Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Soldier's Saint

The new tradition of the Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 PM on Memorial Day is a good one. It does every American good to stop for a moment on that day and reflect upon the incomprehensible sacrifices that have been made for us and the reason we set aside this solemn date to honor our fallen military heroes.

For my own moment at around 3:00 PM yesterday, I read a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. St. Michael is the patron saint of soldiers and police officers, a very fitting role. It is he who is called upon to battle Satan. I can't think of a better advocate for our military than Michael the Archangel.

I sent my Marine a laminated prayer card of St. Michael with a painting of him smiting Satan, sword in hand, on the front and a prayer asking his protection in battle on the back. In the letter in which the card was enclosed, I asked my Marine--appropriately enough, named Michael--to toss the card into his backpack. "It couldn't hurt," is what I wrote. I bought an extra one for myself, to pray along with my Marine.

My soldier, who came home safely in March after a year's tour of duty, along with his entire National Guard unit, carried a St. Michael's prayer card that I sent him, too.

So far, thank God, it's working.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

For Our Fallen

Free Ride

Born free as an American, so many years ago,
I’ve lived with opportunities all in my nation know.
I’ve traveled sea to shining sea,
I’ve come and I’ve gone unhindered.
I chose my home, my spouse, my job
And reaped all the blessings tendered.

What I believe, what books I read, what prayers I breathe, are mine.
If I decide to speak in print, to write a different line
No trepidation stays my hand.
Though many others disagree,
I fear no black boots at my door--
I write it with impunity.

Yet I have never lost the joy a brother’s laugh can bring,
A sweetheart’s kiss, a husband’s touch--no, I’ve not lost a thing.
I’ve never even lost a friend
To battle’s hot and hungry roar.
Unmarked by loss or suffering,
I’ve never felt the welts of war.

But at what price my comforts come! Born of blood and smoke
The soldiers that I’ve never known, with whom I never spoke,
Have bought for me my luxury.
Their families have wept deep tears,
With aching hearts that never heal,
While I, in safety, spin my years.

Remember that the gifts we share are bought at priceless cost;
Americans, give honor to our heroes who are lost.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day

Kevin, of Boots on the Ground, will be coming home soon. He lost a brother in action recently, "another good friend" as his post records. This Memorial Day weekend, I hope all Americans pause to remember the sacrifices and hardships of our brave service men and women. And I hope we all stop to realize how truly blessed and fortunate we are to live in the United States, where we are able to enjoy the benefits of freedom as no other nation in history ever has.

Kevin writes, "I hope I will never be one of those people who get so accustomed to American life again that I will forget all the sacrifices we have made over here. "

None of us can read the future, but I'm betting that Kevin will always remember at what price freedom is secured. Soldiers who have seen action don't need to wait until the end of May. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

Friedman Filleted

Matthew Heidt of Froggy Ruminations skewers the angst-ridden elite media's Thomas Friedman with just and brutal precision. Read the whole post, it's priceless, but here is the final snippet to pique your interest.

Let me tell you something Mssr. Friedman, it is you and your compatriots who are doing the inciting in this conflict. The US military and the administration are trying to fight this war with tenacity and honor, and you and your fellow Lilliputians will stop at nothing to hold them down. People of fairness and decency understand that when fighting a ruthless enemy, we need to be firm and resolute which is exactly what we have been. While you are abroad sniping at the very people who ensure your safety, why don’t you take a few moments this weekend to ponder the sacrifices of those who died so that you can run your mouth.

Go, Froggy!

How is such a disconnect of logic possible with the "blame America" crowd? It never ceases to confound and fascinate me. Why can't they absorb the simple fact that they are free to trash our military because our military is keeping their sorry butts fat, safe, and free to do so? Their blatant ingratitude defies explanation.

I'm glad there are qualified experts to cut them off at the ankles, at least verbally.

Froggy, as the kids say, you are "the bomb." I'm looking forward to reading your Memorial Day post(s).

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Brain Drain

Postings have been light this week, as I've been rotting my brain in front of the television, watching all the season finales. I've suffered through Nick Stokes being buried alive on "CSI" and Lily Rush facing death at the hands of a serial killer on "Cold Case." I've agonized over Jack Bauer's supposed "death" at the conclusion of "24," Season Four and the uncertain fate of the plane crash survivors on "Lost."

