Military Monday – Joining a Military Association

I attended the 90th Division Association Reunion in St. Louis this past weekend. The reunion was my first experience with a military association and I was not sure what to expect. Norm Richards, the researcher at the NPRC who helps with my research and my client work, suggested I attend. He said it would give me an opportunity to go through the records here, meet veterans, and talk about my books. In Stories of the Lost, I tell the story of 90th Division man James Privoznik.

90th Hospitality signI showed up alone and was welcomed into the 90th Division family immediately. Not long after I checked in I was ushered to the bar accompanied by Al the cameraman for the association. We met Norm and a few others in the bar and a good time was had. New friends immediately appeared out of nowhere as old friends reunited. It was wonderful. I also had the opportunity to meet a French who helped me with my 29th Division story, Christian Levaufre. We were sitting at dinner and I had heard his name repeated and Norm introduced us. After a while I couldn’t stand it any longer and finally pulled my book out to see if I was correct that I had emailed with this man. Yes I had! Christian and his wife and family are very active in France honoring the history and sacrifice of the 90th Division and others. It was such an honor to finally meet this man.

On Friday I spent most of the day in the main room pouring over Morning Reports, Chaplain diaries, medical journals, books, and meeting other people as they strolled in and out of the room. Two veterans spoke about their experiences in a POW camp during the afternoon. And a banquet was held in the evening where Christian spoke about a new 90th Division monument erected in his town.

Saturday I spent the morning in the main room looking at records and talking to several people. The afternoon was quiet. I had lunch with Al, then Frank, a WWII veteran joined us to talk a while. Then my friend Christian from Chicago, who now works in St. Louis, met me and we were able to talk for several hours before the evening banquet. Again we ended up in the bar after dinner and I almost closed it down with the group. I had the opportunity to speak with several people, laugh, and have a good time.

Sunday morning the Association held a Memorial Breakfast. At this we had a short sermon and honored the men who had passed away in the last few years. Taps was played and the flag folded. It was very moving. Before I left one WWII veteran thanked me for the work I was doing, the books I’m writing, and the teaching and assisting others to help them find information and write the stories. He said it was important. I was very humbled by his words. We should continue to dig and talk to our family and write the stories of those who have gone before. This is our duty and one way we can thank all our veterans for their service so we can live our lives in freedom and peace.

As I sit here writing, I keep thinking about all the military associations and reunion groups like the 90th Division Association. When you conduct military research, these types of organizations should be on your radar to reach out to. Why? Well not only will you meet some really great people and get to speak with veterans but there are usually records. The 90th Division Association has a historian, Norm Richards, who I spoke of above. Norm has collected copies of almost every Morning Report available for the division. He also has unpublished diaries, journals, binders with short stories, notes, and photographs. None of these things have been digitized but are available if you attend the reunion or contact him about your 90th Division ancestor.

One issue associations like this face is the same one genealogical societies face. The old guard is aging and they need new blood to step up and start filling in the gaps. New blood is needed also to bring processes into this day and age. The 90th Division is working on these issues. I’m sure many other associations deal with the same things. As the WWII veterans die, who will be around to honor their legacy? How can we encourage the families to attend? How can we get the younger people involved?

As the Memorial Breakfast drew to a close yesterday, the outgoing and incoming Presidents and another member of the board stated the 90th will begin to change and adapt to continue meeting the needs of its members. It will continue to honor the traditions of the Tough ‘Ombres and remember their heritage. It is up to the members to help them do that. If you know of someone, or are someone who has or is serving with the 90th Division Tough ‘Ombres, please consider joining their Association.

If you have not yet joined a military association for your family, consider doing so. We owe it to those who fought and died to remember them and their history.


© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Surrender To The Writing

This morning I am doing some writing for a course, a book I’m working on, and a military writing workshop. I came across something I wrote a couple months ago that seems very appropriate for a blog post this morning. It is a train of thought writing that I have incorporated into several projects but it also offers food for thought. As you consider writing your military stories, or writing at all, think about the following. It has certainly been on my mind since I did the rewrites for The Tiger’s Widow in June when I feel like my soul was ripped in two as I wrote. The story completely changed and in the end……it was BETTER.


Writing is a very personal activity. Through writing we immerse ourselves in the depths of life, love, and loss. We explore issues and problems that seem insurmountable. We open ourselves up to vulnerability and criticism. It can be SCARY!

Pick up any writing guide and it will tell you writing is hard work. Perhaps, but I don’t view it that way. I see it as an outlet through which expressions of hope, fear, desire, and love flow. There are days the words flow like a raging waterfall and other days they stagnate like a smelly, slime covered green pond. You just have to be vulnerable and go with the flow of it all and do the best you can.

What does becoming vulnerable have to do with writing military stories? War is hell and those (mostly) young men who went off to fight were scared, vulnerable, homesick, and full of hope, desire, fear, and love. When we open ourselves up to these realizations we become better writers. We tell the stories of those who went to war more compassionately. With more truth and honor than if we stayed closed off.

Can we just give the facts and leave it at that? Yes, but who will really want to read that story all the way through or even more than once? When we better understand what was was like and what our soldiers experienced, we can try to (but never fully) stand in their shoes to relay their experiences.

People talk about genealogy serendipity, the occurrence where the right person or record is put in our path. Some researchers and family members even feel guided by their ancestors. It is as if someone is whispering in your ear. This whispering happens to me all the time. Maybe it is a thought that crosses my mind or an email with information. Sometimes as I write, the words just flow and when I am finished I wonder where they came from.

So when you next sit down to write, let it flow. Let go of all your reservations and see what happens to your military or family stories. What gold nuggets will you uncover as you write? What story will flow out that you never expected?

© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Follow Friday – New Ricigliano Chicago Ancestors

I haven’t posted in a while about the work I’m doing on the people from Ricigliano, Italy, although a lot of people left comments in those posts. This morning I received another comment referring to a specific blog where a woman named Anne is trying to identify over 100 of her mother’s old photographs. Not only are photographs involved but also original documents.

Please visit Anne’s blog Welcome to DorothyDe and browse her photo gallery. Can you help identify any of the individuals there? Please try and then if you would be so kind as to come back here and leave a comment as to which photos you identified, it would help others researching these same families.

Who was DorothyDe? Dorothy DeLeonardis was the wife of George Halston. Dorothy’s parents were John DeLeonardis (1895-1960,) who ran the Loyola L newsstand, and Carmella Saracco (1893-1979.)

On another note, I am still running the genealogy program at Casa Italia in Stone Park, IL. This fall I will be putting out a call for original photos and documents to be donated to the Rigi Collection. I have most of the other files in the archive organized.

Please stay tuned!

© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Categories: Italian Genealogy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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