When Debi Freeman first brought a KFC dinner to a grumpy old veteran she had befriended at the Ann Arbor VA, a cohort of wheelchairs converged in a tight circle around her. The old vet said they were not after her; they were drawn to the chicken. It was Christmas day more than 20 years ago.
Now Freeman, a child-care professional, is at the VA Nursing Home every Christmas Eve providing dinner and gifts to all of the residents there. She says she is grateful for the opportunity to say “thank you” to those who fought for her country.
And now she has help.
When coworkers in the college learned about their publicity-shy friend’s solo labor of love, they asked if they could help. Thus began Washtenaw Community College’s efforts to help our heroes have a merrier Christmas.
A phalanx of WCC office professionals began helping with fund raising for the event. Others from the college helped in different ways: gift-wrapping or visiting with the veterans on Christmas Eve.
Janet Hawkins, associate director of Public Affairs, was one of the early volunteers. She recalls a centenarian nursing home resident whom volunteers looked forward to seeing.
“As a long-lived veteran, he was a direct link to every U.S. military action in the 20th century, Hawkins said. “He understood what the fighting men in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf faced on the battlefield and at home when they returned. That kind of legacy carries with it a very special place in all of our hearts.”
Chihiro Rydberg, who works at the Children’s Center, has been a volunteer along with her family for the last two years. As a Japanese-American she found that some older vets were at first very uncomfortable with her. Her kindness disarmed them and the once warring nationalities shared mutual empathy.
Volunteers at the party help distribute food and gifts. More importantly, they spend time listening and talking with the veterans or perhaps playing games of Scrabble or cards. What these often-forgotten soldiers want most is the warmth of human caring.
Gifts are purchased for the nursing home residents with money collected at WCC or received from corporate sponsors. This year, a volunteer handmade 40 lap blankets for the residents.
A local party store provides balloons at cost, which are tied to the wheelchairs of the vets according to Toni Ellicott, secretary to the dean of Student Support Services. Other businesses provide either money or themed donations.
Contributions for the event have been collected at various sites around campus. Even though the official deadline for this year’s event has passed, donations are still welcome at the cashier’s office, Ellicott said.
These days the party goes beyond the first floor nursing home. Volunteers also visit veterans in the hospital wards distributing about 100 goodie bags. “A chance to show appreciation from WCC, local businesses and organizations,” is written on the bags.
Those who would like to help with this annual event, contact Beverly Leneski at (734) 845-3467 or just show up at the VA Medical Center, 2215 Fuller Road, and start spending time with vets. The Christmas Eve party starts at 5:30 p.m.; dinner is served at 6:30, though some volunteers stay for hours.
Of course, there’s no need to wait until the holidays to honor our vets. To learn of other ways to help, visit the Volunteer or Give page of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
After months of anticipation, the MI General Store – featuring products almost exclusively with a Michigan connection – is officially open for business in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town.
The holdup? Waiting for the state to issue the business a license to sell beer and wine, which was finally granted on Dec. 9.
Owned by Mark and Danielle Teachout, the store is located at 44 East Cross St., next door to Café Ollie, also owned by the Teachouts.
“It’s been a tough road to get to where we’re at, so we’re not wasting any time to get open,” Mark said. “We haven’t had the ability to sell anything out of the space but it’s the cost of doing business.”
Mark, 38, of Ypsilanti, has already begun to receive many Michigan made products and more are coming.
“Getting food out here, it hasn’t been hard at all. Getting beer and wine out here, that’s as simple as investigating and doing the research to know where the products are,” Mark said.
While Mark will only be opening the space in 500 square feet, he hopes to expand into the back room to make use of 1,200 square feet of potential space.
In addition to carrying beer and liquor, Mark will also be carrying cheeses, candies, chocolate and soft drinks.
One of the vendors Mark is really excited to be carrying is Oh My Lolli, based out of Brighton. Owner and founder, Keith Carp, 39, of Howell works with a just handful of stores like Mark’s.
“We’re not set up to be a wholesale kind of business,” Carp said. “We’re a specialty candy store. We specialize in weddings, birthdays and holidays.”
While Carp isn’t set up to deal with wholesale stores, he’s embracing Mark’s concept for the MI General Store.
