry T. Johns After the Civil War
  • 1866-1868, Constable in Massachusetts.
  • 1880 Census- Journalist- living at 1005 8th Street NW, Washington, DC, where two of his children were clerks in War Dept.
  • 1900 Census- Government Clerk living at 301 Spruce St, Washington, DC
  • Johns died May 13, 1906, buried in Oakland, California.

Note that his Veterans Administration grave marker erroneously lists him as 1st Lieutenant of Company C, 49th Mass. Inf, when he was actually only a Private in that regiment, and his service as a Lieutenant was with the 61st Mass. Inf.

Henry T. Johns and the Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor, left to right: 1862, 1895, 1904 “Gillespie”, and 1944 neck pendant versions.

During the Civil War, there were no other military awards recognizing exceptional bravery on the battlefield. No Silver Stars, no Bronze Stars, no Commendation Medals. The Medal of Honor was the only option, and most were awarded some years after the war was over.

The entry for Private Henry T. Johns noted “Medal of Honor Man. Date of action, May 27, 1863, [8 days after he should have been discharged], Port Hudson, La. ‘Volunteered in response to a call, and took part in the movement that was made upon the enemy’s works, under a heavy fire therefrom, in advance of the general assault.’” 

Basically these guys volunteered to be the leading elements of the attack on the Confederate fortifications, and they were to place fascines (bundles of branches, etc) in the ditches before the forts to enable the attackers to attempt to scale the walls. The advance party succeeded but the larger attack failed.

I was not able to determine how many Medals of Honor were awarded to other units at Port Hudson, but possibly up to a dozen more.

The Port Hudson Medal of Honor was actually awarded to Private Johns on November 25, 1893 (30 years after the event). Of the 3,520 Medals of Honor awarded to date, 1,522 were awarded for service during the American Civil War, while the rest were earned in all the other wars since then.

Corporal Francis E. Warren (1844–1929) is the bottom name on the list of men awarded the Medal of Honor along with Pvt. Henry T. Johns. Air Force folks may recognize the name as that of an Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming¹. It has no runways, but I am sure it has a nice golf course, from June to August.

Francis E. Warren, was an 18 year old farmer when he enlisted the same day as 34 year old minister Henry T. Johns in Company C of the 49th Massachusetts. Perhaps Warren attended Johns’ church, or perhaps not. The younger man attained the rank of Corporal while Johns remained a private the whole time he was in the regiment. Both won the Medal of Honor for the same action. 

But, the young farmer from Hinsdale, Mass went to Wyoming in 1868, briefly working on the Union Pacific railroad in Iowa along the way. He arrived about the time Wyoming Territory was carved out of the former Dakota Territory, and the railroad was being extended further across Wyoming every day. 

Downtown Cheyenne in 1869, a year after Warren arrived in the city.
"Cheyenne at that time was a city of shanties and tents, camps and covered wagons. The population was migratory," Warren recalled in an interview with The New York Times a few months before his death. "The railroad having been built further to the west, everyone was discussing the probability of a permanent town, and the prevailing opinion seemed to be that in six months not much more than a stake would be left to mark the site of Cheyenne. ... For some reason I could not make myself subscribe to that gloomy prophecy."

Despite his attraction to Cheyenne, Warren quickly discovered that life in the rough-and-tumble town came with some discomfort and definite risks. He used a cot improvised from some pieces of packing boxes as his bed, and remembered later, "Every man slept with from one to a half-dozen revolvers under his pillow, for depradations [sic] of every character could be expected at any hour, day or night." (Source)

It was not until May 10, 1869 that the rails were joined at Promontory Point, Utah, and announced by telegraph “It is done.” In December 1869 the city of Cheyenne was incorporated (population 1,450 people) and as the largest city was made the capitol. The same day, women were granted the right to vote (the first in the country). Today, Cheyenne remains the capitol, and largest city, population all the way up to 65,132. Women still vote.

Warren engaged in real estate, mercantile, livestock, banking and utilities businesses, becoming quite wealthy, eventually reputed to be the richest man in the state.


He also became a Republican politician including: member, Wyoming Territorial Senate (1873–1874, 1884–1885), serving as senate president. Treasurer of Wyoming (1876, 1879, 1882, 1884); Member, Cheyenne City Council (1873–1874); and Mayor of Cheyenne (1885). 

