Category Archives: Society & Culture

In The Army Now

Bill Stewart received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Minnesota on December 18, 1941 (See Pt. 2). That was 11 days after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

bill stewart abt 1942I went directly to induction into the military at Ft. Snelling MN. Military service was not completely strange to me because I had two years of ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] in high school. I passed through three training schools. The first in Tulare CA, next at Taft CA and the last at Phoenix AZ. There were “wash outs” but we never knew who or what; they simply disappeared.

I had a great sense of accomplishment when I made my first solo flight. My wings were pinned on me by my flight instructor in bill-stewart usaaf wingsPhoenix. I was one of a group of P38 pilots sent up to Everett WA on a train. No sooner were we off the train than we were sent on another train to Orange County CA airport. Our job was to defend Southern California. Ha! The Air Force was trying to determine where we were needed most.

Shipping out

After two weeks in California we were flown to New York and put on a “banana boat” for shipment to England. The interior of the ship had been modified to accept bunks rather than produce. My good friend Andy Winter and I were standing on the stern of the ship when the gun crew on the deck above decided to let go with three inch deck guns.

My ear drums were blasted at that impact. The ship was sunk later in the war at the Straits of Gibraltar with all personnel lost.

We docked in Scotland. Some of us pilots were stationed at Ayr – a rehabilitation area for exhausted RAF pilots. These were seasoned fighter pilots; we were supposed to learn from them. The US command apparently didn’t know what to do with us. That first day at Ayr we heard that a US pilot had flown into a mountain in the north of Ireland with an Admiral on board.

capt-bill-stewart-blackpool-nov-1943-or-1944I was soon sent to London for treatment for my ear damaged by the deck gun blasts. The doctor treated my ear with a sulpha solution. This was before sulpha was commonly available.

In London I worked in US fighter command headquarters for one month. While there I prepared an accident chart for General Hunter. This was a simple bar chart comparing pilot error accidents with mechanical failure accidents. Most accidents, I confirmed, were caused by pilot error. The General was pleased with my work.

Then I was sent to another air base in England to learn to fly all the different airplanes. There is a use for pilots in many different aspects of war. By that I mean flying in gasoline, bombs and ammo and flying out wounded to hospitals. We didn’t have helicopters for flexible use as are commonly available today.

Tailored Jacket

Discipline was a bit lax in the squadron I was in. But one day when a pilot from Oklahoma came to flight line for duty wearing his western boots, he was very firmly corrected. There was, however, a gradual change in jackets that was not in any of the manuals.

Jacket_Owned_and_Worn_by_General_Dwight_D._Eisenhower_-_NARA_-_7717661_page_1-wikicommons
Gen. Eisenhower’s Ike Jacket, NARA photo

A pilot named Costa reported for flight duty in a handsome jacket none of us had ever seen before. It was of Air Force uniform material with generous shoulder width and a slim waist The jacket, professionally made by a London tailor, was cut off at the waist and patterned after a Cuban dinner jacket. The jacket was so becoming that it soon became popular with other pilots who could afford to have one tailored. The senior officers knew something had to be done before the situation got out of hand. But what to do?

Apparently the senior officers liked the unauthorized jacket so much that they decided to go to the top: General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They wisely named it “The Eisenhower Jacket” and it must have been readily approved.

Pilot Costa was thought to be from a family of Cuban diplomats. He was part of our squadron because he was one of the few men to have experience in a B17. Costa was flying one of the original B17s in the Pacific when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

* See English Channel 1944 for section Bill wrote here.

Squadron Operations Officer

After several months of service, I was made squadron operations officer. But when pilots crashed, disappeared or were transferred, I was not told what happened to them. However, I was asked on several occasions to write letters to the families of deceased pilots.

Another problem for me was the lack of instructions. For example, I was sent to investigate and report on crashed aircraft. I did not feel qualified to properly do this job but probably was better qualified than the other pilots. Did I have the authority to go on another air base and question the ground crew of the crashed airplane? I made a natural assumption that the pilot was the ultimate person to determine whether a plan was flyable and not the ground crew.

Preparing for a flight of P38s from England to Africa, one pilot objected to the flying readiness of the aircraft. The ground officer of the departure field threatened to bring charges of insubordination against him. I was one of the pilots, not the squadron leader, so I had no jurisdiction over the situation. The pilot apparently ran out of fuel over the Straits of Gibraltar and crashed. He died.

Later a general asked me if I wanted to lead a squadron of P38s on a flight to Africa. I said I did not. The general did not take kindly to this response. Several weeks later I was reprimanded verbally by another general over the phone.

bill-stewart-in-32nd-Lightning-built
“Bill Stewart in the 32nd P38 Lightning ever built”

I still think that I am correct that the pilot determines the flying readiness of an aircraft. All aircraft are not in proper condition all the time. In Germany I had 21 stretcher cases and one or two nurses and one engine was missing fire. I immediately turned the aircraft around and landed.

Memorable Flights

Among my memorable experiences is the flight where I had a planeload of British prisoners captured at Dunkirk. So they probably had been in France or Germany almost seven years. The ex-prisoners would come up to the cockpit and look ahead to the land of England and cry. I helped them a little bit on this one because I cried too. Their teeth were in deplorable condition but they were so happy. These men were still fairly young.

I also had the opportunity of flying repatriates from Buchenwald concentration camp. I did not even turn off the motor of the airplane. Someone else directed the loading and bench seating along the sides of the plane. Then I quickly took off. During the war the pilots did not know what was going on on the ground, such as the concentration camps and crematoria. We knew nothing about that. The leadership knew but intelligence told us only what they wanted us to know.

bill-stewart-B17-1944-mid-Atlantic
“Bill Stewart in B17, 1944 Mid-Atlantic”

I wish to mention one other incident because of the unusual severity of the situation. In the summer of 1944 Andy Winter and I were flying a B17 from England to Oklahoma City. At approximately 2 a.m. we took off from the Pan American air base at Belem, Brazil.

It was my turn to pilot on this leg of our journey. We immediately entered an intense rainstorm. I had never before seen or experienced rain of such volume and force. No lightning, no thunder. Just rain and turbulence. This was above the estuary of the Amazon River. I was flying by hand since we had no operating automatic pilot. The B17 was acting like one of those twenty five cent bucking broncos at fun places! I was surprised that the airplane could take it. But it never missed firing in this deluge. I was exhausted when we landed at Puerto Rico.

Commercial Pilot’s License #283070

I was honorably discharged from the service 22 Oct 1945. I had earned the rank of Captain sometime in 1943 and probably had flown about twelve different heavy aircraft. Upon discharge I was awarded a Commercial Pilot’s License to fly multi-engine aircraft. License number 283070: I held in my hand what I had worked toward for so many years.

I had accomplished my lifetime goal. But my values had changed. I Marji Smock Stewarthad to make a decision. Did I want to continue flying and being away from home? Or did I want to seek a non-traveling job? By this time I had been away from friends and loved ones more than nine years, which had a profound effect on me and my ultimate decision.

I loved my family and, by now, a pretty girl named Marji. I placed a stable family life and marriage above a flying career with its financial rewards and recognition.

Thanks and Apologies

I appreciate the Air Force teaching me to fly. The feeling of unbounded freedom in the sky does indeed increase one’s confidence. I needed that. Also there is that spiritual bond to one’s creator when you know that the only thing between you and death is a higher power.

flying-fortress-Boeing_Y1B-17_in_flight-USAF-wikipedia
B17 or “Flying Fortress” in flight, USAF photo

My profound thanks to the British people. I was there three years. Although I had very limited time for personal contacts or sightseeing, I appreciated their courtesies and their strengths.

And my apologies to the new PX in Germany for an incident sometime in 1945. If it was my plane that brought you a planeload of cups – A, B, C and D – I had nothing to do with choosing brassieres instead of paper cups!

bill-stewart-ca-1987We in Bill Stewart’s family are very grateful to the men who fired the deck guns on that transport ship. The ear damage Bill sustained prevented him from becoming a combat pilot. Their life expectancy in WWII was 4 weeks.

