I started this story at the end, with Bumpa's return from the war. It is hard to know or imagine what the two years there were like. In reading about the 14th Engineers, I hear about long days of marching, only to find that there was more marching into the night... long days of hard work, or boredom, or terror. There was mud, and cold and heat. Influenza that hit nearly 70% of the command.
They were involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the Somme, and the Aisne-Marne. Light railroads carried troops to and from the front, as well as ammunition, food, and prisoners. They were often working under fire, and daily dealing with derailments and tracks disappearing under the mud. They were in and out of the front lines from the first, and the work they did was invaluable.
But who remembers all this? Was it all just forgotten history? The men who came home had to put it all behind them, when possible... Start families, like Bumpa did, and try to forget. Bumpa was quoted in a newspaper in 1967, "The older you get, the more you remember."
What we found in France was a lot of remembering. The children who we saw on trips to the memorials were led by respectful teachers, and they mirrored that. Every time I told someone why we were there, we were treated with a kind of honor, as if by that they could honor also the American soldiers who fought there.
When Bumpa returned to France in 1956 for my birth, the French government gave him the Medal of the Battle of Verdun, and his name was inscribed in the Golden Book of the City of Verdun. I wanted to see it, but it would take an appointment that I didn't have. I was happy to settle on the old card on file at the memorial, proving his name was there. But our old friend Philippe managed to get to the mayor and made copies of the page in the Golden Book, so I have that now too.
The photo of Bumpa was taken by me when he was in his late 90's. I love the quiet pride in his eyes, as he holds some Verdun treasures that Philippe had sent to him. I took the photo with me, of course. He deserved one more look at France, where the trees are tall and beautiful over the land that had been so devastated.
Thank you for your service, Sir. I will not forget.
The parade over. The boats loaded for the trip to France and they disembarked on August 18 in the Boulogne harbor.
We surprised some dear French friends yesterday by just showing up at their door in Verdun. The last number I had for them was incorrect, and my efforts to connect fell short. I have not spoken with them since 2011, when Dad died.
The door was opened by Ramonde, who looks as lovely today as ever. Her husband Michel was the closest friend for my Dad that we ever knew him to have. Michel died a couple years ago, and I am so sorry to not see him. To say we had a lovely, happy visit is to not even touch the surface of it. Her son Philippe soon arrived and he was overjoyed too. I have memories of him from my childhood, and his smile was the same.
Today Philippe came with us to show us the Verdun Memorial, and the day was spent in the most amazing building with every aspect of that 300 day battle touched upon.
This brings me to the photo above. All his life Philippe has collected things from WW1, and several things he has shared over the years with my grandfather, even to the last years of Bumpa's life. There are many in that area who still hold the highest honor to the Americans who came to France to fight.
When we got back to the Maille's house, Philippe went in and found this Dressing Packet, which was issued to the US soldiers. The date on it is the day before Bumpa's ship sailed and I am sure that he soon had one of these.
As I said last time, the ship docked in Liverpool on August 11,1917. The men got their feet on firm ground again, and started checking out the area, with a special interest in the railroads. Eventually they boarded trains and after a ride and 2 mile march, they found their camp was to be in the endlessly rainy town of Borden.
On Tuesday morning, the 14th, after just having arrived, and not having time to prepare, they were told they would be in a parade in London the next day. This was to be the first parade in London in which foreign troops marched, since 1688. Yes. That is correct. 1688. Practically modern times for the European mind, but still, there was that awkward, pesky, Revolutionary War and all that, so it was a really big deal to be marching there.
In addition to having just spent 2 weeks on the ocean, with no chance to practice formations, these men had only had 6 weeks of drilling in their lives. Later that day someone asked a soldier/railway man what he had been doing 2 months ago, and he said, "I was chasing hobos off freight cars..." Their heads must have been spinning.