In February 1885, Warren was appointed Governor of the Territory of Wyoming by President Chester A. Arthur; removed by Democratic President Grover Cleveland in November 1886 and reappointed by President Benjamin Harrison in April, 1889, and elected first Governor of the state of Wyoming in October 1890. The new state Senate then appointed him to the U.S. Senate in November 1890, and he remained a Senator for 37 years until his death in 1929.

He had two children, and his daughter, Helen Frances, married CAPTAIN John J. Pershing in 1905, with President Roosevelt at the ceremony.

In 1905 Warren was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Military Affairs Committee, when President Teddy Roosevelt wanted to promote Pershing to Colonel, but the Army refused. After a couple of quick job transfers, Roosevelt nominated him for promotion to Brigadier General, (skipping the ranks of Major, Lt. Colonel, and Colonel.) which only required Senate confirmation. Roosevelt got Senator Warren’s support for the most unusual promotion.

General of the Armies John Joseph Pershing

So, a sword with a name takes history lovers to surprising discoveries.

¹ Editor's Note: LUSH was born there! I won't say how long ago it was, just that I was a much younger man back then.

Friday, December 23, 2022

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History - An Old Sword Leads To A Fighting Minister, Four Medals of Honor, & Black Jack Pershing's Father-In-Law - Part One

Students, accumulators, collectors, hoarders, and sometimes peddlers of military antiques (some overlap) often find “interesting” stuff in antique malls, gun shows or other less predictable places.

A couple of years ago I saw this sword at a gun show, and the fact that it had a name elevated it into the “interesting” category. You never know what some research will show. Heck, I have a U.S. Navy sword with my name on it, which will probably never interest anyone but my family members. Starting with a name alone is not always very productive as there may be several possible owners, but a name WITH a unit is almost certain to turn up something. Although I ended up not buying the sword, I still wanted to find out more about the owner and their history. It turned out to be a lot more interesting than I ever expected.

The Sword is a typical U.S. Model 1850 Foot Officers Sword, with etched blade designs and large U.S., fitted with a brass mounted sharkskin scabbard. The blade was made in Solingen, Germany, and the finished sword was sold by W.H. Horstman & Sons, Philadelphia, PA, a major outfitter for officer uniforms and accoutrements in the 19th century. It was for sale at a modest price.

There are many Civil War officers swords, most without names. Some had an owner’s name inscribed at time of purchase by the officer, or by admiring friends or comrades as a presentation inscription. (Many officers of newly raised Massachusetts regiments were given an officers sword by the town in which their company was raised. Such presentations are mentioned several times in Henry T. Johns’ history of the 49th Massachusetts discussed below.)

Engraved on the pommel of this one: 
Lieut. Johns
61st Mass. Vols.

Google is your friend. Today there is a Wikipedia page on Lieutenant Henry T. Johns, but that did not exist when I first saw this sword, and each piece of the puzzle needed to be found separately.

Google image search turned up a photo taken circa 1864-1865 while he was in the 61st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The sword in the photo is very likely the one inscribed to him, as it appears to have the sharkskin scabbard, not the standard leather type.

The name and regiment on the sword provides a starting point for further research. The seven volume set “Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War,” which lists everyone by their unit(s) was the first stop.

The listing for the 61st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, in Volume 5 confirms that Lt. Johns was a member of Company A of that unit.

He enlisted as a Private on August 27, 1864, and was 34 years old, with occupation listed as “author.” He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on September 6, 1864 and mustered in at that rank on September 27, 1864. He was subsequently promoted to 1st Lieutenant on January 15, 1865. He was mustered out of service June 4, 1865 as a 1st Lieutenant. He received a “Brevet” promotion to Captain effective April 9, 1865, but this was an honorific title, not a rank at which he served. We’ll check later on the “See Co. “C” 49th Mass. Inf. (9 months)”  notation.

What was the 61st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and what did they do in the war?

Wikipedia is a good basic starting point for unit histories, and it confirms the 61st Massachusetts was raised for a 1 year term of service, and served from September 1864 to June 1865, with a total of 41 Officers, and 966 enlisted men.
The 61st Massachusetts arrived on the James River, in Virginia and supported the siege of Petersburg during the winter of 1864-65. They were part of the assault on the Confederate Fort Mahone on the outskirts of Petersburg on April 2, 1865.


As the Confederates fled west from Petersburg, many rebel troops were captured. Within a few days, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.

