A 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?
“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.
For 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.
The 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.
70 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 after 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.
Now 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
2015 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.
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.
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 local 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.