Writing Wednesday – Resilience Book Review

My blog has been kind of quiet the last few weeks. I needed a little break after I released the first two volumes of my new book series. I’m happy to be blogging again.

Resilience coverA couple of weeks ago I finished reading a book, Resilience, by Navy Seal Eric Greitens. Eric spoke at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago at the end of March, but I was unable to attend his program due to a lecture I was giving. I did order his book as soon as I read the program description. This book isn’t the typical military book I usually read. My readings lists are primarily World War II related. But something about this book called out to me and I had to buy it and read it.

The book is basically the edited correspondence from Eric to his friend and former Navy SEAL team member, “Zach,” who is struggling with PTSD, and finding a purpose in life after the military. There are pieces of letters or quotes from “Zach” which help put the entire book into perspective. There were many times throughout the book, where I felt a passage was speaking about a friend in my life, or a past situation, and therefore brought even more meaning and understanding to me as I read. I even recommended one friend in particular read the book as it seemed to call out his name at certain times. He started and we have been discussing pieces of it.

In my opinion, this book isn’t one to read in one weekend. I picked it up and put it down many times over the course of a few weeks. Each time I read chapters of it, I learned something new about myself, my past struggles, and current life situation. While the book was written after many letters were exchanged by Navy SEAL friends, the strategies in this book speak to the struggles we all face in our lives. Eric offers his friend and the readers, sound advice for looking at our lives, our purposes, discovering and remembering what is most important, and helping us remember why we get out of bed every day.

I think the most important part of this book, for me at this moment in my life, was the chapter on FREEDOM. So many people tell me I need to stop working so hard all the time and find balance. Of course, we all see balance as a seesaw going up and down and never level. Eric doesn’t see life-work balance that way. We are never in perfect alignment because something is always calling us or needing our assistance – work, family, friends, community, or ourselves. He said, “Give yourself the freedom to live a life that’s balanced – not like a seesaw but like a beautiful work of art.” I love that quote. The more I thought about the idea of balance, the more I see it as a circle balanced on a pole – all the pieces of our life connect and sometimes we can’t separate work from family or community from ourselves. They all work together in harmony. The chapter ends with this quote:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

I love that quote and feel my life is this way.

If you like to think on the bigger questions in life, where you have come from, where you are now, and where you see yourself going, I encourage you to pick up this book. I believe if I read it again in a month or six months or a year, I will learn new things about myself as I look at my past and experiences. The book is timeless.

Finally, I suggest you find a friend to read the book with and have your own book club discussions about it. By talking about the things you read and thinking about your own life, it can open up a new world of conversation. It is another way to bond with those you care about. I hope you enjoy it.

© 2015, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Military Monday – Fred Goempel’s Story Part 2

Guest post by Barbara Geisler.

The IDPF had stated that Fred was unknown to his platoon, but I was able to find a man who remembered Fred quite well. They had attended basic training together, and he could pinpoint what happened just up to that fateful day. This man had been injured during the crossing. When he returned to his unit, he asked about Fred and was told that he had died.  He never realized that Fred had been declared missing, body never recovered.

I finally managed to locate one of the other men, living in Washington State. He was happy to respond, but told me that he had absolutely no recollection of Fred. I never did find the third man, but when I received the Morning Reports that I had requested, it showed that he had been wounded and evacuated to a hospital, prior to the river crossing, so I knew that he would have no information to share.

I systematically researched every man in Co. F. I made contact with several, as well as many from Co. G. All had a different story to tell, but none of them remembered Fred. Most had been injured during the crossing.

The reports in the IDPF listed other MIA casualties that had been reviewed at the same time. One was a medic and two others had been evacuated back across the river due to injury when their boat was hit and capsized.   When I looked for them on the ABMC site, I noted that their dates of death were in Feb. 1945, unlike Fred’s date of Feb. 1946.

I was able to request these files, for a fee, and waited, again, a very long time for them to arrive. The information contained in them was quite interesting, as it detailed searches for each one of the MIA’s. Nowhere was Fred’s name mentioned, nor did Fred’s file contain any of this detailed information.

The medic had been identified as dead, as it was noted in the file, with 2 witnesses, by name. The two in the boat were seen to have capsized, and it was well known to the unit that neither could swim.   As I continued to analyze information, I would learn that when there was an eye -witness to substantiate death, the MIA date would become the death date for that individual. However, if there was not an eye -witness to a death, it could only be surmised that the person was dead, and so, a finding of death was applied to that person.  

