Why this Veterans day is especially special and what is the armistice actually?
Celebrating 100 years of the Armistice: At 11:00 am on 11-11 in the year 1918 A German Republic was declared and peace extended to the Allies. This because at 5 AM on that same morning of November 11, an armistice was signed in a railroad car in a forest glade outside of Compiègne, France near the front lines in the presence of France’s WWI Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch.
The terms of the agreement called for the cessation of fighting along the entire Western Front to begin at precisely 11 AM that morning. After over four years of bloody conflict, the Great War was at an end.The Germans had signed the Armistice ending World War I in front of French General Marshal Foch, a long and horrendous war that resulted in more than 20 million dead and as many wounded, military and civilians alike.
Ironically, on June 22, 1940 amidst the outbreak of WWII, a pompous “Hitler dictates that the French capitulation take place at Compiègne, in that very same forest glade north of Paris. This is the same exact spot where twenty-two years earlier the Germans had signed the Armistice ending World War I (on 11-11-18) in front of French General Marshal Foch. Hitler intended to disgrace the French and avenge the German defeat. (Indeed he chose to sit in the very same seat used by his nemesis Marshal Foch in 1918.) To further deepen the humiliation, he ordered that the signing ceremony take place in the same railroad car that hosted the earlier surrender. Under the terms of this Armistice, two-thirds of France is to be occupied by the Germans. The French army is to be disbanded. In addition, France must bear the cost of the German invasion.” (Eyewitness to History: Account of American journalist William Shirer). Indeed the Paris Blvd, Avenue Foch, named for the famous General, literally was largely confiscated and controlled by the Nazis during the Paris occupation with one few exception at #11 Avenue Foch where American expat Doctor Sumner Jackson and his family carried out resistance activities literally under Nazi noses. Alex Kershaw’s book “Avenue of Spies” tells the rest of that story.
Today let’s not just think about Veterans day as a holiday from work. This year of all years, remember that forest glade 100 years ago, that railroad car, the generals, the soldiers, the people who strived to bring peace to the world, what sacrifices were made 100 years ago, and in the years since by so many for the cause of freedom.
June 14, 1940 in the early hours of the morning: One lone German soldier entered Parisfrom the east and crossed Place Voltaire. Not a single shot was fired. Paris fell into enemy hands during WWII without a single bit of resistance. The “new” French government had already hightailed it south to Vichy, France. Philippe Pétain, a WWI hero himself from the battle of Verdun in 1916, and now eighty-four years old, became vice-premier to Paul Reynaud, France’s current Prime Minister, to bolster national morale. And early on in June, 1940, with German troops overrunning the country, he (Philippe Pétain) was put in charge. He (Pétain) supported collaboration with the Germans, the latter of whom occupied Paris and most of Northern France. Reynaud was vehemently opposed to the German occupation. Soon Reynaud was placed under arrest by Philippe Pétain’s crew of criminal cohorts and imprisoned in a German POW camp for the remainder of the war. Pierre Laval, in a matter of days, became France’s 120th prime minister.
The German 18th Army soon followed that lone soldier into Paris by way of Place Voltaire. And the occupation of Paris in the second World War began.
June 14, 1940 Sometime later that morning, in his study at his home at 18 Rue Weber, Doctor Thierry de Martel took his own life. He had written to William Bullitt, the American Ambassador: “I made you the promise that I wouldn’t leave Paris. I didn’t say whether I would stay in Paris alive or dead.” He had already lost his only son in WWI , a costly war itself in a long line of costly wars between the Germans and the French. Dr. Martel killed himself with a syringe of strychnine. He was best friend and colleague to the American, Sumner Jackson, Chief of Surgery at the American Hospital in Paris. He was also France’s leading neurosurgeon.
Machine Guns were placed at all 12 avenues converging at Place de E’toile surrounding theArc de Triomphe. Additionally, four cannons were placed at each of the main 4 arteries: Avenues Foch, Victor Hugo, Champs-Élysées, and Marceau.
June 14, 1940 0800 hours, The German Army set up its first Paris HQ at the Hotel Crillonoverlooking Place de la Concorde.Simultaneously, a German flag was soon placed over the Arc de Triomphe. General Otto von Stülpnagel, German Wehrmacht (Army) was the Wehrmacht’s new military commandant of Paris.
This was the first chosen lunch spot for the German Ambassador to Paris, Otto Abetz. The Ritz was a popular spot for the Nazi command and SS to eat, board, and party. It was also frequented by the French elite collaborators. One such controversial character, Coco Chanel, who certainly did not go hungry during the war, lived in room 227-228 of the Ritz and was a client of Attorney René de Chambrun, (Pierre Laval’s son-in-law). Madame Ritz herself lived in 266-268. French Actress Arletty, born Leonie Bathiat, resided at the Ritz with her Luftwaffe officer lover Hans-Jürgen Soehring. Arletty was also a very close friend of Josée Laval, daughter of the Prime Minister and notorious collaborator, Pierre Laval. Arletty died at the robust age of 94 years old in 1992. Arletty’s famous line in the war was: “My heart is French but my ass is International.” Unbelievably, the controversy still continues today whether or not she collaborated. But I would say the fact that she was sleeping with the enemy (literally), spoke loudly three things. One-it did not help her cause of innocence. And two-if indeed she was sleeping with the enemy, who better to work for the resistance? Yet, she chose to do nothing in the defense of her fellow French men and women who themselves were starving literally, and as well-being shipped off to concentration camps to die for either being Jewish and/or for fighting for their country. And three-she consorted with Josée Laval Chambrun, a known collaborator living the high life in occupied Paris with her father and her husband, everything at her beck and call, while other Parisiennes were queuing for literally hours on end for a few pieces of bread and cheese.
June 22, 1940, 1836 hours, the German/French armistice was signed in a clearing in the forest near Compiègne France. Representing both the discombobulated French Government and Philippe Pétain, was French General Charles Huntziger and for the Germans, Col. Gen. Wilhelm Keitel. Additionally the other “plenipotentiaries” of the French Government present were: Ambassador Noel, Rear Admiral Maurice R. LeLuc, Army Corps General Georges Parisot, and Air Force General Jean-Marie Joseph Bergeret. Hitler and his main entourage of dirty rotten scoundrels were also present, to include Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop.
“Hitler dictates that the French capitulation take place at Compiègne, a forest north of Paris. This is the same spot where twenty-two years earlier the Germans had signed the Armistice ending World War I in front of French General Marshal Foch. Hitler intended to disgrace the French and avenge the German defeat. (Indeed he chose to sit in the very same seat used by his nemesis Marshal Foch in 1918.) To further deepen the humiliation, he ordered that the signing ceremony take place in the same railroad car that hosted the earlier surrender. Under the terms of this Armistice, two-thirds of France is to be occupied by the Germans. The French army is to be disbanded. In addition, France must bear the cost of the German invasion.” (Eyewitness to History: Account of American journalist William Shirer)
Subsequently, and in quick order, the French 3rd Republic Government was officially and illegally dissolved. Philippe Pétain became Marshal Pétain of France and established the French Capital in Vichy, France, at this point still a part of the “Unoccupied Zone.” This government of appeasers and collaborators became known as the Vichy State.
June 23, 1940, 6:35 am The morning following the signing of the armistice, Hitler made his one and only visit to occupied Paris during the war. His motorcade came from Le Bourget Airfield into Paris and made its way around the Arc de Triomphe twice, down Avenue Foch, south along the Seine and back out of Paris.
July 11, 1940 Pierre Laval became the 120th Prime Minister of France and “rapidly fostered excellent relations with the Nazi faction in his country.” (“Avenue of Spies,” Alex Kershaw, Page 43) Pierre’s only child, Josée Laval, joined her father in the conspiracy against her own country, and in support of his part in transporting literally thousands of Jews, men, women, and children, as well as resistors to their deaths in German concentration camps.
July, 1940German Embassy is established at Hôtel de Beauharnais at 78 Rue de Lille
-Otto Abetz is the German Ambassador (oxymoron perhaps) to Paris and he is married to Suzanne, a French woman. Otto Abetz, at the bequest of General Albert de Chambrun, a member of the board of directors for the American Hospital of Paris, helped supply the American Hospital with necessary food and other items needed to keep the hospital in operation. In this way, both Abetz and the de Chambruns unwittingly helped Sumner Jackson in his cause to smuggle downed allied pilots/soldiers to freedom via the hospital. (See my notes on General de Chambrun at the end of this timeline.) Abetz himself was a die in the wool Nazi whose seemingly kind deeds in aiding the American Hospital with food and supplies was only done as a result of his collaborator relationships with the de Chambruns and Lavals, a relationship deemed very necessary by the Nazi regime for the success of the ongoing occupation of Paris and the round-up of Jews. This was indeed one of the rare times that collaboration benefitted the French Resistance, albeit unwitting on the part of the collaborators and the Nazis.
July-August, 1940Kammandantur, German HQ Neuilly-sur-Seine – established itself directly across from the American Hospital.
June – July, 1940-1944
The Bad Guys onAvenue Foch (See the Book: “Avenue of Spies” by Alex Kershaw)
Avenue Foch was (and still is) lined with wealthy houses or mansions belonging to some of France’s elite upper class. It was and is one of the four main arteries stemming from the Arc de Triomphe. During the occupation, many of those residents had fled the city for safety in the United States or across the channel in the United Kingdom. This left their homes at the mercy of the merciless. The Nazis quickly and notably confiscated these homes for either their own living quarters and/or offices, but also for the much darker purpose of interrogating and torturing those in the resistance. Avenue Foch was known by many names among the Parisiennes. Even before the war, it was known as Avenue Bois (woods) since it is anchored on its Southwest end by Bois de Boulogne. During the occupation, it quickly became knows as either Avenue Boch (Boch was a derogatory nickname for the German occupiers) and as the Avenue of the Gestapo. Avenue Foch literally, was named for Marshal Foch, the French General who had taken the German surrender in the clearing outside of Compiègne in 1918.
19 Avenue De Foch once belonging to Baron Edmond De Rothschild, now occupied by Helmut Knochen (aka Mr. Bones), SS-Schutzstaffel, Geheime Statspolizei, (Secret State Police: Gestapo) and his men. Knochen had a reputation of viciousness and brutality. He was previously known for the “Venlo Incident.”