My professor and friend Dr. George Park was a US combat pilot who, thankfully, did survive. He said he loved flying. So I asked if he’d thought about becoming a commercial pilot after the war. No, he laughed, the kind of flying he’d learned didn’t translate well. Wouldn’t make for a reassuring flight for civilian passengers.

Next: Life on Civvy Street.

The Birthday Lunch

The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark on Amazon.ca
Tap for Amazon.ca

Maybe it’s because Sussex NB is now my hometown. Or maybe it’s because Joan Clark wrote an amazing book about family and place. Whatever, I read her 2015 The Birthday Lunch with only grudging stops for my own lunch.

It’s about a death, sudden and unexpected, and how the woman’s husband, kids and sister cope. It mostly takes place over the following week, summer of 1981 in Sussex. The shock, the whys and hows, the obituary, what would she want done, the funeral. In the course of that week, we learn about the lives of these people and their friends, neighbours and family members present and past.

Downtown_Sussex-2006-Rangeley-wikipediaThe son having believed he may have fathered a child with a local girl seemed a pointless tangent, according to a reader’s review I read. But keep following that string. It will give you the skein that is life in a small town. Your history is not yours alone, everyone in town shares in it. Ms Clark isn’t slapping you in the face with this, but the intertwining of lives is there on almost every page.

Neighbours and friends aren’t slapping it in anyone’s face either. They are just there, like the streets, worn hills and creeks. A woman who watches passersby on Main Street with binoculars sees a lot more than who’s walking where. A neighbour, knowing from the loss of her husband how painful words of condolence can be, silently leaves meals for the family on their doorstep. These are good, but not cloyingly good, people. They simply have learned from their own hardships.

The person who has learned lessons from her problems, but maybe not the most useful ones, is the dead woman’s sister. Laverne is probably the least likeable character in the whole story but one who lives the most interesting life inside herself, inside her walls. She has done something that I’ve never thought of, yet once you read it, you think well, why not?

Woman with a Child in a Pantry

Pieter_de_Hooch_007-woman-with-a-child-in-a-pantry-ca-1658-rijksmuseum-wikicommonsLaverne lives inside a 17th century painting. (The book, of course, explains this.) Noted in passing is that she doesn’t care that the woman and child are missing in her rendition. They’re central to the artist. But to Laverne, I think, what’s central is the artist and maybe the sense of love or belonging. Conveyed in a painting, there is no reciprocal obligation. In her small time capsule, she is central. She does not share any of this with anyone else, not even really with her sister.

Another peripheral, but important, character, is fascinated by Laverne’s creation and thinks of how he can use it. Does he wonder about who this woman is that she could, and did, do it? No. But he’s mightily impressed by her ability to adapt architecture and real light to perspective and painted light.

A beautiful book about Sussex. A beautiful book about anywhere where an accident causes a family and a town to grieve. Regret and remember. Come together in some places and pull apart in others.

Laverne made asparagus and Stilton soup and  scallops for the birthday lunch. Here’s how I make any cream soup.

English Channel 1944

William Stewart, a US Army Air Force Captain in World War II, tells about his flight across the English Channel on December 15, 1944. Enemy planes were a risk, yes, but so too was the weather.

bill-stewart-usaaf English Channel postI was standing back of the pilot in a B17 stripped down bomber with about 17 pilots on board. I was flight operations officer for our squadron. We all were riding as passengers, flying over the English Channel and back to our base in England.

I was not trying to tell the pilot how to fly the plane. He was a better pilot than I. But I wanted to see the weather ahead through the pilot’s window.

Fog and clouds were the major nemeses for countries surrounded by water. Most of the deaths in my squadron were caused by fog or poor weather and only a few by mechanical failure. I was surprised to have spent so many hours over France and Germany – flying gasoline, ammo and bombs in and wounded out – and not taken any gunfire to my airplane. But, while flying over Muenster in Germany one day, I struck a balloon cable between my fuselage and right engine. This ripped all the de-icing boot off my right wing but it didn’t bring me down. I was flying an old dependable DC3 or, as some call it, a C47.

Foggy English Channel

So, this December day, crossing the English Channel, I was looking out the front of the cockpit to see how bad it was ahead of us. The weather was terrible to say the least. Most think of the weather as moving from west to east. But it forms and changes all the time in place.

vloa Spitfire - wwii photo Bill Stewart
Photo of Spitfire taken by Capt Bill Stewart from his plane, 1943 UK

We were flying about 100 feet off the water in what looked like a tunnel. This tunnel obviously was made by the heat of aircraft engines ahead of us; there was no air movement.

Suddenly the pilot said “That looks like an airplane on the water down there.” I had not seen anything. Maybe we had met another plane or overtaken another. Things happen quickly when you meet head on, each going over 150 miles per hour.

bill-stewart-wwiiI asked the pilot if we had enough gasoline to get back to Paris and he said “No.” This is an example of a difficult and tight situation. Most are not as bad as this but there are many bad ones.

The pilot continued to fly ahead. Soon we could see the cliffs of Dover or a similar place dead ahead. When we got close to the cliffs, the pilot turned north. The tide was out, thus we had a sandy beach if we had to crash. We all had to look up to see the church steeples and houses on top of the cliffs. The pilot was an excellent flyer and, by radio, the co-pilot somehow located a control tower and airfield close by. This was one of the most difficult situations I was ever in during my years of flying in England.

Glenn Miller, Air Force Major and band leader

Glen-Miller-Major-US-Army-Air-Corps-wikicommons disappeared English Channel 1944We landed at some RAF base near the coast. Only a superb pilot could have found it and lined up with the runway in near zero visibility. Later the next morning we learned that a plane flying Glenn Miller had disappeared over the channel.

There may not be any air movement, yet fog just forms in still air. You don’t realize that, unless you are flying in it. Over water, fog is a real killer for pilots. The pilot has no horizons.

Glenn_Miller_Band-1940-1941-rayanthonyband.com-wikicommonsBill Stewart (1915-2005) is my father-in-law. This is from an unpublished memoir he and his wife, Marji Smock Stewart, wrote. He never knew if the plane that pilot saw in the water was Glenn Miller’s plane. But it was that same day, same place.

NB Regiment K.I.A. on D-Day

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, France d-day cropped wikicommonsThe North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landed at Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. They landed at what was code-named Nan Red Beach, near Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. Thirty-five were killed in action that day in Normandy, and two the next day.

D-Day 75th-CBC-News-Network-Beny-sur-mer-norman-kirbyYesterday at the Bény-sur-Mer cemetery in France, North Shore (NB) Regiment veteran Norman Kirby paid tribute to his comrades in a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The Canadian Mint commemorated that anniversary with a silver dollar. It features Private George Baker from Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Pvt. Baker survived D-Day and the rest of the war. He passed away in 2003.

coinweek.com-royal-canadian-mint-30-jan-2019 d-day pvt-george-herman-bakerHis image was taken from film footage of the North Shore (NB) Regiment landing at Normandy.

North Shore (NB) Regiment R.C.I.C. deaths on D-Day

Below are the names of those who did not survive that day, taken from Canadian Fatal Casualties on D-Day (pdf). I have added information about each of them that I found online. All but a few are buried at Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France.

