On January 24, 1944, the first of over 500 American airmen bailed out of their disabled planes over the German-occupied zone of Serbia. That first day, the Germans shot down two Liberators…one over Zlatibor and the other over Toplica. One bomber made an emergency landing between Plocnik and Beloljin. That crew of nine men were rescued by the Chetnik Toplica Corps under the command of Major Milan Stojanovic. The crew were placed in the home of local Chetnik leaders in the village of Velika Dragusa. The other bomber crew bailed out over Mount Zlatibor. They were found by members of the Zlatibor Corps. A radiogram message on the rescue of one of the crews was sent by Stojanovic to Mihailovic on January 25th. Major Stojanovic wrote that the previous day about 100 bombers flew from the direction of Nis towards Kosovska Mitrovica, and that they were followed by nine German fighter aircraft. After a half-hour battle, one plane caught fire and was forced to land between the villages of Plocnik and Beloljin, in the Toplica River valley.

Over the next few months, more planes were shot down, and more crews were rescued by the Serbian resistance. In all it was thought that 432 men had been hidden, effectively saving them from the German prison camps. In the end, it was determined that the actual number of men in need of rescue was 512. The men had no way of knowing that they would be “guests” of the Serbian resistance for 7 long months, and in some cases longer.

The two resistance groups, Marshal Tito’s Partisans and Draza Mihailovic’s Chetniks, both hated the Nazis vehemently, and they also hated each other. It made working together difficult at best. Still, they shared a common goal…to defeat the Nazis, and they were willing to do what was necessary to achieve that goal. While it was sometimes possible to smuggle the airmen out and reunite them with their units, it was not always possible. When they could not get the men out, they kept them in their homes, and shared what little food they had with them.

In July 1944, these men again came to the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and they began to draw up plans to bring the men home. I’m sure by then, the men thought they really had been forgotten, or maybe that no one knew about them at all, but now they were going to be going home. Operation Halyard, the operation to bring home these men, commenced on August 9, 1944 and continued until December 28, 1944. The men would be airlifted out of Serbia 12 men at a time, but before any airlift could take place, they had to build an airstrip. The C-47 cargo plane required 700 feet of runway for takeoffs and landings. The men and the people of Serbia built an airstrip that was exactly 700 feet long. It was bordered by forest and mountains, so the takeoffs and landings would have to be precise. According to historian Professor Jozo Tomasevich, a report submitted to the OSS showed that 417 Allied airmen who had been downed over occupied Yugoslavia were rescued by Mihailovic’s Chetniks, and airlifted out by the Fifteenth Air Force. According to Lieutenant Commander Richard M Kelly (OSS), a grand total of 432 United States and 80 Allied personnel were airlifted during the Halyard Mission. In the end, at least in this mission, the military lived up to its motto, “Never leave a man behind.”

My little grand niece, Elliott Stevens is a bouncy, curly-haired little blonde girl who is full of life and seldom slows down for a minute. She is the light of her parents, Kayla and Garrett’s lives. They play with her, and read to her, and make her feel like a princess, which I think she must be…Princess Elliott. Her favorite outfits are very princess-like.

Elliott, like most little girls her age is very much into everything “Frozen.” Since the movie came out, along with every toy, outfit, game, furniture, and shoes, everyone knows what to buy Elliott for her birthday. Anything “Frozen,” of course. Elliott looks so cute in her “Frozen” garb, and with her bubbly personality, she is the life of any party.

Elliott, also like most kids her age, is really into bubbles. She is mesmerized by them. Someone got her a “Frozen” bubble machine, and all she has to do is push a button to make bubbles. That is perfect for a two year old girl. Not many of them can make the bubbles work by blowing through a soap-filled circle, but they can push a button. To Elliott’s delight, the bubbles just keep coming out. The “Frozen” bubble-maker is an amazing invention. Elliott pays with it a lot, and doesn’t seem to misplace it at all. It brings her so much happiness. I think everyone was mesmerized just watching her be mesmerized.