31 Avenue Foch, (former home of Madame Alexandrine de Rothschild, a family of bankers) now occupied by Theodore Dannecker, Head of the Gestapo’s Jewish Affairs, colleague to Knochen. Dannecker had a vicious hate for the Jews. From this address, Dannecker would heartlessly send 1000’s of French men and women to the death camp at Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
**A note about the Rothschild family: The Rothschilds are a wealthy European family of bankers dating back to the 16th century. As far as the war is concerned, Philippe de Rothschild (unknown relationship to the Rothschilds who resided at Avenue de Foch, but likely related) was fighting the Germans with the Free French. The Gestapo had arrested his estranged wife (who ironically was not Jewish at all and was now separated from her Jewish husband.) In 1941 she was deported to Ravensbrück concentration campwhere she reportedly was thrown into the “oven alive,” after being beaten repeatedly —the cause of her death remains unresolved-Elizabeth Pelletier de Chamber-was the only known member of the Rothschild family, albeit married into that family, to die in the Holocaust. She wasn’t Jewish. But she bore the name Rothschild.
31 Avenue Foch, Also in June, 1942, Adolf Eichmann, SS-Obersturmbannführer, author of “The Final Solution,” the Nazi plan for the extermination of the Jewish nation, arrived in Paris and set up office at this same location.
41 Avenue Foch, Comtesse Hildegard de Seckendorff, code named Mercedes, Knochen’s informer.
70 Avenue Foch, by the summer of 1943 Knochen’s offices had expanded to this address.
72 Avenue Foch, Gestapo HQ, a 5 story Villa, taken by Helmut Knochen.
74 Avenue Foch, occupied by the KRIPO German Police.
76 Avenue Foch, occupied by Hermann Bickler, “Brutal Alsatian,” in charge of the French unit (police) responsible for tracking down resistance fighters.
84 Avenue Foch, occupied byHans Kieffer , SS Sturmbannführer, SS Counter Intelligence for The Sieherheitsdienst, “Spy Catcher,” (“Avenue of Spies” Quote by Alex Kershaw)
88 Avenue Foch, previously owned by Louis Renault (the car manufacturer) now used by Knochen’s men.
The Good Guys on Avenue Foch
11 Avenue Foch, Ground floor; One of the more modest homes on Avenue Foch was inhabited by American Sumner Jackson, his Swiss French wife Charlotte (“Toquette”) and their son Phillip Jackson.
Sumner Jackson was the chief of surgery at the American Hospital of Paris at Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb just west of Paris.Sumner was already a decorated WWI hero from the 1st world war. He had worked in primitive tents set up as hospitals at the front lines in the worst of conditions. Now, once again, faced with major involvement in yet another world war, both times-amazingly enough, even before his own country had joined the effort, he was smuggling downed allied pilots and other resistors through the hospital to freedom and back into the fight. His wife Toquette was an active French Resistor, recruited by Frances Deloche de Noyelle, into the network “Goélette. Their home at number 11 was a “drop box” for the resistance. Toquette was code name Colombiers. This is how she fought the war. And her husband Sumner, did so through the hospital. And their only child Phillip was also involved.
Another note on Dr. Jackson: According to all who knew him, he was one of the most humble men among his profession. Quiet and reserved, he never liked being in the spotlight. But in view of his gigantic contribution to the freedoms of his countrymen in two World Wars, it would seem fitting to behold a grand statue matching such grand stature as his. On the other hand it comes as little surprise that the man who embodied so much humility is memorialized in no grand way, but rather with an obscure small plaque at the American Hospital in Paris, which itself in only a few lines, doesn’t begin to tell the story of his life and generosity. Furthermore, even his name and that of his son’s are spelled wrong on the memorial wall at the Camp de Royalieu internment museum in Compiègne. I think he would be amused by this fact and not one bit offended. I am thankful for literary giants like Alex Kershaw and Charles Glass who have so eloquently shared his story with the likes of me, one soul cast among millions, whose freedom has been largely gained by his great loss.
55 Avenue Foch, home of Pierre Wertheimer who fled to the United States prior to the occupation.
Wertheimer was 80% holder of Chanel Perfume dynasty. He put his business and holdings into the hands of an Aryan business partner, prior to leaving Paris. Coco Chanel did all she could to exploit the Nazi occupation in her favor by attempting to strip the Wertheimer brothers of their partnership. She was not successful in that endeavor, thanks to Wertheimer’s prudent decision prior to leaving Paris. But suffice to say, she was, for the remainder of the war, a collaborator in any way that benefited Coco Chanel. 58 Avenue Foch, Banker Nelson D. Jay, President of the American Hospital board of Governors. He also fled Paris prior to the occupation.
75 Avenue Foch Alfred Lindon who also fled to safety prior to the occupation, left 63 privately owned precious paintings at the Chase Bank in Paris. It’s uncertain what became of those paintings. The Nazis both looted famous and precious works of art as well as destroyed them.
May 26 – June 4 1940 The Battle of Dunkirk
September 1940 Battle of Britain (Recommended Reading by Alex Kershaw: “The Few.”) Kershaw’s book is about “a few” American pilots who smuggled themselves into Europe and then to England, violating FDR’s neutrality law forbidding Americans to fight in the European conflict. These pilots joined the RAF in spite of that. They saw a need and recognized they had something to offer, their ability to fly airplanes, in this gallant fight for freedom. Some of them were crop dusters.
September 7, 1940 – May 1941 German Blitzkrieg of London.
September 27, 1940 the Axis powers are formed as Germany, Italy, and Japan become allies with the signing of the Tripartite Pact in Berlin.
October 24, 1940Marshal Philippe Pétain and Hitler met at Montorie-sr-le-Loir. “And as London suffered the worst of the Blitz (Savage bombing of London which left 1000’s dead and even more homeless) Pétain was photographed shaking Hitler’s hand.” Pétain’s declaration: “It is with honor, and in order to maintain French unity, a unity which has lasted ten centuries, and in the framework of the constructive activity of the new European order, that today I am embarking on the path of collaboration.” (Alex Kershaw’s “Avenue of Spies,” page 44)
December 23, 1940Jacques Bonsergent was the 1st occupied Parisienne to face Nazi firing squad. His crime? Jostling a soldier at Gare-Saint-Lazare. (a metro train station)The Germans were definitely now making a statement about who was in control of the City of Lights.
June 22 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The invasion broke the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Up until this point, Russia (Stalin) was fighting in conquest of Europe along side Hitler. Indeed in their pre-war strategizing, Hitler and Stalin had already decided how they would divvy up conquered Europe between them. Now, boom, just like that, this hellacious, volatile, hot bed of human abuse, cruel and vehement Soviet Union, became an Ally to the UK, rather than an enemy. But they were far from “friends.” At the time it was a stroke of luck. Heaven knows how Britain (and later) the US and their allies would have been frightfully pressed fighting on so many fronts, and perhaps the war lost, had Hitler not reneged on his pact with the Russians. But yet, this newfound alliance with Russia…..was rather like consorting with the devil. It was at the time a necessary evil.
May 14, 1941, Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 40 were called to present themselves to the Paris police. They were summoned using a green postcard, for which this wave of arrests became known as the “billet vert.” More than 5,000 Paris Jews were taken into custody in this first wave of arrests. After their arrest, the prisoners were sent to the detention camps of Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande. Many of these Jews were later released only to be arrested again (and deported) in 1942.
August 20, 1941about 3,000 Jews were arrested in a sudden operation, undertaken by a joint French-German collaboration. These arrests were enabled by detailed lists of names prepared by French police officers. Many of these Jews were later released only to be arrested again (and deported) in 1942.
August 21,1941At Barbes Rochechouart metro station,The first German soldier is killed in occupied Paris by 22-year-old member of the French Resistance named Georges Pierre. Beginning on August
28 and over the next several days, French judges sent eleven innocent Frenchmen to their deaths as a response to this incident. French Vichy Marshal Pétain actually offered for the Vichy to have them publicly guillotined, but the Germans decided to do it in private in an effort to avoid further reprisals.
Fall, 1941 Hundreds of Jewish men were arrested and sent to the Compiègne internment camp, north-east of Paris. In the months that followed they were also released.
October 2, 1941French collaborators bombed 3 Jewish synagogues in Paris: 330 Rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth; Rue de la Victoire; and also one at 230 Rue des Tourelles, orchestrated by Helmut Knochen.
October – December 1941 The French Resistance steps up and continues it’s resistance activities in Paris with multiple saboteur activities.
November – December 1941 Knochen is removed from Paris by the Prussian Wehrmacht General Otto von Stülpnagel, the military commandant of Paris ostensibly for his (Knochen’s) orchestration of the Jewish synagogue bombings and the ensuing chaos.
December 7, 1941Pearl Harboris attacked by the Japanese, waking a sleeping Giant. The United states is now drawn inescapably into the war, both theaters, Pacific and European.
December 18, 1941340 Americans living in Paris are interned in a German prison facility in Compiègne, France.
December 1941 American Sylvia Beach’s book shop, “Shakespeare and Company” at 12 rue de l’Odéon,was closed by the Nazis. It boasted the company of “great expat writers of the time—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound—including some of the century’s most compelling female voices: Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and Mina Loy.” (Shakespeareandcompany.com)
French author André Chamson said that Beach “did more to link England, the United States, Ireland, and France than four great ambassadors combined.” Sylvia was arrested and held at the Garden d’Acclimation at the Bois de Boulognebefore being sent to an internment camp in Vittel France. She was transported there in September, 1942 and released in March, 1943.
1941-1944 The Germans (with the help of Vichy French Government) had established four primary internment camps just outside of Paris where they interned Americans, political dissidents, resisters, and Jews. They were typically housed according to their categorical label. The Jews, unless freed for some obscure reason from the internment camp, were typically always transferred from the camp to concentration camps where survival chances were even slimmer. Those 4 camps were: Compiègne, 50 miles NE of Paris; Drancy La Cité de la Muette (Operated by the Vichy until January, 1943) near St. Denis just north of Paris centre; and Pithiviers Beaune-la-Rolande; and Fresnes.This is a great website for the Drancy Internment Camp: http://drancy.memorialdelashoah.org/en/the-drancy-memorial/presentation/the-history-of-the-cite-de-la-muette.html
Gallery for Additional photos Camp de Royalieu Compiègne, France
March 27, 1942The first 1000 Jews are deported from French soil at Compiègne camp, Sector C, to Auschwitz Birkenau.
May 5, 1942 Knochen returns to Paris donning the German Iron Cross. He was brought back to Paris by his equally ruthless boss, Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), SS Standartenführer -SS Commander of Gestapo and Criminal Police, KRIPO, nicknamed by Hitler, “The Man with the Iron Heart.”
Simultaneously with Knochen’s reinstatement to Paris, his nemesis, General Otto von Stülpnagel, was removed from his Wehrmacht military command in Paris and replaced by his cousin, General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel.
May 11, 1942Heydrich leaves Paris May 27, 1942 Heydrich is killed by 2 Czechoslovakian British trained SOE agents in Prague.
