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Posts tagged: WWII

Travel: Visit New Orleans’ WWII Museum Before Your Cruise

    I hadn’t been in New Orleans for a long time, but the mystique is still true; the city is one you don’t forget. A lot has changed over time and after the devastating hurricane in 2005, but as I walked, taking in familiar sights, the distinctive architecture, the soft Southern voices and the sounds of jazz and Zydeco music, I knew exactly where I was. 

    I’d flown down to cover the maiden U. S. voyage of the Carnival Sunshine, sailing from the Port of New Orleans, and my husband was with me. We had a day to explore the city before the cruise began and we made a quick tour of the French Quarter and the waterfront, before heading up Magazine street to the New Orleans destination we’d really come to see: The World War II Museum.

    I spent a week last summer touring the countryside of the Normandy region of France, and I’d visited most of the D-Day landing sites and museums. Since my return, I haven’t been able to shake the experience. The scope and stories of the profoundly life-changing experiences of the survivors, and the sheer number of lives lost, is, even 70 years later, overwhelming. I was anxious to see how the WWII Museum’s D-Day exhibit captured that time in history.

    But first, before we explored anything indoors, we had another, more personal, monument to see. When the museum opened in 2000 my husband’s family purchased a commemorative brick to honor their father who served in the Marines and was stationed in the South Pacific during WWII. My husband, with one of our daughters, had visited the brick once before, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but I hadn’t seen it. 

    With the help of a map supplied by museum staff, we found my father-in-law’s engraved brick on the walkway near the entrance of the museum. My husband brushed away a few fallen leaves and I took his photo with it. We stood there for a few more minutes without saying anything, both of us lost in our own thoughts of someone we’d loved. 

    My father-in-law died in 2009 and he never got to see the small monument his children placed at the museum to honor him. But he knew it was there and I think it pleased him.

    For the next week, cruising around the Caribbean, soaking up as much sun as possible before going back to the cold, already snowy, Northwest, my mind kept going back to the red brick carved with my father-in-law’s name and the torpedo bomber squadron to which he’d been assigned. 

    I’m glad we’d dedicated most of our free time in New Orleans to visiting the museum. The D-Day exhibit was moving and comprehensive and captured the true horror of the battles of the war. And it gave us a chance to revisit a personal history, to stop and take a moment to remember a kind and gentle man.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week Spokane Public Radio. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Travel: Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach

   We walked through the gates of the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach just as the staff raised the twin American Flags that fly on the tall poles at the edge of green lawn dotted with rows of white marble crosses stretching as far as the eye can see. It was still early but I was surprised by the number of people that were already there. Some had come to find a particular name, others to pay their respects to lives lost, each to mark a dark moment in the modern world’s history.  

 

   At the visitor’s center I sat down on a bench to watch a film with short biographies of some of those killed during the Battle of Normandy. A man who looked to be in his 80s, or even older, was seated on the bench beside me. 

 

   Absorbed by the film, by the stories of the lives of ordinary people cut short by a brutal war, I’d forgotten I wasn’t alone until I heard a sound from the man seated next to me. It was the soft shuddering sound of a breath that could have become a sob. An involuntary cry that had been quickly covered. Surprised, I glanced over at him and then quickly looked away.  He didn’t move, his eyes remained locked on the screen, and he did not make another sound. The movie ended and I saw him reach up to wipe his hand across his eyes. 

 

   We both stood to move on. He rose slowly, stiffly, leaning on a cane as he walked from the room, I stayed behind to gather my thoughts. I have no idea if the man was a veteran of the Normandy landings. I suppose it’s possible. We lose so many WWII veterans each day but a few are still healthy enough to make the pilgrimage to Normandy.

 

   The man could have been a boy at the time, just old enough to enlist, and one of the thousands who waded into hell that day. Or he might have lost someone, a father, a brother, an uncle or cousin, and watching the movie brought back the pain of the loss. I’ll never know. But the man beside me in the darkened room, a man who caught his breath on a sob, reminded me that battles may end but pain comes and goes as it pleases. And time means nothing when the right trigger is pulled.

 

 

   War seems to be a more casual thing these days. Looking around me at airports, at the grocery store, at the mall, I see men and women in uniform every day. We’re quick to thank them for service and then move on. I know of some who served and returned to pick up their lives and go on and others who came home to find they no longer fit as comfortably into the lives they’d shed. Too many never make it home at all.

 

   Tomorrow is Veterans Day and I can’t shake the image of more than 9,000 stark white crosses on a hillside overlooking the sea. 

