A diary of a World War II soldier. My Grandfather, Forrest Freeman French

In honor of Memorial Day, I’m posting entries from my grandfather’s diary. The following is one week out of a diary my grandfather, Forrest Freeman French, kept during World War II.

Forrest Freeman French, WWII soldier 7th Div. Co. "K" 184th Infantry.
Forrest Freeman French, WWII soldier 7th Div. Co. “K” 184th Infantry.

These written words have special meaning to me because I never got to meet my mother’s beloved father. Through his writing, during WWII, I get to know him.

Soldiers were told not supposed to keep a journal but he did. The passages are short and brief but capture a time in his life I could never imagine. The sacrifice of so many in order for us to live free. A young Texas Farm boy grows up fast on the other side of the world in Okinawa.

I share these to honor all the men and women that stepped forward in the hardest times to fight for a way of life we can easily take for granted.

On this Memorial Day may you take a moment to honor and remember all the ones that didn’t make it home.

Next Monday I’ll post the second week.

 

May 4, 1945

Was assigned to the 7th Div. Co. “K” 184th Infantry. They are up on the lines now. We’ll be carried as far as possible by truck then will have to march the rest of the way.

 

May 5, 1945

Pushed off before dawn to join my outfit. We held services before we left. Am now just behind the lines. Saw my first dead G.I.s. Three of them dead for three days. Can’t get to them. Sure gave me the shivers. Have seen dead enemy soldiers all along the way. They are paying heavy. Not heavy enough to suit me.

 

May 6, 1945

Air raids are every night and sometimes more than once. Have seen quite a few shot down. Today is the first day on the lines for me. We didn’t shove off as everyone needs to get settled.

 

May 7, 1945

Spent my first night on the lines. Didn’t get any sleep as they are giving us hell. Some of the men that came in with me got it last night. I don’t think they even know what hit them. This is a living hell.

 

May 8, 1945

Made my first kill today. He was quite close. Slipped up during the night. Don’t feel much different than before except maybe a little more satisfied.

 

May 9, 1945

Rumor is that we will be relieved tomorrow and go back for ten days rest. We need it as nearly half of the company has been wounded or killed. We are at a place called Conico Peak. Here is where we ran into most of the trouble. Sure hope the rumor is true for we need a rest.

 

May 10, 1945

I thank God with all my heart for we were relieved this morning and am now waiting for trucks to take us about ten miles behind the lines. I feel sorry for the boys in the 96th Div. They relieved us and in for all out hell at Conico Peak.

Planting Words of a Lost Friend.

Over time, a memory can take on a new meaning. Sometimes you don’t get to cherish and enjoy a marking of time, because you don’t know it will be the last time you go there, do that, or talk to them.

Going into 2016, I have classmates that lost their fathers, the world has lost some of our most creative entertainers, and I lost my friend, Marilyn Tucker. Below is a picture of a table that I have posted many times. It’s at a house on Canyon Lake in the Texas Hill Country. I often joke about it being my favorite office, my favorite place to write. It looks out over the water and in the early morning I would sit there and watch the sun rise from behind the hills.

Canyon Lake Office
My office at the lake


It was more than the beautiful view, it was the people that were there with me. The fellow writers that understood the creative process. The moments of silence that are needed when creating a fictional world that is real in your head. Marilyn Tucker gave this gift to me, not just the place, but a tribe. When I sat there in November I didn’t know it would be the last time. The last weekend with our tribal leader.

Story-tellers telling stories. Sasha Summers, Marilyn Tucker and Jodi Thomas
Story-tellers telling stories. Sasha Summers, Marilyn Tucker and Jodi Thomas

