By guest writer: Susan Griffith

I thought it would be nice to write a blog post about my Aunt Caryn for her birthday. In case you’re new here, my Aunt Caryn writes a blog post every single day about someone in her family, or about something that sparks her interest. I wonder if she has ever missed a day since she started. If she has, I’m sure there was an extremely good reason why. There must be thousands and thousands of posts. It’s truly amazing and really shows her passion for writing, her passion for her faith, her family, and her interest in current events. The determination that she has when she sets her mind to something is obvious.

If you’re reading this, and interested in history at all and what Aunt Caryn is up to, I urge you to look on Ansestry.com at the amount of work she has put into her family trees. It’s unbelievable and amazing to me. I can’t even begin to imagine how big Aunt Caryn’s family must be on both sides of her family. Both her and my Uncle Bob come from a family with many siblings, so I can see how her family could be so big after everyone getting married and having families of their own. It’s so special to look on your Facebook page on your birthday and see that someone has taken the time to write a little story about you. Most of the time, it’s surprising to read what she comes up with and you sometimes wonder how she knows what she knows. I know she has her ways of finding things out. I’m so thankful to have someone in my family who cares so much about family that she will take the time to make someone feel good every day.

My Aunt Caryn is married to my Uncle Bob, who’s my mom, Debbie Cook’s brother. Every time I think back to the family gatherings with my mom’s side of the family Aunt Caryn has always been there. She shows up to every important event if she is able to. She was there for all the important milestones of my life…graduation, wedding, baby showers. It’s clear that she loves her family very much, and from what I’ve seen she will do whatever it takes to be involved with her family. If someone is in need and Aunt Caryn can see that she can help with the situation, I guarantee that she will show up and she will do whatever she can to help in the situation. At my wedding reception, I forgot to ask someone to serve cake. Aunt Caryn just stepped in and started doing it without even being asked. I still remember that even after almost 15 years of marriage. I was so thankful to have her that day. It seems like this day in age, people like that are harder and harder to come by. The kind of people who are willing to drop everything that’s going on in their life to help someone else out. You could say Aunt Caryn is altruistic in the best way. I feel truly fortunate to have Aunt Caryn in my life.
A perfect example of Aunt Caryn’s selflessness happened just earlier this year. In January when my Aunt Rachel passed away, Aunt Caryn’s sister-in-law, we really saw how Aunt Caryn could truly step up to the plate. She helped my Uncle Ron considerably to get through one of the hardest times in his life. All of us are so thankful for what she did to help during that time. We know it was hard for her because she was just as upset as everyone else. In our family it seems that if we lose someone, we really come together to comfort each other and help each other out. I am so thankful for that.

One of my earliest memories of my Aunt Caryn was when they lived in the country in a trailer house. It seems like it was just me and Aunt Caryn at the house, everyone else was gone. I had to have been around 4 or 5 years old. Aunt Caryn was doing something in the living room, or the kitchen and she said I could go to my Cousin Amy’s bedroom to play. Amy is a few years older than me, so she had things that big girls had, and stuff that I thought was really cool. It seems like there was a little desk in Amy’s bedroom, and on the desk was a little heart shaped container that may have had jewelry in it. Next to that was some fingernail polish. I can’t even imagine what the heck I was thinking, but I sat there and painted the top of the little heart shaped container with the nail polish. It seems like shortly after I started doing that, Aunt Caryn came in and saw what I was doing. Oh man, was I in trouble. I’m sure I started crying as soon as she saw me. I can remember turning and looking at her and the look on her face wasn’t good. It was a look of shock. I think she just told me to go sit in the living room, and maybe told me I couldn’t be in Amy’s room by myself anymore. I think she was pretty lenient on me. Hopefully, that’s all I did with that fingernail polish. Sorry Amy!

Today is Aunt Caryn’s 65th birthday, which to many of us is a special day because we get to have the chance to spoil her like she spoils everyone around her on their special day. Aunt Caryn, I hope you have a most beautiful birthday. I hope that you get spoiled by all your family and friends, and that you can feel the love by all of us who love you so much. I hope you are able to enjoy your day and do something that makes you feel good. On behalf of all of your family, friends, and followers…We love you Caryn Schulenberg! Happy Birthday!

It seems an impossible task, to keep a disaster a secret, and yet that is exactly what the Soviet Union tried to do when disaster struck on April 26, 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. Chernobyl is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history. In terms of cost and casualties, and it is one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven, which is the maximum severity, on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The other disaster was the well known 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan that was caused by a tsunami.