When looking through information for MIA’s, it is sometimes easy to spot a Finding of Death. We know when the hostilities ended, and a date of 1946 would suggest FOD. However, when the date is 1945, there really is no way to determine the actual date of death for a serviceman without reviewing unit history or the IDPF.

When substantiating date for genealogical purposes, which date should apply? I prefer to note the date the serviceman went missing.   It is obvious to me, that this is the actual date of death. I realize that the army’s date is the “official” date of death, but that was a formality. The family could not collect life insurance until that date was proclaimed. I would suggest noting both dates in your research, as someone in the future may question the different dates.

Inscription at Luxembourg Cemetery. Source: Barbara Geisler.

Inscription at Luxembourg Cemetery. Source: Barbara Geisler.

As mentioned, we had requested Fred’s medals, particularly because I was surprised to see that he had been awarded a Bronze Star Medal.   Normally considered to be a medal awarded for valor, I soon learned that in 1944, Roosevelt authorized the medal to be distributed to any soldier who had received the Combat Infantry Badge, which was awarded to anyone who actively served in the infantry. So, there was no General Order detailing heroic deeds as I had hoped for. But, several medals did arrive, that I was able to mount, along with a framed photo of the Luxembourg American Cemetery featuring the inscription of Fred’s name. At least I had something to offer my mother-in-law so that she could see that her brother was not forgotten.

Jennifer has so graciously offered to share my story here for you to read. If you are interested in reading more about this case, you can find the information on my website.

My search is the perfect example of how one can start with absolutely nothing, yet still manage to find a story to tell, even though I will admit that, in this case, there is no ending.

I had intended on detailing the steps of my search, but after reading through Jennifer’s recently published book, “Stories from the World War II Battlefield”, I would highly suggest following the advice that she has so painstakingly laid out in print.

Please feel free to ask me any questions. my email information can be found on the website.

And a special thank you to Jennifer, for her continued interest in my search for Private Frederick W. Goempel.

About Barbara

portrait BarbaraBarbara graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Chemical Engineering.  She began her career as a research engineer, working for Gulf Research.  She married her Chem E lab partner from Pitt, and decided to change career paths to full time motherhood after giving birth to their first child. Since 2000, her research skills have been invaluable in the hunt for information pertaining to her husband’s uncle.  Over the years, she developed a passion for genealogy, and has been volunteering since 2007 at the local Family History Center.  In addition, she has been involved with finding several families of MIA’s in hopes of collecting DNA for the WWII database.  She firmly believes that all families of WWII MIA’s deserve to have answers regarding the fate of their loved one.  

© 2015, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Military Monday – Fred Goempel’s Story Part 1

Guest post by Barbara Geisler.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law was reminiscing about her eldest brother, Fred, who went off to war in early January 1945, when she was twelve years old. In February, the family received word that Fred had been listed as missing in action in Germany. They held out hope that he had been a Prisoner of War, but the following year, the family received a notice stating that Fred had been officially declared dead.

The story was definitely interesting as she relayed that her uncle had spotted a photo on the front page of the newspaper featuring liberated soldiers in a POW camp. One of them had an uncanny resemblance to Fred. When Fred never returned home, the family had concluded that the POW camp had been liberated by the Russians and that he was one of many who had been taken to Russia rather than being let free. This woman firmly believed that her brother could be alive somewhere, and she actually hoped that he would someday make his way home.   That little girl, who ran to the window every time she heard the front gate swing open, hoping to see her big brother return, had lived her whole life waiting for him to walk through the door.

She asked me if I could find the photo from the paper. She described the details imbedded in her memory: the photo featured a group of soldiers carrying a kettle of dandelion soup at the POW camp, Stalag IX B.

I was certainly intrigued, and began my search at the local library, scrolling through newspapers on microfilm, looking for anything that looked remotely like the photo that she had described to me. It soon became clear to me why the family made the connection to Stalag IXB, also known as Camp Bad Orb.   The papers were full of names of local servicemen who were being held there at the same time that Fred had been listed missing.  But, the photo was not to be found in any of the papers that I scanned at the library.