“I think as a whole, we need to keep our economy going. When I opened my store, I made sure all of my contractors were from Livingston county and he’s (Mark) doing the same by keeping all of the products in Michigan,” Carp said. “I think it’s important to keep our money here in our economy to keep it afloat.”
Along with offering Oh My Lolli’s hard candy, the store will also offer products from Sidetracks, Jolly Pumpkin, Frog Island, Blue Tractor, Clancy’s Fancy Hot Sauce and the infamous Faygo Pop.
Mark intends to be very strict about which products are considered “Made in Michigan” and which are not. With the exception of coffee, which isn’t grown in Michigan, all products have to be grown, manufactured and packaged in the state of Michigan.
The license he sought is especially important so the store can sell local beers.
“Michigan beer is getting to the point where it’s competing with the best micro-brew craft beer anywhere,” Mark said. “The wine will take a little longer to get more respect, but we’re working on that.”
While Michigan’s economy is on the upswing, Mark doesn’t see a point in opening a store that offers products not from Michigan.
“I wanted to support the things I like and buy,” Mark said. “By buying Michigan, we’re employing people – and the things being made in Michigan are just better.”
Meantime, Mark and Danielle are also toying with the idea of extending hours for Café Ollie now that they can sell beer and wine.
“We don’t want to be a loud bar by any means,” he said. “We want to provide a European style café where people can talk and actually hear each other.”
Having attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is “like living inside a giant kaleidoscope,” said James, adding that the ADD brain attempting to sort all the competing sensory input can be “like a Ping-Pong ball in a drier.”
These were some of the many insights shared with about 18 students and staff at the Neurodiversity Project’s first public forum at Washtenaw Community College on Dec. 5.
People with brain differences are often stigmatized as retarded, diseased or lacking in character, all false impressions. This public forum was intended to provide information about a multitude of brain differences and to put a human face on them.
The logo for the Neurodiversity Project
Speakers included Menara, 26; Veronica, 43; Ja Tonio, 30; James, 20; and Dan, 23. They asked that their last names not be used, fearing long-term repercussions, like greater difficulty finding employment.
Menara set the stage, defining brain differences as “anything that would cause people to be thinking in a different path” than average. She listed names for many of these: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, bipolar, major depression . . . it’s a long list. She also expressed how she and others like her desired to help others in a similar situation yet feared outing themselves because it can lead to more stigma.
Veronica spoke about psychosis that can cause people to lose contact with reality, hear voices, see hallucinations, etc. She shared the struggles she faced after an infectious disease put her in a coma for four months.
Ja Tonio, in a rapid-fire delivery, described the causes and consequences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and then related his personal story.
Unlike many PTSD sufferers who were traumatized by war, Ja Tonio’s trauma was childhood abuse at the hands of foster parents. His quest to understand his condition led him to study psychology.
Though sometimes using anti-anxiety medication, Ja Tonio found the best help came from maintaining a positive attitude. “Picture the sunny dawn,” Ja Tonio said.
James came to speak about ADD. Forgetting to bring his PowerPoint slides, he initially struggled to organize his thoughts, but then he did an admirable job fielding questions from the audience.
The audience had much to contribute, too. A mother shared her experiences in helping her son with ADHD to succeed in school. Some audience members shared their personal struggles, what helped them and what made things worse.
Dan spoke of autism spectrum disorders and sensory processing disorders (SPD), listing a broad range of possible symptoms.
All the speakers agreed that giving a name to mental differences is often difficult since one symptom tends to mask another. Many people may best be diagnosed “NOS” – not otherwise specified – they said.
Mental differences are common. People can possess such differences while friends and acquaintances remain unaware of their condition and they appear “normal.”
The members of the Neurodiversity Project courageously demonstrated in their forum just how capable and human such people can be.
Chelsea – Everybody has their obsessions, and Cindy Johnson sure has hers.
“Some people drink, some people do drugs, but I need ornaments,” said 54-year-old Johnson, a Washtenaw Community College Alumna and information technology supervisor for The State of Michigan.
And by ornaments, she means the 3,734 of them with glistening lights decorating 177 Christmas trees in her home.
It all started for Johnson in 1976, when she bought a Hallmark ornament that had the date on it. She started buying Hallmark ornaments every year, but then it mushroomed from there – especially since started using eBay in 1999.