North-Shore-Regt-A-Co-Jan-1944-veterans.gc_.ca
Front Row: Chambers, W. P., Cpl. Peller, L. A., Caroceau, F. E., Noel, A., Fraser, G. J., Adair, R. W., *Kingston, E. S., Saunders, R. M., McKibbon, C. R., Hooper, O., MacIntosh, J. A., *Blanchard, A., Beauieu, R.?, Daigle, J. W. Second Row: Col. Savage, F. S., Cogar, F. H. R., Brown?, M. S., Doyle T. E., ?, D. H., Sgt. McCormack, H. ?., Sgt. Russell, H. R.?, Sgt. Rigley, E. J., Lieut. F. D. Moar, Major J. A. MacNaughton, The Commanding Officer Capt. J. L. Belliveau, Lieut. M. M. K–, Lieut M. Telfrey?, Lieut. C. S . *Mersereau, C.S.M. Pa/oley, M. L., C.O.M.S. Gilcrist, O., Sgt. Cleveland, G., Daley, G. H., Lewis, L. G., St. Croix, B. P. Third Row: Kesey, W., Swift, R. J., Kirby T., Cpl. *Walsh, J. P., Johnston, P. G., Campbell, C. C., L/Cpl. Ryan, G. P., Branfeld, C., Cpl. Savage, J. R., Hebert, W. J., Lloyd, R. A., L/Cpl. Garman, M. J., Maltais, L., Breas, A. J., Lee J. R., Allard, A. H., Fouge-, C. J., Patterson, R. S., L/Cpl. *Walker, J., Gorman, J. W. Fourth Row: Baker, G. H., Andrews, ?. R., McFarlane?, R. J., St. Pierre, L., Caissie, P. S., Richard, L., Haches, E., Sta– , ?., — F. E., Di– J. F., Breau?, F. J., Hutchison, A., Kinsella, F, J., L/Cpl. Clark, G. S., England, G., Harding, ?. B., Cpl. Nolan, V. J., Ferrada?, R. J., *Forker, H. A., Aker, R. A., Robichaud, A. Fifth Row; *Irving, A. E. S., Cl–, R. J., L/Cpl. Ste– M. W., LeBlanc, A., Cobb, F. H., Lisette, A. J., Savage, E. J., Savage? V., L/Col Lastaigne, P. J., Gouchie, V. S., Crowel, O. N., Daley W., Thorne, M. F., Cripps, G. E., Archer, H. F., Barry, J. A., Brown, R. B., Comeau, T. W., –? Sixth Row: Springer, C., Burke, W. G., Betts, M. V., *McLeod, G. B., Barnaby L., Budge, W. ?., LeBel, L. P., F– W., Cpl. Vienneau, W., Coullard?, A,, Geher?, H. J., *Gallan, C. S., Fi–, A. J., Martin, S., Bathe?, J. F., Cpl. Currie, R. J., Daigle, A., Ga–, T., L/Cpl. MacDonald, G. A. (* KIA D-Day, see below)

ASHFORD, Roger Alfred Edward, 38, Private, B/68655.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Alfred Henry and Florence Ashford, of St. Catharines, Ontario.
Born 5 Nov 1906 Selbourne UK. Enlisted 27 Apr 1943 Hamilton ON.

BLANCHARD, Alfred, 22, Private, G/23165.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Benoit and Laura Blanchard, of East Bathurst, New Brunswick.

BRANSFIELD, Claude, 21, Private, G/23034.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Ambrose and Frances Carroll Bransfield, of Escuminac, Northumberland Co., New Brunswick.

CLANCY, Rupert, Private, G/22885.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born Chatham NB.

CLOUSTON, Murns Sydney, 26, Sergeant, G/22325.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of James and Francis L. Clouston, of East Bathurst, Gloucester Co., New Brunswick.
Born 17 Apr 1918 East Bathurst NB

victor-charles-crabbe-1940CRABBE, Victor Charles, 28, Corporal, G/18306.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Charles Colby and Geneva Bertha (née Burlock) Crabbe; husband of Katharine J. Crabbe (née Scott), of Argyle, Carleton Co., New Brunswick.
Born 3 Jan 1916 in Peel NB, married 1936, two children. Enlisted 21 May 1940 Woodstock NB

DALEY, Harold Stanley, 22, Private, G/22937.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Stanley and Annie Daley, of Chatham, New Brunswick.
Born 15 Apr 1922 Chatham NB

DOUCET, Aldie, 24, Private, G/23445.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Wilfred and Beatrice Doucet, of D’Aulnay, Gloucester Co. New Brunswick.

ELLIOTT, Bruce Franklin, 26, Sergeant, G/19083.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of George Burton Elliott and Emily Elizabeth Elliott; husband of Alfreda Marie Elliott, of Kentville, King’s Co., Nova Scotia.

ELLIS, Gordon Hubert, 23, Private 1st Bn., G/22375.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of William James Ellis and Lucy Melvina (née Good) Ellis; husband of Joan Norah Ellis, of New Carlisle, Bonaventure Co., Quebec.
Born 10 Mar 1921 Salmon Beach, Bathurst Parish NB

FORKER, Norman Alexander McEwen, 21, Private, D/137992.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Alexander McEwen Forker and Sarah Forker, of New York City, U.S.A.

GALLAN, Clyde Sydney, 20, Private, G/29013.
Bayeux Memorial, France.
Born 9 Apr 1924 New Carlisle, Que. Enlisted 5 Sep 1942 Fredericton NB
Son of Howard and Sarah Gallan, New Carlisle, Que.

GIONET, Antoine, 25, Corporal, G/23530.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Leon L. Gionet and of Zenobie Gionet (née Pailin), of Middle Caraquet, New Brunswick.
Born 10 Sep 1917 Caraquet, Gloucester Co NB

HACHE, Bernard, 24, Private, G/18987.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 10 Jan 1920 Riviere du Portage NB. Enlisted 18 Jun 1941 Woodstock NB.
Son of Marcel and Marguerite Haché

HACHE, Lionel, 24, Private, G/18858.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 3 Jun 1920 Upper Caraquet NB. Enlisted 10 Jun 1941 Tracadie NB.
Son of Edward and Arma Haché, Burnsville NB

IRVING, Andrew Edison Stewart, 23, Private, G/22858.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of William Wallace Irving and Ruby Irving, of Millbank NB.
Born 20 Dec 1920 Millbank NB. Enlisted 12 Jun 1940 Chatham NB.

Emerson-Robert-James-junobeach.orgJAMES, Emerson Robert, 18, Private, B/131672.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Roy and Elsie James, of Hamilton ON.
Born 28 Jul 1925 London ON. Enlisted 21 Aug 1942 Hamilton ON.
His father was in the Canadian Merchant Marine. His brother Capt. William Albert James was also overseas, according to the Hamilton Spectator 12 January 1945.

KINGSTON, Earl Stewart, 28, Private, G/23245.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 29 Feb 1916 Bay du Vin NB. Enlisted 6 Jun 1941 Newcastle NB. Husband of Agnes Kingston.

LANDRY, Levie Joseph, 22, Private, G/51472.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Alex and Delphine Landry, of Upper Sackville NB. His brother Denis Joseph also fell.
Born 23 Jul 1921 Upper Sackville NB. Enlisted 1 Jan 1943 Fredericton NB.

(Landry, Denis Joseph, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. Born 28 Dec 1919 Upper Sackville NB, enlisted 16 Jan 1944 Borden ON. Died 31 Oct 1944 Service No G/59546. Buried Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, Netherlands)

LEWIS, Harold Thomas, 26, Private, G/32609.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Amos and Belinda “Linnie” (née Sabean) Lewis, of Port Lorne, Annapolis Co NS; husband of Elsie Mae Lewis, of Port Lorne.
(ancestry.ca gen records has 1900-1944 for him, while age 26 would mean born 1918)

James Ralph Main veterans.gc.ca
L/Cpl. J. Ralph Main

MAIN, James Ralph, 29, Lance Corporal, G/22152.
Bayeux Memorial, France.
Son of Amos and Jane E Main of New Carlisle, Bonaventure Co Quebec.
Born 21 Jul 1914 New Carlisle, Que. Enlisted 9 Jun 1940 Campbellton NB.

MALLALEY, John Thomas, 33, Private, G/23340.
Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, France.
Son of Thomas and Clara Mallaley (née Clara Jane Carrier?), of Lorne, Restigouche Co NB; husband of Opal Mallaley, of Lorne.
Born 1 Jan 1914 Lorne NB. Enlisted 9 Jul 1941 Rivière Jacquet NB.

MERSEREAU, Cyril Seton, 28, Lieutenant.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Claude Middleton Mersereau and Brigid Mary McGinley. Born 4 Jan 1916 Bathurst NB

John-A-MacNaughton-from-R-Walsh-at-James-M-Hill-HS-MiramichiMacNAUGHTON, John Archibald “Archie”, 47, Major.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of John Archibald and Maria MacNaughton, of Black River Bridge NB; husband of Grace Helen MacNaughton, of Black River Bridge.
Born 7 Oct 1896 Black River Bridge NB. Enlisted 7 Jun 1940 Chatham NB. Also in WWI ,104th Battalion, then 26th Battalion.

Major Archie MacNaughton, D-Day Heritage Minute

McCORMACK, Hugh Michael, 22, Sergeant, G/22831.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 29 Jun 1921.

McLEOD, George Bud, 27, Private, G/60509.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 6 Feb 1917.

PALMER, Earl Roderick, 21, Private, G/28691.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 20 Jan 1923, from St. Stephen NB

Randolph-Pitre-ctvnews.caPITRE, Randolph, 21, Private, G/52076.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 11 Jun 1922 Bathurst NB. Enlisted 6 Jul 1941 Richibucto NB.
Son of Joseph Pitre and Josephine Watson of Big Cove NB, Elsipogtog First Nation. (CTV News: NB students travel to Normandy to visit Canadian war graves)

RIGLEY, Edward Joseph “Ned”, 23, Sergeant, G/22845.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Born 7 Sep 1920.
(brother-in-law of A Company 7 Platoon Commander Lt. Fred Moar, who survived war)

ROY, Joseph Edgar, 21, Private, G/23307.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Jerome J P and Louise Roy, of Petit Rocher Nord NB.
Born 9 Sep 1922. Enlisted 9 Jul 1941 Woodstock NB

Albert-Joseph-Savoy-junobeach.orgSAVOY, Albert Joseph, 27, Corporal, G/22044.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Adolphe and Marie (née Pélagie) Savoy; husband of Pearl (née Lloyd) Savoy, of Escuminac, NB.
Born 10 Jan 1917 Chatham NB. Enlisted 10 Jun 1940 Chatham. 1 son.

STRANG, Arthur William, 26, Private, G/22728.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
s/o Jacob Ross and Jane Annie (née Stymiest) Strang, of Price Settlement, Northumberland Co NB; husband of Kathleen Ellen Strang(née Shepard) , of Price Settlement.
Born 28 Jan 1918 Tabusintac, Northumberland Co NB. 2 daughters.

Private Arthur Strang, video by Stephen Wilson

WALKER, John Ernest, 24, Lance Corporal, G/22835.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of George and Hazel Walker; husband of Rita Walker, of Hassocks, Sussex, England.

WALSH, Joseph Patrick, 28, Lance Sergeant, G/23259.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of James and Nellie Walsh, of Doyles Brook NB.

WIGGINS, Lambert Whitfield, 29, Corporal, G/18379.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers, France.
Son of Lambert Williams Wiggins and Florence Alberta Wiggins, of Mars Hill, Maine USA.
Born 20 Apr 1915 Muniac NB. Enlisted 4 Apr 1940 Woodstock NB.

D-Day Memorial, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer

canadian-memorial D-Day st-aubin-sur-mer-veterans.gcOn the D-Day memorial at Saint-Aubin, the North Shore (NB) Regiment names are engraved on the left side. Two more men, killed in combat the following day, are also included.

AURIAT, Jean Marie Joseph, Private, F/65252.
Douvres-la-Delivrande War Cemetery, Calvados, France.
Son of Francois Auriat and Victoire Montes, Saint-Front, Saskatchewan.
Three of his brothers were also in the Canadian Forces. Marcel, like his brother Jean, joined the North Shore (NB) Regiment. (See Auriat-Lamoureux Family History at saskhistory.ca.)

jean auriet and brothers wwii saskhistory.ca
Jean, Marcel, Albert and Paul Auriate, 1944 Le Patriote saskhistory.ca

CORMIER, Azade, 19, Private, G/23432.
Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France.
Son of Joseph and Marie Cormier, of Pokesudi, Gloucester Co., New Brunswick.

Battle of Normandy begins

Three hundred and fifty-nine Canadians died on D-Day. More than 5,000 Canadians were killed in the following two months during the Battle of Normandy, and more than 13,000 wounded. To all who died and all who survived, thank you.

Canadian Assaults D Day map junobeach.org
From What is D-Day? An FAQ – Juno Beach Centre junobeach.org (tap to enlarge)

Other sources

Soldiers’ photos came from the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Veterans Affairs Canada.

CBC has more on Archie MacNaughton and his Heritage Minute.

At Maple Leaf Up, you can read about the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment on “the longest day”. See Nation and State for more on the film taken during the landing.

Jump!

I’ve wondered what real jockeys think about horse racing novels. Especially those where newcomers – human and horse – manage against all the odds to win THE BIG RACE. It’s a frequent, and beloved, theme. National Velvet, The Black Stallion.

cover of Jump! by Jilly Cooper
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Jockeys know too well the years of blood, sweat, tears and broken bones that go into racing. Trainers do too. For the horses, many may be called but an infinitesimal number make it to the top races. So when I read the back cover of Jump! by Jilly Cooper, I was dubious. An older woman finds a horribly injured filly – and the rest is racing history. However, I absolutely love Jilly Cooper’s novels. Especially the Rutshire horsey ones. if anyone can do justice to the horse world with this premise, I thought, she can. And she does.

It takes a village

It takes a village to get a horse to the races. Fortunately our heroines, horse and human, can call on a village full of trainers, riders and wannabe owners. All of them love racing and most love horses. Enough of them have money. Horse_racing_Paul-2009-Bangor-on-Dee-wikicommonsThe wherewithal for preparing a horse – and a Jilly Cooper story – is here. The truly good, the selfish and silly, those evil to the core, and all points between. In this novel, Jilly Cooper keeps a curtain drawn on most of the evil done. Thank heavens! Some descriptions of horse “training” in her earlier books still give me nightmares.

So it works. It’s classic Jilly Cooper and as true to life as any of her tales of the English horsey set life may be. The covers of her books alone tell you what to expect. A fun, racy (in all senses) farce. Many people, horses, dogs, cats – all with huge personalities. A lot of sex, a lot of drinking. Schemes and manipulation. It’s as competitive off the course as on.

cover of Mount! by Jilly Cooper
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You get pulled into this world and you happily live there for as long as you can. You want to keep reading to find out what happens next. But you don’t want to come to the end either. So like many of the characters, you face a difficult choice. It’s just not as difficult as the choices that the characters must too often make. I thought I had read all Jilly Cooper’s novels so was delighted to find Jump! (2010). Looking further, I found another, Mount!, published in 2016. Jump! is about hurdles and steeplechase while Mount! is about flat racing. I can’t wait.

You could start reading the Rutshire Chronicles with Jump! since it’s set much later than the others. And the major characters are new. The main characters of the earlier ones are in Jump! but you can figure out their history.

Real-life Jump!

Amazon link for UnbreakableLooking through Amazon.ca, I found this book. A 41-year old countess and a little mare compete against top Nazi riders in a Czechoslovakian steeplechase just before World War II. It sounds like Jump! and National Velvet put together – but it’s a true story. Unbreakable is about Lata Brandisová and her horse and their 1937 Grand Pardubice. (tap image for link)

Today is Derby Day in Kentucky. Best of luck and safe ride to all the horses and jockeys!

Rwanda 25 years ago

Lest we forget: 25 years ago a genocidal massacre in Rwanda started. Nearly a million killed in 100 days. Here is what it was like, a couple months after it ended, at one killing site. A church and school in Zaza in south-east Rwanda.

arriving zaza 25-sep-1994 photo d stewartI know that we’re going to see a well…

We get to the wells, They’re side by side. You can stand right on the lip of the well, if you’re brave enough.