But all the papers in England reported the same: That the Americans got a rousing welcome from a huge crowd, that the men were admired for their uniformity and splendid physique, shoulders squared and eyes to the front. There was no talking and their formation was very noted for being perfect.
Much was also mentioned by the people of London about the lack of mustaches or beards. And they must have looked well fed to a city that had been on war rations for so long.
I can remember Bumpa talking about being in a parade but I always just assumed there was one at the end of the war. He talked about it with a twinkle in his eye, mentioning all the women who cheered them on. This was that parade. The men were thrilled, and proud to be forerunners of the Americans yet to come. They were also doing their best to remember how to keep in step!
The 37 officers and 1,168 enlisted men, including the young man who was one day to be my grandfather, were very likely happy to leave Camp Rockingham. During the long hard days of the war though, they would long for the relative comfort they had there.
They boarded troop trains and sped through New England, and in a very hot New York they saw the 'Adriatic', the ship they were to board. The 14th were traveling with many civilian passengers, as the ship was not a transport ship at the time.
Shore leave was granted and it stuns me a bit to think that on July 3rd, 1917, without exception, every soldier was back on board. If there was a time for second thoughts, this would have been the best place to have had them. But none failed to show up, and the Adriatic steamed out of the harbor. They anchored in Liverpool harbor on August 11th.
We had a rather uncomfortable flight to France this past week. I have concluded the airlines have given you such individual entertainment in the form of movies, music, etc, so you can forget that your knees are hitting the seat ahead of you and the seats do not incline in the least. (Still, the food was great!)
But every time I found my circulation crunched up, legs cramping, and screaming babies making sleep impossible, I would think of the days on the ship, with an unknown future ahead, for the men of the 14th. I knew that a rented car awaited us. With air conditioning. I knew that a rented house awaited us. With clean sheets on the beds.
I can not relate in the slightest to what Bumpa and the men were anticipating. But a lot of the attitude was, according to the written record, anxious to get there, to "do their part", to see the war and be a part of it.
(Above: GI Buddies of Bumpa)
When war was declared between the United States and Germany on April 6, 1917, the act providing for the National Army had not yet been passed. The War Dept. quickly took action to provide forces, which at the time were amazingly low in number.
On May 11th there was a conference in New York concerning the raising of the railway regiments. It was decided to ask the heads of New England Railways to nominate suitable officers for the regiment, smoothing the way for men who might desire to enlist.
Enlist they did. As soon as it was made known that the regiment was being formed, men from all railway departments as well as others, (business men, professional men, mechanics, etc) offered themselves, eager to serve. Some, like my grandfather, were of the perfect age, but many over the age limit of 45 falsified their ages in a patriotic determination to help.
There were no sites for training, as we take for granted today. After several suggestions, the most ideal seemed to be Rockingham Park in Salem New Hampshire, just near the Massachusetts line. This is where Bumpa came, with barracks in the Grand Stand, utilizing every corner of the facility for this new purpose of preparing men for war.
There was a shortage of clothing at first, as the quartermaster had earlier sent only sizes that his experience taught him would be needed. But these men were larger than usual, and so many went without uniforms until they were actually en route to Europe!
All of the equipment was of old models, except the pistols, which unfortunately did not have holsters...The mess kits were of an obsolete type, and many haversacks were marked from use in the Spanish War.Barracks blankets were prehistoric. And of these ancient relics, there were not enough.
The rifles were an old .303, used in the Spanish War, and 80 cartridges per rifle were issued. Evidently this amount was expected to last the duration of the war, as this type were not to be found in France.
Only one suit of underwear was issued to each man, and no overcoats.
As officers and men were selected entirely for their knowledge of railroads, their military knowledge,for the most part, was nil. First they trained the officers, and they in turn trained the men, turning out very credible regiments who took heart in competing against each other to improve.
The United States was woefully unprepared to go to war. This is true when you look at all of the above. But what they did have were willing hearts of men from all walks of life. Men willing to leave their lives behind to fight for a cause they felt necessary to even die for. They overlooked the hardships, did not whine at the discomfort, and made the best of each situation they faced...
