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I just received an update from our friend Chris, who is on active duty making medical flights into Iraq and Afghanistan to evacuate wounded and sick Americans. In this latest note he describes a nostalgic trip to the beaches of France made hallowed ground during World War Two. His narrative, below, gave me chills:

“Greetings once again from somewhere over Turkey, It is hard to believe that we are already less than 4 weeks from heading home. Our replacements are due in sometime around the 12th of next month, give them a few days to get oriented and spun up and I would anticipate heading home sometime around the 15th or so. We are currently on our 10th mission and are on pace for 16 before it is all said and done.

The patient loads remain relatively small and much to my surprise the number of trauma related patients is down even in the last month we have been here. Of course we still have our share of medical patients, usually contractors who don’t have the best health to begin with. I truly believe that the health screen used by some contract companies is: Have you ever died from a heart attack? Anything more in-depth they might actually discover the uncontrolled diabetes, CHF or even a heart attack that they did survive. None the less it keeps us busy on the flights.

During our down time over the past two weeks I had the opportunity to take two very interesting and moving road trips. Our first took us to Bastogne, known to most as the Battle of the Bulge. (NOTE: The battle lasted from mid-December 1944 to January 1945). To see it on TV has always been inspiring but to actually go there and walk through the same woods and small villages and to see the monuments was truly great.

Over the course of a month back in 1945-6 over 19,000 Americans were killed and another 40,000 wounded, it is truly sacred ground. Our second trip took us to 450 miles to the Northwest corner of France, Normandy. The entire region is so rich in history that it does not take long to realize the prices paid by the “Greatest Generation,” and the toll of blood they shed some 53 years ago.

Our first stop was a small village called Saint Lo. My Grandfather’s brother fought in the same town during July 1945 to liberate it. We went on to visit Carentan, the first objective for the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the Church at Saint Mere Eglise then on to the beaches. First stop was Utah Beach. It had been raining steadily all day since we set out from Saint Lo, buy the time we reached the beach it was torrential down pour. Realizing we still had two more stops we opted to cut this visit short and made our way to Pointe de Hoc.

Here the Rangers were tasked with defending the western side of the units that was going to attack Omaha Beach. I have read of some of the ordeals of the Rangers and have seen on TV the cliffs they had to scale just to get up to fight the Germans. That is nothing compared to seeing it in person. Relatively untouched since D-Day, the craters from the initial bombardment, some reaching 10 feet deep, riddle the ledge to this day. Destroyed bunkers and old fighting positions are strewn throughout the ¼ mile long area.

From there we headed up the road maybe 4 miles to our ultimate objective, the American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach. There is a very nice museum located there complete with memorabilia from years past, video accounts of the battle from General Eisenhower and much more. A small hallway connects two exhibition rooms and as you walk through there is a reading of the names of those killed and still missing from the invasions on D-Day.

It takes almost an entire day to read through the list.

While I was\hoping deep down that the rain would subside for the hour of so we spent inside the memorial it wouldn’t be. Having wanted to make this trip for many years I resolved myself to getting soaked in order to live this moment.

As you walk from the museum to edge of the cemetery you come across a statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”, looking up toward the sky. The inscription on the back reads, “TO THOSE WE OWE THE HIGHEST RESOLVE, FOR THE CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY DIED SHALL LIVE”. For anyone who has been so blessed to visit these 750 acres of hallowedground, they would agree that it not a question of if you will cry, rather when you cry and how many times.

Just past the statue are the graves of 9,387 Americans. A generation past who did not know the meaning of fear, defines courage and whose bravery defies common sense.

The only bad thing about Normandy is of course that it is in France. The people of Normandy are very friendly, out going and still extremely thankful of what our Fathers or Grandfathers did for them years ago. The rest of France on the other hand, well that is best suited for another email at some other time.

In closing thank you for the number of request to donate to our unit fund (to prepare cookies and other snacks for wounded soldiers on the long flight home). I am sorry it has taken so long to get back to you so I will give it to everybody. Donations can be sent to: Treats for Troops, PSC 2, Box 50,000, APO AE 09094. I will talk to you soon. Chris”

Chris’ description brought to memory the many tales of that war that my family recalls. World War II spread to America when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. The United States declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan on December 11,1941 and on Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary the following June. My father enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve while a high school senior, and was ordered to the St Louis Military Recruiting Station on November 26, 1942 to be shipped to San Diego Recruit Depot for basic training.

