During and before World War II, and even after to a large degree, women were not allowed to hold combat positions, but the Soviets found that the enemy was fast encroaching on them, and there was no other choice. Using female bombardiers was even more undesirable, but Adolf Hitler had launched Operation Barbarossa, which was his massive invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941. By that autumn, the Germans were pressing on Moscow, Leningrad was under siege and the Red Army was struggling. The Soviets were desperate.
Marina Raskova, who was also known as the “Soviet Amelia Earhart,” had brainstormed the idea of a female squadron. She was famous not only as the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force but also for her many long-distance flight records. Marina had been receiving letters from women all across the Soviet Union wanting to join the World War II war effort. Oh sure, they could go in as nurses, secretaries, or in some other support roles, but these women already knew how to fly. They had been training in air clubs all over the Soviet Union. They wanted to be gunners and pilots, flying on their own. Many of these women had lost brothers or boyfriends, and many had seen their homes and villages destroyed. Raskova petitioned Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to let her form an all-female fighting squadron. Stalin wasn’t too keen on the idea, but it soon became apparent that they had no other choice.
On October 8, 1941, Stalin agreed to the plan and gave orders to deploy three all-female air force units. These women were going to be full-combat soldiers. They would not only fly missions and drop bombs, they would return fire too. With this action, the Soviet Union became the first nation to officially allow women to engage in combat. Previously, even women pilots could only help transfer planes and ammunition. Then, the men took over. Raskova quickly started to fill out her teams. She had more than 2,000 applications to choose from. She selected about 400 women for each of the three units. These were not long time pilots, but rather, most were students, ranging in age from 17 to 26. Those selected moved to Engels, a small town north of Stalingrad, to begin training at the Engels School of Aviation. The women underwent a highly compressed education, and were expected to learn in a few months what it took most soldiers several years to grasp. The only thing in their favor was that they already knew how to fly, just not in combat. Each recruit had to train and perform as pilots, navigators, maintenance and ground crew. Then the positions were assigned. The women faced skepticism from most of the male military personnel who believed they added no value to the combat effort, and called them “princesses.” Raskova did her best to prepare her women for these attitudes, but they still faced sexual harassment, long nights, and grueling conditions. “The men didn’t like the ‘little girls’ going to the front line. It was a man’s thing.” Assigned Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, which was a bare-bones plywood biplane, the women flew under the cover of night. These light two-seater, open-cockpit planes were never meant for combat, and were often referred to as “a coffin with wings.” Made out of plywood with canvas pulled over, the aircraft offered virtually no protection from the elements. Flying at night, pilots endured freezing temperatures, wind, and frostbite. In the harsh Soviet winters, the planes became so cold, touching them caused skin to stick and rip off. They were given uniforms handed down from the men, and boots that were too big, and had to have the toes stuffed, so they would not slip.
In the air, they braved bullets and frostbite, while on the ground, they battled skepticism and sexual harassment. Nevertheless, in the air, they were so feared and hated by the Nazis that any German airman who downed one of these planes was automatically awarded the prestigious Iron Cross medal. All told, the unique all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazi targets. And in doing so, they became a crucial Soviet asset in winning World War II. The Germans nicknamed them the Nachthexen, or “night witches,” because the whooshing noise their wooden planes made resembled that of a sweeping broom. “This sound was the only warning the Germans had. The planes were too small to show up on radar, or on infrared locators,” said Steve Prowse, author of the screenplay The Night Witches, a nonfiction account of the little-known female squadron. “They never used radios, so radio locators couldn’t pick them up either. They were basically ghosts.”
Due to both the planes’ limited weight capacity and the military’s limited funds, the female pilots didn’t have some of the basic necessities. Parachutes were deemed a “luxury” item. The added weight was just too much. They also didn’t have radar, guns, and radios. They were forced to use more rudimentary tools such as rulers, stopwatches, flashlights, pencils, maps, and compasses. Because these planes flew slower than the stall speed of the Nazi planes, they were very good at maneuvering out of the way of the German planes, making them hard to target. They also could easily take off and land from most locations. Still, there was a downside too. Whenever they did come under enemy fire, the pilots had to duck by sending their planes into dives, because most of them carried no defense ammunition. If they were hit by tracer bullets, which carry a pyrotechnic charge, the wooden planes would burst into flames, killing the crew.