France - Blog 4
Asleep at midnight, so the dogs waking me at 2 AM did not seem like a big deal. I had a lot of hours of shut-eye ahead of me. No problem.
But instead of sleep, the next 3 hours were spent trying to stop my mind from jumping from one unfinished thing to another. This is the week Tom is working at church camp, and I get to tidy up the details for our trip. I need to be rested to do that!
We can't leave in 7 days without this kind of preparation. We really do need to have a suitcase ready, addresses written down, decisions made about cell phone use, lists of detailed explanations for our house/dog sitter (Thank you Lord for Robin!) And on and on...
I am up to chapter 19 in Revelation for my morning bible study and am anxious to have that book finished before we leave. For one thing it takes a lot more time to study, and more books that I won't be able to cart on the plane... concordances, Greek parallels, notebooks.... But I have meted out the time like one does with the frosting on a cake, to be sure it lasts to the very end bite. A fresh start in Genesis will begin in French mornings.
But this morning's reading had great multitudes shouting 'Hallelujah' at the throne of God, praising Him for His true and just judgments. I thought about when Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
It made me think of my sleepless night. I know the time and the hour of our flight to France. I can detail and plan everything, starting with what must be done very early on, what must be done all along, and what must be done at the last minute. I can only do that because I know the date, the hour and the time.
But we tend to live our lives as if... as if we don't have a date, hour and time where we look to a just judgement. Days, months and years slip past and we forget we are not going to live forever. We worry about global warming, but not a concern about eternal warming. We pay lip service, forgetting that God reads our hearts.
If we only had a calendar! Something with a DATE on it! I'm sure most of us would search the scriptures and narrow down our 'to-do' list... forgiveness, mercy, obedience, love. As the date for that 'flight'- be it our own or the coming of our Lord - drew nearer, we would stay up nights checking off where we were in readiness. Oh, how we love a good deadline...
We have been asked if we are concerned with the terror attacks, and flying into the Paris airport... Not so much. We know we are as close to heaven in Paris as we are in Kelat. Paul told Timothy to be prepared in season and out, and we need to be prepared in France and out... lists for feeding dogs, passports in hand, adapters for electricity, love, mercy, forgiveness....
France - Blog 3
If there is such a thing as a favorite war photo, this would definitely be mine. It is a photo taken in 1919, after the war had ended. It is a homecoming, caught as if by magic. If Norman Rockwell was a photographer, this would have been what he set up.
Bumpa is finally home, after 2 years overseas. He looks happy and tired, a step from the train. His older sister has his arm held tightly in her hand. His younger sister tucked in, close to his side. Friends and family crowding in. A young lad (yes, they used to call them lads) proudly standing as close as he can.
In Bumpa's right hand he holds a package, paper wrapped in twine. Perhaps just given to him, or perhaps something he brought on the train. His uniform has seen a lot of wear, and he looks in this moment more like my father, who would one day also return from wars, than any other picture I know.
With a nod to the Norman Rockwell feeling, there is man leaning out of the train window as if someone asked him to pose thus. And by the stairs, another soldier, perhaps an officer, watches this homecoming scene, looking pleased.
It was over. And John Edwin Fitzmorris Sr. was going back to civilian life. He would someday bounce his grandchildren on his knee and sing, "Mademoiselle from Armentières, Parlez-vous?" I can still hear it in his voice. As far as I know, he kept the worst of what he witnessed to himself. Instead, he would talk about places he saw and how the people were so happy to see it all end.
So Memorial Day should not end without a tribute to Bumpa and all the men who left one hundred years ago... and to all the men who never returned from this war to end all wars....
Thank you for your service, Sir.
France - Blog 2
Which brings me to the second reason we are going to France: My heart is a bit homesick.