This was back in 2002 when there was not nearly as much information on the web as today regarding World War II records. I decided to write to the National Archives, describe the photo, and ask them if they could find it.

Bad Orb POW camp. Source: National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Bad Orb POW camp. Source: National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Much to my surprise, two photo-copies arrived in my mail one day, and there was the photo that my mother-in-law had described, along with a second photo from the same camp. On the back of each was an explanation stating that the Signal Corp who had liberated the camp had staged these photos.  None of the men in the photo had been inmates at the POW camp.  My mother-in-law’s theory had been easily disproved, but I certainly could not announce this without at least attempting to find out what had happened to her brother.

I began with absolutely nothing to work with. My mother-in-law only knew the date her brother went missing and nothing else. There was no service record file or personal information to help me. One day, as I was on the web searching his name, the American Battle Monument Commission site popped up. When I clicked on the link, I was shocked to see that Pvt. Frederick W. Goempel’s name was listed on the Tablets of the Missing in Luxembourg American Cemetery.   The information included his rank, service number, and what unit he served with, along with a death date of Feb. 10, 1946. It also noted that he had earned a bronze star medal. The information was essential to finding his service record, but I certainly questioned the DOD. He had been declared MIA on Feb. 9, 1945, the war in Europe ended in May 1945, how could he have died in Feb. 1946?

I would soon learn that the date listed is called an FOD, finding of death. When MIA status was not resolved, the army designated the date one year and a day after the MIA date as the official date of death.

With this new information, I was able to request Fred’s IDPF, with his sister signing as next of kin. At the same time, I was able to request after action reports, and any medals that he would have earned, as the family had absolutely nothing in regards to his service.

When I searched online for his unit, the 5th Infantry Division, I was surprised to see that the annual reunion would be held just a few miles from our home. My husband and I were able to attend and meet some veterans from the 11th regt., 5th Inf. Div. As soon as I mentioned the date, I found myself listening to stories of a wicked river crossing where many men had been injured or died. The common theory among these veterans was that Fred must have drowned in the river while crossing. This was quite disheartening, and I could only wait for the IDPF to arrive to see what kind of information it would glean.

The reports arrived within a month, and I was able to mark the coordinates on a huge map of the area that represented the battlefield in 1945. One of the vets had been happy to copy it and mail it to me. It included the grid coordinates as well as any markings that showed German pillboxes and bunkers.

It took well over 6 months to receive the IDPF, and there wasn’t much information to be had. In reviewing the file, it soon became quite obvious that the American Graves Registration Service had made a blatant error regarding the search location for Fred. The file stated that Pvt. Frederick W. Goempel had been unknown to his platoon and had last been seen entering an assault boat 10 miles SE of Echternach.

All of the information that I had received from the 5th Infantry Division stated that the crossing took place 2 miles NW of Echternach. As I flipped through papers, it soon became quite obvious to me that each review was based on the original assessment. The original information has been copied verbatim, with a different year typed in the corner. No one had actually looked at the information in relation to the 11th regiment to be certain that the coordinates had been correct. Each review was based on the original error.

Had I not researched the movements of the regiment, I would never have realized the significance of that error.

One redeeming fact from the file was the listing of Fred’s company: F.

That small piece of information was the key to locating all sorts of valuable resources that would help to develop Fred’s story: Morning Reports, Staff Daily Journals, as well as the listing of the men who served in Co. F which was printed in the back of a book that I borrowed entitled, “The 11th Regt. in the ETO”.   This listing not only gave a name, but also the hometown. I quickly spotted 3 men with the same hometown as Fred and went about finding them to see if I could get any information.

Fred’s story will continue next week.

About Barbara

portrait BarbaraBarbara graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Chemical Engineering.  She began her career as a research engineer, working for Gulf Research.  She married her Chem E lab partner from Pitt, and decided to change career paths to full time motherhood after giving birth to their first child. Since 2000, her research skills have been invaluable in the hunt for information pertaining to her husband’s uncle.  Over the years, she developed a passion for genealogy, and has been volunteering since 2007 at the local Family History Center.  In addition, she has been involved with finding several families of MIA’s in hopes of collecting DNA for the WWII database.  She firmly believes that all families of WWII MIA’s deserve to have answers regarding the fate of their loved one.  

© 2015, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Categories: Guest Blogger, Military Research, World War II | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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