Last week Molly Maka gave us a thumbnail sketch of Historical Reenacting. She mentioned that by acting as a character in time, you can more accurately portray the details, thoughts and feelings of your hero and heroine. By doing your research and having the facts right, she said, you can add plausibility to your retelling, but she didn’t elaborate on one of the biggest reasons I and many other readers are drawn to her stories, and that is her commitment. It comes across in her scenes and in her so-lifelike-they-almost-breathe characters.
She cares and we readers sense that in her prose. Molly is a self-described 1940s girl at heart. She’s been reading and researching that time period since at least the 3rd grade. For most, we might stop there, but Molly has used her interest in Historical Reenacting to help others. She is involved with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and she’s kindly allowed me to interview about her experiences.
What is the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight?
The Stars and Stripes Honor Flight (SSHF) http://www.starsandstripeshonorflight.org/ is a hub of the Honor Flight Network www.honorflight.org and one of five in Wisconsin. The Honor Flight Network’s mission is to fly veterans to Washington D.C. to see the memorials built and dedicated in their honor. SSHF flies World War II, Korean War and terminally ill veterans of other wars to Washington D.C. to see their memorials at no cost to them.
There is a great urgency to fly as many of these men and women out to D.C. as we can. Many of them returned home with no fanfare and simply went back to work, continuing where they left off. World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 per day. In this final chapter of their life, we try very hard to give them the honor and welcome home they may not have received when they came home.
What do you do with them?
My role with SSHF is twofold. First and foremost, I serve as a volunteer. On a flight morning, you can expect to see me at the airport before dawn in a neon yellow shirt ready to help get the vets ready for their trip and boarded on the plane. But I have helped in other aspects as well including helping at guardian training (each vet is assigned a guardian for the trip), making that very special phone call to let a vet know that he or she has been chosen to fly, serving as a guardian to walking in parades. The other part of my role is that of SSHF Bombshell. Remember what I said about getting up at the crack of dawn? Well, in addition to my neon uniform, I come with a scarf on my head hiding pin curls underneath that are drying (Everyone thinks Rosie the Riveter, I prefer to think of myself as a normal 1940s civilian girl). Before the vets come home, I make a transformation from volunteer to Bombshell. My best friend pinup model Pamela Marie, http://pam2481.wix.com/pinuppam, and I dress in period accurate attire all the way down to our underpinnings with our hair and makeup styled appropriately. We walk around the airport interacting with the crowds waiting for their loved ones, but the magic begins when the plane lands. As the vets begin their homecoming parade, Pam and I are there to welcome them home with a cookie, a personal thank you…and maybe a little red lipstick on their cheek. It is the neatest thing to see the age drain off the boys’ faces for just a moment and give them a little bit of love and joy.
How did you get in contact with them?
I learned about them from someone on social media and thought it would be fun to go to one of the homecomings. Pam and I showed up dressed up to one and asked if we could hand out little Hershey’s bars (something they received in the K rations). Long story short, they liked what we did, asked us back, and after our second flight, we were invited to become volunteers.
To find your closest hub, I recommend going to the Honor Flight Network’s website (www.honorflight.org). They list all the regional hubs all over the country.
How long have you worked with them?
I have had the pleasure and the honor of working with SSHF for about 6 years.
Besides the veteran, who all goes on a flight?
Besides the veterans, members of the SSHF board go along, sometimes local media, and sometimes we have local celebrities. We’ve even had baseball player Jonathan Lucroy come on a couple flights. There are always at least a pair of photographers from a local photography studio that donates their time to capture every flight. Each veteran, as I mentioned above, is assigned to a guardian.
Sometimes it’s a family member, other times it’s a stranger. This person does just what their title states. They are there to help the veteran every step of the way, to watch over them while ensuring they have an amazing time.
What does your participation/ getting ready for an Honor Flight involve?
It’s funny you ask that. We were told once that it couldn’t possibly take a long time to get ready for a homecoming. In truth, it does. We call it a labor of love and one we do gladly. Flight day starts the night before. We traditionally wet-set our hair (in either pin curls, which is preferred, or rollers).
This can take anywhere from about an hour to longer if our hair is not cooperating. I’m at the airport in the morning with my pin curls covered up still drying. If I can, once the vets are D.C. bound, I come home and catch a nap. Pam arrives about 3:30 in the afternoon where we have an early dinner and then we start ready. Getting ready entails, getting dressed, doing our makeup and brushing out our wet set. We aim to be at the airport by 6 PM as the flight is always scheduled to arrive at 8:30 PM. Our biggest rule of thumb is attention to detail and as close to historically accurate as we can manage.
On average, how many Honor Flights take flight from Milwaukee per month? SSHF aims to fly 4-6 flights per year. We had three this past spring (April, May and June) and we have two scheduled for fall (September and October). In total, we have successfully sent 34 flights to DC and have flown almost 5,000 veterans since SSHF began flying in November 2008.