On April 28, 1986, two days after monitoring stations in Sweden, Finland and Norway began reporting sudden high discharges of radioactivity in the atmosphere, the Soviet Union finally broke the news by way of their official news agency, Tass. Two days!! In the realm of nuclear contamination, two days is an eternity!! When the Soviet Union finally told the world, Tass simply said there had been an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. They didn’t say they had tried to hide it, but two days of no response tells me they did. The initial emergency response, together with later decontamination of the environment, ultimately involved more than 500,000 personnel and cost an estimated 18 billion Soviet rubles, which is roughly $68 billion US dollars as of the dollar value in 2019.

It was determined that the accident had started during a safety test on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor. During testing a simulation of an electrical power outage was used to help create a safety procedure for maintaining reactor cooling water circulation until the back-up electrical generators could provide power. These units had been tested three times since 1982, but they had failed to provide a solution. On this fourth attempt, an unexpected 10-hour delay meant that an unprepared operating shift was on duty. The power unexpectedly dropped to a near-zero level during the planned decrease of reactor power in preparation for the electrical test. The operators were only able to partially restore the specified test power, putting the reactor in an unstable condition. This risk was not made evident in the operating instructions, so the operators proceeded with the electrical test. Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown, but a combination of unstable conditions and reactor design flaws caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction instead.

The failure caused a large amount of energy to be suddenly released, followed by two explosions that ruptured the reactor core and destroyed the reactor building. One was a highly destructive steam explosion from the vaporizing superheated cooling water. The other explosion could have been another steam explosion or a small nuclear explosion, like a nuclear fizzle. The explosions were followed immediately by an open-air reactor core fire that released considerable airborne radioactive contamination for about nine days. The contamination fell onto parts of the USSR and western Europe, especially 10 miles away in Belarus, where around 70% landed, before finally being contained on May 4, 1986. In addition to the contamination released by the explosions, the fire gradually released about the same amount of contamination as did the initial explosion. As a result of rising radiation levels in surrounding regions, a 6.2 mile radius exclusion zone was created 36 hours after the accident. About 49,000 people were evacuated from the area, primarily the citizens of Pripyat. Later the exclusion zone was increased to 19 mile radius, and an additional 68,000 people were evacuated from the wider area.

When the reactor exploded, two of the reactor operating staff lost their lives instantly. Crews rushed to put out the fire, stabilize the reactor, and cleanup the ejected nuclear core. As a result of the disaster and immediate response, 134 station staff and firemen were hospitalized with acute radiation syndrome due to absorbing high doses of ionizing radiation. In the days to months afterward 28 of these 134 people died, and approximately 14 suspected radiation-induced cancer deaths followed within the next 10 years. Significant cleanup operations were taken in the exclusion zone to deal with local fallout, and the exclusion zone was made permanent. The cities in the zone remain abandoned.

By 2011, an excess of 15 childhood thyroid cancer deaths were documented among the wider population. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has reviewed all the published research on the incident multiple times, and found that at present, fewer than 100 documented deaths are likely to be attributable to increased exposure to radiation. Of course, there is no way to be sure of that information, because “determining the total eventual number of exposure related deaths is uncertain based on the linear no-threshold model, a contested statistical model, which has also been used in estimates of low level radon and air pollution exposure.” When the expected deaths is viewed in “model predictions with the greatest confidence values of the eventual total death toll in the decades ahead from Chernobyl releases vary, from 4,000 fatalities when solely assessing the three most contaminated former Soviet states, to about 9,000 to 16,000 fatalities when assessing the total continent of Europe. In an effort to reduce the spread of radioactive contamination from the wreckage and protect it from weathering, the protective Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sarcophagus was built by December 1986. It also provided radiological protection for the crews of the undamaged reactors at the site, which continued operating. Due to the continued deterioration of the sarcophagus, it was further enclosed in 2017 by the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, a larger enclosure that allows the removal of both the sarcophagus and the reactor debris, while containing the radioactive hazard. Nuclear clean-up is scheduled for completion in 2065.” It is my opinion that if they had acted immediately to evacuate the people in surrounding areas, they might have reduced the number of deaths substantially. Keeping the accident a secret for two days was insane, and very likely criminal.