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He was honorably discharged only a few days later, on Dec 18, 1942, due to a severe allergic condition known as hay fever, or rhinitis, which is caused by pollens of seasonal plants. A person with rhinitis is not well suited for any type of combat duty where exposure to pollens, or dust, could trigger an allergic reaction and subsequent sneezing, which could give away an entire unit’s position, and the only treatment back then was mentholated inhalers, which were not very effective.

He returned to his young wife in Hannibal, Missouri and worked as a silk screen press operator at Hannibal Outdoor Advertising, and volunteered for duty with the Missouri State Guard as a radio operator. Many of my early memories about him are from his service with the State Guard and, later, with the National Guard.

My grandfather, William Thomas Vaughn, who later became a Baptist minister, served in France during World War I. My father had the photograph below in his personal collection, and was passed on to me by my mother. It shows my grandfather’s battalion posing in front of a building, somewhere in France during World War I.

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Above: U.S. Expeditionary Forces’ 84th Division, 325th Machine Gun Battalion, posing while posted to France during World War I. William Thomas Vaughn is front row, kneeling, fifth from the right edge of the photo. Date unknown – Larry Vaughn Collection

Below: I received this photograph from my Aunt Ruth’s (dad’s sister) collection, of Company A, 325th Machine Gun Battalion, in Place de la Concorde, Paris. I have no information on the occasion, but notice the different uniforms the troops are wearing, from combat helmets to headquarters uniforms. My grandfather is in the back row, just to the right of the fountain. Date unknown – Sharon Walley Collection

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Thanks to Chris for his notes on his trip to France. It brought back the reality of the sense of pride we have in all those men and women who have served our country in peace and war, today, and in times gone by. Their names are recorded in history forever. They will never be forgotten.

If you are able, could you send a dollar or two, or at least a note, to the address Chris gives above, to provide a little comfort for our sick and wounded troops as they are being transported to Germany for medical treatment? Our prayers remain with Chris and his team for a safe conclusion to their tour of duty and a safe return home to their loved ones.

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Lea and I received the message below from our dear friend, Chris, who was one of Lea’s nurses in the Cardiac Acute Care Unit at Hartford Hospital in 2005. He is now on active duty as a flight nurse, caring for wounded soldiers being flown out of Iraq and Afghanistan. To catch up on his current tour of duty, see his writings in our Christmas time post, https://godswoodshed.com/2007/12/26/christmas-prayer/, in which we passed on two notes from Chris.

Here is his first note of the new year:

Greetings this week are from FL 330 somewhere over Turkey,

It is hard to believe that we are already on our 6th mission in only 20 days. Six missions almost 100 patients, over 55 hours of flight time and 30,000 miles flown so far. I can’t wait to cash in all of my frequent flyer miles. Since I can’t send this email until we get back to Germany early tomorrow morning I suppose there is no harm in saying that we are currently on our way home from Balad, Iraq.

Take off got a little sketchy but the rest of the flight has been fine. We are currently cooking up some hot dogs and corn dogs (sorry, no picture this time) for the troops. As soon as we get out of Iraq and obviously if the mission permits we cook up a hot meal for all of the patients. All of the food is purchased by our unit fund and help is always appreciated and needless to say it goes to a great cause. If anyone would like to make a donation please let me know.

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The picture this week is from our version of Red Light district, somewhere near Mosul on our way down into Balad. Once we enter Iraq or Afghanistan airspace everyone puts on their armor, the lights turn red and helmets find their way onto our heads.

We have been averaging a mission every three to four days so when you consider the long days and trying to adjust your sleep schedule there isn’t a lot of down time. Free time usually consists of going to the gym and studying for a military course I am trying to get finished up while I am away. For a short time today we almost had two days off in a row however an unexpected urgent mission came up and in the end it will bump us up a day in the rotation.

If we can manage more than a day off I would like to make it to Normandy however that is at least an 8 hour drive so one day just wouldn’t cut it. New Year’s was spent much like Christmas in fun filled Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. It is incredible to see how much it has changed in the 3 years since I was stationed there. Instead of tents and buildings made of plywood there is actually a solid Hospital building complete with ED, ICU’s, OR and many of the services one would expect back in the States.