“I could buy ornaments all year long instead of just at Christmas,” Johnson said.
The hearth is decorated with the classic stockings, nativity scene and several fully decorated trees.
Johnson’s festival of trees fills her modest 1,300-square-foot home.
She organizes all the decorations and trees using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and gets her ornaments from garage sales, eBay and from friends getting rid of their holiday decorations.
Each of her trees is themed and if she runs out of places to put ornaments she makes a smaller “sub-tree” next to it.
“I have a whole Mickey Mouse tree, a Disney tree, and Winnie-the-Pooh tree,” said Johnson. “The living room is very crowded, I have about 32 trees in there.”
It takes Johnson about three months to put the decorated trees up and about three months to put them away.
All the lights are on timers, and her electricity bill is only about $300 for December.
“When I die, my daughter gets all my ornaments, and if she sells them I told her I’d come back and haunt her,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she has met people across the country on eBay who collect Christmas ornaments.
“I met a guy in Oregon and we trade ornaments if we have duplicates. At one point, he had 18,000 Hallmark ornaments. So I don’t compare to him,” said Johnson. “But if I hit the lottery, I’m going to add on a room to my house and put more Christmas trees in it.
Ting-a-ling! Ting-a-ling! I think I need a bigger bell.
It’s 3:30 p.m. and I’ve been at this for half an hour. Some people just walk by, mostly averting their eyes somewhere else, anywhere else but on me. Some meet my eyes and return my greeting with a like smile and a promise to catch me on their way out of the store. Others seem uncomfortable being greeted at all.
I am ringing a bell for the Salvation Army at a Kroger store in Ypsilanti, inviting those who are willing to share a little kindness to those less fortunate this time of year. I become very aware that this small, red bucket intimidates a lot of people and I begin to think it will be a long evening.
Stephen LeachThe Salvation Army
Washtenaw Voice staff writer Allie Tomason goes undercover to discover the true meaning of giving while volunteering for The Salvation Army
I just got my first donation. I smile and wish a heart-felt “Merry Christmas!” There is a renewed vigor to ring the tiny, red bell that I hold in my gloved hand. As more people come to the store entrance, some visit the bucket and some don’t, but they all receive the same warm smile and greeting.
Ting-a-ling! Ting-a-ling! I still think I need a bigger bell.
A gentleman comes out to endow my bucket and to chat. He tells me that he used to “ring the bells” sometimes, but doesn’t have much time for it anymore. We chat for a couple minutes and then he leaves. By now it’s four o’clock, and it’s getting cold.
I listen to some passers-by muttering about how they hate shopping during the holidays and being pan-handled by the Salvation Army.
Still, I am ringing my tiny bell with enthusiasm as I am going through a gamut of emotions: sadness, fulfillment, delight, bewilderment, curiosity—and a little annoyance.
As people keep passing me, I am watching them and smiling through teary eyes as I think of all the people who will be helped by what I am doing and how amazing it feels to give. I am also deeply saddened by what appears to be repugnance at my willingness to do so.
Suddenly, I was reminded of something. I had spoken with another bell ringer earlier, Amanda Gale, 41, a resident of Canton.
“I think of it this way,” she said. “If I’m not collecting from them, maybe I’m collecting for them.”
It made me feel better.
My thoughts are put on hold when a woman stops and says to me, “I have a sister who is an alcoholic, and I could never just throw her out on the street.” She drops a few dollars into my bucket. “This is for the ones that they throw out on the street.”
Again, I have a renewed energy to cheerfully ring my tiny bell. It’s five o’clock, getting colder and it’s starting to rain.
Ting-a-ling! Ting-a-ling! I really need a bigger bell.
I want my bell to drown out the mutterings and the noise from the street. I want it to sing of faith and hopefulness to those who have none. I come to appreciate that it does just that, only some hear it and some don’t.
I receive an offer of a warm drink, but I kindly decline. I will only be out here a couple more hours and besides, the motion of my arms ringing my tiny bell is enough to keep me from getting too cold.
Now people are starting to look at me with pity as it grows darker and colder, but I keep on smiling and greeting people. Some ask if I am freezing, and I answer that I’m really not, surprisingly.
“That is why we constantly ring the bell,” I joked.