My dad, Allen Spencer, always had a moustache, but never really cared for a beard. I suppose that in his like of work, as a welder, he might have considered the beard a fire hazard. I know that he always had a few burn marks from the sparks that fly during welding. I know a lot of welders, including my nephew, Garrett Stevens, who have a beard and don’t seem to have any problems, so maybe that isn’t it. I suppose it was just personal preference. Dad did look nice in a beard the two times he had one. It was a contest of sorts, so many men grew out their beard. Dad’s beard looked very nice, and well trimmed…not straggly at all. I think that goes back to Dad’s nature. It is funny that during one of those times Dad had a beard, my Uncle Bill Spencer, Dad’s brother happened to have a booth at a gun show in Rapid City, SD. He decided to take the family to Rapid City to see if we could fool Uncle Bill, who was not expecting us to be there. Dad pulled it off. Uncle Bill was totally fooled, and it was a great joke. It was also a great trip.

My dad was a very disciplined person. He had a specific idea about proper behavior, and he lived up to that expectation. He always dressed up for church, even if he wasn’t wearing a suit and tie, he would wear a nice Western shirt with one of his bolo ties. He always felt like church was a place where respect should be shown to God, and I must agree, although I don’t dress up in the same way my dad did. Nevertheless, respect must be shown in church. I think that is a common belief in church. No matter how people dress, church is a special place, where we can draw closer to God, and honor Him. I will always feel that way about church.

Dad lived in a house full of girls, and because of that, or maybe because it was just his way, my dad was always a man of good manners. I always thought of my dad as a man who could easily have come from an different era…maybe the Victorian era, or other era where the men were very gentlemanly. I suppose that meant that my sisters and I were rather sheltered from the rougher side of society. There was no cussing in our home, no crass behavior…and yet, there was always love. Mom (Collene Spencer) and Dad kissed in front of us, and Dad might lovingly swat Mom on the backside in what was probably the most risqué thing we saw. These were things we never saw as dirty, but rather we saw love. We even joked about them kissing…singing, “Mommy and Daddy are kissing!!” It was our own made-up song, and we loved it. Dad was always the leader of our house. The spiritual head of the house that love built. He showed us the way, and we have all benefitted from the love of our parents. Today would have been my dad’s 97th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. I know you and mom are celebrating with many other family members. We love and miss you very much.

My grand-nephew, Zack Spethman is the tallest person in his family. At 6’4″, he is four inches taller than his dad, Steve Spethman and 1’2″ taller than his mom, Jenny Spethman. While Zack may be tall and muscular, he is also a gentleman, kind, loving…a gentle giant. That’s what his mom calls him, and anyone who knows Zack, knows that it is very true of him. Zack is a hugger. He loves his family and he would give the shirt off his back for any of us. Zack is quick to help anyone who needs help, and he works hard when he is helping someone. Because he is a big, tall guy, he is very strong and can work very hard. It is a big blessing for anyone he is helping.

Zack, like most students, has been dealing with the Covid-19 shutdowns. Having 6 months off from in-school classes has not been easy. Zack is the kind of guy who needs to be around friends. He is quite social, and sitting in front of a computer has not been easy. To make matters worse, Zack likes sports, but with the Covid shutdowns, came a time of little, or no sports. The summer camps were cancelled, and and then when things finally started back up, many of the students, Zack included, were not in shape for play. I’m sure things will come back, but Zack has lost a year of sports as a consequence of the shutdowns. I’m sure you can tell that I, like many people was not a fan of the shutdowns, but that is a topic for another story. On a positive note, Zack loves to sing, and he has begun to fill his time with choir, which is an awesome move on his part.

There are other sports that Zack can and does enjoy, like hiking, swimming, and Zack’s favorite, shooting. Zack is an excellent marksman, and very much enjoys practicing his art. In fact, his whole family loves to go shooting, and his parents are the main reason Zack is such a great marksman. Zack has been shooting since he was a little boy. He knows the proper way to shoot, to clean his gun, and has the proper respect for the gun and for human life. Zack loves to hunt, and was abt to bring home his antelope this year. He and his brothers enjoy being able to help the family finances by bring home a great supply of meat. I think kids get a sense of accomplishment out of being able to do things to help the family finances, whether its buying some of their clothes or supplying some of the food.

