A midnight call

  “My husband was deployed and we had very little contact (maybe got to talk every two to three weeks for a few minutes). I wasn’t expecting to hear from him for awhile and was at my parent’s house for the holidays. 

“Five minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve their phone rang…it was my husband! He wanted to end the year talking with me and start the New Year the same! It was such an awesome unexpected call! I know he pulled some major strings to be able to call. He safely came home that following March, a few weeks before our son’s first birthday. It was a great year!” 

Who does that? He did.

  “What a difference a year makes. So blessed to have my very own hero as a Dad. A year ago we watched a few reels of slides and saw photos I had never seen before. This was many of them that I just loved. 

“Yesterday Dad took his last ride down Main Street with a Police escort from one of my high school best friends, Omar. He blocked all roads and traffic and saluted the motorcade as it pulled to the church.

“My brother, uncle and nephews, Brandon and Aidan, and Camden and Carson were all pallbearers. My niece Brittany and nephew Aidan did great readings from the Bible and my sister did a eulogy that I could never do in a Million Years. She was so strong and told amazing stories of my Dad that most didn’t know. My Dad was a humble hero and never really looked for fame. The other night my brother and I found a letter he wrote requesting to go to Vietnam in the early 60’s… who does that? He did. Thankfully he was turned down and was able to meet my Mom. A few years later he would go and go a total of 2 times.

“My amazing niece Keelin belted out a Catholic version of Hallelujah. OMG it was simply amazing and I can tell you there was not a dry eye in the house. Then we headed to the cemetery. Omar stopped at our house on Main Street and hit the lights and siren for one last time at my parents’ house. I knew what he was doing. He loved my parents and knew just how to give this guy a special sendoff. Once we arrived at the cemetery we were met with a full military detail. An Army Command Sergeant Major and his team provided the ultimate farewell to my father with a 21 gun salute & TAPS– they were perfect. I know many of his friends from around the world and around the country could not make it but I wanted everyone to know it was AMAZING! God Bless you Timothy Francis Casey: Best Son, Big Brother, Husband, Uncle, Dad, Grandfather and Friend anyone could ask for.”

Rest in peace hero. Thank you for your 26 years of service to our country and dedicating your life to our freedoms and your family.

That’s why people keep saying ‘I Do’

  
“We were married nine years ago today, the day after a snowstorm. I always thought we’d have a summer wedding, but we knew he’d have leave between Christmas and New Year’s. We’ve celebrated four anniversaries apart; this is our fifth spending it together. You definitely feel the absence on the big days when they’re gone – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – but sometimes it’s in the littlest moments that the distance is the hardest. 

“As a military spouse, you often hear some iteration of ‘you knew what you were getting into,’ but I’m not sure that’s the case. No one walks into marriage knowing that someday they’ll watch their other half battle alzheimers or cancer or a brain injury. No one really knows what their life will look like together – in marriage, parenting, life. I think that’s why people keep saying ‘I do.’ For the hope. For the happiness. For the love and optimism, committment and adventure that those vows promise. 

“I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t marry the military — I married the cute guy I sat next to in high school biology in Colorado that I ran into at a bar eight years later in Florida. And when I fell in love with him, I didn’t know how hard deployments would be on toddlers. I had no idea that someday we’d move to Guam, California, Virginia. And in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t fathom the unbridled joy of watching my kids run to their daddy at homecoming. I am so proud to be a military wife. And nine years in, I can tell you I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

This WWII Veteran’s Story of Christmas 1944 Proves We Can Coexist

This WWII Veteran’s Story of Christmas 1944 Proves We Can Coexist

Contributed by Lacey Johnson

With an eerie chill of awe and reverence, I trace my fingers along the words printed on the 72 year-old telegram resting in my lap, now yellowed and contained under a sheet of plastic: “[We] regret to inform you that your son was seriously wounded in action in France eight December.”The year was 1944, and approximately 70 million tender souls had been summoned to serve in the armed forces of the Allied and Axis Nations. Some would kiss their mothers goodbye, never to stand on native soil again. Others would return – months or years into the future – eager to fill the pages of journals, scrapbooks and the ears of their offspring.

