There are three great movies that I think are well worth watching, even though they are filmed in black and white. For me, they don’t make movies like this anymore. They are: “This Land is Mine” (1944), “The Seventh Cross” (1943), and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). These three are some of my most favorite movies.
Each deals with deeply divided human emotions, overcoming extreme adversity, man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, and the basic will to consciously or subconsciously do what is right; even in the face of extreme hardship. Perhaps a major reason I enjoy viewing these movies is they transport me back to another era and time, of memories of my mother; of how her life must have been like in pre-and post-war Germany, and of how she had to survive during that horrific period of time.
Each of these movie’s primarily focus is from the adult’s sufferings, their actions or in-actions and how they eventually overcome tragedy and adversities. However, they fail to take into account the children; they also were part of that era and they too suffered; albeit in much different ways.
When I view these films, each one invariably leads me to view them from what my mother’s point of view may have been, from when she was a child growing up during a tragic period in time. The films were in black and white however my mother’s vision was very colorful to me.
She is now long gone to a better place – but her influence, her emotions, her stories, reside as strong in me as they did when I first heard them. I remember her life was not easy, but she strived to make sure ours was!
My mother was born in Germany during the winter of 1932. During this era, her homeland was undergoing a great transformation. A new leader had been promising the Germans change: jobs, food, anything to make the German people believe and robotically “fall-into-line”. She told us one of her early memories were of seeing posters depicting adults talking and asking one another, (?) “What does Adolf Hitler want? (answer) Freedom and food for every decent working German!”. This was an actual poster slogan; she remembered this one very vividly! She reminded us of the thought of more food as something she particularly liked when she saw this poster.
For a time, this leader was actually delivering on his promises. Food was not plentiful for all, but there was food available as well as work. Germans were finding work by participating on government works projects; one such project was to construct the best road system known in the world, at least up until that time. The Autobahn, or Reichsautobahn (Freeway of the Reich) continued into 1930’s and it gave jobs to thousands. It was a make-work program; but the road program also had a sinister plot. the highway was built primarily to move the troops and equipment around faster for the eventual war that was to come. Remember, few Germans had cars. After the war, President Eisenhower even understood the importance of infrastructure when he began building America’s “National Highway System”. An interesting requirement of our own roads was to have sections within them to be straight and wide for several miles. This was to allow military aircraft an emergency “runway”, in case of war!
My mother often shared her own experiences and the thoughts she had of the Germany she knew in the 1930’s and 40’s and into the 1950’s, with me and my brother. Some of her thoughts and ideals, expressed within those stories I could not even begin to truly imagine or truly visualize as a child. It was not until much later in life when things began to clear up for me and make more sense.
Both my brother and I were often a major focus of her stories. As a post-war child of the early 1950’s, I have many early memories of walking on ice cold wooden floors in the mornings, watching the coals glowing in the wood stove, crawling into a toasty bed at night with a warm water bottle near our feet, blankets and pillows several feet thick, and morning breakfasts of merely bread and milk (that is when she had them). As a child, even during that bleak period of time, I thought we were rich. It was my early perception of life, but that perception was far from the truth. I would learn the truth much later in life. I cannot begin to imagine what she must have given up just to ensure the two of us had enough to eat.
In the late 1960s, we revisited Germany and she was able to show me where some of those stories actually were played out – as if from a movie, they came alive to me.
One story I remember her telling me was when she and her brothers and sisters had actually cut down a telephone pole deep in woods to use for fuel in their stove. She told us they had no coal or much of anything else to use for fuel to heat the house or cook food. The war was now in full force and its effects were devastating. Everyone in the neighborhood was in need of food, wood or coal. She didn’t say who came up with the idea, but at age 8, (knowing my mother as I did, I had my suspicions. She and her older sister and brother got their younger siblings to help them cut the pole down, tie a rope around it and then they all managed to drag it home. She remembers how proud they were to have accomplished this task. (Leave it to Beaver was not yet a television program, so her parents were not as prepared to give advice or guidance as Ward and June Cleaver often did. Remember, my mother’s parents were also not as affluent). So…they used the wood! They were found out by the Jägermeister (not the well-known popular German drink, rather a Senior Forest Supervisor) who was able to track them to the house by following the trail they made dragging the pole behind them.
All other stories she told would touch us one way or another. Some would bring tears to our eyes or make us laugh together, all would eventually fill my mind in later years, and still fill my mind. Perhaps, by her telling us of her earlier childhood years and life, she hoped that wouldn’t let us take our life for granted. Maybe it was to remember her! Now, I will never know…! Who wouldn’t want just five-more-minutes to get to talk to their mother? I’m sure of one thing, as she told us the stories she would remember and re-live them herself. I could tell by looking into her eyes. I still often think of her life and what she must have had to endure during those hard times. Now, I can only imagine.