Zack is so patient with the younger cousins and his siblings. He never turns down a chance to do something nice for them, like teaching cousin, Adelaide Sawdon how to shoot pool, or making great heart pictures with his sister Aleesia. He also loves the family pets, and all animals, really. He is just so sweet to all of God’s creatures, human or animal, and that makes us all love him very much. Today is Zack’s 16th birthday. Did I mention that he will be driving soon, at least as soon as he can go to the DMV…just a warning. Happy birthday Zack!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My aunt, Doris Spencer has always been such a sweet person. She goes out of her way to make people feel welcome in her home. I remember so many visits over the years. Aunt Doris was a great cook, and man…could she put on a spread. It didn’t matter what was going on in her life, when you were at her house, you were the top priority. Aunt Doris was only interested in one thing…making sure that her guests had a great visit. While Aunt Doris is very focused when it comes to entertaining, she is far from a serious, stuffy hostess. She can be completely hilarious.

My mom, Collene Spencer, and Aunt Doris were best friends when my family lived in Superior, Wisconsin. The two of them always had a great time together. They were almost like two kids. The things they did, like dieting together, even though neither really needed to lose much weight. Nevertheless, they dieted, and if they got really hungry, Aunt Doris would give each of them one Puffed Rice grain…to hold them over. Hahahahahaha!! I can’t say that ever really worked. In fact, I’m sure it didn’t work, but they gave it the old college try. They also tried ketchup soup…basically ketchup and hot water…making a kind of tomato soup. Oh my!! How dieting has changed over the years.

Aunt Doris was a lot like my mom. They both loved to laugh and were not above silliness to get those around them to smile and laugh. Aunt Doris has a generous heart, and is such a kind loving person. During the years that my parents, my sister, and I lived in Superior, Wisconsin, Aunt Doris was a blessing from Heaven to my mom, who was a young woman, just married, and living in a place where she knew almost no one. Aunt Doris was my mom’s sister-in-law as well. Since our family moved from Superior, Wisconsin to Casper, Wyoming, we haven’t have the opportunities to visit her that we had before, and I am very sorry about that. When we got together more often, we were all a blessing to each other. My sisters and I will be going to Wisconsin for a visit this summer, and we are all excited to be able to see Aunt Doris again. Today is Aunt Doris’ 97th birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Doris!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My grand-nephew, Bowen Parmely loves tractors. That isn’t an unusual thing. Many little boys love toy farm equipment, cars, trains, and other forms of toy transportation items, but Bowen is different, because he loves real tractors. Bowen has lived on a farm all his life, and he loves every aspect of farm life, especially Gloria…his parents’ tractor. Bowen likes to ride in the tractor and help work on the tractor. As far as he is concerned, Gloria is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Of course, I’m sure that pat of the draw is doing mechanic work with his dad and grandpa, but also, tractors are cool in just what they can do. I’ve driven a tractor, so I can relate to it.

Bowen is such a sweet boy. I’m told that he is also very kind…and helpful. He likes to help cook, which isn’t always something little boys want to do. They are usually too busy playing to want to cook, but there are some that do and some that grow up to be amazing cooks. I guess for Bowen, time will tell. Whether he grows up to be a chef or not really makes no difference, everyone needs to know how to cook, because you just never know if you will someday live alone.

Bowen loves farm life. Riding horses, and playing with the farm animals, especially the babies is one of his greatest joys. These days, they have some goat kids, and some kittens, which are so cute. The kittens are just getting their eyes open, and they are so tine and cuddly. Bowen and his sisters, Reagan, Hattie, and Maeve love to show the farm animals to everyone who comes to their house. Bowen’s parents, Ashley and Eric Parmely, have grown their farm from just a few animals when they started, to the need to find a bigger place, which is the reason they moved to their current location. Having a bigger place give all the animals, their babies, and the Parmely children lots of room to roam around. That suits the children just fine, because they really don’t like to be fenced in. Bowen and his sisters love being farm kids, and his mommy wanted me to make sure I mentioned that “Bowen loves tractors!! So, did I mention he loves tractors? Today is Bowen’s 4th birthday. Happy birthday Bowen!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

The race to space was not without the unfortunate casualties here and there. Nevertheless, as a whole, it has been a very safe program. The first deaths experienced by the United States, in the NASA program were those of Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967, when he Command Module interior caught fire and burned, during a pre-launch test on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy. At that time there was no interior latch, so the men could not escape the burning module. It was a terrible tragedy for the NASA program and the nation as a whole. The United States had been involved in a “race to space” with the Soviet Union, and the fire was a terrible setback…not to mention the horrific loss of life.