While nearly all stories would be dripping with varying degrees of ferocious bloodshed, some would be fertile with legends of a different breed: soul-stirring tales of human connection overpowering the conflicts of war.

I am going to share with you one of them.

In a blacked-out jeep blazing and swirling across the muddy roads on the outskirts of Luneville, France, an auxiliary fire lighting up the darkness surrounding him, American soldier James Howell Peebles, age 23, was transported into action on Halloween night.

One minute he was shoulder-to-shoulder with one of his fellow combats. The next he was darting across the muddy field and cowering into a foxhole – dug by the hands of a stranger who had already come and gone.

As the guns fired, the ground quaked and trembled beneath his feet. This moment was a “crossing over” of sorts; it marked his official entrance into war.

The sight of a Messerschmitt 109 German fighter plane crashed and scattered among the grounds he walked upon each day would soon become commonplace, however. And, he would learn that no man’s psyche – regardless of how well-armored – was safe from being harmed by war’s perplexities.

One brave sergeant in particular made quite an impression with his blend of compassion and fortitude. “If a soldier were struggling with foot pain, he would take their weapons and heavy load from them,” recalls Peebles, fondly.

One night, however, while the unit was under massive fire, the sergeant vanished behind the brush before suddenly reappearing. But, this time a foreign wildness had overtaken him.

He bolted across the muddy terrain in a frantic, hurling a blend of howl and shrill, “I can’t do this! I can’t take it. I’m going to get out of this!”

Although the reality of death was ever-looming over them all like a phantom, it had swept in and conquered this otherwise courageous sergeant – like a snapping branch in a turbulent storm.

But, it would not be the only instance Peebles would spend more than 70 years unable to forget.

One afternoon, like many others, he wandered out of the muddy line to fill his canteen. He moved to the edge of the field where the water was so crystal clear, the grass could be seen swaying beneath it – as though offering a glimpse of serenity amongst the chaos.

Upon quenching his thirst, he turned his gaze upward. There before him were a row of German bodies hanging over the fence in bloody defeat.

Although uncertain if his gunfire had been responsible for ending any of their lives, the sight before him served as a gut-piercing manifestation of the monstrous conflict for which he had been assigned. This moment became Peebles’ “most vivid picture of death.”

Until it, too, brushed up against him.

It was December 7, 1944 – a snowy Thursday morning near Valkenburg, France. Peebles was struck by an explosion of mortar fragments in the left side of his chest and in his right thigh. His body relented to the ground with a hard clunk.

Within minutes, a medic rushed to him – sprinkling sulfur powder onto his wound, pulling his ammunition bag up under his head, securing his raincoat over his chest and, finally, inserting his rifle into the ground. “I was not provided morphine because morphine was only given to those who were less likely to be a casualty,” said Peebles.

The chill in the air was biting and unmerciful, and many times he dipped below the threshold of consciousness before resurfacing to the cold yet again. Each time – upon his return – he was greeted by the unrelenting rocketing of gunfire.

And, he would lie there all day with his rifle standing upright in the muddy earth alongside him, serving as both his companion and indication to all that his hours – perhaps minutes – were a dwindling number.

Shortly after 4 p.m., once darkness had swallowed every trace of the day, he heard a shuffle of feet approaching from the distance. Peebles called out to the noise, declaring that he was still alive.

Immediately, their voices sliced through the night air. “Ssshhh!” they exclaimed with a cutting whisper. “We don’t know if the Germans are out here!”

The men loaded his wounded body onto the litter and carried him to the road, dodging and trampling upon shells and craters. A few days and a surgery later, he landed at Ravenel Hospital in Mirecourt, France.

Upon arrival, he was surprised to learn he would be occupying the hospital with not only fellow American wounded, but also German wounded. And, his care would be provided by both American and German nurses.

Eye contact was seldom exchanged between the enemies. Nevertheless, there they were – embodying that space in their glorious fragility: Confined within the same ward, eating the same meals and being administered the same shots of penicillin.

Pre-war college studies had granted Peebles modest familiarity with the German language, and it would prove to be valuable over the weeks to come. “I became the informal interpreter between the American staff and the German nurses,” Peebles recalls, pridefully.

