Friday, February 7, 2020

Serendipity 3 - Marcella

Four years ago I published a series of 8 posts documenting the WWII experiences of my wife's aunt, Othelia Rosten, covering her enlistment in 1942 in Duluth, MN, to North Africa, Italy, Southern France, into Germany and to duty at Dachau and finally to discharge in 1945. (see Othelia's Story)  These posts continue to yield serendipitous encounters. The first surprise (see Serendipity) was a call from Wolfgang in Ebermergen, Germany who had found the posts and recognized his little village in a photo. They had a group writing a book about the WWII  experiences of that area in Bavaria.  The second surprise was the arrival by mail of the book they had produced (see Serendipity, Chapter 2) which included numerous photos I had supplied.

Marcella Schlemma

And then, not long ago, I was contacted by the family of Adeline "Si" Simonson, one of Othelia's  Nurses' school classmates, fellow enlistee and tent mate throughout the war.  They told me that there was a surviving nurse from the 95th Evac who lived in Pelican Rapids.  A shocker.  I have an aunt who lives in Pelican Rapids.  So a quick phone call to Aunt Snella followed, asking her if she might happen to know a Marcella Korda? "Oh, you mean Marcy.  We sit next to each other every Sunday in church!".  Pew mates. Holy coincidence.

So, of course, a road trip - about a 4 hour drive.  We picked up my aunt and then Marcy and headed to the Muddy Moose for lunch. Marcy is turning 99 in Feb and is sharp as a tack. Don't tell the city cop, but she drives every day (only in town) -  to lunch with friends and to church on Sunday, where she is very active. 

After a nice lunch, we retired to my aunt's home for coffee & dessert & to chat about Marcy's war experiences. Her army nurse life mirrors that of Othelia's  - except she's an Iowa girl and graduated from Mercy Hospital in Burlington, IA in 1942.  She enlisted soon thereafter and was sent to Camp Crowder in Missouri and then to Camp Breckenridge, KY where she met the Duluth nurses. I asked her what motivated her to enlist. "Well, the local hospital paid $60/mo and the army paid $90/mo, so it was the bottom line that tilted the decision".  "So 90 bucks got you into the army?" "Yup".

Marcy said, "Camp Breckenridge was pretty boring so they tried to teach the nurses close order drill.  Some nurses would go left, some right, about face was a mystery, so they finally gave up and decided nurses didn't need to know how to march."

The 95th Evac Hospital "OR was set up much like you see on M.A.S.H, with 6 operating tables in the large operating theater tent with supplies tables along the sides of the tent. The difference was .. we didn't have a gin still.  Officers got their gin from England."

She recalled the experience of being aboard the British hospital ship, HMHS Newfoundland, when it was bombed in the harbor outside of Salerno in 1943. 

"It might sound strange, but I wasn't really worried.  I realized the ship was on fire but I knew there was another hospital ship anchored nearby and thought we would just get in the lifeboats and sail over there.  When I got on deck and I saw all the lifeboats had been damaged by the bombing and the other hospital ship was pulling away, I started to get a little anxious." Ultimately, an escort ship rescued the crew and medical staff and although there were no deaths among the 103 American nurses, there were many casualties among the British: 7 nurses, 5 doctors and 6 enlisted men were killed including one British nurse who was stuck in a portal and on fire. A seaman knocked her unconscious as there was nothing that could be done to rescue her. (see Death in the Mediterranean)

Bombing at Anzio
Similarly, she recalled the bombing of the 95th's hospital on Anzio beach. Marcy was on night duty so she was not in the OR tent during the bombing, however, her (future) husband Henry Korda, a surgeon, received shrapnel wounds. Aunt Othelia also received a shrapnel wound. There were 28 deaths, medical personal and patients and 60 wounded, among them Chief Nurse, Blanche Sigman, the first US woman killed in action in WWII.
(see Anzio Bombing)

After the bombing Marcy was listed as Missing In Action, which quite naturally caused her family some stress. They received news of her safety about 3 weeks after the incident.