When my grandfather (Bumpa) went to France, he had yet to meet my Grandmother. From what I gather, they corresponded by a strange system of pen and paper, now referred to as "snail-mail" . Perhaps you've heard of it, and at the time it was quite the thing.
I wish I knew the sequence of events, but Bumpa moved from Maine to Massachusetts and married my beautiful Grandmother. Their second son was my father, another John. As a young man, he joined the military and served in the Signal Corp as an officer.
What a lot of world there is. Army kids know the many places one could be stationed, and can tick off the years of different schools in different countries or states.
So the chances of my dad serving in the very place his father had been serving in, but 38 odd years later, are pretty remote. It's a big army world out there. My brother John was born in Verdun in 1955, and I followed the next year.
It feels like full circle to me. And for that reason I want to be one who goes back to remember Bumpa's 100th anniversary of service there. Reason # 2 may be just an excuse, but it seems like as good an excuse as any....
France - Blog 1
Tom and I bought airline tickets to France. We look at each other and start to laugh, just thinking about it. If God allows, we will be gone for two weeks, flying out on June 13.
So why France... ? Why indeed...
In the graveyard of forgotten wars, WW1 seems buried the deepest in American minds. Tell me the dates, off the top of your head. Not as easy as 1776... Tell me the reasons, off the top of your head. Not even those who fought and died could all do that. There was no easy enemy face, like Hitler or Stalin. No clear cut horror on the scale of Pearl Harbor.
Tickets to France. You think I've digressed, as is my way...
One hundred years ago, in early June, 1917, America signed into the war that was already raging in Europe since July of 1914. On July 27, 1917 a ship called the 'Adriatic' left New York for "over there". The 'Adriatic' joined with 3 ships to form a convoy to be the first to "answer the call".
My Grandfather, John Edwin Fitzmorris was on board with the 14th Engineers. He was a railroad man, and they needed light rail for supplies.
There is much I do not yet know, although as a child I would listen to everything 'Bumpa' would tell me about his life in France and the service. I do not know when his brother Roy went over as an officer. And I do not know the story of how his brother Allen died and is buried there.
We are not going over there to glorify war, by any means. But we are going to honor the boys who went, including Bumpa. They were responding in a way that is not even possible to conjure up now. Most had never been outside of their home areas, much less overseas. They had an idealism that would be scoffed at on social media these days. Those are who we want to remember.
There is another main reason that we are going, but that is for another blog. I will not be writing about details of war, or dates, or facts that can be googled. I will be writing about our impressions, one hundred years into the future of the sailing of the 'Adriatic.'
to make a Mess
You’ve got to make a mess to clean a mess. That’s my mantra when I find myself in the midst of any project that’s attempting to bring order to my home.
I survey the counters piled high with condiments and foods, as I scrub down the shelves of my refrigerator. I see the table covered with precariously balanced piles of mail and junk as I clear off a desk. I look resentfully at the piles of leaves and twigs as I happily rake out the corners of my flower garden and expose the rising bulbs.
Somehow I still have a mess to clean. The first mess is the best – the sought after sense of organization. The second mess is the trial. In the middle of washing off mustard containers, in the middle of sorting old coupons and offers for satellite TV, in the middle of loading leaves onto tarp and hauling them off, I kind of wonder if I really wanted to be this organized after all.
By the time Tom gets home from work, he only sees that the refrigerator, the desk, or the yard look better. I tell him, “You should have seen it here an hour ago! I was up to ‘here’ in chaos!”
So, when my niece came to visit the other day and casually left several books for me to read, I looked balefully at the first one I saw. I already knew from an earlier description that ‘Wild Goose Chase’ was about seeking out the Holy Spirit. I almost put it on the bottom of the huge pile of books I plan to read.
But my life has been getting like the refrigerator and like the desk and like the corners of my yard. Cluttered with accumulated stagnation.
Old bottles of mostly empty salad dressing, scattered receipts from shopping trips, leaves from last fall that threaten to mold my daffodils – that’s kind of what my life has been feeling like.