In between serving his lunches, changing his bed linens, administering medications and providing “wonderfully reviving back rubs,” a few of the German staff began unveiling their own forebodings and sorrows for Peebles.

His most compelling interactions were shared with Nurse Martha Mueller, who had been captured with her hospital in Strasbourg. One day, Nurse Mueller leaned into his bedside and shared a photograph of her soldier husband who had been fighting on the Russian front. Weeks were racing and Christmas was nearing, but she was receiving no word from him.

Witnessing firsthand that German families were suffering just as American families were, Peebles recalls experiencing an internal shift, “I began to understand that we were all the same – just people fighting the battles that others had formed and planned.”

Compassion and friendship transcended – and, ultimately, washed clean – the unpleasant forces which had convinced the souls contained within that hospital that they were enemies.

On Christmas Eve, this revelation would be solidified as truth.

On such night, the soldiers dined on a festive meal of turkey, giblet gravy, potatoes and cranberry sauce. Hard candy, “surprise pie” and coffee were served for dessert. But, those indulgences would not go down in history as the highlight of their evening.


Shortly after the dishes were cleared, something unusual seemed to be brewing. While the wounded lied in their beds with satisfied bellies, their attitudes were swarmed with irritation. The ward had grown darker and quieter much earlier than its usually scheduled time. What is going on, they wondered.

Then came their answer.

In single file, dressed in their gray and white uniforms, their faces aglow from the lit candle each held in her hand, the German nurses glided through the darkened hallways. As they approached the wounded – their own soldiers lined in beds to their right, and the American soldiers to their far left – their voices projected in angelic harmony:

Stille Nacht, Heil’ge Nacht.

Alles schläft; einsam wacht —

And, then, one-by-one, the voices of American soldiers began merging with theirs:

Silent Night, Holy night.

All is calm, all is bright. —

Soon, all whom were able chimed in, continuing with other classics:

Es kam auf einer Mitternacht klar

It came upon a midnight clear

A choir of voices in English and German expanded throughout that space – some loud and robust, some weak and small, some balancing on perfect pitch and some teetering just out of tune, but exchanged between individuals who – only weeks prior – had represented the other’s demise. It was an otherworldly type of dissonance that would stretch on for only 10 minutes, while the echo of its impact would resound for generations to come.

“People who were shooting each other a week before were now sharing Christmas,” Peebles said with eyes lowered, unable to forge his recollection without a series of tearful pauses.

These souls – despite having been trying to kill one another weeks prior, and unable to speak the same language – were being cradled by the same moment.

I consider the possibility that true human connection is capable of conquering any language barrier, any cultural barrier and any ego-concocted barrier. And, so I wonder, now 72 years later – whether immersed in the spirit of Christmas, the lights of Hanukkah or simply gazing onward with hope for a New Year, shouldn’t we consider that human connection transcends all that we believe to be worthy of rivalry? Are we not all fighting battles, engaging in bigotries and wading through sufferings others have formed and planned?

Perhaps we can lift the veil of our differences this holiday season, and be cradled by our unified humanness – just as our forefathers did all of those Christmases ago.



**

Lacey Johnson is a magazine writer and journalist based in Nashville, Tennessee. For further reads that inform, inspire and feel like a hug, visit her pride-and-joy here.

They’re living what we have all feared 


​On December 8, 2016, Jake Frederick made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. He was a Marine F/A-18 fighter pilot and was finishing up another long deployment when a mishap during a routine training flight took his life.

Left behind are his beautiful wife Kiley, three year old son and their baby daughter, who is due to be born in January. Kiley has served them all selflessly since their military journey began, sacrificing many things for their family while Jake proudly served. Today, Humans on the Homefront is asking – in this season of giving – that you donate to this family. Even the smallest amount tells this family “we care, we mourn with you and we support our military.”