This has been a year of many blessings, joys, and wonderful accomplishments. But as tragedy often does, I was blindsided. In my fifty years, (it might only be forty eight, but I lose track), I have had unexpected losses, but the depth of this one caught me by surprise. She was not my mother, my sister, or my child. She was my friend, my tribal leader.
Almost three years ago, Marilyn Tucker invited me to be part of her tribe. A tribe that truly loves, supports, and understands each other, even our flaws and scars. We were very protective of this small group.
mar
Let me back up a moment and tell you about my experience in being a writer.
Every writer needs a tribe, and not just any tribe, but one that is drama free. Not free from the ups and downs of life. Not an everything-is-good-all-the-time type of crap, but free of the self-created drama, of not knowing the difference between pride and truth. Drama brought on by jealousy, envy and bitterness. It can swallow you whole before you’re even aware it has snuck up behind you.
There are times it seems as if everyone is doing better than you, finishing their stories, selling their stories, multi-book contracts, making more sells, going to bigger events, making more money, better marketing, winning awards and getting better reviews. We create illusions for a living and sometimes the best illusion is our own life.
Every writer needs a drama free zone were we can laugh at petty insecurities and self-doubt. The business of writing is exciting, thrilling and soul sucking.
You have people in your head that have stories to tell. You create a world from bits and pieces of who you are. If you’re truly honest and authentic you get to create characters that no one else can create. Your secret thoughts, desires, wishes and dreams are given life. Your view of the world and the people in it shape your story. You take the real and create a fantasy.
Eventually you will get brave enough to send it out for others to read, to strangers that have no care for your heart.
You want people to love your baby, to tell you and everyone they know that you have the most beautiful, creative, poignant story. You can’t wait to hear how the characters made them laugh…made them cry. You want them to see your baby as special and unique. You want the world to accept your baby and lift her up, to celebrate her.
Your story is the best part of your secrets, your heart. Sometimes it’s the part you hide and keep buried, and when you bring it to light, you want people to understand.
Some will, but others won’t. They might even call your baby names: unpolished, not worth reading, unbelievable, unmarketable, predictable or worse, boring. Yes, there will be people for whatever reason that don’t understand and they will let the public know.
If you let them, they will make you doubt yourself – Like we need any help in that area, right?
You tell yourself it will be better when you….get published, have more followers, get more books out, make the bestseller list, win awards or get that multi-book deal.
But the pressure gets worse, then you move into feeling like a fraud…what happens when they find out the truth? You aren’t really smart or creative – it was a fluke. The voices turn the self-doubt to a new level. I’ll never write another story anyone wants.
This, my friend, is where the tribe comes in, where they chase away the bad voices and get to the truth. My tribe leader, Marilyn Tucker, created a safe haven where we could create, brainstorm and vent. A group that spent time laughing at our own insecurities and looked honestly at our goals.
A group that reminds you of the joy of writing, the excitement of creating a new world. The emotion you create on the page becomes real and you remember why you write. What do you do when you lose your leader?
Talking story with Storm Navarro, Joni Hahn, Sasha Summers, Jodi Thomas, and Marilyn Tucker
You go adrift for a second. You come across a problem that you would have called her for and stumble when you remember she’s not available anymore.
What do you do? You move forward in her honor. You reach out to her other friends and together you build a new tribe. You take every encouraging word she said to you and plant it in your heart until it has roots and you harvest those words when you need them. You tell stories and you laugh. Marilyn lived to make others laugh. When she was reading her work out loud, she would count the times people laughed, that was how she knew if she succeeded in her goal. We remember her stories and laugh in her honor.
And we remember most of all, we are story tellers – we tell stories. We have the power to look at life, to take the joys and the sorrow and create a world that we can share with others. Our stories are not for those that don’t understand. They are for the ones that want to understand, that want to be reminded that even in our darkest moments, there is love. In the midst of a storm, we can find peace. For a moment, we can connect to others through words. Marilyn Tucker, you will be missed every day. Thank you for making me a better writer and more importantly, a better person.

Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow
My office at the lake
Moon over New York City.

U for Untied States of America all represented in New York……Home of the brave…

U for United States of America
U for United States of America

The United State of America…Home of the Brave…Sometimes they’re just words. Do you ever stop and think what they mean?

For many it was and is leaving everything you know for a hope of something better. In New York City the storyteller in me became enthralled, I felt the shadow of fear, hope and determination left by millions of immigrants. I could imagine them seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time after a long grueling voyage.