The 61st Massachusetts briefly guarded prisoners after Lee’s surrender. On May 23-24, 1865 they were part of the 145,000 victorious troops who marched in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, DC. They then proceeded back to Massachusetts for discharge.

During their 9 months of service, the 61st Massachusetts lost 17 dead from disease, and only 6 killed in battle or died from their wounds. Living in those days was more dangerous than being a soldier.

But, what about that occupation as “author”?

In 1864, prior to enlisting in the 61st, Henry T. Johns published “Life With the Forty-Ninth Massachusetts Volunteers,” based largely on letters he had written to his wife describing events and his own actions and feelings. This book is readily available used, or as new print on demand copies. There is even a free digital copy on line here.

Henry Johns was proud of his book and sent a copy directly to President Lincoln on Sunday, June 26, 1864, with a cover letter. That letter survives in Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, and a copy appears below, followed by a transcription by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.


To be continued ...

Thursday, December 22, 2022

A Tale of Two Cats

“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life - music and cats.”

― Albert Einstein

I couldn't agree more.

So what sparked this line of thought? Well,  the DIL and her progeny came for a visit over the weekend. My granddaughter, The Owl, has acquired a kitten, name of Sundae. An aptly chosen name as her coloring does rather resemble an ice cream sundae. She's nobbut a wee thing, around four months old. Curious and friendly she is, she seemed awfully delighted at having a new place to explore.

At first I was rather worried about our Anya's reaction to the little one, for Anya is old and set in her ways. She has ruled the roost since her sister Sasha passed away in July of 2021. She had lived in Sasha's rather large shadow for 17 years, now, at the ripe old age of 19, she is in charge, and she tends to get what she wants.

The Empress of Chez Sarge and the wee one met in the kitchen. Though The Owl had been cautioned about keeping track of her little furry companion, being after all, only ten years of age, she had lost situational awareness of her furry companion. There was Anya, there was Sundae. My eyes opened wide, much as if I saw a car sliding out of control on the highway with no way to stop it.

Sundae was excited, "Oh look, another cat!"

Anya was, I guess stunned, appalled, indignant, probably a mixture of all three, "What in the name of all that is holy is that?" At least that was the look on her face when she espied the wee kitten.

Then the wee beastie had the effrontery to try and sniff Anya. To get acquainted, dontcha know?

Anya was not diplomatic at all, she got low, the fur on her back came up, and she managed to hiss and growl at the same time. Anya, when she growls, is rather frightening, I wish I could pitch my voice as low as the sound which emanates from deep within her when she is angered by a thing.

When she and her sister were kittens she was the first to indicate that she was going to be in charge by placing a paw on Sasha's head and pushing her face into the food they were both trying to eat. Sasha was, however, going to have none of that. She shook off the paw, hissed at Anya, which surprised Anya, and then continued to eat.

I'm guessing Anya, who is normally a very laid back and timid girl, decided that a struggle for power wasn't worth the candle, after all, it was the two humans who controlled the food and water. The two-legged inhabitants of the house also provided treats and scritches, when scritches were needed. If Sasha wanted to be the alpha, well then, so be it.

Over the many years the two co-existed in our humble abode, Sasha ruled the roost. Hissing at any living thing which appeared before her eyes that wasn't The Missus Herself, Your Humble Scribe, or her sister Anya, whom she tolerated.

Quite honestly, my Dad was terrified of Sasha. She wouldn't go after you, but she had no hesitation rebuking any instance of lèse-majesté with laid back ears, a slight hiss, and a raised paw to let the unwary know that they had transgressed. The grandkids always referred to her as "the mean cat." (Bear in mind though that Sasha was utterly devoted to the full time human occupants of Chez Sarge, i.e. The Missus Herself and Your Humble Scribe - all the progeny being away at school for most of the year.)

So for years Anya was content to be number two, leaving the defense of the realm to her sister, content to bask in the attention of the humans and let Sasha do the heavy lifting.

Now Anya, as the de facto alpha, is the ruler of the roost, the queen of all she surveys, how dare this wee sma' thing attempt to make contact, indeed, how dare she enter the realm unbidden?

So we kept the two separate as much as possible, the kitten content to be anywhere but in the same room as Anya. Little Sundae came to us innocent and unafraid, by the time she left to go home with her humans I noticed a look on her face ...

"Man, I've seen things ..."

I suppose I should have played some music for the wee kitty, she needed soothing, that's for sure. Me, I could have used a stiff drink if I'd had to go through what Sundae went through.