‘Please remember, don’t cross over the slab. And don’t fall in! Please!’

We have some soldiers with us. Airborne guys from one Grizzly that was travelling with us. So when I’m coming up to the well, there’s already ten or fifteen people already milling around. Some are retching. I realize that this is the well. This is the well lip. These are the bodies.

They’re not right on the surface, they’re maybe ten feet below and there’s water in there and there’s probably five bodies that we can see. I don’t know what’s underneath, I don’t want to know.

bodies-in-well-25-sep-1994 photo d stewartI see a woman sprawled out, face up. She has – I don’t notice it at first – but she’s got a silver bracelet on. It’s hard to see. It was kind in the shadows. Her hand was at the side of the well. I couldn’t really make it out but it was a close-fitting silver bracelet.

‘Why do you remark on the bracelet?’

Because it wasn’t a naked dehumanized corpse. She had something that obviously she found pretty or that had meaning for her. Something that she used to dress herself up with. She was a human who had, you know, probably had liked pretty dresses, and pretty cloth and jewellery. And it was still on her. Nothing else was. It showed that she’d been alive.

The well was at a school in Zaza…

We’re stepping over four or five inches of broken glass, of wood, of nails. The bodies had all been destroyed one way or another. The place had been burned, I guess to try to get rid of the evidence.

burned-school-25-sep-1994 photo d stewart‘The room over there was somewhat of a torture chamber.’

‘It must have been rooms for students. Look at this book. This is children’s writing. In Kinyarwanda, English, French. They were learning to cook. This one – how the flowers grow, with drawings of flowers. These are children’s books that they used to study with.’

‘How many were killed?’

‘Some estimate over a thousand people. In here there must have been lots of murders because you can still smell the smell but you can’t see any bodies.’

We go into these rooms…

They’re dark and there’s black stuff stuck to the floors and the walls. If you had a wall with chewing gum stuck on it and then burned, that’s what it would look like.

‘All of this on the walls, from the experts that have been with us, this stuff here is human tissue, bone matter, skin. And then it was burned.’

‘There’s bullet holes right up the wall.’

‘I wonder what this tool is. Well, it’s a farming tool but I bet you they used it to hack people with. So these people here obviously suffered. Jesus, it was not an easy death. That, there, must be bone matter too.’

‘There’s a pile over there – there’s a chapel with a pile of bones, human bones, children’s bones. And it was burned. So they made kind of a camp fire to stay warm at night.’

bones-campfire-zaza-church-25-sep-1994 photo d stewartAs you walk in, on the wall that’s on your left, there’s a big dark brown stain, low on the wall. And then coming up from it, going up in an arc, a splattered arc, curving to the left above this blob, there’s dark splatters of blood. And also curving to the right there’s another arc of splatters.

‘Look at this arc, how high it is. And it’s in kind of a v-shape, eh? So the person who was standing here. It’s like somebody was with a paintbrush, whipping it.’

Somebody was macheted here…

Where their body was is the large stain. You can see where they would have been chopped in one side of the neck and that would have produced that arc. And they would have been chopped on the other side and that would have produced that arc.

I can imagine this, I can look at what’s the indicators of this death. A kid or an adult crouched there. With their head down, trying to protect themselves. And I can see a hand with a machete. Hacking, hacking, hacking. But I can’t attach that arm to anything.

‘Can you put a face on the person that did this?’

No, I can’t. No, I can’t put a face on the people that did that. I don’t think that I could put a face of a monster on. It would be the face of anybody, I think.

zaza outside school 25-sep-1994 photo d stewartI took no pictures of the room described here. It was too dark, too hideous. There was nothing left except trace evidence. That was almost worse.

Tap or click the pictures to enlarge them. The “voices” in the text are mine, the documentary producer, and Canadian Forces officers in the room in Zaza. It is from Rwanda Maps, for CBC Radio Newfoundland. I took the photographs for myself, to remember.

Also see my post Rwanda. You can listen to Lt.-Gen. (Retd) Roméo Dallaire on today’s CBC Sunday Edition.

A Great Reckoning

Usually I read an author’s acknowledgement page first, even if it’s at the back of the book. But when I started A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, for some reason I didn’t. And for that I am so thankful. Maybe it was Inspector Armand Gamache telling me – leave it, let the story tell its tale.

My three pines in misty morning photo d stewartMs Penny’s acknowledgements are heartfelt and heartbreaking. So too is her novel. After reading the last page of the novel, and letting my emotions and thoughts settle, I read the acknowledgements. Ah, I should have known. I should have known where this book fit in Ms. Penny’s real life story. But not knowing while reading it made both all the more moving.

This 2016 novel, 12th in the series, gives the history and geography of Three Pines. It explains some of the mysteries of this isolated little village in Quebéc’s Eastern Townships. It also tells some of the backstory of Inspector Gamache. I wasn’t sure, while reading, that I wanted to know these things. The formative aspects of Armand Gamache and Three Pines were mysteries, yes, and ones I no longer felt I needed to know about. But their telling was good. Knowing more of their histories hasn’t diminished my appreciation for either him or the village.

There are many reckonings in this book, murder being the central one. Many reverberations of Shakespeare’s line in As You Like It: “It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” Ms Penney uses that as her introductory quote. Paying up, consequences.

A Great Reckoning is best if you know Three Pines

I think this is the most beautiful book in the entire series. But don’t start with it. To see the beauty, and significance, you need to know Three Pines and Inspector Gamache’s history in the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force. It’s good also to already know the odd assortment of village residents. Then you get the full import of this story.

World War I is part of A Great Reckoning too. No matter what time of year you read it, that will stand out for you. But if you like to mark November 11th with a special personal tribute, read it then. If you haven’t read the series, you could start now and easily get to this one by Remembrance Day.

Amazon.ca for A Great Reckoning
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Thank you, Ms Penny. It must have been very hard for you writing this book. I’m so glad you did. It will stay with me, phrases and images that bring a smile and a tear.

Louise Penny’s website has a lot about Three Pines and writing as well as the complete order of novels. There are two more published after A Great Reckoning and a new one due in August 2019 entitled A Better Man.

King’s Curse

the king's curse amazon link
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The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory is about Henry VIII. It was published in 2014. Despite knowing this, I kept checking the publication date because of passages like this:

Dear God, I’d never tell the truth to this king… He has become a man quite out of control of his teachers, of the priests, perhaps of himself. There is no point giving the king an honest opinion, he wants nothing but praise of himself. He cannot bear one word of criticism. He is merciless against those who speak against him. (p. 495)

In 2019, two years into US President Donald Trump’s reign, The King’s Curse reads like subversive allegory. That is unintentional of course. It was written pre-Trump. Also Philippa Gregory is a historian, and keeps her imagination true to historical likelihoods.

A passage in her author’s note, about “how easily a ruler can slide into tyranny,” is chilling, though. And it applies equally to those born to the position or elected.

Because no one effectively defended

As Henry moved from one advisor to another, as his moods deteriorated and his use of the gallows became an act of terror against his people, one sees in this well-known, well-loved Tudor world the rising of a despot. He could hang the faithful men and women of the North because nobody rose up to defend Thomas More, John Fisher, or even the Duke of Buckingham. He learned that he could execute two wives, divorce another, and threaten his last because no one effectively defended his first. (p. 603)

Henry VIII just wanted people to like him. He was a breath of fresh air at the beginning. Accomplished in everything he did, young and handsome, in love with his Queen Katherine. But then it went wrong. His moral compass, it seems, centred on himself. The belief system and welfare of the country took second place to what he needed. And he needed a son. So began his complete upheaval of everything sacred and secular in Britain. For Henry, the political was extremely personal.

Lady Margaret Pole

Unknown_woman_formerly_known_as_Margaret_Pole_Countess_of_Salisbury_NPG_retouched-wikicommons
possibly Margaret Pole, National Portrait Gallery

The King’s Curse tells Henry VIII’s story from boyhood, when he was the “spare”, to midway through his six wives. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, tells the story. She is a York from the Plantagenet line of British monarchs. The Yorks wore the white rose in the War of the Roses, opposed to their cousins, the Lancasters, whose emblem was the red rose.

Henry VIII’s father was the first Tudor king. Henry VII took the throne after defeating Richard III, the last Yorkist king, in battle. So Henry VIII was desperate for a son to ensure the continuation of the still new House of Tudor. But it lasted only to the next generation. First the brief reign of his young son Edward VI, then his daughter Mary, and finally Elizabeth I. She fulfilled her father’s dreams of empire but, having no children, the Tudor dynasty died with her.

Family_of_Henry_VIII_Allegory_of-Tudor_Succession wikicommons
Tudor Succession: Mary, Henry VIII, Edward, Elizabeth (detail) National Museum Cardiff

The King’s Curse is the last in The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. It also fits in with her Tudor Court novels (philippagregory.com). Despite it being late in the story, you could easily start her books with this one. It stands alone and touches on much of what is in the other novels. For more on those, see my Reading History.

pagination from Touchstone paperback ed. 2014

Roger Gonzales

roger gonzales-poster-april-1989A poster of a young man in Tegucigalpa’s central square. Kidnapped April 19, 1988. It’s in a photograph I just happened to take when I was there one year later. Looking at it recently, I wondered who is he? Thanks to search engines and dedicated searchers for the disappeared in Honduras, I found him. Roger Gonzáles, 24 year old student. Still disappeared.

Last week I’d wondered if Donald Trump remembered anything about the 1980s US interference in Central America. If he really didn’t realize that there might be a connection between then and the caravan of people at the US border now. (see Honduran Contra Camps 1989)

desaparecidos-roger-gonzales-1988 Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras
Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras

Disappeared in 1988: ROGER SAMUEL GONZALEZ

The contradictory responses of the military no longer surprise Elvia Zelaya, mother of the “disappeared” student Roger González.

Roger González, a 24-year-old leader of the Federation of Second-Year Students (FESE) and employee of the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (COHDEFOR), was kidnapped before witnesses on April 19, 1988, at noon, while walking through the Central Park of Tegucigalpa. His captors were two men and a woman dressed in civilian clothes. Subsequently, one of them was identified by a witness as a member of the DNI*.

In the Honduran courts, five writs of habeas corpus were filed in favor of Roger González. In response to these appeals, several members of the DNI, FUSEP* and the First Infantry Battalion denied having Roger González in their custody. In one case, the executing judge was not even allowed access to the cells of the police unit cited in the habeas corpus. A statement by a spokesman for the Armed Forces, according to which Roger González had been captured by FUSEP, was later vehemently denied by agents of FUSEP itself, one of whom added that, in fact, FUSEP was looking for Roger González in relation to a violent demonstration held before the United States Embassy in Tegucigalpa on April 7, 1988.

In May 1988, relatives, friends and colleagues of Roger Samuel González Zelaya began a hunger strike in the Central Park of Tegucigalpa to protest their arrest and demand their release. The hunger strike lasted 23 days, and was suspended when Roger’s mother became ill.

In an interview with the press on October 8, 1988, the then head of the armed forces declared that Roger Samuel González Zelaya was probably hiding somewhere abroad.

However, Fausto Reyes Caballero, a former member of Battalion 3-16* who fled to the United States of America after deserting, testified in a testimony before several human rights groups in 1988 that he had seen Roger González in mid-July in the barracks of Battalion 3-16 in San Pedro Sula.

(Google translation of COFADEH page)

*DNI is Dirección Nacional de Investigación, National Directorate of Investigation (police).

FUSEP is Fuerza de Seguridad Pública, Public Safety Force (police).

Battalion 3-16 was an intelligence unit of the Honduran army “responsible for carrying out political assassinations and torture… Battalion members received training and support from the United States Central Intelligence Agency” (Wikipedia).

“Honduras Accused of Death-Squad Operations”

Julia Preston, in The Washington Post  (Nov. 1, 1988), tells the story of González and others. She wrote about Sgt. Fausto Reyes Caballero:

Reyes said he last visited the [Battalion 316] office in San Pedro [Sula] in mid-July [1988], caught a glimpse there of a pale youth, handcuffed and blindfolded, and was told by a sergeant on duty that the prisoner was Roger Gonzalez. Gonzalez disappeared in Tegucigalpa during a police sweep in which about a dozen Hondurans were arrested after the burning of the U.S. Consulate there April 7…

Honduran police first acknowledged, then denied Gonzalez was in their custody.

donde estas roger-conexihon.hnWhere are you Roger?

“My tongue sticks to my palate
from so much repeating
your name to the wind.
My hands age playing
insensitive gates
They offer me silences for an answer … “

– Fragment of the poem Where are you Roger?, written by his mother Elvia Zelaya.

In a 2017 Conexihon post (Spanish, or see in English), Doña Elvia remembers her son Roger. He’d be 52, she says. She still offers a Mass for him. Aside from protests for answers, that’s all she can do in his memory. “When the mother buries her son, she knows that she is going to put a flower in the cemetery, she is going to visit there,” she says, but “not even that” for her. There still are no answers to what happened to Roger Samuel González Zelaya.

Honduran Contra Camps 1989

Donald Trump calls it “the Democrat Party led… assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador…” (Twitter Oct. 18, 2018). A caravan of migrants started in Honduras, headed to the US border. This is one time when he legitimately can blame his predecessors. Especially the Reagan Republican administration which did everything it could do, legally and illegally, to get rid of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. That included funding an army and basing them in – guess where – Honduras. Honduras and all of us are still paying for that today. This is what I saw at a contra camp in 1989. (Click/tap photos to enlarge.)

Killing Time in the Honduran contra camps

contra-man-seated-photo-d-anger-1989The Sunday Express, August 20, 1989 pp 25, 40

Last week, five Central American presidents signed a peace accord for that region, agreeing to demobilize the Washington-backed rebel army by December 1989. Contra leaders say they will not lay down their arms, but nine commanders have already asked for asylum in the U.S. In April, Dorothy Anger visited the contra camps.

By Dorothy Anger, Special to The Sunday Express

From 1 a.m. until almost daybreak, the slap-slap-slap of hands shaping corn meal into tortillas is the only sound heard in the camp in the jungle of the Yamales Valley in southern Honduras. This is the strategic command base camp of the Nicaraguan resistance army – the contras. Nearer dawn, the noise of roosters and cicadas is joined by noise of the waking troops. The soldiers bathe and do morning exercises before daylight.

At 6:30 breakfast is served from a kitchen hut just outside the barbed-wire which surrounds the camp. Fifteen kilometres from the Nicaraguan border, this is the administrative centre for the 10,000 contra troops. The troops are divided into 26 regional battalions scattered over several kilometres in the valley.

Women and men commandos

Most of the commandos, as they call themselves, are men, but there are some women among them. Now that they are not engaged in active fighting, the women have been removed from combat roles and instead are responsible for cooking. The soldiers said that when they were militarily active, both men and women cooked and fought.

The women, both commandos and civilian family members, seemed shy. They, and the children, avoided me during this visit, only occasionally scurrying by with a pot of food or jug of water. The men, however, were happy to talk about anything from politics to North American music. Most of the men I met were young, in their 20s. However, there were some as young as 13 years old carrying rifles in the drills. They jokes and laughed, talking about being homesick, posed for pictures, wanted to take pictures, and were quite happy to talk in sign language to a non-Spanish speaker like me. No different than the guys on the other side of the border, except that these guys were killing the ones across the river in Nicaragua.

honduran-camp-photo-d-anger-1989Outside the base camp is a collection of plastic-covered tents, hammock shelters and small wooden huts. The soldiers on guard duty are rotated from within the ranks of the regional commands. Some soldiers, such as the five musicians in the camp band, are permanently stationed in these huts. Half a kilometre from the guard post there is a row of wooden shacks where Hondurans sell pop and food or clothing and trinkets to the troops.