But nothing was more upsetting than the season ender of "NCIS." Kate Todd--a cherished main character!--went down. And I do mean--down. In the last few seconds of the show, she was picked off by a rooftop sniper (a recurring villain), right through the forehead. I'll omit the gory details, but the carnage certainly precludes any miraculous resusitation next season. So that's the end of lovely Kate, former Secret Service agent to the U.S. president, NCIS agent extraordinaire.

The "NCIS" ensemble cast is without peer. Vivid characters, sparkling dialogue, lots of crisp humor to lighten the tension. Pete and I are huge fans of this show. We sat in stunned silence after the show ended, dumbly staring at burger and car commercials. Finally, Pete had one comment. "Oh, maaaaaaan!"

That prompted me into an outraged "How can they kill Kate?" We talked this tragedy over in dejected tones for awhile, then dragged ourselves unhappily off to bed. Wednesday morning, over coffee, we did a post mortem on the show and talked as if we were discussing a death in the family.

"Gibbs is going to be on a mission find that S.O.B." (Mark Harmon's character is her boss.)
"Tony will be broken-hearted." (Her love/hate partner in crime-solving. Their adversarial buddy relationship, sparked with great chemistry and dry wit, was priceless.)
"Who's going to tell Abby?" (Her Goth gal-pal from the forensic lab.)

It's a rule every great writer knows: When the writing is good, the characters are real. NCIS has the best of both. Kate is irreplaceable, but let's see how the rest of the cast carries on next year. Meanwhile, the TV season is over for the summer, and I have a stack of books on my night stand awaiting my attention.

Kate's gone, but life must go on.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Big Difference

From Boots on the Ground, written by Kevin, a young soldier on the front lines:

500+ Iraqis are dead at the hands of insurgents and terrorists. All deliberately targeted, trying to destabilize the country. It is sad to see this, when I know in my own country. Americans would NOT stand for this type of thing happening in our own country.

Remember that there is a difference between the U.S. and Iraq. Remember that there is a reason we are fighting to help these people.

And please, remember our troops. Thousands of Kevins, doing the hard work and heavy lifting for us.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Worthy Question

In his "Beyond the News" commentary today, Michael Medved raises the very crucial question of whether any book, however holy, should be more precious than a human life.

It's a question worth asking.

I know very few Muslims, and I know them only slightly, from work and the community. Where do everyday followers of Islam stand on terrorism? Were they outraged by September 11? Do they think other religions deserve respect and tolerance? I couldn't say, not from anything I've heard them actually say.

The Boston Globe published an excellent article yesterday by Jeff Jacoby on "Why Islam is disrespected." In it, he mentions the various outrages to other faiths that have taken place in recent years: priceless statues of Buddha blown up, a sacred Jewish tomb plowed under, a crucifix submerged in urine. These insults to their faith produced no violence from Buddhists, Jews, or Christians, who were undoubtedly enraged by these acts.

Most religious people of all faiths respect themselves, their faiths, and the right of others to differ with them. As a Catholic, hardly a day passes without me hearing some form of joke, misconception, or disparaging remark about my faith. If I was going to toss a tantrum each time I heard or saw my Church belittled, I'd be in a coma of exhaustion. If I was going to seek vengeance on the "infidels," I wouldn't have energy for much else.

Most religious people are not destructive. But even in their silence, Muslims who act indifferent to the radical terrorists within Islam are encouraging destruction and violence, as Jacoby notes in an especially chilling paragraph:

But what disgraces Islam above all is the vast majority of the planet's Muslims saying nothing and doing nothing about the jihadist cancer eating away at their religion. It is Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a pro-democracy organization, calling on Muslims and Middle Easterners to ''converge on our nation's capital for a rally against terrorism" -- and having only 50 people show up.

Statistics vary widely, but there are between one and two billion followers of Islam in the world. If that many people can't tolerate different religious beliefs in other people, it shouldn't be that difficult to figure out that the rest of us are in a whole heap of trouble.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Pepsi Degeneration

Today, I'm thankful I'm not a soda pop drinker.

I'm dating myself, but when I was a kid, there was a television commercial for Pepsi with a lively jingle that implored listeners to "Come alive! You're in the Pepsi generation."

