History Lesson

Japanese Flag Crew

One of the birthday gifts I received from my boyfriend was a collection of books by Stephen E. Ambrose, an author I had not yet experienced. The titles included, Undaunted CourageD-Day, and Citizen Soldiers. I started (and finished) reading Citizen Soldiers over the holidays. At the end of CitizenSoldier(not a spoiler alert), Ambrose speaks of the men he covered so graciously throughout the book with intuitive accuracy in stating,

“…these were the men who built modern America. They had learned to work together in the armed services in World War II. They had seen enough destruction; they wanted to construct. They built the Interstate Highway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the suburbs (so scorned by the sociologists, so successful with the people), and more. They had seen enough killing; they wanted to save lives. They licked polio and made other revolutionary advances in medicine. They had learned in the army the virtues of a solid organization and teamwork, and the value of individual initiative, inventiveness, and responsibility. They developed the modern corporation while inaugurating revolutionary advances in science and technology, education and public policy.

The ex-GIs had seen enough war; they wanted peace. But they had also seen the evil of dictatorship; they wanted freedom. They had learned in their youth that the way to prevent war was to deter through military strength, and to reject isolationism for full involvement in the world. So they supported NATO and the United Nations and the Department of Defense. They had stopped Hitler and Tojo; in the 1950s they stopped Stalin and Khrushchev.

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy described the men and women of this generation: “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in the century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.” – from Citizen Soldier by Stephen E. Ambrose

Bob and GIs
Pvt Robert Albright (middle), Okinawa, August 1945

A truer assessment of this generation has not been stated. In my opinion, this is the most relevant passage in the entire 492 pages of Citizen Soldier.

World leaders would be well-served to take a refresher course in our planet’s history. Unfortunately, I am unable to wave a wand to make this so. We are all on our own to appreciate the lessons from our nation’s (and that of the world) history. If we don’t do this, history will repeat itself.

Over the years, I have interviewed and spoken with close to 200 veterans (maybe more), most of whom served in WWII. Many of these men and women did not speak of their experiences until decades later. Once the floodgates began to open, healing began in earnest and their valuable perspectives were more clearly understood. Ambrose does an exceptional job of collecting the oral and written histories of men who served.

In Indiana, our war heroes include Dr. Duane E. Hodgin and Steve Hardwick for their contribution of written oral histories of Hoosiers who served. These men introduced me to many of the veterans who I have written about. Hardwick, after serving in the Army, earned a degree at Indiana State University and was profoundly impacted by Holocaust survivor and Mengele twin lab rat, Eva Mozes Kor. PBS aired a documentary on this remarkable woman. I am so grateful for Steve’s introductions to Eva, Andy, Bob, Brigit, Dale, Averitte, Johnny, Jimmy, and all of the veterans who have shared their exceptional stories with me.

Donald Bollinger
Donald Bollinger

One of them, Don Bollinger, who served with the Merchant Marines, sent me a beautiful letter of gratitude after a piece I wrote on him was published (he was the cover for the Broad Ripple Magazine, November 2014). The last part of his gushing letter reads:

“We all lovingly thank you for telling the present generation about the past that helped form the present. With enough love and compassion, the present might make a terrific future.”

He signed it, “Lots of Love, Don”.

I’m simply doing my part, Don. All of these stories, yours included, have merit and contain valuable life lessons.

The Journey of Finding Joy Began 5 Years Ago

Bob & Joy

My expectation with every (personal interest story) interview that I have experienced over the years has consistently provided me with wonderful stories that I am excited to share. But there was one that was different, one that impacted me in a way that I had not expected. The result was profound. Today, April 22nd, 2018, marks the 5th anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. This was the day that I met Bob.

It wasn’t one moment or one word or phrase that Bob had shared with me that day, it was the collective of everything he did and said. The way he walked, his breathy voice, his beautiful blue eyes, his kind demeanor, and especially his sense of humor. His story is amazing, but it was how he handled adversity, how he made lemonade out of lemons, how he looked for joy in every area of his life, how he was a perfectionist and how he lived and loved that impacted me. I fell in love that day.

It’s a fact that I fall in love with stories, but little did I know that when I entered Bob’s home on April 22nd, 2013, that I would not only fall in love with his story, I would learn to love myself.

My journey towards finding joy in my own life was spurred by Bob’s request of me to find Joy. For when a 90 year old man tells you to find joy – you do it. Finding Joy (book and screenplay are being released soon) for Bob meant being reunited with his 1st love and providing a beautiful final chapter to a charmed life.