 

   I keep hearing the sound of an old man trying not to cry.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
 

Travel: Feasting on King Crab in Kirkenes, Norway

   When I choose a port excursion while on a cruise, what they’re going to feed us on the excursion is usually not my first priority since food is more than plentiful on most ships. I almost always opt for some kind of unique experience I couldn’t have anywhere else, but the King Crab Safari in Kirkenes, Norway, a small waterfront town only 30 kilometers from the Russian border, offered as a Hurtigruten excursion, was intriguing. And not just  because it promised a feast of fresh crab.


    I was there in August, but the water can still be dangerously cold. First we had to put on heavy insulated suits, designed to protect us from the cold waters of the fjord if we were to fall in. On top of that went a life jacket and we were given gloves to wear.  After we were all suited up we boarded the boat. Instead of seats we straddled benches, holding onto the safety rails in front of us as our guide pulled the boat out onto the fjord and picked up speed.


    While touring the coastline and listening to the history of the area, after skimming swiftly over the surface of the water and moving slowly along the  cliffs where we could see the remains of a Nazi bunker from the German occupation of Norway during World War II, we stopped to check one of the numerous crab baskets that sit on the bottom of the deep fjord. Our guide attached a hook to the basket and used a motor to pull it up from the bottom. As it broke the surface we could immediately see the basket was filled with some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen. (Those that weren’t absolutely massive were thrown back to grow in the cold, dark water.)


    We pulled up to what looked like a small fishing shack on the shore. The small house, just big enough for the long table that ran from one end to another, was the place where we would have our meal. Our guide unloaded the dozen or more giant crabs from the trap and began to prepare our dinner while we settled around the table on benches covered with skins and pelts.


    When they were done, steamed to perfection, the giant crab legs were piled onto platters and placed on the table. The meal was simple: fresh King crab legs and slices of good bread. There was butter for the bread and lemon slices to squeeze over the crab if we wanted it. That was all and it was all we could want. 

   
    We turned on the platters of crab legs like we were starving. For a few minutes all conversation stopped and everyone around the table concentrated on getting to the delicious crabmeat in the shells. We ate until we could not hold another bite.  

   Fresh, simply prepared and served, the meal was good enough to be added to my list of favorites. There was no fancy dining room. No music. No upscale atmosphere. And the view of the fjord through the small windows reminded us with every bite that we weren’t just having a meal, we were feasting on a real Norwegian adventure.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
 

  

The Things That Hold Us

   In 2004, after writing a series of narrative feature obituaries for The Spokesman-Review, I began to notice how often women in their 70s and 80s—usually the surviving spouse—mentioned their service or work in a “Rosie the Riveter” type of job during World War II.


    Intrigued, I decided to do a larger feature on local women who’d been “Rosies.” My editor put a notice in the paper for a few weeks and I was inundated by calls. Hundreds of women contacted me asking to tell their story and I interviewed many of them.


    Time and time again the women talked about traveling to take a job at a shipyard or wartime factory. But I was left with the impression that their war work had been more than employment. It had been, for some, the biggest adventure of their lives.


     After the war most returned home or moved to another state with new husbands. Most left the workforce and stayed home with children. The dizzying whirl of sudden independence, graveyard shifts, USO dances was replaced with marriage, caring for young children and keeping house.


    Most didn’t seem to regret the choice, but I was struck by the fact that so many had never talked about the years before they settled down. Our interview was the first time they’d spoken of that time in front of family. Their children had no idea that the women they knew only as a mother, PTA president or Sunday School teacher had had any other kind of life.


    One woman said something that has stayed with me. I think of her words often.


    We’d finished the interview. I was packing up the portable scanner, the digital recorder, my laptop and my camera—the tools I carried to each meeting— and preparing to leave.  Almost as an afterthought, I turned to the woman who was still sitting at her daughter’s kitchen table.


    She’d traveled west to work at a California shipyard where she met and married a serviceman and at the war’s end moved to North Idaho with him to live on his family’s dairy farm. It was a life that was sometimes harsh with frigid winters, long hot summer days and the endless work of farm life. Like so many of the women I interviewed, she’d raised four or five children and then outlived her husband.


    “I’m curious,” I asked her. “How did the time you spent in California, not just the work but the things you saw and experienced, impact your life later?”


    The woman didn’t answer immediately. She looked down at her hands clasped as they rested on the table, smiled a small Mona LIsa smile, and said only, “There were times it sustained me.”


       Her daughter, a woman a few years older than me, reacted immediately.


      “Mother!” she said. “You know you were happy being home with us! You always said you loved living on the farm.” The woman continued to smile down at her hands.
   

    “It sustained me,” she said again.
   

