Another “Rosie” Story

Pacific Paratrooper

Ruth & Ben Reise

When Ben Reise went to enlist in the military in 1942 during World War II, his future wife, Ruth Fern Gibb, went with him. The two had grown up together in Chicago, meeting in grammar school.

Ben Reise tried to enlist in the Navy, but they told him that he was too short at 5 feet, 4 inches, Ruth Reise said. Next, he went to the Army, which “took him right away.”

At the same time Ben enlisted, Ruth was also offered a job. Her height – 5 feet even – made her the perfect size to climb into airplane gas tanks to secure the rivets. Soon after, she began working at the Douglas Aircraft manufacturing plant, on the site where O’Hare International Airport is today.

From 1942 to 1945, Douglas manufactured 655 C-54 Skymasters, a military transport aircraft, at the Chicago plant. A photo from…

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Two Years that Changed My Life

That’s what I call my tour of duty as a draftee into the Korean War—short compared with an   enlistment or a full military career.  But to me and other draftees it’s enough to draw me to this Museum.  If they were still alive, my mom and dad would feel that way, too. Why? Those two years filled their lives as well.

I was drafted in early 1953, as that forgotten war was grinding down with another Asian war on the way.  I gave no thought to the future back then.  I was scarcely beyond adolescence and adrift as a delivery truck driver, whose Saturday pay was all but gone come Monday morning after a week-end of carousing.  Others like me without college deferments felt the same way while awaiting the draft as our parents fretted.

Sixteen weeks of grueling infantry basic training changed all that, imposing discipline, mature self-confidence, and worldly experience.  I had no choice but to follow orders, to march proudly in step, and above all to learn why in combat the guy’s life next to me mattered more than mine.  In other words, I reconstructed an untested individualism on adult terms. That’s what makes a military veteran, not how many years spent in uniform.   College doesn’t educate in quite the same way.

That process continued while I was deployed to Japan at a time when the Vietnam war was already simmering.  As a shipping clerk at Tokyo Quartermaster Depot, I joined a unit working sometimes around the clock under intense pressure to supply besieged French troops in Indo China– eventually to become Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—along with other beleaguered allies at a time of Southeast Asian upheaval.

Meanwhile mail to and from home anchored me to my family with deepened affection.  Sometimes those letters felt like life blood—for my parents as well as for me as they endured home front anxiety.  Ask any veteran of that pre-digital era about how crucial mail could be. Or any parent.

Off-duty travel in Japan expanded my world in unexpected ways, as did serving with others from around the U.S.  First-hand experience in another country and with people from elsewhere adds curiosity to life.  You begin to wonder about another ways of speaking, another history, another culture. That’s what prompted me to go to college thanks to the G.I. Bill, where I otherwise might not have, resulting in a lifelong teaching career, perpetually grateful for the opportunity.

Here’s something else—a little more subtle, perhaps, but mind-altering in its own way. After participating in the lead-up to the Vietnam War at that early Quartermaster Depot outpost, I never stopped identifying with our troops deployed there once that early conflict turned the Cold War hot.   To this day, I relive the words of our commanding officer, Major Thomas Flattley.  “Boys,” he told us during a rare quiet interlude as trucks roared in and out airlifting crucial supplies.  “Something’s cooking over there in Indo China that could make Korea look like a picnic.”  In fact, I’ve written about that in one of the several books this Museum has published as part of its outreach mission about how frontlines and the home front inter-connect.

As for my parents, still living then, they took it upon themselves to relate to families they knew with loved ones serving over there during that agonizing Vietnam war regardless of its divisiveness.  They already knew home front anxiety over the kitchen table, with mail’s arrival, or with the telephone’s ring  in the wee hours.  Even before I was drafted ours was a military family. My brother, who had enlisted in 1948, two years before war broke out in Korea, was among the first to be deployed there.  Their lives had already changed.

Two years of deployment, or four, or a lifetime career? It makes no difference.  In a country seemingly perpetually at war going as far back two and three generations, how many non-military American families are there, time in uniform aside?

Paul Zolbrod

Reflecting on May

by Circe Olson Woessner

May is Military Appreciation Month, Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day, and the unofficial start to summer. High schools and colleges hold their graduations, and new graduates luxuriate in a few weeks of freedom and youthfulness before rushing into a new chapter in their schooling or adulthood.