One of the biggest drawbacks was that the Polikarpovs could only carry two bombs at a time…one under each wing. Two bombs per plane was not going to make much of a dent in the German targets, so the regiment sent out up to 40 two-person crews a night. Each would fly between 8 and 18 missions a night, returning to base to re-arm between runs. The weight of the bombs forced them to fly at lower altitudes, making them a much easier target, which is why they only flew missions at night. Each mission found the planes traveling in packs. The first planes were used as bait. Their job was to attract German spotlights, which provided the pack with much needed illumination. These bait-planes, rarely had ammunition to defend themselves. They would release a flare to light up the intended target. The last plane would idle its engines and glide in darkness to the bombing area. It was this “stealth mode” that created their signature witch’s broom sound. While these women were a formidable foe, they were also women. The Night Witches followed 12 commandments, the first of which was “be proud you are a woman.” They might be fierce killers of the Germans, but in their downtime they were still women. They did needlework, patchwork, decorated their planes and danced. They even put the pencils they used for navigation into double duty as eyeliner.
The last flight of the Night Witches took place on May 4, 1945…when they flew within 37 miles of Berlin. Three days later, Germany officially surrendered. According to Prowse, “the Germans had two theories about why these women were so successful: They were all criminals who were masters at stealing and had been sent to the front line as punishment, or they had been given special injections that allowed them to see in the night,” both of these “theories” make me laugh, like the female pilots couldn’t be just that…excellent fighter pilots in their own right. Altogether these capable, albeit “crazy” heroines flew more than 30,000 missions, or about 800 per pilot and navigator. They lost a total of 30 pilots, and 24 of the flyers were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Marina Raskova, who had spearheaded the movement, died on January 4, 1943, when her plane was shot down on a mission very near the front line. Hers was the very first state funeral of World War II and her ashes were buried in the Kremlin. The all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment, despite being the most highly decorated unit in the Soviet Air Force during the World War II, was disbanded six months after the end of the war. When the big victory-day parade in Moscow was held, they weren’t included, because it was decided that their planes were too slow. Amazing!!!
Author of Looking Backward:2000-1887, Edward Bellamy, wrote in the novel first published in 1888 novel, asked his readers to imagine a scene in which a time-traveler from 1887 reacts to a technological advance from the early 21st century that he describes as, “An arrangement for providing everybody with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will.” It’s amazing to me that many writers of fiction, see the future in a way most of us can’t. Their imaginations manage to picture a future that sometimes, proves to be uncannily like real life in the future. Jules Verne was that way too.
In Bellamy’s imagination…almost inventor-like, this astonishing feat would be accomplished by a vast network of wires connecting individual homes with centrally located concert halls staffed round-the-clock with live performers. Of course, that would be a difficult task to pull off, but in the end, someone else took care of the finer points of Bellamy’s vision. As we all know, today we can turn on a radio, whether plugged into the outlets in our home, or a portable version that we carry around, and of course, these days every smart phone has the ability to listen wirelessly to radio stations, watch television, and download all the music our hearts could desire.
Bellamy’s vision came to pass much sooner than the 2000 predicted date, and without all the wiring he thought would be needed, but he wasn’t too far off in what the end outcome would be…at least for the homes. I doubt it ever occurred to him that it could all be done wirelessly, or that telephones could have the same capability and much more. Of course, at that time, telephones were still in their very primitive stages. On October 1, 1920, Scientific American magazine reported that the rapidly developing medium of radio would soon be used to broadcast music. A revolution in the role of music in everyday life was about to be born.
“It has been well known for some years that by placing a form of telephone transmitter in a concert hall or at any point where music is being played the sound may be carried over telephone wires to an ordinary telephone receiver at a distant point,” began the bulletin in the October 1, 1920 issue of the popular science monthly, “but it is only recently that a method of transmitting music by radio has been found possible.”