Poor thing ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

What is Christmas?

Nativity scene in Baumkirchen, Austria
While casting about for something to post I came across something I found interesting, it's bloody obvious to probably everybody but me, but nevertheless, I found it interesting.

Part of my "What am I going to write about?" process is picking a topic and then searching Google Images for what comes up. As an experiment, go there now and type in "Christmas." I'll wait right here. (For you smart phone Chanters, I think if you just search for Christmas then pick "Images" you'll get similar results.)

What I got was a lot of photos of Christmas trees, presents under the tree, Santa Claus, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and things of that ilk. I did see one Nativity scene done in brightly colored lights, but it was all very secular for the most part. You want pictures like the one above? Search for "birth of Christ."

I would like to say that Christmas has become more and more commercialized over the years, but that would be nonsense. When I was a kid, it was already very commercial. It was more about presents under the tree, singing carols (not all of which were related to the "reason for the season," after all it doesn't snow much in the Middle East), sending cards, gatherings of family, and things of that nature.

We did actually go to church for a Christmas program, which was very much about the birth of Christ, but that was a couple of hours during a season lasting at least two weeks, if not more. At least when I was a kid, the holiday was actually tied (somewhat loosely) to the birth of the Son of God, if only through that Christmas program.

As an adult, I didn't attend church for many years. I wrote about my return to religion here, as the title of that post suggests (and its second part here), that return was, I suppose, inevitable.

I've always been a believer, I've seen too much, and experienced even more, to doubt that there is a Creator, a Supreme Being, what we Christians refer to as God. However, the practice and the ritual of religion has often left me wanting.

So, for many reasons, Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year, if not THE favorite. Now take the word itself:

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the word Christmas originates from the phrase “Cristes Maesse”, first recorded in 1038, which means the Mass of Christ or Christ’s Mass. The word mass is the English version of the Latin word missa, a celebration of the Eucharist, done in memory of Jesus Christ, where Christians eat bread and drink wine. But not all is Latin; in fact, the word Christ comes from the Greek word Khristos, translated from the Hebrew term messiah, which means anointed. (Source)

The coming of the Messiah is, indeed, the reason for the season. But I love the gift-giving, the singing of carols (though I try not to over-participate in said singing as my voice has been compared to the roaring of a gored bull, loud but not particularly pleasing to the ear) and the food, the gathering of family and all the other secular aspects of the holiday. But each and every year, I will take the time to read this passage on Christmas Day:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2:1-20 (KJV)
Even during those long years when I didn't go to church, I would read this passage aloud to my kids, usually at Christmas dinner. I did want them to know why we celebrated Christmas each year and how important an event it really is. Not sure if it really took, only one of my three  bairns attends church on anything like a regular basis. That's on me, it's my fault we didn't go when they were young (and impressionable), even though more than once The Missus Herself strongly suggested that we should. (Yes, I should have listened to her then, I should listen to her more now, as you'd think I'd have learned by now. Being stubborn ain't necessarily a virtue.)

Anyhoo, that's where my head was Tuesday eve. I have a new post from John Blackshoe which I need to get up, but wanted to cover this first. I mean, it is Christmas, dontcha know?

Speaking of which, here's one of my favorite carols, sung by an incredible singer ...

Peace be with you ...

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Truce in the Forest

I had read this story years ago, probably in the Reader's Digest when it was originally published. Thanks to the internet, I was able to track it down in just a few minutes.

Truce in the Forest, by Fritz Vincken¹

It was Christmas Eve, and the last desperate German offensive of WWII raged around our tiny cabin. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door…

When we heard the knock on our door that Christmas Eve in 1944, neither Mother nor I had the slightest inkling of the quiet miracle that lay in store for us. I was 12 then, and we were living in a small cottage in the Huertgen Forest, near the German-Belgian border. Father had stayed at the cottage on hunting weekends before the war; when Allied bombers partly destroyed our hometown of Aachen, he sent us to live there. He had been ordered into the civil-defense fire guard in the border town of Monschau, four miles away.

“You’ll be safe in the woods,” he had told me. “Take care of Mother. Now you’re the man of the family.” But nine days before Christmas, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt had launched the last, desperate German offensive of the war, and now, as I went to the door, the Battle of the Bulge was raging all around us. We heard the incessant booming of field guns; planes soared continuously overhead; at night searchlights stabbed through the darkness. Thousands of Allied and German soldiers were fighting and dying nearby.