What’s a typical schedule for one of your Honor Flight outings?
After the vets leave Milwaukee, they fly to D.C. where they are met with crowds welcoming them. They then board buses and head for the memorials. Everywhere they go they have a police escort. It’s a really neat experience to see traffic parting like the red sea. The key places they go are the World War II memorial, the Korean War memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln memorial, the Iwo Jima memorial and usually wrap up the day at Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard ceremony. Some flights deviate from that and have gone to the Air Force memorial, the FDR memorial and the Women’s memorial to name a few. One thing to note about the World War II memorial: It is not uncommon to find Senator Bob Dole and Mrs. Dole sitting outside the memorial meeting veterans and chatting with them. Senator Dole was one of the key players in making sure the memorial was built and I think it is such a selfless, wonderful thing he does to meet his fellow brothers-in-arms.
Once they are on the flight home, someone on the flight announces “Mail Call!” Mail was hugely important to the soldiers because that was their one connection to their family and friends. Families and SSHF put together packets for each veteran. These contain letters from family, friends, and strangers, letters from elected officials, cards and drawings, and sometimes even pictures or memorabilia from the vet’s time in service.
After they land, they begin the final leg of their day’s trip with the homecoming parade. Active duty servicemen and women line part of the concourse creating a wall on either side of the vet and offer him or her a silent salute. There are bands, cheerleaders, the USO, etc. there to welcome home the vets. Just before they go out into the proper airport to throngs of people (sometimes up to six to eight thousand people), they meet Pam and I for our little welcome home. The parade concludes with the Milwaukee Police Pipe and Drum Corps.
I highly encourage everyone to go to at least one honor flight homecoming if they can. Describing it or watching a video of it does not do justice. The positive energy, the love and joy permeate the entire space.
|Stars and Stripes Honor Flight October 2015 Credit to Visual Image Photography|
Can you share an encounter with a veteran that touched you?
Goodness, I have several. But, I have a recent one that shook me to the core. I’ve only had one other vet that has done that to me. There was a Korean War vet named Jerry. He had had a stroke and was nonverbal. I shook his hand in the morning and told him I’d see him when he got back. He just stared blankly ahead. When I saw him again what a difference! I saw him when he came through for his homecoming, gave him a great big kiss and hoped he had a good time. His daughter remembered me from the morning and then he was off into the crowds. When I was leaving the airport after the homecoming, I saw him sitting near the door waiting for his ride. I knelt down and talked with him. You could tell he wanted to tell me something and could see the frustration at not being able to. The homecoming had had an effect as a tear had trickled down his face. He had an American flag and kept handing it to me. His daughter told me that he wanted me to keep it, she thought. So I took it and kept talking with a big smile on my face. He reached for my hand and squeezed…and squeezed tighter than I’ve ever had my hand squeezed, locking eyes with me. I will never forget that moment.
My mom, who is a nurse, told me that that was his way of saying thank you. I will treasure that moment always. And, yes, I still have the flag.
Would you like to share a scene from one of your World War II stories?
Sure! This is from my latest story, REVENGE, which I am currently in the query stage with. it’s about an Allied spy who is out for revenge and a deserted German soldier.
Somewhere over Poland
Jenny Dabrowska waited in the shadows. The belly of the aircraft that would take her back to the homeland she narrowly escaped rattled and shook so hard it wouldn’t have surprised her if it fell apart from under her jump seat. Yet under all that she was numb.
“We’re nearing the drop zone,” George Barnes, her fearless leader, yelled into her ear.
She nodded, staring at the round hole in the floor. Her exit. The landscape below her whizzed by, as shadowed as her surroundings. Soon, she would be down there, making her way towards her objective. The anger she fought so hard to control rose like bile in her throat.
Not yet. Not now. There would be time to exact her revenge.
It had been so long since she had been this close to home. The memories of that fall morning when chaos descended on her family’s tiny hamlet swirled around like the gusts of wind flowing through the cabin. If she closed her eyes, she could still hear the yelling, the shots fired, the screams. The acrid scent of smoke wafted across her nose and her stomach flip-flopped. It was the worst day of her life and all she could do was stay hidden and watch.
“Are you ready, Jenny?” Barnes’s crisp British accent never wavered, even as his voice raised to be heard. This was not his first jump behind enemy lines. She shoved the memory back into the recesses of her subconscious.
“Yes,” she called back over the deafening thrum of the propellers. She ignored the jitters she got every time she had to jump out of an aircraft. She had a job to do and she had to be in top form. There could be no error. Errors meant death. She would not fail in her task.
Where can readers find out more about you?
Readers can find out more about me at my website. My favorite part of my page is my Pin Curl Adventures section. It shows some of the fun things I have done as a 1940s girl. Otherwise, I am very active on social media and you can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Molly has used her interest in history and writing to connect to others. I hope that she’ll inspire you as she inspires me to use time and talents similarly. We can all be the positive change in our world. Thanks. Molly.