Henry & Marcy were married in France in 1945. The ceremony included a wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses mailed from the States.  Marcy was returned to the US in July 1945.

After the war in 1946,  Henry & Marcy moved for a short time to St. Cloud and then to Pelican Rapids on condition that the city would construct the planned hospital. Henry practiced there until his retirement. He died in 1990. Marcy has lived in Pelican Rapids for nearly 75 years.

Henry Korda

Copyright © 2020 Dave Hoplin

Friday, January 17, 2020

Wisdom of the Goose

A V-flight of geese is a wondrous sight. 
Stock photo

As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an updraft for the bird following it. By flying in a V, the flock adds 70% to the flying range to that of a solo flight.

Lesson: If we share a common vision, sense of community and work together, we can accomplish more and more quickly than a Lone Ranger approach.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose takes over the point.

Lesson: Sharing responsibility makes sense, helps avoid burnout and mentors future leaders.

The geese in formation "honk" to encourage those up front to maintain their speed.

Lesson: Those around you need your encouraging "honking".

When a goose is sick or injured, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out in a mini-v to catch up or find another flock.

Lesson: We need to show care and compassion for the weakest among us.

The migration of the geese signals a change of the season.

Lesson: Minnesota snowbirds are as savvy as a goose.

If all of humanity but had the wisdom of the goose ...

Copyright © 2020 Dave Hoplin

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Workin' at the Store

Like most boomers, I was required to do chores during my growing years.  Mainly the household chores: take out the garbage, clean the garage, mow the lawn, shovel the snow .. and rake leaves, a chore I dislike to this day but at least back then there was the reward - you could burn the leaves in the street. I do love the smell of burning leaves.  For these tasks I received an allowance - how much I do not remember - but at some point I determined I needed to make some extra money to support my baseball card habit. So when I was strong enough to push a lawn mower, Grandpa Ole sprung for $1 to mow his lawn and Heggestad's came up with $3 for theirs - $4 bucks a week, I was in the pink.

On one occasion, when Mukka and family were on a vacation, I took over his paper route. To my dismay, this was the Minneapolis Tribune route, which was the "morning" paper.  The Minneapolis Star was the afternoon paper - yup 2 papers/day. The thing about the morning paper was it needed to be on the doorsteps by 6:30 AM. Oy.  And then there was the "collection" requirement.  There was a book with a page of little tear-out tabs like a Gold Bond stamp book for each subscriber. Each tab represented 1 payment period and was given to the subscriber as a receipt upon payment.  Some of the pages were considerably longer than others representing the slackers. You couldn't knock on the door at 6:00 AM for payment so collection meant another trip around the blocks, usually on a Saturday - bummer.  And the Rykhus' house was half way to Farwell. I think I delivered Benesh's paper to the Bisek's all week so I suspect there needed to be some fence mending after my week.  I didn't enjoy my tour of duty.

So when I reached age 12 or so, I went to work at the "store".  This was my family's business, Hoplin & Nelson Hardware, established 1916. At first this was sweeping the floors, spreading sweeping compound that filled the cracks in the narrow slat wood flooring and then struggling with a broom to get it out.  Unloading freight and taking the mountain of cardboard to the burning barrel in the alley and firing it up and watching the 20' flames.

Mainly though, my job was to help Marian with the various tasks. One was with products that came with "some assembly required", a precursor to IKEA, although we didn't ask the buyer to do the assembly.  So chicken waterers, hog feeders, bicycles etc required some work before they could go out on the lot for sale. Marian was a wizard at this and I was semi-useful because I was small enough to crawl inside the feeders and hold the nuts for tightening.  Marian was not one for idleness, so when there was a lull, off we went to paint the garage doors (I got my fingers smashed in the heavy warehouse garage door, still a vivid memory.) Or clean out and reorganize the electrical shack - and same task with the plumbing and electrical trucks.  Or dust the hundreds of items on the household islands - aargh.