Saturday, Elliott’s parents held a birthday party for her. They rented a water slide, and everyone had a great time. Elliott went down the slide with her parents, but she didn’t really like it much, so they filled up her little waterslide. I don’t now if she went on that one or not, but she has, and loves it. I think it’s shortened height makes it a little bit lest intimidating. Nevertheless, she had a wonderful birthday party. Today is Elliott’s 2nd birthday. Happy birthday Elliott!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

I asked my brother-in-law, LJ Cook’s daughter, Susan Griffith to tell me what he has been up to lately, and she said that one thing her dad is really good at is gardening. That came as a surprise to me. I guess I just never thought he was the gardening type. Nevertheless, people do surprise you sometimes. LJ is especially proud of his tomato plants, cucumbers, zucchini, and asparagus. He has his garden set up, using technology, to water itself, which takes care on one step. Still, there is a lot more that goes into getting a great garden. The soil has to be the right mix, and that isn’t easy. And then there are the weeds. Pulling weeds is the pits, but somehow, LJ’s garden never has weeds. Susan and I don’t seem to have that knack. I guess it is a talent that only certain people have.

When LJ retired, he wanted to set up his garage into kind of a man cave. It can be a necessity when a couple spends all day together, no matter how long they’ve been married. LJ likes to go out to the garage and do his own thing. His wife, Debbie makes quilts and such, but his kind of crafts won’t really work in the house. He can build things, weld, and fix anything that’s broken. I suppose people would call him a jack of all trades. That also makes him very handy to have around when things break down. LJ got his wood splitter running well again this year. His son-in-law, Steve Moore, rebuilt the piston, and got all the lines squared away. Now, it runs great and LJ, Steve, and my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg, with his son Tucker, have been splitting wood for the coming winter.

LJ and Debbie love to spend much of the summer months in the Big Horn Mountains. It’s cooler there, and because he grew up in the area, LJ knows the Big Horns like the back of his hand. His own family did a lot of camping up there during his childhood. These days the next generations of Cooks are camping in the Big Horn Mountains. One of the family favorite camping spots has a herd of elk that graze the hillside every day. The elk are far enough away, that they can’t see the campers, but with binoculars the campers can see them very well. Mornings and evenings are the elk can be heard bugling…a sound that everyone loves to listen to. Their daughter, Machelle Moore, and her family go camping with them often, but Susan and her family can’t always go. This year they did get to go and everyone, including my brother-in-law, Ron and his family were excited to see a moose walk right through their camp. Moose don’t usually like the interruption of their stroll, so everyone kept their distance, and kept the dogs away too. It was something new and different in camping. Today is LJ’s birthday. Happy birthday LJ!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

I can’t imagine having my first child on my own birthday, but it does happen, and did happen for my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer and her first born, Laura Spencer Fredrick. Then, to top it off, it would be ten years before Grandma’s second child, my Uncle Bill was born. No one that I have talked to is sure why there would be ten years in between those first two children. After my Uncle Bill was born in 1922, my dad, Allen would follow in 1924 (15 months after Uncle Bill), and Aunt Ruth in 1925 (18½ months after my dad). Nevertheless, Aunt Laura was an only child for ten years, and during that time, she and her mom were very close. They did everything together. Of course in the early years, that made sense, since Aunt Laura was a little girl who didn’t go to school or anything, but even later, there were wonderful trips with family and friends into town and shopping.

During those early years, Grandpa Allen Spencer, worked a number of jobs. At one time, he worked in the lumber business, taking his little family to the camp in the middle of the woods. I’m sure it was rather a lonely existence for Grandma, but she had her little daughter to keep her company, and that helped a lot. For long months they didn’t really go anywhere much, but there might have been a few other wives living in the camps. Still, mostly it was Grandma and Aunt Laura. I can imagine the games they played and the walks they took. There wouldn’t have been much else to do, so mother and daughter would have bonded over the long hours spent together. It was always so obvious to me just how proud Grandma was of her well-behaved little girl.

Later, there were trips taken to see family. Grandma’s little family of three was excited to be going and the other family and friends were happy to see them. Aunt Laura always seemed to stay close to Grandma, but maybe that was just for the pictures. Aunt Laura was very well behaved, a credit to her mother’s upbringing. She was really quite grown up for her age, and in fact, when Uncle Bill arrived, she was his nanny at just ten years old. Grandma was running a hotel by then, and Grandpa had to work too, so Aunt Laura needed to help, and now she had a job too. I’m sure it made her feel grown up. She was very close to her brother, just like her mother had been with her. Like mother, like daughter. Today is the shared birthday of my grandmother and Aunt Laura. Both are in Heaven now, and we love and miss them very much.