Spring 1942 SS General Karl Otberg and Knochen are fully in charge of Paris Gestapo. Otberg is known as “The Butcher of Paris,” (See “Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation,” by Charles Glass.)
June, 1942These Nazi commanders and the Vichy French government begin plotting the deportation of the Jews from Paris. They initially propagated “A Jewish State in the East,” but assuredly sent them to their deaths. Pierre Laval, Prime Minister of Vichy France: “It would be no dishonor to me if I were to send the countless number of foreign Jews who are in France to this state one day.”
July 4, 1942 Danneker and Knochen in a meeting, decide that René Bousquet, Secretary General to the Vichy and his gendarmes would be responsible for gathering the Jews up, thinking perhaps it would go better for their own countrymen to oust them from their homes, rip them from their children, transport them to internment camps, and then deport them to concentration camps. Their sick and distorted thinking: Better the French do this to the French, then the Germans undertake it and suffer even more resistance.
July 4, 1942In a meeting later that same day between Danneker and French Prime Minister Pierre Laval, Laval actually recommends to have the children be deported along with their families. Danneker was thrilled with this unprompted offer from Prime Minister Laval.
July 16 – July 17, 1942
The Grand Raffle (The Great Round Up)
In a relatively short amount of time, 13,152 Jews, including more than 4000 children were herded into the Vélodrome d’hiver (Bicycle Sports Stadium) located at Blvd de Grenelle and Rue Nélaton(Memorial located at the wall near the subway station Bir-Hakeim very near the Eiffel Tower.) The Vélodrome d’hiver was an indoor bicycle track. The Jews were held there in deplorable conditions-no plumbing, scraps of bread for food, with little water- for an average of five days before being deported to concentration camps, most of them to Auschwitz Birkenau. Less than 4% of this group of Jews returned from the concentration camps, and none of those children. The youngest recorded age in the Great Roundup was 18 months old. The French catholic church made a rather belated appeal to Pierre Laval to spare the children. His blunt, cruel reply: “The children must go.” By the end of July, over 14,000 Jews had been deported. Not until 1995 did the French President at that time Jacques Chirac, admit and apologize for French complicity in this tragedy.
By 1942 if not earlier in the occupation, you could no longer tell the difference between a Vichy government collaborator and a Nazi.
September 24, 1942 Sumner Jackson was arrested, not for his yet undetected resistance activities smuggling the allied pilots out of Paris, but rather because he was an American. He was interned at Compiègne-Royallieu, Frontstalag 122B Sector B. Nearby in Sector C was the internment barracks for Jewish prisoners.
October, 1942General de Chambrun secures Jackson’s release from Compiègne. Sumner returns to his clandestine activities as well as his medical profession at the American Hospital in Paris. His wife and son are both relieved. The Jacksons were very secretive. (Who wasn’t?) There was no trusting de Chambrun with knowledge of their resistance activities. He (de Chambrun) was too aligned with the Vichy government. As were de Chambrun’s son and daughter-in-law, René and Josée (Laval) de Chambrun.
November 1942 Allied Forces invade Vichy controlled Northern Africa.
November 11, 1942The Germans occupy Vichy, France. Nowthe delusional world of freedom that the collaborating Vichy government had been enjoying up to this point, was clearly hampered.
January 1943,The French Vichy, now at an all time moral low, established their own para military force to be used against their own country men, called the Milice. It was headed up by Joseph Darnand. Darnand, a deportation expert himself, was the organization’s de facto leader. He, in fact, was a puppet of the true leader of the vicious Milice, Pierre Laval, the French Prime Minister. The Milice was merciless and vicious. The Milice’s most famous victim was Politician Georges Mandel. Mandel was Churchill’s first choice for the voice of the French resistance over Charles de Gualle. But Mandel, a Jew, refused to leave France on the pretense that it would appear he was a coward and that his efforts were best served in France, not England. The Vichy are also now forced to hand over operation of the Drancy Internment Camp completely to the Nazis.
February 2, 1943The Germans were defeated by the Russians at Stalingrad.
September 23, 1943Gestapo sets up yet another HQ and Gestapo torture/interrogation center at 11 Rue des Saussaies in Paris.
1942- August, 1944 The “Nazi Triangle” as it was called (“Avenue of Spies” quote by Alex Kershaw) consisted of a trifecta of torture chambers, these in addition to the torture that went on at the offices on Avenue Foch. These other three were at 5 Rue Mallet-Stevens, 93 Rue Lauriston, and 180 Rue de la Pompe, The address at 180 Rue de la Pompe was mere blocks from Phillip Jackson’s high school at number 106 Rue de la Pompe.
180 Rue de la Pompe was also previously inhabited by Nazi and Knochen’s top informer Comtesse Von Seckendorrff. She later moved her place of residence to the luxurious address of 41 Avenue Foch. Then, 180 Ave de la Pompe was expropriated by the Nazi Berger Group, headed up by Friedrich Berger, veteran of the Abwehr, working for the Gestapo on Avenue Foch. He actually had three equally sadistic women working for him as well in his torture house. They included a set of sisters who were also his mistresses, as well as a female Iranian taxi driver. These women were as lethal and cruel as their boss. The interesting note about 93 Rue Lauriston, is that this torture house was operated by Frenchman Henri Lafont, (born Henri Chamberlin) a notorious and violent gangster sprung from his French prison by Helmut Knochen, to be recruited to work in Nazi’s brutal attack on Paris citizens and her resistors. Lafont, a loser, by every definition, a self-serving ass, and an expert in criminal enterprise and the black market, espoused the perfect resume for the work Helmut Knochen had in mind.
March 1944, Theodor Dannecker dispatched to Hungary to destroy Europe’s remaining Jewish ghettos.
April 21, 1944The Porte de la Chapelle marshaling yards in Paris were hit by allied bombing. Approximately 600 people were killed and over 30 wounded, as bad a casualty rate as any during they London Blitz. An unfortunate fallout of Allied bombing in WWII was the unintentional injury and deaths of civilians. It’s a painful truth about a painful war.
May 24, 1944The entire Jackson Family, Sumner, Toquette, and their son Phillip are arrested by the French Milice, this time for suspected resistance activities. The family was taken out of Paris, and the men separated from Toquette at the Château des Brosses, near Vichy. This was the French Milice’s main prison.
June 6, 1944 The Allies land in Normandy, France,code name Operation Overlord. The French invasion had begun.
June 10, 1944 “Atrocity followed atrocity as the SS struck back indiscriminately at any community thought to have harbored terrorists. On this day, men belonging to the SS Der Fürher regiment entered the small town of Oradour-sur-Glaneand killed 642 people in one of the most atrocious crimes committed in France; 207 of the victims were children.” (“Avenue of Spies,” Pg. 129 Alex Kershaw)
June 10-11, 1944The Jacksons are moved to the Hôtel du Portugal,the Gestapo’s torture house in Vichy, France located on the Boulevard des Étas-Unis, (United States Blvd.)
July 7, 1944Phillip and his father Sumner were transported to the Camp de Royalieu internment camp at Compiègne where Sumner had been interned before. This time though they were held in a different place, reserved for enemies of the 3rd Reich.
July 15, 1944 Toquette is taken to a prison in Romainville.
July 15, 1944 Phillip and Sumner are deported to a labor concentration camp in Neuengamme, Germany, 10 miles SE of Hamburg.
July 20, 1944 Attempted assassination by Von Stauffenberg of Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair. The attempt fails, but before Stauffenberg is aware of that, he calls General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel in Paris and tells him, he was in fact successful with the assassination, and orders the General to carry out his part of the coup in Paris. Stülpnagel ordered the arrest of 1200 SS and Gestapo men in Paris, including Knochen and Otberg and all their henchmen. “Then came a sound never to be forgotten,” (Alex Kershaw) and that was the sound of Hitler’s menacing voice on a radio in hotels and public places announcing the failed attempt on his life. And just like that the Coup was over. The Wehrmacht Generals in Paris were forced to stand down by the likes of Knochen and Otberg, and the Nazi reign of terror continued. The only reason the German Wehrmacht leaders were not executed was that Knochen and Otberg both agreed this would be too distracting from their task at hand. Given the push of the Allies toward Paris, they felt more than ever, the need to continue to hunt down resistors in Paris and those opposing the Nazi’s horrific goals.
August 10, 1944, A petite 5’3” 23 year old British SOE agent Violette Szabo, (mother of a two-year old girl) is arrested and tortured by the Gestapo at 84 Avenue Foch. She never. gave. up. one. piece. of. information. And I wonder “what would I have done? What would my daughter had done? Szabo ended up at Ravensbrück with Toquette Jackson and a host of other women resistors. Sadly on February 5, 1945 Szabo was executed with two other young women, also SOE agents, Lilian Rolfe and Denise Bloch.
August 17, 1944 The Bois de Boulogne murder of 35 resistance fighters who walked into a trap and were gunned down by Friedrich Berger and his gang of killers. In a clearing near the fortress in Mt. Valérienoverlooking Bois de Boulogne, there is a site now preserved as a monument to resistant fighters who were shot there.
August 17, 1944 Pierre Taittinger, who had become President of the Municipal Council of Paris in 1943-1944, meets with von Dietrich von Choltitz, the city’s now German military governor, a Prussian General himself who had been ordered by Hitler, given the onslaught of the Allies landing at Normandy and on their way to liberate Paris, “to crush all attempts at an uprising.” (“Avenue of Spies,” Alex Kershaw, Pg. 162) **After the liberation of Paris, the Drancy internment camp was used to detain suspected collaborators, among them, writer-director Sacha Guitry, opera singer Germaine Lubin as well as Pierre Taittinger.
August 18, 1944 Knochen leaves Paris along with SS general Karl Otberg and all of their loyal Nazi subordinates. Ironically, later that day, Knochen and the Gestapo officers arrived at Vittel for their first retreat destination, the same town where Sylvia Beach had been interned for being an American in Paris.
August 20, 1944 Toquette is moved from the Romainville prison and eventually arrives and is imprisoned at Ravensbrück Germany concentration camp.
August 22, 1944 Hitler orders General von Choltitz, “Paris is to be transformed into a pile of rubble.” Neither General von Choltitz or General Hans Speidel, whose office had received and transmitted Hitler’s order, “had any intention of being remembered by history as the destroyer of Paris.” (“Avenue of Spies,” Alex Kershaw, Pg. 166) Both of them had only recently been posted in Paris.
August 1944 Knochen was demoted to Private by Heinrich Himmler, Supreme Commanding Head of the SS and moved to the Russian front.