Then I realized I had been ringing the bell incessantly, even when people stopped
It’s six o’clock, and my arms are feeling the burn. I am now wondering if I can last the final hour. A mother and her three children come to bestow tidings on my bucket, and I decide that I can.
The children are very young. Putting coins in the bucket seems to be such a treat for them. I can’t help but get teary eyed once more.
I start to wonder if that is what real “rose-colored glasses” would be like. Suddenly, a man comes up to me and tells me that he remembers how his mother struggled to support six children, and thanked me for standing out in the cold and rain to remind him of where he came from.
I want to cry, but I don’t. Instead, I smile and wish him a “Merry Christmas” as he walks away in the rain.
It’s seven o’clock, time to go home. I stop ringing my tiny bell and when it is quiet, I find myself smiling as I realize that my bell isn’t so tiny after all.
Editor’s note: Language in the 19th paragraph may offend some readers.
When disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was invited to speak at Eastern Michigan University about second chances, his first response was skepticism.
“I didn’t really deserve this,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m on my 12th and 13th chance.”
As the speaker of the first installment of “Second Chances,” sponsored and paid for by Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge (BLACK), an EMU student organization, Kilpatrick saw an opportunity to share his experiences with students like himself.
Jared AngleThe Washtenaw Voice
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpratrick addresses journalists after his speech at the Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center ballroom.
Jared AngleThe Washtenaw Voice
Kilpatrick greets supporters on his visit to EMU.
Jared AngleThe Washtenaw Voice
Kilpatrick greets supporters on his visit to EMU.
Point of View
I don’t think he answered very many of the questions he was asked, I don’t hate him, but he just made jokes and talked about his family. As a man he was nice, but he just spoke like another politician.
Darvetta Thomas 25, Detroit, EMU student
“What I wanted to show them, that they can have it, whatever they want,” Kilpatrick said to reporters after the event. “It’s good to come back home and talk to students here that have a much more fitting relationship growing up like me, the schools I went to, and the streets I walked.”
Kilpatrick emphasized personal reflection, inner peace and self-reliance when facing scrutiny for one’s mistakes.
“When I forgave myself, it was a painful process,” Kilpatrick said. “But that process is for you. If you forgive that bully who did you wrong, you’re not forgiving them for them. It was for you. When I ask you for your forgiveness, and you don’t give it, it’s ok because I’ve already forgiven myself.
“Let it go for you,” he said. “As soon as I move out your way, just let it go.”
Yet Kilpatrick’s contrition ended there.
Instead of opening with sincere apologies, Kilpatrick began by blaming everything from the national media to the Detroit’s climate.
“People like me in Dallas, or California, or New York,” he said. “People are mad at me because of the stuff that they saw on TV. None of you have had a conversation with me. None of you know me.”
Kilpatrick even drew parallels of himself to historical figures, like the infamous Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“When he said ‘I have a dream,’ people hated him. And now we have a monument for him, because he’s dead,” Kilpatrick said. “When he was alive on this earth he was maligned and spit on, but it’s OK to like him now. Because someone was telling you then who you could and couldn’t like.”
When addressing the city’s finances, Kilpatrick claimed that Detroit owes him a bit of gratitude.
“It takes $4 million a day to run the city of Detroit,” Kilpatrick said. “Detroit has $45 million to work with. It’s gonna run out pretty soon. The best taxes that come in are the casino taxes, because it comes in every day. I negotiated the deal. If I didn’t, you all would be dead broke.”
For Anthony Embry, a 21 year-old mechanical engineering student and a member of BLACK, Kilpatrick’s legal troubles, made him the prime candidate to kick off the event.
“This series is all about second chances,” Embry said. “It’s about making choices and dealing with consequences and how they will affect you all throughout your life.
“He took a lashing and he’s still smiling. He’s trying to change.”
The controversial nature of the event, however, was not met without widespread scrutiny.
“Kwame’s a shithead. Why is he here?” asked Sean Kent, 26, an EMU student from Detroit, as he was walking past the Student Center before Kilpatrick spoke. “Why should anyone care what he has to say? If it was (Mayor Dave) Bing, I might have attended. I’ll see if he has something to say after he pays his debt.”
EMU took strides to distance itself from the event, issuing various statements to clarify that it did not endorse the engagement.
