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Personal Reflections of 2010

December 31, 2010

This past year has been possibly the most difficult for many Americans in their lifetime. For me, it was one of loss and great change. My father, a WWII Marine Veteran of Guadalcanal, died. My dad was a man who grew up during the Great Depression in poverty – his own father a victim of PTSD from the First World War, could not support his family. My dad entered WWII at the young age of seventeen. He was trained as a mechanic and sent to Guadalcanal within a year. He saw his buddies shot right next to him while trying to attend to planes landing and taking off at Henderson Field. He too suffered all his life from PTSD and alcoholism. A man who always was trying to improve his lot in life, he tried many things – postal delivery, Miller Brewing and Pabst bottling, barbering, photography, and real estate. He passed along to me his love of music and photography. He also loved sailing, cars, and loved California. A difficult man, he did the best he could in spite of life’s challenges. He stayed engaged right up until his death. He bought an iPhone 5 weeks before he died. I now carry it with me reminding me to stay engaged, to drain the last drop of an all too short life. My dad was laid to rest at Fort Rosecrans military cemetery in Point Loma, California.

My mom was placed in a nursing home for congestive heart condition and diabetes. A petite woman who raised six children through two marriages, she overcame her childhood circumstances in many ways. Her family immigrated from Belgium the year of the crash, 1929. With little opportunities, they lived on several farms before moving to Wisconsin during the war years where my mom met my dad and had me and my brother. She and my dad moved to California in the 1950s and set about living the American Dream. Challenges of my dad’s alcoholism ended their marriage. My mom met another man who she married and lived with for 18 years. They moved and traveled and found a level of happiness until his untimely death at age 56. Her love of art, literature, and travel were passed to me. It is painful to see her now, a woman who was so vibrant and intelligent now declining and wrestling with dementia. She cannot remember the date or day anymore, but she still faithfully does the newspaper jumble everyday. God love her.

I came to find out this year my mom’s parents left their home country of Belgium due to the German atrocities in 1917. This is a story that needs to be retold again and again as it exemplifies the true nature and costs of war. My grandparents lived in Namur.

Official Report by U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Brand Whitlock, to the U.S. Secretary of State, 12 September 1917

Reproduced below is the condensed text of the official report sent by the U.S. Minister to Belgium, Brand Whitlock, to the U.S. Secretary of State concerning alleged German atrocities committed in Belgium in August 1914, the first month of the war (such as at Louvain).

Dated 12 September 1917 – that is, five months after the U.S. had entered the war against Germany – the ambassador’s report was damning in its indictment of supposed German atrocities in Belgium.

In reality while such atrocities did occur they were inevitably over-stated and used for propaganda purposes by the Allies during wartime, perhaps most effectively by Britain for readership in the U.S.

Over all this area, that is in the country lying about Vise, Liege, Dinant, Namur, Louvain, Vilverde, Malines, and Aerschot, a rich agricultural region dotted with innumerable towns, villages and hamlets, a land of contented peace and plenty, during all that month of August there were inflicted on the civilian population by the hordes that overran it deeds of such ruthless cruelty and unspeakable outrage that one must search history in vain for others like them committed on such a prodigious scale.

Towns were sacked and burned, homes were pillaged; in many places portions of the population, men, women, and children, were massed in public squares and mowed down by mitrailleuses, and there were countless individual instances of an amazing and shameless brutality.

The stories of these deeds gradually filtered into Brussels in ever increasing numbers as the days went by, brought by the refugees, who, in crowds, fled the stricken region in terror. It was difficult at first to believe them; but the stories persisted, and were told with such detail and on such authority that one could no longer doubt their essential truth. They became a matter of common knowledge and public notoriety; and they saturated the general mind with their horror. Read the entire account, click here</em>

I have read other more graphic accounts, and it is horrifying indeed. I credit my grandparents for the great courage it took to leave their country, travel to a place where they knew no one, did not know the language, and did not know how they would survive. They were not farmers, though it was probably the best place a person could be during the Great Depression as they could be self-sufficient. My mom has told me they had chickens and a cow, enough to get by. And my grandmother was the kind of cook who could make a great meal (like my mom), from anything. What is even more remarkable is my first cousin told me a few months ago that our grandfather was a concert violinist. I think of his sacrifice and am humbled. His talents have flowed down to all his grandchildren as we are all musical and artistic.

With every day being so precious, I am grateful for the gifts my parents and grandparents passed to me. In spite of a difficult childhood, my dad taught me to persevere, and my mom taught me that a person can overcome adversity. These things I will continue to rely upon during these difficult days. And so, I am rededicating myself to a greater, expansive life and more time pursuing my art, writing, and music in 2011 – and beyond. I think that is the best way to honor both of them.

Happy New Year to my readers! Cheers!