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Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

black cross

Black Cross by Greg Iles; page count 528.
The novel is about two men at opposite ends of the spectrum during World War II: Mark McConnell, an American medical doctor, chemist and pacifst working on defensive gas suits and Jonas Stern a Jewish zionist fighting to gain Palestine who hails originally from Germany. The two a recruited by English OSS (office of strategic services) to con the Nazis into thinking the Allies have a nerve gas.

Lithograph by Leo Haas (1901-1983), Holocaust artist,  who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz

Lithograph by Leo Haas (1901-1983), Holocaust artist, who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.

I like reading about World war II, and espionage, and nerve gas is an interesting topic which I do not know much about. I liked that Iles does not stray too far from historical events to set up his novel. (Although, admittedly he takes more creative licence than other WWII books I’ve read.) Iles, unfortunately, throws in the grandson of Mark McConnell in at the beginning and end of the book. Frankly, I found this completely unnecesary. The story stood up just fine on its own. No need to gild the lily. The other thing I did not completely enjoy about this book was its tendancy to lag in the mid-to-last fourth of the book. I took me a while to muddle through those chapters. I also found some scenarios to be a tiny bit contrived, mostly in the character set-up. It might have been possible for everything to fall just so, but it’s a bit of a stretch..

I listened to the audio version read by Dick Hill and except for his pronaunciation of “appalachia” I fell in love with his Georgian accent. Good job, sir!

I’ve got to be honest, I generally liked the book, and did not feel it was a complete waste of my time. However, I cannot say wholeheartedly that I would recommend it to others. Only if they were very specific about the sort of book they wanted (e.g. a WWII historic fiction, and previously read better titles.)

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It is the middle of June, historically the most popular month for weddings. Named for the Roman goddess, Juno, the month of June is a month associated with the Queen of the Gods, goddess of marriage. Therefore, it was a time when people believed their unions would be blessed by the goddess of the institution into which they entered. Throughout the centuries, the month continued to be popular for its fine weather, Spring and Summer flowers in bloom, outdoor spaces available in the dry and warm weather, and appropriate timing for guest attendance (schools being out of session, vacation time being used often at work, etcetera).

So, in honor of the month of L-O-V-E, (who needs February anyway!) I want to share with you two incredible stories about wedding dresses that are both romantic and patriotic.

While looking at tweets on Twitter a few days ago, I was intrigued by two Smithsonian links to items in the National Museum of American History. Both stories touched my romantic little heart and were fascinating, so, I had to share. The stories on the Museum’s blog and newsroom feature wedding dresses made out of parachutes. Yes, parachutes.

Rosalie Hierholzer Parachute Wedding Dress

Rosalie Hierholzer Parachute Wedding Dress, 1940's. Smithsonian National Museum of American History


First, let me set the scene, because no designer in their right mind nowadays would think about recycling a military-issue safety device for that one-of-a-kind special day creation. It was during the height of World War II. Everything was rationed, from sugar to meat, and certain materials like rubber and nylon were scarce because they were needed for more important products being produced to send to our servicemen overseas.

Silk and nylon, materials used to make stockings and fine fabrics, were used to make parachutes for soldiers in the Air Force, among other things. Silk was also an import from Japan and China, areas unavailable for trade at the time, for obvious reasons. Therefore, both of those items were scarce on the home front. It was not uncommon for military issued items made of these materials to be recycled as undergarments, hosiery, and wedding gowns. Therefore, when both Rosalie Hierholzer and Ruth Hensinger were offered their fiancé’s parachutes as material for their wedding gowns, both said yes, and the rest is history.

There is a bit more to both women’s stories, however, including details that make this factoid about rationing and home front shortages more human and real.

Rosalie Hierholzer met her husband in the summer of 1945 in Texas. Temple Leslie Bourland was a radio operator for the 77th TC Squadron of the 435th Troop Carrier Group stationed in England and France. While flying over Germany, his plane was hit, and Bourland, along with his fellow crew members, jumped to safety. While floating down over the Rhine, Bourland’s parachute and his hip were shot. While recovering and regrouping, Bourland and a friend used the parachute as a blanket until they were rescued in time for this war hero to participate in D-Day. During Bourland and Rosalie’s courtship, Bourland showed his fiancé his war mementos, including the parachute that saved his life, and Rosalie’s aunt offered to make her niece’s wedding gown using the silk fabric, bullet holes and all. Fortunately, there was enough fabric left for Rosalie’s aunt to cut around the holes in the dress.

Like Rosalie’s gown, wedding dresses from this period were often designed and made by someone close to the bride or her family. Traditionally, wedding gowns were passed down by families and reused after refurbishment until the first few decades of the twentieth century, when the wedding gown became a unique, personalized dress, worn once on the bride’s special day. During World War II though, women had to improvise in order to be able to make their own one-of-a-kind creation.

Ruth Hensinger Parachute Wedding Dress

Ruth Hensinger Parachute Wedding Dress, 1947. Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Ruth Hensinger, in a similar twist of fate, had a parachute to thank for providing her with not only a fiancé, but with fabric for her own fashionable gown. Her husband, Major Claude Hensinger, a B-29 Pilot, was forced out of his plane with his crew by an engine fire while flying back from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan. Like Bourland, Hensinger used his parachute as a pillow and blanket while waiting to be rescued by Allied Forces. When he and Ruth became engaged in 1947, Hensinger offered up his parachute fabric for his bride to use. Ruth, seeing a wedding gown based on a dress worn by Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, decided to design her dress to echo the aesthetics of the costume in that movie. In retrospect, I find this fact quite funny, especially if you’ve ever seen the Carol Burnett Show.* Forget the curtains, Ruth’s got a parachute!