As I've inferred, that was a long time ago. My, how times have changed.

Now it seems that the President and CFO of Pepsico views the North American continent (she means the U.S.A.) as the middle finger, at least for the purposes of enlightening Columbia University business graduates in a commencement address.

My class's commencement speaker, again in the nostalgic past, advised graduates to remember that God has called us each by name. Granted, it was a Catholic university. But the secular colleges used to have commencement speakers who encouraged graduates to strive, achieve, accomplish, and succeed to the limits that our great nation allows, as no other on the planet.

But in this case, the newly graduated are informed that their country is nothing more than a global flip-off. How inspiring.

There's more going on here than malice, ignorance, or manipulation. I suspect that the bottom line here is money. My brother-in-law, a decade ago downsized out of Pepsico, at that time had reason to believe that the company's marketing strategies and business plans were tilting in Asia's direction. It could be that Pepsi feels secure enough in its growing Asian niche to diss the home turf. If so, how stupid--and shortsighted, and ungrateful, and unconscionable.

This is conjecture; I may be completely wrong. I'm simply trying to make sense out of something so deliberately offensive and insulting as to be inexplicable. Hugh Hewitt has extensive and thorough coverage of this story; I urge everyone to read it.

I'll wait to hear what Steven S Reinemund, Pepsico's Chairman of the Board andChief Executive Officer, has to say about this. Meanwhile, I'll stop buying Pepsi products, which include the Tropicana, Frito-Lay, Quaker, and Gatorade brands.

I usually pack a can of powedered Gatorade in my care packages to Iraq. Not this month. My adopted Marine can drink Kool-Aid for now. Maybe from now on.

And I'm ready to write my own version of a jingle:
"Get a clue! Your Pepsi's in degeneration."

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Standing and Waiting

Sometimes, a writer needs to know when to step aside and let others do the writing.

In the case of the disastrous Newsweek desecrated Koran report, now retracted, the following writers speak with more eloquent passion, and with more practical knowledge, than could I:

Michelle Malkin in World Net Daily, "It's Not Just Newsweek"

Scott King of Froggy Ruminations, "Why the Left Doesn't Get It"

John Podhoretz of the New York Post, "Unfit to Print"

These are three distinctly different experts, representing New Media, our Military, and Old Media, who apply their widely differing personal experiences to arrive at the identical conclusion--Mainstream Media is not simply out of control, but dangerously so.

I'm proud to bring you their insightful perspectives. There are no words I can provide that would be of added value, so I'll sign off for now.

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

For Mainstream Media

The Hollow Men
by Thomas Stearns Eliot

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms.

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Damage Done

When the news is as bleak and shameful as the Newsweek retraction of the desecrated Koran story, the only place to turn for words is to the poets.

I remember hearing that "a team of horses can not pull back the spoken word." I don't know to whom to attribute that quote, but it's extremely pertinent to current events.

John Greenleaf Whittier professed "For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, 'It might have been'."

It might have been avoided, all of the anger, death, and destruction that resulted from this discredited story. But it wasn't. People died violently, more people suffered terrible injuries, for the lofty purpose of selling magazines. To these depths has MSM sunk.

It might have been better if the story had been carefully, methodically investigated from the start.
It might have been wiser to find a corroborating source.
It might have been smarter to remember past media mistakes before rushing into print.
It might have been more thoughtful to consider the impact upon our troops in harm's way.
It might have been more intelligent to think of the reactions of foreign allies who have been helping us in the Middle East.

If only, if only...if only I could say it like Shakespeare:

O call back yesterday,
bid time return
- Richard II, Act III, Scene 2

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Five Absolutes

It's Sunday, the day of rest the Lord assigned in the Bible. It's a day for family and loved ones, for Christian worship, for taking time to enjoy life and to slow down for reflection.

In the course of visiting my favorite blogs during this precious leisure time on Sunday, I came across Roman Catholic Blog's link to an interview with the gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson. He is one smug piece of work. I've watched several television interviews with him since his ordination, and the bishop seems quite pleased with his high profile role in placing his church on the brink of schism.

I've never admired him for that reason. His own interests, goals, and agenda take precedence over the good of his church. While asserting that his church "trusts us to be adults," he is acting like a spoiled child who will have his way at any cost.