May is an idealistic month—we thank our mothers for their mothering, holding them up as paragons—graduates look towards their ideal future—college? A better job? The American Dream?

Ideals are part of the American psyche: we create our own destiny. We are entrepreneurs and dreamers;  we can be anything we want to be—all we have to do is roll up our sleeves and go for it.

The Friday before Mother’s Day is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which was first recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. According to, it is a day to “acknowledge the significant others of service members who hold down the fort while their partners are serving the country.” This year, it coincided with North and South Carolina’s Confederate Memorial Day on May 10th.

…Which brings me to the solemnity of May. Sprinkled in between graduations, appreciation for mothers and military spouses are some other grim reminders of  service.

May 13this Children of Fallen Patriots’ Day, and May 15this Peace Officer’s Memorial Day.

May is also the month for memorial motorcycle rides. Mid-month, hundreds of motorcyclists gather in California to take part in the annual Run for the Wall cross-country ride. Along the way, the initial riders will be joined by other riders, and by the time they all arrive in Washington DC, their numbers will swell to almost 2,000. Some of the Run for the Wall riders will go on to participate in events in Arlington Cemetery or at the Vietnam Memorial Wall; others will join the  “Rolling Thunder- Ride for Freedom” which is another motorcycle event. This year will be the final Rolling Thunder, which is ending after 32 years of educating the public about America’s MIA/POWs.

Riders taking part in these events do it for an ideal–and  to draw attention to veterans’ causes.

Thousands of volunteers in big cities and small towns support the riders by offering free meals, snacks, fuel, shelter and goodwill because they believe strongly in the ride’s missions.

For a little over two weeks, men, women and children across the country come together to embrace an ideal, which is the very essence of America. Neighbors work together to create an experience for hundreds of strangers riding for a higher purpose: riding for someone who can’t.

On May 17, some Run for the Wall riders paraded through Moriarty, NM, as they headed east.

America is a very patriotic country. We love the colors red, white and blue. We have our monuments, our memorials, our banners and our ceremonies. As a nation, we honor our war dead in flag-flying, music-playing, and wreath-laying  ceremonies. We love our freedom and constitutional rights. In May, we barbeque in the backyard, enjoy savings at giant Memorial Day sales and take road trips to beaches and lakes. It’s fine, service members say, “we sacrifice ourselves, so you can enjoy your freedoms.”


May, with all of its ideals and symbols, makes for a complicated, dramatic month. On the surface, it’s beautiful and sunny, but, if one thinks about it, it has a stormy underside. It makes people reflect…and contemplate…

Am I really a good mom? Or—How will I pay off these college loans? How can I support these kids, now that their father-or mother- has died? How can we respectfully honor the past while acknowledging its injustices? The motorcyclists on their seemingly idyllic ride will encounter bad weather, traffic accidents, and will have aches and pains and medical issues caused by days on the road.  Traffic will snarl. Barbeques will be rained out.

Memorial Day is very hard for many military families—it is a day of remembrance and for honoring people who died while serving in the armed forces. There’s hardly a military family who doesn’t know someone who has been killed in service, and unwitting people who wish service members  a “happy Memorial Day” are often treated to a baffled look— Memorial Day is not the same as Veterans Day. As one Gold Star website stated, to Gold Star families, every day is Memorial Day. So too, is it for some combat vets.

Military families will be reminded of their loved ones who are dead—or about those who are dying a little bit each day, due to PTSD, addiction, Agent Orange or burn pit diseases. Those families know that war is not an ideal, or a concept,  to those who are in it. It’s not glory and rah, rah–it’s REAL and it lasts  for an entire lifetime.

I just heard a line in a movie. “Dying’s easy, it’s the living that’s hard.”

So…enjoy beautiful May with its promises of a glorious June, and appreciate its goodness and glory, made all the more sweet by understanding its more serious underside.

Current News – CBI Veterans Recognized

Pacific Paratrooper

Five Chinese-American Veterans were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at VA’s Central Office in Washington, D.C., in a ceremony celebrating their service. The Veterans were selected to represent more than 20,000 Chinese Americans who served during World War II.

The five honorees were:

  • Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, who trained Chinese soldiers in India;
  • Robert M. Lee was an engineer with the famous “Flying Tigers;
  • James L. Eng served as an electronic technician in the Navy;
  • Harry Jung served as a rifleman and runner in the European Theatre; and
  • Henry Lee supervised POWs in the Pacific.


