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Tribute to a Paratrooper

Tony Zanzinger (1924-2017)
"I was out the other night and I heard our National Anthem being played and then I saw our flag flying. It was a sight I'll never forget. Looking at the flag I could not see the stars in the field of blue; instead I saw a picture of home and all of your faces. It sure does put a feeling in your heart. That's why I'm here, mom, so that I can help to keep all of you safe back home." - Tony Zanzinger in a letter to his mother

At a WWII event in 2015 I had the honor to meet Tony Zanzinger who served with the 501st PIR, 101st Airborne during WWII. After talking to him and hearing his incredible stories, I went home even more in awe of the Greatest Generation. I can truly credit much of my interest and admiration for the Airborne paratroopers to Tony. Tony's unit paralleled the 506th (Band of Brothers) as they fought in Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, and captured Hitler’s Eagle Nest in Berchtesgaden. I don't know how many people I told, "I met a paratrooper who played chopsticks on Hitler's piano!" He was truly a treasure of history, wisdom, and good ol' American grit. One of my favorite memories from the WWII event was watching Tony beside a 101st Airborne reenactor. I remember him saying, "It's like looking at myself." 

Operation Gratitude Collection Drive

Long time no post! Honestly, how does time go by so quickly? Anyway, here I am with a post about the Operation Gratitude collection drive I helped organize at the Eldred World War II Museum last weekend. Operation Gratitude is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that sends care packages and letters of appreciation to U.S. troops, first responders, veterans, military families, and wounded heroes. Their mission is to thank every American who serves. I'm going to share a bit about the collection drive and encourage you to host one in your community. You don't have to wait for a special holiday like Veterans Day to host an event. You can say thank you anytime of the year! 

Operation Gratitude has wishlist items listed on their website which is a good place to start. They also have certain care kits you can assemble such as The Patrol Care Kit, The Elements Care Kit, and Hygiene Care KitI chose the Elements Care Kit to keep the list of items needed more manageable for people donating, but everyone was very generous and donated enough items for various care kits!

American Veterans Conference

On Saturday I spent the day in the company of America's most decorated and distinguished veterans and active duty personnel from World War II to the present day! The American Veterans Center hosts a three day conference in Washington, DC at the United States Navy Memorial every year with panels and discussions. My mom and I attended the Saturday sessions and the entire day was just jam-packed full of amazing stories. If you have the chance to attend next year, I highly recommend it!

The first session highlighted two WWII veterans, Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson and Robert Izumi. These two men had incredible stories! 


Peleliu | 0200

It’s in the middle of the night when it really gets to you—missing home I mean. When you’re sitting in a foxhole and staring up at the pitch black sky something happens. I know it’s the same moon and stars that look down on my family in Virginia, but it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it. How can the same cosmos that shine on peaceful fields and that old run-down farmhouse shine on men riddled with bullets as their blood stains the ground beneath them? Boys. Not even men. How? I don’t know. So I try not to think about it.

“You know, the Japs could be watching us right now. In those leaves over there …”

Of all the guys I could get stuck with, it had to be Jackson. He’s only eighteen years old and jumpy as heck. I glance back at him and can only see the outline of his helmet in the shadows. “Shut up.”

He sighs nervously and I catch the sound of ammo rattling as he repositions himself. All is quiet again. I strain my eyes to see into the darkness. Nothing.

“I heard stories about them you know …” Jackson again. I get a good grip on my machine gun and keep my eyes fixed ahead. We’re in Peleliu. Anything can happen. “I heard stories of what they’ll do if they catch us.” He turns to me, hoping for some reassurance I guess.

I don’t give him any. “Yeah well, the stories are true.”

That shuts him up for a few more minutes, but not long enough for my liking. “I always wanted to be a Marine ever since I was a kid.”

You’re still a kid, I want to say. I’m still a kid. But I don’t. “Oh, so this is your dream come true.” I don’t mean to sound so sarcastic. But I’m tired. I’m tired of this war and seeing one friend after another blown to pieces.

“No.” He’s quiet for a long moment. “Didn’t think it would be like this.”

“Yeah Jackson, none of us did.”

“But we’re doing the right thing.” He sounds almost hopeful.

I grit my teeth, annoyed and bitter. “Great, you’re one of those idealists.”

“I’m a Marine,” Jackson says, his southern drawl hanging on a war-torn breeze. “I swore to defend the United States against all enemies. That’s what I’m here to do.”

“You’re here to kill.”

“And protect my country.”

I’m envious of him. I really am. I wish I had his optimistic nature. When you’ve seen your buddies killed, something just breaks inside you and suddenly you forget what you’re fighting for. At least I have.

“Someone has to do it, Williams," he says to me. "Someone has to protect and defend our families, our country, our way of life. So we’re doing the right thing. I'm proud to be here.”

He is right, but I don't have that patriotic zeal like I used to. It was so easy to feel when we were marching in sharp uniforms and basking in cheers.

It’s not so easy to feel on Peleliu island ...