I know more than one Episcopalian who is distressed over Robinson's ordination and the controversy it has fomented within their church.

That won't happen to the Roman Catholic Church. We most assuredly have more than our share of problems and issues, but the ordination of an openly gay bishop won't be one of them.

Catholic doctrine is as clearly black and white as a chess board. There are five modern hot-button subjects that get a definitive "No" from the Catholic Church. Here are the five zero-tolerance-and-diversity topics, as explained in the Catholic Answers Voters Guide for Serious Catholics:

1. Abortion
2. Euthanasia
3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research
4. Human Cloning
5. Homosexual "Marriage"

Being a Catholic is not an easy journey. But at least we have clearly marked, black and white road signs to direct us, without hesitation or confusion, to our destination.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

History, Unrevised

The week commemorating the end of World War II is concluding. Anyone who has the slightest regard for the unimaginable sacrifices of the Allies should read the title link:

May 13, 2005
Remembering World War II
Revisionists get it wrong
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online

The good accomplished during the war should never be forgotten, indeed, it should be actively remembered. And, to be truly valuable to us today, this history must be remembered accurately, not revised according to the modern gospel of politically correct apologists.

"Remembering World War II" is important. Read every word--and learn.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Need a Chuckle?

Read "Come On Harry, We Both Know Who the Loser Is," the Wednesday, May 11 post on Froggy Ruminations.

It's an absolute masterpiece.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Latvia's Iron Lady

With the very rare media spotlight that shone upon Latvia during President Bush's visit last week, the fascinating President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was in the news. In researching her background, I discovered that she has a steely reputation. In following MSM's coverage of her, I saw her prove that her reputation is well deserved.

ABC's Terry Moran branded her an "instigator" simply because Vike-Freiberga refuses to equivocate on Latvia's cruel post-WWII fate at the hands of the Soviet Union. Here's a revealing excerpt from his interview:

Moran to Vaira Vike-Freiberga: "So is the Russian government today, then, lying about that history?"
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President, Republic of Latvia: "Yes."
Moran: "Yes, they're lying?"
Vike-Freiberga: "Through their teeth."
Moran: "That's an extraordinary thing for the head of state to say about another government."
Vike-Freiberga: "Well, these are facts."

Simple, direct, straightforward, and fearless. There wasn't much more for truculent Terry to say, was there? Vike-Freiberga has been called "Latvia's Iron Lady" with good reason. She survived a war-torn childhood, the occupation of her homeland, exile, imprisonment, and escape to an unknown land to build a very successful and distinguished new life. Is it possible that there is anything the insipid Terry Moran could ask that would rattle her?

Only one who has suffered and triumphed through such horrific pain and loss as Vike-Freiberga has can be so comfortable in speaking the truth. Moran should have set the network's talking points aside and done a bit of research on what actually happened to the Latvian people after World War II before he questioned her.

A master of the snobby sneer, Moran may have thought he was going to corner the Latvian president and watch her backpedal, right there on his broadcast. How unprepared our abrasive MSM reporter must have been to be flattened by the Iron Lady's steamroller of honest answers.

Atbildet labi, Madame President. Good answers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Powerful Perspective

On May 7, Power Line had its own astute take on President Bush's strategy and purpose in proclaiming to the world the former Soviet Union's injustice and oppression in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The importance of remembering and learning from true history is further underscored in Power Line's link to Victor Davis Hanson's Washington Times piece, "What happened to history?" on May 8.

We need to remember more. And, we need to do it more often.

Saturday, May 07, 2005


Although simply told, Pete's story is sweeping in its scope and epic in its tragedy. My mother-in-law, Helen, now in her 80s, is a model of strength and faith in the face of terrifying adversities. As the saying goes, they don't make them like her anymore.

Helen fled her home to escape the Soviet Union with only the clothes on her back. Her brothers and sisters remained behind in Latvia, and they and their families suffered the consequences--prison sentences in Siberia, crushing poverty and Communist oppression at home. After the collapse of communism, Helen was able to visit Latvia and enjoy a family reunion after nearly 50 years of separation.

She endured the hardships of the refugee camps in Germany. Can you imagine your firstborn child dying on the very day you give birth to your second baby? I can't even begin to fathom such emotional devastation. Her second baby was sickly. At five weeks old, he weighed the same as he did at birth. The army doctor in the refugee camp told Helen that he probably wouldn't live.