There comes a time when making a mess to clean a mess is the best option. The other option that comes to mind, of course, is burning down the house. Instead I opened the book and started reading.
Books like that are dangerous. I look at them and know that if I read them I might question every aspect of my present, routine life and clean out corners I’ve neglected for too long. I might evaluate my heart and soul and disrupt our existence as we know it. I might head off to Zimbabwe or Syria and care for orphans until I wind up beheaded. Anything can happen, but I’m pretty sure it will involve a mess.
The first mess will be what I need. I’ll end up with a closer connection to God. The second mess, the mess I make to get to that point will be the hard part.
I know that. I also know that I can’t just let stagnation build.
I need to make a mess to clean a mess.
I finished up Hosea this morning for my bible study. I read, compared this and that scripture, and I thought about the layers upon layers that are found in prophecy.
As Shell’s book goes out into the world, I am getting lovely emails, phone calls, reviews posted, and kind words spoken. I love hearing what people have to say, and am fascinated by what touches each.
As the book is such an open part of me, as well as Shell, I love to find what it opens in others. One might have been reached by a quote, another by a concept. One might be changed by the overall picture, another might let out hidden or buried parts of their own lives.
But this morning, reading Hosea, I wonder how it is for God to watch someone read his Word for the first time… Does he wait to hear what part will affect the reader? Does he observe how one passage, obscure to many, opens a door for another?
Perhaps for one it will be the mighty power displayed in miracles throughout. For another maybe the wrath. For another the constant promise of forgiveness for his own. Perhaps what brings them to tears is the love that sent his Son to die for us.
Is He pleased when we read His Word again and again, and getting to the end of Revelation makes the start of Genesis an actual ‘need’? Does he love that each time it is read, it strikes to the heart of wherever you are in that moment? The layer you find in sadness and the layer you find in joy may be the same passage on different days?
Does God also want to hear feedback - the kind of feedback that not just spouts it off verbatim, but becomes part of your soul? I’m pretty sure He is hoping we’ll ‘share’ with our social networks about his book … after all, it’s a best seller! Who’d not want to read it?
The most frequent comment of Shell’s book, is that people say they now feel like they know her better, and know me better, too. I love that.
So today, as I finish Hosea, and look forward to spending tomorrow morning with Joel, I’m finding myself giving God that kind of feedback. “I’m reading your book, Lord, and I feel like I’m getting to know you better.”
If at First...
I signed my first book the other day. In fact, it was the first time I'd seen my book, as my copies were not to come for several days. But my niece had several and wanted them signed to give as gifts. So in truth, I was getting two firsts: Seeing 'Signing to the Angels' in print and signing signing to the angels.
It was a bit like seeing your firstborn. I held the book and noted the soft cover, the sight of my efforts, counted the toes... I mean the pages... worried about flaws, wondered if it 'looked' like me. I wondered how it would do when it was out there in the world - hoped the best for it.
And now it's out there. Randomly, of course.
Like a good mom, I sent out announcements, made phone calls, told everyone the name, date of birth and description. I talked to the newspaper and got the announcement in. I heard my husband bragging a bit.
Yes, quite a bit like a firstborn.
And when family members and friends started reading it, and giving good reviews by phone or email, I was pleased in the way a new mom is pleased. And even though there is nothing on earth that matches the birth of a baby, this was still like that feeling of relief that the birth process was over, and all survived.
And now to the growth of this paper child. I am hoping to see it someday in a bookstore, waiting for adoption. I am hoping to see it being read on an airplane or a subway. I want to catch random sightings of it when I am not thinking to look for it.
Perhaps there will be reviews on Amazon, and I will come across them like my child's name in the paper, and read every word.
Perhaps, when it is old enough, and I've recovered, I'd consider a sibling for it.
But, first things first.