My nephew, Sean Mortensen is an all around athlete, which is quite possibly where his daughter, Jadyn gets her athleticism…there and from her mom, my niece, Amanda Reed. The whole family loves to get out and “live life to the fullest.” Normally that is pretty easy to do, but in an era of social distancing, we have all found ourselves cooped up for a lot of the spring. For that reason, Sean and company were very happy when he state opened up to camping, even if it was with social distancing. They figured you could get a bunch of friends together with their boats, and do some social distancing at the lake, so that was what they did. There is always something going on at Seminole Lake, and Sean’s family is there for a lot of it. I can’t confirm, but they might be part fish…at least in the summertime. Sean loves to fish and it is often a competition to see who can catch the most or the best fish…especially with a bow, and he seems to be pretty good at it.

Sean is also a hard working man. He works at the Sinclair Refinery and is a great support for his girls. He is a great partner to Amanda, and a great dad to Jadyn. He also keeps all of their vehicles and toys in tip top shape. They house they bought is very nice, and they are always making improvements and doing upkeep. Sean wants his family to have a very nice place to live. They are building a sweet little life. Hard work aside, Sean and his girls are very social people. They like to laugh and have fun with their friends. They are always the life of any party, and the fun in any outing. When they are there…well, let the party begin.

This year has been very strange…for most people. For Sean and his family, social distancing is like playing a game of “who can be the quietest.” You know, the game where you are not supposed to talk, even though you have so much to say…often the reason your parents wanted you to play it. Well in this version, they are supposed to stay away from the friends that they have amazing times with, and…well, lets put it this way. They are really looking forward to a time when social distancing is a thing of the past, and they can get back to the party. Today is Sean’s birthday. Happy birthday Sean!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My grand niece, Jadyn Mortensen, has grown up so fast. She is not a little girl anymore, but a grown up young woman of 16 years. Soon she will be driving and then graduating and then off to make her own life. Jadyn is already a very grounded girl. She knows the things she likes, and isn’t swayed by the ideas of others. Right now, as they have been all her life, horses are in the forefront of her life. Jadyn loves horses, and would likely spend all day every day on them if she could. She might even sleep on a horse, if she was sure she wouldn’t fall off. Now, that would be embarrassing. The kind of rider and barrel racer Jadyn is, falling off of a horse that was standing still…no, it’s best not to sleep on her horse.

Jadyn is very athletic in every way. She likes winter sports, and summer sports. With a family like hers, that is kind of mandatory. Summer weekends are usually spent at Seminole Lake, where boating, swimming, and 4 wheeling are the order of the day, and hanging out around the campfire with friends is the order of the night. Everyone loves fishing, and of course, the competition to see who catches the most or the best fish. In the winter, Jadyn’s family can be found on snowmobiles or skis or razors, deep in the snow of the nearby mountains. Jadyn lives a full and active life in every way.

Nevertheless, with all of Jadyn’s activities, and the “getting down and dirty” that comes with it, Jadyn “cleans up” really well. She’s growing up and beginning to go to dances and looking so very grown up, that it is really hard to believe. It seems like she should still be a little girl, but those days are over. She has had her learner’s permit, and has been practicing her driving skills for almost a year, and I’m sure it won’t be very long before she exchanges that permit for a license, and then she will be just that much more independent. Before we know it she will be out on her own…college, marriage, or whatever she wants in life. She can do anything she puts her mind to. Today is Jaydn’s sweet 16th birthday. Happy birthday Jadyn!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My grand niece, Zoey Iverson is a bubbly, smiley girl who loves life. She loves her family, and especially her older brother, Lucas. During the school closing due to Covid-19, Zoey and her brother have been spending a lot of time together, but that’s ok, because they really are best friends…more so than most siblings, I think. I’m sure that it’s because Zoey has always made sure that her brother is included in things, even if it’s just brother and sister things, like learning to walk and play. Lucas has Down Syndrome, and Zoey has played a big part in making sure that her is learning and excelling in all that he does. Nobody told her that she needed to do that. Zoey just knew.