The following was submitted by a close friend of the Frederick family:

“This is our life. We gather up our babies, put our strongest smiles on, and send our husbands off into the sky. We pray together, play together, and love together. We are a family. We have lost one of those men we sent off, a great one, and our hearts are broken. But most of all, hers is broken. She and her son are living what we have all feared. Her daughter will be born next month and will be so loved. But she’s lost her daddy. My sweet Kiley has lost her very best friend. I wish I could fix it for her. 

Please pray for their families. Just pray. May the Lord be glorified in all of this.” 
Please donate here: 

https://www.gofundme.com/frederickfamily

It was a long time ago, but I served my country

“I was born in 1925. I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and went to St. Elizabeth’s grade school. I was the oldest of four– two brothers and a sister. We grew up during the Great Depression. My dad was a chief photographer at the Kansas City Star, so he had a job and we were lucky. A lot of the kids I went to school with were really poor.

“When I was in high school, only one kid had a car. Nowadays you go by a high school and you can’t find a parking spot. We just lived on a lot less. We appreciated what we had. When I was a senior in high school, I forget what the occasion was, but we were at a get together in the gymnasium on a Sunday when we heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Hardly anybody knew where Pearl Harbor was. I graduated the following spring and I knew I wanted to go in the service. My dad had been in the Navy during World War I so I was preparing for the Navy. He didn’t talk about it too much, but he was a radio man on a couple different ships. He was quite young– he went in when he was only 17. 

“I was only 17 when I graduated, so I got a year of college plus some Navy training at Park College in Missouri. I left that summer after my freshman year, and was assigned to midshipmen school at Notre Dame University. It was all Navy, and it was all men. We took some hard courses in navigation and damage control. I got my commission as an ensign. I was 19 years old. From there I went to Virginia. We’d formed a crew for an LST; LST-1039 it was called. We trained our crew in Norfolk and from there floated our ship down the Ohio and Mississippi down to New Orleans and to the Gulf of Mexico. We went through the Panama Canal and we got our final orders once we got to Pearl Harbor: we were headed for the invasion of Okinawa. We were in Hawaii about two weeks and then we headed out. I remember being on the Pacific Ocean for several days with nothing in sight but the ocean.
“I was still only 19 years old. I learned how to command men. As far as I know, they pretty well respected me even though I was just a kid. Some of the old Navy chiefs that were on the ship kind of took me under their wing, really. I got along real well with all of them. I took care of the navigation. I had to keep a log of where we were each day, using a sexton and celestial navigation and I kept track of it all in my War Diary. We didn’t have GPS back then.  

“We were at Okinawa about a month. We were right in the middle of it. There’s a movie that just came out, Hacksaw Ridge, about the invasion of Okinawa… pretty bloody. There’s a scene in the movie that shows some cruisers coming around and firing into the hills to support the troops. But anyway, I was there. Of course, we were anchored out in the harbor when all that was going on, but that’s one thing I can remember– these cruisers coming around in the morning and firing into the hills. Then the kamikaze planes would come over, usually close to sunset, and the whole harbor would open up. It looked like the 4th of July with all the tracers going up. A ship got hit fairly close to us. From the air, I’m sure the LSTs looked like small aircraft carriers. It was a lot of young Japanese pilots. See, they were just kids that they recruited, and they knew they were going to die for their emperor but they were very inexperienced. So they’d go after our LSTs. That was my extent of firing at the enemy, firing our anti-aircraft guns. But to see all those tracers going up at sunset… it was really a beautiful sight. 

“I don’t ever remember being afraid. I was young and stupid, I guess. We did go through a typhoon while we were in a convoy, and that was pretty scary, but like I said, I was young then. And faith played such a big role. For a while, on Sundays, when it was possible, I’d conduct a Catholic service on the ship, and our Executive Officer would do a Protestant service. We were in danger quite a bit, but I always thought if it was my time to go, I’d go, and if it wasn’t I’d make it through. I never worried about it. 

“We were ordered back to Pearl Harbor to load up for the invasion of Japan. We were all hot to go. We were ready. We were about a day out of Pearl Harbor when we got a radio report that the bomb was dropped. We didn’t know what the heck an atomic bomb was. By the time we got there, the war was over. It was a pretty happy day. If we would have had to invade Japan, I probably wouldn’t be here. We would have been one of the firsts to go in to Sasebo, which was a big secret Japanese Navy base at the time. I tell my kids President Truman saved my life. 