People still argue about radio’s origins to this day, but its basic workings had been understood for upwards of 20 years at the time of this announcement. It was only in the years immediately following World War I, however, that radio made the transition from scientific curiosity to practical technology. Then, by late 1919, Britain, the United States and elsewhere were beginning experiments that would lead to the breakthrough use of radio not just as a replacement for the telegraph, but as a communications and entertainment medium. The idea that Bellamy suggested, was coming to pass…a full 81 years sooner than he had expected.
It was those experiments that led to the public announcement in Scientific American. “Music can be performed at any place, radiated into the air through an ordinary radio transmitting set and received at any other place, even though hundreds of miles away,” the report continued, noting that “the music received can be made as loud as desired by suitable operation of the receiving apparatus.” “Experimental concerts are at present being conducted every Friday evening from 8:30 to 11:00 by the Radio Laboratory of the Bureau of Standard. The possibilities of such centralized radio concerts are great and extremely interesting.” Bellamy’s dream had come to pass.
When someone is killed in a war, we are always in the hope that they will be found quickly, and identified by their friends, so that their remains can be returned to their family for a proper burial. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Nevertheless, we hope that the time passing between death and identification is a very short amount. Unfortunately that was not the case with Carl David Dorr, who was one of the 429 sailors and Marines killed on board the USS Oklahoma when it was sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Only 35 people on the ship were positively identified and buried in the years immediately following the December 7, 1941, military strike, according to the Defense Department. The unidentified remains were buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which fills the Punchbowl crater in Honolulu. For 77 years, Dorr’s family has been waiting and wondering what became of him. They knew he was at Pearl Harbor, and that he was on the USS Oklahoma. The bodies were there, but they could not be identified. I can’t think of anything that would be more frustrating than that. Sadly, the wait was beyond long…it was 77 years. When I think about his family, first losing their 27 year old son, and then not being able to bury their son. They died without that closure.
Carl’s family, like most American families, gathered around the radio on December 7, 1941. The news was grim. They didn’t know much yet, but they knew Carl’s ship had been attacked. With sinking hearts, they tied to hold out hope that by some miracle, he had survived. Then, they received the crushing news that he was missing in action…then, presumed dead. After the Defense Department began DNA collection in 2009, his family provided samples in hopes that one day it would help identify Carl’s body, his nephew said. His mother kept an heirloom photograph in her living room “so she could keep an eye on him,” Thomas Dorr said. She was able to see her son every day, even if he never made it home at all. And, of course, he never did, at least during their lifetime.
Recently, the DNA provided for identification purposed, finally paid off. Dorr’s body was finally identified, and he was going home at last. About 15 of Dorr’s relatives walked onto the tarmac of South Carolina’s Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. As they watched, a flag-draped coffin was lowered from the plane into a hearse. “There was nothing but dead silence,” Carl’s 70-year-old nephew, Thomas Dorr, who lives in St. Johns, Florida, told CNN. “I knew that what I was experiencing was history.” Carl David Dorr was finally going to be laid to rest, and how fitting that his funeral would be held on the same day that he died, December 7, but 77 years after the day he died…Pearl Harbor Day.
When dealing with one of the world’s more horrible murdering dictators, armies will try just about anything to take them down. Adolf Hitler seemed to be one of those dictators who just couldn’t be taken down. He even flaunted it in the face of his enemies, sending it across the airways, that he was still alive, even after they tried to kill him again. July 21, 1944, was one of those times when Adolf Hitler took to the airwaves to announce that the attempt on his life has failed and that “accounts will be settled.” Not only was Hitler good at dodging a bullet, but he was arrogant too.
On this particular day, Hitler had survived the bomb that was meant to take his life. He didn’t get off unscathed, however. Hitler suffered punctured eardrums, some burns and minor wounds, but nothing that would keep him from regaining control of the government and finding the rebels. In fact, it only took a mere 11½ hours, to put down the coup d’etat, that was supposed to accompany the planned assassination of Hitler. In Berlin, Army Major Otto Remer, believed to be apolitical by the conspirators and willing to carry out any orders given him, was told that the Fuhrer was dead and that he, Remer, was to arrest Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. But Goebbels had news for Remer. Hitler was alive. He proved it, by getting him on the phone, because the rebels had forgotten to cut the phone lines. Hitler immediately gave Remer direct orders to put down any army rebellion and to follow only his orders or those of Goebbels or Himmler. Remer obeyed and let Goebbels go. The SS then snapped into action, arriving in Berlin, which was now in chaos, just in time to convince many high German officers to remain loyal to Hitler.