Zoey loves the outdoors and camping. I think she feels free when she is outside, but especially when she is out in nature…not just in the back yard. This year when the family went camping, Zoey decided to build her own private shelter. I think she is very resourceful…of course, she may have been taught to do this by her parents. Nevertheless, I think it’s a very cool thing to do. A girl always needs a little privacy now and then…right.

Zoey loves all aspects of the outdoors, but playing in the water on a hot day has got to be right up there on her list. She loves playing with the family dog, and entertaining her brother too. With the parents she has, I’m sure that hiking, camping, fishing, and outdoor adventures are just par for the course. Zoey is really a very grounded girl. She may only be 5 years old, but she knows what she likes, and she knows how to do many of the things common to being in the wild, simply because her parents have taught her well. Zoey has been camping and fishing all her life, and she is a natural. Still, the thing that makes me smile the most, is Zoey’s love of life and everyone in it. She has a wonderful personality and attitude about everything…and she has a wonderful smile. All the best qualities in anyone. Today is Zoey’s 5th birthday!! How can she be 5 years old already. It just doesn’t seem possible, but here we are. Happy birthday Zoey!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

The USS Indianapolis (CL/CA-35) was a Portland-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy, named for the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. The ship was launched in 1931, the vessel served as the flagship for the commander of Scouting Force 1 for eight years, then as flagship for Admiral Raymond Spruance in 1943 and 1944 while he commanded the Fifth Fleet in battles across the Central Pacific during World War II. Those were tumultuous times, and sometimes things “fell through the cracks,” but what happened to the USS Indianapolis was seriously unthinkable.

In July 1945, after the Indianapolis completed a top-secret high-speed trip to deliver parts of Little Boy, the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, to the United States Army Air Force Base on the island of Tinian, they subsequently departed for Guam and then it was on to the Philippines on training duty. Little Boy was the bomb that was going to effectively end the war, but the war was not over yet, and it was imperative that everyone be on high alert. The waters in many areas of the world were filled with hidden dangers…namely, German U-Boats and Imperial Japanese Navy Submarines. Many a ship was sunk by these hidden enemies.

At 12:05am on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58, while en route to the Philippines. The mighty ship sank in just 12 minutes. There were 1,195 crewmen aboard, and approximately 300 went down with the ship, unable to get to the deck in time. The remaining 890 men were faced with exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The scene was horrible. The men in the water could not necessarily see the sharks, but the screams of their fellow crewmen were unmistakable. And if the crew wasn’t dying by shark attack, they were slowly dying at the hands of the elements. Dehydration caused many to drink the saltwater that was in abundance around them, but soon it poisoned them, and instead of saving them, it killed them.

Because of the speed with which USS Indianapolis sank, there was no time to send a distress signal or even deploy all of the lifeboats and equipment. The men knew they would need to survive until their ship was overdue and reported missing. They didn’t know how long it would take, and this is where the Navy failed these men. Navy directive 10CL45, which meant no reporting of combatant ships that failed to arrive. No search until by accident someone saw an oil slick. When Indianapolis was overdue, the people who would have reported it as overdue, simply assumed that Indianapolis might have been redeployed to another training area, since that was part of their mission. According to the directive, no search crews were sent out. These men were unthinkably alone in the vast sea…and no help was coming. In fact, the Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. By the time the rescue began, only 316 of the 890 men who survived the original sinking were still alive. The sinking of Indianapolis and Navy directive 10CL45 resulted in the greatest single loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy.

In a day and age when more and more young people are so intent on “fitting in” that they lose sight of who they really are, my grand niece, Raelynn Masterson is, refreshingly, not a follower. Raelynn remains true to herself, and she is just fine with who she is. Her mom tells me that she is a lot like both her parents, and while that may be true, I don’t think it is genetics, as much as it is good upbringing. Raelynn figures that if you like her…great, but if not…it’s your problem, not hers. I think that is the best way to be.

Raelynn is a has such a sweet attitude. She is a good big sister, and is always kind to her siblings. She is helpful when they need it, and that is especially nice when their parents are at work, and her siblings need some advise and encouragement. Their parents know that they are in good hands when Raelynn is there with them. There is, of course, a difference between a sweet attitude, and a pushover, and Raelynn is no push over. Once her mind is made up, it is and she won’t be moved. If you try to cross her, and you make the mistake of making this girl mad…well, as her mom says, “I’ll pray for you.” Personally, I have not seen that side of Raelynn, but then we are not really on opposite sides of things, and maybe I think I’m glad we aren’t too.