August 24, 1944 The Liberation of Paris: The French Resistance at 0900, soon followed by their American Allies of 2nd Armored Division, liberated Paris, France. Later in the evening, both the Tri color French Flag and the Stars and Stripes were raised side by side over the Eiffel Tower.
October 21, 1944Aachen Germany is the first German city to fall into Allied hands. Aachen is a beautiful city to visit and is located a mere 30 to 45 minute drive from our previous home in Schierwaldenrath GE, where we lived for 4 years.
April 21, 1945 Sumner and Phillip along with some 15,000 other Neuengamme inmates were transported to the Baltic port of Lübeck, to be placed on prison ships. They are both suffering from malnutrition, beatings, and exhaustion. They arrived at Lübeck and within a day or so were placed on the prison ship “Thielbek,”crammed into the hold of the ship with the other beaten down, many of them dying, prisoners. Dr. Jackson continued to treat his patients. His son worked with him. They refused to leave the patients in the hold when it was announced that all French-speaking prisoners in the hold could go up to the deck. Michael Hollard, a resistor prisoner on the ship, referred to his friend, Sumner Jackson, as “the devoted American.”
April 25, 1945 Toquette is released from Ravensbrück along with other French female prisoners as a result of the negotiations between the Swedish chairman of the Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte, and Heinrich Himmler, Chief of German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior and a leading Nazi responsible for helping to orchestrate the Holocaust. Toquette is literally saved in the 11th hour. She was transported to Malmö, Switzerland and began her long road to convalescence. Of the 550 women departed with her from France on August 15, 1944, she was only one of 17 who survived.
**Toquette Jackson continued to suffer from health issues related to her imprisonment and hard labor the remainder of her life. Sadly she lots her beloved husband in the conflict. She died in 1965-the same year I was born. It is strange to think that partly because of her courage in that war, that in the very year she died, I was born into freedom.
May 3, 1945 Sumner Jackson, along with his son Phillip still on the prison boat, set sail. The prison boats are subsequently shot by fighter pilots of the RAF, not realizing that the allied prisoners are inside. Phillip survives the ordeal. His father does not. Sumner Jackson was seen by another prison floating in the water on a piece of wood. Later he was presumed drowned. Phillip was herded into the city of Neustadtwith the survivors. Many of the prisoners were shot dead by the SS on the shore as they escaped the sinking prison ships. Phillip was fortunate enough to be only one of 50 people out of 2750 on the Thielbek that survived. The next day Neustadt was liberated by the British.
**Phillip Jackson, immediately the day of his liberation, began serving in the British military as a translator. It would be a year before he was reunited with his mother. Phillip Jackson recently died in December, 2016 at his residence at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris, France.
May 7,1945 At SHAEF headquarters in Reims, France, the Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender of all of Germany to the Allied forces. The war officially ended on May 8, 1945.
Other Notable Addresses During the Occupation and Why?
85-87 Rue du Baubourg St. Martin, Lévitan, a well known Jewish furniture store was requisitioned in July 1943 for sorting items stolen by the Nazis and intended for Nazi use either in their requisitioned homes and offices in Paris or else to be sent to destinations in Germany.
Pierre La Chaise Cemetery The burial places of André Wang and Georges Dudocks, both members of the resistance.
79 Avenue Victor Hugo: Otto Burearu: A Nazi Office for the censoring of Books, including Shakespeare.
129 Avenue de Malakoff, Salon and home of American Florence Gould, a favorite of Knochen for Thursday afternoon’s soirée. Gould was a French divorcee and dancer who caught the eye of Frank Jay Gould. Her husband spent World War II on the Riviera, but she “quickly returned to Paris, and in no time was cultivating Wehrmacht officers and Gestapo officials,” according to Frederic Spotts’s book, “The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation.”
122 Rue de Provence: One of the most popular wartime brothels, particularly for the Nazis in occupied Paris during the war.
58 Rue de Vaugirard, overlooking Luxembourg Gardens:
Home of General Albert de Chambrun (direct descendent of the Marquis de Lafayette) and his wife Clara Longworth, an American.
(Clara’s brother, Nicholas Longworth was married to Alice Roosevelt, only child of Teddy Roosevelt) General de Chambrun had fought, by all accounts gallantly, for his country in WWI. His American wife, Clara, ran the American Library in Paris and kept it open during the occupation. This was both astounding and suspect, considering the Nazi’s book censorship at the time. After all, Sylvia Beach was also an American. Yet, her book shop Shakespeare and Company was shut down by the Nazis, and she was interned at an American internment camp. The de Chambrun’s only child René de Chambrun was collaborator Marshal Pétain’s Godson and lo and behold, married to Josée (Laval) de Chambrun, daughter of Collaboration King himself, Pierre Laval, Prime Minister of France. One has a love hate relationship with General Albert and Clara de Chambrun. Chambrun was thought by many to be a collaborator. But he also was instrumental in keeping the American hospital open and out of Nazi hands. He also tried very hard but failed to gain the release of the Jacksons after they were all arrested in May, 1944. On the other hand, he was friends with a brood of French aristocrat who were decidedly collaborators and the enemy who occupied his city. Clara’s biggest crime undoubtedly was her ignorance. Her stubborn defense and adoration of both Pétain and Laval speak volumes about her inability to take her head out of the aristocratic sand where she had it embedded. The de Chambrun’s only child, son René and his wife Josée were even more suspect for their collaboration activities, and in particular Josée. She reveled in high society living and spared no expense indulging that life even during the occupation as she hobnobbed with both the Aryan (Non Jewish) French aristocrats as well as the top brass of the Nazi occupiers. She was her father Pierre Laval’s right hand woman. René de Chambrun was an attorney who represented many questionable characters, the cast of which included Coco Chanel. It should be noted also that if you want to defend this family’s honor, then take into hearty consideration 2 important factors: 1 that while most of Paris was literally dying from starvation or from exposure to the elements, and while other Parisiennes were being tortured and deported, and killed for their resistance activities against the Nazis, this family enjoyed relative calm, plenty of food, and no shortage of parties attended with high-ranking members of the Nazi establishment including the Nazi Ambassador Otto Abetz. And 2 There is nothing, no evidence in the annals of history, revealing this family intervening on behalf of a single Jew being deported to death camps. And why would they? Their beloved Pétain and Laval were instrumental in the support and success of those murders. Yes, when trying to decide if the de Chambruns were collaborators, there is much to consider.
1 Rue de Traktir, (about 100 yards from the Jacksons’ home at 11 Avenue de Foch) Home of Francis Deloche de Noyelle, the young 23-year-old who recruited Toquette Jackson into the French resistance work, the Goélette network, just one circuit under the umbrella of the broader resistance organization, The BCRA (Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operation)
OTHER NOTABLE QUOTES:
“As long as Gestapo is carrying out the will of leadership (Hitler) it is acting legally,” Werner Best, Knochen’s colleague.
“That college is a nest of assassins! It should be torched. The Gestapo is much too soft on these types. I looked into the case of this director and you can rest assured he won’t be released.” Otto Abetz, Nazi Ambassador to Paris during the occupation, Re: A Paris University professor who had refused to hand over names of students thought to have joined the resistance.
“Indignation can move mountains,” Germaine Tillion, Ravensbrûck survivor, on women’s role in the French Resistance.
“Je ne regrette rien.” (I regret nothing,) Toquette Jackson in a statement she made years after the war.
“I want you to know that I never ceased to be in love with Sumner, for whom I had forever a great admiration and respect. He has such big qualities,” Toquette Jackson, in a letter she penned to Summer’s sister after the war.
“We were lucky to still have each other….I was a kid until I was arrested and spent time in a concentration camp, which made me into an adult, but I had no adolescence. I had skipped from child to adult.” Phillip Jackson on losing his father in the war, but surviving with his mother.
“To die is nothing. What is sad is to die without seeing the liberation of the country and the restoration of the Republic,” Georges Mandel, French Jewish politician and leader in the Resistance, just before he was murdered by the French Milice.
“We’ll all be hanged for what the Milice have done. I don’t mind hanging but not with Darnand,” Josée (Laval) de Chambrun to her father, Pierre Laval, with regard to the French Milice and Milice commander Joseph Darnand, and their viciousness as she speculated on what might happen to collaborators after the war.
What happened to the Collaborators?
General Albert and Clara Chambrun were arrested immediately following the liberation of Paris. Essentially their release was only secured by Chambrun’s brother, Pierre Chambrun, who ironically in June, 1940 had been the only one of 84 Parliamentarians who voted against Pétain and the forming of the Vichy government. They were removed from their leadership roles at the American Hospital and the American Library respectively and maintained a low profile for a long time in fear for their safety.
René and José (Laval) Chambrun, assumed false identities and hid with wealthy friends in the country. Later they fled Paris all together until they felt it safe to return. Ironic isn’t it?
Initially on August 17, 1944 just before Paris was liberated, Knochen had both Laval and Pétain arrested and moved to Germany. Ironically, the collaborators finally fell victim to their occupiers for whom they had towed the line at the expense of thousands of French. However, their captivity evolved into somewhat of a hopeful and contrived escape from the new French Government. But, By April, 1945 they were retrieved by the Americans from Germany and turned over to the presiding French Government to stand trial for treason.
At the end of Philippe Pétain’s trial, he was convicted on all charges. The jury sentenced him to death. Due to his advanced age, the Court asked that the sentence not be carried out. General Charles De Gaulle, who was President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic at the end of the war, commuted the sentence to life imprisonment due to Pétain’s age and his military contributions in World War I. After his conviction, the Court stripped Pétain of all military ranks and honors save for the one distinction of Marshal of France.
Pierre Laval was tried and was found guilty and killed by firing squad in October, 1945.
Henri Lafont was picked up on a farm just outside of Paris. On December 27, 1944 in a person cell, he told his lawyer, “I don’t regret a thing.I’ve had four years surrounded by orchids, dahlias, and Bentleys-that was worth it. I have lived ten lives so I can afford to lose one. Tell my son not to go to night clubs…” He was killed by firing squad that same day with a cigarette between his lips as usual.
Joseph Darnand, head of the French Milice was killed by firing squad for treason.
René Bousquet was head of the French Police during the Paris occupation and responsible for helping to orchestrate the Great Roundup of Jews on July 16, 1942, the vast majority of which never returned from Auschwitz concentration camp. Bousquet was (surprise surprise) an old friend of René de Chambrun. He somehow escaped justice in the immediate aftermath of the war. Bousquet had many other high-ranking friends including François Mitterrand who was a member of the Vichy government himself and later President of France, (Socialist party,) from 1981-1995. Many collaborators did indeed escape justice. But according to Alex Kershaw’s report in “Avenue of Spies,” pg. 222, regarding Bousquet, “He was sensationally killed in 1993, just weeks before he was finally to be tried for war crimes, by a 51-year-old man who then pled not guilty to murder, arguing that Bousquet had so obviously deserved to die.”