Both dresses (actually all three, if you include Carol Burnett’s curtain dress) can be found in the Smithsonian collection. They are a reminder of what weddings are all about: love. Without the fabric that these brides wore to the alter, their husbands wouldn’t even be there. Reusing the parachutes for material worn to the celebration of each couple’s love is not just economical and patriotic, but extraordinarily romantic and symbolic. While both dresses are beautiful, well-crafted, and the brides looked gorgeous on their wedding day, we should take something away from these women in an age of million dollar wedding circuses. Yes, the dress is usually the focal point of the day, but it isn’t all about what you wear.


* Make sure you watch part 2 after the first video. It’s the best part!

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I hope everyone got the April Fool‘s post by Sapphire yesterday. I thought it was brilliant!

I’ve been watching The Winds of War and War and Remembrance lately. And there’s something that has struck me about all of the goings on throughout the mini-series which takes place from 1939-1945: How on earth did a woman survive with that luggage?!?

Seriously, take a ganger at luggage during the 30s and 40s! Sure, it’s beautiful, but not all that practical.

Louise Vuitton Luggage

Louise Vuitton luggage from 1890-1948

napping on luggage

Boy sleeping on luggage at Waterloo 1930

luggage store

Luggage Store of 1940s

As someone who has lived and is living out of a suitcase, I cannot imagine doing so on the space and inconvenience of old travel bags. Granted, less clothing was used which would be a huge space saver. Of course, if my clothing was tailored to me and of excellent quality, I could survive on less options.

I’ve been in enough antique stores to know how heavy those cases can get empty, much less filled with clothing. Between a purse, tickets and even one travel bag, a girl would have her hands full. How could she be expected to go gallivanting alone? No woman was really expected to travel alone, but just looking at one tiny factor like luggage, it’s clear that a solitary journey is effectively inconceivable.

Frankly, I’ve never been so thankful for a wheeled suitcase. In fact, my current expedition-ready incarnation involves an expandable top, 360 wheels, a retractable handle, as well as  reinforced corners, top and bottom. I do love my modern advances!

For more information on luggage of the 1930s, check out this blog post from a couple of knowledgeable women, “1930s Travel Pt. 1 – Luggage” by The Painted Woman Blog.

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Bad Boy Complex

About a week ago I finished Christine Fletcher’s Ten Cents a Dance, which tells the story of Ruby Jacinski, a plucky girl from Chicago’s Back of the Yards in the early 1940s.  After her mother’s arthritis forces her to quit her job, Ruby drops out of school and begins working in the meat-packing plant to bring in money for her family.  Then the handsome neighborhood bad boy tells her of a gig where she could make $50 a week teaching men to dance at the Starlight Academy.  Ruby jumps at the chance to leave the plant, and starts working at the Academy right away.  Only, it’s not a dance school, it’s a taxi dance hall where the girls are “rented” for dances, like taxis, as the owner describes it.  Many patrons have their favorite girls—showering them with gifts and dinners in exchange for their company and sometimes more…  Soon Ruby is sucked farther into the seedy, and sometimes exciting and oft’ times dangerous, side of prewar Chicago filled with jazz, alcohol and powerful people.

Fletcher’s narrative drew me in and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I’m pretty sure I skipped multiple paragraphs at the end because I was too impatient.  I just had to know what happened to Ruby!  But, one thing kept drawing me out of the book—Ruby’s relationship with Paulie.  Don’t get me wrong, Fletcher wrote Ruby’s relationship with the mysterious tough guy beautifully, I just kept coming back to my own experiences with “bad boys” and wondering why women keep turning to them.

Now, my bad boy isn’t really a bad boy.  He isn’t a mobster like Paulie or any other kind of criminal.  He doesn’t ride a motorcycle or wear black.  I guess he’s more of a bad-for-me-boy than a bad boy.  For purposes of pseudo-anonymity, let’s call him Assisi.  I met Assisi second semester of my junior year of college, after getting back from a semester abroad.  We swam together and hung out at swim team gatherings while I crushed hard from afar.  Eventually we became good friends and he had a standing reservation on my house’s couch every Thursday night.  That summer we spent lots of time together and the friendship continued into my senior year.

Blah blah blah this is all really boring, I know.

The problem is, bad boys tend to look like this. Don't worry Johnny Depp, I'll take care of you.

You’re probably wondering, he doesn’t sound bad… what’s up Indigo?  Well, as it turns out, he’s a complete ass-hat.  He’d be totally attentive one minute and M.I.A. the next and sometimes his jokes kind of stung.  Later, I found out he had weekly heavy petting sessions with one of my roommates on those Thursday nights, despite his awareness of my feelings (and her awareness too but that’s another story).  Yet, he’d smile at me or make me laugh and I forgave him.  Every time I tried to ignore him or turn my attention to another guy he’d do something sweet or charming and I’d be hooked again.  I can’t explain why.

I really think we need to get Sheldon from Big Bang theory to make a “getting over boys chart” similar to his friendship algorithm.  A nifty little plan like this could save lots of women a lot of trouble.

So although Assisi isn’t bad in the same way Paulie is (hello abusive boyfriend), I can sort of understand Ruby’s thoughts and actions.  It’s a testament to Fletcher’s writing that this complicated and abusive relationship doesn’t come off as ridiculous and melodramatic.  Instead we root for and empathize with Ruby—the confused, lonely girl in a tumultuous situation.

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