At some point I was trusted - with some training from Marian - to do window repairs.  We had panes of glass of many sizes and a glass cutter in the back room.  People brought in their broken windows and said they were going down to the cafe for coffee and would be back soon to pick it up.  Generally, these were wood frame windows of non-standard size with dried and cracked putty holding the remaining shards of glass.

We had a "putty softener" tool, an electric device much like a hair straightener that would be applied to heat the hardened putty so it could be softened and scraped away. It took awhile for me to gauge the amount of time to apply the heat, once starting the frame on fire. But you learn by making mistakes and I was a strong learner.  Once the old glass and putty was removed you measured to get the size. The glass cutter was a bit tricky to use - you had to add an 1/8th or 1/16th to your measurement if I remember right. I'm afraid a number of my efforts went into the "odd size" bin.  Then re-putty and voila - collect the $2 + glass cost.  Screen repair was worse.

Eventually, it was determined that I could be trusted with customer facing duties. One of my first encounters was helping Walter Svec. He wanted a zerk. A what? And a V-belt. Who knew there were so many different lengths and widths?  And 4 gopher traps. And a pound of 10d nails and a pound of 1 3/4" galvanized roofing nails. And some udder balm.  Boy was I in over my head. Where are the gopher traps? (In a drawer on the North Wall of course.)  Why are they called 10 penny nails? Do we sell them 10 for a penny?  What's galvanized?

Nail bins were underneath the counter where the cash register and nail scale sat. Scoop the desired amount nails into the pan on the scale and bag them up.  Same deal for the hundreds of bolt sizes in bins in the back of the store. So, I quickly discovered that the store held thousands of items which I had no idea of their names, much less what they were used for - most of them hidden away in drawers. Immediately I acquired a deep respect for Martin who could go immediately to the item and often suggest a better approach to the problem.  I must have driven him crazy with all the questions.  Why are these pipe fittings called male and female?  No answer.

When I reached age 15 and could drive, one of my duties was to periodically take the truck out to the dynamite shack in an empty pasture tucked against a row of trees about a mile from town and bring back several cases of dynamite to restock the in-town dynamite shed that stood next to the electrical shack.  Never fear, the walls were filled with sand.  And the door secured with a Master padlock.

And once in awhile I would go along with Martin to deliver 100 lb propane tanks to farms in the area. I think it was with the hope of me eventually taking over some of this responsibility.  But watching skinny-armed me wrestle with 100 lb tanks disabused that idea.

So instead they put me on bookkeeping chores. Very few customers paid for their purchases.  "Charge it".  So at the end of the day there were dozens of charge slips that had to be posted to the individual ledger sheets.  Uncle Dave taught me how to use the old Burroughs posting machine and I got to be a wizard at it. The downside was each charge slip had to be filed in the customer's account record to be included in the monthly billing.  Filing - yuck.

I was also tasked with paying bills so Lowry State Bank had to be informed that my signature on a check was not an embezzle attempt.  The main rule for this was to remember to pay FOK and United Hardware before the 10th so you could take the 2% discount.

Of course, I thought I was slaving away but on reflection I had it pretty cushy.  No throwing bales, milking cows, picking rocks or shoveling manure.

And then in summers, I got promoted to electrical and plumbing & heating gopher for my father and got paid minimum wage $1.25 / hr .. but that's another tale.

Copyright © 2020 Dave Hoplin

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Good Neighbors

Neighbors are a bit of a crapshoot. As they say, you can pick your nose but not your neighbors. The weird neighbor is a staple of the horror film genre. So if you are lucky enough to draw a good one(s), consider yourself blessed.

It’s hard to be a good neighbor in these times. The switch from front-porches to backyard decks has had an ill effect on neighborliness.  People used to sit out on their front porch on beautiful evenings and visit with everyone that meandered by. Not so when huddled around the backyard grill. Isolation. Cul-de-sacs. Barriers. Busy lives. Busy children’s lives.