By the end of the war, 3.5 million denunciations had been made by the French against the French. (“Les Parisiennes”, Pg. 157, Anne Sebba) I thought about making a list of “What happened to the Nazi leaders of Occupied France?” but first of all, I think any rendering of information should not tell the reader everything there is to know about a topic. It should tell them as much as necessary to ignite in them an interest to further research such facts on their own so that they might also be learners, not just readers. And also given the two groups, it is the collaborators, not the occupiers, with whom I identify the most. Of course, as free citizens ourselves, there is a prima facie case for most of us to identify with the resistors. But in the words of Anna Sebba, in her book, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation, “For some women, the choice involved little more than a decision to wear an outrageous hat or to walk out of a restaurant. For others it involved making a deal or a sexual exchange. But surviving in occupied Paris, for many women, demanded some sort of choice, some sort of decision, about how would they would accommodate living with the Germans. It is not for the rest of us to judge but, with imagination, we can begin to try to understand.”
I would hope that I would have the courage of Violet Szabo, Toquette or Sumner Jackson, or any number of mothers, daughters, wives, husbands, or fathers who gave their all to protect their children and their countries for the cause of freedom. Perhaps we don’t know for certain what our reaction would be when faced with torture or starvation, but it is still a relevant question today for all of us to ask ourselves, “What would I have done?” And “What would I do?” The answer is not clear until we are surely tested in that way. But here’s a thought: Nowadays in the relative comfort and peace of our American homes, we are tested other ways with this same question. When my children act a certain way that is unloving, hateful, cowardly, what shall I do? When I am faced with an opportunity to forgive or to be bitter, what shall I do? When my child is faced with the opportunity to take a stand for justice, what will their decision be based on the model I have shown them? What will their decision be indeed? What will I do in any number of relationship situations where I have the opportunity to exert influence, assistance, or hope? What are our choices in those instances? If nothing else, the answer to that reveals perhaps a little about what our choices might have been had we been an American or a Frenchman in occupied Paris.
This list of occupied Paris collaborators and their ends is a tiny tiny portion of all the information and record that is out there. Please continue to search out new facts and new stories. Remembering those, who today we literally must thank for our freedom, is a small task for us compared to the gargantuan task that they faced every single day of that tumultuous occupation. Winston Churchill’s words for the pilots of the RAF during the Great Battle of Britain, ring true here as well. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
**Nothing in this blog is intended to reflect the views or opinions of any person or entity other than the author of this blog.
My opinions are my opinions. They do not reflect the position of any airline or employee of any airline.
The incident that has spiraled into hellish proportions across the media, and in and out of the annals of cyberspace (as incidents via the annals of cyberspace always do) demands a thorough evaluation. (You know the one: a paid passenger is informed he has to disembark from his flight; he refuses; subsequently, the police are asked to escort him off; he still refuses; and then-well the situation goes to hell from there??-Yes, that one.) But in order to evaluate this incident at United Airlines, there is a bigger problem in our American culture that precipitates this one which demands our attention. Moreover, it demands our unbiased input. It demands our intellect. It demands our common sense. It demands our courage. And, as I always tell my three nearly grown-up daughters, if you don’t have anything to bring to the table, then stay home. In other words, if all you can do is rumble, rant, and threaten, you’re counterproductive to discussion of policy, politics, and community building. Do you really and truly want what happened with this Republic Airlines flight to never happen again? (Yes, it was actually not a UAL flight. They were not UAL pilots boarding the plane. It was Republic Airlines. But that is neither here nor there.) If you can say, “yes, I wish this could’ve ended differently, could’ve been handled differently, and would’ve had a different outcome,” then read on. Otherwise, just quit reading now. Go do whatever it is that makes you happy (complaining.) This incident with UAL flight #3411 begs the question that is in front of every American teacher, cop. and customer service agent (private or public sector) every. where. When the rules dictate certain processes and/or when a situation necessitates a student (for instance) to switch desks or to put their phone away in class, and IN those cases, when the person absolutely (wrongly) refuses to comply with the person in the place of authority, what options do those in the place of authority have for doing their job? I mean really. What options do they have? I am all for not dragging a student out of the classroom by their hair or a passenger off the plane by his limbs. I think we all agree on this. But let’s sit down together and agree that first of all, people cannot just blindly disobey authority-not in a free society! I am not talking about teachers, cops, or customer service agents who are abusing their jobs or acting criminally. I am saying when they are doing their job: Writing a traffic citation; executing a legal warrant; asking a student to put their phone away during instruction (I experience this frequently); telling a pass traveler there is a dress code for pass traveling (had this happen to me); requiring a dress code for the professional work place. In those cases, when protocol is being followed, when what they are asking is absolutely reasonable and expected, what in heaven’s name, can the person in authority do when a student or a criminal suspect or an employee or a customer looks them straight in the face and says “NO!” Do we insist on promoting anarchy in a country that actually became a country based on a constitution where laws are imposed and enforced so that we can be the kind of free country where the exercise of our rights and our freedoms are protected not by theexercise of our rights, but rather by the enforcement of rules and policies that actually anchor those rights. Alarmingly, we are becoming a country where our own individual and personal rights (as we see them) trump everyone else’s rights, and the very rules in place that protect all of us. And as the smart phone cameras are rolling, people (students, customers, criminal suspects) quickly and clearly understand: “I can say NO! I can physically refuse to comply.” Why? Because they believe and know that the minute I lay a hand on them to escort them to where they need to go or the minute the police officer goes to execute an arrest warrant, that they can fight, resist, hit, kick, and scream. It will be filmed (that’s a given) and it will be ugly. They know and understand that if they go crazy, the chance is great that their behavior or wrong refusal to cooperate will be diminished and/or mitigated in the light of a physical confrontation that they know looks really bad on film.
But the preferential choice of anarchy in our country to authority figures: teachers, police officers, customer service agents, is frightening when you have children you are sending out into this narcissistic and selfish world to live on their own without the safeguards that are naturally in place inside our house. All of this tyrannical resistance to authority is further aggravated by cases and events not being considered on their individual merits but ALL grouped into a “one size fits all” category. This reckless and truly ignorant way of approaching every conflict we see on the news that takes place between a person in authority and a customer, citizen, suspect, or student is ripping away the very fabric of our nation’s security and it is undermining our teachers, our education system, and the course of living peacefully in our daily lives.
We have three daughters. I will repeat what I said earlier in this blog. We have told them that in the area of politics, policy, ministry, education (their high school and colleges), if there is something they don’t agree with, they better know that there is never an excuse for shutting down the conversation or for misleading others because of their own inability or refusal to gather information and to sort out fact from fiction. I have told them if they don’t come to the table with something to offer, then don’t come to the table at all.
And NOW, a honeymoon couple on a UAL flight who continued to try to switch to an upgraded seat after repeatedly being asked to stay in their own seat is removed and rebooked. In a Boeing 737-800 like the one the couple was on, United considers Row 21 “economy plus,” which is an upgrade. UAL released this statement: “These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them on flights tomorrow.” What this couple tried to do is shoplifting. I mean would you go into a store and carry something out without paying for it? (In this self entitled world we live in, I am afraid the answer to that is becoming yes, yes, and yes.) This is precisely the same thing as walking into a restaurant and stiffing them by not paying your tab. Or retail shoplifting. What kind of person marries the kind of person-that on one of the first days of the rest of their life together-they would practice-not humility and truth-but self entitlement and rudeness?
You know what? There IS a discussion of policy on bumping passengers that needs to happen. I once tried all day long to get from Oklahoma City to anywhere on the east coast that could deliver me to my home (at that time) in Germany. After a very long day in the airport, I was bumped by a paid passenger who literally showed up for the flight just as the doors were closing. Only I was in my seat and strapped in. Talk about disappointing. I stepped off the plane and eventually got to my destination. But blaming an entire airline for this incident or the one on flight #3411 is reckless and unfounded. Oscar Muñoz is sincerely a great CEO. He brought this company together at a time when the various work groups were quite discombobulated (in a post 9-11 season of unrest and uncertainty.) He did this largely due to his ability to unite people from all demographics, groups and positions. He is a breath of fresh air to UAL and to Corporate America.
My fear (which often keeps me awake at night) is that we are becoming a country, a culture, where generosity and compassion and caring about others is secondary always to “me, me, me.” It only follows then that a pervasive negative and volatile attitude towards those who have the right to tell us “you can’t do that,” becomes an epidemic. Today, (it just so happens), I have a class full of 7th and 8th graders to whom I am delivering a lesson titled “Taking Responsibility for Me.” Wow! Sadly, I have great concern that my expectation for these children to learn this very important attribute for living and for being successful is heavily overshadowed by literally millions of adults in their communities and in their personal lives who have failed to learn and adopt this character trait themselves.