Witnessing happiness, kindness, and love between people is the best role model for visualizing your own happiness and manifesting it into your own reality. This was Bob and Joy’s gift to me.

Yesterday I mentioned this anniversary to one of my closest friends on the planet when I realized that I was driving behind a vehicle with a license plate that read: 2U JOY. How prophetic.

Bob continues to be a gift to me. It’s through his strength that I found my own. I am forever grateful and blessed for knowing him.

The glass is refillable.

Kara, Finding JoyA friend keeps describing himself to me as being a “glass is half empty” type of person and questions risk with “what is the worst that can happen?” type of questions. While it is good to be conscious of the potential failure side of a situation, isn’t the very act of taking a risk the definition of living?

My view is that the glass is refillable, that taking risks is the very source of feeling alive – that taking action and stepping out of a comfort zone towards something unknown – with the promise of it being ‘amazing” and exciting and worth exploring – is the very foundation of living, of being “closer to life” (a quote from a friend of Peggy Payne’s).

I love this phrase, “closer to life”, for it’s the heart-racing moments in our lives that define us. These acts, where we step in the direction of something unknown, pursue something on faith because we are drawn, become unforgettable life experiences. These are the moments we never forget, either because the act caused pain, or immense pleasure.

Each step taken in faith, towards whatever we are drawn to, is a step worth taking. We explore outside our comfort zone to expand ourselves and to grow. Some of the best lessons in failure lead to the most amazing, and unforeseen, discoveries.

Upon completing my book, Finding Joy (to be released soon), I realized it is about risk. A 90 year old man took a huge risk – by sharing a deeply personal regret. He asked me to find Joy, literally. What I did not realize at that time is that he was sending me along a life changing journey to find joy in my own life. He asked me to live my life with joy – he asked me to live, to be “closer to life”.

We have an obligation to live. We are here, so why the hell not?

Virtually Shooting to Kill

The Poseidon Experience

One of my favorite quotes from former Texas Governor Ann Richards, “In Texas, gun control is using both hands to steady your weapon.” (her other indelible statement made during the ’92 Presidential election, “Stick a fork in him, he’s done.” referring to then President GHW Bush)

shooting-practice1My friend Emily Longnecker and I went to Poseidon Experience for, well, the experience. We weren’t disappointed. Jesse is thoughtful and methodical in his approach, clearly a professional. As a structural analysis expert of posture and biomechanics, I appreciate Jesse’s aesthetic and awareness. Obviously we have different backgrounds but our end game is similar: proper mechanics, efficient body positioning and accuracy.

In less than 30 minutes, former Navy SEAL and Poseidon Experience owner Jesse Barnett reassess my shooting stance and bad habits with firing a weapon.

There’s something empowering about firing a weapon, and I have to say that with the targets having the silhouettes of men, there’s added motivation to strike true. Not that we were digging deep into some sense of revenge or sadistic expression that we can only safely do in a facility like Poseidon Experience to avoid legal entanglements and prison time…ok, maybe there’s a little of that…

“You’re competitive,” said Jesse to me during a drill. I looked at him with a sideways glance. Like he should be surprised. Emily is equally, if not more so. “You’re intense…” he added. I almost wanted to say “no shit.” but I just smiled. Again, no surprise.

targetHaving a former Navy SEAL instruct you in shooting a weapon, you know without a doubt the level of professionalism is off the charts. Jesse knows what he is talking about. After spending a few hours with him, I am so proud men like him take on the job of being a SEAL.

Poseidon Experience is my new stress relief outlet. It’s empowering. Perhaps I should hit up hot yoga immediately after…

Advantage: Heaven

Yesterday, my former pediatrician passed away. Dr. Belt was a very nice man. Having him as my doctor when I was a kid transpired into a long friendship between our families. As a young adult, he became my grandfather figure and worked with me on my tennis game.

“You’re too nice. Don’t hit the ball to me,” he would say as we played on a court at his country club. “Girls are too nurturing, you must kill the ball, kill it!”

Not exactly the advice you would expect from one of the kindest men on the planet. Dr. Belt was surprisingly strategic. Throughout our tennis matches, I discovered a side to his personality that had not been formerly disclosed: he was a fierce competitor. I was drawn to the net only to be spoofed by a lob that dropped in the back corner. Advantage: Dr. B.

“You want to be ruthless on the court, don’t take it personally.”