Today, he is my husband, Pete, in his 50s, 6'4" tall, over 200 lbs., and a cancer survivor.

I'm gratified that President Bush has acknowledged and emphasized the terrible injustice that was perpetrated upon the people of the Baltic states. They were carelessly handed over to Stalin's brutal regime, and their suffering was cheerfully forgotten by history.

Until President Bush's visit, today.

Today, Fox News reported that:

"Bush placed a wreath at the Latvian Freedom Monument, a towering obelisk symbolizing this small country's struggle for independence. While he is unpopular across much of Europe because of the Iraq war, Bush got a warm welcome here.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga presented Bush with the nation's top honor, the Three-Star Order, calling him a "signal fighter of freedom and democracy in the world."

I recall reading that when the Iraq war started, Latvian President Vike-Freiberga made a remark to the effect that "it is easy to tolerate a dictator if one has not had to live under that dictator." The Latvian president was a young girl during the turmoil after Yalta, and she knows of what she speaks. It is no wonder that free Latvia supports our president's foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paldies, President Bush. Thank you.

Latvian Survivors

Pete's story, as written for my middle school aged niece, of his Latvian family's survival in the refugee camps before immigrating to America, concludes below:

Part III – Camp Life

I am going to use the abbreviation DP to mean displaced persons. There were a number of different nationalities besides Latvians. Most of the population consisted of people from the Baltic region. There were Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians, just to name a few. Now let’s look at what life was like in the DP camps.

First, let’s look at a few numbers. After Germany surrendered in 1945, there were 7 million DPs in West Germany, from almost every country in Europe. There were ten million freed German prisoners from every country that had fought in the war. Add to that the Jews that had survived the Holocaust. The amount of DPs in Germany was like putting the whole population of New York City and Los Angeles into New Jersey. This is in addition to the native people who already lived there.

The DPs had no food, clothing, or shelter. The Allied policy at that time and for the next few years was to simply keep those people alive. There were no long term plans for settling them anywhere.

The camp barracks provided shelter, but they were crowded. Each barrack held up to fifteen people. The families were able to stay together. They slept on bunk beds and kept warm by a log burning stove. Even though it was crowded, it was not as bad as the first labor camp my parents had been in. At first, the soldiers policed the camps as if the DPs were going to escape. They finally realized that the DPs had no place to go. They then left it up to the DPs to police themselves.

For work, there was not much to do. The women mostly kept their barracks clean, did laundry, and took care of the children. Some of the younger men helped the army take care of their equipment and trucks. Some worked repairing the railroads that had been bombed. They were willing to do any type of work to make the days pass productively. The men who worked for the army received a small amount of pay, but they had nowhere to spend it. After the first few years, the DPs were allowed away from the camp if they had a pass. There were farms and villages outside the camp where they went to buy maybe an apple, eggs, or anything else good to eat.

Through the years, the DPs set up schools for their children. Latvian traditions were practiced. They celebrated holidays, weddings, births, and deaths in their traditional ways, always ready to create a party and some enjoyment. They played sports, held mass and said prayers together. Most of the DPs did not work, so they had to do something daily to keep sanity and normalcy in their lives.

My mother said that the worst feeling in camp was the not knowing. What will happen to them? Will they stay there forever? What will happen the next day?

Health and food was always a concern. There was a clinic in camp where the DPs were treated for minor injuries and illnesses. In serious conditions, the patient had to be sent away from camp to an army medical center.

Food was another, very serious, matter. Let me use some examples to help you understand the situation. You have probably seen homeless people on street corners with signs asking for a donation. That was not possible for the DPs; they were all in a camp together, all hungry. You may have seen homeless people rummaging in dumpsters. This did happen in the camps, but there was very little for them to find. There were no leftover hamburgers or donuts for many miles. What is the major food served in a homeless shelter today? Soup! Think of the DP camp as a homeless shelter with 2,000 people in it. What do they feed them? You guessed it, soup. That was always the main meal in camp.

