The Compelling Wooden Bomb Story

I want this to be true.

I recently came upon this Facebook meme, and it made me laugh. It says that during WW2, the Germans built a fake wooden airfield with wooden aircraft, vehicles, and hangars in order to trick the Allies. The RAF, having known of the secret project for months, patiently waited for them to finish and then dropped a single fake wooden bomb on it.

I want this to be true. I really do. It would demonstrate that even in times of extreme crisis, human beings still manage to have a sense of humor. And I’m sure it would have been a huge morale booster.

I decided to do a little digging and I found an article on the website that leads me to believe that the author also wants this to be true. It says that versions of the story have been floating around since the 1940’s. Most of these accounts are secondhand. A sort of “he said, she said” situation.

We know that decoy airfields actually existed on both sides, and that wooden bombs were used to train soldiers in the art of bomb removal. Those are facts. But we have no real evidence that these funny stories are anything more than stories. If I had stopped at this first article, I might have been left with a tiny, shining belief that maybe, possibly, this really did happen.

But then I went to that crusher of all fantasies,, and they brought up several points that had been nagging at me.

  • Strategically, wouldn’t it make more sense to let your enemy continue to believe that you thought their fake airfield was legitimate?
  • The allies needed every plane and pilot focused on doing their job rather then wasting fuel and risking lives and equipment on a practical joke.
  • There was a lot of opportunity for failure with this frivolous maneuver. If the bomb shattered upon landing, the Germans wouldn’t even know it happened.
  • Wood and time were at a premium. It’s unlikely the fake airfield was made entirely of wood.

So, no, darn it, I don’t think this is true. I can imagine my father in his uniform, getting drunk at some local Austrian pub when he was on leave, and making this story up to impress a girl. True or not true, the story still makes me smile. I hope it also made a lot of soldiers smile when they heard it. If so, mission accomplished.

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How Deprived Are We?


I’ve been listening to a lot of people complaining about the deprivations brought about by the COVID-19 quarantine. Truth be known, I’ve complained, too. I miss my hairdresser. If I don’t get a cut soon, I’m going to start looking like Cousin Itt.


People want to go to the movies again. They want to get their tattoos. They want toilet paper, even if they have a stockpile. They can’t understand why we can’t have our concerts and parades and baseball games.

When I hear this, I think, “Wow, we’ve gotten soft.” I think of the stories I was told about what life was like during World War II. If we’re freaking out about hairdressers, I can’t imagine how we’d feel about being allowed 4 gallons of gas a week, and only then if we could justify having any at all.

According to Wikipedia, here are some of the austere measures applied to the American public at various points during WWII:

  • There was a shortage of rubber, so tires were allocated to each community based on the number of registered vehicles.

  • Gasoline rationing was also a function of preserving tires.

  • At one point, automobile sales were stopped. Along with the sales of typewriters and bicycles.

  • A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to preserve rubber.

  • You were only allowed 5 tires. IF you could justify a need for your vehicle. All other tires (and all tires for those with unjustified use of a vehicle) were confiscated for government use.

  • Low priority vehicles could get 4 gallons of gasoline per week. Military industrial workers could get 8 gallons per week. People essential to the war effort, such as doctors and truckers, could get more. An unlimited supply of gasoline could go to clergy, police, firemen, civil defense workers, and, scandalously, to congressmen.

  • Automobile racing was banned, as was simply driving around to sightsee.

  • Only households with babies and small children could get canned milk.

  • Sugar rationing lasted until 1947 in some parts of the country. It was ½ pound per person per week, which was apparently half the normal consumption at the time.

  • Coffee was restricted to 1 pound every five weeks, also half the normal consumption.

  • Canned dogfood was no longer produced.

  • You had to turn in an empty toothpaste tube before you could buy a new one.

  • All production was halted for metal office furniture, radios, television sets, phonographs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and sewing machines.

  • Other items that were rationed were shoes, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods, dried fruits, firewood, coal, jams, and jellies.

Given the way people are reacting to our current situation, I doubt any of us would have made it through World War II. We actually have it pretty darned good. We can get through this, if we put it into the proper perspective.


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My Imaginary Father

I used to think he was strong.

Recently I came across this photograph of my father. It was taken in 1952, three years before the movie Rebel Without a Cause came out. My father was James Dean before the real James Dean had truly “become” James Dean.