On April 24, 1967, just a few short months later, the Soviet Union also experienced a tragic set back, when Soviet Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov is killed when his parachute failed to deploy during his spacecraft’s landing. Komarov, a fighter pilot and aeronautical engineer, was testing the spacecraft Soyuz I at the time of the catastrophic failure of the parachute. He had made his first space trip in 1964, three years before the doomed 1967 voyage. After 24 hours and 16 orbits of the earth in Soyuz I, Komarov was scheduled to reenter the atmosphere, but ran into difficulty handling the vessel and was unable to fire the rocket brakes. It took two more trips around the earth before the cosmonaut could manage reentry. When Soyuz I reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, a parachute was supposed to deploy, bringing Komarov safely to earth. Unfortunately, the maneuvering problems he had caused the lines of the chute had gotten tangled and there was no backup chute. When Soyuz I reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, a parachute was supposed to deploy, bringing Komarov safely to earth. Komarov plunged to the ground and was killed.

Things in the Soviet Union were different than in the United States, and Komarov’s wife had not been told of the Soyuz I launch until after Komarov was already in orbit. Sadly, she did not get to say goodbye to her husband. Komarov was considered a national hero, and there was vast public mourning in Moscow. Komarov’s ashes were buried in the wall of the Kremlin. Space flight is dangerous, a fact that is well known to all who venture into its corridors. Despite the dangers, both the Soviet Union and the United States continued their space exploration. The United States landed men on the moon just two years later. Everyone was determined to see the program through, as they continue to be to this day.

My aunt, Deloris Johnson was a beautiful woman, inside and out. She has a shy, but sweet smile, and loving way about her. She loved to sing and dance, and to show other how to do so too. My mom, Collene Spencer would always remember learning the hat-dance when her sister was in fifth grade and she in kindergarten. It was a dance Aunt Deloris had learned in school. All her siblings learned the hat-dance, and all were excited about it, because Aunt Deloris was excited about it. Her excitement was contagious. Life was like that for Aunt Deloris, always some new adventure to excite the soul.

Aunt Deloris was never afraid to try something new, and I believe that had she not left us so soon, she may have discovered some very cool things. They may not have been some world-changing discoveries, but they would have been very cool. She was always figuring out a way to make things work better. Things like inventing the first shoe-watch, although she did not get credit for it. She also invented the great flying trench coat, and took my mom for the maiden flight in that “vehicle.” Of course, it didn’t exactly fly, but it made you feel like you were flying, and my mom never forgot that flight.

Mom and Aunt Deloris were just 5 years apart, and as often happens in families, they were best friends, as well as sisters. Their interests were similar, as were their personalities. My cousin, Ellen talks about her mom’s quirky ways, and I can tell you that my mom shared her sister’s quirkiness. They were both known for their silliness. They didn’t care if their special style of creating laughter was a little less than dignified, all they cared about was that it worked. The loved laughter, and they always seemed to be right in the middle of the laughter in a crowd…and I’m here to tell you that their laugh was very contagious, as was their own personal brand of teasing. I am reminded of the time my grandma, Hattie Byer, their mother, was over having her large family of children arguing while the dishes were being done. She yelled at the kids that she didn’t want to “hear another peep” out of any of them. They all knew that was the final say. Grandma always meant business when she yelled at the arguing kids. As silence reigned over the room, I doubt if any of the kids considered saying anything, including Aunt Deloris, but then suddenly and without warning, Aunt Deloris uttered the forbidden, “Peep!!” Now, having been that mischievous child myself, I can tell you that she may not have even realized that she was about to challenge her mom, but there it was, and her siblings assumed that her life was over. Nevertheless, somehow, her life was spared, simply because Grandma could not hold back the laughter over such a ridiculous response. When Grandma laughed, everyone else knew that disaster had been averted, and they laughed too. I can jut picture it, and each time I picture it, I laugh all over again. It was just a typical Aunt Deloris response to the situation, and it was hilarious. That’s just how Aunt Deloris was. Today would have been Aunt Deloris 90th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Deloris. I know you will have a day filled with laughter. We love and miss you very much.

There are many trails or roads that stretch across this world that seem to be simply a way to get from point A to point B, and indeed, that is what many of them are, but there are some that hold a very different meaning. One such road is the Great Ocean Road in southern Australia. The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 151 mile stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford. The road was built by soldiers who had returned from war between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I. The Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest war memorial. It is an interesting kind of memorial, winding through varying terrain along the coast and providing access to several prominent landmarks, including the Twelve Apostles limestone stack formations. The road is an important tourist attraction in the region.