The kitchen area was across the parade grounds, which was quite a long walk from the barracks, especially in the snow or rain. Every morning the DPs lined up to get their first meal. This meal consisted of bread and some liquid which was called coffee, but it wasn’t. My mother didn’t know what was in it. At lunch, they lined up again for a bowl of pea soup. It became known as “zalous briesmus,” which is Latvian for “green horror.” Can you imagine waiting on line in your school cafeteria with 2,000 other kids to get a bowl of the same terrible soup, day after day? My father never touched pea soup after he got to America. For dinner, the DPs lined up again. Dinner was the same as breakfast—bread and coffee-like liquid. This menu was repeated every day, year after year. On rare occasions, the DPs received meat or noodles. The noodles often had bugs in them. The DPs weren’t told what type of meat they were eating, but my parents said that they had eaten horsemeat in the camps.

A United Nations Relief Agency occasionally sent care packages. These contained chocolate, cigarettes, and packaged food. Different items were in different packages. The DPs traded among themselves for what they liked and needed from the packages.

You may ask why there was so little food. I’ll use a current example. If you have seen the news about Afghanistan, you see people moving about the country by the thousands. They also did not know where they were going, but they knew they couldn’t stay where they were. Again, camps were set up to house and feed these people, but only the bare essentials. Airplanes dropped food and supplies for the DPs in Afghanistan, but most of it doesn’t reach the people who need it most. Other people take it and sell it, so the ones who need it most are starving.

Now, let’s go back to 55 years ago, to the Latvian DPs. The world had never faced the challenge of feeding ten million hungry people. There were no air drops. Supplies from the United States came by ship. Everything then had to be sent to the camps by railroad or truck. After the war, the rails and roads were in terrible condition, so food shipments took a long time to reach them. The people in charge of the camps did what they could with the means that were available to them. Most of the DPs, including my family, survived to rebuild their lives in a new country.

Latvians Without a Home

My husband Pete's story continues below:

Part II – Finding a Safe Place

In 1945, the American army liberated the German labor camp that held my parents. This posed another problem. The army didn’t know what to do with 1,000 starving refugees from this camp. This was a mounting problem, because every liberated camp contained people in the same or worse condition. The camps could not be used to provide adequate housing for the people. It was necessary to move the displaced people into adequate shelters.

Every nationality had to be accounted for—birth date, city, age, sex, marital status, names of the dead and missing, etc. The plan was to take over German military housing and other installations that could handle this huge number of people. The problem was that the German army still inhabited such establishments. As the Allies evacuated the Germans from these places, the refugees were brought in.

Some lucky people from my parents’ labor camp were immediately sent to camps under Allied control. These camps were not only under American, but also British and French control. My parents, along with the rest of the camp, had to walk. They tried to follow the American army as it advanced.

Most of the time, the refugees ate what little they could find in the fields or farm lands. Sometimes the army provided food, other times they stopped at other camps along the way to eat. There was much confusion. Try to imagine two million people wandering around Germany.

The Latvian people did not want to go back to Latvia. As I stated before, the Soviets were now in control of Latvia. Going back meant certain death or deportation to labor camps in Siberia. My father’s brother, who did not escape from Latvia, was sent to a labor camp in Siberia. He stayed alive and was released in the late 1970s. He has since died. My father died in the early 1990s. They were the last Latvian native born males from my family.

Germany after the war was divided into two sections, East and West. The Soviets controlled East Germany. Refugees in that zone were sent back to their countries, that were now Soviet controlled, as prisoners. Under the provisions of the Yalta Conference, which divided Germany, refugees could be sent to the zone that controlled their country. For example, Americans could send Latvian refugees to the Soviet zone of Germany, because it was under Soviet rule.

In one camp my parents were in, such an incident occurred. In the middle of the night, some Latvian people were rounded up and told by the Americans that they were being sent to another camp. They were taken to where trucks were waiting. The first truck was loaded with people. As the second truck began loading people, someone noticed Russian writing and a Soviet Union flag inside. Everyone got out quickly. The refugees laid down on the ground and told the Americans to shoot them, because they were not going back. In the confusion, the first truck took off. A woman friend of my mother’s, who was waiting to be loaded, had three young children in the first truck that left. She never saw or heard from them again.

As I listened to my mother tell this story, I could tell it brought back many painful memories. The people who were there really don’t want to talk about this time in their lives. I had an older sister that died in the last camp we were in. Mom doesn’t talk about her much, except to say that she died of illness on the day I was born. My sister was about 3 years old at the time of her death.