Imagine, arriving in the harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time
Imagine, arriving in the harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time
Lady Liberty from the boat. photo  taken by Jolene Navarro
Lady Liberty from the boat. photo taken by Jolene Navarro
I think sometimes we forget New York is surrounded by water and is a port city. Old ships in the docks of New York.
I think sometimes we forget New York is surrounded by water and is a port city. Old ships in the docks of New York.
New York, surrounded by water
New York, surrounded by water. Photo by Jolene Navarro

On 9/11 the fear as they tried to flee on boats that were taking people away from the horrific destruction. The day we all turned to New York, helpless. Just like everything else on this small piece of Earth the 9/11 Memorial is overwhelming.

911 Memorial as the set sets. Photo by Jolene Navarro
911 Memorial as the set sets. Photo by Jolene Navarro

I walk the streets of New York, filled with people from around the world that now make America their home – the history, spirit and feel of America was in every stone, brick, window and steel frame that makes up the city. I have to say man’s ability to create a habitat beyond our imagination is awe inspiring and maybe a bit scary.
Here are a few of my favorite pictures.

The old reflected in the new.

Taken from our hotel window, Andaz. The old and new next to each other. Photo by Jolene Navarro
Taken from our hotel window, Andaz. The old and new next to each other. Photo by Jolene Navarro
View from Central Park. Photo by Jolene Navarro
View from Central Park. Photo by Jolene Navarro
Sensory overload in New York City.
Sensory overload in New York City. Photo by Jolene Navarro
Central Park - Loved this part of New York.
Central Park – Loved this part of New York.
Approaching Central Park
Approaching Central Park
New York from Central Park. Photo by Jolene Navarro
New York from Central Park. Photo by Jolene Navarro
On the edge of Time Square. Have to say my least favorite part of New York City.
On the edge of Time Square. Have to say my least favorite part of New York City.
Hanging out in the M & M Store, waiting for the rain to slow down. Photo by Jolene Navarro
Hanging out in the M & M Store, waiting for the rain to slow down. Photo by Jolene Navarro
Time Square New York- the rain had started
Time Square New York- the rain had started
The storm is rolling into the city.
The storm is rolling into the city.
The Financial District.
The Financial District.
View from the Financial District.
View from the Financial District. Photo by Jolene Navarro

Then there is the art…everywhere.

New York Art
New York Art photo by Jolene Navarro

One thing that was suggested to us was to go to the website of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and map out what you want to see and go to those rooms first. This is a must or you might miss the art you really want to see – there is no way to see this museum in one day. They art they house is incredible so go with a plan and when you see the originals up close…well words can not do the emotions justice.  I could do a whole blog on the art of New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The ancient civilization among the newbies.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The ancient civilization among the newbies. By Jolene Navarro
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Degas.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Degas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Degas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Degas

To see the textures and colors up close is simply amazing. Even if you can’t make it to the museum, you should follow them on facebook. They share a piece of art each day.

http://www.metmuseum.org/visit

This summer I get to go back to New York for the Romance Writers of America conference. I’m excited to go back to the city. Is there a place you would love to visit again? Have you been to New York? What is your MUST do when you are in the city.

Embracing Failure leads to joy and success!

Below is a link to a blog I wrote for the Craftie Ladies of Romance. What are the three things you need for a successful year? What about embracing failure, creating community and resilience? Hit the link below and read more about it.

All the things I need for a great 2015.

I want to thank my family for such a great year.

Enjoying Life.
Enjoying Life. My Hero Fred.
Bon fire and family
A year ago for my birthday family gathering around the bon fire
Lower-Manhatton-New-York-memorial-
A dream coming true. Lower Manhattan – It amazes me how so many people can live in such a small space. It looks as if it could just fall of the little piece of land.
Times Square with Fred. A dream coming true.
Times Square with Fred. A dream coming true.
June is the West Texas A&M writer's Academy with Jodi Thomas, Alex Sokoloff and Sasha Summers
June is the West Texas A&M writer’s Academy with Jodi Thomas, Alex Sokoloff and Sasha Summers
RWA panel about the truth of the Texas cowboy
RWA panel about the truth of the Texas cowboy
Great times with family and friends at Port A on the Texas coast
Great times with family and friends at Port A on the Texas coast
My parent had three girls who gave them ten  grand-kids - ten grand kids that love each other so much. Annual pumpkin carving slam down
My parent had three girls who gave them ten grand-kids – ten grand kids that love each other so much. Annual pumpkin carving slam down