USAID Helicopters

Large pine trees, palm trees and ferns cloak the surrounding hills. Helicopters go back and forth all day long from a nearby U.S. Agency for International Development landing pad used to supply the contra. Security measures for visitors to the camp are even stricter since a news photograph was published, showing the USAID helicopters carrying armed contra troops, in direct violation of U.S. regulations prohibiting military assistance by the agency. Everywhere there are automatic rifles – a presence that was very disturbing at first, though I soon stopped noticing them.

Eventually I was allowed into the camp, accompanied by a man who used as his nom de guerre Commander Jackson, and was second in command of psychological operations. With him, I visited a classroom where a human rights class was in progress, a regional command post, and the strategic base command.

contra-classroom-photo-d-stewart-1989Classes are periodically given in literacy, artillery practice and human rights. Human rights in this context does not only mean what the contras must do to ensure they do not violate human rights. Rather, it is mostly an explication of the ways in which the Sandinistas violate Nicaraguans’ human rights. Literacy classes are held less often but are necessary because, according to one estimate, as many as half the contras are unable to read or write. Skill-development classes, such as carpentry, are supposed to be taught in order to prepare troops for return to civilian life, but as yet none have been held.

Salvador Perez regional command

speech-to-soldiers-photo-d-stewart-1989In the Salvador Perez regional command, 500 commandos and some family members live in plastic-covered or wooden huts perched on the side of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a parade ground which doubles as a baseball diamond and volleyball court. I watched a dress rehearsal of military drills being prepared for a visit by American officials the next day. Commander Jackson gave the troops a pep talk, exhorting them to remember the struggle, and the importance of throwing over the so-called communist dictatorship of the Sandinistas. The weapons carried by the soldiers included AK-47 automatic rifles obtained from the U.S. and some weapons taken from Sandinista soldiers. At sunset, the men sang the Nicaraguan national anthem, followed by their own Resistance army hymn. Night fell quickly, as it does everywhere in Central America, and the troops dispersed back up the hill in virtual blackness, to sit outside their tents and talk or play cards by flashlight.

Waiting while war is on hold

Military drills, particularly with arms, are rare now that the contra war is supposedly on hold. They probably provide the most excitement available in a very boring routine. A tiny girl of about child in tent doorway-photo-d-anger-1989three looked out through the doorway of her family’s hut, watched by her grandfather who lay on a hammock inside. A pig strolled across the parade ground during the exercises, causing a recess until it was shooed away.

Back at the strategic command base, there was a bit more excitement this evening, for the guide brought movies with him. The choices are a soft porn movie, “The Terminator” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The VCR machine made the decision for us, giving only Indiana Jones both a clear picture and sound. About 50 men crowded around the rolled-up flaps of the administration tent, standing or sitting on wooden benches, to watch the derring-do of Harrison Ford.

$4.5 million US per month

The overwhelming impression of the camps is of people putting in time. They are no longer actively fighting, but neither are they farming or doing any other type of productive work. They are being paid $4.5 million U.S. per month to be there.

Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the contras over eight years in military and non-lethal aid. Nicaragua has moved ahead elections by six months to February of 1990 as part of a deal which would have demobilized the contras within 90 days. This was the peace plan signed by the presidents of five Central American countries in February of this year. Despite this accord, the Washington administration wants to keep the contras in place until the Nicaraguan elections take place. The American argument is that the contra presence will ensure that the Sandinistas run a fair and open election and that without this threat they would not. The problem is, contra leaders such as Adolfo Calero have stated that, “If it is a free electoral process, it is almost impossible for the Sandinistas to win.” A Sandinista victory, therefore, could provoke charges of unfairness and allow the Americans to justify re-engaging the contras in military action.

Pawns in international games

So for the time being, the soldiers wait, with their material needs looked after but their futures in limbo. They are pawns in the international games of the United States, as ex-contra leaders have said, but they get three good meals a day to be pawns. That is more than they would get in Nicaragua or as civilians in Honduras.

A storehouse by the kitchen hut is filled with sacks of rice and flour. Big slabs of beef are served along with rice and beans for breakfast. Cattle awaiting slaughter are kept in pens near the camps. The men receive soap, toothpaste and other such items. Bedrolls and tents are basic, but durable and warm, and have “U.S. Army” stencilled on them. Cigarette rations are supplied fortnightly.

contra-soldiers-photo-d-stewart-1989The only items in short supply in the camp are cash and information from the outside. The men get about five Honduran limpira a month – enough to buy a couple of beers and a few packs of cigarettes in Los Trojes, the nearest town. Thirty-five kilometres away, Los Trojes is as far as the men can go without special permission and a pass. The town is small, with wide dusty streets with more horses on them than cars. Along the main street in its small wooden or adobe buildings are stores, restaurants, bars, and even a disco and hotel.

No communication but contra radio

But for the most part, the troops stay at the camps or surrounding area if their families are living there. In the camps, they see no newspapers and hear no radio aside from the contra radio station. They have no communication with their families in Nicaragua. Many have been told that family members are dead or imprisoned.

The level of political analysis ranges from simple repetition of anti-communist slogans, from most of the men to whom I talked, to a willingness to consider both sides of Nicaraguan-American history and philosophy, from Pepe, a senior advisor with the contras. His willingness to discuss the possibility that the Nicaraguan people might want a Sandinista government did not extend to permitting such thoughts to be recorded on tape, however. The other extreme, more commonly found, was the opinion that life in Nicaragua would be better under anyone other than the Sandinistas. An 18-year-old recalled how much better life was under the ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza and said he was fighting to restore that. When Somoza was overthrown, he would have been eight years old.

Somocistas, anti-Sandinistas and non-affiliated

There are some Somoza-regime leftovers in the contras. Some others are disenchanted Sandinista supporters. However, most had no overt political affiliation with any side in Nicaragua, but are poor peasants or labourers who volunteered or were recruited by the contras. Coming from these men, the political rationale of oppression in Nicaragua sounds like so much cant. For example, torture by the Sandinistas was frequently given as the reason for joining the contras, although the only example of torture provided was the men’s conscription into the Sandinista army.

Despite the ban on military action, the troops still get to see some fighting. During my visit, they were talking about a recent incursion into Nicaragua and another planned for the next month. And the next week, near the border on the Nicaraguan side, I was told of a recent attack in which contra soldiers repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl in front of her house and then kidnapped her.

Secuestrados

There, I met two “secuestrados,” people who had been kidnapped and held by the contras. In April they and two others were released by the contras after two American doctors and a journalist located them in the camps. The Nicaraguan National Reconciliation Council, a bipartisan committee headed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop, says that 3,000 of the contras are secuestrados. The contra leaders do not like discussing the point, acknowledging only that they “conscript” people.

Dr. Susan Cookson and Dr. Tim Takaro, now living in North Carolina, worked in the northern Nicaraguan province of Jinotega. They knew nine people from the area, including several community health workers, who had been kidnapped by the contras. Finding these people in the Honduran camp was made very difficult by the contra officials, but the doctors succeeded in talking to five of the nine. One young woman to whom they talked did not want to leave the camp. She was pregnant by one of the soldiers and wanted to stay with him.

They were examined and interviewed by the doctors, with a contra lawyer in full military uniform present. The four who left signed statements which were taken to the United Nations human rights officer in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, who arranged for their return to Nicaragua.

