Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Blog was lost so here we go again . . .

You may note that my blog is missing the many pictures it had. I lost the entire blog BUT thanks to one of my wonderful son-in-laws who archived it, I was able to retrieve the written word. Over then next couple of months, I will add the other four lost posts and begin the process of re-adding the rest of the pictures. I will then begin again to write my history in the hopes that it will be a blessing to my children and grand children as well as so many of you who have had such a remarkable impact on my life.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Two of Three Go to War, One Never to Return . . .

Grandpa and Grandma Smith's three sons, my dad Harry, my father David, and my Uncle Neil Lauritz Smith.

A few years back I was sitting with Claigh in the dollar theater in our St. Charles community watching the World War II movie "Memphis Belle." As a scene of a fierce air battle unfolded, they showed a young gunner sitting in the bubble under the rear of the plane. The plane was shot down. The tears flowed as I was filled with deep sadness and a small sense of just what my Uncle Neil experienced at the young age of eighteen. For the next few days, I thought of my Grandma Venice and Grandpa Havelock and wondered at their anguish when they received word that their boy was shot down over Germany.

On September 10, 1939, the Canadian Parliament declared war on the German Reich. World War II left it's mark on many families throughout the world. My Grandpa and Grandma sent two sons to war.

Harry Havelock Bills Smith III and brother Neil Lauritz Smith

The first of the brothers to enlist was Harry who enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces July 31, 1943. He was soon followed by Neil who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on August 18, 1943. Underage but determined and with his father's permission, Neil made his way to Calgary. Only 17 1/2 years old, he was the youngest boy to enlist from Coutts. In a short seven months he received his wings and Sargent stripes. In April 1944 he left for Europe after a visit home to see his family. Harry was home during the same time. This would be the last Grandpa and Grandma would have their three sons together in this life. Neil served as the Mid-Upper Gunner in a Lancaster Bomber

My Uncle Neil's flight crew - In this photo, Neil is in the front row on the right.

Much to his dismay, Harry's service was more of a supportive role for those on the field of battle. Due to a severe case of Polio as a child, his arms were weak. He was only 5' 2 3/4" tall and weighed 190 pounds. While noting his weight and physical limitations, "determined", "thoroughly conscientious", "persistent", "can be depended upon", "an excellent chap", "pleasing personality", "straightforward", "cooperative", "first rate man", "intelligent", "thoroughly capable", "with much ability", "quite ambitious", "disappointed at his allocation [but] his attitude is excellent", "highly regarded by other men in his platoon" are direct quotes from various reviews in his military record.

In England Harry served for some time as a clerk before becoming a driver with the Army Corp of Engineers. While he was in areas that were bombed, he never saw battle. He did suffer night terrors recreating his experience "under fire" throughout his life. Dale reports that one time when he was playing with toy soldiers, creating bomb sounds, Dad told him just how terrifying it was to hear bombs falling. This was a rare admission by dad. We can remember his telling us often with a twinkle in his eye, "I won the Battle of the Bulge single-handed. When the Germans saw me coming over the hill, they died laughing." Like many of the men who went to war, he did not burden us with the horrors he saw.

Stationed at an airbase, Harry drove a large gravel truck. It was his responsibility to fill in bomb craters and keep runways in good repair. After Canadian forces liberated Holland, Harry was transferred to aid in the liberation of POW camps. He drove ambulance. He felt great concern that they avoid bumps and jarring due to the suffering of the ones they were transporting and the need to keep them as stable as possible. This was no easy task with the condition of the war damaged roads. Perhaps the most frightening experience Dad had during his war service was when his ambulance was separated from the main convoy. It all ended well but there were some tense moments before he made his way back to the camp.

The time in Europe made strong impressions upon dad. I remember him talking of devastated landscape, empty department stores, the starving people and the "black" bread that was tough to eat because of the un-milled seed. The soldiers were well fed. Dad could trade his cigarette rations for candy for the Dutch children or eggs for a German family he tried to help. While he did what he could, he felt the sadness of being able to do so little to alleviate the suffering. [For as long as I can remember, Dad and Mom were diligent in storing a years worth of food and supplies. This was not about hoarding but being prepared. And it was not about just being prepared for ourselves, but for any around us who had a need.]

In the meantime, November 16, 1944 found Neil's Lancaster in the skies over Düren, Germany. In one day the city of Düren was completely destroyed by Allied air bombings leaving approximately 3,000 residents dead. Casualties of the Allied forces were few. Uncle Neil's bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire from the ground and crashed that day.

Just over a year later, Harry made his way by train to Düren in hopes of verifying his brother's death. It is possible that he had received a copy of a report issued in October The local Germans and possibly the American soldiers stationed there were very helpful and were able to guide him to the site. The plane had come down near a military barracks surrounded by flack guns. It is likely these were the guns that hit the Lancaster.

According to official reports, one body was left intact in the plane which was later identified as Sargent Leaman. It is unclear who buried the remains of the rest of the crew in three graves but it is believed that the graves were marked by American forces and reported to the British. Dad found some small bones and teeth in the wreckage and buried them along side the graves. He recorded numbers that were visible on parts of the wreckage to be used as identifiers. According to Mom, Harry tenderly set stones around the graves of the crew and spent quiet time alone reflecting on the loss of his younger brother. He took this photograph for his mother and father. Later the remains were removed to the Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany. It wasn't until Jan 6, 1950 that the military confirmed that Dad had correctly identified the site.

While in Europe, Harry also located graves for two other Alberta boys, taking pictures for their families. I am confident this was a blessing to those grieving the loss of sons.

Harry was discharged 2 August 1946. He received the France and Germany Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Clasp, and the War Medal 1939-1945.

War is such an ugly thing. The evil and lust for power that exists in the hearts of some will bring them before the judgment bar of a just God. They will be held to account for the destruction they cause. They will feel the full weight of the anguish they brought upon others. They will be left to themselves.

I am grateful for good men who give their all for the cause of freedom. Some like my Grandpa and Grandma sacrifice sons and daughters. Some lose brothers or sisters. Others lose fathers and mothers. Perhaps the greatest sacrifices are the ones made by brave men and women like my Uncle Neil. He gave away his future in a freedom fight for others.

As the world becomes darker and more distant from the God who created her, I too want to be on the front lines of freedom fighters. I may never face a gun battle but I know the fight with sin is real and I pray for the strength and guidance to meet each day strong in the cause of truth and liberty.

I pray none of my grandchildren will ever see war but if the cause is just and they must, may they will be armed and ready. I hope they live today becoming selfless men and women of honor. I pray are firm in the faith of their fathers as they grow in wisdom and spiritual power. May they ever stand firm in their individual places as ones who love God and his children and follow the example of the righteous Nephites and their worthy leader Chief Captain Moroni. [Alma 48]

There are times when we must face a fight. It is critical that we know when those times are and that we are prepared to stand with those who would defend the rights and freedoms of God's children wherever they are and in whatever circumstance they live. The greatest opportunities to declare freedom are in the opportunities to testify of the power of redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be in tune with the Spirit to know our place and our time.

To know the love of God is for me the greatest of blessings for perfect love casteth out fear. [1 John 4:18] Did Uncle Neil remember the love and the testimonies of his mother and father as he fell from the sky to his death? Did he feel the assurance that he was in the hands of God? I hope so.

I have confidence in a loving Father in Heaven and in my Savior Jesus Christ. I want my children and grandchildren to share in that confidence as they make their way through the challenges of life.

My favorite celebrate "freedom" Praise:

Monday, July 4, 2011

A day of celebration takes me back to remember my brother Dean . . .

For me, this wonderful day of celebration for Liberty Blessings so abundant in America began with a gathering of 150 Idaho Falls citizens on the front lawn of a dear friend's home. The festivities began with a welcome from our hostess, Sheila Olsen. Years ago, when her husband died, her friends and neighbors erected a flag pole in her yard as a memorial. Sheila is an amazing woman who continues to do much to bless this community. She is a great patriot.

Ali and Christina Christensen from America's Got Talent's top 10, 2010 were present. Their dad began by stressing that being a patriot was to be a good neighbor and loving and serving in our communities, state and nation.

Ali and Christina then sang "Temporary Home." While these words beautifully written refer to the temporary nature of our home here on earth, for me it brought to mind one of my deepest heartaches. I really have enjoyed such powerful and incredible healing from childhood traumas, but every once in awhile, something reaches into the deepest part of my soul and brings me to tears.

Following my parents death, my brothers and I lived for five years with our grandparents. At the death of our grandfather the four of us were moved into various foster homes throughout Alberta. Within that year, my placement failed and I was back in Coutts with my Uncle Harry and Aunt Viola. They adopted me when I was thirteen. In spite of all of the difficulties of those years as a teenager with my "new mom and dad," I was no longer "temporary." It was tough for them and for me BUT I can't stress enough the blessing of "belonging" even though it took me many many years to truly comprehend that belonging.

Personal heartache - My three younger brothers were not so soon settled. They too had good souls in their lives and some really not so good. I was honestly not very aware of their personal challenges until I was well into my adult life. Once separated, we had very little contact with each other thus it was difficult to know or support one another.

Years later, while living in St. Louis with our very young family of five daughters, I got a call from some agency in Denver, Colorado to inform me that my youngest brother Dean had passed away. He was only 38 years old. Dean had moved to Denver and married a third time. As with his other marriages, this marriage failed. It had been a long time since we had knowledge of where he was and how he was doing.

Dean Edward Smith January 10, 1957 - August 1995
Some background - Dean was only 1 1/2 years old when our parents died. He was the most tender soul I have ever known. His heart was good to the core but broken in ways it is hard to explain. Unlike me, he didn't grow up with "family truth" and as a young man struggling to understand what was wrong with him and his world, slowly bits of the truth seeped into his life. What he had always believed had been a lie and as he came to know some of the facts surrounding the death of his mother and father, he felt very betrayed. (Hard truth is always preferable for someone overcoming trauma than some sweet "save them from the truth" well intentioned efforts to protect. This is my own thinking and it comes from personal experience. I do not think rose colored glasses are helpful but I do believe in Pollyanna's Glad Game. There is a difference! We can only see the blessings along the way if we know the truth of our circumstances. Otherwise all is confusion and no matter how hard we try, it is very difficult if not impossible to function in the real world.)

One of the "temporary" of this world, Dean's last foster placement failed when he was just 16 years old. He was emancipated at that young age and there was no place for him to go. He began to try and cover his aching with the use of drugs and alcohol. At the time, I was a young mom of a two small children and an apartment manager of apartments for young women college students. This was the first experience away from home for many of these girls. Needless to say I had my hands full and yet after thorough discussion, my student husband and I invited Dean to come and live with us in Rexburg, Idaho. I wanted so badly to fill his life with love and belonging.

Dean had a keen intellect and was a math whiz. We had hopes for his future as he was enrolled in the community high school. However, things grew impossible very quickly. When he approached me with information about our mother and father's death, he was shocked to find out I already knew everything. He felt betrayed by me. His rage was hard to bear. He had grown up with a false narrative. This I did not know until that day.

No matter how much you love someone, sometimes you fall so far short of what you hope to be and do. Dean left with us not knowing for sometime where he was.

Over the following years, Dean's inherit desire for goodness and I can state truthfully, his love of God would bring him again and again to struggle against his demons. His first wife and her family were the salt of the earth. They loved him and were genuinely good to him. He had a beautiful daughter who he cherished with all of his heart.

Sadly, I never meet Dean's second wife, Anne Paquet or his son who was born the day after my last daughter was born. I have had some opportunity to talk to Anne and once again sense that Dean was blessed with another good woman who hoped to be a strength to him. As for Dean's son Derek, I hope one day to meet this young man of whom his father spoke so dearly. Dean loved his boy and was so proud of him.

For my brother, his inability to hold it together to be the dad he wanted to be for his children was perhaps his greatest sense of defeat. I want his daughter and son to know that Aunt Wendy speaks truth and this is truth. Their dad loved them more than life itself. What he did not know was that he was loveable and so much more than temporary.

Sometimes the breaking of the human spirit is so deep that healing process extends into the eternities. Part of our being disciples of Christ is to comprehend this and sense His mercy for those whom he truly understands and suffered greatest for. As we place our faith in Jesus, we gain capacity to know that the day of healing will come for the one we love and for ourselves because the power is in our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. There is great purpose in all we suffer through this fallen world. In the end all things will work together for those who love the Lord.

When the call came from Denver in August 1995, I learned that police had found Dean's wife Judy who told them he had a sister in the St. Louis area. Thankfully they were able to locate me. My husband and I quickly made arrangements for our daughters to be cared for and headed for Colorado. They held the body for me to have one last opportunity to kiss my little brother's cheek. He looked so old and frail. It was almost more than I could bear. I found that Dean had lived homeless, my 38 year old brother made pocket change returning luggage carts to their stalls at the airport. They said he died of alcohol poisoning.

During our brief time at the mortuary, a woman came into the room to pay her respects. She too was homeless with all the anguish of life's cruelest hurts etched into her face. She met Dean at a soup kitchen. Over the brief time she knew Dean she told him of the devastation she felt when her young daughter was raped. At that point, Dean reached into his pocket and pulled out a small inexpensive cross pendant that he had found on the ground somewhere and kept for comfort. He gave it to her and told her Jesus loved her and could help. She took the dented pendant from her pocket and gently showed it to me. It was now a source of comfort for her. This story reveals the true heart of my brother. I love him.

We left the funeral home, Dean's remains were cremated and the next day we gathered on a mountain in south Colorado owned by Judy's family. A brother-in-law told us that when Dean was on the mountain, he was at peace, away from a world that troubled him greatly. He would sleep under the stars and "rest."

Dean's ashes were scattered to the wind but his soul was now in the arms of God. The day was sunny with a cooling breeze gently caressing my cheeks. Some of us walked a ways down the other side of mountain to the old rail depot, no longer used. In the distance we heard the whistle of an historic train that continues to run. We looked further down and across to the mountain on the north to see the train winding its way through the pristine landscape, steam curling from the smoke stack. This was a sight that Dean loved. It was a comforting moment for me.

This past three years, I have been feeling out of place again. All of the girls are raised and moving forward building their own families. How I love my daughters, my wonderful son-in-laws and dear, dear grandchildren. I miss having them close at hand. I also miss teaching seminary and institute. The students from almost 25 years of teaching still hold a special place in my heart. Health challenges have slowed me down and given me lots of time to reflect and wonder at "what's next" for me. I have felt a bit of a loss in purpose.

Perhaps the message of "Temporary Home" hit me differently than many others. We need not wait to feel permanence until we see again the face of God at our death. Knowing who we are and why we are are critical to happy life. I want to be more actively involved in working with children who are hurting.

God lives and loves each and every "one." The power of healing is real. We are blessed to be able to prayerfully seek out those in need and under a loving Heavenly Father's direction, serve as the hands of heaven on earth. Life is a blessing - bumps, bruises and all. God's promises are sure. For now, I trust.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. - Romans 8:14-18 KJV