The road would likely have been a huge tourist attraction, without the memorial as part of the attraction. I has gorgeous views of the ocean, as well as lighthouses along the way. It can be driven the entire way, but there are trails to walk along it as well, which would really be the thing I would find interesting. Along the way you can see limestone formations like the Twelve Apostles, but also one called the London Arch. It used to be the London Bridge, so I wonder if it was connected to the land at one time. The area has also been well known for shipwrecks, in fact, it is called the Shipwreck Coast. Ships wrecked there include Thistle (1837), Children (1839), Unknown French whaler (1841), Lydia (1843), Socrates (1843), Cataraqui (1845), Enterprise (1850), Essington (1852), Freedom (1853), SS Schomberg (built Liverpool, named after Charles Frederick Schomberg, sunk 1855), John Scott (1858), Golden Spring (1863), Marie Gabrielle (1869), Young Australian (1877), Loch Ard (1878), Napier (1878), Alexandra (1882), Yarra (1882), Edinburgh Castle (1888), Fiji (1891), Joseph H. Scammell (1891), Newfield (1892), Freetrader (1894), La Bella (1905), Falls of Halladale (1908), The Speculant (1911), Antares (1914), Casino (1932), and City of Rayville (1940), among others. Over 50 shipwrecks are commemorated in a Historic Shipwreck Trail beginning at Port Fairy.

There are a number of tourist attractions along the Great Ocean Road, besides the Shipwreck Coast west of Cape Otway, including the Surf Coast, between Torquay and Cape Otway, providing visibility of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean. The road winds through rainforests, as well as beaches and cliffs made of limestone and sandstone, which is susceptible to erosion…hence the limestone stacks. As the Great Ocean Road nears Geelong, the road moves along the coast, with tall, almost-vertical cliffs on the other side of it. Of course, there is the possibility of falling rocks, but it doesn’t deter the tourists. I have never had the pleasure of being a tourist along that beautiful stretch of road, but I really think I might enjoy it if I ever got the chance.

Many people know that April 20th is Hitler’s birthday, not that most of us would celebrate that fact. Nevertheless, for the Allies in World War II, at least on April 20, 1945, that day meant something. Not because it was Hitler’s birthday…no, it was because the Allies had a plan. The Germans had been in control in much of Italy, and their advancement had to be stopped. As always, there were multiple campaigns planned on any given day in the war. One planned attack, called Operation Corncob, was to send Allied bombers into Italy to begin a three-day attack on the bridges over the rivers Adige and Brenta to cut off the German lines of possible retreat on the peninsula. They knew that Hitler would be otherwise occupied, it being his birthday and all…and so he was.

Hitler was actually occupied for more reasons than just his birthday, as Soviet artillery had begun shelling Berlin at 11am on his 56th birthday. Preparations were being made to evacuate Hitler and his staff to Obersalzberg to make a final stand in the Bavarian mountains, but Hitler refused to leave his bunker. So, Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler left the bunker for the last time. Operation Herring had begun the day before, with American aircraft dropping Italian paratroopers over Northern Italy, and with Operation Corncob came the other half of the attack, which was to remove the bridges and thereby halt the expected retreat of the German forces. I doubt if Hitler knew anything about these attacks, I’m sure his mind was on his upcoming suicide, a death which some say didn’t really take place, and a fact which we will never know for sure.

The Allied attacks of April 1945 on the Italian front, were intended to end the Italian campaign and the war in Italy, and to decisively break through the German Gothic Line, the defensive line along the Apennines and the River Po plain to the Adriatic Sea and swiftly drive north to occupy Northern Italy and get to the Austrian and Yugoslav borders as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, German strongpoints, as well as bridge, road, levee and dike blasting, and any occasional determined resistance in the Po Valley plain slowed the planned sweep down. Allied planners decided that dropping paratroops into some key areas and locales south of the River Po might help wreak havoc in the German rear area, attack German communications, and vehicle columns, further disrupting the German retreat, and prevent German engineers from blowing up key structures before Allied spearheads could exploit them. Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery, commander of the Commonwealth 8th Army, had a number of Italian paratroopers at hand for the task.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler celebrated his 56th birthday with a traditional parade and full celebration, while a Gestapo reign of terror took the lives by hanging of 20 Russian prisoners of war and 20 Jewish children, at least nine of which were under the age of 12. All of the victims had been taken from Auschwitz to Neuengamme, the place of execution, for the purpose of medical experimentation. Hitler and his Third Reich didn’t fully understand it then, but they were finished, and the end was coming quickly.

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