“We loaded up with Marines again and went back for the occupation of Japan. We were there for about a year then. We went to Saipan and loaded up with Korean civilians that the Japanese had kept as slave labor, and went to Peleliu and loaded up with Japanese soldiers that had been there, to take them back to Yokohama. The soldiers were just docile. They appreciated us taking them home. In fact, their commanding officer wrote a really nice thank you note to our commanding officer for taking them back. During the occupation, the Japanese people treated us like saviors… like they loved us. 

“When we finally came back to the states after being overseas for a year and a half, the first port we hit was San Francisco. I’d always heard about the Top of the Mark in San Francisco. A couple of my friends and I went and darned if they didn’t ask for an ID and I wasn’t 21 and they wouldn’t let me in! That really ticked me off. I celebrated my 21st birthday not too long after that. I met Mary Ann toward the end of that summer, 1946. When we got back, most of the guys I knew went back to school like I did. Some great people came out of that generation. All of my school was paid for. They really took care of us. 

“I stayed in the active Navy reserve at the time. We took a cruise every year. Then the Korean War started, and they started calling everybody up. I was going into my senior year of dental school and I transferred to the Navy Dental Corp. I was a two striper, but had to go back to ensign when I went back to active duty. Mary Ann and I got married in November of my senior year, 1950. Our first child was born in the Navy Hospital in Balboa, and I had orders to go to Korea with the First Marine Air Wing. The baby was 3 months old. I brought them back to Kansas City to stay with my wife’s parents while I was gone. We drove clear back from Laguna Beach, and we got stuck in a blizzard for 3 days. I finally got them back to Mary Ann’s parents’ place and left and went to Korea.

“Korea was so backward back in those days. People were still using oxcarts. I lived in a Quonset hut with Marine pilots. We got to the Marine Air Base, and nearby was an orphanage run by a French priest. We kind of adopted them. We took excess food and supplies to them; we did whatever we could do to help out this old priest, Fr. Deslanden. I was over there about 9 months and I had a little dental clinic. One thing I discovered later on was that Ted Williams, the baseball player was a Marine pilot stationed at our base and John Glenn, who later became an astronaut, was also a pilot. I knew who Williams was, but John Glenn wasn’t famous yet. Williams was his wing-man apparently. I got along great with the pilots. They were flying close air support, so they were often in danger, but our base was far enough back that we were never attacked while I was there. 

“It was quite joyful coming home. I was still in the reserve, and I had thought about getting in an active reserve unit again, but then I thought better and resigned. If I hadn’t, I probably would have gone to Vietnam. So I severed my ties with the Navy. I served a total of 12 years. It was different deploying to Korea than World War II. In Korea, I didn’t have any contact with the enemy. But I was proud of my service. We loved our country. We thought our country could do no wrong back then. If I could do it all over again, I’d do the same thing. 

“I practiced dentistry for about 30 years before I retired. I just had my 91st birthday in June. Strange as it may seem, I’m among the youngest of World War II Veterans that saw any action. Mary Ann and I just celebrated our 66th wedding anniversary November 25th. We have six children, 19 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren so far. We dated for about four years. We knew we couldn’t get married while I was in school, so we dated other people during that time. It was pretty tough on us. We were in love. And we still are. A good marriage certainly helped during Korea. She kept all the letters I wrote her. I think it was probably tougher on her than it was on me. She had a new baby and was worrying about me. 

“If I had to give my great-grandchildren advice, it would be to appreciate your country. I saw some living conditions that were pretty bad during my years in the service, and since then I’ve been to places like Haiti and Dominican Republic. It’s made me appreciate being an American even more. Back during WWII they had rationing. You had to have a sticker on your car which allowed you so many gallons of gas per month, and a lot of food was rationed. Nowadays, there are people in the United States that aren’t suffering a bit while some of our soldiers are being killed overseas.

“I appreciated the experience I had when I was in the Navy. It was a long time ago, but I served my country and I appreciate all that I have. I have a lot to be thankful for.”