My Father, 1952.jpg

I can see why my mother had married him two years previously. He’s got that sexy, brooding, bad-boy look about him that every 23 year old girl falls for.

Fortunately, most of us snap out of it.

I suspect that by the time this photo was taken, the honeymoon was long since over. My father was drunk in this picture, just as he had been in every other picture that was taken of him as an adult. He was even drunk in his wedding pictures.

My mother had lived a rather sheltered life. Her parents weren’t ones to drink to excess. Her dad protected her as much as he could, right up until his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat in World War II. My mother was 17 at the time, and the family was plunged into poverty.

She carried on, living with her mother, her sister, and her sister’s children in a tiny house that was barely bigger than most people’s garages. I’m pretty sure she got married simply to get out of there. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire.

She stayed married to my alcoholic, physically abusive father for 17 years. You can’t say she didn’t try. They were divorced when I was 3 months old.

I never met my father. He didn’t send me a single card or letter or gift. He didn’t pay a penny in child support. I never heard his voice. I couldn’t have picked him out of a line up.

My mother didn’t talk about him much unless I asked. She did say that he was an alcoholic and that’s why they got divorced. She said he was a sharpshooter in WWII, and that he sometimes liked to shoot blue jays out of the tree from the top floor bedroom window of our house. (The neighbors must have loved that.)

I didn’t know he used to beat her until long after she was dead. I didn’t think about the fact that they’d been together for 17 whole years until recently. There must have been quite a few stories that went untold.

With that kind of an information vacuum, I was free to make up stories about him in my head. I used to think he was strong. I used to think that if he had been in my life I’d have been protected and loved. I used to think I was worse off because of his absence.

I don’t think those things anymore.

Now, I just think he looked like James Dean.


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Hate When That Happens

The other day, construction workers came across an unexploded bomb, as big as a man, which had apparently been sitting there in Northwest London since World War II. Needless to say, it caused quite a panic. Residents and schools had to be evacuated. You can read more about it here.

I’m always astounded when such discoveries are made. People have been living their lives, going about their business, smoking, shooting off fireworks, blasting their radios, you name it, right on top of this thing for decades.

And how do you lose a bomb? I mean, seriously. Yes, it was just one of untold numbers going off at the time, and people had, no doubt, quite a bit on their minds, but still. This thing is huge. You’d think it would be rather hard to overlook.

One can hope that incidents of this kind are relatively rare. More insidious are the 110 million anti-personnel mines in the ground, and another 100 million stockpiled around the world, according to

Landmines are meant to be hidden. The problem with that is that they stay hidden, even long after wars are over. They kill and maim even in times of peace. They target both sides, in perpetuity. And children, in particular, are at risk, because they tend to play off the beaten path, and like to pick up things that look interesting.

Again, according to, each day over 70 people are killed or injured by these mines. That’s one person every 15 minutes. 300,000 children have been severely disabled because of them.

Once again I’m reminded how lucky I am. I’ve only visited one country with a major landmine problem: Croatia. While there, I planned to visit the gorgeous Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, but was warned that if I did, I shouldn’t stray at all off the established paths because they still find landmines there. In a serene, bucolic national park. Horrifying. (It turned out it was too out of the way to fit into my itinerary, and I have to admit I was equally disappointed and relieved.)

I can’t imagine what it must be like to live every day in the vicinity of live ordinance. It must be terrifying to have to worry about your child getting blown up while walking to school, your wife getting blown up while fetching water, and you yourself having to hesitate to farm your own fields.

There is no justification for landmines. What horrors we visit upon ourselves.


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Peace Day

If I were getting a masters degree in world history, my thesis would be an attempt to answer this question: Was there even one day in the recorded history of mankind when no one on the planet was at war? I’ve honestly wondered that my entire life.

Of course, you’d have to create a firm definition of war first. For example, America may have tried to call the war in Vietnam a police action, but I’m sure those covered in napalm were pretty convinced they were at war. Perhaps “non-peace” would be a better term.

By that definition, it would be easy to eliminate huge swaths of time. World Wars I and II. Civil wars. Revolutions. Invasions. Pogroms. Genocide. Hostile occupations. Coups d’etat.

After that, you’d be left with a patchwork quilt of time frames, and you’d have to look at each country and/or culture’s individual history. I’d suggest you go with the big and/or influential countries first. America. Russia. China. England. They are the troublemakers. They’d eliminate a bunch of dates on your calendar. (Of course, reconciling the various calendars so that we’re sure we’re discussing the same day would be an additional challenge.)

Then perhaps go to the more tribal areas of the globe. Whenever you create a scenario that is “us” vs. “them”, you are sure to have conflict. Should we count terrorist activity? If people are getting killed, I’d say yes.

I guess my point is, humans in general are a violent species. I want there to be a day that we can all look to and say, “See? We are capable of peace.” Just one day. I need to know that day exists to give us all hope that it’s really achievable.

I hate to say it, but I doubt we’ll find it.


Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book.

Small World, Indeed.

After graduating from high school, one of the first colleges I attended was Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, the “nation’s oldest city.” I’m using quotes because the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon would have been highly amused by this designation.

Nevertheless, St. Augustine is a beautiful, historic town. But if you’re a student without a car it quickly becomes tedious. There’s no public transportation to speak of, and you’re not within walking distance of the beach, so once you’ve seen all the historic t-shirt shops, the only thing left to do is get royally wasted in one of the pubs, and I had long since outgrown that impulse. So on this particular night, long before Netflix was invented, I was bored senseless.

So I began wandering around the campus in hopes of running into someone, anyone, to do something, anything with. Eventually I ran into my friend Jim, and we decided to go to the only other source of entertainment within walking distance: The dollar movie theater across from the historic slave market. (It’s funny how easily “slave market” rolls off the tongue when you’ve lived in a historic Southern city for any length of time.)

We didn’t even know what was playing at the theater. We didn’t care. But it turned out to be Das Boot, that classic movie about the German U-Boat crew in the North Atlantic during World War II. I won’t get into the plot, but I will say it’s worth seeing if you haven’t already.

We sat there engrossed as we ate our popcorn. Afterward, we were walking in silence back to the dorm and I said, “That movie had extra significance for me, because my grandfather was a merchant marine, and he died when his ship was torpedoed by a u-boat.”

Have you ever been walking next to someone and they are so stunned by what you say that they come to a complete halt, and you take several steps before you realize they’re no longer beside you? That’s what happened.

Naturally, I turned around and said, “What?”

Jim looked at me and said, “Barb, my father served on a German u-boat in the North Atlantic during World War II.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I said, “So, your father may have killed my grandfather.”

“Yes,” he said.

After thinking about it, I decided that if I could say “Slave Market” without cringing, I could certainly remain friends with Jim. That tells you all you need to know about how we come to accept history, no matter how brutal it may have been, with the passage of time. I don’t know if this is good or bad. It’s just the way it is.



The Cats of Mirikitani

One of the things I love about being a City of Seattle employee is that I am required to do at least two hours of race and social justice training per year. As part of that this year, I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a documentary called The Cats of Mirikitani. In keeping with my tradition of reviewing things that came out years ago, I will review this amazing video, which came out in 2007.

First of all, if you have the opportunity to see this documentary yourself, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Second, if you have yet to see it, I should say that the rest of this entry requires a spoiler alert.

This documentary, by Linda Hattendorf, is about an amazing guy named Tsutomu “Jimmy” Mirikitani. She found him sleeping on the streets of Soho in New York City. He would not take any money from anyone. He was 80 years old, and survived by selling his art to people.

As the documentary progresses, you learn more and more about him. He was born in Sacramento, but raised in Hiroshima. Needless to say, he was highly impacted by the bombing of that city. Fortunately he had returned to America in 1937. Unfortunately, that also meant that even though he was born in the US, he got thrown into a Japanese internment camp and lived there for 3 ½ years.

Then, while he was still living on the street, 9/11 happened. The creator of the documentary found him all alone on the street, in the dark, coughing in a toxic cloud of twin tower dust. She took him in. And that’s just the beginning.

This documentary really made me assess how I react to the homeless. I probably pass people by every single day who have hidden talents, and have witnessed history and have amazing stories to tell. The fact that this man lived for decades on the street without being connected to social services is just another in a long line of tragedies that Jimmy Mirikitani experienced in his lifetime. There really is no excuse.

Cats of Mirikitani

Trump is the New Hitler

I have a German last name, and because of that I have always taken the events that led up to, and occurred during, World War II very seriously. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Diaries of Anne Frank and all things related to concentration camps. I was proud of the fact that my father helped to liberate one during the war.

I could never understand what would cause a nation to be sucked in by an insane man who spewed nothing but hate. I could never imagine being so afraid of an entire group of people that I would leave even its women and children out in the cold. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could justify depriving a whole religious group of its human rights.