What followed forth rebels was hideous. Arrests, torture sessions, executions, and suicides were the order of the day. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, was the man who actually planted the explosive in the room with Hitler. He had insisted to his co-conspirators that “the explosion was as if a 15 millimeter shell had hit. No one in that room can still be alive.” But it was Stauffenberg who would not be alive for much longer. He was shot dead the very day of the attempt by a pro-Hitler officer. There was no trial, and no second chance given. The plot was completely demolished.
Then, Hitler set out to restore calm and confidence to the German civilian population. At 1am on July 21, Hitler’s voice broke through the radio airwaves: “I am unhurt and well…. A very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible…and stupid officers had concocted a plot to eliminate me… It is a gang of criminal elements which will be destroyed without mercy. I therefore give orders now that no military authority…is to obey orders from this crew of usurpers… This time we shall settle account with them in the manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed.” The attempt on his life was over, and Hitler would live…to die another day.
War is tough enough without having a traitor in the mix, and when a traitor is involved, things get even worse. One such traitor of World War II, was Mildred Gillars, aka Axis Sally. Apparently, Gillars, an American, was a opportunist. In 1940, she went to work as an announcer with the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio. At the time, I suppose that she did nothing wrong…up to that point. In 1941, the US State Department was advising American nationals to return home, but Gillars chose to remain because her fiancé, Paul Karlson, a naturalized German citizen, said he would never marry her if she returned to the United States. Then, Karlson was sent to the Eastern Front, where he was killed in action. Gillars still did not return home.
On December 7, 1941, Gillars was working in the studio when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was announced. She broke down in front of her colleagues and denounced their allies in the east. “I told them what I thought about Japan and that the Germans would soon find out about them,” she recalled. “The shock was terrific. I lost all discretion.” This may have been the the last time she had any self respect. She later said that she knew that her outburst could send her to a concentration camp, so faced with the prospect of joblessness or prison, the frightened Gillars produced a written oath of allegiance to Germany and returned to work. She sold out. Her duties were initially limited to announcing records and participating in chat shows, but treason is a slippery slope. Gillars’ broadcasts initially were largely apolitical, but that changed in 1942, when Max Otto Koischwitz, the program director in the USA Zone at the RRG, cast Gillars in a new show called Home Sweet Home. She soon acquired several names amongst her GI audience, including the Berlin Bitch, Berlin Babe, Olga, and Sally, but the one most common was “Axis Sally”. This name probably came when asked on air to describe herself, Gillars had said she was “the Irish type… a real Sally.”
As her broadcasts progressed, Gillars began doing a show called Home Sweet Home Hour. This show ran from December 24, 1942, until 1945. It was a regular propaganda program, the purpose of which was to make US forces in Europe feel homesick. A running theme of these broadcasts was the infidelity of soldiers’ wives and sweethearts while the listeners were stationed in Europe and North Africa. I’m was designed to promote depression. I guess her aversion to the ways of the Japanese and Germans wasn’t so strong after all. She also did a show called Midge-at-the-Mike, which broadcast from March to late fall 1943. I this program, she played American songs interspersed with defeatist propaganda, anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks on Franklin D. Roosevelt. And she did the GI’s Letter-box and Medical Reports 1944, which was directed at the US home audience. In this show, Gillars used information on wounded and captured US airmen to cause fear and worry in their families. After D-Day, June 6, 1944, US soldiers wounded and captured in France were also reported on. Gillars and Koischwitz worked for a time from Chartres and Paris for this purpose, visiting hospitals and interviewing POWs. In 1943 they had toured POW camps in Germany, interviewing captured Americans and recording their messages for their families in the US. The interviews were then edited for broadcast as though the speakers were well-treated or sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Gillars made her most notorious broadcast on June 5, 1944, just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, in a radio play written by Koischwitz, Vision Of Invasion. She played Evelyn, an Ohio mother, who dreams that her son had died a horrific death on a ship in the English Channel during an attempted invasion of Occupied Europe.
