Growing up my favorite uncle was my Uncle Joe. He was a bachelor and lived in a small house in the mountain town of Weed, California. Uncle Joe had a beautiful garden and a house plant with vines so long that they wrapped around his kitchen. He bought us kids mini cans of 7-up, and he always had records with Mexican music playing. He had so many records that they were stacked from floor to ceiling in his bedroom.
When I was little, my grandmother told me Uncle Joe had been to Paris. That was about as exciting as learning he’d gone to the moon! My uncle?
It turns out that he’d been there during World War II. This young man from Northern California had been to France because he’d done his part in serving.
Sadly, my uncle passed away when I was in the 6th grade. I remember the day clearly. Instead of walking home, my dad picked me up in the car. That had never happened before. I knew something was wrong. I was crushed when I learned that I’d lost my uncle, but it was only years later that I came to fall in love with the history he was part of.
In 2000, I visited Mauthausen Concentration camp for the first time. The true history fascinated me. And in researching the history I met amazing men like Wilfred McCarthy, who told me to call him Mac. I interviewed over 100 veterans through the years, but I never got to meet Mac in person. Still we exchanged hundreds of emails. I’ve kept every one.
In 2002, I even traveled back to Austria to attend the liberation of Mauthasuen Concentration Camp. The ceremony for the Gusen camp was held by a small memorial statue. Survivors dressed in stripped clothing, representing their prisoner uniforms. The most moving moment was when two men saw each other and rushed into each other’s arms. I captured their photo.
I couldn’t speak their language, but I wished I could have heard their story. Their embrace brought tears to my eyes.
I traveled far to capture stories from World War II, but I also met veterans who lived right down the street. One year I taught a homeschooling class and we interviewed World War II veterans. That’s when I met Jim. He lived just a few miles away and he served in Italy. I loved getting to know him, hearing his story.
When I think about World War II, I know longer think about dates and facts. I think about men and women. All of the men in these photos are gone now, but I’ll always carry them in my heart.
World War II is my favorite time in history to write about. That’s why I’m so excited about my upcoming book, When Treetops Glisten.
I was blessed to write this with my two friends Cara Putman and Sara Sundin. The book releases September 16 and you can pre-order now! Also, if you’d like bookmarks of this book to share with friends leave an email address in your comments. I’ll contact you and make sure you get some! I love excited readers!
My friends and I are also having a contest, commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the beginning of World War II. You can win 8 books! Details here.
Now, how about you? What is your favorite time in history? Why?