 

Talking about How We Liove Our Heros at the Rita's & Readers in Dallas. With Jolene Navarro, Jade Lee & Julie Ann Walker
Talking about How We Love Our Heroes at the Rita’s & Readers in Dallas. With Jolene Navarro, Jade Lee & Julie Ann Walker
Best Group of writers an author could hang out with. San Antonio Romance Authors
Best Group of writers an author could hang out with. San Antonio Romance Authors
Family makes the year full of joy even if you only see them on the holidays - maybe because you only see them on the holidays. lol
Family makes the year full of joy even if you only see them on the holidays – maybe because you only see them on the holidays. lol
Here's to many more smiles in 2015
Here’s to many more smiles in 2015

Wow – Looking back on the year and finding my highlights I was amazed at the wonderful people that have been brought into my life. Some long term and had no choice, family is family, others have come in and guided me and came with so much love I have a hard time believing it.  Thank you.

Christmas Past, Christmas Future: What makes it feel like Chirstmas for you?

I love decorating for Christmas – pulling out the pieces of history from my family and adding new for  future generations.

The first item that gets unwrapped (reading the headlines from the years past is fun too) is my mother’s hand made nativity scene. Once these guys are up I know it’s Christmas! They are about 12 inches tall and when I inherited them they had a few chips and dents – I hesitate to “fix” them. What do you think? Should I repair the chipped chin and broken wing?

Ceramic Wise-men glazed by Cindy Guinther in 1975
Ceramic Wise men glazed by Cindy Guinther in 1975
Ceramic Nativity scene made and glazed by Cindy Guinther 1975
Ceramic Nativity scene made and glazed by Cindy Guinther 1975

Hand painted stockings are added to the mantel and then the Christmas tree is next! A tree full of angels and memories.

Christmas Tree of Angels and Memories
Christmas Tree of Angels and Memories

Over the years four kids have added their school made ornaments and the gifts my husband and I have received from students get added, but between all the mix-matched ornaments are my angels. My mother started giving me one each Christmas. The last one she gave me has my name hand written across a banner the little clay angel is holding. Each one takes me back to years that can’t be relived but they can be remembered.

My husband and sisters have contributed to the collection, and of course I have the ones I couldn’t resist buying. Now I have a tree full of angels and memories and I love it. Sometimes I change out the garland with red or plaid ribbons, cranberries, cinnamon sticks with dried oranges, raffia and silk poinsettias or stringed stars. I like adding something new each year to the pieces from my Christmases past.

Tree trimmings with raffia, poinsettia and family memories
Tree trimmings with raffia, poinsettia and family memories

The last thing I do every year is add my great-grand mother’s white plastic reindeer. When I was five and she was in her last eighties, she let me pick one ornament off her tree. Being the five year old I was, I passed over the old style decorations and went for the shiny plastic white reindeer. I went through a phase that I didn’t like the little plastic trimming. Now it is the last piece I place on the tree – right were I can see it and remember a women I barely knew but loved me dearly.
nativity-scene-web-3
Do you have a favorite tradition or decoration?

The Tradition of Jack-O-Lanterns has Christian roots.

Why do we carve designs into pumpkins? Did you know it has Christian roots?

The tradition of Jack-O-Lanterns came to the USA from the way of our Irish immigrants. Did you know that the original Jack-O-Lanterns were carved into beets, turnips & potatoes?

Like most traditions it starts with a myth, a story created to warn children to behave or you’ll end up like poor “Stingy Jack”.

“Stingy Jack” was an Irish man that loved playing tricks on people and thought he could outsmart the devil. It all started when he invited Mr. Satan to sit next to him and have a drink. Being the stingy guy he was, he talked the devil into paying for the drinks.