I still don’t understand it. I never will. But now I can see how it happens. The other day, Donald Trump said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

First of all, the screening system that allows immigrants into the US is extremely rigorous. If you think people just wander over the border willy nilly, think again. Better yet, Google it. If the system had been this stringent when my grandparents came to this country, they’d very likely have been turned back at Ellis Island, and I wouldn’t exist.

Normally, I wouldn’t take anything Donald Trump said very seriously. In my personal opinion, he’s a racist nut job with a bad comb over. But what was terrifying about this current bit of insanity of his was that when he said it, the crowd cheered. They cheered just as the Germans did when Hitler spouted his racist insanity during the Nuremberg Rally. Do you understand what I’m saying? They cheered.

In Germany, at the time, the economy was in a shambles. People were afraid. They wanted someone to blame. So a charismatic man with a bad hairdo came along and exploited their fear and turned it into hate and as a result over 60 million people died in a war that should never have taken place.

By the way, it wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered, thanks to the Elie Weisel Foundation, that none of my relatives had joined the Nazi Party. My family comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region in what is now France. Although this region has been dragged back and forth between France and Germany throughout history, during most of the last century, and this one so far, it’s part of France. What a huge weight off my shoulders!

But can I truly set down that weight? Now history seems to be repeating itself. Trump doesn’t scare me nearly as much as those cheering people in the crowd. Those people, those fellow Americans, do not seem to have learned from the deadly mistakes of history. Those people vote. I don’t want to see what happens if their hatred wins.

trump hitler
[Image credit:]

Jeannette Rankin: A Woman Who Stood Alone

Recently I watched a program about the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in it they mentioned in passing that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt went to congress to ask them to declare war on Japan and there was only one vote against it. Think about that for a minute. That had to take guts. We all remember how much patriotic pressure there was after 9/11. Most of us alive today can only imagine how intense it was after Pearl Harbor.

The resolution passed the Senate 82-0, and in Congress it passed 388-1. Who would have the courage to stand up against 470 of his fellow politicians and overwhelming public sentiment, and say, rightly or wrongly, on public record for all eternity, “I disagree”? There was hissing in the gallery when that vote was cast, and an angry mob pursued the voter after the fact. I had to find out more about this person.

And what an interesting person she turned out to be. Yes, she. Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, was the first woman ever elected to the United States Congress, and ironically this occurred in 1917, when not all women in this country had the right to vote. She was for women’s suffrage, of course, and against child labor, and a devout pacifist her entire life. She voted against the war in Germany in World War I, and she led 5,000 marchers to Washington to protest the war in Vietnam. When she cast that single dissenting vote during World War II, she said, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

She also never married, despite many proposals, and she was highly educated. Those were two things that were extremely rare for her generation. Her first degree was in biology, and science is a field that is still underrepresented by women to this day, so you you can imagine what a good ol’ boy network it must have been in 1902.

Jeannette Rankin was a woman who bucked the tide. I never thought I’d say this about a Republican, especially a Republican woman, but I have nothing but admiration for the life she led. If you’d like to learn more about her, start here.


Do you Know this Child? Help Solve a Mystery.


This photograph has haunted me my entire life. If you know anyone from France, Germany or Austria, or the US Army 65th Infantry, please share this story with them on any social media you choose.

My father served during World War II, and he brought home many photographs and even more stories, most of them outlandish. Due to his lifelong battle with alcohol, I never knew him. All I was left with was his photo album and those few stories that have managed to trickle down to me over the years.

Needless to say, I was very obsessed with the entire photo album. But of all the pictures in it, the one that has always fascinated me the most was this one of a little boy in a uniform, sitting on a jeep. Who was this child? Why was he there? What became of him?

The story that was passed down to me was that he was a German boy that the company sort of adopted as a mascot, and that he was killed by the Germans, which made my father so angry he then killed all the Germans he could.

There are several problems with this story. The main one being that when my father’s company was breaking through the Siegfried Line, they were in no one place in Germany long enough to develop a relationship with a child.

Let’s follow his company’s path, and then I’ll give you some of my theories. I’d love it if someone could provide me with more pieces of this puzzle

The year was 1945, and my father was in the United States Army, 65th Infantry Division; 1st Battalion; 261st Infantry Regiment; Company C; 2nd Platoon; 1st squad.

