I had no understanding until recently of "barrage balloons" nor their importance in the success of the Normandy invasion.
And further, I had no idea of the crucial D-Day role played by black soldiers landing on Omaha Beach.
This bit of forgotten history was brought to my attention by long-time newsletter reader Norm Haskett. Norm is the creator of the incredible website The Daily Chronicles of WWII, possibly the most thorough collection of WWII information on the web.
Who better to fill in for me this week while I'm on vacation?
Coincidence, karma or miracle? This story will make you wonder. It begins in a small village near present-day Ukraine amid war crimes committed by the German Nazis. A time in history that does not feel so long ago given the current news of war crimes in the region.
Near that village lies the dark primeval Białowieża Forest, straddling the borders of Poland and Belarus. Though it's described as “hauntingly beautiful” its tall trees and seemly endless marshlands have witnessed the harshest of evils.
At the outbreak of WWII, Miriam Rabinowitz lived in the small Polish town of Zhetel, (sometimes called Zdzięcioł) with her husband Morris and two daughters, Tania and Rochel.
Christians and Jews had lived peacefully in Zhetel for nearly 400 years, while the town was variously under the control of Belarus, Russia and Poland. In 1939, the population was roughly 4,600 and 75 percent were Jewish.
The Nazis arrived in the fall of 1939. They shipped skilled workers to workcamps and eventually to death camps. With the help of local police, they slaughtered most of the remaining Jewish residents, men women and children, in two consecutive mass shootings in the spring and summer of 1942.
Today a memorial stands on the remnants of the old Jewish cemetery, a fenced collective grave, in which the bodies of about two thousand people are buried, shot in this place by the Nazis on August 6, 1942.
This should not surprise me, researching a woman from the 18th Century and discovering a strong parallel to a woman fighting the same battle today. The more I looked into this story, the more painful it became. But in the end, I found hope.
This is one of my longer feature articles and I ask your patience as I wend my way through the story to reach "pag-ibig at pag-asa," Filipino for love and hope.
Gabriela Silang, a young Filipina who lived in the northwestern seaboard of Luzon in the mid-1700s is most commonly portrayed wielding a bolo knife.
There's little doubt Gabriela Salang was a fearless revolutionary against Spanish colonial rule, and her spirit continues to run in the blood of women today, who carry on the struggle for self-determination in the face of centuries of imperialism in the Philippines.
That includes playwright and peasant organizer Amanda Echanis, arrested 13-months ago and imprisoned with her newborn baby, two of more than 600 political prisoners under the Rodrigo Duterte regime.
Yes, that Custer, General George Armstrong Custer killed in the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn.
We know the men, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who whupped the general that day, but what of the women? The names and faces of the native women of the Great Plains are all but lost, erased from mainstream history.
That's why the story of Buffalo Calf Road Woman is so important. It gives us a glimpse into the lives of native women at the height of the "Indian Wars," the US effort to subdue and corral the Plaines Tribes or annihilate them.
There is no known photo of Buffalo Calf Road Woman. She may have looked similar to the unidentified Cheyenne woman in this photo, sometimes mistakenly identified as her.
The Northern Cheyenne kept a vow of silence for more than "100 summers" until 2005, when a tribal elder stood up and told how Buffalo Calf Road Woman attacked Custer. One incident in the life
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.