Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Tribute

                                   My republished Memorial Day tribute 
                                  in memory of Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, USMC

                   "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).                               

Memorial Day has changed for me since my nephew Gunnery Sgt Ryan Jeschke, USMC, was killed in Afghanistan in August 2012. In the past, I honored the memory of my husband’s Marine Corps family members who had faithfully served our country, but who died in their beds after living a full life.  Now Memorial Day is not only a day of remembrance; it is a day of mourning.

While most Americans play and picnic and mark the beginning of summer fun, I know Ryan’s young wife, mom and dad, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends are marking another reminder of his ultimate sacrifice to enable all of us to enjoy the freedom to play and picnic.

In another conflict, one hundred and fifty years ago, Unions and Confederate troops clashed on the rolling fields of the Shenandoah Valley near New Market, Virginia. Among them were teenaged cadets sent up as reserves from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), ten of whom lost their young lives. Although the South’s struggle to uphold slavery was morally indefensible and rightly defeated, these boys were fighting to protect their homeland, families, and friends. They were all, on both sides, mothers’ sons.

With the 150th anniversary of many Civil War battles, my husband and I have been visiting battlefields: Gettysburg as well as Manassas/Bull Run and Bristow Station, which are near where we live. A month ago we decided to walk the New Market battlefield with our son, who was graduating from nearby Eastern Mennonite University. We had heard the tragic story of the fallen cadets back in the fall when we had toured VMI, my father-in-law’s alma mater.  We walked through the meadow, named the “Field of Lost Shoes” because torrential rains had turned the field into a muddy bog, which pulled off the boys’ boots and shoes as they charged barefoot up the long hill.  Walking a battlefield is a moving and sobering experience. One can easily imagine the flying bullets and the falling men—all mothers’ sons.

In one of those amazing providences, on our return from this excursion, we received an invitation to the premiere of a new feature film, Field of Lost Shoes, which opened the 8th annual GI Film Festival held in conjunction with Memorial Day observances here in the nation’s capital.  A dear friend from college and one of my husband’s groomsmen, David M. Kennedy, wrote and produced the film. Dave is an Irish-Catholic genius, who was the President of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, a Commander in the Navy, a top-gun pilot, and the military consultant for films like Pearl Harbor and Behind Enemy Lines. We had last seen Dave at Arlington National Cemetery for the burial of his brother alongside his oldest brother, a hero killed in action in Vietnam. While there, Dave took the time to visit Ryan’s grave with us, where he and his son Sam, a ROTC student at UVA, gave Ryan an honor salute. Needless to say, we were very touched by their tribute.

For many years, Dave had dreamed of making a feature film about the VMI cadets who fought and died at New Market. What a thrill to be invited as his “honored guests” to the premiere of this dream fulfilled.  We hope Field of Lost Shoes will get the attention and distribution it deserves.  I’m pleased to say that the film is excellent and a moving tribute to these mothers’ sons.

This weekend I trust we will all take the time to pause and remember the many men and women (sons and daughters all) in countless conflicts, who have laid down their lives to protect our homeland and our freedom. And while we remember and honor the fallen, please pray for their families who are also remembering---and mourning.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Stepping into the Stream of History"

I set my novel Evasions, a prequel to The Oxford Chronicles series, in England and Scotland during the early years of WWII and the Battle of Britain.  After creating my fictional characters and having their basic story line in mind, I discovered in my travels and research that many times fact intersected with fiction. Some may call such intersections “coincidences,” but I believe they are “providences.” Whenever I stumbled upon these providences, a dear friend and fellow traveler would say that I had “stepped into the stream of history.”

           For example, I thought that my American nurse Annie Little would possibly work at the Churchill Hospital in Headington because of its proximity to C.S. Lewis’s home the Kilns, but I wasn't sure when it had even been built.  On a trip to Oxford, I met a friend for lunch at the hospital, where she worked as a pharmacist. In the course of our conversation, she told me that it had actually been built by the Americans in WWII to care for wounded soldiers, something she “happened” to know because of an historical photographic display in the hospital’s former lobby.

Part of my story revolves around the refugees who lived at the Kilns during the war years, in particular, my character Annie, pregnant with her son David, who is the hero of my previously written novels Inklings, Intentions and Expectations.  As I researched, I came across a letter C.S. Lewis had written a little girl, in which he stated that they had a number of evacuees staying at the Kilns and one was a six-week-old baby boy!  In another instance, I learned that the Reverend Peter Bide—who had married Jack and Joy Lewis, the role I had given to my fictional Eric Mackenzie—had served in WWII and after the war decided to become an Anglican clergyman. He had a wife and children, and Lewis helped him finance his return to his studies at Oxford and then seminary—just as I had envisioned for Eric.

After I had decided that my Scottish Eric MacKenzie would begin the story as a caddie at St. Andrews, I was given a book about the caddies of the Royal and Ancient golf course called A Wee Nip at the 19th Hole. The author, Richard Mackenzie, was the caddie manager at St. Andrew’s; and when I visited the golf course, stopping by the caddie shack, he “happened” to be there.  Not only was Richard very kind and willing to help with some wonderful stories about the MacKenzies, which I wove into my novel, but he is also a devoted Christian.

These providential leadings made my story more grounded in reality, and also served as markers along the way of God’s guidance and encouragement. Plus “stepping into the stream of history” can be amazing fun!