Haynes, a Rhodes College professor, highlights the segregation crisis of 1964-1965 in Protestant churches in the South by telling the story of the “Kneel-In” campaigns across the south, primarily composed of college age student protestors, particularly in Memphis and particularly at the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, a suburban wealthy white church, that actually started in downtown Memphis but as it grew, the church moved to the suburbs. I love this book for many reasons. Kneel-Ins were similar to the “Sit-Ins” of those days that happened at cafes and diners to protest segregation. Kneel-Ins were non-violent prayerful protests of segregated churches. Haynes says “Unusual features of the SPC Kneel-Ins were its duration, the prominent role played by white students, the low profile maintained by the church’s ministers during the crisis and the church schism that resulted.” The schism being the split that inevitably resulted when the church FINALLY welcomed desegregation which resulted in the hardliners (the elders and their followers) that had stood staunch against integration, moved out to start a new church, “Independent Presbyterian Church” also of Memphis. Both churches are still in Memphis today. Both are desegregated now, and both have a very active role in the local area in fighting poverty and reaching out to marginalized citizens of their city. Both have made some sort of public and/or private apology to kneel-in participants who back in ’64-’65 were not allowed in their churches, first at SPC and then later at IPC once SPC became integrated. BUT the road to this repentance (and very well to their redemption) was paved with unbelievable racist acts and eventual imploding of its members. So many things to say, but I shan’t make this review itself-a book. For ONE thing, it’s amazing to me that ANY church can allow men (or women, but in this case-men) to control the church with an iron fist, putting their own personal agendas above everyone and everything even when their agenda is downright sinful. It is amazing to me that pulpit ministers can actually be hired by churches with the singular purpose of keeping them in a puppet role. In the case of SPC in the 60’s, the pulpit ministers had absolutely no influence or override ability with the “session elders,” the latter of whom wielded their racist beliefs with vehemence and an intensity that was incredibly awful. And furthermore that those pulpit minister would be so very cowardly and perhaps so in fear of losing their jobs that they would do nothing to stand up to the tyranny of their elder pharisees, who in their case, were just plain wrong! Many of these elders were successful business men in the area and had lots of money, and with that money came social and political power. They exploited that shamelessly to achieve their ends and agendas both inside and outside the church. Mostly the white students that participated in the Kneel-Ins attended Southwestern University, the majority of funds of which came from parishioners at SPC. Southwestern is now Rhodes College in Memphis. Those students were threatened, and nasty letters full of lies were mailed to their parents by SPC elders about their “clandestine” activity in the Kneel-Ins and their shamelessness in standing alongside black students. The black participants of the kneel-ins were mostly from Memphis and attended black churches in the area. Many of them were also college students but not at Southwestern since it had yet to become an integrated college. I think one of the main themes this book highlights are Christian Casualties. Casualties of churches. This was surely ONE of the ways we Christians and our churches produced casualties. There are many others. But surely this was a big one. When the church which espouses Jesus love and the gospel as the way to eternal life and the blueprint for truth and justice, but yet doesn’t allow blacks to enter their church, yes, absolutely, many kids and young people are going to make the decision to leave the church. And in many cases, that is exactly what happened here. And one has to wonder what has been the ripple effect of this racist climate of churches (in the 50’s and 60’s) over the course of a century? How many lives have been shaped, lost or derailed because people who called themselves “Christians” looked very much like sinners. It’s one thing to be a sinner and act like a sinner. But when you are a Christian and act hatefully and selfishly, you, more than the sinner, will lead people away from God. Haynes wrote with regard to SPC and other churches like them: “As it became clear that segregation could not be sustained in the institutions that shaped their lives Monday through Saturday, they were determined to make Sunday worship in the South the last segregated hour.” Different questions the book asks US-the reader: 1 “Do I have the courage to stand up to blatant wrongs being committed by people who are supposedly a messenger of God? 2 If I CAN’T change that situation, and if it is one that consumes my place of worship, therefore hampering greatly the witness of that church to the community and the world, do I have the courage to leave and go somewhere else? 3 If I were in that wealthy white church in the 60’s would I have been a participant of the Kneel-Ins along side my black brothers and sisters or would I have been hiding under the tall steeple of that church, huddling inside the warm sanctuary with “my people,” while the elders of my church stood arm in arm on the front steps-guarding the entrance to keep black people out? Where would I have stood? 4 What about today in my church? Are there people of color there? What am I doing to be a light for Jesus in order to bring people toward Jesus (including my children) as opposed to away from Jesus? Does my life now model one for others that makes them wonder who is the God that she serves? I want to know Him. Or does my life model for others one that says “I want no part of that woman’s christianity?” Read the book. Learn. Grow. Change.
This just in. We don’t always have to experience things first hand. Talk about a time saver. Not to mention a better view in life’s rear view mirror. We have role models in our lives, both good and bad that have already done the hard work for us. It’s true! Some we know personally, and some we just see on TV or social networking. This could eliminate a LOT of time and trouble for us. They are everywhere and in every industry, country, city, school, religious circle, and home. The bad news is, that sometimes, we, or our children, are in the path of a bad role model and take a direct hit. But the good news is that role modeling-BOTH the awful and the awesome-can be enormously valuable teachers for all of us. If only we will let them.
If you’re a parent, you can readily see that absent fathers (either by divorce or by choice) cause havoc. It’s not a secret. Watch the news. Talk to school teachers. Get to know your neighbors. It’s amazing to me how many thousands upon thousands of crime sprees are committed by those from broken homes; how many victims of sexual assault and abuse have grown up without a father (and/or a mother.) Yet, we never ever talk about this on the news or very seldom when trying to find solutions. It’s forbidden. Well, after all, it could mean we are demoralizing single parents. Which of course is ridiculous. They should be reinforced not abandoned. Bolstered not broken. But just that one variable in their child’s life, puts them at risk for rocky relationships, poor grades and low self-confidence. So if your child’s father is absent, what can you do about that? Can you find someone else to fill the void in her life? It’s perhaps a tall order I know. But can you? Can you look to other families who have successfully negotiated this difficult terrain with their kids, and find out what they did that worked well? And if you’re the absent father, can you start engaging with your child now before it’s too late?
Maybe you’re a college student. There are a lot of role models in your life right now, including fellow students. What do their lives teach you? Have you seen poor judgement and co-dependency result in reckless behavior that in turn, results in pain and heartache? It’s a great time to learn a lesson. Moving out, on your own away from the protective swath of parents, and a comfortable routine, is difficult enough. Recklessness in your new social circles and a need to party until the cows come home, could make you vulnerable and an easy target for some dirty rotten scoundrel co-ed who only wants to exploit you. It’s a ripple effect. This is about prevention. We aren’t exonerating the dirty rotten scoundrel of his or her responsibility for their criminal actions. We are just watching, learning, and then thinking before acting. It’s a natural part of caring for yourself and your friends.
Maybe you are in a season with your marriage or your kids and you have experienced or witnessed your share of bad marriages and poor parenting, but also the opposite, positive (not perfect) parenting and thriving (not perfect) marriages. Then why are you still sitting on your duff and not engaging those who have gone before you? You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers. You’re wondering how to negotiate this argument over finances or your teenager’s rebellion. You’re wondering how to overcome infidelity, addiction, or potty training. Ask someone for Pete’s sake.
Violent crimes, high school graduation rates, addiction, assault, broken relationships are all issues that we are dealing with in our communities that need attention, but so is the familial foundations of our children. Family harmony, or the lack thereof, directly correlates to how much pain and heartache will manifest itself in the lives of our children and in their behavior. But talking about this is practically taboo in politics, community policy discussions, and education reform. Even though we all agree on this one point: that children of broken homes and broken relationships are often marginalized in our society. And we also know that this is often generational.
So here’s what we can do. We can take individual responsibility to watch, listen and learn. And we can and should come along beside those who feel alone and are hurting for help. Newsflash: literally millions of others have gone ahead us on the same road that we are currently traveling. The absolute best resource we have available to us as we navigate the stuff of our own lives is the stuff that’s already happened to someone else. Let all of us: single, widowed, married, divorced, parent, child, spouse, ALL of us, take our heads out of the proverbial sand, and enlist the help of a mentor or accountability partner, or prayer partner, or a role model. And when you bear witness to your own relationship casualties, go to the heart of the problem; own your part; stop the cycle. Recalling an old favorite movie of mine, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we are compelled to take cues from all kinds of role models and from each another as we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Just pay attention and learn.
A couple of weeks ago my youngest daughter Katie and I were going through a wonderful museum in Chicago: The American Art Institute. I highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in the windy city. It is such a gift to have museums right here in the states which boast so many wonderful works of art, both American and European, all in one place. This particular exhibit from the American Folk Art section of the museum, really captured our attention. It’s a whirligig.
Yes, that’s right a whirligig. I love the whirligig, and not just because I like to say the word. Apparently whirligigs were used for a number of things-scarecrows, weather vanes to name a few. But the most significant fact about this whirligig is its creator and the inspiration of the creator. This whirligig aptly titled “America,” was made by Frank Memkus, a Lithuanian immigrant to the United States of America during the 19th century. On the placard right next to this exhibit, it states the artist’s clear purpose: “This early 20th century example (of a whirligig) is both whimsical and utilitarian, made to honor this country in a gesture of pride and patriotism.” Wow! Being an American patriot myself, obviously I love the way this whirligig bleeds red, white and blue. And I love the story behind the artist and his creation.
Anyone who knows anything at all about American history, knows that with the one exception of Native Americans, ALL of us come from somewhere besides here. Most of us are of European descent. My maiden name is English. My married name is either Irish or Scottish (the jury is out on this). I have friends galore with German last names and those with Italian last names, all English-speaking born and bred Americans. Our country was first settled in the 17th century by those who came from England (by way of Holland) seeking their independence and escaping the tyranny of a Monarchy. Read up on Ellis Island. Or better yet, pay the island a visit. Millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island in the early 20th century, not looking for a handout, but looking for a place to hon and market their craft. They were looking for a place to live life, to grow and to have their families. Unwittingly, in the process of seeking a better life for themselves, they built up a country. I love studying Texas history. For one thing, I live in Texas. But the story of Texas’ independence is absolutely fascinating. In 1824 we Americans were immigrants to Texas, encouraged (and invited) by the government of Mexico to settle the land. In addition to Americans from the bordering union states moving to Texas, were also thousands of German Americans. When this hodgepodge of American citizens became seriously oppressed and abused by the Mexican government, they fought together, died together, and inevitably, won their independence from Mexico. They became the “Republic of Texas” until they were annexed to the USA in 1846.
The common denominator between Frank Memkus, 17th century pilgrims, 20th century European immigrants, and 19th century Texans is this: they were all immigrants working toward a common goal. That common goal included a common language, and a common purpose: freedom. Therein lies the sore spot for Americans today. Are immigrants in this country still coming here to live, work, improve their lives and to contribute to the lives of those around them? Is their purpose like Frank Memkus, to hon their craft and to boast pride and patriotism in the country that has afforded them such an opportunity? Many are indeed. But still many are not. And therein lies the chasm between voting Americans who have clashing views on immigration.
Today there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of immigrants who fly the flag of their native country in their front yards, but not the American flag. There are also immigrants who want the abusive legal framework of their country to be applicable here in America. And then there is the language issue. I think it is an atrocity that American Schools do not focus on foreign languages the way European countries do. If we are to remain a global power economically (and otherwise,) we need to better address the foreign language requirements in public schools. But I also think that every person who lives and works in this country and wants to immigrate to this country to live the life of freedom that characterizes America, should know how to speak its language, English. It is the one single thing that binds us all together. What makes us American? Diversity? Absolutely! But that diversity demands a common bond that glues us together in peace time and in war. That common bond from the beginning of our formation was our language. And after that, our flag: old red, white and blue. The two represent ALL of us,: everyone that came over on the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Our language and our flag include everyone that walked through the doors at Ellis Island. Our language and our flag include every Texan that died at the Alamo. Our language and our flag include every soldier, North and South, who died in that bloody American Civil War. Like other American states who proudly don their state flags, in Texas we proudly fly the Lone Star Flag of Texas along with the American Flag. What I don’t see is the “Republic of Texas” flag? Why? Because in 1846 Texas became part of this great country, the United States of America. That’s why I think it is so sad when I see people flying the Confederate flag. It minimizes and debases The American flag. It minimizes and devalues all who died in the civil war. The American flag is what our ancestors, friends, and relatives have died for. I don’t care what war it was. And that’s why I am equally sad when I see an American immigrant today from any country, flying his native flag in his front yard either above or in lieu of the American flag.
But really what is this blog about? It’s about trying to shine a bit of light on both sides of the issue. Those who think we should block immigration all together have forgotten they themselves are an immigrant. And it is for those on the other side of the issue who have forgotten what binds us all together, our flag and our language. Both are paramount in bringing us together as a country whether it’s in the arena of public policy or the public park. Ironically, both sides have forgotten about Frank Memkus. If it weren’t for the Frank Memkuses of yesterday, this country would be a fraction of what it is today. Frank Memkus came here like so many hundreds of thousands of other immigrants grateful for what this country offered him, a chance. And a place to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His whirligig is a resounding and thunderous message of his gratitude and his heartfelt thank you. That was and still is the American dream.
How do you spend the majority of your time and your money? Do you believe the statement, “How you spend most of your time, and where you spend most of your money says the most about who you are as a person?” Why or why not? Okay, you can answer those on your own. But here’s a starter for you. The majority of my free time (free time from work paid or unpaid-however you define your “free” time) is spent_____________________. (fill in the blank) The majority of my money (after rent, mortgage and household utilities) is spent_______________________.(fill in the blank) I realize that some of you will struggle with the money question, because beyond monthly living expenses, you actually have no idea where the money goes, other than it goes. True for many of us at some chapter of our lives. If that’s you, then this message is well intended. You can’t possibly be putting your money to work for you, your family, or towards other worthy contributions, wisely if you have no idea where your money is going beyond monthly fixed expenses. Furthermore, if we apply a brutally honest examination of how we spend our free time, many will discover that we have exchanged reading a book for watching television. We have exchanged playing a board game (or outside activity) with our kids for social networking. We may discover that less and less time has been committed to the kitchen on either week days or weekends, and that more and more time has been spent in the drive-through. How we spend our time and money will certainly impact our relationships and our health. We can’t devote all of our free time to our hobbies, for instance, at the expense of our marriage. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time at work, at the expense of either hobby or marriage, that isn’t good either. Social networking isn’t the same as a real cup of coffee face to face with a real friend. You can’t exercise if you’re sitting on the couch. You can’t learn a language, start a bible study, go to the gym, work on your finances, At. All. UNLESS…You decide you are going to do so. How we budget our time effectively is different for all of us. Some of us may need to move our rear ends off the couch. Some of us may need to plant ourselves there once in a while. The inability to rest can be just as bad a habit and hard on your relationships as lethargy. The singular way to find a valid, useful and credible solution to poor time and money expenditures, is to evaluate your own personal tendencies with a very introspective approach and answer those two questions we have already talked about. How do you spend the majority of your free time and free money? There’s an old saying “Majority Wins.” When I was a kid, my sisters and our cousins spent a ton of time together. We would often “vote” on a game or activity. With hands all raised in the air, inevitably one of us “winners” would yell triumphantly, “Majority Wins.” Sadly, the losers knew it was true. Maybe that’s applicable to us as adults in answering these difficult questions. Bottom line, we can hope that we are doing what we need to do most of the time (NO one gets it right ALL the time people!) We can even believe that we are generous and compassionate, and that people like to be around us (and/or our children). We can allege that we are healthy and mindful of our good health habits. We can wish, assert, even say out loud many many things about ourselves and our priorities. But I will submit to you that “Majority Wins.” Whatever we are spending time and money on, IT wins. To be sure, SomeTHING. or SomeONE loses. It may be your relationships, your peace of mind, your job, or your dog, but, in the end, “Majority Wins.” We cannot simply hope and wish that our time and our money will tell the story about us that we want told. We have to take practical measures. Evaluate (Your time and budgets) Elevate (Family, marriage, your job, your friends, specific events, specific activites-WHATever in your life is crying out to be elevated) Erase (Negative behavioral patterns, poor spending decisions; time wasters-Ouch!) and then finally, Execute (Implement that budget; Add family night back into your week. Eat dinner around the table. Have that difficult conversation with a colleague. Make time for coffee with a friend; Get counseling; WHATever needs to be done, put IT in place, make a plan. Then Execute!) Change your “Majority” (if necessary) to reflect the love you want to give, the good you want to do, the people you want to spend time with, the goals you want to fulfill, and the life you want to live.
Today I read a great story about Delta Airline pilots who broke tried and true rules of flight by returning to the gate to get a grieving family. Through no fault of their own they had missed the last connection of the day to Tennessee where they were going to attend their father’s funeral. The pilots saw their crying and grieving faces in the window, and though it’s true, I was not in the cockpit, I’m pretty sure both of them looked at each other, and said something to the effect of “To hell with it,” and proceeded to carefully and competently turn that jet around and return to the gate for this distraught family.
My husband is a commercial pilot, and on top of that, I do a fair amount of air travel myself. I know the seriousness of that decision. It is definitely breaking the rules. What could have possessed the minds or hearts of these pilots to put their own jobs in jeopardy to do such a thing?
All of us have had a “To hell with it” moment in our lives. As the New year of 2016 is upon us, once again, we are contemplating past and present resolutions: I am going to lose weight. I am going to get fit. I am going to get control of my high blood pressure or type 2 Diabetes. I am going to attend church. I am going to take my kids to church. I am going to be more generous, get out of debt, quit swearing, (I know-the irony of this post!) Maybe you have committed in this New Year to tithe, or to give some of your earnings to good causes. Maybe you have committed in this New Year to being a more loving parent or spouse, to institute game night with your kids, or to find time to say yes to a friend in need. Maybe you think, “This is the year I am going to have company over for dinner, or invite people to my house.” Maybe you’ll write that book or finish school, or go after the dream job you have always wanted. I will submit to you that we can make resolutions all day long. We can say, “I’m going to try.” But until we face the truth of our absolute unwillingness to change that bad habit or start that good habit; until we face the reality that “trying” is really defined as, “I’m talking about it; my lips are moving, but I’m not demonstrating practical change,” until we say “To hell with it, I can do this,” I’m not sure that we are ever going to make the decisions that are the healthiest, or best for our family, our marriages, or our professions. Having defined “trying,” we should also define “To hell with it.” The latter is on some level, abandoning traditional norms or even rules. Traditional norms, absolute rules, prevented the Delta pilots from getting that family on board. “To hell with it” said I am going to make an exception (albeit in their case-isolated and unusual). We need to decide we are going to make exceptions in our lives from social norms and traditions, and from our own poor behavioral patterns, in order to achieve these very important goals. Spending every dime we have at the expense of paying off our debt or saving for our futures is pretty typical among Americans. We have to quit “trying” to do the right thing with our money and get real about budgeting, planning, and assigning each dollar a job. We need to quit “trying” to improve our marriage, and look on our calendars and block out a date night or (for those of us married to pilots), a date day. We need to quit wishing our spouse would conform to all our desires and find positive and possible ways to adjust my attitude. The same goes for opening up our homes to others. Quit “trying,” and add some margin to your calendar each month. Find a Saturday night that’s open, dedicate it on your calendar and send out an email to your friends.
I absolutely love the idea of “To hell with it.” Some of you (I know) find this title understandably, a coarse use of language. But in its literal sense, I find it very appropriate. Sending the negativity in our lives, metaphorically as it may be, to the depths of hell where it belongs may be the Single. Solitary. Strategy. for our success. Sometimes you have to just quit. Quit procrastinating. Quit Trying. And as the saying goes, “To hell with it.” Ask the girl out. Ask the girl to marry you. Leave the dead-end job you hate and pursue the job you love. Give a dollar to the homeless guy at the busy intersection near your house without going through the same old twenty reasons in your head why this complete stranger doesn’t deserve your kindness. Volunteer. Start exercising. The endless possibilities effect not only your happiness and fulfillment but also that of your family, spouse, children, and co-workers. What do you have to do to make this happen? Make a list. Get on it. Think about what has not worked for you in the past and say “It ends here.” What has not worked for you over and over? That jelly donut? That dead-end relationship? That expensive mortgage? Get rid of whatever jelly donut is keeping you from becoming what you need to be. I have had so many “To hell with it” moments in my life. But unlike what you might be thinking, “To hell with it” is not an abandonment of common sense. In this case, it is more an embracing of common sense and what you know to be the right thing. It is the climactic point of a journey you have already been on for years, but perhaps have not grasped fully the practical steps needed to make the same old New Year’s resolutions a reality. “To hell with it. I’m going to do this thing.” It doesn’t mean you abandon your family to become a rock star. It does mean you abandon the fears that keep you locked into the same old cycle of failed resolutions. Oh and one more thing, it also doesn’t mean that if you’re sitting in the Starbucks at the airport with your ear buds in and don’t hear your boarding call, the pilot is going to come back and pick you up. Nope. Not going to happen!
How do you remember your past-your growing up? Difficult? Easy? Carefree or demanding? Rather than remember, is it one you’d soon forget? Mine has a mixture of both. When I was just shy of 6 years old, I stood with my sisters on the shore of an old coal mine strip pond as we called it, in rural Indiana watching my young parents drown in a freak fishing accident. This would truly define much of who I was to become in the years to come. We three girls went to live with my maternal grandparents. We were very poor by worldly standards, but though we were low on money, we were high on vegetable gardens and a few livestock. I bet you thought I was going to say, “Though we were low on money, we were high on love.” Well, not really. I don’t believe in painting an unrealistic picture of my life after the deaths of my parents. I’ll never be accused of overestimating the affection coursing through our home as a child. My oldest sister was separated from us when she was only 13 years old to a teen home 2 hours away. I was 10. I would only see her every other weekend and holidays for our remaining childhood years. We were afforded no counseling and no time to grieve. No one was reading me bedtime stories, hanging my artwork on the refrigerator, or telling me I could grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t learn how to communicate well in relationships. It was a lot more about resilience than it was warm fuzzies. It was primarily about work, responsibility, and self-initiative. Less about love, tenderness, and family vacations. This is not a plea for pity. It’s just a story. And like so many others, my past is inextricably linked to the past before me. That renders understanding and insight for all us in better understanding our American roots. My grandparents did the very best they could with what they had. I could never in a million years repay them for their contributions in my life, and in spite of a childhood lacking in tenderness, they loved us still in the only ways they knew how. I didn’t have a lot, but I had everything they were capable of giving me. They did not withhold affection out of spite. Their love language-their only love language-was service. Before you say, “Oh that’s so sad,” while on one level it is, on the other hand, I did learn how to survive difficult ordeals, orchestrate food for large groups of people, and the value of hard work and perseverance. I (and my sisters) absolutely entered young adulthood with an insufficient lack of emotional coping skills. Undoubtedly, we were at a clear disadvantage when it came to understanding what it meant to nurture and to be nurtured. There were scars just like there are for many of you. Nonetheless, while we had a “raising” that didn’t render itself as always rosy or self affirming, we can say with 100% assurance that we weren’t nurtured at home because well, nurture just wasn’t in their nature. In fact, it was their raising that made them bull-headed and even cold at times. They and their parents before them had survived both world wars, Vietnam, Korea, bad politicians, good politicians, The Great Depression, short life spans, and grueling manual labor both at home and at work. Indeed my grandparents were an intricate part of that generation who built up American industry, the backbone of American farming and post depression economic growth. They stormed the beaches at Normandy, lived and died in The Bataan Death March, and saved the free world from tyranny. They worked the tough, hard labor jobs that rebuilt a post war America into a global power. This generation was not one that excelled at nurturing. They excelled at survival. This was also reflected in their huge sense of community. Because of their experience in the war and the Depression, they recognized (better than we do today) that people work better and accomplish more together than they do apart. Thus in war-time, they gave up their “day jobs” to build Higgins Boats in Louisiana, and sell war bonds on Main Street. In snow blizzards, whoever owned a tractor, plowed the driveways of those who did not. Potluck dinners for years, served to feed the masses while accomplishing their tasks at hand, planting fields, raising barns, or building fences. When someone was sick and homebound, there was undoubtedly a neighbor nearby to bring them hot soup or cart then to the doctor if necessary. Hard work wasn’t an option. Rest was overrated. Everyone was working the garden, the livestock and doing laundry. (NOT in an automatic washer and dryer that we enjoy today!)
Not surprisingly, my grandparents, from this very generation, lived impoverished lives growing up and likewise when raising their own children, my mother and her siblings. Their income was meager. Inevitably their days were long and difficult. The picture here truly speaks 10000 words.
On the left is my great-uncle, actually my grandma’s youngest sibling of 14. My great-grandmother was already dead in this picture. My grandmother took her brother in when he was 16 months old. She had other small siblings in her home as well. The oldest daughter between my grandparents is my grandma’s first daughter from her first marriage. That husband died when she was only 17 or 18 in a work related accident. There was no OSHA then. There were no annuities for my grandmother, a widow and single mother at 17. A year later she married my grandfather. Sometimes you married or you starved. They had 5 children. That’s their first-born, my aunt you see in the front wearing glasses, and my grandparents holding the twins in their arms: my mother and her twin sister, and later two additional boys came along (not yet born when this picture was taken.) It seems counterproductive to those of us ever so enlightened by this modern society in which we live (sarcasm intended), that such impoverished folks would choose to have so many children. Having offspring was much more of a cultural expectation in America in those days than it is now. Furthermore, this was the generation of Americans that populated our country. The baby boomers born in post war American between 1946-1964 (give or take a year), was literally the largest generation of Americans born in U.S. history. (Yours truly says thank you for that!)
Today we live in an incredibly great country. One that is still full of promise and opportunity. But it is also one of the most self-entitled, materialistic, and self-centered cultures that American has ever known. This I believe is the American Dream gone rogue. Once upon a time the American Dream was defined simply as the opportunity for home ownership in a free society where every citizen was free to innovate, create and live peaceably. But that definition of the American Dream has since been distorted, the original tenets of which have been misused and misrepresented by scores of politicians hoping to strike a chord of unity with a society that has distanced themselves from their past, away from their poorer, less formidable ancestors. Even though, it was their ancestors who blazed the freedom trail for us through hard work, war, and personal sacrifice, so that we could now “wallow” in the plunder. I don’t want to be an American who simply sits back and wallows in what my grandparents have built. I want my citizenship to be one that pours back into the communities I live in-the communities bequeathed to me by generations of Americans before me. What do Americans of the 21st century owe them? Impoverished though they were; unskilled communicators, slow to show affection, demanding, and maybe even harsh? We owe them everything.
Pull out the pictures-you know the ones! They’re in the deep drawer of your grandma’s bedroom chest of drawers full of black and whites (reel to reel if you’re lucky) Ask someone who will know: “Who’s that?. What did they do for a living? How did they die?” You may discover amazing and healing facts about your relatives, as well-about yourself and who you are and from whence you came. And in the process, learn something about your America.
We live in a dadgum ugly world. Global unrest is present in politics, economics, religion, and social relations. In the middle east, militant muslim groups continue to wreak havoc in their homelands, among their own people, as well as in America and other democratic countries. We have seen this repeatedly, most recently, with the senseless and tragic murder of four marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They (militant muslims) thrive and survive on the rush they inhale from the absolute hate that courses through their veins. For the promise of what? Who knows? There is no possible positive outcome to be seen or imagined resulting from their violence and their perpetual fighting and hostility. Then there is the violence and hate on our own soil-perpetrated by our own citizens. This is evident in the massacre of nine innocent people in Charleston, South Caroline by a guy who is absolutely so racist, he can’t function in a civil society. This is also evident in the road rage incident in Houston, Texas recently that left an innocent man dead, shot by another man who by all appearances, seems like a “normal next door kind of dad and husband,” who got ticked off for some relatively insignificant traffic issue, so he simply took his personally owned weapon and killed his offender. He’s free now while a Grand Jury decides if he has committed a crime for an act that had a police officer done, well…I doubt it would take long to indict the police officer. And then there’s the idiotic, senseless issues that garner tons of money and precious energy and serve to distract, distort and detract from what truly needs our attention. I got so sick of hearing about the Confederate flag I was nearly physically ill. First of all, I’m pretty sure that the flag of these United States of America for which 100s of thousands have bled and died in EVERY war fought BOTH on our soil and abroad, is “Old Glory.”
I would think if there was only ONE thing, ONE LOUSY thing that unites us in this country, one thing that could stand in the chasm and close the gap between left and right, black and white, red and yellow, it would surely be the American Flag. But apparently, we can’t even agree on that. I mean really slamming the “Dukes of Hazard” for their display of the confederate flag on top of “The General Lee,” revoking syndication of this rated G show, is simply over the top stupid. I call that OVERcorrection. On the other hand, flying the Confederate flag from a government building alongside the American flag to me disrespect and is offensive not so much to people (as much as I know that ticks you off if you find it offensive,) but it really and truly disrespects and subverts the American Flag, Red. White. and Blue. I mean really, what’s the point of having one flag, you know as the pledge goes “ONE nation under God, etc.” The pledge doesn’t say ‘Two or Three nations under God….’ One nation. One Flag. I’m all for state flags showing their pride for their state. Each state is so unique in its history and contributions to our nation as a whole, and I think state flags embody that very element. I see no problem with that. But that’s not the case with the Confederate flag. It does not represent one individual state. It represents a defeated nation.
Okay we could go on and on. I am concerned because in view all of the discourse ripping our nation apart, the forming up of “sides,” and pointing fingers, many of us are guilty of caving into the attitude of “gloom and doom,” “the sky is falling,” and “it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t make a difference.” To that, I say “Hogwash!” Don’t buy into the lie that you alone as one person canNOT make a Single. Bit. Of. Difference. Here are 7 opportunities and every single one of them has your name on it. Now quit whining and get busy.
1. Quit watching the news. Okay maybe not entirely cold turkey. But there are those of you who go to work, come home watch the news, eat dinner (or supper depending on your geographical location), watch more news and go to bed. What goes in, must come out. Turn off the news. Really? Is it any wonder that you are so angry and depressed all of the time? “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
2. Take a casserole to your next door neighbor. Or cookies or pie, peanut butter and jelly, or pizza! It doesn’t matter. You know the ones. The neighbors whose business shut down last month! The one whose beloved mother died recently. Or the one who is going through a divorce. OR the one you’ve been meaning to get to know better. “The second greatest commandment ….Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
3. Write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it desperately. This is so stinking easy. Last week I just by chance engaged in a conversation with a friend and found out that she and her family had been going through an extremely emotional and trying year. I had absolutely no idea. I went home and within 24 hours I sent her a note of encouragement. It wasn’t an idea on my part. Rather I felt like it was a command on God’s part. How could I have listened to her story and not have acknowledged it later? “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up!” 1 Thessalonians 5:11a
“….the God of all comfort who comforts is in all of our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:3-4
4. Go volunteer! And do it quickly. This is non negotiable with my teenagers. Hashtag: three teenagers who have everything they need. I believe with every fiber in my body that the quickest way to humility, joy, and most importantly perspective, is absolute without a doubt serving another human being. Volunteerism in our country is engaged by a minority of people according the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why is that? We are B.U.S.Y. But we waste as much time as we spend. And the time wasted is evident in the precious energy we expend in that vicious cycle of watching the news and the complaining that ensues. The volunteer rate for Americans 15 years and older, was little changed at 25.3 percent ending in September 2014. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25
5. UNplug your teenagers (and yourself) at least one day a week and eat dinner around the table at least three days a week. Seriously this makes a HUGE difference in the lives of your kids. It gives you opportunity to teach them how to make a difference in the lives of others. Teach them how to have a meaningful conversation with others without the aid of electronics. How? By YOU having meaningful conversations with THEM minus the aid of electronics. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11
6. Stop. Look. And listen. Remember those three little commands you taught your toddlers about crossing the road? Well, it also works when you want to make a difference in someone’s life. Last week my husband and daughters were eating breakfast at the local Ihop and engaged in a conversation with the hostess and found out she has an adult daughter in Oklahoma with late stage cancer. Her story was heartbreaking. Halle stopped. Looked at her. And listened. Then she asked her for her daughter’s name to put it in her prayer journal. I plan to follow-up with her to see if there’s something more we can do. Be aware of what’s going on in your world. In order to do that, you have to remove yourself (or your child) from the center of it.
“To answer before listening, that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18
7. Pay for someone’s meal. Sponsor a child for summer camp. Buy a single parent a refrigerator. Help your friends move. Pack out their house for them. Watch your neighbor’s dogs while they are on vacation. Invite your kids’ friends over to give their parents a night out. Make a dessert for someone who goes out of their way providing customer service. Kroger has pre-bagged groceries for the homeless. You just throw it in your cart and pay for it when you check out. Kroger does the rest. Mentor a child. Read to your kids. You get the picture.
While it’s true that our world is full of discourse and trouble, that only means it is bursting at the seams with opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life.
We simply cannot afford to allow the difficulties and the politics of this world to render us useless and helpless. That would be a shame. There’s so many wonderful acts of grace and kidness you can engage in now and so little time. So get out there. Turn off the tv (and your phone if necessary) and go make that difference. And for goodness sake, have fun doing it.