Monday, March 30, 2009

"I do want to let you know that those planes were a welcome sight to us. We watched them on their way toward Germany and later, on their way back toward England, the stragglers which obviously had been hit and were trying desperately to reach England. I want you to know that I watched those wounded planes many times and my wishes and prayers followed them as they disappeared toward the horizon."
These words came from a note written by Marguerite Knisely to an American bomber pilot who some 63 years after his service received a Flying Cross Award. Marguerite watched the flights because she was trapped inside Belgium, where since 1940 the German army had occupied Gembloux, the town where she lived with her parents. In 1945, Marguerite met Bill Knisely, an American soldier in a railroad battalion who was in Gembloux for a short period of time. Marguerite and Bill became very close, and before he left her town they decided to become married. For three hours one recent evening she showed me the V-mail letters that Bill Knisely sent home, and she shared her photograph album from the war days and afterward. More than anything, she told me the stories of living in a war zone, fleeing the German invasion into France in 1940 and living under German occupation. When she later left Belgium to marry Bill, and when she got off the boat in New York in 1947, she thought at first that there was some kind of emergency, because she had never seen so many cars on the streets and people going everywhere in a hurry.

That was the United States in January of 1947.
On to New Orleans. Maple Street Bookshop, Wednesday, 5:00 PM on.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My wife, Alice, is a graduate of Sophie Newcomb college, adjunct to Tulane University. We had plans to meet with her Newcomb and Tulane friends the Labor Day weekend of 2005 but, unfortunately, by Labor Day there was no Sophie Newcomb to go to, nor was there much else in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina had blown the city apart, then swamped it. New Orleans is recovering bit by bit but Sophie Newcomb is gone. The trustees decided to transfer all women students to the Tulane registry and close the finest women’s college in the South.
This morning Alice and I met with Bill White, mayor of Houston, who is running for the US Senate to succeed Senator Hutchins. I was reminded that when Katrina wrecked the Gulf Coast, Mayor White put together a rescue plan both for New Orleans and for Houston, and rescued tens of thousands of refugee families. Many of them became permanent Texans and many took the helping hand and returned to help rebuild New Orleans. Out of the ashes of the FEMA shame there now is much to be proud of. Yes, we can.
We have been to New Orleans several times since Katrina, once for a belated reunion for Alice’s classmates. We have seen the Xs on doors, the mud lines at roof tops, and the thousands of trailers in yards and helped in any way we can to make it a little better place.. We are going again next week with Louis and Debbie Charalambous, British friends whom we met as classmates in St. Céré, France. We will eat at K-Pauls and Brigtsons and I will sign copies of French Letters: Virginia’s War, at Maple Street Book Shop at 5:00 on April 1. It would be nice to see you there. If you know someone in the New Orleans area, ask them to stop by and we’ll get acquainted.