Health-care worker and a cook

I talked to José Gabriel Lopez, a farmer and health-care worker near the village of Mancantal in northern Nicaragua, and Gema Valásquez, a 16-year-old who had been working as a cook at a Nicaraguan army camp near the town of Jinotega. Both still feared that the contras would return and kidnap them again.

gema-photo-d-anger-1989José Gabriel spent nine months with the contras after he was taken from his house at night. Gema had been walking home from work when she was taken, and spent 10 months in Honduras.

The prisoners’ walk to the camp took six weeks. Neither José Gabriel nor Gema attempted to escape during the walk; José Gabriel saw what happened to people who did try. One of the men with him tried to run the night they were abducted, and was shot as he ran. Gema was beaten with the butt of a rifle when she was unable to keep up the pace.

Isolation and indoctrination

Once in the camp, isolation combined with indoctrination to make the secuestrados believe that they had no choice but to stay with the contras. Gema was told that her mother, a Sandinista supporter, had denounced her. When Dr. Cookson told her that her mother sent her love, Gema simply cried, saying, “I knew my mother hadn’t forgotten me.”

Neither Gema nor José Gabriel have strong political leanings in either direction. Gema is a young girl concerned with music and clothes, the usual interests of 16-year-olds, even in Nicaragua. José Gabriel is a Catholic lay minister whose foremost allegiance is to his faith. José Gabriel assumes he was abducted because of his health care work and Gema says the contras took her employment at a military camp to mean she was a Sandinista supporter.

La Capucha

For two weeks after her arrival in Honduras, Gema was imprisoned in the military police camp. She was kept blindfolded the whole time, was beaten with a hose, tied up all day with no water. What she especially dreaded was having a poncho wrapped tightly around her head smothering her, a torture widely used in Latin America, and known as la capucha, or “the hood.” Dr. Cookson said that many women are sexually molested but Gema was fortunate to escape that, although she did see another woman die after being beaten by the soldiers.

Gema said that during the night that the doctors talked to her, Pepe, Jackson and other officials warned her that she would be killed by the Sandinistas if she left, offered to move her to any camp she wished to go to, and, finally, asked that she make clear in her statement that she had not been mistreated in any way so that negative publicity would not result for the contras.

Gema and José Gabriel both said that there are many in the camps – “hundreds,” according to José – who would like to go home. They do not go because, unless people like Drs. Cookson and Takaro find them, there is no escape. They do not know whether they will be safe in Nicaragua or if their families are alive. And even if they do not believe what the contras tell them, they have no money and they cannot get further in Honduras than Los Trojes without official contra permission. If they overcome these obstacles, they must then navigate through the contra land mines on the border with Nicaragua.

marching-soldiers-photo-d-stewart-1989“they don’t want to leave”

According to the contra human rights officer at the base camp, although the contras do take people by force, “after they see what it’s like with us, they don’t want to leave. There is no one here who does not want to be.”

Gema and José Gabriel, as well as the other two men who were freed, have returned to their customary routines. José Gabriel is again living with his wife, child and parents on their farm about an hour’s walk from Mancantal, a small community north of Jinotega. He said that he intends to continue his health care work.

Gema is in Managua living with her mother and brothers and sisters. Her father lives in Jinotega, but the teenager does not intend to visit him again until she feels safe, for the contras still patrol the area. Sitting on the couch holding a doll, she talked only to an intermediary until he convinced her that I was trustworthy.

Aileen Tobin is a Canadian nurse working in Mancantal, the village close to José Gabriel’s farm. Several of the area’s health care workers have been kidnapped or threatened by the contras, and the small clinic in town has been attacked five times in the past three years.

Afraid to travel

Ms. Tobin said many health workers have stopped going about their jobs because they are afraid: they have to travel long distances to small settlements and outlying farms and they are vulnerable to attack on the lonely roads. More importantly, they feel that they are special targets for the contras because of their work in the health field. Ms. Tobin agrees with them, but laments the resulting loss of proper health care. A Canadian doctor in Jinotega, Dr. Myung Kim, said that his tuberculosis patients often do not get the necessary treatment because they don’t have transport to the clinic and he can’t travel to outlying areas because of risk of attack.

Dr. Kim, Ms. Tobin and other health workers are angry because they see the deterioration of a health system which won a World Health Organization award in 1983, and they can do little about it. They have no medicine or supplies, and a worsening economy means there is no money to buy any. Fear of contra attack keeps patients away from clinics.

If children start to die again…

Ms. Tobin said health care workers and teachers are targets of the contras because they represent the most basic and universally available improvements in ordinary people’s lives brought about by the revolution. If children start to die again from malnutrition and other easily-cured illnesses, and if access to basic education is lost, then ordinary people will no longer see that the revolution is giving them fundamental social benefits. Combine this with an inflationary economy which means that while food is available, people have no money to buy it, and the foundation is laid for a crisis of confidence in the government.

On both sides of the Nicaragua-Honduras border there are Nicaraguans carrying no strong ideological flag who have become part of a battle which, at root, is about the right to self-determination on the part of Central America. The United States has long considered Central America to be its backyard, with plantations and industries which produce goods for the American market, and governed by American-installed or approved leaders. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 made official policy of the American belief that no other country had any right to intervene in the Americas. Nicaragua is the first country since Cuba in 1959 that blatantly went against this dictum, accepting support from Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Contras, Cubans and Washington

The perception of Nicaragua is so radically different in Miami, Honduras and Nicaragua that one could be excused for not realizing that the same country is being discussed. In Miami, contra leaders and the Cuban exile community plan a new Nicaraguan revolution, a reversed one. In their minds, even if Washington backs down in its support of the contras, their movement will continue, with the help of “right-thinking” Americans like Oliver North.

In Washington, the highly charged rhetoric of the Reagan administration is being downplayed by President George Bush, but the same interventionist policy is being pursued.

In the Honduran contra camps, where the commanders imagine victory and the U.S.-supplied soldiers regularly eat meat, Washington is criticized because more aid is not forthcoming. In the Honduran capital the views are more diverse, but with one factor remaining constant. If you walk through the crowded main square, it is almost impossible to find a Honduran who does not want the contras to leave immediately.

tegucigalpa central plaza-photo-d-stewart-1989
Tegucigalpa Central Plaza with poster of missing Roger González (his story Nov 27/18)

Coping with an embargo and war

And in Nicaragua the leaders cut back on social programs, and devalue the currency, and scramble to obtain the hard currency needed to buy industrial equipment and other goods. They try to cope with the continuing American trade embargo and rebuild the Atlantic coast after the devastation of Hurricane Joan. They still find time to release National Guard prisoners, remove restrictions on La Prensa, an opposition newspaper, and prepare for the February 1990 election. Ordinary people now watch their children die of malnutrition and lack of health care. (In Mancantal, Aileen Tobin says, “Even aspirin, I often haven’t even got that to give people.”)

In this eight-year war, 40,000 have been killed on both sides and hundreds of millions of dollars given to the contras by the United States. Although former president Ronald Reagan did not succeed in displacing the Sandinista government, his actions in promoting trade embargoes and a costly war did succeed in destroying the economy.

“Washington created them…”

Now, thousands of Nicaraguans are leaving the country. Because the U.S. considers them to be fleeing “communism,” none have been sent back to Nicaragua. If the American demobilize the contras, most spokespeople for all sides of the issue believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take them in. Julio Somoza, a Miami restaurateur who is the nephew of the ex-dictator of Nicaragua, has said “Washington created them, Washington has to look after them.”

There are two great tragedies in this seemingly never-ending war. One is the waste of lives on both sides, through death in battle and through the slow death of poverty and displacement. The other tragedy is the possible death of a Nicaraguan idealism which brought social justice to a country and a region more accustomed to mass poverty amid pockets of opulence and brutal repression.

It has been said that the real threat posed to the United States by Nicaragua is not the threat of encroaching communism, but “the threat of a good example.” That example is of a Central American country which despite the opinion of its critics is democratic and independent. Against all the odds, it still exists.

Sunday Express 20 Aug 1989 Killing Time article
St. John’s Sunday Express 20 Aug 1989 Killing Time article