My parents were finally placed in the Bavarian region of Germany called Fischbach. A German garrison had been stationed there during the war. It had wooden barracks that had housed soldiers. Now they were homes for two thousand displaced persons. There was a huge parade ground in the center of the complex. The new inhabitants of the camp used it for dances, exercise and other activities. People came there daily for meals. A forest surrounded the camp. There also was a railroad depot that moved refugees from camp to camp.

My mother and father got married and lived in refugee camps for six years before immigrating to America.

Part III - Life in a Refugee Camp

Yalta's Silent Shame

President Bush visited Latvia today. In his remarks, he stated that “Yalta was a betrayal of freedom” and shone a spotlight upon a terrible injustice that has been hidden in shadows for 60 years.

I take special pride and satisfaction in President Bush’s words, for my husband’s parents were among the fortunate refugees who escaped from the Soviet army as its tanks rolled triumphantly into Latvia to collect the spoils of war at the end of World War II. At last, an American president has called attention to the shame of the Yalta Conference.

I’ve met very few people who can even name the Baltic states, let alone recount any of their tragic histories. Until I met my husband, I had never heard of Latvia. The dreadful suffering endured by the displaced peoples of Eastern Europe after the Yalta Conference is a lost thread in the complex tapestry of that tumultuous time in history. The Jewish Holocaust is well documented and remembered, as it certainly should be. But the horrors that engulfed Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia after the Soviet Union claimed dominion over them has remained a secret travesty for all these years.

About two years ago, one of my nieces asked my husband to document his family’s story for a history project she was working on. Pete interviewed his mother, who lives in New York. He tape recorded their many telephone conversations and then hand wrote his account. I typed it so that we could e-mail it to my niece, and I was amazed by what I learned as I transcribed his writing.

My husband’s story is divided into three parts, and the first appears below:

Part I – Escape From Latvia

Latvia is a small country on the Baltic Sea, about the size of West Virginia. Neighboring countries include Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, and, across the Baltic Sea, Sweden and Finland. Through the ages, Latvia has been controlled by Sweden, Germany and Russia.

In the late 1800s, Latvia wanted to be independent of German rule and began to accept Russian policies. By the early 1900s, both Russia and Germany sought to control Latvia. In 1918, Latvia began pushing for autonomy from Russia, which they had thought was a democratic country. In 1920, Latvia won independence from Russia and Germany. In 1930, Hitler and Stalin divided Europe, and the Baltic countries came under the control of Russia. Latvians were mobilized into the armed forces of Russia. Many were sent to Russia to work.

When World War II started, Germany captured Latvia. Again, Latvians were forced into the armed forces, this time on the German side. Latvia was important strategically because it provided ports for navy ships. The Germans needed the ports to attack Russia; Russia needed them to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean.

By 1944, Germany was losing the war. As the Russian forces advanced into Latvia, many Latvian people fled the country. They wanted to escape, because they had experienced Soviet occupation in 1939-40, when many Latvians were sent to Russian work camps or killed in mass executions.

As the Germans withdrew, the ports of the Baltic Sea were used to evacuate supplies, soldiers, and refugees. My parents did not know each other at this time. They met later, in a camp in Germany.

Both of my parents lived in the same county, not too far from each other. There was much confusion during this period of time. Families did not know what to do. Some family members were soldiers, other were working for the occupation army, while others were at home. It was impossible to get everyone together. My mother’s side of the family followed the retreating German army. She could not convince her sister to leave home. When the Soviets took over, my aunt’s husband was sentenced to 15 years in a Siberian labor camp.

My uncle was one of the lucky ones. At least he did not get executed by Stalin’s army, as so many others did. It is impossible to know how many people were exterminated under Stalin’s death squads.

My mother and her parents walked to the ships, with other people of their village who were fleeing. This took over a month. Some people died along the way, either from airplane bombings, illnesses, or becoming lost.

My father’s side of the story is similar, but he was the only one in his family to make it out of Latvia. Each Latvian family has their own story of how they got from Latvia to Germany, then from Germany to where they live today.