The food still stinks and so does the garbage burning but you can’t win them all. I can’t really say that I miss it all that much and besides the beer is a whole lot better in Germany. Well I should probably get back over to my hot dogs before I smoke up the cabin, I hope you all had a Happy New Year and I will talk to you soon. Chris

Lord, please keep a shield of protection around Chris and his team, and give peace and comfort to their families. Amen.

Lea and I shared a wonderful Christmas day with our grandson and his extended family, were able to do a webcam visit with our granddaughters and their parents in Hawaii, and had a joyous day filled with His bounty of gifts, affection, great food, reverence, and carefree light heartedness. Lea is in reasonably good health, it seems, and our quality of life just keeps getting better little by little. And, yet, there was a part of my thoughts that kept drifting to those who were so dear to us, but too far away to be together.

I had sent an email containing a link to the video I posted of Lea giving our grandson a bath a few days before Christmas to many of these loved ones, as a way to help them see how well Lea has progressed in the last two years, after miraculously surviving a deadly sudden illness. One of the persons I had sent the link to was one of the nurses who tended her during the 180 days she was in Hartford Hospital.

This particular nurse was one of the special ones to us. . . he was the first nurse who took Lea outside after four months in the hospital. It was cold in Hartford. Lea was still on life support. She wasn’t strong enough to sit up in a regular wheelchair. She had already had over two dozen surgical procedures. She was on constant tranquilizer and anti-depressent IV drips. Her vital signs had to be continuously monitored.

This nurse, Chris, and Danielle, a patient care assistant studying to become a nurse, moved Lea into a cardiac chair (at home we call these recliners), attached remote monitoring gear, portable oxygen and medications, and took her outside the hospital for her first breath of fresh air in months. The hospital has a nice garden area with a gazebo that worked perfectly for this little outing, and I snapped this photo on our way to the garden.

Outside HH 2005

Needless to say, Chris’ willingness to take her outside was an additional burden for him during already difficult work days, and our appreciation for this, and many other kindnesses he bestowed upon us, knows no bounds. Chris, by the way, is also in the reserves, and has been called to active duty a number of times. Shortly after this trip outside, he was called to active duty to assist with medical support, as a flight nurse, during hurricane Katrina. When he returned to work at Hartford Hospital, he continued caring for Lea as though nothing special had happened. He even stopped in to check on her after she had been moved out of the Critical Care Unit. He, and fiance Amanda, drove us to the airport to fly home, so we wouldn’t have to take a taxi.

He will always hold a special place in our hearts. And, my thoughts were on him during this Christmas day, because I had gotten an email from him Christmas eve, stating that he was back on active duty; this time in Germany, where his medical team flew into Iraq and Afghanistan to tend injured soldiers being flown back for treatment. I was humbled by his letter, and asked for special prayer for him and his unit at the Christmas eve service at church. I was also a bit ashamed that I get so caught up in my own day to day concerns I forget what others are going through.

Pasted below is Chris’ email letter, received mid-afternoon Christmas eve:

“Merry Christmas to all from cold and foggy Ramstein, Germany. We have had over a week to get settled into our routines and get our lives as normal as you can. Much to my surprise there seems to be a regular flight schedule which allows for a day of recovery, a day of standby alert and then a mission. We fly every 3rd day and get a true day off once every 10 days or so. My crew and I have been to Balad, Iraq twice already and our flight time is quickly adding up. We obviously land in total darkness and try to minimize our ground time which I am all for.

While I haven’t been officially tested for it I think I am extremely allergic to mortars, shrapnel and anything that might have missile like characteristics. The attached picture is three of us from Westover shortly after we entered Iraq on our first mission. It’s hard to see with the lighting but you have to take what you can get.

Chris in Iraq

The other picture is of me cooking up some cookies shortly before we landed back in Ramstein. I think they were pretty tasty but it is hard to mess it up when they are already made for you.

Chris bakes in flight

Our unit uses donations to purchase sweets for us to cook up when we get a chance and after seeing how much of a hit they were it is totally worth it. The days are extremely long and depending on mission location the duty time can easily approach 24 hours long. The crew I am with, especially the enlisted are truly awesome. On our last mission our patient load almost doubled, we had 3 vented patients added at the last minute and had to fly with equipment that I haven’t seen since flight school over 4 years ago. Without missing a beat the aircraft was totally re-configured and within 30 minutes we were ready to accept patients. Not bad considering that for most of them that was only their 2nd or 3rd live mission.