  • The division arrived at Le Havre, France on January 22, 1945. They were stationed in Camp Lucky Strike.
  • They departed Camp Lucky Strike from February 25 – March 1, 1945
  • From there they went to Ennery, Moselle, France on March 3rd.
  • By March 7th, they saw their first combat in Boulay-Moselle, France.
  • In March 17th, they were in Villing, Moselle, France
  • They breached Siegfried Line, March 17-19.
  • On March 20th, they were in Saarlautern and Reisweiler, Saarland, Germany.
  • On March 21, they had reached Neunkirchen, Saarland, Germany.
  • On March 27th, they were in Rockenhausen, Pfalz, Germany.
  • On March 28th, they were in Schwabenheim, Hessen, Germany.
  • They crossed the Rhine, March 29-30, 1945.
  • On March 31, they were in Laubach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
  • By April 1st, they had reached Hattenbach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
  • On April 2nd, they were in Ersrode, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
  • On April 3rd they were in Berneberg, Kurhessen, Germany.
  • They fought to secure the Mulhausen-Langensalza Line from April 4-6, 1945.
  • On April 5th, they were in Treffurt, Thuringia, Germany.
  • The fought the Battle of Struth, on April 7.
  • On April 9 they were in Berka, Thuringia, Germany.
  • On April 12, they were in Waltershausen, Bavaria, Germany.
  • By April 14, they arrived in Arnstadt, Bavaria, Germany.
  • April 17th found them in Breitengussbach, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On April 20th, they arrived in Altdorf, Bavaria, Germany
  • They fought the Battle for Neumarkt, April 20-22, 1945.
  • On April 23, they were in Velburg, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On April 24, they were in Deuerling, Bavaria, Germany.
  • They crossed Danube to capture the sector at Regensburg, April 25-26th.
  • On April 275h, they were in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On May 1st, they were in Platting, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On May 2nd, they were in Furstenzell, Bavaria, Germany.
  • May 3rd found them in Neuhaus, Bavaria, Germany.
  • On May 4th, they crossed over to Austria, and were in Scharding and Raab, in the Ober-Oesterreich region.
  • On May 5th, 1945 they were in Linz, Ober-Oesterreich, Austria, and also helped to liberate the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. (This experience, more than any other, forever changed my father.)
  • The Germans surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945, and they met with a company of the Soviet 7th Guard Parachute Division.
  • The division remained in Austria until disbanded on August 31, 1945 in Enns River, Austria

What I get from this grueling itinerary is that my father’s company moved through Germany pretty quickly. I find it hard to believe he met the child during that time of heavy combat. Here are some theories I have about the encounter.

  • My father was in the Le Havre area of France for over a month. He may have met the child there. If so, this child could not have been killed by the Germans while my father was there as they had yet to see combat.
  • He was in Austria for almost 4 months. Perhaps he met this child there. If so, again, the child could not have been killed by the Germans, as they had already surrendered.
  • What do the numbers on the jeep’s license plate mean? And what do the symbols on the uniform mean? These could provide clues.
  • Obviously this kid was well liked or they would not have taken the time to fit him out with a uniform. You don’t rustle up spare uniforms and sew those impossibly high hems on a pair of pants for someone you only know for a day or two.
  • I doubt he came from the concentration camp in Austria. He looks too well fed.

So what became of this child? Here are some of my thoughts.

  • Perhaps he was in a neighboring village and hung out with them during the day, going home to his mother at night. I hope so.
  • Perhaps he was orphaned and they did actually take him in. If so, when they left the area, any number of things could have happened.

Maybe he was left with some volunteer organization, but I suspect that regardless of the location, there were not many organizations up and running at the time. As with disasters these days, there’s a substantial lag before these groups gain a foothold. But who knows? Maybe the Red Cross took him.

But what I strongly suspect and fear is that this poor child was an Austrian orphan that they took in as if he were some sort of pet, and when it came time to ship out, each soldier looked at the others and said, “I can’t take him. You take him.” Faced with overwhelming amounts of paperwork, and anxious to get home to wives and sweethearts and start their lives again, they drove away, leaving him standing on the side of the road, amongst the devastation.

That image breaks my heart. I look into this child’s eyes and I long to know more. If he survived the war, he would be about 75 by now, so time has all but run out, and I fear I’ll never have closure on this story.

If you can fill in any of the blanks, please let me know. Thank you!