WCCO radio's motto is "The Good Neighbor". Each weekday, they choose a "good neighbor" from nominations submitted by listeners in the 5 state area. My grandmother, Esther, in the small town of Lowry was a winner, well deserved, in the 60's. Usually, the award is for continuing kindness to others.  I thought about submitting a nomination to show appreciation but WCCO is not the Minnesota force it once was.  This blog probably reaches more readership - well, maybe not.

Happily, there are people who still embody the good neighbor spirit. We are blessed by one such paragon.

This morning we faced the first "snowpocalypse" of the season. National news. Heavy, wet, deep snow. Uffda. A nightmare for these old bones. But ... here I sit, cozy and warm, sipping my morning coffee, happily typing away while my good, beyond good, neighbor is running his snowblower over my drive.  And ... when the snowplow eventually dumps it's 2 ton load at the end of my drive, I am confident he will be back for another rescue operation - after he's cleared 500' of sidewalk.

And the list of random acts of kindness goes on ...

Item.  Last year the snowplow did a number on our mailboxes.  Neighbor to the rescue, anchored with enough concrete to take off the snowplow blade.


Item: If 150 bags of mulch appear in your driveway, a man with a wheel-barrow (and his willing son!) will magically appear to help.

Item: If a tree is struck by lightning and splits, a man with a chainsaw will be there before the smoke clears.

Item: If you are away on holiday, somehow your lawn magically seems to stop growing.  And if you are disabled this seems to be a weekly miracle.

Item: And who would you guess hosts the neighborhood block party each year?

As we age, these acts of kindness are ever more appreciated and helps us avoid the rest home for a while longer. My good spouse generally takes a plate of brownies across the street to express our thanks. Maybe that's the key.  (I jest.)  But it does make us a bit lazy.

Copyright © 2019 Dave Hoplin

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Serendipity , Chapter 2

In 2015, I wrote a series of 8 posts about my wife's aunt, Lt. Othelia Rosten, a WWII army nurse service in the 95th Evac Hospital.  Her service included the invasion of No. Africa, Sicily, Italy (Salerno, Anzio), the "other D-Day" - Southern France, Germany and the Dachau liberation.

Taken as a group, the 95th story is the most read of my posts.

In 2018, I received a surprise phone call from Wolfgang in Ebermergen a village in southern Germany.  He had discovered my posts on the 95th Evac and realized that the 95th hospital had setup on the outskirts of Ebermergen at the close of the war.  A number of 95th personnel were detailed to Dachau (See "Unholy Stuff" in the list of 95th Evac posts below).  He had recognized Ebermergen environs in the photos I included in the post and asked permission to use them in a book he and others were assembling documenting the impact of WWII on the Ebermergen area.  I was able to dig out other photos from albums Othelia had created on her war experiences and provided access to those as well. (See Serendipity post)

Lo, and behold, what shows up in my mailbox the other day, but a masterful result of a 4 year project by the Ebermergen researchers, documenting the Nazi years impact on Ebermergen.. "Diktator. Krieg. Vertreibung." 

All of the photos Othelia took that I made available to them are there, including the cover photo and a 2 page spread of the 95th Hospital setup with Ebermergen in the background.  

95th Evac Hospital @ Ebermergen, May 1945

Pretty amazing.  And so, the saga continues.  Serendipity, 2nd chapter.  The only downside is the book is in German :-)  My Deutsch language skills need some dusting off.

This chance interaction gives me hope. It illustrates how the internet can bring the world closer together for good.

From the book.

Ebermergen devastation 1945

Bridge destruction - photo attribution: Othelia Rosten

GI baseball in Ebermergen 1945

Ebermergen fallen, 1939-1945. Village population < 1000

Once enemies, now friends



Copyright © 2019 Dave Hoplin

Thursday, October 24, 2019

I Wish I'd Said That

"It's such a pleasure to write down splendid words - almost as though one were inventing them."   Rupert Hart-Davis. 