At the time, it felt rude to make this man run all over the court. But he was elevating my game, and I, his. These life lessons seemed to come from an unlikely source. But I listened, carefully. As his prodigy, he had me tapping into a killer instinct that I didn’t realize I possessed.

Unbeknownst to me until recently, Dr. Belt had served in the NAVY after 3 semesters of undergrad pre-med at Indiana University. He went through some basic medical training with the NAVY and was assigned a position as a pharmacist mate aboard the aircraft carrier USS TICONDEROGA.

Serving mainly in the Pacific campaign, his ship was part of the Battle of Okinawa. During his long deployment in and around Japan, he witnessed the USS MISSOURI leaving Tokyo Bay not long after the official signing of the Japanese surrender from its deck.

“Strike true, don’t make it easy for me.”

Dr. Belt taught me as much about playing killer tennis as he did about life. I was on the other side of the net not taking personally his shots intended to run me all over the court. I quickly dished out what he was serving.

“Good. Keep it up.”

Score: Love – Love.

Thanks to Doug Clanin for interviewing Jim in 1994 for the Veteran’s Project / Library of Congress.

WWII Duty, Honor, Country: The Memories of Those Who Were There


IMG_2450“Steve Hardwick and Duane Hodgin began a personal quest to assure that students and those who will populate the future will recall with detail and accuracy the great challenge of this world at war and the men and women who were engaged in the vanquishing of a great evil.” (take from the Foreword of WWII Duty, Honor Country)

So they have.  This collective account from 84 brave men and women whose interviews have been penned to paper and collected in one book, remind us that the “Greatest Generation” has many lessons from which to learn. In February on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Indian Creek Elementary School, military-clad MPs stood at the entrance to direct traffic while those who stories have been told in this amazing book made their way to the gymnasium for the book’s celebratory launch.

The gym was transformed to resemble a USO hall.  A standing-room only crowd gathered to honor these WWII Veterans and perhaps collect their signatures in a copy of the book.  Hodgin and Hardwick were quite obvious in their intent of the celebration – it is all for the Veterans.  Even though they organized the stories and pieced together the book, It was not them seated ready to pen their name  – only the Veterans.  “It isn’t about me or Duane,” said Steve Hardwick, who did a wonderful Jack Benny impersonation, “It’s about these incredible men and women that the world owes a sincere debt of gratitude.”  The book celebration included musical performances by former students of Steve Hardwick as well as by WWII Veteran Jim McDowell and Joy Conners (LCHS music teacher). An additional honor was bestowed upon the WWII Veterans as Mr. Tom Applegate, former head of Veterans Affairs for Indiana, awarded each Veteran with a Distinguished Hoosier Award.  The Distinguished Hoosier Award is one of the highest tributes given out by the State of Indiana to its citizens. It is solely granted at the discretion of the Governor to Hoosiers who have uniquely brought admiration and respect to the state through their character and accomplishments. No one could argue that there is not a more deserving group of recipients.

WWII KaraFor Hardwick, this all began for him while studying at Indiana State University in the fall of 1985 when he interviewed Terre Haute resident and Holocaust survivor, Eva Kor, for an assignment.  Two years earlier while Hardwick was serving in the military in West Germany, he had visited two concentration camps, which had an impact on him.  Mrs. Kor asked Steve to volunteer for the CANDLES (her Holocaust museum in Terre Haute, www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org) inquest into the death of Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed inhumane experiments on prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp (Mrs. Kor and her twin sister were part of his “experiments”).  After the inquest, Mrs. Kor asked the volunteers how they would use what they learned.  Hardwick announced to the group that his hopes were to share the stories of the Holocaust survivors when he became a teacher.

Forever inspired by Eva Kor’s miraculous story of survival and forgiveness, and that of WWII Veterans, Hardwick (teacher, Indian Creek Elementary – MSDLT) in his role of teacher, father, and now author, has dedicated much of his time to honoring those who served our country.

Co-Author Duane Hodgin’s involvement in writing this book was personally motivated as well, but for different reasons.  On July 13, 1944, while stationed in New Guinea, Everett Hodgin was serving his country during WWII.  Back in Richmond, Indiana, his wife, Ellabell, gave birth to their son Duane.  Like thousands of American servicemen, Everett was not present at the birth of his son. In May of 2004, Duane Hodgin took his father, Everett, to Steve Hardwick’s WWII Tribute put on by current and former students of Hardwick’s.  Upon retiring from Lawrence Township, Duane Hodgin suggested that he and Hardwick interview these Veterans and record their stories.  The interviews began in January 2011, with Everett Hodgin being the first to interview.