Co-chairs of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao delivered remarks during the event hosted by James Byrne, VA’s General Counsel, performing the duties of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary.

The ceremony follows President…

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Kamikaze Pilot Took His Wife On Fatal Flight

Pacific Paratrooper

Tetsuo Tanifuji and wife, Asako

Even though World War Two had come to an end, the story of a Japanese couple who met their death in a deliberate kamikaze suicide flight against Soviet troops has come to light and has been turned into a television program.

Tetsuo Tanifuji was a trained kamikaze pilot for the Japanese Imperial Navy, however, for his very last flight, he decided to take his wife, Asako with him.

Even though the bombs had been dropped and Japan was on the verge of surrender, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and was trying to take large areas of Japanese-controlled land in North China and the Northern Territory islands off Japan. Thousands of Japanese troops and civilians were making their way back to the Japanese mainland in defeat, so the invasion by Soviet troops was causing more chaos, attacking any military or civilians they came across.

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Walking History Books

A random train of thought while reading Chapter Ten of Jill Lepore’s very fine one-volume U.S. history, “These Truths,” dealing with the post Civil War transition from late nineteenth century to World War I–“Efficiency and the Masses.” In a curious way, it resonates differently from how the earlier chapters struck me. For it covers events that circle within the sweep of my memory–not directly by happening during my own lifetime, but secondarily, because I learned about them from older folks who actually lived them, thanks to what I heard them speak of directly, or wrote and I got to read.

…Which reminds me that, now, I must be getting old myself. The chapter begins with a description of twenty-five-year old Walter Lippmann, wearing “three-piece pinstripe suit the way a tiger wears his skin” at a gathering in 1914 where Woodrow Wilson was present. He’d “already written two piercing books about American politics and helped launch The New Republic.”

Folks in my generation know of him and of that fine magazine, which I subscribed to following my military discharge in early 1955. That’s when I became a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh and also a subscriber, and still am. He contributed to it in those early learning years of mine, by then a sage witness to the trajectory of events shaping the world I was learning to observe.

That’s what I mean when I place things he wrote, or what Jill Lepore says about him as a young observer within the sweep of my own first-hand memories. They include quite a bit of what now fits into my past: the great depression, which I know of directly; the Holocaust, where my maternal grandparents died shortly after being permitted to write a final letter to my mother, which she read aloud in tears to us children back in 1939.

I heard the radio voice of President Roosevelt, of Winston Churchill, of Adolph Hitler, of General Eisenhower, of Truman taking the oath of office following Roosevelt’s death. I did rifleman basic training as the Korean War reached its close and watched the Vietnam War take root during my active duty at Tokyo Quartermaster Depot, which was the supply center for our first troops deployed there. I witnessed the Cold War from its very inception to its supposed end. I can tell you exactly where I was, and what I was doing, the very moment I learned of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Which is why I can call twentieth century all mine even though I was not born until it was but one-third underway. Still, I learned of its very beginning from people in my parents’ generation, or Walter Lippmann’s. I may not have been around to actually see him in that pinstripe suit, but back in the fifties and early sixties I got to read about an earlier world he knew which overlapped with mine.

“Why, you’re a walking history book,” I would assure one or another of the elders I interviewed during my still-youthful forties while working on an oral history of rural Crawford County as a bicentennial project for Pennsylvania Public Television. We called the show, “A Day Before Yesterday.” We wanted them to portray life as far back as we could get the human voice to take us as nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, which I’m now reading about in Jill Lepore’s engrossing one-volume U.S/ history.

And now here I am reading about those times while I strive to produce a memoir about crossing an entire century as I have lived it–now a walking history book myself–my century as I call it. Memory is the greatest gift allotted to us. Sharing it makes us immortal among those we leave behind.

Paul Zolbrod

Home Front – Wartime recipes (2)

Pacific Paratrooper

From: The 1940’s Experiment .

We discussed rationing and we’ve discussed just how well our parents and grandparents ate – despite the rationing and time of war when all the “good” stuff was going overseas!  So …. as promised, here are some more of the wonderful recipes from the 1940’s.

Please thank Carolyn on her website for putting these delicious meals on-line!

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