Kilpatrick did not receive payment for speaking, although BLACK did pay for his airfare from Dallas. Kilpatrick’s books, used as restitution funding, were sold and signed after the event.
Darvetta Thomas, 25, an EMU communications major and former resident of Detroit, was open-minded to Kilpatrick’s words, but heard very little apology throughout.
“I don’t think he answered very many of the questions he was asked,” Thomas said. “I don’t hate him, but he just made jokes and talked about his family. As a man, he was nice, but he just spoke like another politician.”
Some called foul before the event took place. Take William Caldwell, 27, for example.
“I don’t believe he was the appropriate person to be speaking about second chances,” said Caldwell, a psychology major from Detroit. “He’s not making an effort to change his ways. We want good role models, not ones that say they’re above the law. If he settles and apologizes I’ll put my sign away and go make a science project or something but he hasn’t. That’s why I’m here.”
Caldwell held a sign near the entrance of the EMU Student Center building. It read: “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.”
Students gathered at Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center ballroom to hear former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick talk about second chances.
And they weren’t impressed.
“He is arrogant,” said 21-year-old senior and social work major Kanesha Jones, of Detroit. “He doesn’t even care about what he did to the city.”
Kristen Floyd, of Detroit, agreed. “I think he’s playing a victim, as if he didn’t victimize the whole city of Detroit,” said the 21-year-old junior and psychology major.
Floyd was referring to some of the comments made by Kilpatrick in reference to his jail time and treatment from law enforcement and citizens of Detroit.
“I had no prior offenses, and they threw me into maximum security and solitary confinement,” Kilpatrick said, who argued that he had been incarcerated for something that no one in the state of Michigan or history of the United States had been incarcerated for.
Although his visit provoked controversy within the campus community, newly founded organization BLACK (Black Leaders Aspiring to Critical Knowledge) was still passionate about making sure that the highly controversial ex-politician got to explain his side of the story that has been the city of Detroit’s focus for the past few years.
“I’m proud of the organization for fighting so hard in the face of controversy, but I think Kwame’s presence serves no purpose,” said Kenneth Rose, 33, of Lansing. “It almost seems as if he doesn’t take the situation serious. He’s making light of the situation.”
“Soldier, if you do that in combat you are going to get me killed!” shouted General Maxwell D. Taylor as he stormed off after chewing out George Koskimaki for turning on his flashlight during a D-Day practice run.
General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. turned and put his arm around Koskimaki, saying, “Don’t feel bad. I got my ass chewed out more than anybody in this man’s Army.”
Koskimaki was supposed to have everything memorized, and he froze when Gen. Taylor asked him a question, so he turned on his flashlight to look at his cheat sheet and that is when the general let him have it. That was nearly 70 years ago. Taylor, Koskimaki and his diary made it through the war. Gen. Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt, did not. He is buried in Europe.
Chuck DentonThe Washtenaw Voice
World War II veteran George Koskimaki stands in front of a shadow box full of his medals.
Koskimaki, 89, is one of what TV news anchor Tom Brokaw dubbed in his books as our nation’s Greatest Generation – those Americans who spent their formative years through the Great Depression, fought on three continents and won World War II, then returned home to work in factories, business and industry to build a middle class that flourished in the world’s lone superpower.
The native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who now lives in Novi was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, the first paratroopers – that band of brothers – in the history of American combat.
And that diary he kept led him to write three books: “D-Day with the Screaming Eagles,” “Hell’s Highway” and “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
If his days seemed numbered when he went to battle then, they most certainly are now, he knows.
“I don’t buy green bananas anymore!” Koskimaki told his friends at a recent gathering of WWII veterans at the Finnish Multicultural Center on Eight Mile Road in Livonia. They laugh, because he’s been telling them that for 10 years.
Although health reasons forced him to turn down his annual D-Day anniversary trip to Europe this year, he did manage to make his annual pilgrimage to his birth place in the upper peninsula near L’Anse to spend his summer picking blueberries. Because of macular degeneration, he has to wait until the sun is shining before he can begin to pick the berries. He knows the good berries are the ones that reflect the most light.
This year was a transitional year for Koskimaki, with his eyesight fading. He packed up his WWII historical archive of the 101st Screaming Eagles unit, filled an entire UPS truck with 60 boxes and shipped everything to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Penn.