WWII Kara 2The list of Veterans, all residents of Indiana, to be included quickly grew to 84.  This is the largest collection of personal accounts from WWII to be printed in one book. Other featured Veterans include:  Edgar Whitcomb, former Governor of Indiana, who was in a bomber division in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was bombed, (3) Tuskegee Airmen, (4) men to serve in Okinawa, (2) who were at Pearl Harbor, (6) who fought in The Battle of the Bulge, (6) who stormed the beaches at Normandy, many former POWs, (7) women volunteers, (1) Holocaust survivor (Mrs. Kor) and many, many more.  Navy Veteran Ed Moss (USS Neosho) said, “In the war, I learned to serve my country for a purpose greater than myself.”

A few of the Veterans featured in the book are no longer with us.  When Everett Hodgin was interviewed, he was the oldest at 94.  At 95, he was the first of eight who have died since work began on this book.  In 15 years, nearly all WWII veterans will have left us.  The youngest is about 86 years old right now.  As this generation continues to diminish, but Hardwick and Hodgin have provided them ‘a place in the hall of time.  As the last warriors are called home, Hardwick and Hodgin answer the war’s call to remember and honor.’ As Army Veteran (Normandy) Gene Cogan said, “In combat, every day is a life time.”

WWII:  Duty, Honor, Country is available on Amazon.com and also online at Barnes & Noble and available as an eBook.  The Carmel Barnes & Noble will host a book signing April 13th from 2-3pm for the authors and several veterans will be available to autograph books. For more information:  www.ww2dutyhonorcountry.com

The related article “A Love Letter to WWII” originally appeared in Broad Ripple Community Newsletter May 2014.

WWII Combat Medic Andy Anderson

Anderson 170 years after serving in Patton’s 3rd Army, US Army Medic Andy Anderson is taking a historic trip back to Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp.

Before landing along the French coast, Anderson’s unit, the 94th Medical Gas Treatment Battalion, was stationed for 3.5 months in Pontypridd, Wales.

“There were no buildings for housing in Pontypridd so we stayed with families. I still keep in touch with the family that boarded me,” shares Anderson.

Another member of Anderson’s unit, 1st Lt. Howard Doepke recalls, “I was standing in a parking lot in Pontypridd and looked up because the sky was almost black with Allied aircraft heading to Normandy for D-Day.”

Anderson and his unit crossed the English Channel, landing at Utah Beach, Normandy, 10 days after D-Day. Assigned to Patton’s 3rd Army, they moved at a brisk pace across the European peninsula.

“Patton was always in a hurry,” says Anderson, “We did not stay anywhere very long if he could help it.”

Anderson would stay with the 3rd Army until the end of the war. Working the front lines, Anderson never carried a weapon, only injured soldiers to the safety of the medic tents.

“We were front line medics, and when I say front line, I mean it,” shares Anderson. “We had 2 anti-aircraft and an ambulance unit attached to our M.A.S.H. unit.”

Anderson’s medical unit also mobilized dogs and sleds with wheels underneath to aid in retrieving the wounded from battle.

“I took care of so many injured soldiers,” says Anderson, “Many of these kids were only 18 or 19 years old and I had to help place those that didn’t make it into body bags.” Anderson was a young man, too, but he was one of the lucky ones to make it back home.

Anderson recalls being surrounded by the German Army while holed up in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. “We went for 10 days without food,” states Anderson, “but I can’t complain, I survived.”

On April 11th, Anderson was part of the 3rd Army that liberated Buchanwald concentration camp, one of the largest.

“It was devastating. I was among some medics that stayed to care for those that survived that horrible camp.” says Anderson, who has photos of the atrocities he witnessed, “You just can’t imagine.” The photos are gruesome. Adds Anderson, “Today, the only thing left standing are the ovens and the entrance.”

In contrast, while in Germany, Anderson met performer Marlene Dietrich.

“That was something,” says Anderson with a smile, but adds, “she was with the Red Cross and was entertaining the troops, but her main goal was to find her mom, which I believe she did.”

Dietrich, born in Germany, was outspoken against the Nazi party and feared for her family during the War. She immediately volunteered to entertain troops, starting in North Africa, before working her way to Germany to locate her family.

“Doing what I did and seeing the things I saw was quite remarkable for a young man of my age,” shares Anderson of his WWII experiences.