Our holiday today consisted of shopping earlier and dinner at Chili’s. We will try not to over do it. Christmas Eve and Christmas are huge over hear and there is nothing open off base. With another mission tomorrow nobody was up for a late night anyway. Our Christmas will be spent in the festive colors of tan and black, flying for over 16 hours and getting back sometime the following day. In all honesty if I have to be away for the holiday there is nothing more rewarding than flying wounded troops home on Christmas.

I hope that all of you and your families have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year (just in case I am lazy and don’t write before then.) Remember to keep those in Afghanistan and Iraq in your prayers and world peace is one of my personal favorites when you are making your wish list. Talk to you soon, Chris”

Needless to say, Chris’ letter touched me, and reminded me how self centered we become, even when we think we are reaching out, and consciously seeking His will for our lives. So, I was already sensitized when I went to my email the morning after Christmas and found another email letter from Chris. This one brought reality crashing in, and I felt led to share this with you.

“December 25th, 2007.
Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Our mission was scheduled to leave within 90 minutes and our crew of 7 was sitting in a van waiting anxiously to get the day started and wondering what in the world we could be waiting on. Our mission was to take us to Bagram Afghanistan aboard a KC-135R, a 16 hour day and that is if everything goes according to plan. The earlier we get going the earlier we get back which will be sometime early tomorrow morning if we are lucky.

One distinct disadvantage to using this aircraft is that we need a specialized piece of equipment called a K-Loader in order to lift all of our equipment up so we can load it into the aircraft. With the lifter already 30 minutes late we sat and we waited and waited, and… Then going down the middle of the tarmac was not only one lifter but two! It was finally our turn, however the trucks never stopped, they just kept on going.

This sequence of events brought some curiosity on my part which quickly changed back into our meaningless conversations we
were having all along. I watched the loaders pull up behind a C-17 that had just landed and had parked only a few spaces from where we were. Like clockwork people prepared the aircraft after arrival, chalking the wheels, lowering the ramp, and moving vehicles.

After a few minutes I looked over again and was surprised to notice that everyone around the aircraft had suddenly stopped working. All of those people who moments earlier were hard at a work around the plane had gathered near the rear ramp and now they
were standing at attention, then they saluted. I now knew why we were waiting. Somewhere back home maybe a few hours before this, a family got the news that no family ever wants to receive; their loved one will not be coming home.

After a few more minutes, a slow moving blue truck with a blinking yellow light appeared from behind the C-17 followed by one of the
loaders we had seen earlier. On it was a single flag draped coffin, a hero heading home. As the small convoy drove the length of the tarmac other vehicles it would pass would come to a complete stop and turn off their lights, those who were working on the ground would stop what they were doing and render the time honored salute given to those on their final voyage home.

Waiting was no longer important anymore. Out of respect, the DOD and the Air Force strictly forbid taking pictures of these events and rightfully so. So, this is my experience to share with you.”

I am so ashamed of my selfishness! Oh, dear heavenly Father, forgive me my shallowness and self centeredness. Please give peace and comfort to those who are not as richly blessed as You have chosen to make me. Father, my heart goes out to those who have sick and injured loved ones on their minds, and particularly that family that received the horrible news of the loss of their loved one on Christmas Day. I pray for their comfort, Lord, and that You will hold them in the palm of Your loving hand, as they struggle to overcome their grief at this tragic loss.

Father, I pray, too, for those You have chosen to be our care givers. Bless them, Lord, as they go about tending to the needs of those sick and injured in their care. Tend to their own hearts and minds, that they might receive gratification from what they do to help others. Guide their hands that they might be steady and true. I pray for a circle of protection to be put around Chris and his team as they continue to be put in harm’s way to help those who need medical attention. I pray for all our troops, Father, wherever they might be; that You will always be present in their hearts and minds. Bring them home safely to their families to share a glorious day of celebration.

Continue to bless this Christmas season, Lord, protect it from those who would diminish its importance. Give each of us the moral strength to stand by, and fight for, the right to publicly declare our gratitude for the sacrifice made by Your son, Jesus Christ, that we might have eternal life. It is in the name of Jesus, my saviour, that I humbly lift up this prayer. Amen!

ABOUT HARTFORD LETTERS

Experience the Miraculous Healing and Recovery of Lea Vaughn, and the incredible spiritual journey of her husband during 180 days in Hartford Hospital. Read his original daily emails in "Hartford Letters" above. ____________________________

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