I have been collecting quotes ever since I started reading. Statements that I found memorable, profound, funny or struck me as wise.  I keep these in my own personal Bartlett's, my "I wish I'd said that" collection.  Someone always seems to have said it better than I.  

Here's a small sampling.

2. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you."    Unknown

A gentle reminder to keep your mouth shut, especially in this pervasive YouTube everything age.

3. "You know, Monopoly is a great game, but when it is all over, the pieces just go back in the box. Amass your properties, your hotels, your wealth, your accomplishments, your awards, your whatevers and eventually, it will all be over with and the pieces go back in the box. And all you are left with is how you lived your life."   Grandma Ortberg 

Words to live by.  In the end it is how you lived your life.  I have this engraved on my RoadID - along with my blood type and emergency phone number.

4. "If you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."  Samuel Clemens

Ah, yes.  Something politicians should consider.

5a. "New ideas are delicate. They can be killed by a sneer or a yawn, stabbed to death by a joke, or worried to death by a frown on the right person’s face."  Charles Brower

5b. "Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt. "   Shakespeare

If you believe in yourself, there will come a time you will have to be fearless in the face of scorn. Persist. Thomas Edison tried dozens of materials for a light bulb filament before striking on tungsten.

6. "It takes two to feel inferior."  Eleanor Roosevelt

Don't let anyone else define you.

7. "Though no one can go back and make a new beginning, anyone can start over and make a new ending." Chico Xavier

We all have made mistakes and have regrets. Don't let the past define your future.

8. "Do what you can while you can before you cannot."   Richard Powers

Don't use the excuse that my little effort cannot make a difference.

9.  "The difference between what we do, and what we could do, would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems."    Mohandas Ghandi

And while you're at it, give a little extra. Be generous.

10. "We come unbidden into this life and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery and early death, which, lest we forget, is the common lot."  Abraham Verghese

Think thrice when judging those who struggle in poverty. 

11. "... truth passes through 3 stages before it is recognized.  In the first, it is ridiculed. In the second, it is opposed.  In the third, it is regarded as self-evident."   Arthur Schopenhauer

Be humble. Your first (and second) opinion may not be correct. 

12. "An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes it will also make better soup."    H.L. Mencken

You gotta love Mr. Mencken, but don't be afraid to be an idealist.

13. "There is no tolerance unless there is something to tolerate. And that, in practice, is likely to mean something which most people would consider intolerable."    Alfred North Whitehead

You have a right to your beliefs ... but everyone else has a right to theirs as well.

14. "Whenever you do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world watching you, and act accordingly."   Thomas Jefferson

Don't do anything for prestige or status only.

15. "Speak when you are angry and you'll make the best speech you'll ever regret."  
Lawrence J. Peter

The old count-to-ten rule. Perhaps twenty ... or fifty.

16. "I think it would be a good idea."  Ghandi, when asked his views on Western Civilization

Ghandi was a great critic.

17. "The mathematicians are a sort of Frenchman. When you talk to them, they immediately translate it into their own language and right away it is something entirely different."   Goethe

Just  because I was a math major. 

18. "In science one attempts to explain something no one knew before in ways everyone can understand. In poetry, it is the exact opposite." Paul Dirac

Think about it. Made me smile.

19. "The optimist sees the glass half full. The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be."  Every Engineer

For the nerds out there.

20. "It is easier to bear some abuse if I reflect. I do not deserve this reproach but I do deserve others that have not been made."  Francois Mauriac

Temper your resentment of criticism you feel is unwarranted.

21. "We could learn a lot from color crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box."  Robert Fulghum

Diversity is a strength not a weakness.

22. "It’s a hard road, daddyo, turning lead to gold."   Van Morrison

Ponder song lyrics for the joy of language - and for insights.

23. "I'll moider da bum."  Boxer Tony Galento when asked what he thought of William Shakespeare

Cracked me up.