Once Anderson was sent back home, his unit prepared for the invasion of Japan, but the atomic bombs were dropped. “I was grateful for those bombs, as horrible as they were, they did save lives,” says Anderson.

Andy Anderson began his high school education at Cathedral, but Andy Andersonafter flunking his latin course, he transferred to Broad Ripple High School.

“Cathedral was very strict about its athletes passing classes, Latin was not my strong suit and I played basketball and baseball. Instead of sitting out from athletics my junior year at Cathedral, I spent the last part of my high school years at Broad Ripple.”

Having been drafted in December of 1941, Anderson missed his spring graduation ceremony. He received his diploma a couple years later in 1943, while dressed in uniform.

“At the ceremony, the school made a big deal about me being in the Army and what I was doing. I was so embarrassed,” recalls Anderson, still turning pink in the cheeks.

Interestingly, Anderson spent a portion of his training as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

“You see, the US Army did not want the American people to know they kind of training we were doing, so we did this training with Canada,” shares Anderson.

The training dealt with mustard gas, heavily used by the Germans during WWI. The Allied forces feared it would be used again. During these exercises, Anderson’s team was sent into a Canadian forest and were exposed directly to mustard gas. One unfortunate soldier did not have his mask on securely and died during training.

“I still have the burn marks on my skin from the exposure.” shares Anderson.

While moving swiftly through Germany, the discovery of a mustard gas depot put Anderson’s intended skills to the test as they disabled the bombs, apparently left over from a few decades before, but still potentially fatal.

“It looked as if it was a back up or something that could be used,” says Anderson.

Another interesting discovery was that the German military had engineered functional jets for combat. “We found a jet under camouflage netting hidden in the forest near a battle site that exceeded the capabilities of our planes at the time,” says Anderson.

Anderson 2Now at age 92, Anderson is preparing to go back in April to visit Buchewald, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its liberation.

“I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world” says Anderson. “This trip I get to be wined and dined, which is a nice contrast to what I experienced 70 years ago.” Adding, “Germany is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful. They just had a horrible time for a while, and that is long gone.”

Anderson’s trip to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation Buchenwald is sponsored by IndyHonorFlight.org.

Andy Anderson’s story is one of 84 Indiana WWII veterans featured in WWII: Duty, Honor, Country, by Stephen Hardwick and Duane Hodgin, available on BarnesandNoble.com and amazon.com.

This article first appeared in Broad Ripple Community Newsletter March 2015

American Battle Monuments Commission battles Families of our WWII fallen

IMG_22942015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. This year is filled with anniversary milestones marking the end of fighting in Europe and in Asia, liberations of countless POW camps and concentration camps, celebrating the valor of those whose served and survived, and remembering those we lost.

Andy Anderson
Andy Anderson, Medic with Patton’s 3rd Army, liberated Buchanwald Concentration Camp

This year of historic anniversaries surrounding the final events of WWII is being celebrated by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) by canceling a long-held service honoring those who paid the absolute price for our freedom. It is a simple effort that the ABMC is throwing out of their budget, but to thousands of families, this small effort is a major loss and disrespectful to the memories of the heroes buried overseas.

The service that is squeezed out of the budget is the simple laying of flowers at the gravesite of our WWII heroes, along with a photo that is taken of the grave and emailed to the family member. The flowers are paid for by the families, not by the government.

There were over 200,000 children in the United States that were orphaned by WWII. Many now members of AWON, American WWII Orphans Network.

DSC08819 (2)This simple act of respect performed on behalf of the families that cannot travel to Normandy (Normandy is one of many battlefield cemeteries) on a regular basis to visit their father or grandfather’s grave in person, have had the availability of a US serviceman or woman, who is already serving overseas, to lay the flowers on their behalf.

Thanks to this budget cut, the families must now rely on a localCrew 01 florist to do this, taking away the reverence and respect of having one of our own honoring our fallen.

This lack of respect, lack of understanding, and lack of just about any decency I can imagine shown by the removal of this service is astounding to me.

Who made this decision? Why weren’t the families included in the decision? Perhaps they could have paid an additional fee on top of the floral fee to keep this service going? Who was involved in this budget cut? The answer: someone who doesn’t understand why we fought, who we fought, and what price was paid.

When was it ok to stop honoring our fallen heroes?
Thanks to Emily Longnecker with WTHR13 for doing a piece on this important topic. She was the FIRST media to address this with the ABMC. No other news organization has touched it…yet.

Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky