National Gold Star Spouses Day, April 5, 2019

It was a muggy July evening in 1946 when five women, whose husbands had died in World War II, traveled to Hyde Park, New York, to meet with a soon to be war widow, Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt later wrote in her news column, My Day,  “…they came for supper, and then went to Poughkeepsie the Lafayette Post of the American Legion had given them permission to use a room… It was a small meeting, though the casualties among servicemen from Dutchess County were pretty high.” In fact, more than 175 men from Dutchess County alone were killed or missing in action  by 1945. These five young widows had first met together in Marie Jordan’s apartment in New York City in 1945 to talk about how they might band together to support the needs of all war widows and their children. Losing a spouse in combat meant also losing income, medical care, commissary privileges and even a place to live if they lived in military housing. Most had married young and had no job training. They had little or no resources from the U.S. government and often relied on the charity of family and friends. Out of desperation they formed a support group called the American Widows of WWII.  Their appeal to Mrs. Roosevelt was auspicious. When FDR died in 1946, she counted herself among them and became one of the original signers of the group’s charter. The name was changed to Gold Star Wives of America in 1948 (GSW) and the mission expanded to seek benefits for both the spouses and children of persons who died in combat and/or as a result of service-connected illness. [caption id=”attachment_823″ […]

National Nurses Week 2018

During National Nurses Week we acknowledge the excellence and dedication of those who choose the nursing profession. It begins each year on May 6th and ends on May 12th, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. I grew up surrounded by nurses in a nursing home that my family owned and operated from the mid 1940s until 1960. We lived in a small village in Connecticut and my mother’s skills as a Registered Nurse also made her the go-to person for emergencies  – cuts, burns, broken bones, head injuries and even emotional problems. I remember my mother calmly cleaning and dressing a bloody wound after a neighbor fell from a ladder and, on another occasion, carefully positioning a child’s possibly broken leg after a fall from a tree. Eventually, a doctor might arrive. But watching my mother and her colleagues in action, day after day, offered me firsthand knowledge that nurses were unsung heroines who never hesitated to respond to an emergency. Nurses in war zones and military settings have done their job quietly and largely unnoticed as well, putting their lives in peril on the battlefield for centuries. Yet, little is known about their experiences in war or exactly how many participated. Appropriate financial remuneration in the nursing profession has also been meager and long in coming. Only at the end of the twentieth century did nurses’ pay, both in military and civilian life, begin to become commensurate with the risks and responsibilities of their jobs. Many women served as nurses during the Revolutionary War, but they are barely mentioned in history books. The Second Continental Congress, heeding George Washington’s advice to […]

Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh: The Story Whisperers

The Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh started out quietly enough. First, a few vets gathered for breakfast once a month. Eventually, there was a trip planned to visit a monument in Washington, DC. Stories that had been bottled up for as much as fifty years began to pour out on that bus trip. Stories of what war was really like. Everyday should be Veteran’s Story Day. I believe in the healing power of telling true-life stories, especially the ones that are hardest to tell. Not only is it good for the teller, but the world needs first person accounts in order to know what actually happened during calamitous events. One of the great qualities of the recent PBS Vietnam War series, created for television by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, was the relentless telling of stories by people who lived through it on both sides. The stories were often brutal, but we need to hear them. Third person summaries that supposedly supply facts cannot do justice to the horror and terror – or the exhilaration for some – of war. A group of less well-known documentarians in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh, have been collecting and recording the oral histories of veterans and survivors on podcasts for several years. Kevin Farcas, founder, and Todd DePastino, historian, have reached out to find veterans of all wars and produced a unique archive of stories captured in a warm conversational style. In 2016, in his 90th year, Gene McShane was recorded describing what it was like to land on Omaha beach in Normandy having been […]