When that first knock came, Mother quickly blew out the candles; then, as I went to answer it, she stepped ahead of me and pushed open the door. Outside, like phantoms against the snow-clad trees, stood two steel-helmeted men. One of them spoke to Mother in a language we did not understand, pointing to a third man lying in the snow. She realized before I did that these were American soldiers. Enemies!

Mother stood silent, motionless, her hand on my shoulder. They were armed and could have forced their entrance, yet they stood there and asked with their eyes. And the wounded man seemed more dead than alive. “Kommt rein,” Mother said, finally. “Come in.” The soldiers carried their comrade inside and stretched him out on my bed.

None of them understood German. Mother tried French, and one of the soldiers could converse in that language. As Mother went to look after the wounded man, she said to me, “The fingers of those two are numb. Take off their jackets and boots, and bring in a bucket of snow.” Soon I was rubbing their blue feet with snow.

We learned that the stocky, dark-haired fellow was Jim; his friend, tall and slender, was Robin. Harry, the wounded one, was now sleeping on my bed, his face as white as the snow outside. They’d lost their battalion and had wandered in the forest for three days, looking for the Americans, hiding from the Germans. They hadn’t shaved, but still, without their heavy coats, they looked merely like big boys. And that was the way Mother began to treat them.

Now Mother said to me, “Go get Hermann. And bring six potatoes.”

This was a serious departure from our pre-Christmas plans. Hermann was the plump rooster (named after portly Hermann Goering, Hitler’s No. 2 man, for whom Mother had little affection) that we had been fattening for weeks in the hope that Father would be home for Christmas. But, some hours before, when it was obvious that Father would not make it, Mother had decided that Hermann should live a few more days, in case Father could get home for New Year’s. Now she had changed her mind again; Hermann would serve an immediate, pressing purpose.

While Jim and I helped with the cooking, Robin took care of Harry. He had a bullet through his upper leg and had almost bled to death. Mother tore a bed-sheet into long strips for bandages.

Soon, the tempting smell of roast chicken permeated our room. I was setting the table when once again there came a knock at the door. Expecting to find more lost Americans, I opened the door without hesitation. There stood four soldiers, wearing uniforms quite familiar to me after five years of war. They were Wehrmacht – Germans!

I was paralyzed with fear. Although still a child, I knew the harsh law: sheltering enemy soldiers constituted high treason. We could all be shot! Mother was frightened, too. Her face was white, but she stepped outside and said, quietly, “Froehliche Weihnachten.” The soldiers wished her a Merry Christmas, too. “We have lost our regiment and would like to wait for daylight,” explained the corporal. “Can we rest here?”

“Of course,” Mother replied, with a calmness, born of panic. “You can also have a fine, warm meal and eat till the pot is empty.” The Germans smiled as they sniffed the aroma through the half open door. “But,” Mother added firmly, “we have three other guests, whom you may not consider friends.” Now her voice was suddenly sterner than I’d ever heard it before. “This is Christmas Eve, and there will be no shooting here.”

“Who’s inside?” the corporal demanded. “Amerikaner?”

Mother looked at each frost-chilled face. “Listen,” she said slowly. “You could be my sons, and so could they in there. A boy with a gunshot wound, fighting for his life, and his two friends, lost like you and just as hungry and exhausted as you are. This one night,” she turned to the corporal and raised her voice a little, “This Christmas night, let us forget about killing.”

The corporal stared at her. There were two or three endless seconds of silence. Then Mother put an end to indecision. “Enough talking!” she ordered, and clapped her hands sharply. “Please put your weapons here on the woodpile, and hurry up before the others eat the dinner!:

Dazedly, the four soldiers placed their arms on the pile of firewood just inside the door: three carbines, a light machine gun and two bazookas. Meanwhile, Mother was speaking French rapidly to Jim. He said something in English, and to my amazement I saw the American boys, too, turn their weapons over to Mother. Now, as the Germans and Americans tensely rubbed elbows in the small room, Mother was really on her mettle. Never losing her smile, she tried to find a seat for everyone. We had only three chairs, but Mother’s bed was big, and on it she placed two of the newcomers side by side with Jim and Robin.

Despite the strained atmosphere, Mother went right on preparing dinner. But Hermann wasn’t going to grow any bigger, and now there were four more mouths to feed. “Quick” she whispered to me, “get more potatoes and some oats. These boys are hungry, and a starving man is an angry one.”