As with most people, the things going on in our world have caused Raelynn to look more closely into politics. Her parents have encouraged their children to look into a matter, and make an informed decision about where you stand. That’s a good way to be. We have too many blind followers, as it is. Raelynn, and her siblings, Matt and Anna, as well as Christina (who is grown and living on her own), are not required to agree with their parents views on things. Their parents, Rob and Dustie, think it is important for them to make up their own minds, even when they don’t match their parents views. Raelynn’s opinions on politics don’t always match those of her parents, but she is required to look deeper into things before forming her opinions…using legitimate sites (or, as close as you can get these days). There have been a few heated debates between Raelynn and her brother, Matt, which have required a parental mediator at times. My guess is that there have been some between her and her parents too, but that really is the only way to learn about politics and I’m sure that as time goes by, her opinions will grow and change, whether they ever match those of her parents or not.

The family recently got a dog, and as often happens with pets, Azura has decided that Raelynn is “her human.” They are so close, and almost inseparable when Raelynn is home. It was completely unexpected, but if Rob or Dustie are looking for one, all they need to do is find the other. Raelynn and Azura are practically joined at the hip. The hardest part about this “exceptionally close” relationship, is that whenever Raelynn is gone, Azura is totally miserable until she gets home!! That could be really bad when school starts again. Azura just loves Raelynn so much. I can see why, because we all do too. Today is Raelynn’s 17th birthday. Happy birthday Raelynn!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, south-west of Rapid City lies a natural depression in the Earth. Apparently, the depression is a sinkhole that has 700 feet deep cliff walls all around, that prevent wind from reaching the bottom. The windless part of the site is what makes it perfect for balloon launches. The site was noticed by the National Geographic Society and the United States Army Air Corps, who set up what they called Stratocamp in 1934-1935. Stratocamp was a joint effort code named Explorer to launch two manned giant helium high-altitude balloons capable of stratospheric flight. The crash of the Soviet Osoaviakhim-1 after setting a world record flight of 72,178 feet (13.71 miles), the Explorer program set a new goal…to beat that record. The first Explorer balloon was launched on July 28, 1934. The balloon made it 11 miles up before it disintegrated. Thankfully the astronauts onboard had parachutes on, so they survived.

The second balloon was launched in November 11, 1935, and ascended 14 miles up, before landing near White Lake, South Dakota. They had done it. That second flight set a world record that would not be broken until astronauts started flying into space. Astronauts, Air Corps Captain Albert William Stevens, Captain Arson Anderson, and Major William E. Kepner became the first men to view the Earth’s curvature. This exploration helped the Air Force build better planes and helped scientists build satellites.

In the 1950s, Project Manhigh and Project Strato-Lab launches were made from a man-made crater of an iron mining pit near Crosby, Minnesota, and if weather allowed, from Fleming Field in South Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Stratobowl was used as a backup location, if launches could not be made at the Minnesota locations. As it turned out, the Stratobowl was needed for a number of launches. The first such launch was on November 8, 1956, when the Strato-Lab I gondola lifted Malcolm Ross and M L Lewis from the Stratobowl to a world altitude record for manned balloon flight of 76,000 feet. There were also three Stratobowl launches in 1958, and seven in 1959. The most publicized flight was that of Strato-Lab IV, piloted by Malcolm Ross and Charles B Moore, which lifted off from Stratobowl on November 28, 1959. The balloon reached an altitude of 81,000 feet, and landed safely in Kansas after 20 hours in the air. The purpose of the flight was to perform spectrographic analysis of the planet Venus with minimal interference from the Earth’s atmosphere.

These days, the Stratobowl is usually seen from a popular hiking trail that takes you up to the rim…which is how my husband, Bob and I first saw it. You can also drive down to the bottom, and there are festivals during which balloons are launched…to go to normal heights and to take tourists and owners for a normal ride. No records are set to be won, or experiments to be made. Still, looking at the Stratobowl from the top of the trail is very impressive, and while it is not a difficult or a long hike, we enjoyed it very much, and it is a short hike that I very much recommend. It was really interesting, and to think it is a sinkhole.

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