After the war, Gillars mingled with the people of Germany, until her capture. Gillars was indicted on September 10, 1948, and charged with ten counts of treason, but only eight were proceeded with at her trial, which began on January 25, 1949. The prosecution relied on the large number of her programs recorded by the FCC, stationed in Silver Hill, Maryland, to show her active participation in propaganda activities against the United States. It was also shown that she had taken an oath of allegiance to Hitler. The defense argued that her broadcasts stated unpopular opinions but did not amount to treasonable conduct. It was also argued that she was under the hypnotic influence of Koischwitz and therefore not fully responsible for her actions until after his death. On March 10, 1949, the jury convicted Gillars on just one count of treason, that of making the Vision Of Invasion broadcast. She was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. In 1950, a federal appeals court upheld the sentence. She died June 25, 1988 at the age of 87.
At a time when television was in the very early stages of its existence, and not really available to the public, people got their entertainment from the radio. People listened to everything from news, to music, to fictional shows, which were of course, acted out only by the actors verbalizing the parts. Most of the shows were a normal story line, probably often Westerns, and so the people were able to distinguish the fiction from the news. On this day, October 30, 1938, all that changed, when the Mercury Theater company decided to put Orson Welles on the radio in the H.G. Wells novel, War Of The Worlds. Welles had previously been the voice of The Shadow, which apparently was not a show that the people took seriously, even though it was scary. The same would not be true with War Of The Worlds, which was a dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth. I find it odd that people would believe either show, but that is beside the point.
Orson Welles was just 23 years old when War Of The Worlds was first broadcast on air, but he had been in radio for several years. The War Of The Worlds show was not planned to be a radio hoax, and Welles had no idea of the havoc the show would cause. The show began on Sunday, October 30, at 8 pm. A voice announced: “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells.” Sunday evening was considered prime time in the world of 1938 radio. Apparently, the show prior to this one wasn’t very good, and so many people tuned in too late to hear the announcement that the War Of The Worlds was a science fiction story, and the story was already underway. Welles introduced his radio play with a spoken introduction, followed by an announcer reading a weather report. Then, the announcer seemingly abandoned the storyline, and took listeners to “the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.” Dance music played for a while, and then the scare began. An announcer broke in to report that “Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory” had detected explosions on the planet Mars. Then the dance music came back on, followed by another interruption in which listeners were informed that a large meteor had crashed into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. At this point, those who tuned in late, were wondering what was going on, and maybe the ones who tuned in on time were wondering too.
Soon, an announcer was at the crash site describing a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me…I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it…ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.” The story continued when the announcer said, “The Martians mounted walking war machines and fired ‘heat-ray’ weapons at the puny humans gathered around the crash site. They annihilated a force of 7,000 National Guardsman, and after being attacked by artillery and bombers the Martians released a poisonous gas into the air.” Then they declared that “Martian cylinders” had landed in Chicago and St. Louis. The radio play was extremely realistic. Welles even used sophisticated sound effects and his talented actors did an excellent job portraying terrified announcers and other characters. An announcer reported that “widespread panic had broken out in the vicinity of the landing sites, with thousands desperately trying to flee.”
In fact, that was not far from the truth, because as many as a million radio listeners believed the invasion was real. Panic broke out across the country. In this day and age, this all seems crazy, because we have seen every possible invasion story imaginable, but back then, not so much. In New Jersey, terrified people reportedly hit the highways seeking a way of escape from the alien invasion. People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn’t see their lights. One woman ran into an Indianapolis church where evening services were being held and yelled, “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”
When the studio heard of the panic, Orson Welles went on the air as himself to remind listeners that it was just fiction. It was reported that the show caused suicides, but that was never confirmed. The Federal Communications Commission investigated the program, but found no law was broken. Networks did agree to be more cautious in their programming in the future. Orson Welles worried that the controversy would ruin his career, but the opposite was true. The publicity helped him to land a contract with a Hollywood studio, and in 1941 he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane…a movie that many have called the greatest American film ever made. Of course, there are those who said that the whole thing was a hoax, but I guess we will never know for sure.
In this day of the internet, cell phones, television, and radio, a new form of patriotism has emerged. The rights our American soldiers fought for are in peril. In a year in which many Americans were offended by literally everything, and the internet, specifically Facebook, has become one of the greatest sounding boards there is, everyone has stepped up to the plate to state their views and yes, even to hear the views of others. Of course, hearing the views of other people, is not always something that is well received. Sometimes, people lose sight of the fact that since we each own our own Facebook page, we also have the right to say what we want to say. Others may not agree, but that doesn’t matter, because this is our page…our right to free speech.
Of course, people with differing views have the right to challenge our views…to state their own case, as it were, but they don’t have the right to challenge our right to speak our own opinion on our own page. If we are offended by the views of another person, we need to move past the post. Never is this more evident than when the opinions of one person in a family offends another, and they decided to take things to the next level…unfriending. I won’t do that, because while I will state my opinion, and I will respect the rights of my friends to post what they choose, and to debate my opinion, the family connection is far too important to me to argue in such a way.
In history, patriots had to go to the place they were going to protest. And of course, by the time they could get there, it was probably too late to protest. I suppose maybe our politicians were more honest back then, or maybe we just didn’t know all that was going on. It has been said that some presidents would never have been elected if we could have seen them. That is so true, and sometimes I think maybe that should be how it is today. If race, gender, and maybe even party affiliation weren’t able to be seen, who would we elect? That might be something to think about. Maybe we need to stop giving a pass because of race or gender, and make the politicians do what’s right.
Lots of people have been to a professional baseball games these days, but in years gone by, if you didn’t live in a city that had a professional baseball team, you just didn’t have much opportunity to attend a professional baseball game. I’m sure that attendance was never stellar, and maybe that was the reason for broadcasting the games originally by radio, and later by television, and then finally on our computers and phones. Lots of people can’t get to the games, and even if they can sometimes, it isn’t often. Since most of us have watched the games on television, we can attest to the importance, to an avid fan, of having a television broadcast.
Up until August 26, 1939, the radio or physical attendance was all we had. All that changed on this day in 1939, when the first televised Major League Baseball game, which was a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and The Brooklyn Dodgers was covered on television from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. What an exciting day that was!! People everywhere, who were previously unable to watch a professional base ball game, got to see it on television. I think this had an explosive affect on the fan base for professional sports. People could finally pick a favorite team and actually see them play sometimes, because let’s face it, not all of us live in a town that hosts a professional team in any sport. And yes there are a lot of fans that love sports of any kind, but can’t get to a game.
Of course, as anyone who has ever attended a game in person will tell you, the televised version of the game leaves a lot out of the actual view of the game. They do the best they can, and they do a very good job, but being able to see the instant replay helps clarify the actions of the game immensely too. And when you think about it, half the fun of being there is ball game food. That adds to the whole experience, and while you may be able to make ballpark franks at home, they just don’t taste quite the same as they do when you are at the game. Maybe it’s about all the food smells in general. So while televised games have definitely not taken away from the number of people in attendance at the games, it has expanded the fan base to include those who can’t be at the game in person. August 26, 1939 was a big day in Major League Baseball. It meant much more than just being able to see the game on television…it brought baseball into our homes in a very real way, and that was amazing.
While in Wisconsin to visit relatives, we stopped at the graves of my grandparents, my dad’s parents. It was very strange to be standing in the very spot where they lie resting…to be so close to their physical beings. I never knew my grandparents. Grandpa died before my parents were married, and Grandma when I was six months old. I always had only one set of grandparents, and I always felt like something was missing. My friends had two sets of grandparents, or at least they had known their grandparents, before they had passed away. But I didn’t. That always felt strange to me, and maybe a little bit lonely. I only had a picture or two, and the memory of seeing my grandmother in old home movies.
In studying the family history my Uncle Bill put together, as well as the pictures taken by my grandparents and their families, I am starting to put together a picture of what they might have been like. While they had the chance to experience some of the more modern things, like cars and television, they also knew of times when the only mode of transportation was horse and buggy, and radio was the entertainment of the day. They were pioneers of sorts, traveling to places around the nation to follow their dreams. They lived in the freezing Northwoods of Minnesota, and the sweltering heat of Texas, but Superior, Wisconsin was, I think, the place where their hearts lived. I believe it was for them, the place they would always call home.