    I said my goodbyes and left. But in the eight years since that morning, I’ve thought of her words at least once a week.
    

    So often I’ve imagined her, standing at the stove stirring oatmeal for the baby in his high chair, hanging laundry on the line, mending her husband’s work shirts, feeding the animals or working in the garden. I’ve imagined her taking care of everyone around her, but occasionally stopping for a moment to remember. To remember being a girl with a flower in her hair, dancing with a handsome sailor. To remember the camaraderie of lunches eaten out of a metal lunchbox in the company of other young women working to win the war. Remembering how it felt to be young and free and on her own.
   

   It doesn’t have to mean we’re unhappy with the choices we’ve made when deep inside there is a place or an event or even a scrap of memory we cling to.
    

   Those are the moments, after all, that bear the weight of the lives we’ve built.


    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The Tintin Within

 (Image courtesy © Hergé-Moulinsart 2010)  

 

 

 

   Deep in the heart of almost any child, there hides a secret wish to, at least on occasion, be an orphan. Free of all parental control, rudderless, able to decide what one will eat, where one will go and how one will live. Disney knew this.  Most contemporary Middle Reader authors know this.  They cater to any child’s hidden desire to be independent with protagonists who live like miniature adults, with all the benefits and none of the prosaic worries of mortgages, grocery bills and taxes.
   

    I don’t know how old I was when I first encountered Tintin, probably 10 or 12 years old. The books I remember reading must have been something my grandfather had around the house. His appetite for reading material was boundless and he was always bringing home something new and occasionally exotic from the cavernous bookstore downtown. I remember the comic books were big - like a magazine - and like nothing I’d seen before. And neither was Tintin. This was not Archie, Veronica and Jughead.
   

    I grew up on a steady diet of Nancy Drew mysteries. Not the namby pamby 1950s Nancy Drew who was as stiff as a tulle petticoat. I preferred the older versions of the novel. Where Nancy sped along in her roadster, chasing after the bad guys with the wind in her hair. Or, the 1970s Nancy - my contemporary - who had nascent feminist spunk. Nancy wasn’t exactly an orphan, but she was close because she had only her father, a busy judge, to answer to. And everyone knows you can get away with more with your father. Mothers see everything. They ask too many questions. They look at you and through you and manage to pull information out of your brain without you even knowing it. What young detective or journalist needs that kind of interference?
    

   Tintin, the hero of a long-running Belgian comic strip, was all contradiction. His creator, Herge, once said that when he was a boy it seemed to him that journalists had freedom, that they were the ones who had all the adventures. Considering the time when Herge was growing up - post WWI and pre-WWII Belgium - it’s no surprise the freedom to come and go as you pleased, freedom from privation and occupation, was the ultimate fantasy. So, when he created his boy adventurer, Herge made him a journalist. But true to form, he didn’t encumber his boy with real-world entanglements. Tintin was just 16-years-old but he had no parents. He was a reporter but had no editor. No deadlines. No photographer. No paper or magazine. He had a dog, a trusty sidekick, but his dog was a fluffy terrier, not the fierce hound you might imagine. He lived alone. He could fly a plane. He could battle the bad guys. His best friend was a drunken captain.
   

    Nancy Drew was smart and gutsy and willing to head out on an adventure. But she was tethered, and her best friends were two girls named Bess and George (What was with George, anyway?) And nobody was ever drunk.
    

   The Belgians love their comics. (There is an entire museum in Brussels devoted to Belgian comics.) Herge’s gift was bringing to life - through the imagination of the reader - the swashbuckling life of Tintin one frame, one clifhanger adventure, at a time. Tintin was a multigenerational hero. Children, especially boys,  grew up to be adults who still followed his adventures one carefully inked frame at a time.
    

   I was in Brussels at the time and attended a premier showing of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. The city, still in the throes of European Union economic crisis meetings, was in a Tintin party mood and the theater was packed. After the credits rolled, I asked a couple of Belgians what they thought. They admitted they liked it but each had the same comment: Too much action. In Spielberg’s hands their beloved comic strip character, the lead actor in movies that had, until now, played only in their own heads—has gone Hollywood. 
   

    I brought home a few Tintin books and watched my daughter read them.  And when she asked for more I bought the only copies on the shelf at the local bookstore.  We’ll be at the theater when the movie opens here.  Most of those around us won’t have any prior experience with the young Belgian who traveled the world, sleeping on trains and hopping behind the stick of a float plane when he wasn’t riding camels or blasting off in rockets.  But that won’t matter. Because deep within each of us, young or old, there will be a flicker of recognition.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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