D-Day Ohio 2017

I had another great year at D-Day Ohio and, per usual, returning to the 21st century after such a fantastic event was a challenge. 2017 marked my third year as a member of the French resistance, and this year I was armed with a new weapon—a reproduction German Walther P38. It was super fun (and loud) to shoot! Besides portraying a French resistance fighter, my sister and I also joined the American Red Cross Clubmobile, otherwise known as the Donut Dollies. We had a very full weekend! 

Hanging out with a downed airman before the battle ... 

It was quite a feat getting him into that tree. Some German soldiers came over with their tank to help!

A battle begins ... 

During one of my (many) deaths, a German soldier rifled through my backpack and found a map. There I was lying on the ground watching all these boots form around me and hearing angry German soldiers shouting from above. Such fun. 

I just can't keep a straight face ... 

 The French farm house ... 

Looking very serious during Operation Jedburgh Training ... 

And not so serious!

Some snapshots of camp life ... 

After the battle of Foucarville, we welcomed our Airborne liberators ... 

Now some pictures of the Donut Dollies! We gave donuts and candy cigarettes to soldiers en route to the D-Day invasion ... 

USO dance ... 

It was so much fun chatting with Liberty from Operation Meatball!

To finish this post off, I have to share this adorable picture someone shared on the D-Day gallery. The cutest. 

Vive la resistance! 


Snippet of a Story

Long time no post! Just to prove I haven't dropped off the face of the blogging world, I dug out this excerpt from a story that's still a work-in-progress. (Virtual high five to anyone who can identify the young man in this picture!)

I hadn’t planned to get caught.

I was told this mountain pass wasn’t regularly patrolled. All I had to do was find a safe path to the Romanian border, and on to Palestine. So many are counting on me to save them. So many are counting on me to get them to Eretz Israel.

And I failed.

The border guard takes his time unfolding the map, dragging out my misery. He gives it a long shake and surveys it through narrowed eyes. “Treasonous Zionist activities will not be left unpunished.” His voice is low as he rips my map into shreds. I watch as a gale snatches them into its lively embrace. My path to freedom dances through the wind toward the mountain pass. The bitter irony bites into my skin.

Run. Run toward the scraps of freedom flying through the air. Escape.

I cast a cautious glance at the guard who is enjoying the mess he has created in the sky, and that’s when I make the decision to run. I tear through the two horses, brushing against their warm skin. I don’t stop, even as I hear the whinny of horses and the beating of their hooves as they gain on me in mere seconds. The sight of pine trees bending in the breeze are blocked now by the blur of horses as they cut me off from freedom.

The border guard jumps down, grabs my wrists and locks them into cold iron fetters. He’s shouting furiously in Russian as he lodges his pistol into my back.

Is this the last time I’ll taste the crisp air, see the sunlight spread its long fingers across the fields? The taste of freedom dissipates, blown away to honeymoon with the shreds of paper floating toward Zion.

Ruhr Pocket Train Battle 2017

I've been all over the place this week—working on an upcoming book talk, writing biographies for Pictures for Heroes, passing out resistance leaflets, and being accused of having vodka in my basket by a German officer. What else is new? Anyway, here are some pictures from last weekend's WWII reenactment which will give some context to the whole vodka thing. 

The Germans had control of the train for the first part of the trip, and our group stirred up some trouble! I made copies of The White Rose leaflets and recruited other reenactors to help pass them out. Although I evaded arrest, I heard that a few spectators were found with leaflets on them and didn't fare as well. 

The German officer started reading The White Rose leaflet out loud, then proceeded to handcuff the poor spectator and his wife! 

My sister portrayed a member of the BDM, the League of German Girls. *cough* TRAITOR*cough*

The leaders of our group. They're so awesome!

The White Rose resistance lives on.

-Emily (AKA. Sophie)

My Grandpa's Best Accomplishment

70 years ago today, two kids from Quebec stood before God and each other and said "I do." They stayed by each other's side no matter what life threw at them. We their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are forever thankful for their example of love and loyalty.

They had a beautiful relationship, evident by my grandpa's words."To win my beautiful bride—that's my best accomplishment. There couldn't be anything better than that, could there?" 

We miss you, Grandma. 




A few of my favorite things: Summer rain, my cozy hoodie, lots of coffee, and listening to veteran interviews.


Speaking of veterans, I'm super excited to be helping out with Pictures for Heroes! It's a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring our veterans by interviewing and photographing our nation's heroes, to ensure that their bravery and sacrifice is never forgotten. Every story will be compiled into a book. Along with a team of writers, I'm transcribing and writing short biographies! Please consider supporting the project and pre-order your book!


Welp, I finally finished the Band of Brothers series. I've seen the first few episodes multiple times, but the library always wants it back before I can finish all ten episodes. (What's up with that?!) Reading A Company of Heroes and Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends made it all the more painful because I knew what was going to happen to certain paratroopers. It was SO GOOD AND I CRIED. 


This is one gem of a book! It's chocked full of first hand accounts of French civilians during the D-Day invasion. It's a perfect research book for reenacting! I think I underlined most of the book.


 Some new reenacting items! I'm armed and dangerous. 

What are you currently reading/writing/researching?