In 1978, he became the national secretary of the 101st and with the help of his wife, Eva, ran the division’s membership for two years.
“We doubled the membership and balanced the books by 1980,” he says proudly.
To do that, he left his teaching job at Roseville High School, where he taught biology, and took a 60 percent pay cut. He taught for 30 years, and had become somewhat of a legend in Roseville, where he started the teacher’s union in 1949. But he’s more remembered for changing lives.
“I can thank George for helping me get a scholarship and becoming a teacher,” said Duane Soine, 78, of Negaunee. “He wasn’t like the other teachers. He took a special interest in us. And he took us Up North for Atlanta trout fishing, too.”
After serving as the national secretary for two years, Koskimaki continued as the unit’s historian, helping others find information about their loved ones after the war. He also collected personnel stories from other veterans of WWII. This spring, he completed his last column for the 101st, called K’s corner. He would get requests for information and would research his archive and publish his research in the division’s magazine.
He received lots of mail after the HBO movie series “Band of Brothers.” Veterans would send him a picture and ask him to sign it. Koskimaki provided a lot of detailed information to the screen writers of the movie. As the 101st historian, he also helped the author of “The Dirty Dozen,” a WWII drama filmed in 1967.
With some encouragement from his wife, he began collecting detailed information from other veterans and used their stories and experiences in his books about D-Day – June 6, 1944, when the American forces stormed Normandy, France. He had more than 1,500 direct quotes and listed the names of all the veterans in his books.
Koskimaki’s old commander, Gen. Taylor, once said to him: “I congratulate you most sincerely on the quality of the reporting of this dramatic-episode. To most of us there, I suspect it was the greatest day of our lives.”
Just before his wife died in 2003, she urged him to take their grandson, Matthew Attalai, with him on his annual trip to Europe in honor of D-Day. There, veterans march in a parade and visit some of their battle sites.
After the trip in 2004, Attalai announced he was going to enlist in the Army. Koskimaki drove him to the same court house in the U.P. where he signed up in 1944. Matthew held dual citizenship, Canadian and American. He had dual citizenship because Koskimaki’s only daughter, Christine Attalai, married and moved to Toronto, Canada.
Grandfather and grandson were both 20 when they enlisted, and both survived their combat tours with the Army. But after Matthew got out of the service, he went back as a contract body guard and was killed from a roadside bomb in 2010. He was 26.
Before the war, Koskimaki was trying to put himself through college. He didn’t have it easy. His grandparents were immigrants from Finland in the early 1900s. They left their homeland because Russia was recruiting Finnish young men to fight in another war. He remembers living in the logging camps in the U.P., where his whole family tried to survive by farming, logging and mining. Once he became an adult, he relocated to Detroit to make money assembling cars at the Cadillac assembly plant on Springwells Avenue. Once he had enough money saved, he would go back to college.
One weekend, Koskimaki recalls, he was feeling a little full of himself and started hitting on a couple of young ladies passing by. One of them turned and said, “I don’t date draft dodgers!” The following Monday, Koskimaki went to the court house and enlisted. He wound up on a train bound for Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 101st Airborne Division.
That young lady rattled him so much, he did not take the time to resign from school or tell his parents of his decision.
Before the main landing of D-Day, his unit was dropped behind enemy lines. He described one event that could have been a bad turning point for the Allies. After fighting through some German guards, he and other soldiers ran across several fields. His unit commander discovered he dropped all Gen. Taylor’s invasion maps with the battle plans.
“I volunteered to go back to find the maps,” Koskimaki said. “This turned out to be hair-raising. I was afraid the enemy could hear the pounding of my heart – it was so loud. I groped around about in the dark and discovered the maps in a shallow ditch.”
Want to know the rest of the story? It’s in George Koskimaki’s diary of a war hero, “D-Day with the Screaming Eagles,” published by Ballantine Books. One great chapter in the story of our Greatest Generation.
For Mack Hayes, it’s like the hands of a clock were swirling in reverse and memories of the past were flooding in.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran from Ypsilanti joined up to go to war even though he could have received a deferment.
“I was working at a defense factory and all the young men were going, so I felt I should go too,” said Hayes, who was a “key man” making machine guns in Plymouth. He was married with two children at the time. But he raised his hand even though he wasn’t called.