24. "We all have our time machines. Those that take us back are memories ... and those that carry us forward are dreams." H.G. Wells

Treasure your memories but don't lose your dreams.

25. "Be yourself. Well, maybe someone a bit nicer."  Barbara Bush

Yes, Barbara. We can all be better than we are.

26. "I used to think getting old was about vanity - but it's actually about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial." Eugene O'Neill


And the good Lord Tennyson

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices.
Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

from Ulysses

Copyright © 2019 Dave Hoplin

Thursday, October 3, 2019


Vow. A powerful word. Stronger than promise.  Promises are made to be broken.  A promise to God. Not to be taken lightly. A broken vow is a tragedy.

Vows are most often associated with marriage. My wife and I declared our vows in 1968. We promised "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."  Except we didn't include the "obey" clause.  We felt this implied an unequal partnership and a surrender of individuality. Maybe so, maybe not, but 50+ mostly happy years we are together and still love and cherish.

We were married young, many thought too young, and we were not exactly flush with cash.  So we chose to get simple gold bands to exchange. We decided to engrave a meaningful bible verse on the inside of the bands.  In part, because both our mothers were named Ruth, we chose Ruth 1:16 KJV "... wither thou goest, I will go".  However, the engraver inserted a typo - a single little letter and the engraving became: ".. whether thou goest, I will go".  We had a good laugh.  We each wonder if it was other's doing.  However, in hindsight I think this reinforced our partnership and agreement to collaborate and not blindly follow. It's worked out pretty well. 

Now days, the word "vow" seems to be thrown around haphazardly in all kinds of contexts and has lost its solemn imperativeness. I find this troubling.

Copyright © 2019 Dave Hoplin

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Older Mind

For those of you of a certain age, you surely have experienced the "404 page not found" error: your brain was found but failed to return the desired information - for something you know should be there. A name, a fact, an event, the answer to Alex whats-his-name's Final Jeopardy answer, your spouse's mother's first name, your anniversary, the reason you went to the basement, etc.  And when this happens you hear a tiny voice from that brain questioning whether your mental faculties are intact.

I am here to reassure you that you are just fine, that is, unless you fail to remember the three words, "chair, banana, sunrise" for 30 seconds on your next visit to the doctor. If that happens, invest in a sippy cup.

First. Remember that you are no longer young enough to know everything, so relax and accept it. Resistance is futile.

Second. Over your lifetime, you have stored away a massive amount of data, much of it squirreled away in dark recesses of your brain. The data retrieval process is triggered in the hippocampus and requires many, many neuron firings to reach. Some of this data has the archive bit set and that adds even more time to the search. Just the amount of searchable data reduces response time.  Ya canna' change the laws of physics.

So you are a "Big Data" host, something the 20-somethings have not yet achieved.  They have loads of empty storage and they can go straight to the salient fact. These youthful specimens retrieve data at warp speed, but there is so much they don't know and even more that they don't know they don't know.  (Don't get too cocky. That's true for you too.) There are so many back-alleys and side-streets in your cerebellum that your search may take a detour down a relevant (or irrelevant) mental mine shaft that may cause a further delay. So that fact you should know, you do know.  It just may take a while to materialize. Most often this happens in the middle of the night.  Highly illogical.

Here are some middle-of-the-night mind-worms for you. "Who played Davy Crockett on Disney's Wonderful World of Color".  "What is paprika?, Alex". "What Minnesota Supreme Court judge made his name in football". "Which Bobby: Vee , Vinton, Darin, Rydell, Goldsboro ..  played Lakeside? Or was it another Bobby?". "Dilithium crystals".

So the older mind is really a fuller mind. It's my story and I'm sticking to it. Unfortunately there is no empty trash or empty junk operation so the clutter continues. To boldly go.

Live long and prosper.  Who was it that always said that?

I prefer "Live well and prosper" btw.

Copyright © 2019 Dave Hoplin