The ports on the Baltic were in confusion. The ships used to carry refugees were the same ones used to carry troops. Many families were separated, as some members of a family went on one ship while others went on another. My mother’s family and my father were on the same ship. My mother told me that, on the way to Germany, their ship had to pick up survivors from a transport ship that had been sunk earlier.

When they arrived in Germany, the refugees were again separated. More families were split up. The war was not yet over, so the refugees were sent to different work camps in eastern Germany. My mother, her parents, and my father were sent to a work camp to build a coal power plant. In the camp, they were treated like prisoners. Women and children filled wheel barrels of gravel or sand to make cement. Men mixed cement and built the power plant. Small children were taken care of by the old women while the parents worked. You worked if you were sick or not.

The housing consisted of wooden barracks that housed 21 people sleeping on bunk beds three high. A wood burning stove provided heat. Refugees chopped the wood. There was no education, books to read, or recreational activities. Death was common among young children and elderly people. Burials were brief and without ceremony.

Food in the camp barely kept a person alive. There was a central cooking area in the camp consisting of a large pot. Breakfast consisted of a piece of bread and some sort of liquid that was called coffee, but it wasn’t. Lunch was soup made from turnips. Dinner was bread and “coffee” again. It was the same every day. People looked in the trash left from the guards’ meals to find anything that was edible.

Next installment: American liberation and the journey to an American camp.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Weekend Homework

I highly recommend that you read Victor Davis Hanson's May 6 commentary in Private Papers.

Here's an excerpt from "Democratic Suicide" --

... if al Qaeda, operating from a sanctuary in Iran or Syria, took out the Sears Tower, how would a Kennedy, Kerry, or Gore respond? Six cruise missiles? A police matter? Proper work for the DA? Better "intelligence"? Let's work with our allies? Get the U.N. involved?

Whatever we think of George Bush, we know he would do something real — and just what that something might be frightens into hesitation — and yes, fear — many of those who would otherwise like to try something pretty awful.

Occasionally, it's worthwhile to remind our comfortable selves that we are at war. It's important to remember that the only reason we have been spared another 9/11--for a long enough time that some of us act as though we have forgotten it--is because President Bush did "something real" about it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A Day of Prayer

Today is the United States National Day of Prayer.

This is not a recent inroad of either the "vast right wing conspiracy" or the "religious right." As Janet Parshall notes in today's "Beyond the News" commentary:

The first Continental Congress called for a National Day of Prayer in 1775. President Lincoln called for the same in 1863. And, in 1952, Congress established a day of prayer as an annual event. President Truman signed the resolution into law.

President Bush's proclamation on this occasion calls upon Americans to pray "each according to his or her own faith." My readers know that I'm a Roman Catholic, but they may not know who is designated as our nation's patron saint, chosen by the Catholic bishops at the First Council of Baltimore in 1846.

She is the "Immaculate Conception"--one of the many reverential titles bestowed upon Mary, the Mother of God.

The United States is under the Blessed Mother's special care and protection, and the month of May has traditionally been one of devotion to her. On this National Day of Prayer, that should be worth an extra Hail Mary or two for every American Catholic.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Marshmallow Majority

As the hand-wringing over judicial filibusters continues its tedious course in Washington, Senators McCain, Hagel, Snowe, Warner and Chafee have become the “Litany of Losers” to the majority voters of 2004.

The e-mail appeals via a convenient link in “Beyond the News” may be helpful—if they are successful in connecting to the senators. Last night, I received two failure notices on e-mails sent to Senators Warner and Chafee.

The people of the U.S. voted for change in Washington. We elected a Republican majority for many reasons, a key one being the rescue of our judiciary from the reactionary to the rational, the return to the rule of law rather than the clutch of emotion.

And We The People are fed-up and furious that those Senators we worked hard to put into office are refusing to represent us on this issue.

We don’t care what will happen with majorities in 3, 5, or 8 years. We want the Senate to take care of today’s business, and today’s business is getting the judicial nominees approved by an up-or-down vote. Stop acting like Democrats, jealous of your power and any potential threat to it.

Stiffen up those marshmallow spines and get this done for us. If you fail, enjoy your Capitol perks while you can. The voters who elected you want to see judicial nominees receive their proper simple majority votes. If they don’t receive their fair votes, come 2006 and 2008, the party is over.

And I do mean the Republican party.