Honoring WWII Heroes

My father never talked about his experiences in the Navy during WWII until late in life. He was in his 80s when I learned he’d been on a destroyer off the coast of Normandy during D-Day and that his ship, the USS O’Brien, had been hit by a kamikaze pilot when the war shifted to the Pacific. He never glorified war or his role. Like so many men who served in WWII, he said that he hadn’t done anything special—he was just doing his job like everybody else.

WordSister Cynthia Kraack coauthored 40 Thieves on Saipan with Joseph Tachovsky, whose father Lieutenant Frank Tachovsky, led the elite Marine Scout-Sniper platoon known as the “40 Thieves.” The younger Tachovsky didn’t know the incredible scope of his father’s role until his father’s funeral, which sent him on a quest to learn more. In 2016, he came to Cynthia with hours of interviews with surviving platoon members, letters, and military research that he’d gathered.

During an informal interview with Cynthia I asked, “What was the story you wanted to tell?” She explained, “The book is a fairly accurate capture of the story I wanted to tell. Understandably, the old men he interviewed found it easier to talk about the lighter side of their Marine service—the jokes, the pranks, the exploits. They said a situation was tense without describing the conditions. Joe wanted to pay tribute to the men and we focused on a line of his father’s: ‘War makes men out of boys and old men out of young men.’ The 18-year-old who went to church with his family and had a last Sunday dinner at home before reporting for training would never come home. The man who came home would need time to rebuild his connection to living outside of war. I also found myself wanting to write a book that would help women understand war’s imprint on the men in their world.”

Last fall, I visited Omaha Beach and other sites associated with the D-Day invasion. Part of me understood that although I was hoping for a glimmer of Dad’s experience, I wouldn’t find it. There’s no way I could possibly understand what he went through. Maybe a soldier or sailor could, but not me.

I sensed that longing in Joe and Cynthia, whose father also served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII. As coauthors, their main focus in writing the book was to remember and honor the men known as the 40 Thieves. Ultimately, their work was personal, too. They hoped to gain insight into their fathers, access those younger men, honor and remember what they did. As coauthors, they have.

Listening to the Radio in the Farmhouse

DSC07148I picture my mother in our farm kitchen listening to the AM radio. She would be washing dishes, picking up the kitchen. The eight older kids having already been dropped off at school, a baby napping, another two playing under her feet, one in her tummy. USDA came out with their first official forecast of planting intentions on Thursday – and it shocked the market. More corn acres then we’ve seen planted for three years, fewest soybean acres planted for two. Wisconsin farmers are looking out the window watching it rain or snow. Corn Stocks are expected to be up 1 Percent while the cattle market is holding steady.

And now, for our Big Morning show, with author Elizabeth di Grazia.

Think of this: when a child is raped, 46 percent of the time the perpetrator is a family member. Those statistics suggest many stories. House of Fire: A Story of Love, Courage, and Transformation is a remarkable tale of incest (including two pregnancies), loss, and eventual renewal that author Elizabeth di Grazia hopes will open a dialogue to change those statistics – and innocent lives – for the better.

Would my mother have listened to the woman being interviewed since she had personal knowledge of what incest does to a family? Or, would she have shut the radio off?

She’s been dead for almost 25 years.

I think of her as I am being interviewed on the air with Ted Ehlen, the host of “Big Mornings” on The Big AM 1380 out of Janesville, Wisconsin. Janesville is a city in southern Wisconsin with a population of 63,575. Much bigger than the town I grew up in. Ellsworth, Wisconsin even now only has 3,284 residents.

Would my mother have bought my book? She was a big reader. She’d buy books at farm auctions. One time a set of encyclopedias, another time boxes of Readers Digest Condensed books, and yet another time rows upon rows of Harlequin Romances.

familyOnce, I overheard a person asking my mother if she had started writing that book that she wanted to.

This surprised me. I didn’t know that my mother had a desire to write a book. Certainly, she could have. She had a B.S. from the University of Minnesota and a Masters in social work from Catholic University (Washington D.C.).

I came to realize that I didn’t know my mother. I didn’t know what she thought or what was important to her. I didn’t know her past. I didn’t know what it was like for her to have an audience with Pope Pious XII or for her to serve in the U.S. Navy and help with the repatriation of World War II German refugees.

I don’t want this same fate for my children. I want them to know me. And, they do. Long before my book came out they knew my story.

They are a part of House of Fire as well as my partner, Jody.

Now if I could just get them to quit telling about that time that we were at the Twins game and I sneezed so loud that all three of them hurried away so people wouldn’t think that they were with me.

Layout 1Or, remind me of the time that they misunderstood me about growing up on a farm and Crystel would tell people that Mama Bef was born in a barn.

They know that not much embarrasses me. That I’ll cry at their track and cross country meets. They know that I tell the truth and when I say that I’ll come to their school and sit next to them in their classroom if they have a tardy – that I’ll actually do it – even though they are thirteen years old. They know that if they ask me a question, that I’ll answer and I’ll give them too much information.

Most importantly, they know that I love them and would do anything to keep them safe.

March 21, 2016   WRJN AM1400 Interview with Glenn Klein out of Racine, Wis

March 29, 2016  The Big AM 1380 Interview with Ted Ehlen out of Janesville, Wis

April 10th from 12:40 to 1:20 I’ll be reading at SUBTEXT Books, 6 West Fifth Street, St. Paul for their local author day author series. I’d love to see you.






Announcing the Publication of House of Fire – an Inspiring Memoir by Elizabeth di Grazia

“In it together—from inspiration to publication” is the WordSisters theme, and today I want to congratulate Elizabeth on the publication of her memoir, House of Fire (North Star Press, 2016).

Layout 1House of Fire is the realization of a writing dream begun 13 years ago when Elizabeth entered the MFA program at Hamline University. The book is also the culmination of a personal journey that began when she was a little girl growing up on a farm in Western Wisconsin.

From the time she was 4 until she moved away from her family of origin at 19, she was sexually abused. Incest caused two pregnancies, which resulted in one abortion and one adoption. Although the memoir documents those soul-sapping experiences, the book focuses on healing and the transformative experience of creating a healthy family. DSC07148

The path to parenthood was bumpy sometimes, but Elizabeth and her partner Jody were determined and persistent. In 2003, they adopted two infants from Guatemala. Today, their created family is happy and healthy—wonderful in itself—and also a testament to people’s incredible capacity to heal and move from pain and loss to joy. Elizabeth would be quick to tell you that sexual abuse doesn’t have to define a person. She is surviving and thriving.

Although it springs from harsh realities, House of Fire is joyful and inspiring. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook.