The flying of different flags on naval vessels is a sub-culture in and of itself. Depending on their heritage, culture and achievements, ships sometimes fly the first Navy Jack, a Jolly Roger or the traditional Stars and Stripes. However, USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112) might fly two of the best flags in the fleet.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer is the 62nd ship in her class and is homeported at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She is named for Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael P. Murphy, and was christened on his birthday May 7, 2011. Murphy gave his life to save his SEAL team in Afghanistan in 2005. His heroics, and those of the other SEALs involved in the ill-fated Operation Red Wings, are immortalized in the book Lone Survivor and its subsequent movie. Murphy was the first sailor to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War (Senior Chief Britt K. Slabinski was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018 for actions undertaken in 2002). As such, the crew of the ship that bears his name have a lot to live up to.
Fittingly, the ship’s motto is, “Lead the fight!” The command also prides itself as the, “MOST LETHAL, BEST DESTROYER of the FLEET!” To communicate this enormous pride, USS Michael Murphy flies an absolutely enormous American flag when she comes into port. When leaving port, she flies a similarly large skeleton frog flag as a tribute to the frogman for whom she is named. On certain occasions, USS Michael Murphy will even fly both flags.
USS Michael Murphy often flies her gigantic American flag during special ceremonies where the ship is underway like the 75th Anniversary of the End of World War II commemoration ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She also flew the flag during the 79th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor ceremony. During the ceremony USS Michael Murphy sailed in front of the USS Arizona memorial. The flag flew large and proud as Michael Murphy‘s sailors saluted their fallen comrades entombed within the Arizona.
The ship’s social media posted about the enormous flags saying, “Sometimes, just sometimes… you just have to let them know who’s arriving!” And let them know she does. If ever you spot a destroyer coming in or leaving port and flying an absolute unit of a flag, you’ll have no doubt that it’s the USS Michael Murphy and her crew continuing to lead the fight.
On September 11, 2001, America was attacked. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. From the ashes of that horrible day rose a wave of patriotism that unified a nation to say in one voice, “We will never forget.”
Across the country, and especially in the state of New York, monuments and memorials to the people we lost that September day stand in keeping that promise. Of course, the most prominent of these is the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan which is located at the World Trade Center. The memorial fountains bear the names of the people that perished there nearly two decades ago and the museum houses incredible artifacts and stories collected from that day. However, remnants of that day can be found elsewhere too.
One of the reflecting pools (9/11 Memorial Museum)
Roughly 190 miles north of the World Trade Center lies the city of Saratoga Springs, NY. Just over 30 miles north of the state capital of Albany, Saratoga Springs is a hub for thoroughbred horse racing as the home to the Saratoga Race Course as well as the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The city is also in close proximity to the Saratoga National Park which preserves the Revolutionary War site of the Battles of Saratoga. Nestled among some of the town’s famous natural mineral springs stands a sculpted metal structure paying tribute to the tragedies that took place on 9/11.
Tempered By Memory (Author)
Crafted from World Trade Center steel, Tempered By Memory serves as the focal point of the town’s 9/11 Memorial Monument. A plaque at the memorial explains to visitors that the Saratoga Springs community lost residents in the attack and how first responders, ironworkers, and humanitarians from the area assisted with response and recovery efforts in the aftermath. In 2002, Saratoga Springs residents and businesses created a respite program which granted retreats to 178 NYC firefighters, policemen, and their families.
In 2010, the Saratoga Arts Center Council, Saratoga Springs City Council, and the Saratoga Springs Naval Support Unit entered into a collaboration to bring steel artifacts from the World Trade Center to the community. After a year of work by local sculptors and a volunteer team of ironworkers, crane operators, and community-wide support, Tempered By Memory was completed in 2011. On the eleventh anniversary of the attack, the sculpture was donated by Saratoga Arts to the City of Saratoga Springs. Reinforced by the healing and restorative properties of the natural mineral springs that surround it, Tempered By Memory invites visitors to quietly reflect on the history of the site and transcend the tragedy.
However, if the sculpture brings more pain than healing and a visitor finds themself in need of further inspiration of hope, they need only look off to the side. Planted a few yards away from the center of the memorial is a rather unassuming tree. Compared to the large and lush trees in the park, this diminutive Callery Pear Tree appears to be out of place.
In fact, the tree is called the Survivor Tree and was grown from a seedling of the last standing Callery Pear Tree that once stood on the site of the original World Trade Center. The attack on 9/11 nearly destroyed the original tree which now stands at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Since its return to the site in 2010, the original Survivor Tree has spawned seedlings which have been gifted to communities that have endured tragedy. In addition to Saratoga Springs, recipients of Survivor Tree seedlings include Las Vegas, Parkland, Boston, Manchester, and Paris. The trees serve as a reminder of hope, strength, and unity through adversity.
Saratoga Springs Survivor Tree (Author)
Though memorial events for the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack will look different compared to previous years as a result of COVID, tributes like Tempered By Memory and Survivor Trees across the country and around the world stand as monuments to the memory of the people lost on that terrible day and the loved ones that they left behind.
Ahh, organizational days. On paper, it sounds like a great time. Why not have everyone in the unit come together to relieve stress for an afternoon and enjoy some quality team-cohesion time? Here’s the problem: Troops very rarely ever have a good time at what is mockingly referred to as a “mandatory fun day.”
If you’re in a leadership position and you’re honestly expecting an organizational day to raise the morale of your troops, then you’re going to need to do a few things different. Don’t worry, we’re not about to suggest major changes or anything that could jeopardize the professionalism of your unit, but you should lighten up and actually try to make sure your troops enjoy themselves if an increase in morale is your intended goal. Makes sense, right?
You can have those family fun days. Let the FRG handle that and let the troops be troops.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jason Jimenez)
We’re not suggesting that families aren’t important to the troops — in fact, they’re the most important thing to the many troops who have their family stationed with them. But it’s a much different story for the troops that are stuck in the barracks. They’re not exactly lining up for the face-painting booth like the kiddies.
Plus, when there are children and spouses around, troops tend to be sanitized versions of who they really are. That’s not a bad thing by itself, but it’s also not the way to let off steam and raise morale. You need to give them a chance to be the loud, rowdy, drunk, offensive, and obnoxious war fighters that they truly are.
You may hear them talk about wanting to drink when they’re in the smoke pit, but you’re not really going to know how much they drink unless you’re with them.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Listen to what the lower enlisted troops want
Within reason, obviously. You don’t have to take the company to the truck-stop strip club because Private Snuffy thought it’d be a great idea. But if they suggest something relatively safe, like going to a baseball game or chilling out at the installation’s bar, that may not be such a bad idea.
Nine times out of ten, if you ask the troops where they’d like to go, they’ll probably say the barracks. Perfect. Throw a party there. This also gives the command team a valuable insight into how the troops actually operate when they’re off-duty.
A squad that trains together, fights together, and parties together stays together.
(U.S. Army photo by 2nd Lt. Kyle Hensley)
Keep the day at the platoon or squad level
This is far more important than most company commanders realize. When you’re trying to build unit cohesion, it’s best to keep any morale-boosting efforts at the level at which troops operate. For nearly all lower enlisted, that means the platoon or squad level.
Platoon sergeants generally know their troops far better than the company commander. Plus, smaller numbers also mean that it’s far cheaper and much more easily managed should things get out of hand. Most importantly, having a smaller group size on fun days means that it’s far less likely that someone will just mope in the corner and be forgotten about.
Commanders should encourage smaller-group team building. It can only mean greater things when it comes to the unit as a whole.
I mean, unless they’re REALLY adverse to showing up to the Organizational Day.
(Photo via US Army WTF Moments)
Attendance is incentivized, not mandatory
When you force something down someone’s throat, they’re going to hate it. By now, you’ve probably heard infantry described with the phrase, “give them a brick of gold and they’ll complain that it’s too heavy.” Well, in this case, “mandatory fun” day are the gold, and no matter how glittery and gleaming it may be, you’re still forcing it on them.
Give troops a reason to want to go to your organizational day instead of threatening them with UCMJ action. Even if it’s something as stupid-simple as giving them the choice between attending the organizational day in civilian clothes and an early release or sweeping the motor pool until 1700, you’ll see a lot more volunteers.
Nearly every single lower enlisted troop will enjoy themselves at a barracks party over a mandatory Org Day. Why not just let them do it anyways, but with the supervision of NCOs?
(Screengrab via YouTube)
This is as simple as it gets. There’s no real need to go in-depth about why this one would work. Transfer some of the funds that would’ve gone toward a giant bouncy house and tap open a keg for the joes instead. They’ll appreciate that much more.
The Army has doubled the amount of parental leave available to fathers and other secondary caregivers of newborn infants with a policy that also provides more leave flexibility for mothers.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper signed a directive Jan. 23, 2019, that increases parental leave from 10 to 21 days for soldiers who are designated secondary caregivers of infants. The new policy makes the Army’s parental leave comparable to that of other services and in compliance with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
Mothers will now be granted six weeks of convalescent leave directly after giving birth and can be granted another six weeks of leave as primary caregiver to bond with their infant anytime up to a year after birth.
“We want soldiers and their families to take full advantage of this benefit,” said retired Col. Larry Lock, chief of Compensation and Entitlements, Army G-1. He said parental leave is a readiness issue that ensures mothers have the time they need to get back in shape while it also takes care of families.
A soldier shares a high-five with his daughter.
The new policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016 — the date the NDAA legislation was signed for fiscal year 2017.
In other words, soldiers who took only 10 days of paternal leave over the past couple of years can apply to take an additional 11 days of “uncredited” leave as a secondary caregiver.
An alternative would be to reinstate 11 days of annual leave if that time was spent with their infant.
Eligible soldiers need to complete a Department of the Army Form 4187 and submit it to their commanders for consideration regarding the retroactive parental leave.
Fathers can also be designated as primary caregivers and granted six weeks or 42 days of parental leave, according to the new policy. However, only one parent can be designated as primary caregiver, Lock pointed out.
If a mother needs to return to work and cannot take the six weeks of leave to care for an infant, then the father could be designated as primary caregiver, he said. However, if the mother has already taken 12 weeks of maternal leave, that option is not available.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lewis, a motor sergeant assigned to the 232nd Engineer Company, 94th Engineer Battalion, plays with his daughter.
(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Heather A. Denby)
Until now, mothers could receive up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, which had to be taken immediately following childbirth. Now, only the six weeks of convalescent leave needs to be taken following discharge from the hospital. The second six weeks of primary caregiver leave can be taken anytime up to a year from giving birth, but must be taken in one block.
In the case of retroactive primary caregiver leave, it can be taken up to 18 months from a birth.
This provides soldiers more flexibility, Lock said.
The new directive applies to soldiers on active duty, including those performing Active Guard and Reserve duty as AGRs or full-time National Guard duty for a period in excess of 12 months.
Summing up the new policy, Lock said the Military Parental Leave Program, or MPLP, now offers three separate types of parental leave: maternity convalescent leave, primary caregiver leave, and secondary caregiver leave.
Mothers who decide to be secondary caregivers are eligible for the convalescent leave and the 21 days for a total of up to nine weeks.
Parents who adopt are also eligible for the primary or secondary caregiver leave.
The new policy is explained in Army Directive 2019-05, which is in effect until an updated Army Regulation 600-8-10 is issued.
In 2008, Navy SEAL Will Chesney was introduced to the SEAL canine program, a team of four-footed recruits tasked with saving soldiers’ lives. What Chesney did not realize at that moment was that his canine partner, Cairo, would become instrumental in saving his life both on and off the battlefield.
Through the course of the next couple years, Chesney and Cairo forged an impenetrable bond.
“A military working dog must be a fighter first and foremost,” Chesney told We Are The Mighty. “We have a saying, ‘Dogs have a switch on or off mode,’ [so when you] put their vest on, they know they’re working, turn it off, they’re playful. You could turn it off, [and] Cairo was a family dog. He got attacked by my girlfriend’s mom’s bulldog and got his arm sliced up. And he didn’t do anything, [but] as soon as you put on his vest, he knew it was time to go to work and was always happy to go to work.”
During a mission in 2009 that involved heavy firefight with insurgents, Cairo was shot.
“I remember seeing him drop and I thought he was dead,” Chesney said. “I was devastated, but we had to continue the mission. I got to him, I was able to go and check on him fairly quickly. A lot of dogs don’t make it when they get shot, unfortunately. I got to him and carried him, as I was getting Cairo’s medical kit out, a medic came over. We got to him immediately considering the circumstances and a teammate saved his life.”
Cairo was not expected to redeploy, but on May 2, 2011, Chesney and Cairo were part of the team of two dozen Navy SEALs who touched down in Pakistan and descended upon Osama bin Laden’s compound in what would come to be known as Operation Neptune Spear.
“For us, it was business as usual,” Chesney explained. “We conducted a little more training than normal, we’re always conducting training, being prepared for anything. We knew that the stakes were higher and there was definitely a lot more energy, because of who we were going after. A lot of good people put in a lot of hard work, they were pretty confident. Cairo always fed off everybody’s energy. Your emotions run up and down the leash. If you’re mad, the energy is going to run down that leash. For Cairo, it was just another day at work.”
After the successful mission in eliminating bin Laden, only one hero’s name was released — Cairo, Belgian Malinois. Upon the team’s arrival home, President Obama awarded each team member, except Cairo, a silver star. In the wake of the Al Baghdadi raid, it’s something the president has brought up. Currently service dogs are not entitled to military awards, and that is why Cairo never received the Silver Star. It’s also why Cairo doesn’t have a trident pin like his two legged teammates.
Post-mission, life went on for Chesney and he deployed again, but this time without Cairo. A grenade blast in 2013 left him with a brain injury, PTSD and the inability to participate in missions.
Suffering from crippling migraines, chronic pain, and depression, Chesney pursued modern medicines to ease the pain, but only found moderate relief.
“I was in a very bad place,” Chesney admitted. “A lot of guys try a lot of modalities and they get tired of reaching out and go into a very bad place. One of my best friends ended up dragging me to a brain health clinic. It took him reaching out to me.”
While medicine eased the pain, the one place Chesney found true comfort was alongside Cairo, who he visited as often as possible. When Cairo was officially retired, Chesney was there, ready to sign the adoption paperwork to make it official.
“I never thought I would write a book, but there were some articles I had seen that weren’t factual,” Chesney shared. “[Operation Neptune Spear] was the biggest mission in history and Cairo was a really good dog. I thought, ‘Why not write a book about my dog?’ I wanted to get the true story of Cairo out there.”
Chesney penned No Ordinary Dog, the factual story and timeline of Cairo and his work, their relationship, and Chesney’s own personal struggles with mental health.
“If you step back and think about it, the night Cairo got shot, he saved guys’ lives,” said Chesney. “And then I got out and he saved my life. And now I’m using his stories to save more lives. If Cairo can help someone in some way, that could be great and by using the platform to talk about some of the issues I went through, [I’m] hopeful it would inspire others to reach out.”
In his book, Chesney writes,
“I share this story not because I seek the spotlight — indeed, I have always withdrawn from its glare — but to honor my fellow soldiers, including a multipurpose canine military dog named Cairo, who was in many ways just as human as the rest of us. We fought together, lived together, bled together. Cairo was right by my side when we flew through Pakistani airspace that night in 2011. He was an integral part of the most famous mission in SEAL history. After nearly a decade of pursuit, he helped us get the ultimate bad guy, and he was no more or less vital than anyone else on the mission.
But the story doesn’t end there, and it doesn’t end on a high note. It never does with dogs, right? Someone once said that buying a dog is like buying a small tragedy. You know on the very first day how it all will turn out. But that’s not the point, is it? It’s the journey that counts, what you give the dog and what you get in return; Cairo gave me more than I ever imagined, probably more than I deserved.”
Adds Chesney, “There is something uniquely American about a man and his dog. This is not a SEAL book, and it’s not a dog book. It’s a story about friendship.”
Breaking into Hollywood is hard. We all know that behind every working writer, director or actor there is a lot of hard work, failure and luck. I should know; my path to booking the role of Gilly, an Afghan war veteran on FX’s Mayans, came from actually going to war and being lucky enough to survive.
In Gilly, I’ve tried to channel the pure joy that veterans feel when they are part of a pack, either in uniform or riding motorcycles. There is also the fierce loyalty to one another that can turn into a heated argument or a hug. But at the end of the day, there is reality.
(Courtesy of Vincent Vargas)
My reality as I was writing this was to stop to answer a call. It was a call I didn’t want to receive. I was being notified that one of my friends – a Marine combat veteran – had committed suicide. In an instant, his story was over. He wanted to be an actor. We were making plans to meet up in Los Angeles, so I could help him network and find his way into film and television. He had so much more to give this world… but now he’s gone. This Memorial Day, I will remember him, but more importantly, I will channel the hurt inside into my craft.
War and homecoming are some of the greatest highs and lows of the human experience. The thrill of combat, the isolation of coming home as an outsider and the pain of losing a friend are the basis for characters that would impress Miesner, Chekhov and even Stanislavski. So the question I ask myself this Memorial Day is, why aren’t more veterans working in Hollywood?
I can’t tell you why, but what I can tell you is that veterans working in the entertainment industry have the potential to change the way the world sees those who serve and to create some of the most iconic moments of our generation. Thankfully, history is on my side. Audie Murphy, a decorated WWII veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor came to Hollywood and starred in over 40 films. His films, such as to Hell and Back, helped a nation come to terms after a massive world war. What most people don’t know is that James Cagney (yes that one) is the one who invited Murphy to Hollywood.
Seventy five years later, I am asking the Hollywood system to invite other veterans to join their ranks, as equals, just like I was embraced by the showrunners, cast and crew of the Mayans. In doing so, we have an opportunity to not only create amazing content but also harness some of the most captivating characters of our generation. Sadly, where we stand and who we are as veterans is not shown in the best light. That needs to change, and I intend to be a beacon for that change.
The common stereotype of combat veterans focuses on struggles with drinking, drugs, post-traumatic stress and even suicide while trying to find a sense of normalcy in society. Although there is truth in these experiences and I will never discount those who are hurting, it is a severe misrepresentation of who we are as a whole. The veteran community is filled with success stories — beautiful stories of courage, strength, and determination.
It wasn’t long ago when every gang member in a movie was portrayed as Hispanic or African American. Asians were depicted as liquor store owners who spoke broken English. Since that time, there has been a beautiful shift in the portrayal of other diversity groups, However, we still have a long way to go with regard to the portrayal of combat veterans.
(Courtesy of Vincent Vargas)
If there were more inspirational films with an honest narrative, would that have saved my friend? Would he have gravitated toward that inspiration and pulled himself from the darkness?
If we genuinely want to make a positive impact in the veteran community, we have to change the narrative! We have to tell stories about the ones who faced the hardships and adversity but continued to fight for their own success. We have to be more than they give us permission to be or expect us to be.
To my knowledge, out of the over 2.5 Million Americans who have deployed since 9/11, I am currently the only Iraq and Afghan war combat veteran to hold a recurring role on television series. I’m not sure why that is because there are so many talented veteran storytellers and actors out there. I don’t credit my success to any extensive training or some unbelievable skillset. It’s more of being at the “right place at the right time with the right look.” But since I am here, I’ve had the opportunity to see how Hollywood portrays us, and I am not exactly proud of how we are being represented.
What would make me proud is to see a massive influx of veterans working in the entertainment industry. Whether they’re onscreen or behind it, I want us to tell our own stories. And I want those stories to be genuine, successful and make us better people.
The world needs to know that we are more than just boots and weapons. The world needs to know that we have lives, families, accomplishments and goals long past the physical wars we fought.
If we want to see this change, we have to lead by example and become that change. Seeing the potential in ourselves and building up our brothers and sisters is literally a matter of life or death.
This post was sponsored by Kensington Books. The author’s comments below on the novel are his own.
Fresh off the latest installment of the Jericho Quinn series and several entries into the Jack Ryan mythos, author Marc Cameron was looking for a much more grounded approach in his most recent novel, Open Carry, the first entry of his next series — and the results are spectacular on all fronts.
The action is fast-paced and will have you glued to each page. The way the author describes the unforgiving and beautiful Alaskan landscape makes you feel like you’re really there. The protagonist is captivating and the supporting characters each carry the story in their own way, but perhaps the greatest feather in the cap of this novel is the emotional depth, which brings a rare degree of realness to the novel.
And, considering that author Marc Cameron lived the same thrilling life as his protagonist, U.S. Marshal Arliss Cutter, that authenticity shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It kind of amazes me that U.S. marshals aren’t the subject of more thriller novels, films, or TV series. They’re basically the walking embodiment of bad-assery.
(Photo by Ryan Lackey)
Marshal Cutter is everything you’d want in a U.S. Army Ranger-turned-law-enforcement-officer. He’s stoic, like the star of a western film, he’s crafty, like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and he always takes the most practical route in stopping criminals.
Early on in the novel, there’s a chapter in which Cutter and the Anchorage Police Department raid the apartment of a local drug dealer. Cutter takes his time poring over the details, giving the reader an accurate depiction of how a raid is conducted. Despite the careful planning, however, their plan is foiled at the last possible second, leaving Cutter’s partner trapped behind a barricaded door, alone with the massive thug.
He quickly assesses the situation, determines approximately how long his partner has to survive, and, instead of hammering away at a door that obviously won’t budge, he breaches through via the adjacent apartment’s wall. The novel is filled with fantastic moments of his simple ingenuity. Cameron does a great job of showcasing how plans can quickly devolve, and how quick thinking rules the day in the end.
But a hero is only as enticing as their opposing villain, and Cutter finds his match in Manuel Alvarez-Garza, a cartel hitman who usurped the narcotic kingdom from his arrogant and foolish patrón. He always remains a step ahead of the law enforcement officers by cleverly throwing them off his scent. But the events of the novel aren’t your typical game of cat-and-mouse that so often finds its way into the genre. Instead, they play out like an elaborate chess match between two morally-opposite but equally-clever strategists.
It’s hard not to wonder whether many of the moments in novel really took place. Author Marc Cameron served as a U.S. Marshal in Alaska, hunting down the fugitives who seek refuge in the Last Frontier. A second-degree black belt in Jiu-jitsu, a man-tracking instructor, and a thirty-year veteran in law enforcement, Cameron has plenty of real-life experience to draw from in his Jericho Quinn thrillers and the Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, but his new series seems to take his brand of gritty, action-packed realism to the next level.
I can honestly say that this novel was one of the best I’ve read in a good long while and it will keep you hooked — page by page, chapter by chapter.
To hear the author speak in his own words about his writing process for Open Carry, check out the video below.
This post was sponsored by Kensington Books. The author’s comments above on the novel are his own.
A healthy and strong military marriage is at the top of many people’s priority list, but accomplishing this takes effort.
Typically, tasks that aide this goal are not included on our to-do list. We do not think we need to add, “Daily say I love you”, but maybe we should. Reaching big goals, such as a successful relationship, is about taking little steps to get there. So, along with your task of weight-lifting Wednesdays for your hot bod, consider adding the following to-dos for your relationship.
1. Go for a walk.
There are numerous benefits to walking, but the point here is spending intentional time together away from the distractions of home. Walking is an extremely easy and effective way to get out of a communication rut. Change the scenery and see how the extra oxygen to your brain fuels creative conversations.
This is not another list of tasks, but a fun way to dream together. Think big and dream crazy dreams. Have fun imagining what you can accomplish/see/experience together. (Just keep your dates flexible!!)
3. Arm wrestle.
This was my husband’s response to things we could do to strengthen our relationship. Anyone who compared our size would know how ridiculous this is, but I’ve added it to my list. I’m not saying determining who has the most arm strength will improve your relationship, but adding something your significant other is interested in (or something just plain funny) is a good start! Find your version of arm wrestling!
There is a common misconception that going to marriage counseling is only for those in trouble. It is not. If you owned a business, you would evaluate its performance; if you want to stay healthy you do a yearly physical; if you want your car to run well, you have a maintenance check. Marriage is no different. Taking time to talk with a counselor, a mentor couple, or a real friend who will encourage and help you to grow together is an important part of keeping your relationship strong.
5. Build your calendar together.
It is extremely easy to get into a habit of living two completely separate lives. Even if you digitally share your calendar, take at least 15 minutes each week to do a rundown of what is happening each day. Verbally reviewing each other’s calendar allows you to be connected with each other’s events even when you are apart. It also provides background knowledge to ask questions more specific than, “How was your day?”
Words matter, and at some point in our military marriages, they are all we have to stay connected.Find ways to talk highly about your significant other when he/she is not around. Make a specific reminder to write encouraging notes, send messages listing their strengths or rent a billboard to highlight their accomplishments (to include choosing you). Your words count for something, make them count for your relationship’s good.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
An estimated 300,000 “war brides,” as they were known, left home to make the intrepid voyage to the United States after falling in love with American soldiers who were stationed abroad during World War II. There were so many that the United States passed a series of War Brides Acts in 1945 and 1946. This legislation provided them with an immigration pathway that didn’t previously exist under the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed quotas on immigrants based on their nation of origin and strategically excluded or limited immigration from certain parts of the world, particularly Asia.
Equipped with little but a feeling and a sense of promise, war brides left everything that was familiar behind to forge a new identity in the United States. Many spoke little to no English upon their arrival in the country, and they were introduced to post-war American culture through specially designed curricula and communities. To this day, organizations for war brides in the United States provide networks for military spouses and their children, helping them keep their heritage alive and share their experiences of their adopted home.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on September 2, 2020, We Are The Mighty is proud to collaborate with Babbel, the new way to learn a foreign language. Babbel conducted interviews with surviving war brides as much of the world endured lockdown. Many of these women are now in their 80s and 90s, and their oral histories celebrate the challenges and successes of adapting to a new culture and language, as well as reflect on the leap of faith they all took to travel across the world to an unknown country. Spoiler alert: there are few regrets.
War Brides is a 5 part series.
Alice Lawson — Belgium
I was born in Belgium, in Liège. I lived in a suburb, on a high plateau that overlooked the city. I had family that lived in the countryside, in the Flemish part of Belgium, so I knew Flemish. I also studied German because I was worried about the war coming, which started when I was about 16 years old.
I remember when I was a young girl and the Germans were coming into the city. They would crawl up the hillside with rifles in their arms, and the kids who were at the top of the hill would throw clumps of grass or rocks to try to dissuade the Germans from coming up the hill.
One soldier came into my parents’ house because he was hungry. My father said, “Come in the back and you can eat something.” However, the German wouldn’t eat anything unless my dad ate the same thing with him.
My dad worked on the streetcar system where he was a conductor, and he got me to work there as well. I was one of the people in the back who moves the electrical lines to the next one over. I also worked in the garage getting things started, moving the trolleys onto the line. I was tough.
I met my husband when the Americans came in. We went to the movies, my mother and I, and he was on the other side of the road. He looked at me and then came over and presented himself. That was it. Then we started dating.
He was an American soldier, so he spoke only English. We had things in common because I was a nurse working in the Belgian hospital and he was an American working in the American military hospital. So we had a connection in that regard, but I think the main connection had to do with the way that I looked and the way that John looked. He was good-looking, so I was willing to date him.
He wanted to get married right away. He had to go approach my father to ask him if he could marry me. And he was, of course, very reluctant, but I would not be dissuaded.
Once we decided to get married, he did a very unusual thing for an American soldier: he had my sister take all my measurements and sent them to his sister who lived in Maine, and he asked her to pick out a wedding dress for me and send it to Belgium. He also paid for the flowers and things like that so that we could have a beautiful wedding, which I think is pretty unusual.
At the time, I said to him, “I’m Catholic. If I do get married, I want to be married in a church.” So he said, “Well, I’m Catholic too.” I said, “Well, tell me a few things about the Catholic religion.” And he couldn’t tell me anything! He only knew how to do the sign of the cross like a Catholic — that’s all he knew. So he took a course in the Army to become a Catholic for me.
We went off for a two-week honeymoon in the countryside of Northern Belgium. But because the war was still going on in Japan, he was then transferred there. I was only a few months pregnant when he got sent off to Japan.
The war ended before he got there, so he was sent back to the United States and released. He had made arrangements for me to come to the United States. But when my dad found out I was moving to America, he passed out. It was tough on the family, but my husband had made a promise that we’d be coming back to visit. Of course, that didn’t quite happen as well as my mother had hoped. It was tough on my parents, which made it hard for me.
I went through the Ellis Island immigration area when I arrived, and I spent a night in New York before getting on a train. It took five days to get to Alabama. I didn’t recognize my husband when I arrived because he had gotten very sick and lost so much weight.
It was a different way of life for me because I grew up in the city, had season tickets to the opera and was an art student in college. Now I was in rural America facing an outhouse: there was no indoor plumbing, no indoor running water. We ended up moving into a chicken coop that my husband covered inside with paper so that nobody could see in.
I was also in a dry county, and I had a bottle of wine that I brought from Europe. I put it in the window to cool, and my husband saw it when he was coming home, and said, “You’re going to get us arrested! You’re not allowed to drink wine in this county!” So I said to him, “Why, are we in Russia?”
I had a couple of sisters-in-law who were very good to me. My mother-in-law as well. So they tried to accommodate me and teach me English, and my husband would give me homework every day to study the language. Of course we didn’t have TV or anything, but I would learn through the people who I met.
My English wasn’t good — there were a lot of hand signals at that time! It was difficult to learn, but I credit my ability to learn to the fact that I knew Flemish and German. There are a lot of French words that are English words. Between those three languages, I felt that I had a leg up on learning the English language.
Many times, people would call me an immigrant and say, “You’ve got an accent, go back to your country.” I remember those kinds of comments, but I could shake them off. They didn’t bother me. I was pretty surprised by the racial problems I confronted in Alabama. I couldn’t understand that kind of racism because I wasn’t used to that in Belgium.
I was once on the bus and there was no room at the front of the bus to sit. I had my son in my arms and my husband was also on the bus, the three of us. I went to the back of the bus to sit because there was an empty seat, and my husband was very upset with me, that I would do that and not stand at the front. Those kinds of encounters were part of daily life for me.
We lived in Alabama for about a year or so. But because I was so unhappy with the lack of city life, and there was no work down there for my husband, we went up to join my sister-in-law in Michigan and get a job at one of the factories.
My husband worked bartender jobs and we lived in terrible housing, but he ended up getting a job at General Motors. One day, I went off with some friends on a Sunday drive and I saw a sign that said “GI homes for $5.” So I gave the guy $5, went home and told my husband, “Oh, I bought a house today!”. He said, “You bought a house?! Alice, do you know what you’re saying?” I said, “Yeah, I bought a house.” So we took a bus over there and we went to see the guy with my husband’s discharge papers, and we got the approval for buying the house! This is the house we’re still in today, since 1950.
We lived right on the main line for a streetcar in Detroit, so we were 10 minutes away from downtown. My daughter was born two years after my son, and I would take my children into the city frequently. In Detroit, I felt more acclimated to living in America, once I got into the city routine. I’ve always been a city girl, that’s just how I roll!
I’ve been back to Belgium a few times since. I got married in 1945 and went back in 1950. Then in 1964, when my son graduated from high school, I took him back to meet his relatives in Belgium, because he was just a baby when he left there. The last time I was there was in the early 2000s.
I still manage to speak French — je parle toujours le français ! I have a small circle of friends, and we go to lunch and chitter chatter away speaking French. I had other friends who were from Belgium, but they have since passed. I still carry the Flemish language within me, but don’t have much of an opportunity to speak it to anyone around here.
I’ve noticed with other war brides that they were very eager to be accepted and to acclimate into society, so they don’t necessarily talk much in their native language. I just went along with everything that was happening here. I didn’t try to change anything. I just helped myself and learned English. People would always say, “Oh, you have an accent,” and I would reply, “Yeah, vous parlez français? Do you speak French? That’s why I’ve got an accent!”
For people who are considering moving abroad to marry someone, I would say, “Join the club!” If you love somebody, you want to do anything you can to be with them.
The War Brides series is brought to you by Babbel. Babbel has now launched a discount for those involved with the military and veterans, as well as their relatives, as a thank you for their service. It is available here: https://welcome.babbel.com/en/military-discount/
The military is known for its diversity among service members. But veteran-branded apparel doesn’t typically reflect that. Introducing Triple Nikel.
Ruben Ayala is a retired Green Beret and owner of San Antonio Healthy Vending in Texas. He had long felt veterans who looked like him weren’t really seen for their service. As he watched the violence and racial divisiveness overtaking the country in the wake of police-involved shootings against Black Americans and watched the outrage over athletes kneeling during the National Anthem, Ayala felt called to do something. He felt compelled to change the narrative of people of color and who they are.
After taking a road trip over the summer with a few Army buddies, Ayala and his friends started sketching ideas for a business. Ultimately, they wanted to create apparel that spoke to all veterans, not just a percentage of them that looked a certain way. The guys especially wanted to highlight the stories of minorities and celebrate the beauty of diversity. Triple Nikel was born. “That was the formulation of it, to send a positive message and tell a different story,” Ayala said.
Founded by Ayala, Curtez Riggs, Rod Graham and Christopher McPhee – all Army veterans – the business name has a special and historical significance. “The idea came to me from our forefathers. All of the founders in the company, we all started as paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was the only Airborne unit that people of color could serve in when the Army was segregated,” Ayala explained. A test unit during World War II, they went by the nickname ‘Triple Nickels.’ “It was only fitting to create a company that amplified stories of those who came before us.”
They received the blessing of the 555th Association with the only request being that they altered the spelling to avoid any legal issues.
Although Ayala knows people could just shrug and say they are just selling t-shirts, he shared that the company is much more than just apparel. “The first thing we want to do with the company is to start a conversation…what we’ve done in 90 days is that we’ve taken four proven leaders who are minorities and we’re taking our stories and amplifying them,” he explained. “We want to change the narrative of what veteran service looks like…You served, too. Anybody can put themselves in women’s shoes or my shoes and can relate to that statement.”
With so many veteran apparel companies creating clothing showcasing things like guns, women in minimal clothing or curse words, Triple Nikel knew they had an opportunity to do something unique. “We really really want to reach the youth that are wanting to serve. If I am a 17 year-old kid looking online for military apparel, I am going to quickly realize that those visuals don’t look like me,” Ayala said. “We want to be able to provide visuals that everyone can relate to. Women, people of color … it doesn’t matter what socioeconomic background you come from. We also want to prove that you don’t have to be the coolest guy in the world with the biggest muscles, biggest beard or the most tattoos to be a veteran.”
Not only does their clothing showcase a diverse side of being a veteran, their apparel also caters beyond one branch of service. “A lot of companies are really segregating certain services and I don’t know why. Everybody should be proud of their service; it doesn’t matter how you did it. We want to amplify that,” Ayala said.
Triple Nikel launched on Veterans Day, only 90 days after four Army veterans had sketched out their idea for the business. For them, it’s more than an apparel company. It’s a way of life. The founders hope that through their designs and apparel, they can change the narrative of what a veteran may look like and who they are. Their motto is ‘We served, too.’ It’s intentional and direct in order to spread the message that although veterans like them may not be seen as often, they matter.
To learn more about Triple Nikel and to check out their apparel, click here.
Wondering what it takes to cut the mustard in Special Forces selection?
The time of my first (just) two-year enlistment in the Army was coming to an end. I originally enlisted for the shortest amount of time in the Army in the event that if I really hated it too much I only ever had two years to endure. There were two things that I was positively certain of:
I really DID want to stay in the Army
I really did NOT want to stay right where I was in the Army
It wasn’t a matter of being so fervent about wanting to excel into the ranks of Special Forces soldiers at that time; rather, it was the matter of getting away — far away — from the attitudes and caliber of persons I was serving with at the time in the peace- time Army as it was. I understood, so I thought, that the way to ensure I could distance myself from the regular army aura was to go into Special Forces, namely the Green Berets.
(Special Forces Regimental insignia)
That was a great path forward, but with a near insurmountable obstacle — you had to be a paratrooper! Jumping from an airplane in flight was fine by me, the problem associated with that was that most airplanes had to be really high up before you jumped out of them. I was then as I am still horrendously terrified of heights — woe is me! My fear of altitudes was keeping me from going to Airborne Jump School and stuck in my current morass of resolve.
Well, just two short years in the regular “go nowhere, do nothing” Army and I was ready to jump out of high-in-the-sky airplanes parachute or no parachute. I was ready to jump ship!
Jump School was indeed terrifying despite the small number of jumps, just five, that we were required to make. All of the jumps were in the daytime though mine were all night jumps. All that is required to qualify as a night jump is to simply close one’s eyes. I did. I figured there was nothing so pressing to see while falling and waiting for the intense tug of the opening of the parachute, so I just closed my eyes.
(Every jump can potentially be a night jump, so says I — Wikipedia commons)
There were 25 of us paratroops headed to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) upon graduation from Jump School. I was the highest ranking man even as an E-4 in the group, so I was designated the person in charge of the charter bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg, NC for the course — of course! I imagined that duty would not entail much on a bus ride of just a few hours. I was shocked when approached by two men from my group who wished to terminate their status as Green Beret candidates.
Well, the course certainly MUST be hard if men are quitting already on the bus ride to the course.
“Sure fellows, but can you at least wait until we get to Bragg to quit?” I pleaded.
Once at Ft. Bragg, it was our understanding that we were on a two-week wait for our SFQC class to begin. Our first week we tooled about doing essentially nothing but dodging work details like cutting grass and picking up pine cones. The second week was an event that the instructors called “Pre-Phase,” a term that I didn’t like the sound of and braced for impact.
“Pre-Phase,” in my (humble) opinion, was a pointless and disorganized suck-athon. It was a non-stop hazing with back-breaking, butt-kicking, physical events determined to crush the weak and eliminate the faint of heart. In the end we had a fraction of the number of candidates that we started with. I noted that of the 25 men I brought over from Jump School, only me and one other very reserved soldier survived. We nodded at each other and shook hands at the culmination of the mysterious Pre-Phase.
“Good job, brother-man!” I praised him.
“Thank you; my name is Gabrial, you can call me Gabe,” he introduced.
“Great job, Gabe — George is my name — please, call me Geo!” I invited.
The documented entry-level criteria included the ability to pass the standard Army Physical Readiness Fitness Test (APRFT) in a lofty percentile, though one I am loath to admit I do not remember. There was also a swim test that was required of us to perform wearing combat fatigues, combat boots, and carrying an M-16 assault rifle.
We did it in the post swimming pool. It was a bit of a challenge but by no means a threat to my status as a candidate. I was nonetheless dismayed at several men who were not able to pass it after having gone through all they had. It was sad.
(Special Forces have a charter for conducting surface and subsurface water operations — Wikipedia commons)
The first month of the SFQC was very impressive to me as a young man barely 20 years old. It was all conducted at a remote camp in the woods where we lived in structures made of wood frames and tar paper — barely a departure at all from the outdoor environment. We endured many (MANY) surprise forced marches of unknown distance, very heavy loads, and extreme speed that were hardly distinguishable from a full run.
Aside from the more didactic classroom environment learning skills of every sort, there were the constant largely physical strength and endurance events like hand-to-hand combat training, combat patrolling, rope bridge construction with river crossings, obstacle course negotiating, living and operating in heavily wooded environments. We learned to kill and prepare wild game for meals: rabbits, squirrels, goats, and snakes. Hence the age-old term for Special Forces soldiers — “Snake Eaters,” a moniker I bore with proud distinction.
(Survival skills are essential in Special Forces — Wikipedia Commons)
We all had to endure a survival exercise of several days alone. There were dozens of tasks associated with that exercise that we had to accomplish in those days: building shelter, starting and maintaining a fire for heat and cooking, building snares and traps to catch animals for food, and building an apparatus to determine time of day and cardinal directions.
Since the same land was used time after time by the survival training, it was understood by the cadre that the land was pretty much hunted out, leaving no animals to speak of for food. Therefore there was a set day and time that a truck was scheduled to drive by each candidate’s camp to throw an animal off of the back. When the animal hit the ground it became stunned and disoriented. We had just seconds to profit from the animal’s stupor to spring in and catch it before it ran away… or go hungry for the duration.
Hence the sundial I built and my track of the days, to have myself in position to capture my animal when the time came. The time and the truck came. I crouched along the side of the terrain road. The cadre slung a thing that was white from the truck. It hit the ground and was stunned. I pounced on what turned out to be a white bunny rabbit.
“Oh… my God!” I lamented earnestly in my weakened physical and mental capacity, “I’ve stumbled into Alice in Wonderland’s enchanted forest… I can’t eat the White Rabbit!”
(He’s late, he’s late, for a very important date — Wikipedia Commons)
Some men were unfortunately unable to capture their rabbits in time before they ran away. One man was overcome by grief at the prospect of killing his rabbit — his only source of companionship. He rather built a cage for it and graced it with a share of the paltry source of food that he had. Me, I was a loner and swung my Cheshire rabbit by the hind legs head-first into a tree. I ate that night in solace and in the company of just myself.
Men who could no longer continue sat on the roadside each morning and waited for a truck, one that I referred to in disdain as the hearse, to be picked up and removed from the course. One of them was carrying a cage lovingly constructed from sticks and vines in which sat therein a nibbling white rabbit. The man was washed out of the course for failing tasks, backed up by quitting. There was no potential for a man to return for a second time if he had quit on his first try — quitting was not an option.
The event that cut the greatest swath through the candidate numbers was the individual land navigation event. It lasted a week or so with some hands-on cadre-lead instruction, some time for individual practice, culminating in a period of several days and nights of individual tests. The movements were long, the terrain difficult, the stress level very high. Every leg of the navigation course was measured on time and accuracy — we had to be totally accurate on every move, and within the speed standard.
(SF troop candidate during Land Navigation Phase of SFQC moves quickly with heavy loads — DVIDS)
I recall a particular night when all of us lay in our pup tents waiting for our release time to begin our night movements. Just as the hour was on us a monumental torrent of rain began to gush down. The men scrambled and clambered back to their tents like wet alley cats. I performed a simple mathematical equation in my head:
time equals distance
hiding in a tent for an undetermined period equals zero time
zero time equals zero distance
choosing one’s personal comfort over time equals failure
I had a Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked cigar clenched tightly in my teeth; it was lit before the rain but no more, and I assure you most fervently that it was never in any way Cuban! Plowing through the vegetation for many minutes I came to a modest clearing that I came to be very familiar with over the days. It told me that I was thankfully on course for the moment. The rain was tapering off generously and I felt a leg up on the navigation for the night.
I reached for my cigar but there was none there save the mere butt that remained clenched in my teach. To my disgust the waterlogged cigar had collapsed under its weight and lay in a mushy black track down my chin and neck edging glacially toward my chest. There would be no comfort of the smoke, nor deterrence of mosquitoes by the smoke of the Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked positively non-cuban cigar that night.
More than five months later I sat on my rucksack (backpack) of some 50 lbs just having completed a timed 12-mile forced ruck march, nothing any longer between me and graduation from the SFQC course. There were plenty of things to think of that had happened or did not happen to me over the nearly half-year, though I somehow chose the bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg to ponder. How rowdy and arrogant the crowd had been, all pompously sporting green berets that they hadn’t even earned yet. Me, I had chosen to wear my Army garrison cap — nothing fancy.
I filtered through the events that had taken each man who had not already quit from that arduous bus ride from Jump School. I remember how they had all failed or quit one by one except that one brother whose hand I shook at the end of pre-phase.
Buses pulled up to move us back to some nice barracks for the night, some barrack at least 12 miles away by my calculation. Usually everyone snatched up his own rucksack by his damned self, but on this occasion the brother next to me pulled up my rucksack to shoulder height for me in a congratulatory gesture of kindness.
I in turn grabbed his rucksack in the same manner though with a deep admiration and respect for the man who had come all the way with me from Jump School through the SFQC fueled by reserved professionalism. His name was Gabriel, but I just called him Gabe.
Getting a website with a .gov domain can be as easy as telling the government you’re a small-town mayor and filling out an online form.
According to a new report from cybersecurity watchdog Brian Krebs, someone was able to get a .gov domain by impersonating a small-town mayor using information he found online. The person used a fake Google Voice number and fake Gmail address, both of which reportedly cleared the government’s authorization process.
“I assumed there would be at least ID verification. The deepest research I needed to do was Yellow Pages records,” the unnamed source told Krebs.
A spokesperson for the US General Services Administration, which is in charge of issuing .gov domains, said in a statement to Business Insider that it was investigating the issue and couldn’t comment on open investigations.
In a separate statement to Business Insider, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said protecting the integrity of the .gov domain from fraudsters is “critical” to national security. CISA is housed under the Department of Homeland Security, and a CISA spokesperson said that the agency has asked to take over control of authorizing .gov domains from the GSA.
“The .gov top-level domain (TLD) is critical infrastructure for thousands of federal, state and local government organizations across the country,” the CISA spokesperson said. “Its use by these institutions should instill trust. In order to increase the security of all US-based government organizations, CISA is seeking the authority to manage the .gov TLD and assume governance from the General Services Administration.”
Once the person obtained a fraudulent .gov domain, they were also able to access Facebook’s law enforcement subpoena system, which allows government agencies to request personal information on Facebook users, screenshots obtained by Krebs show. A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In 1937, a young Chicago woman named Aida Garaffa lived across the street from a young man named Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto.
A trip to a local shop would join the two hearts together in love.
“My sister and I were walking to the corner of Throop Street. There was a grocery store where we bought ice cream. When we came out of the store we saw Jerry,” explained Aida Bonsonto who recalled that first meeting with her future husband.
“He asked me if I wanted to go to the movies with him. He wasn’t a big fellow. He was about five-feet four-inches but he was handsome,” she said.
But world events, specifically World War II, would interrupt their courtship.
“The war was going on. He was drafted,” explained the youthful 97-year-old. “He was inducted on Dec. 12, 1942. We were engaged and then he left for training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”
Aida Bonsonto with her husband Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto pose for a photo, circa 1946.
Bonsonto trained as a medic and paratrooper and was assigned to the 307th medics of the 82nd Airborne Division.
“He landed in Africa first,” explained Bonsonto. “And he also served in Sicily, Italy, Ireland, England, France, Holland, and Germany. He was in the Battle of the Bulge.”
It was there where bullets fired by a German sniper found their mark hitting Pfc. Bonsonto. When she found out, she went to Holy Family Church in Chicago. The same church where the couple would be married later on June 8, 1946.
“When we found out he was wounded, I crawled from the door to the altar of Holy Family Church. I asked God to spare his life,” she said.
“They didn’t know if he was going to live,” she said. “He was badly wounded.”
But Jerry lived.
He was evacuated and sent to hospitals in England and Capri, Italy before he was discharged and sent home to the United States.
“He was never the same after that. He had a lot of pain,” she said.
Before he came home he sent the woman who would become his wife two boxes containing a parachute. Rationing was in effect, even after the war ended, and fabric was expensive. But a parachute made of silk and nylon provided Bonsonto with the material she needed for her wedding dress.
Aida Bonsonto wears a wedding dress, circa 1946, made from a parachute, that was sent home to her by Army medic Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto who served with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
“I told the seamstress I wanted a sweetheart neckline with long sleeves,” said she said. “And the bridesmaids dresses were all made in Chiffon.”
“An Italian woman made the wedding dress and the bridesmaid gowns out of the parachute,” explained Bonsonto.
It turned out the wedding dress was not the only thing she owned that was made from a parachute.
“While he (Jerry) was in Normandy, he had a French lady make me a nightgown out of a parachute. It was all made by hand,” she said.
And the cost was not what one might expect.
“It cost him two packages of cigarettes. That’s all she asked for it”, said Bonsonto.
Bonsonto shared that she still keeps the nightgown.
“I only wore it when I got married,” said Bonsonto. “I kept it as a souvenir with the wedding dress. She also stitched my name on the nightgown. It’s very pretty.”
While she waited for Jerry to return home, life went on in her neighborhood in Chicago.
“We used to sit outside at night and have coffee and pastries. We slept near the fire hydrant when it was hot at night,” explained Bonsonto. “My brother put a loudspeaker on our parlor window and we would have a street dance.”
The family of Aida Bonsonto pauses for a photo with Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, Commanding General, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command and a wedding dress made from a World War II parachute that her husband sent home.
(Photo by Sgt. David Lietz)
But the party to end all parties was when World War II ended Sept. 2, 1945.
“It was remarkable how people celebrated. I think people celebrated at least three days on this block. People danced in the streets. It was like a festival,” she said.
When Jerry returned home he started working for his dad driving a truck and never talked about his wartime experiences, according to Bonsonto.
“He wore his combat boots every day working on the truck to remind him of what he went through,” said Bonsonto. “He wore them until he couldn’t wear them anymore when they fell apart.”
Her beloved Jerry passed away in 1980.
“Everybody liked him. He was funny. He minded his business, he worked and came home,” recalled Bonsonto.
Now Bonsonto has stated that she will loan the parachute wedding dress she wore on her wedding day to the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Her next concern was how to get the wedding dress to the museum.
On Memorial Day of 2019, Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, South Carolina native and commanding general of the Chicago-based 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, traveled to suburban Orland Park to meet with Bonsonto and her family and pick up the dress.
A religious card taped into a scrapbook compiled by Aida Bonsonto showcases her husband’s military service during World War II.
“My mom has wanted to (loan) this parachute wedding dress for years,” explained her daughter-in-law, Caroline Bonsonto. “She has been contacting different museums for years. This is something she has been pursuing.”
“There’s lots of stories about these parachute wedding dresses but not a lot of actual dresses in museums,” explained John Aarsen, museum director for the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum. “We love them. It helps tell the stories about the families.”
The museum currently has one parachute wedding dress on display.
“By having this parachute wedding dress we can rotate them for display,” according to Aarsen who also serves as a U.S. Army Reserve brigadier general at the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Wichita, Kansas.
At the end of the evening, completed by a hearty meal and good fellowship, Bonsonto turned the dress over to Belanger.
Belanger is scheduled to bring it to the 82nd Airborne Division War Museum where a wedding dress made from a parachute will help tell future generations about the love story of a soldier named Jerry and his bride Aida.
“I thought it was quite an honor to be a part of taking a piece of history and making it public,” said Belanger. “Making history in such a way that it means so much to a family. It was an honor they trusted me to take a historic family heirloom and then display it for all to see. It is really incredible.”