Hayes trained in San Diego, Calif.
“I made expert on the rifle range,” Hayes recalled. “I figured I’d probably be going in the infantry, but I signed up for air corps and ordinance – and they put me in the Marine Air Corp.” Hayes was a part of the 3rd Marine Air Wing and was signed to the USS Block Island aircraft carrier.
“My job was to run along the side of those planes when they were taking off, putting shocks under the wheels,” Hayes said. It was dangerous work, and it nearly killed him.
“One day, the wind was coming so bad it blew a shock out of my hand and instinctively I grabbed the shock and let go of the plane,” he said. “So when I did, I dropped to the deck grabbed on to the thing (tie down) and crawled back to the wheel.”
Claudia Waller, 66, who was born while Mack Hayes was overseas fighting that war, always reflects on that moment on Veterans Day.
“I’m thankful God was with him and he wasn’t caught up in that aircraft,” Waller said, “and that I have had a dad all these years.”
Hayes had two buddies on the ship, Maurice Settler and Joseph Cordova. He refers to their group as “The Three Musketeers.” While Hayes survived the dangers of the aircraft carrier, Cordova did not. He fell from the flight deck to the hanger deck.
“It didn’t kill him right out; he lived about a couple of days,” Hayes said. “He died. We had to bury him at sea, and I was one of the pallbearers who put him in the sea – and boy, it was a sad time.”
Sadness is common in war, and Hayes made it a point not to get too close to pilots. “Sometimes you’d see the planes leave,” he said, “and they just wouldn’t come back.”
Hayes traveled all through South Pacific and received battle stars for Saipan, Guam and Okinawa. When he came home, he was glad to see his family, especially his new daughter.
Hayes was 24 when he joined the service. When he returned home, his family continued to grow. He has eight children in all, and they see their father as a hero.
“Dad never spoke a lot about his military service. I don’t think was ever involved in any veteran groups, either,” said his son, Mark Hayes, 54. “I think he just did what was right and served his country in a time of need.”
Mack Hayes tends to downplay his service, though he looks back on it with a sense of humor – and sobriety.
“I guess I learned to obey orders” he said jokingly. But on a more serious note he couldn’t quite sum up what the experience meant to him.
“There are some things,” he said, “that you can hardly put into words.”
In November 2006, just five years ago, John Lockwood arrived in a medically induced coma at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., while his worried family, who had rushed to be at his side, bought their Thanksgiving dinner from a vending machine.
Lockwood had been deployed at Camp Baharia just outside Fallujah, Iraq in September. On Nov. 19, while on patrol in a Humvee, he was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) – one of 32,213 American wounded. The explosion took his buddy’s life – one of 4,469 American troops killed in action in Iraq.
Two factors helped to keep Lockwood from becoming another KIA: his body armor and the infrastructure that made it possible for him to get rapid medical attention.
Bob ConradiThe Washtenaw Voice
Bob ConradiThe Washtenaw Voice
Helped on-site by a corpsman, he was transported within an hour to a well-equipped M.A.S.H. unit at neighboring Camp Fallujah. After being stabilized, he was flown to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany where the coma was induced. After a few days he was taken to Maryland, where he remained for more than four months.
Lockwood underwent so many surgeries to reconstruct his shattered body that he lost count after 30. The explosion had torn into his left side causing major damage to his left leg, arm and head.
He sustained a frontal lobe contusion, which, among other things, damaged the part of his brain that controls inhibitions. Consequently he was difficult to live with for a while.
“No filter,” said Lisa, his wife.
He also lost his left eye. Lockwood now has a lot of metal in his body, mostly pins inserted by doctors to repair damaged bones. But he also has metal of another kind, shrapnel. Occasionally, small pieces can emerge through his skin in a process sometimes called “freckling” or “peppering.”
Once, a boot-shaped piece of dark metal about a centimeter in length surfaced on his leg and he had it removed at the VA hospital. Lockwood thinks it may be a fragment of his late friend’s M-16 that was propped just below his leg when the IED ripped through the bottom of the Humvee. He keeps it in a vial at his home.
Lockwood has also had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “As I’ve heard others say, it consumes 30 seconds of every minute of your day,” Lockwood said. Still, he is coping. The nightmares, for the most part, have subsided.