While foraging in the storage room, I heard Harry moan. When I returned, one of the Germans had put on his glasses to inspect the American’s wound. “Do you belong to the medical corps?” Mother asked him. “No,” he answered. “But I studied medicine at Heidelberg until a few months ago.” Thanks to the cold, he told the Americans in what sounded like fairly good English, Harry’s wound hadn’t become infected. “He is suffering from a severe loss of blood,” he explained to Mother. “What he needs is rest and nourishment.”

Relaxation was now beginning to replace suspicion. Even to me, all the soldiers looked very young as we sat there together. Heinz and Willi, both from Cologne, were 16. There German corporal, at 23, was the oldest of them all. From his food bag he drew out a bottle of red wine, and Heinz managed to find a loaf of rye bread. Mother cut that in small pieces to be served with the dinner; half the wine, however, she put away, “for the wounded boy.”

Then Mother said grace. I noticed that there were tears in her eyes as she said the old, familiar words, “Komm, Herr Jesus. Be our guest.” And as I looked around the table, I saw tears, too, in the eyes of the battle-weary soldiers, boys again, some from America, some from Germany, all far from home.

Just before midnight, Mother went to the doorstep and asked us to join her to look up at the Star of Bethlehem. We all stood beside her except Harry, who was sleeping. For all of us during the moment of silence, looking at the brightest star in the heavens, the war was a distant, almost-forgotten thing.

Our private armistice continued next morning. Harry woke in the early hours, and swallowed some broth that Mother fed him. With the dawn, it was apparent that he was becoming stronger. Mother now made him an invigorating drink from our one egg, the rest of the corporal’s wine and some sugar. Everyone else had oatmeal. Afterward, two poles and Mother’s best tablecloth were fashioned into a stretcher for Harry.

The German corporal then advised the Americans how to find their way back to their lines. Looking over Jim’s map, the corporal pointed out a stream. “Continue along this creek,” he said, “and you will find the 1st Army rebuilding its Forces on its upper course.” The medical student relayed the information in English.

“Why don’t we head for Monschau?” Jim had the student ask. “Nein,” the corporal exclaimed. “We’ve retaken Monschau.”

Now Mother gave them all back their weapons. “Be careful, boys,” she said, “I want you to get home someday where you belong. God bless you all!” The German and American soldiers shook hands, and we watched them disappear in opposite directions.

When I returned inside, Mother had brought out the old family Bible. I glanced over her shoulder. The book was open to the Christmas story, the Birth in the Manger and how the Wise Men came from afar bearing their gifts.

Her finger was tracing the last line from Matthew 2:21, “…they departed into their own country another way.”

I thought this a nice Christmas story, something worth sharing as we celebrate the season.

Peace be with you.

¹ Vincken, Fritz, “Truce in the Forest,” Readers Digest, January 1973, pp 111-114. (Secondary Source)

Monday, December 19, 2022

...Soon it will be Christmas Day!*

 Well, Campers, I hope your Holiday Season has been Joyous, Restful yet Fun, and Grateful so far  and continues that way through the remainder of the season.  It's been fairly busy, not with any protecting the country level priorities (important as they are) rather with a lot of protecting the Family level ones.

Way back at the start of the year, one of our visitors asked, as she was leaving, if she could rent both cabins this year during the Holidays.  She and her Husband are Grandparents and she wanted both so she could celebrate with her 3 generational family.  10 people and a Dog or Two.  As new Grandparents ourselves, it sounded like a wonderful use of the property, and it was far enough out that neither cabin was reserved, so Mrs. J approved the reservation.

A few months later, the "issues" with LJD cropped up and long term housing was going to be needed while she was in hospital.  Mrs. J blocked reservations for one of the cabins so Little J and LJW could have a place to stay while the adventure was going on.  Unfortunately, one reservation slipped through her view.  Way back in October, she had received a call from the Grandparents asking for an Early Check-in.  As she perused the reservation book, and saw the December two cabin reservation, she got a bit concerned.  We had "double booked" the cabin.  We had a quick PowWow with LJD and LJW about moving into our house for a couple of nights.  They agreed and that juggling session was successful.

Now, normally, an early check-in is 2 PM (4PM is the norm).  But, she approved it.

Since checkout is NLT 11 AM, that gives us 3 hours to turn the cabin.  A bit tight if things are very messed up, but since we've got multiple sets of sheets and towels, quite doable.