Last December the world lost a very special person, Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, (101).
Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, USCGR
Coast Guard SPAR decorated for combat operations during World War II
By William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian
Of the thousands of women who have served with honor in the United States Coast Guard, one stands out for her bravery and devotion to duty. Florence Smith Finch, the daughter of a U.S. Army veteran and Filipino mother, was born on the island of Luzon, north of Manila, in Santiago City. She married navy PT boat crewman Charles E. Smith while working for an army intelligence unit located in Manila. In 1942, after the Japanese invaded the Philippines, her young husband died trying to re-supply American and Filipino troops trapped by the enemy on Corregidor Island and the Bataan Peninsula.
After the Japanese occupied Manila, Finch avoided internment by…
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People often ask us what kinds of things we are looking for to put in the museum. Here’s a short list of items we’re focusing on right now:
•Plates, mugs, glasses from any military installation
•Collectible spoons that have different cities on the handles-both from US and overseas
•tees from military installations
•Food product boxes, cans, alcohol bottles ( empty) with labels that reflect the military. ( We are doing a new kitchen exhibit.)
•Military or patriotic Christmas tree ornaments
•DODDS, DODEA or International school memorabilia
•Beer Coasters from overseas
•Scrapbooking supplies- military & travel stickers, photo mounting tape, acid-free albums, etc.
•Military unit patches
Your tax deductible donation can be mailed to:
Museum of the American Military Family
PO Box 5085
Albuquerque, NM 87185
•We are also collecting written memory pieces from spouses and kids who were stationed in Bad Hersfeld or Fulda at any time. These can be emailed to us at:
Thank you for helping us grow!
By Circe Olson Woessner
About four months before we were to leave Puerto Rico, we put our house on the market, thinking we’d never rent it or sell it before we left. Within days, we had a nibble, and within the month, we had to move into a temporary place, till we could PCS. We were shocked, but elated.
We packed up all but our essentials, and had our household goods sent on to our new post to be stored until we got there. We found a crummy, small one -bedroom apartment in Ceiba, not far from where I worked as a teacher in Roosevelt Roads. My husband still had to commute across the island to Ft Buchanan, located in San Juan.
We’d moved from the beautiful resort of Palmas del Mar, from a gorgeous three bedroom villa to the partly furnished flat, which looked like it was used, primarily, for transient military personnel. How we knew this, was that the month’s rent was exactly our housing allowance, and ordinarily, we wouldn’t have paid any where near that amount for the slum it was, but the landlord would rent month-to-month, and it was available immediately.
By Erik Woessner
Everyone knows the old saying, “be careful what you wish for– you might get it”. In this case I would also add be careful what you complain about you; might regret it. While living in Puerto Rico, my father was stationed at Fort Buchanan at the time, I learned this lesson the hard way. I believe it was our second year there, we had just moved into our new house in Palmas Del Mar, a resort community on the island.
It was Christmas time. I must have been around 11 or 12. Mom was getting the house all decorated and cleaned in preparation for our grandparents arriving. and I recall saying how commercialized Christmas was. What brought that about was I think my brother and myself desire to avoid having to help put up decorations and help set up the tree. My mother decided to teach us a little lesson and said, “ok, if that’s how you feel Christmas is canceled this year. I’m not getting you any presents.” Now I’m certain she expected my brother and myself to fold, but we were rather stubborn children, or as dad liked to say, pains in the ass. So, we said fine! (As I recall we only got presents from our grandparents who were unaware of the ‘cancellation’.)
While humorous, there is an important lesson to take away from all of this. Yes, it’s true a lot of Christmas activities have become commercialized, but the real joy of Christmas is to be able to spend it with family. As an Army Brat, I can remember several Christmases where my father wasn’t there, or we were moving and had to have Christmas among our moving boxes.
The idea of the traditions is to help bring the family together, the decorating, the preparations, are a way to bring the family closer together to be able to celebrate the simple gift of being together as a family and to realize how precious that is.
Far too often, we do tend to look at it as an excuse to give trinkets and baubles to people, without realizing that Christmas is often one of the few times family from far and wide gather together. Christmas is not about the gifts– it’s about the love and unity of family enjoying time together. And that was a lesson I learned that year, though it took me several more before I realized its importance, because despite not getting many gifts, we had a great time, a great meal and great family fun.
Sgt & Mrs Allan Keller, Nov 9, 1948, Trieste. Italy. Their friends, best man and maid of honor, were married shortly thereafter. She borrowed and wore my mother’s wedding gown. Sgt & Mrs Woitte and my parents remained life-long friends. Both women are native Germans.
Photo: Irene Keller Phillips