He challenged Satan to turn himself into a coin that Jack would use to pay for the drinks, Coin in hand Jack left the bar tab unpaid and put the coin in his pocket, next to a silver cross. This of course trapped the Devil from changing back.
Jack laughed at his joke. He thought he was so smart for tricking the Devil. Making a deal, he finally allowed the Devil free of the coin, with a vow that the Devil could not claim his soul.

A year later, just to prove how smart he was, Jack tricked the Devil into climbing a tree for a piece of fruit on one of the highest branches. The Devil’s pride once again had him falling for Jack’s ploy. While Satan reached for the fruit, Jack carved a cross into the trunk, trapping the Devil once again.

This time he made the Devil promise not to bother him for ten years. Before the decade was up though, Jake died.
Now the story tells of Jake’s true fate. God, not pleased with how Jack had chosen to spend his life, would not allow him into heaven. If he wanted to play with the Devil than the Devil could have him.

Of course the Devil had vowed not to claim Jack’s soul, so he was left with no where to go. Sent out into the darkness with nothing but a lump of burning coal that he carried in a carved out turnip. Jack wondered the earth looking for someone to play a trick on.

pumpkins-1
Classic, Sugar Skull and Astronaut Jack O’Lanterns by Tate Navarro, Jolene Navarro and Jackson Ward

The Irish refer to him as “Jack of the Lantern” of course being Irish, it became Jack O’Lantern. Throughout Ireland and Scotland families started making their own versions of Jack-O-Lanterns by carving spooky designs into turnips and beets.

They placed them on window edges and next to doors in order to keep bad spirits away.

When the immigrants arrived to the shores of the new country they shared their stories and traditions. Soon they discovered that the native fruit, pumpkin, made a perfect canvas for the artistic carvings.

Any good story told has a moral, a lesson to learn, so next time you see a Jack-O-Lantern remember that pride will get you in trouble and never try to outsmart the devil. It will always lead to misfortune.

Cousins & Pumpkins
Cousins & Pumpkins on the doorstep. Katrina Navarro and Jackson Ward photo by Jolene Navarro

Do you have a family story that is told as a warning?

pumpkin designs

Fall, Family & Fun carving pumpkins

I love the fall (some might call it autumn). Getting family together for fun and Frito pie with Kevin Ward’s homemade chili. The cooler weather rolls in from the north. In Texas that means we are moving out of the triple digits into the 90s and 80s. The other morning it hit 68…brrrr. Of course it was back to a cool 92 by 2:00 pm.

We might be limited in the color schemes too. The majestic oaks are ever year round green along with the juniper, but we have small splashed of yellow and orange in our foliage. I think this makes it more of a gift. We could pack up the SUV and head to Lost Maples outside of Vanderpool – it’s like a little pocket of Colorado tucked into the back of our bluejeans.

My favorite part is the unofficial kick off to the holiday season. In October 2004 my sisters and I got our kids together to carve pumpkins. We didn’t know we were starting a family tradition, but now it is part of our kids memories of growing up on the back steps.

Twelve years of carving pumpkins -growing up on the steps

Now twelve years later and the kids are actually carving their own pumpkins

This one might be the real picture.

cousins and pumpkins
Growing up on the steps – 2014 pumpkins

The level of skill and competition has grown each year.

The guts and glory of pumpkin carving
The guts and glory of pumpkin carving
Cousins helping with the pumpkins
Cousins helping with the pumpkins
My pumpkin is better than yours
My pumpkin is better than yours
Finding the right patterns
Finding the right patterns
Cleaning the guts of our pumpkin
Cleaning the guts of our pumpkin
Cousins & Pumpkins
Cousins & Pumpkins

The girls even got to use the power tools this year!

Girls using powertools to carve
Girls using power tools to carve
Carved Pumpkins 2014
Carved Pumpkins 2014
pumpkin designs
pumpkin designs
pumpkin a1
Sugar Skull Pumpkin Design
pumpkins designs
pumpkins designs
pumpkin designs
pumpkin designs

What are you waiting for go make some memories!  Do you have a favorite fall tradition?