Unfortunately, the version of English used to describe  "Early Check-in NET 2:00 PM" is different apparently in various parts of the country. 

The plan of attack in turning the cabin is for the House Cleaner to  "Clean" and make beds, gather towels and washcloths etc.  Essentially supplies are provided by us.  So, Myself and/or Mrs. J, visit the cabin, pick up the dirty stuff and bring it back to Casa Juvat to wash and fold.  This weekend, as we're bringing the clean laundry we notice a blanket is missing.  

Now, weather in TX has still been pretty warm, but a cold front was scheduled for this weekend (and boy did it!), so a blanket was probably called for.  When, and by whom, the blanket disappeared, is somewhat impossible to ascertain, so it's off to Wally World we go.  Pick up a new blanket and return home.  It's now about 11:30.  Previous guests had left about 9:45, so House Cleaner was done with the reset.  All we needed to do was put the blanket on the bed.

Come on to the property and who do we see?  You got it, the next guests.  "Well, you said we could check in early!"  Mrs. J did a very diplomatic explanation on why they couldn't check in right now, but could in about a half hour.  "But, you said...."

"OK, you can leave your stuff in the cabins.  Why don't you go downtown to the "Burg" and do some shopping, while we finish resetting?  It'll take us about 30 minutes."

"Harrumph, Harrumph....well ok"

Later, I carefully, diplomatically, politely and quietly stated that "...maybe we should change the verbiage on the site to read "...Early Check-in is available with verbal approval by the owners.  Under no circumstances is it allowed earlier than 2PM"

We'll see if that makes a difference.

"Juvat, sounds like your blood pressure was a tad high."

Why, yes, Sarge, it may have been.

So...On to happier topics.


This picture does a great job applying "Happy" to my outlook
As does this one.

14 Months, Walking, Talking (some of which is understandable) and funny as all get up.

And, I'm happy to say, that LJD is doing quite well also.

The "Saints of the NICU"** are doing a fine job of trying to reduce everyone involved level's of stress. 


Not only does LJD seem to be enjoying her first "Christmas card photo", no doubt the two nurses involved in setting it up enjoyed it, and the sounds of laughter when the picture arrived on various phones in our house were pleasing also.  So...Good Job, Guys!

Other good news on that front, She now weighs over 9 lbs.  Also, the discussion with the Charge Nurse about Nurse rotation was agreeably resolved.  LJD has a crew of 5 or 6 nurses that will tend to her.  Something I didn't understand about the feeding issue discussed before didn't involve nutrition per se.  Rather it involved breathing.  

I probably knew this, but it's so basic that I didn't employ that data in trying to understand the problem.  There's no problem with breathing when she's being fed through the nasogastric (NG) tube.  The food goes through the NG tube directly into her stomach and air from the nasal canula can still come in through her nostrils.  However, when she's trying to bottle or breast feed, she's got to learn (suck, swallow, breathe as the speech therapist calls it) how to suck a little, swallow a little, breathe a little and since lungs are the last organ to develop in a preemie, they are hard pressed to deliver enough air to her as is.  Stopping breathing to suck on a nipple...

So, she, and the person feeding her, have to establish a rhythm.  Suck for a few seconds, swallow, and breathe for a few seconds.  Rinse, repeat.

The 70ML requirement I mentioned last week is the nutritional goal and a way to measure how well she's balancing that rhythm.  Sensors will keep track of O2 levels, and Milk consumed will measure for the other.  I believe the 70ML number comes from the amount of milk she takes thru the NG tube now and is based on her current weight.  

Which, now, makes sense to me.

She is improving, Mrs. J and she, last Wednesday, were able to tag team their way through 30MLs.  A definite improvement.

On a tertiary level, yet still critical, progress on Mrs. J's Christmas present passed a Major Milestone this past week.  I've still got the usual, and tedious, sanding (lots and lots and lots of SANDING (gratuitous comment made by Little J after he proofed the Baby Data) and touch up process.  But, I might just make it.  

Pictures will be posted next Monday, I promise!

Merry Christmas to All y'All and Thank You, Lord for your Son!

*  YouTube Video Location

**While the Catholic Church has not yet completed the process for Canonization on the nurses, but if I get any say, the Staff of the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit are shoo-ins.

As, my next post will be up Christmas Morning, let me wish all y'all a Merry Christmas.  I'll take care of the "Happy New Year" next Monday.

Peace out, Y'all!