Lessons from my dog
My dog sees something off in the woods and he chases it. I call him back and he hears me…. But he may not come. He may hesitate and look back at me, but he is sure I don’t know what is so important that it needs to be chased.
He has to decide: chase it in the righteous knowledge that I’d approve if only I knew, or turn around and obey me by coming back.
Most often he finishes the chase. He justifies this disobedience by the rational that I’m not seeing all he does.
I, on the other hand, don’t care if it is a squirrel or a deer, at this point. The fact that he is disobeying me is what matters now.
I am that dog.
Jesus told us…. He told me…. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you and do good to those who hate you.
But I am that dog.
I hesitate, looking over my shoulder at the word of God, and I justify myself with thoughts of how MUCH I’ve been wronged… How evilly (God’s child!) has been treated… how overwhelmed and how hurt I’ve been… and I go on… through the woods and darkness of the trees until I can’t hear the voice calling me back, and can feel right about not loving… not blessing… not doing good.
As I stand calling my dog, I know what may happen to him. I can see that he may wind up leaving the property in his chase… I can see that if he captures the animal he chases, that he may be bitten and become diseased… I can see that he may hurt an innocent…. And I can see the he may develop the awful side of his nature that wants blood, as well as the reinforcement of disobedience.
He thinks I’m missing the point, but it is he that is missing MY point. I just have a different point of view than he does, and my will is the one that must be obeyed or there will be consequences.
The Father calls me to come back to his will, even if I don’t understand it. He sees what I don’t in the smaller as well as the larger picture. He sees how I could hurt as well as be hurt- in my continuing to not love. He knows the heart of those who have hurt me, he knows the darkness, les tenebres, that I can not see.
Let me always turn around at the sound of your voice, Lord. Let me return to you to try to do better next time, when I have failed… I am as repentant as my own dog, who slinks back through the woods in the end… but I don’t want it to happen again.
I am yours.
Since you know his heart
(for you alone know the hearts of all men) 1 kings 8:39
He meets us in our hearts.
What is this place of meeting that we assign an organ to it by way of explanation? And not by random assignment! The heart is the center of the blood supply, pumping life into our bodies… 'the life is in the blood', he said. When we hurt enough, there is actual pain in our hearts. But does the organ have feelings? intent? a softening or a hardening? Does it love or hate? What is this heart?
No matter. It is where we can let God reside or where we can reject him. Our mouth only says what the heart already knows. Our hands only do what the heart directs. Our feet only go where the heart desires.
Every inclination of the heart, God knows. He knows the effort, the pretense, the innocence, the guilt. He knows the largeness and the smallness. He knows the purposes of the heart. He sees the willingness, the contrition, and the desire to be better. He knows the hypocrisy and the meanness. He watches the pride as well as the breaking. God knows the heart.
The heart is where our universe, big and small, connects to our God.
Testing - un ... deux ... trois ...
Perhaps I should get my finger-tips wet and try out a small blog first. The part that tells me that I don't know what I'm doing is obviously right, but I'm not listening right now ... remind me later.
Making up my own web page ... Honestly - a tree frog might do it better. I could compete with him on content, but for hitting the right keys, we'd be on par.
I look for pictures. There are few of me, as I am always snapping the pictures. I do that so I won't be in the pictures. I fully don't comprehend selfies.
When I see a picture of myself, I am generally mortified.
That's not me.
I can't possibly be that person in the photo.
What I picture in my mind is quite different.
I picture someone much younger.
I feel like someone much younger.
I picture someone with lovely blue eyes, as I see such a beautiful world with them.
I picture someone with a lovely smile, as I find so much to make me happy.
I picture someone with youthful skin, because ... well, frankly, I'm delusional.
I picture someone with style, without ever knowing what style meant.
(perhaps matching socks?)
I picture someone with passion evident, as I am passionate about so much.
I picture someone who doesn't have to try so hard to look "normal".
Yeah. That's not happening...
Catch ya soon... c'mon back!