It’s hard for me to picture my grandfather and my Great Uncle Albert setting off to the Northwoods area of Minnesota to make their fortune trapping for the winter. Of course, like most of this type of adventure, while they had success in trapping, they also almost froze to death. My mind can picture these two young men huddled in their blankets near a dwindling fire, trying to look tough to their partner, but finally both had to give up and say, “I quit!!” They would head in to town to find jobs elsewhere, finally settling on the lumber industry. While the work might have been harder and still very cold, it was very likely much warmer at night.
As to my grandmother, who always seemed so tough and capable. She ran a farm and raised four children…often alone, because my grandfather worked for the railroad all week. She made hay, planted a garden, purchased groceries and other supplies for her family and managed to keep her kids out of any real trouble. She lived in the woods, on a farm, and even ran a hotel. She traveled to several areas of the country with her husband and kids, and yet I can see in her face, the gentle and loving mother that she was to her children. I know that she was, because her children always loved and respected her so much. They would rush home from out of town jobs at the end of the summer to help with the haying, and when my dad was in the war, he would do whatever it took to protect the feelings of his mother. He did his level best to keep her from worrying, whether that was possible or not.
My grandparents on my mom’s side were always known to me and I felt the love they had for me. They were sweet, kind, and always glad to see us, but the grandparents on my dad’s side always seemed sort of larger than life. My mom’s parents lived in the same times as my dad’s parents, but since they also lived in modern times, I could see what modern conveniences they had. So it really didn’t seem like they had lived it the old western times, like my dad’s parents had. It didn’t really seem like my mom’s parents could have understood what it was like, but they did. I guess it’s similar to a teenager thinking that their parents can’t possibly know what they are going through…like they were never teenagers. I have discovered that both sets of my grandparents were multi-talented people, who lived in several eras of history, and I believe that in reality, they are all larger than life…or maybe they just lived to the best of their ability.
I always thought I knew so much about Bob’s grandmother on his Dad’s side. We didn’t get to see her as much as we would have liked, but when we did, I was sure I could see in her home, all the things she liked and disliked. Looking around her home you would find the piano and the sewing machine in the living room, along with a small television that was never turned on. Grandma was always working on something. Over the years she made many quilts and afghans, and of course, she sewed many clothing items. Her living room also housed a collection of photo albums, that hold the treasures of her life…her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Her kitchen was a flurry of activity almost from morning until night. The radio was the main, and usually the only form of entertainment and it was usually on the station with the farm and ranch report. It seemed like Grandma was always cooking. Living on a ranch meant that she was up with the sun. Grandpa had to have breakfast early so he could milk the cows and feed the livestock. Lunch was always the biggest meal of the day. After breakfast, Grandpa worked up a big appetite taking care of the animals, and nothing would take care of it like a big home cooked meal.
Grandpa liked to play cards whenever we were there, and we always needed a fourth player, so Grandma was pulled from her duties so we could play. I could always tell that she didn’t feel like she should be sitting down wasting time playing cards, when there was so much work to be done. Nevertheless, she played, because she wanted our visit to be fun for us. She was quick to abdicate her chair, if anyone else was willing to sit in it, however. She finally got a break from cards, when we went to town to visit the rest of the family in Forsyth, or when Grandpa needed to take a nap, which he did every afternoon. But that never meant that she would sit and idly watch television. No, Grandma took that time to bake, clean, quilt, or some other productive activity.
Grandma just never liked having idle hands, which is why I was so surprised to find out that Grandma was a San Francisco 49er’s fan. Football seemed so far outside of her nature that it was something akin to having an elephant sitting in the chair next to you. Now more and more women are getting into sports of all kinds, and watching football on television is a big part of that. I am a Denver Broncos fan, myself. But for Grandma, that just seemed so foreign. And then to top it off, I found out that she also loved baseball. Now, more women liked baseball in times past, but it still seemed foreign to Grandma…at least the Grandma I thought I knew. And, I’m not alone in that thought, because my family didn’t know it either. I have to wonder what other little things there are about Grandma that we never knew.