“It’s always something you just kind of roll with,” he said stoically.
But this tragic event did not destroy Lockwood’s spirit. With the help of friends and family, he is not just surviving but thriving.
Lockwood had once looked forward to a career as a police officer. He first worked part-time in the Saline Police Department under the direction of Sgt. Jay Basso, his field-training officer (FTO). Next, he transferred to a full-time position that became available in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, where his officer training continued.
He and Lisa married in 2005 and moved into a house in Saline that he inherited from his grandfather. Having enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves, he was called to active duty just 15 months later. He was only in Iraq about two months when the IED redirected his life.
When friends and acquaintances back in Michigan learned of Lockwood’s plight, they mobilized to help. His former supervisor, Sgt. Basso, along with Sgt. Steve Armstrong from the sheriff’s department organized a fundraiser. The event, a spaghetti dinner, was orchestrated with the help of the American Legion, the VFW, the Saline Fire Department and a host of others.
The Ann Arbor auction service, Braun and Helmer, was tapped to auction donated items. The Detroit Red Wings and Tigers donated signed jerseys that Basso had framed for the auction. Local businesses donated a variety of products. The Merillat Cabinet Company donated an entire wet bar to be auctioned. Area teachers who had worked with Lockwood’s mother, Ruth, organized a bake sale.
At the dinner, Lockwood’s sister, Katie, represented the family, while his wife and parents were still with him in Maryland. The parents of the soldier, Lance Cpl. Jeremy Shock, who was killed in the attack, drove up from Tiffin, Ohio, for the event. John Lockwood managed to address the crowd by telephone from the Naval hospital. There were not many dry eyes in the place, according to Basso.
In spite of sleety weather, the event was very well attended and raised about $15,000.
In the meantime, John’s wife, Lisa was having an epiphany. She had once been interested in police work, and had met her husband during officer training. After marriage, she returned to school to study art. Hospitals just scared her – until her husband’s extended stay.
While with John in the Naval Medical Center, “I really fell in love with the whole (nursing) profession,” Lisa said. She enrolled in the nursing program at Eastern Michigan University, and plans to graduate next December.
Of course, John Lockwood’s life was redirected too. Due to his injuries, he was unable to fulfill all the expectations of a regular police officer. Although his employer was very accommodating, he learned of a dispatcher job opportunity closer to home, so he rejoined the Saline Police Department.
He also joined a group called Operation Never Forgotten (ONF), a group that raises awareness of the sacrifices made by America’s soldiers. He had become acquainted with John Kinzinger, a Vietnam veteran and an advocate for veterans. They were both in the Ann Arbor VFW post. Kinzinger brought John on board ONF, where he now serves as the campaign director for wounded warriors.
John provides feedback on billboard layouts, advises, brainstorms and helps with communications.
“His feedback represents all wounded warriors,” said Linda Kelly, founder and president of ONF.
After about a year of working as a full-time dispatcher, the government informed him that he was making too much money. He would need to work less or be disqualified from the Social Security Disability Insurance benefits he was receiving.
Lockwood was upset. He felt that the government had misinformed him previously. Nevertheless, he did the math and found that he would come out ahead if he worked less. By foregoing fulltime employment he could retain benefits for himself and his family and would save on child care costs.
Yes, child care. About two and a half years after his injury, Lockwood’s wife gave birth to twins, Benjamin and George. One of the first to be told about the pregnancy was John Kinzinger.
“There’s one part of him that wasn’t damaged,” Kinzinger said. When the twins were born, Kinzinger bought them matching “ones-ies” styled after Marine Corps uniforms.
And John Lockwood soon became Daddy Day Care.
“The kids bring both of us so much joy,” Lisa said. John credits his wife and children in helping him through rough patches in his rehabilitation. Teamwork is the key to their marriage.
“She has the babies; I watch them,” John said. In the meantime, she is expecting again – another boy.
John now works six days per month on the graveyard shift for the Saline police. His supervisor is Basso, his former FTO. Regarding Lockwood’s mental state, Basso said he remains the same man he knew before his injuries.
“I would call him one of the good guys,” Basso said. “I would love to have him full-time in any capacity.”
The Lockwood family is often seen walking together near their Saline home. All who know John Lockwood are impressed by his remarkable resilience.